State Government

New Merced County Planning Commissioner: fast and loose with public processes, public funds

Submitted: Jun 29, 2007

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition recently sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to terminate his opposition to the Williamson Act. The text of the letter appears below. http://www.calcattlemen.org/index.htm (click on the California Rangeland Resolution) will give the text of the historical coalition resolution developed by cattlemen, government agencies and environmental groups for the conservation of rangeland/seasonal pasturelands, vernal pools, the 15 endangered species associated with them, which also protects Central Valley watersheds. The link will also supply readers with a list of the Coalition's founders and members.

Two Coalition founders from Merced County, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and the San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, signed the Rangeland Coalition letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to terminate the Williamson Act, one of the most valuable land-use tools in California for the preservation of rangeland on the borders of the Central Valley, including a great many acres in Merced County.

Reading the final text of the letter to the governor, the Raptor Center and the
Conservancy were perplexed to find the name of recently appointed Merced County Planning Commissioner Cynthia Lashbrook, signing on behalf of
the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG).

Among the numerous environmental organizations that Lashbrook belongs to, MARG is an inappropriate vehicle. It appeared Lashbrook simply grabbed the most convenient organization at her disposal at the time to get her name on the letter signed by a number of prestigious people and organizations with a proven record of commitment to the defense of rangeland. A far more appropriate group would have been the East Merced Resource Conservation District. However, Lashbrook was unable to convince the district board to blindly sign the letter during a teleconference special meeting on June 14.

As founders of the Coalition, the Raptor Center and the Conservancy said that it is a movement and far more than one letter to one governor. In the list of 24 organizations and/or businesses Commissioner Lashbrook is involved with as staff, grant-writer, director, owner or member, we see no real connection to the goals of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition. The two local Coalition founders said their impression that Lashbrook was indulging in mere self-promotion was deepened by rumors that the commissioner’s opinion is that rangeland should be the site of urban sprawl in preference to Valley farmland. The Coalition founders doubt MARG ever heard of the work and resolution of the Coalition before Lashbrook presented its leadership with a last-minute opportunity to get its name in front of the governor’s staff.

Valley environmental activists are quite familiar with this kind of hustle. We remember a once-prominent environmental attorney whose desks and wallets were stuffed with business cards announcing himself as counsel to organizations that had no clue that he was their counsel. Another shining example was a prominent local rancher/developer and former secretary of state Department of Food and Agriculture who was the president of every USDA-spawned organization in the north San Joaquin Valley and beyond, in a career of prominence in paper groups that started before puberty. A rich man, he bought his state office fair and square from Gov. Gray Davis, along with more than 500 acres, annexed to the City of Merced, in the path of growth to UC Merced.

When Lashbrook, an associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, presented this letter to the district board at its Special Meeting on June 14, the board wisely deferred this matter, appearing not to have read the letter. Nor was it on the meeting agenda.

When she signed this letter on behalf of MARG, which has about as much knowledge of the Coalition as it does about Uruguayan foreign policy, they compromised the integrity of founders and members of the Coalition and weakened the force of the letter. If Lashbrook and MARG has dared to write their own letter, this unpleasantness would have been avoided. We find no evidence on the MARG website, apparently taken over entirely by the Wal-Mart Action Team, that they did write their own letter.

Commissioner Lashbrook habitually promotes herself on other peoples’ work and integrity without consultation but for compensation.

She and the East Merced Resource Conservation District staff and directors castigated the Merced River Stakeholders group a month earlier for not enthusiastically endorsing a half-million-dollar grant proposal sponsored by the district, which claimed stakeholders’ support, without distributing a copy of the final proposal before submitting it to the state Department of Water Resources. Lashbrook, in one or more of her staff capacities, will financially benefit if the DWR approves the grant. There were only two stakeholders who even read the draft proposal.

Lashbrook is playing fast and loose with public processes and public funds. But, in Merced County, this is as good as it gets for appointees and potential appointees to committees, focus groups, boards and commissions, among them the East Merced Resource Conservation District.

If members of the Merced County public do not accept the policy of uncontrolled growth and finance, insurance and real estate propaganda, they can expect to be insulted, intimidated and red-baited by elected and appointed officials and staff.

Badlands editorial board
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ATTACHMENTS:

CALIFORNIA RANGELAND CONSERVATION COALITION: Ranchers, Conservationists and Government Working Together for the Benefit of All

June 19, 2007
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor
State of California
State Capitol, First Floor
Sacramento, CA 95812

RE: May Revise – Williamson Act

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

Partners to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are alarmed by the May revise to your fiscal year 07-08 budget which proposes the elimination of subvention funding to California counties for the Williamson Act.

This proposed elimination is contrary to the underlying goals of our partnership, to protect California’s rangeland landscape.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an unprecedented group of California ranchers, environmentalists and agencies. Together, we want to preserve private working landscapes, support the long-term viability of the ranching industry, and protect and enhance California rangeland for protected and common species.

We recognize the Williamson Act is intrinsically linked to our Coalition’s ability to fulfill the guiding principles outlined within the enclosed California Rangeland Resolution, the foundation of the Rangeland Coalition.

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are strong supporters of the Williamson Act and we truly recognize the role it plays in preserving rangeland. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program California is losing tens of thousands of acres of rangeland annually. This significant conversion of rangeland contributes to the loss of open space, groundwater recharge, homes of common and threatened species, and family ranchers.

Research on these rangelands finds that nearly all of the species of grassland birds, most native plants and the threatened vernal pool ecosystem actually benefit from responsible grazing practices. The Williamson Act plays an important role in preserving California’s rangelands which are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide habitat for plants, fish and wildlife if the Williamson Act remains a viable tool for landowners.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition strongly supports subvention funding to California’s counties for the Williamson Act. Should you have any questions regarding our support please contact Tracy Schohr, Director of Rangeland Conservation, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition at (916) 444-0845 or
tschohr@calcattlemen.org.

Sincerely,

Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
California Rangeland Conservation Coalition

May Revise – Williamson Act

Bruce Hafenfeld
President
California Cattlemen’s Association

Kim Delfino
California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife

Mark Kramer
Director, Federal Government Relations
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Doug Mosebar
President
California Farm Bureau Federation

Ralph Grossi
President
American Farmland Trust

Mark Bergstrom
President
American Land Conservancy

Aimee Rutledge
Executive Director
Sacramento Valley Conservancy

Nita Vail
Executive Director
California Rangeland Trust

Robert J. Stack, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Jumping Frog Research Institute

Pia Sevelius
District Manager
Butte County Resource Conservation District

Cynthia Lashbrook
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth

William M. Hatch
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

Doug Johnson
Executive Director
California Invasive Plant Council

Lesa Osterholm
Bear River Watershed - Coordinator
Nevada County Resource Conservation District - Manager

Lydia M. Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

Royce Larsen
President
California-Pacific Section of the Society for Range Management

Karen Sweet
Executive Officer
Alameda County Resource Conservation District

John Hopkins
President
Institute for Ecological Health

Lorri Pride
President
Glenn County Resource Conservation District

Vance Russell
Director of Landowner Stewardship Program
Audubon California

Charles (Toby) Horst
Director/Treasurer
Sierra Resource Conservation District

Carol W. Witham
California Native Plant Society

Lesa Eidman
Executive Director
California Wool Growers Association

Tacy Currey
Executive Director
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts

Patti Turner
District Manager
Colusa County Resource Conservation District

Janet Cobb
Executive Officer
California Wildlife Foundation
California Oak Foundation

Francis I. Hodgkins
Board of Trustees Chair
Sacramento River Watershed Program

Jamison Watts
Executive Director
Northern California Regional Land Trust

Judy Ahmann
President
California CattleWomen’s Association

Kirk Ford
Chair, Board of Directors
Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District

Mary Mitchell
District Manager
Western Shasta RCD

Chuck Peck
Executive Director
Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Enclosure: California Rangeland Resolution
--------------

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Ever thought of serving on one of the city's commissions? Now's your chance to volunteer...Leslie Albrecht...6-27-07
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731287p-14316332c.html

The city is looking to fill vacancies on seven commissions that advise the City Council on everything from parks to the airport to bringing new business to Merced. Serving on a commission gives citizens an up-close look at how local government works, said city spokesman Mike Conway, but it also helps residents play a direct role in shaping their community. "(Commissioners) get to be part of the solution and they get the satisfaction of knowing that they're helping to build a better Merced," said Conway. To serve on most commissions, you must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. Here's a quick look at commissions currently looking for warm bodies...

6-29-07
Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips: Last Updated: June 29, 2007, 03:17:33 AM PDT
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13739493p-14323639c.html

Red scare at the county building?...The Cold War is over... But this week that old familiar chill was back in the air — at the Merced County Administration Building, of all places. Maureen McCorry of Valley Land Alliance urged the county to look at environmental impacts before letting farmers subdivide their property. Supervisor Mike Nelson greeted McCorry's comment with this zinger: "It's nice to see that socialists are alive and well here." ...communist hordes...could some of them be living here in Merced? Nelson isn't worried about Reds in our midst, he told Lips, but he was serious when he made that remark. "I feel that (McCorry's) comment strikes at the heart of private property rights and is by its very nature socialist,"..."What it ends up being is people who think they can tell other people how to live their lives." That rubs Nelson the wrong way, to say the least. The right to private property, he told Lips, was first and foremost in our forefathers' minds when they founded these United States. Are those rights under attack in Merced County? "No, I'm not worried about the Communist Party taking over Merced County," said Nelson. "But I am concerned about those kind of attitudes and that those seem to be the people that we hear from the most." For McCorry's part, she would like to state for the record that she is not a card-carrying socialist. "I believe I'm functioning in a capitalist society that promotes freedom of speech,"..."We're just saying that we need to have parcels large enough to grow food — if it's socialist to say we have a societal interest in growing food, then I guess we're socialists."

6-27-07
Merced Sun-Star
Real estate broker newest planner...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13731309p-14316362c.html

Carole McCoy...Merced's newest Planning Commissioner, she'll sit on the board that advises the City Council on land use and development decisions.
Q: What's your opinion on the development boom Merced has seen in recent years?
A: I think it moved a little bit too fast without a lot of thought to the community this development was serving. They built a lot of new homes specifically for higher-end families. Merced is not a higher-end family city at this time. We're looking for that to come and the university (will contribute to) that.
But they built too many high-end homes with not enough families to support it who were living here and staying here. We had a lot of investors buy and take the money out of our area so it didn't do anything to help our community grow in a progressive manner.
So we need to give more thought to bringing businesses in to help the people that are living here.
Q: You'll be voting on the Wal-Mart distribution center, a controversial project that's drawn ire from local activists. How do you plan to handle that decision?
A: I plan to listen to all of the opinions given. Right now I'm definitely leaning toward the Wal-Mart distribution center because we've heard these same (arguments) before against the university and many other things that have come into our community and have been very successful. But I will definitely keep an open mind.
Q: With five out of the seven City Council members directly involved in the real estate industry, some people feel real estate interests have too much influence in city governance. What do you think?
A: Absolutely not. (Realtors) listen to everyone, that's what our life is all about...

6-27-07
Badlands Journal
Red Menace over Merced...Badlands editorial staff
http://www.badlandsjournal.com/

A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County. According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation was arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella. By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits. We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefiting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.

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We sicken for the benefit of greedjerks

Submitted: Jun 24, 2007
vanitas vanitatum dixt Ecclesiates, vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas ... omnia tempus habent et suis spatiis transeunt universa sub caelo ... tempus destruendi et tempus aedificandi...

-- Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3.

The chamber needs to move forward and advocate for business, including the planned Wal-Mart distribution center. Good-paying jobs are needed in Merced, with people here making money to fill all the vacant homes, Wells said. -- Merced Sun-Star, June 19, 2007

What a joke. And the apple-pie tossers never seen no man bleeding on the floor of a Delano bar for his pro-labor sympathies. They say the people will rise but they don't make the bet with their bodies or their checkbooks. So, they don't count. They are merely decoration.

The Valley Directorate, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests that rule us -- landowners up close and personal, financial institutions far, far away -- our various tribunals and courts, cannot govern justly for man nor beast. They refuse to deal with an asthma epidemic related to air quality, terrorizing members of the public who raise the issue with the appelation, "asthma terrorists." Their courts summon more panels of scientists on the Delta Smelt problem, because they aren't all dead yet so there's
still time to study the thing. Meanwhile the pumps continue to send water to Valley cotton growers whose subsidies are assured by Democrats in majority but without program or control except power anxiety, and to Southern California, which keeps on growing and extinguishing fish.

The Republicans gained power in order to destroy government. The people restored Democrat power and the Democrats don't know what to do with it, because of course the last thing they would do is listen to the people's extensive list of grievances. We are sure that Dennis Cardoza is "proud to be a Democrat," because like Cardoza, the Democratic party stands for Zilch. Those few, who happen to be Demcrats, like Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, and who happen to have political integrity enough to stand up for the Constitution, do it by themselves, certainly without the backing of numbnut knuckleheads like Cardoza.

Our local land-use authorities cannot be engaged in reasonable discussion and our air board and courts are even less accessible. They have power, you see, and power is very important to them. But, when political power is all one has, the worm appears and begins to feed.

The power structure of the northern San Joaquin Valley is terrified because it is
standing on a financial whirlpool of debt, disappearing into sandy loam at a terrific rate, as a result of decisions made by municipal and county land-use authorities that paid far, far more attention to finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) special interests than it did to the public. The exact simile is what happens to San Joaquin River water when it hits the middle of Fresno County and goes underground. The local land use authorities, which produce a comfortable majority of the members of the air board, were indemnified by developers every step of the way. FIRE is a gracious and omnipotent conglomerate. It made all decisions very easy for them, through the vehicle of legal indemification, by which all legal costs arising from lawsuits opposing local land-use decisions on development projects are paid by the developers.

"No skin off my back," the elected officials said, Back in The Day, before the boom began to bleed. "It's value-free growth."

Tiny people, most no doubt reduced to their stature by Carol Whitesides' Great Valley Center leadership training sessions in smart growth before it was absorbed by UC Merced.

Yet, down where the sun is more heavily filtered, state Sen. Dean Florez lurks, speaking something like a truth: it cannot go on, down here where Hollis Roberts began the California almond deal with an ante of 2,500 acres in the late Sixties. It simply can't go on, despite his own ambitions, he has been saying at considerable political price for several years. It cannot go one. Smog at this level is unsustainable. Period.

"Board members have fallen into the trap of believing in their own self-importance -- that somehow they are the experts when it comes to cleaning the air," he said after the meeting.

Up here, above the metropolis of Fresno where UC San Joaquin Valley belonged, we have Congressman McPendejo, who will not oppose Uc/Bechtel/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's plans to blow up eight times the radioactivity of former years and site a biodanger level-4 biowarfare lab on Site 300 outside Tracy, too. And we have Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Nancy Boy-Merced, a gutless Blue Dog without belief or integrity who doth protest absurdly while voting against termination of the School of the Americas, home of US military torture training.

The deciders are in the limelight, for all to see. And they look very bad, almost as if they believed all the rightwing cant and hypocrisy that got them there. So, all they have is the power of positions granted them by the public they abuse. Minute elements of the public struggle to speak truth to power appear and are flipped off by the great Invisible Middle Finger of the Market. The people of the Valley, never before inhibited by lack of academic education, have been silenced by the professoriate, and UC Merced cut their tongues out for agendas like establishing a biodanger level-4 biowarfare lab near Tracy and blowing up eight times the depleted uranium and other radioactive substances there in the coming year.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. The wise remain silent and flakfools fill the airwaves with propaganda and the politicians betray and betray and betray, hoping thereby to erase any memory of the Valley as a place and a home for the benefit of finance, insurance and real estate special interests -- spasmatic greedjerks without place or home, wandering over others' places and homes.

Bill Hatch
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6-23-07
Fresno Bee
Air board does it again...Editorial
http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/67337.html

The Valley air district's governing board voted 6-3 on Thursday to support the status quo, an action that's becoming a habit. The vote sets the district in opposition to legislation that would change the makeup of the board by adding four members -- two medical experts and two representatives of Valley cities. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board's majority objects to "appointed" members, ignoring the fact that none of them were elected to the air board by voters. They were, in every case, appointed by the city councils and county boards of supervisors on which they serve. And not one of them ran for those offices on a platform centered on air quality issues. The majority also said they don't believe state-appointed medical experts would represent the interests of Valley residents. The board majority also seems to imply that health expertise isn't needed on a board whose sole task is to clean up dirty air that adds more than $3 billion to Valley health costs each year, costs hundreds of lives and many thousands of hours of illness and lost work, and cripples children and adults alike with respiratory ailments. It's clear that the board, whose 11 members include eight county supervisors from up and down the Valley, isn't interested in sharing power with more urban representatives. That leaves a majority of Valley residents without effective representation on a board that has great power to affect the quality of life in the Valley -- and to regulate economic behavior.

6-22-07
Valley regulators issue guidelines to get to clean air faster...Garance Burke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/13713115p-14301403c.html

Air managers in the San Joaquin Valley issued a list of voluntary guidelines Thursday aimed at cleaning up the valley's smog-laden air before 2023, the year the local air district will need to prove the polluted region meets federal air quality standards...unofficial measures issued Thursday - none of which are immediately enforceable - propose to explore new technology, green building tactics and incentives to replace polluting vehicles to curb ozone pollution before then. Environmental groups were disappointed that the bulk of the guidelines were voluntary, and weren't included in the official plan approved by the state last week. The district also voted Thursday to join Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in filing suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency if the agency did not act on California's long-standing petition to implement greenhouse gas reductions on automobiles. If the EPA doesn't act by Oct. 22 on California's request for the federal waiver needed to enact the state's tailpipe emissions law, the governor has said the state will sue.

Fresno Bee
Air board opposes expansion proposal...Mark Grossi
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/66439.html

State Sen. Dean Florez clashed Thursday with local air board members who voted to oppose legislation that would add board seats for two medical experts and two representatives of Valley cities...governing members of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District voted 6-3 to oppose expanding the board... majority said they did not think state-appointed medical experts would represent Valley residents. The bill appears to be "a solution where there's no problem to be solved," said board member Michael G. Nelson,
a Merced County supervisor. Florez, D-Shafter, said he believes the board needs more diverse voices to advocate for health issues and understand the complexities of air quality. He told the board that their action was "knee-jerk, premature and immature." "Board members have fallen into the trap of believing in their own self-importance -- that somehow they are the experts when it comes to cleaning the air," he said after the meeting. Arvin City Council Member Raji Brar..."Why wouldn't anyone want a doctor on the board? This is all about health. That's the bottom line."

San Francisco Chronicle
Sacramento...Agency's 3 new rules on warming criticized...Mark Martin
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/06/22/BAG14QK0PV1.DTL&hw=uc&sn=002&sc=359

State regulators approved the first new rules in California's landmark effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Thursday, but environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers complained that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appointees were acting too meekly to combat global warming. The California Air Resources Board voted to implement three new rules requiring cleaner gasoline, less methane emissions from landfills, and a ban on the sale of refrigerants for air conditioners in cars...vote was the first action by a board that ultimately will make scores of decisions with profound potential effects on the California economy, as the state works to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020. But the board's moves Thursday were attacked by some, and three members, including the chairman, dissented in a 6-3 vote. "When the Senate confirmed members of the Air Resources Board, we asked for a commitment from them to take bold actions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Senate President Pro Tem Don
Perata, D-Oakland, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, today they flunked the test." Environmental groups and some Democrats argued the board should have done much more. A committee comprised of environmental justice advocates that is advising the air board had drawn up a list of more than 30 items... The board is considering many of those items but decided not to enact them quickly, generating complaints from many who are fighting climate change in California...

6-23-07
Modesto Bee
Judge denies request to reduce pumping in delta fish tussle...Garance Burke, AP
http://www.modbee.com/state_wire/story/13716645p-14302945c.html

A federal judge denied environmental groups' request for a temporary order to cut back water supplies sent to farms and Southern California, but asked all sides to reconvene so experts can present evidence about whether pumps in the delta are killing off a threatened fish species. "There isn't anybody in the courtroom who wouldn't agree that the species is in a critical stage," said U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger. But, the judge said, the evidence does not show that "the last smelt in existence is at the pumps and their destruction will extinguish the species." Wanger denied that motion
Friday, but recommended that the groups arrange a hearing so he could hear more evidence from environmentalists, numerous federal and state agencies, and other stakeholders about the biological risks to the smelt.

3-11-07
Modesto Bee
Car seller battling state over air rules
California wants regs stricter than the feds'
By SUSAN HERENDEEN

A Modesto car dealership is ground zero for a challenge to California's effort to
regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
Central Valley Chrysler Automotive and nine other dealerships want to stop implementation of regulations adopted by the California Air Resources Board more than two years ago.
The rules would raise fuel efficiency standards for new cars sold in the state, pushing them up to 40.6 mpg for cars and light trucks and up to 25.9 mpg for heavy-duty trucks by 2016.
Ten states are waiting to adopt California's regulations, and six more are considering them, but none can push forward unless California gets a waiver from the federal government.
Auto manufacturers say states have no business setting standards stricter than those set by the federal government, and dealerships in the San Joaquin Valley have signed on to help make their point.
"They could have cars that come into California and cars that couldn't come into California," said attorney Timothy Jones of Fresno, who represents the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Manufacturers can sell any combination of vehicles as long as the average fuel economy of their fleet meets the overall standard.
Under federal rules, they must meet fleetwide standards of 27.5mpg for passenger cars and 23.1 mpg for heavy-duty trucks.
To meet California rules, manufacturers might have to limit the availability of
low-gas-mileage vehicles, build smaller cars or invest in technology that would raise sticker prices.
Valley car dealers would take the biggest hit, Jones said, because heavy-duty trucks used in agriculture-related industries make up a high proportion of their sales.
Sued state in 2001
So the Modesto dealership — which sued the air board in 2001, forcing the state to scrap a requirement that 10 percent of new autos be zero-emission vehicles — is the lead plaintiff..."Brand loyalty to Chrysler and Jeep vehicles will have reduced value if Central Valley Automotive cannot offer updated models of the vehicles that our customers know," Gardner told the court. "Our revenues will suffer as a result."Owners of other dealerships that are party to the lawsuit filed similar statements.
They include Leonard Harrington of Tom Fields Motors Inc. of Turlock, which sells Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Suburu; and Brian Wells of Courtesy Automotive Center in Merced, which sells Chevrolet and Cadillac..."They're suing to maintain a dinosaur fleet of huge, gas-guzzling vehicles that are destroying the environment," said David Jones, who drives a Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid that emits fewer greenhouse gases than traditional
automobiles.
Erin Rogers, California outreach coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said manufacturers fought seat belts and air bags too, then complied with new regulations without going bankrupt.
Her group recently unveiled plans for a minivan that could be built with existing technology and cut tailpipe pollutants by 40 percent, more than enough to meet California's proposed standards.
The minivan is not a gas-electric hybrid. It would cost $300 more than its peers, the scientists said, and consumers would save $1,300 in two years, by getting better gas mileage.
"Cars of all sizes and shapes in all classes can be made cleaner," Rogers said.
The state air board's rules come from Assembly Bill 1493, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Davis in 2002.
Lawmakers told the air board to design rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
The air board adopted regulations in September 2004, and the car dealers challenged them in federal court three months later.
The litigation has drawn nationwide attention, with five environmental groups intervening to argue in favor of California's emission standards.
Supporters of stricter standards say lawmakers must deal with auto emissions because they contribute to global warming, which has caused rising sea levels, decreased snowpack and spring runoff as well as more severe weather and wildfires.
In legal papers, the state attorney general's office argues that California can regulate greenhouse gas emissions under a waiver provision in the 1975 federal Clean Air Act.
That law carved out a loophole for California because the state had regulated air pollution long before the federal government got involved.
The loophole also lets other states adopt stricter rules, as long as California does so irst.
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington plan to implement California standards if California gets a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Now it gets more complicated.
The auto industry argues that only the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may set fuel standards.
And the federal EPA in 2003 said it cannot regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles under the Clean Air Act.
So Massachusetts challenged the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in November and a ruling is expected this summer.
All of this leads back to Modesto, because the lawsuit brought by Central Valley Chrysler Automotive and others is on hold until the high court makes a ruling in the Massachusetts case.
If the EPA wins, California would have little chance of getting a waiver and demanding more fuel-efficient cars, making the car dealers' lawsuit moot.
"If we lose, we need to turn to Congress," Rogers said.
If Massachusetts wins and California gets its waiver, the court battle in Fresno will continue.
"The dealers are very concerned," Timothy Jones said.
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Bingham McCutchen
Supreme Court Decision Forces EPA to Reconsider Greenhouse Gas
RegulationHIGHLIGHTSEnvironmental
April 1, 2007

In a 5-4 decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (No. 05-1120) (Apr. 2, 2007), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected EPA's position that it does not have authority under section 202 of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas ("GHG") emissions from new motor vehicles. EPA can now avoid regulating these emissions only if it determines that GHGs "do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether
they do."

Implications
The Court's decision has implications for pending and potential regulation, litigation, and legislation. Among these implications are:
Regulation Under the Clean Air Act:
EPA must now reconsider regulation of GHG emissions from new motor vehicles under section 202 of the Clean Air Act. Although the opinion preserves EPA discretion to decide whether, and how, to regulate such emissions, the Court concluded that EPA had "offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gas emissions cause or contribute to climate change." The reasoning and the tone of the majority opinion
indicate that any EPA decision not to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles would be viewed with a high degree of skepticism. Given the extensive use of the term "air pollutant" throughout the Clean Air Act, the Court's decision likely will require EPA to consider regulating GHG emissions from other mobile sources and may require EPA to consider regulating stationary sources of GHG emissions, as well.
Pending and Potential Litigation:
The Court's decision likely will be raised in several important pending cases involving GHG emissions including cases: (1) that involve other Clean Air Act provisions that use the term "air pollutant" (e.g., Coke Oven Envtl. Taskforce v. EPA, No. 06-1131 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 7, 2006) (alleging, inter alia, that EPA failed to regulate carbon dioxide from new coal-fired power plants)); (2) that challenge California limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new motor vehicles (e.g., Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep Inc. v. Witherspoon, No. CV-F-04-6663 (E.D. Cal.2006)); and (3) that allege that GHG emissions create a public nuisance (e.g., California v. General Motors, No. 3:06-cv-05755-MJJ (N.D. Cal. 2006)). Given the Court's holding that states have "special solicitude" in the
standing analysis, the Court's decision may also encourage future litigation by states, particularly in the environmental arena.
Federal Climate Change Legislation:
The Court's decision may prompt the U.S. Congress to act more quickly to pass national legislation addressing climate change. The Clean Air Act does not provide guidance on, and its provisions are not particularly well-suited for, addressing climate change through the regulation of GHG emissions. Therefore, Congress may seek to avoid the incremental regulation of GHG emissions under the existing Clean Air Act by passing comprehensive climate change legislation.
The Decision
In 1999, a group of environmental groups filed a rulemaking petition asking EPA to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles under section 202 of the Clean Air Act.
Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act provides that EPA "shall by regulation prescribe … standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." Nearly four years later, EPA denied the petition, finding that the Clean Air Act does not authorize EPA to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change and that, even if EPA had the authority to set GHG emissions standards, it would be unwise to do so at this time.
Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, issued three major holdings:
Standing:
The Court held that petitioners1 have standing to challenge EPA's denial of their rulemaking petition. The Court found that, as a state, Massachusetts is entitled to "special solicitude" in the standing analysis based on two factors. First, states are forced to surrender to the federal government certain sovereign prerogatives. In return, the federal government takes on responsibility for protecting the states. In this case, Congress ordered EPA via the Clean Air Act to protect Massachusetts and other states from the effects of air pollution. Second, Congress provided a procedural right under the Clean Air Act to challenge the rejection of a rulemaking petition as arbitrary and
capricious. Accordingly, the Court held that "[g]iven that procedural right and
Massachusetts' stake in protecting its quasi-sovereign interests, the Commonwealth is entitled to special solicitude in our standing analysis." The Court then found that petitioners' submissions, as they pertain to Massachusetts, satisfy the Article III requirements of a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, causation, and redressability.
Statutory Authority:
The Court held that EPA has statutory authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate GHG emissions from new motor vehicles. In rejecting EPA's arguments on this point, the Court found: (1) that the Act's definition of "air pollutant" includes carbon dioxide and other GHGs; (2) that EPA did not identify actions suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA's power to treat GHGs as air pollutants; (3) that the Court's decision in Brown v. Williamson Tobacco Corp. (holding that tobacco products are not "drugs" or "devices" subject to Food and Drug Administration regulation, based on a "'common sense' intuition that Congress never meant to remove those products from circulation") was inapplicable; and (4) that EPA's responsibility to protect the public health and welfare is "wholly independent of [the Department of Transportation's] mandate to promote energy efficiency" through mileage standards.
EPA's Denial of Petition:
The Court held that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the Clean Air Act. In other words, EPA's refusal to decide whether GHGs cause or contribute to climate change was arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Although EPA had offered a "laundry list" of reasons not to regulate, it had not grounded those reasons in the statutory text.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia both filed strong dissenting opinions, which were joined by each other and Justices Thomas and Alito. On standing, Chief Justice Roberts found petitioners' challenges to be nonjusticiable. He rejected the majority's "special solicitude" for States and the finding that Massachusetts adequately demonstrated injury, causation, and redressability. On the merits, Justice Scalia argued that EPA could decline to make a judgment as to whether GHGs endanger public welfare for the reasons it had stated in its order rejecting the petition and that EPA's interpretation of the term "air pollutant" was consistent with the Clean Air Act...
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California Pushes EPA On Emissions Laws
Top Officials Implore Agency To Permit State To Impose Reductions Of Greenhouse Gases On Auto Industry
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2007(CBS/AP)

Top California officials implored federal environmental regulators Tuesday for
permission to unilaterally impose reductions on greenhouse gases from cars and other vehicles. An auto industry official dismissed the state's approach as
"counterproductive."
If California gets the federal waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that it needs to implement its emissions law, at least 11 other states are prepared to follow its lead.
"This is more important than any issue that EPA's going to have to face," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told an EPA air quality hearing board.
Brown asked the regulators to relay a message to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson.
"We want him to speak truth to power," said Brown. "There is a tremendous influence of the oil industry. We know (Vice President) Cheney and (President) Bush are oilmen, they think like oil folks. ... We say grant the waiver."
The EPA panel that gathered in suburban Arlington, Va., was led by Margo Oge, director of EPA's office of transportation and air quality. She gave no indication of how the agency might be leaning as a daylong hearing got under way.
At issue is a 2002 California law that requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent from cars and light trucks and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting with the 2009 model year. The law can't take effect unless California gets a federal waiver.
While air pollution standards typically are set by the federal government, California has a unique status under the federal Clean Air Act that allows the state to enact its own rules as long as it receives permission from the EPA. Other states can then choose to follow either the federal or California standards.
The EPA has declined to say how it will act on the waiver request, and Tuesday's hearing came after more than a year of inaction since the state submitted its petition in 2005.
The session included some two dozen witnesses from environmental groups and other states including Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland speaking in favor of California's law. A representative from the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association was in favor of the law, as was the owner of a chain of car dealerships.
Adam Lee, president of a chain of Maine auto dealerships, said automakers have hurt their reputations by opposing other federal requirements in the past, such as smog controls and seat belts, reports the Detroit Free Press. Lee also pointed out that many companies give rebates on larger models such as the GMC Yukon.
“I think the auto industry needs to try a little harder, and I don’t think they will try any harder until enough states force them to,” Lee said.
A lone voice of opposition came from Steve Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He contended that California had not proven that its rules would actually reduce global warming, and that a national approach would be better.
"A patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations as is now proposed by California is not simply unnecessary, it's patently counterproductive," Douglas said. The state's waiver request "contains many assumptions and undocumented claims" about its benefits in countering global warming, he said.
Automakers also contend that California officials underestimated the costs of its proposal, the Free Press reports.
The auto industry has sued California and Vermont in an attempt to block the regulation, arguing that emissions standards are de-facto fuel economy standards — which can only be set by the federal government.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month said the state will sue if the EPA does not act on the state's request by October 25.
"We're preparing a lawsuit but we certainly don't want to bring it," Brown told the panel Tuesday.
The auto regulations are a key part of California's overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for the Earth's warming temperature over the last three decades. The state is the world's 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, 40 percent of which come from transportation sources.
The state last year embarked on a statewide effort to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020. A 2006 law relies on the auto regulations to accomplish 17 percent of the overall target.
President Bush last week signed an executive order giving federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and what to do about them. Critics fear the directive could undermine state efforts.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Monday, Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Mr. Bush's directive "sounds like more of the same inaction and denial."
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Article:San Joaquin air cleaner, and becoming more
so:/chronicle/archive/2007/05/11/EDGKOP3DVT1.DTL
Article:San Joaquin air cleaner, and becoming more
so:/chronicle/archive/2007/05/11/EDGKOP3DVT1.DTL

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded
history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.
Having already reduced valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remaining 20 percent will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The governing board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. Instead, The Chronicle condemns them.
For many of us in the valley, The Chronicle's May 2 editorial ("A smog board that likes smog") is as unfair and as frustrating as the air pollution from the Bay Area that is responsible for 7 percent to 28 percent of the valley's smog problem, with the most impact being in the northern valley.
In fact, given that California's air quality agency has designated the Bay Area as an "overwhelming" contributor to the valley's ozone problem, it would have been fair and balanced for The Chronicle to ask Bay Area residents and policymakers to do what they can to minimize or mitigate pollution that ends up in the valley. Additionally, more than 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources (cars, trucks and locomotives), over which local air districts in California have no jurisdiction.
Nonetheless, here are the facts.
A child born today in the San Joaquin Valley breathes air that is 80 percent cleaner than it was 25 years ago and is no longer exposed to unhealthful levels of particulates 10 microns in size and smaller. The San Joaquin Valley is the only "serious" noncompliant area in the state to meet the standard for scrubbing from the air particulates of this size, and we did it five years ahead of the federal deadline. The valley also is on track to meet the one-hour ozone standard by 2010, the only "extreme nonattainment" area in the state on track to do so. Meeting this health-based standard will further diminish the
proven respiratory and health-related ailments associated with excessive ozone concentrations.
The district's recently adopted plan to meet the new federal health-based ozone-standard is the first of its kind in the nation. Under the plan, 50 percent of the valley's population will live in "attainment" areas, that is, areas without any recorded violations of the air-pollution standard, by 2015; that number will increase to 90 percent by 2020. By law, the valley cannot claim attainment because in a couple of areas we will still see a few days when the air pollution exceeds the standard.
Undisputed analysis by experts shows, even if money were no object and we ignored all logistical constraints, that the technology available today and in the foreseeable future could not achieve enough reductions in smog-forming emissions for these areas in the valley to attain the clean-air standard any sooner than 2023. In this situation, the only option provided under federal law is to seek an "extreme" designation and incorporate future technology when it becomes available -- thus, the proposed deadline of 2023. All local measures that can be adopted by the air district will be in place by 2010. As a result, every area in the valley will see significant, steady reductions in ozone
concentrations and the number of days with poor air quality.
The measures contained in the ozone plan also will help the valley meet the federal standard for fine particulates standard by 2015. (Fine particulates are those 2.5 microns in size or smaller.) This makes the valley the only non-compliant area in the state on track to meet this standard by the deadline. Doing so will eliminate more than $3 billion per year of the estimated $3.1 billion per year in health-related costs attributed to particulates in the valley's air.
With public health as the foremost priority, the air district governing board also acted to seek other innovative and creative strategies aimed at cleaning the air. These measures, which focus on alternative modes of goods- and people-movement, as well as alternative fuels and energy, will require broad support from the general public, as well as business and government.
By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned to bring the valley into attainment with federal air quality standards as quickly as possible. Those who champion clean air should refrain from petty attacks and join us on this challenging but fulfilling journey to cleaner air in the valley.
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A smog board that likes smog
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

SOME PEOPLE don't get it. While California works to clean both factory and vehicle emissions, the local smog board overseeing the state's dirtiest air has bailed in the fight.
The stakes couldn't be clearer. The vast San Joaquin Valley may be famous for lush crops and verdant fields, but it's also notorious for polluted air and the go-easy controls that permit such conditions. Bakersfield and Visalia are, once again, on the top-10 roster of dirty-air cities in a Lung Association study released this week.
The causes are many: the bathtub geography that cups in pollution between mountain ranges, car-centric development and industries that include oil, trucking, farm equipment long exempt from tailpipe controls, and even dairies with thousands of methane-producing cows.
For years, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District dodged stricter emission rules, nodding along with industry arguments that tougher rules were costly and impractical. In 2003, Sacramento reined in the problem partly by taking away agriculture's exemption from smog rules.
But after a lengthy meeting on Monday, the valley smog board, dominated by
business-oriented country supervisors, showed it still isn't listening. It voted to
postpone a federal clean-air deadline.
Even by its own lowly standards, the board's action is a stunner. It wants to stall lower pollution limits from 2013 to 2024, a full 17 years from now.
Record asthma rates? Eye-burning smog? A job-killing reputation for dirty air,
grit-covered car hoods and stay-indoors school days? The board ignores these dismal distinctions -- and its public duty.
The smog board is ducking its job because it isn't likely to be penalized. The statewide air board generally defers to regional panels. Federal regulators, who can withhold highway funds, aren't likely to bring down the hammer. The valley panel is betting it can get away with doing nothing.
But it could have taken steps to chip away at the problem. The state air board is due next month to announce a statewide clean-air plan, complete with suggested steps and technologies to tap. Instead of waiting for guidance, the Fresno-based board voted for its forever-and-a-day delay plan.
Also, clean-air bond money, recently passed by voters, could be tapped to replace older buses and trucks with less polluting new models. Fees on trucks serving the valley's booming warehouses and office parks could also be used to replace older, smog-spewing engines.
What will it take to correct the panel's continual cave-ins to the dirty-air lobby? Two valley state senators -- Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Mike Machado, D-Linden -- want to remake the smog panel, adding extra seats for small cities, where elected leaders are closer to the problem, and slots for health experts. A similar plan was shot down last year in the Legislature. The measure, SB719, is also a chance for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to continue his push for clean air in a local setting.
For too long, the valley has allowed big interests and tame politicians to set the
pollution rules. It's time for a change in leadership and direction.

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Massacre on the Delta

Submitted: Jun 09, 2007

"The collapse of the Delta Estuary is really a regulatory collapse." Bill Jennings, chairman of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

But the regulatory process doesn't collapse all by itself. Delta fish populations were declining 15 years ago. Collapses began a few years ago. Meanwhile, CALFED met to "fix the Delta." The collapses occurred while regulators dithered, environmental stakeholders groups bought into a collaborative process, water agencies sued, and Bush appointees and federal and state legislators muscled resource agencies and starved them of funds.

In Merced, where local, state and federal government officials have continued to buy off most of the public with "citizen" collaborative processes, lawsuits and grassroots campaigns have been successful in stopping some environmental destruction.

The idea of CALFED was to bring state and federal resource agencies, stakeholders and environmental groups together in a collaborative process of regional planning. CALFED failed completely. Yet, today, the governor has initiated two new collaborative planning processes, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley in new efforts to stave off environmental lawsuits against ruinous urban growth. The Blueprint and the Partnership will come to be called the children of CALFED.

At the moment, while Congressman Cardoza alarms Lathrop city officials about the terrors of FEMA floodplain maps and poses in farming districts as the savior of the Honey Bee, former Congressman Pombo signs with Stockton to lobby on water issues, and witless Congressman McNerney sojourns in Livermore, Jennings brings us up to date on the slaughter in the Delta...

Much attention has been focused on the expanded salvage numbers of Delta smelt, as identified by DFG, DWR and Bureau representatives in the press. Unfortunately, they have misled the public regarding the actual numbers of smelt killed by the pumps. The real number of smelt killed by the pumps is not 448 (208 by the SWP and 240 by the CVP), but closer to 11,000 smelt killed during May. It is this number that must be compared to the handful of fish found in the Delta by DFG during the May trawls.

I became curious about agency claims after reading a 1994 article in the SacBee by Jim Meyer that quoted DFG biologist Dale Sweetman as saying, “The actual fish kill is at least 12 times the number of fish salvaged” because since “they can’t measure how many fish are killed, the pump’ operators use the number of fish saved by screens as a gauge to estimate the loss.”

I asked biologist Dan Odenweller (retired DFG chief of screening) about the actual killed versus salvaged rates. Dan pointed out that only an estimated 5% of fish are actually diverted around the first set of fish screens to the secondary channel and only about 5% of those are then diverted around the second set of screens to the salvage buckets. In other words, about 99.5% of smelt are neither “salvaged” nor counted. They continue down the DMC toward the Tehachapis. Of course, none of the “salvaged” Delta smelt survive and these numbers don’t include the larval stage of smelt (less than 20 mm) that can’t be detected. Added to the smelt that pass unrecorded through the screens, is the large number killed by predators in Clifton Court Forebay before they get to the pump inlet. The federal facility is somewhat different and doesn’t experience the same degree of predation as the SWP.

Attached is a simple model developed by Odenweller. Based on his best professional judgment, Dan estimates that CVP pumping killed approximately 2,896 smelt during May and the SWP pumping (assuming forebay predation for smelt is the same as salmon) killed 8,533, for an approximate total of 11,429. This is far different that the 448 smelt killed by pumps that we’ve seen widely quoted in the press. The bottom line is that, during May, the project pumps killed somewhere in the vicinity of 300 times the number of smelt DFG found in surveys throughout the Delta.

I’m sure everyone remembers that the CalFed ROD promised state of the art fish screens. That was before the water contractors bluntly stated that they wouldn’t pay for them.

With respect to the current surveys, the 2007 Survey #6 is finished and most of the information has been posted (as of Sunday night). This latest survey found smelt at 6 sites (115 trawls) with a total catch per unit equivalent (CPUE) of 18.28. This compares to last year’s Survey #6 that found smelt at 19 sites (121 trawls) with a total CPUE of 1,273.8. I haven’t seen the total numbers of smelt captured posted but, using the CPUE as an indicator, it’s clear that this year’s Survey #6 shows a massive drop from the corresponding survey last year. Indeed, it’s clear that DFG found far fewer smelt in this year’s Survey #6 than the paltry 25 smelt identified in the immediately preceding Survey #5. The splittail and longfin numbers also reveal a dramatic drop from last year. Striped bass look about the same.

With respect to the alleged reduction (minimized) in pumping at the federal CVP that was almost universally touted in the press, I note that export rate during the first two days in June is exactly the same as pumping throughout May (1,692 Acre Feet, 855 cfs). Farmers get their water despite adverse effects on Delta smelt; municipalities scramble to find supplies from storage. Sound familiar?

Bill Jennings, Chairman
Executive Director
California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
3536 Rainier Avenue
Stockton, CA 95204
p: 209-464-5067
c: 209-938-9053
f: 209-464-1028
e: deltakeep [at] aol.com

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Steinberg's Blueprint for Growth

Submitted: Jun 04, 2007
Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.-- Sacremento Bee editorial, June 4, 2007

Endorsing a bill authored by state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee editorialized today that the Sacramento Area Council of Government's (SACOG) "blueprint" should be made statewide policy for urban areas.

(That's too much Sacramento for one sentence. Might as well throw in the Sacramento Kings, the Sacramento River, Old Sacramento, and West and South Sacramento, too. Nevertheless, the bill proposed is pure Sacramento.)

We were unable to think of one bit of open space SACOG has ever saved from Elk Grove to Auburn and plenty of ground its transportation policies have made more attractive for development. What little open space that has been saved in the SACOG region has been saved by lawsuits mainly under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). One exception might be the Sunset Industrial Zone between Roseville and Lincoln, designed to provide space for industrial development and job creation. Roseville is very proud of its superior jobs/housing ratio. We would guess the current largest employer in the zone is an Indian casino across the road from a regional land fill. The zone is under constant developer pressure from both Roseville and Lincoln, particularly along transportation corridors.

To get local government buy-in, Steinberg is offering cities and counties certain exemptions from CEQA, while promoting his bill as part of an anti-global warming package in the state Senate.

The devil is in the details, particularly on CEQA exemptions, and this bill is a Steinberg work-in-progress special, but right now it looks like another Developer Trojan Horse.

Counterpunch editor and publisher, Alexander Cockburn, has written a series of recent articles challenging the scientific connection between human activity and global warming. Cockburn has taken a lot of "heat" from environmentalists for his position, but his eye for damaging policies world-wide that result from the global warming panic is dead on.

Trust the term-limited Legislature of California, a wholly owned subsidiary of lobbyists for finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE), to use global warming as an excuse for weakening the best state law in the country for protecting land that is not smog producing.

The hypothesis that carbon emissions are causing global warming is a useful one. Another useful one is that smog has stupefied Sacramento.

Badlands editorial board
--------------------

6-5-07
Fuelish sprawl...Editorial
http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/204393.html

Sacramento area's award-winning "Blueprint" plan has hammered home two key points. First, endless sprawl is not inevitable in our region; second, through incentives, local governments can work to contain leapfrog development and promote transit and alternatives to the automobile. The Blueprint doesn't have the sweep of regulatory measures -- such as Oregon's urban growth boundaries -- but it has changed the dynamic of local planning decisions. Every time a major project is proposed, people now ask this question: Does it comply with the Blueprint? That raises another question: Why don't we have Blueprints in every major metropolitan area of California?... state Sen. Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento is working on a measure that could imprint the Blueprint statewide. Senate Bill 375 would require the California Transportation Commission and regional agencies (those with populations larger than 800,000) to conduct the kind of modeling and planning that SACOG has done in this region. If local governments comply with the growth scenarios envisioned by a region, they would be exempted from certain requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. That's a significant incentive. Steinberg is promoting SB 375 as part of a Senate package to fight global warming. Blueprint planning, the thought goes, would limit the growth of greenhouse emissions from vehicles and trucks. That's a timely and reasonable argument, but the real reason to support this bill is much closer to home. Better regional planning will help make the state's metro areas more attractive and livable, and that will allow them to grow and attract jobs in a cleaner, healthier setting.

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Report of a meeting in Hillmar on transportation politics

Submitted: Jun 03, 2007

Summary of Meeting at Hilmar Grange Hall, 5/29/07, 6:00PM
by Stevinson Citizen's Group

People in attendance: Table in front of everyone - Jesse Brown, MCAG Executive Director; Senator Jeff Dunham; Kome Ajise, Cal Trans rep for Merced County. Others in attendance: Robin Adams, rep for Kathleen Galgiani; Supervisor Deidre Kelsey (arrived at very end); Merced County Planner, Bob King; about five guys from Livingston, including their mayor and city councilmen; Dan Bohan, Developer for Stevinson Ranch; Diana Westmoreland Padrozo, Merced Co. Farm Bureau, ED; Reporter from Modesto Bee; probably about 75 citizens or more. MAC members: Robb Mitchell, Pat Sparks, Karen Wolchek and Connie Lourenco. Didn't see Dave Anderson or any of the others and I continually looked around for them. Even George and Patty were not there. By the way, I sat right by Dan Bohan.

First Speaker was Robin Adams representing Kathleen Galgiani. He said she would do anything that she can to move road projects forward.

Second Speaker was Kome Ajise, Cal Trans. One sure bet of funding is Hwy 99 projects. 1 billion is going to be spent from Bakersfield to Redding. 1/4 billion for Merced County with the projects being the Mission Project to Madera County line widening to six lanes. Other projects next in line are Los Banos bypass and widening of 99 by Livingston.

Jeff Dunham asked Kome what are ways for counties to be self help. His response was 1. Sales Tax measures (19 counties now have it)
2. Traffic impact fees (mentioned El Dorado County has one.
He said Merced County has one too but it is different from
El Dorado County one. He did not elaborate on how it is
different)
3. Toll roads (Area not right for those. Need more pop and
roads that people have no choice but to take)
4. Developer fees (he called it "straight levee on rooftops")
Kome stressed that state is reluctant to take on any more projects than those already in process. Hwy 165 is not considered in process at this time.

Second Speaker was Jesse Brown, MCAG. Said that MCAG is responsible for
creating a regional transportation plan for Merced County. Merced County receives federal dollars every year from our tax dollars, but it is all spent on road maintenance. 1.9 million was available and it was all used for maintenance. 2.6 million came from congestion funds but has to be used for transportation issues like mass transportation.
Jesse Brown stated MCAG's reasons for allocating funds:
1. safety
2. congestion
3. leveraging more money from other sources.
4. efficiency
He spoke about Hwy 165 Bypass:
1. Has to be placed in regional transportation plan, which it is.
2. MCAG only has money for project study report (being done now)
3. Next step is the EIR (8 years)
4. Engineering (1 1/2 years)
5. Right of way (2 1/2 years)
6. Build road (3 years)
He said that MCAG has many priorities before Hwy 165 bypass is in top tier. Top tier projects are proposed to be built within the next 20 years. It was in top tier, but because Measure G failed it no longer is. He said that he can guarantee that the soonest it could be built would be at least 20 years and not before that time. Remember Deidre was always saying 10 to 15 years.
Of course, he stressed that we need to become self help. He thanked Hilmar for overwhelmingly voting to pass Measure G. He said the Measure failed in Atwater and Merced so that is where they will put most of their effort this time around.

Then the floor was open to questions. One of the most interesting was a man from Livingston who is on the city council. He brought a map. He said that he and others are proposing to put the highway interchange in Livingston and route 165 bypass people over there to it. Never gonna happen. He had a very fancy aerial map with the plan on it. He thanked Senator Dunham several times for inviting him to come. So it looks like Livingston is gunning for the interchange. There must be a lot of money to be made by putting fast food restaurants and such by those. Look at what Livingston has done at the interchange at the Winton Rest Stop. They are licking their chops for this one too.

I was the last person to go to the microphone to ask a question. None of the previous questions dealt with developments so I had to think how I could tie it in to the issues discussed. I told Denham and the Cal Trans man about all of the master planned developments proposed that would be serviced by Hwy 165. When I mentioned 3,700 homes in Stevinson the Cal Trans man straightened his back, shook his head and frowned. Denham turned his head and looked at the Cal Trans man when this happened. I said that within a 13 mile stretch 11,000 homes are being proposed (Stevinson, Turlock Golf Course, Turlock's platinum triangle) and that traffic would be serviced by a two lane bypass. I said that it is not going to work. There will be too much traffic for a two lane bypass. Then I said how people have told me that you cannot even speak of four lanes because of costs. So, I just said that the numbers do not add up and the two lane bypass is too costly for the service it will provide.

One man said that it takes too long for EIR's. He said they need to shorten the process. He said that once they are done Mrs. Miller does a lawsuit and it takes another two or three years. He said that she did it on the UC Merced and now she is doing it on the racetrack. Kome said that it cannot be shortened because it is the law. The man said they need to change the laws.

Rob Mitchell got up and gave a very good speech about the idiotic idea of self help. He was pretty mad and said that we have already put in our money and that the self help concept is holding money we have already paid hostage until we put more money into the system. He got a large applause with that comment.

After the meeting I stayed around and talked to people. A woman came up and said that she is sure they are not going to use Griffith. She said they will take property off of the backside of people's land between Griffith and Golf.

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Sonny Star: full of bull and applepie

Submitted: May 20, 2007
About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction. More than ever, we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. -- Merced Sun-Star, May 19, 2007

This ration of the well-known substance was dished out via Sonny Star, McClatchy's local rent-a-rag, by Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, who began his flak during a breezy week by saying:

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation.

Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. On April 30, the Air District's governing board adopted the first eight-hour ozone plan in California. This overarching and comprehensive plan is designed to help the Valley attain cleaner air, as measured by the federal smog standard, as expeditiously as practicable. The regulatory cost to businesses will be about $20 billion. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air.

Sadredin is willfully confusing the public on behalf of the state regional air board, made up entirely of pro-growth Valley politicians. The board is asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the worst air pollution designation it has to offer, "extreme non-attainment," so that federal highway funds will not be pulled back until developers have all the roads they need for more growth, which will equal more pollution, not however the responsibility of the state board. Presumably, in 2023, Sadredin's two-bit flak successor will be saying our air is even cleaner, but that we must apply for the federal "catastrophic non-attainment" designation so that federal highway funds will not be withdrawn.

As long as the Valley keeps growing, it doesn't matter how many restrictions are placed on stationary-source emissions (mainly farm equipment). It is the cars of the new residents that do the damage. It is the destruction of natural resources to build subdivisions that does the damage.

Until a public coalition actually commits to suing both the federal and state governments simultaneously and is willing to endure the long haul such a suit would entail, nothing will improve and Sonny Star will be printing authoritative "expert" flak about how much cleaner our air is getting every breeze May.

Moving from bull to a related topic, apple pie, we note that righteous members of the local Applepiocracy are suggesting that the CEO of Riverside Motorsparts Pork is really not the proper sort of person we should include in our community. Therefore, the Applepiocrats suggest, the board of supervisors somehow renege on their approval of the RMP permits and zone changes. Because, you see, he is not a nice man. Sonny Star, with his unerring instinct for snobbery and with its contemptuous ignorance of law, is also slinging apple pies at John Condren.

The present public commentary in Merced is filled with bull and apple pie. If this keeps up too much longer, the whole county will be buried by flaky crusted compost (which might be a smoother driving surface than our present streets and roads). And that's just dandy, as long as no one imagines it will stop the increase in air pollution coming to the Valley through "planning" promoted by the University of California, the Merced Association of Governments, the Merced Board of Supervisors, the Merced City Council, the finance, insurance and real estate special interests, the air board and the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. And, of course, by Sonny Star, who knows which side he's buttered on.

The only black box on the horizon is $5 fuel.

Badlands editorial staff
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5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
Breathe easier knowing air is cleaner...Seyed Sadredin, executive director/air pollution control officer of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602031p-14199952c.html

Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is better than it has ever been in recorded history. With tough regulations, innovative measures and investment by businesses and residents, air pollution has been reduced significantly throughout the Valley. Despite this tremendous progress, the Valley's pollution-retaining geography and meteorology make meeting new, federal ozone and particulate standards a challenge that is unmatched by any other region in the nation. Having already reduced Valley smog by 80 percent since the 1980s, virtually eliminating the remainder will not be cheap and cannot happen overnight. The board members should be commended for their courage, resoluteness and commitment to clean air. About 80 percent of our smog-causing pollutants come from mobile sources over which the air district has no jurisdiction...we will need the state and federal government to do their fair share for the Valley by providing funding and regulatory assistance to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and locomotives. By any objective measure, the plan adopted by the air district is a comprehensive effort that leaves no stone unturned...
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5-19-07
Merced Sun-Star
RMP an embarrassment...Marc Medefind, Merced...Letters to the editor
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13602033p-14199862c.html

Five months ago, the Merced County Board of Supervisors made a decision that rocked the world of citizens who think that clean air, noise restrictions, ag preservation, and traffic concerns should be pre-eminent in the hearts and minds of those they elected to serve. Since then, the "house of cards" known as Riverside Motorsports Park has taken quite a tumble...Sun-Star has published exposés about the background and character of CEO John Condren...documents the seemingly nefarious ways in which he treated both employees and directors. Other articles have exposed the way the RMP Corp. deceived those who were once strong supporters and flouted the laws in Alameda County...paint a picture of an arrogant, egomaniac who apparently did anything to get what he wanted, regardless of statute or ethics. Sun-Star Sports Editor Steve Cameron...Where's the money coming from to build this gargantuan track? We still have no answers. Kenny Shepherd ("Advocate to Adversary") once again raised huge questions about character and trust where RMP is concerned...far from rolling in the bucks -- RMP can hardly pay its electric bills. After bamboozling most of Merced County's Supervisors into supporting this farce...milked dry and its directors sent packing...filling local racing fans with dreams of grandeur...overturning common sense ordinances... it doesn't seem too unrealistic that the rezoned land will be sold to investors...Mr. Condren will sail off into the sunset... But maybe that was the plan from day one. Still, it's not too late. Our Supervisors have only to revisit and rescind their unfortunate December decision to prevent this embarrassment from staining our county any further.

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Valley hydraulic brotherhood coocaloo as usual

Submitted: Apr 25, 2007

There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation. -- Mike Whitney, Counterpunch.com, April 24, 2007

To effect the San Joaquin River settlement agreement between environmental groups and the Friant Water Users Authority, a congressional bill was required. The amount specified in the December bill was $250 million. McClatchy Washington Bureau reported yesterday that a "long-awaited study" put funding at $500 million to restore water flow through a 50-mile stretch of the river in the middle of Fresno County. Fresno Bee reports today, "Cost to restore river set at $1b," according to the executive director of the west San Joaquin Valley water district, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority. Yesterday a state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee (known to McClatchy as a "Senate panel," not even a legitimate committee), voted against funding two reservoirs in Northern California, one of them the Temperance Flats dam proposal, above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River.

Hello, world, we are the San Joaquin Valley. We are going through one of our periodic water-madness periods in which it is revealed to the discerning eye that the San Joaquin Valley is nothing but a gigantic public works project for agribusiness and finance, insurance and real estate. We talk like we own it. We don't. The American public paid for most of it.

Consider the official voice of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, for example. The exchange contractors sued the federal government about 50 years ago for building the Friant Dam where the San Joaquin River leaves the Sierra foothills, sending about 90 percent of its water down the east side of the Valley in the Friant-Kern Canal. The federal government thoughtfully built the exchange contractors the Delta-Mendota Canal, which sent San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta water south to the contractors, because cattle baron Henry Miller had good riparian rights to the San Joaquin on the west side and because the Bureau of Reclamation had stolen all the water for the City of Fresno and eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties' growers. Now that federally subsidized water is worth a mint in Los Angeles and Valley cities at municipal retail rates. But, so too the Delta Mendota water, worth municipal millions in fast-growing Los Banos, Patterson, and the "new towns" planned all up and down Interstate Highway 5, the magnificent achievement of Chuck Erreca of Los Banos, chairman of the state Department of Transportation when I-5 was approved in the days of Gov. Pat Brown.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Water Resources is reporting the snow pack hasn't been so low in 30 years, reminding old farmers of the drought of 1976-77, worse than the early 1990s. It serves to remind us that modern California, built on the boundless exploitation of limited natural resources, has never been rationally managed, and this year will be no different.

Consider how $250 million becomes $500 million becomes a billion dollars in a matter of days in McClatchy. Here we haven't even gotten to the next level of congressional debate on the dirty secret of west-side irrigation, that it produces extremely toxic levels of heavy metals and salts to grow its subsidized cotton, the almond orchards of finance, insurance and real estate speculators and federally subsidized ethanol corn -- and it has no place to put the toxic waste from this destructive form of agriculture.

A very powerful political coalition is forming to stop the San Joaquin Valley settlement agreement between farmers and environmentalists. It will probably force the case back into court for a ruling, negating years bargaining work between the farmers and environmentalists. Federal judge Lawrence Karlton has said no one will like how he will rule and it would be far, far better if a good settlement was put into effect. But the lobby of what the great former generation of San Joaquin journalists dubbed "the hydraulic brotherhood" won't let that happen and their little terriers like Rep. Devin Nunes, Water Agency Mouthpiece-Visalia, are yapping. Behind the yappers are other Valley congressmen, Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for example, quiet in the press but working behind the scenes to derail the settlement agreement. To the hydraulic brotherhood and its minions in public office, there is something obscene about farmers and environmentalists agreeing on anything and, besides, they don't pay the big bucks developers do to fund the magnificent political campaigns among turkeys chosen in advance by the largest landowners and developers in the districts.

The price of letting water flow in the second longest river in California is a pittance compared to the hinky mortgages speculators assumed in the mad home construction boom-and-bust in the San Joaquin Valley as politicians, finance, insurance and real estate special interests seek to convert farms to subdivisions upstream from LA.

Bill Hatch
--------------------

4-25-07
Fresno Bee
Cost to restore river set at $1b...Mark Grossi
http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43792.html

The price tag of restoring the San Joaquin River might be $1 billion or more, according to an analysis announced Tuesday night. An official from a west San Joaquin Valley irrigation authority quoted the figure, which differs from other estimates that place the cost closer to $600 million. Environmentalists and east Valley farmers last year ended a long-running lawsuit and agreed to revive the seasonally dry river. The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, the west-side irrigation group, represents owners of 240,000 farmland acres next to the river. Officials fear their land might be flooded if the restoration isn't done well. "I know the numbers are going to cause controversy," said Steve Chedester, executive director of the authority. "The river basically hasn't existed in one stretch since the 1960s." The restoration project probably is among the biggest in the country, said Bill Loudermilk, regional manager in this area for the state Department of Fish and Game. The restored river will either run through a rebuilt section of the river or the bypass, said Monty Schmitt, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed the lawsuit over the river in 1988. He said no decision has been made yet.

Sacramento Bee
Defeated dams still supported; Governor isn't backing away from $4 billion in bonds after negative vote by Senate panel, By Judy Lin, http://by135w.bay135.mail.live.com/mail/ReadMessageLight.aspx?Aux=4%2c0%2c633131105411770000&FolderID=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&InboxSortAscending=False&InboxSortBy=Date&ReadMessageId=d7772f79-fc83-4424-948d-5ba938593446&n=659198169

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he has no plans to scale down his $4 billion proposal for building two new dams in the state despite watching Democrats reject his bill earlier in the day.
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee killed the governor's plan to put bonds for two dams -- one on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and one east of Fresno -- on the 2008 ballot. Senate Bill 59 by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, had Republican support, but couldn't muster the necessary five votes to pass out of the Democrat-led committee...SB 59 called for voters to approve a $3.95 billion plan to build one dam at Temperance Flat just above Friant Dam near Fresno, and the other on Sites reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. Together the dams would yield up to 3.1 million acre-feet of water. By comparison, Folsom Dam holds about 1 million acre-feet...Opponents led by environmental groups argue that the dams aren't needed as long as Californians continue to conserve. They say the projected cost of constructing the two dams has already increased by 10 percent, from $4 billion to $4.4 billion, and noted that some of the water would be lost due to evaporation.Republicans from the Central Valley counter that there hasn't been new dam construction in the last 25 years while the state's population has grown by 15 million...

4-24-07
Fresno Bee
River price tag put at $500mLawmaker says the restoration cost creates a problem.By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau -- http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43412.html

A long-awaited study puts the federal government's cost of restoring the San Joaquin River at $500 million -- raising questions about how to pay for the painstakingly negotiated plan.
One legislator is using the new Congressional Budget Office study in his attempts to derail the proposal to send more water down the river. The additional water would allow the return of long-depleted salmon populations.
"I think the costs are a lot higher than have been advertised, and that's a considerable problem for the bill," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. He has been critical of the restoration plan's possible effect on farmers if less water is available for irrigation.
The plan's supporters retort that the costs aren't unexpected. As they prepare for a May 2 Senate hearing, they will try to shave the cost estimates and identify the necessary offsetting savings.
"We've known for some time that we had a [budget] issue," Dan Dooley, an attorney for the Friant Water Users Authority, said Friday. "Until this report, we didn't have the specifics, but I'm confident we'll work through it."
The bill language itself only specifies $250 million in spending. The new cost estimate adds other required environmental spending, as well as the loss of federal tax revenue from California bonds that would be sold to help pay for the project as part of the state's share of funding.
Farmers and environmentalists differ over what the final total cost will be, with estimates ranging from between $600 million and $1.2 billion.
New rules in place under Democratic leadership require congressional spending to be balanced with additional revenues or with new savings. The San Joaquin River bill is one of the first natural resources bills to confront the new pay-as-you-go budget requirements.
In coming weeks, river restoration supporters will confront the political challenge of identifying other programs to trim so that the San Joaquin River might live.
"Good luck," Nunes said. "Who are they going to cut?" ...

April 24, 2007
Counterpunch.com
"Is It Too Late to Get Out?"
Housing Bubble Boondoggle
By MIKE WHITNEY

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson delivered an upbeat assessment of the slumping real estate market on Friday saying, "All the signs I look at" show "the housing market is at or near the bottom."
Baloney.
Paulson added that the meltdown in subprime mortages was not a "serious problem. I think it's going to be largely contained."
Wrong again.
Paulson knows full well that the housing market is headed for a crash and probably won't bounce back for the next 4 or 5 years. That's why Congress is slapping together a bailout package that will keep struggling homeowners out of foreclosure. If defaults keep skyrocketing at the present rate they are liable to bring the whole economy down in a heap.
Last week, the Senate convened the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer. The committee's job is to develop a strategy to keep delinquent subprime mortgage holders in their homes. It may look like the congress is looking out for the little guy, but that's not the case. As Schumer noted, "The subprime mortgage meltdown has economic consequences that will ripple through our communities unless we act."
Schumer's right. The repercussions of millions of homeowners defaulting on their loans could be a major hit for Wall Street and the banking sector. That's what Schumer is worried about---not the plight of over-leveraged homeowners.
Every day now, another major lending institution unveils its plan for bailing out the housing market. Citigroup and Bank of America have joined forces to create the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America which will provide $1 billion for the rescue of subprime loans. This will allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages and keep them out of foreclosure. The new "30- year loans will carry a fixed interest rate one point below the prime rate, putting it currently at 5.5 percent. There are no fees, and the banks pay all the closing costs."
But why are the banks being so generous if, as Paulson says, "the housing market is at or near the bottom." This proves that the Treasury Secretary is full of malarkey and that the problem is much bigger than he's letting on.
Last week, Washington Mutual announced a $2 billion program to slow foreclosures (Washington Mutual's subprime segment lost $164 million in the first quarter) while Freddie Mac committed a whopping $20 billion to the same goal. In fact, Freddie Mac announced that it "would stretch the loan term to a maximum of 40 years from the current 30-year limit."
40 years!?! How about a 60 or 80 year mortgage?
Can you sense the desperation? And yet, Paulson says he doesn't see the subprime meltdown as a "serious problem"!
Paulson's comments have had no effect on the Federal Reserve. The Fed has been frantically searching for a strategy that will deal with the rising foreclosures. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that "Federal bank regulators called on lenders to work with distressed borrowers unable to meet payments on high-risk mortgages to help them keep their homes".
Huh?
When was the last time the feds ordered the privately-owned banks to rewrite loans?
Never--that's when.
That gives us some idea of how bad things really are. The details of the meltdown are being downplayed in the media to prevent panic-selling among the public. But the Fed knows what's going on. They know that "U.S. mortgage default rates hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2007" and that "the percentage of mortgages in default rose to a record 2.87%". In fact, the Federal Reserve and the five other federal agencies that regulate banks issued this statement just last week:
"Prudent workout arrangements that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices are generally in the long-term best interest of both the financial institution and the borrowerInstitutions will not face regulatory penalties if they pursue reasonable workout arrangements with borrowers."
Translation: "Rewrite the loans! Promise them anything! Just make sure they remain shackled to their houses!"
Unfortunately, the problem won't be "fixed" with a $30 or $40 billion bailout scheme. The problem is much bigger than that. There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation.
Kenneth Heebner, manager of CGM Realty Fund (Capital Growth Management), provided a realistic forecast of what we can expect in the near future as defaults increase.
Heebner: "The Greatest Price Decline in Housing since the Great Depression" (Bloomberg News interview)
"The real wave of pain and foreclosures is just beginning.subprimes and Alt-A are both in trouble. A lot of these will go into default. The reason is, that the people who took these out never really intended to fully service the mortgage---they were counting on rising home prices so they could sign on the dotted line without showing what their income was and then 2 years later flip into another junk mortgage and get a big profit out of the house with putting anything down
"There's a $1.5 trillion in subprimes and $1 trillion in Alt-A the catalyst will be declining house prices which is already underway. But as we get a large amount of these $2.5 trillion mortgages go into default, we'll see foreclosed houses dumped on an already weak market where homebuilders are already struggling to sell there houses. The price declines which have started will continue and may even accelerate in some of the hotter markets. I would expect that housing prices in "2007 will decline 20% in a lot of markets".
"What you are going to see is the greatest price decline in housing since the Great Depression..The one thing that people should not do, is go near a CDO or a residential mortgage backed security rated Triple A by Moody's and S&P because these are going to get down-graded by the hundreds of millions---because they are secured by subprime and Alt-A mortgages where there'll be massive defaults".
Question: "Will the losses in the mortgage market exceed those in the S&L crisis?"
Heebner: "They're going to dwarf those losses because the losses could easily approach $1 trillion---that dwarfs anything that has ever happened. Enron was $100 billion---this will be far greater than that..The good news is that most of these loans are owned by Hedge FundsYou hedge funds buying these subprime and Alt-A loans and leveraging them at 10 to 1. They buy a pool of mortgages at 8% and they borrow against it in yen for 3% and then lever it at 10 to 1so you have a lucrative profit And the hedge fund you are running, the manager is going to get 20% of the gain---so even if it's a year before you go broke; you get rich until the fund is shut down".
Heebner added this instructive comment: "The brokerage firms created "securitization" they know the products are toxic. I don't think they are going to suffer losses; they simply passed them on to everyone else. The only impact this will have is the profits that flow from it will get less.But it is less than 3% of revenues in even the most exposed brokerage firm so THEY'RE NOT GOING TO GET CAUGHT" ...

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Clods at the wheel

Submitted: Apr 21, 2007
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million. -- Stockton Record, 3-16-07

They haven't even learned yet how to project in public anything but blind greed by fleecing the people. It is their only tune.

Merced Sun-Star editorialists opine that if Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, had only supported Measure G -- to raise our sales taxes to pay for the UC Campus Parkway, Highway 99,and maybe some other things (in that order) -- she would have a better chance to get funds for a G Street underpass beneath the railroad tracks on the north side of Merced. The clods then go on to analyse Galgiani's inner mind, claiming she opposed Measure G not to appear to be a "tax and spend liberal" while facing a "weak" Republican opponent. The only problem with that critical link in their argument is that Gerry Machado was an unexpectedly strong opponent. He worked hard, campaigned intensely and was a credible candidate.

I've reconsidered what I earlier wrote about this editorial, which strikes me as nothing but sour grapes and refried Gingrich babble. Three measures on this subject have failed. The last one, Measure G, failed more than a month before the Board of Supervisors passed the Riverside Motorsports Park project, designed to bring in up to 50,000 spectators from 100 miles around for major auto-racing events. Maybe business, political and media leaders who supported it at crucial times should not have approved it without a better grip on where the funds for transportation improvements would come from. It's like building subdivisions all over the state without checking to see if there really is enough water or not.

Bill Hatch
---------------------

4-21-07
Merced Sun-Star
Fighting an uphill battle...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/13508896p-14115138c.html

Newly minted Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, has spent a good portion of her time in Sacramento fighting tooth and nail for funding for a railroad underpass at G Street in Merced. But we can't help but wonder: Where was Galgiani on this issue last year? Instead of fighting for passage of Measure G, which would have just about paid for an underpass, Galgiani was opposing it out of fear her weak Republican challenger would brand her a tax-and-spend liberal. We didn't understand the wisdom of Galgiani's thinking on the Measure G topic back then -- and we still don't today... doubly puzzling given most prominent area Republicans were solidly behind Measure G. Its narrow and devastating defeat possibly could have been averted if political leaders like Galgiani had galvanized behind it. Now, she's fighting an uphill battle for funds that are more likely to go to counties that have passed their own self-help tax increases like Measure G would have done for us. For our sake, let's hope Galgiani is successful. If so, she will have taken a step to redeem herself among the vocal Measure G supporters who were angered by her opposition.

3-16-07
Stockton Record
Transit bond funds approved

The county's bid for more than a quarter of the $1 billion bond fund dedicated to improvements on Highway 99 was approved Thursday.
The California Transportation Commission distributed $975 million of the fund, created when voters approved Proposition 1B in November. San Joaquin County received $282.4 million...San Joaquin County's share is the biggest. Among regions through which Highway 99 runs, only Merced County landed nearly as much, with $248.3 million.

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April 12, 2007: Day in the life of the north San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: Apr 12, 2007

A strong, chilly wind is blowing in the north San Joaquin Valley today, stirring up an enormous amount of dust coming in part from graded but unfinished subdivisions, as the financial, insurance and real estate industry hunkers down for an explosion of mortgage default.

But, poetry aside, the news of the day is as gritty as the sight of tons of topsoil blowing away from the county.

The Merced Sun-Star editorialists have returned to wearing their other hats as editors of the UC Daily Bobcat, once again flakking for the institution where one administrator is currently serving 60 days for forgery and theft. In their opinion, we should all go out to the UC Merced to celebrate Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival. Last year's UCM Fairy Shrimp Festival was a dud, so the UC bobcatflaksters renamed it, evidently hoping the mammalian charm of cuddly bobcat mascot, Baby Boy, would overwhelm the feckless hauteur of the endangered crustaceans.

When it comes to wildlife, UC believes its right to exploit is above the law. It broke every regulation and practice on the care of wildlife when it appropriated its little mascot, found mysteriously in a paper bag outside the city zoo more than a year ago. He should have gone to a rehabilitation center certified for bobcats in Morgan Hill. Instead, he was stolen by UC Merced in violation of a number of regulations established by the state Department of Fish and Game, which that institution of easy virtue did not enforce. As for the fairy shrimp, even as UC pretends to celebrate vernal pools and the 15 federally endangered species that inhabit them, including the shrimp, in the densest fields of vernal pools in the nation that surround the campus site, UC lawyers are working ceaselessly behind the scenes to undermine the federal Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent UC Merced from expanding and destroying the vernal pools and the fairy shrimp. With that level of propaganda coming out of the UC Merced administration, the public wonders how much truth is taught in the classrooms. To suppose there was no connection between the propaganda and the instruction is naive.

UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June,

the UC Daily Bobcat announces, in another article that appears to be news but is just more propaganda. We think the UCM bobcatflaksters have a schedule made up at least a year in advance detailing the release of stories about how UCM administrators are developing this med school. Who can be against a med school? Right? Except, doesn't UC Davis -- also located, despite UC Merced flak, in Central California -- also have a med school? Why would it not expand its own medical services, as it has recently done as far away from Davis as Willits? Isn't the problem with medical services in the Valley the same as it is throughout the nation, rapacious insurance companies, aided and abetted in the latest Medicare "Reform" Act by the Valley's own former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield? Does the Valley really need another research medical facility, in the announced case of UC Merced, focused on respiratory diseases? UC Merced has precipitated the biggest speculative growth boom in local history, bringing with it immeasurable increases in air pollution. It appropriated the bobcat for sentiment; it wants to appropriate the vernal pools for its ediface complex; and it wants to appropriate our lungs for research grants.

Speaking of our lungs, UC Merced's partner within the UC system, UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, confessed recently that its bomb-testing activities on Site 300 near Tracy will put depleted uranium in the air. Perhaps UC Merced telemedical facilities on the west side will be able to measure how much depleted uranium will travel how far and how deadly its effects are, neatly broken down into ethnic cohorts. This sort of information will be of use to the Pentagon and UC will be able to get grants to study it, no doubt.

Not satisfied with terrorizing the north San Joaquin Valley with depleted uranium bomb drift, the UC Livermore lab is on the short list to locate the most dangerous type of biological warfare lab (Level 4) on the same site . The UC Livermore lab is in court with Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, which sued over establishment in Livermore of a Level 3 lab. In testimony for the court, the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration provided this useful bit of information:

"it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks..."

The Level 4 lab UC Livermore wants to establish near Tracy would be called a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, "which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants..."

In light of the world health threat posed by Avian Flu, it is an interesting choice of locations because the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds intersects in these counties with the largest concentration of poultry in the state. Assuming the wild, migratory birds to be the vector from Asia, where the virus is florishing, it seems likely, despite excellent bio-security at our modern poultry facilities, infection from the wild to the domestic could take place. Presumably, the proximity of the biolab would help the poultry industry deal more quickly with an epidemic, which in turn might help protect people in the vicinity. On the other hand, in the event of a "catastrophic accident" in the lab, or a terrorist attack on it, Avian Flu would be the least of our worries, down wind from Ebola, etc. We could have a biological Chernobyl on our hands?

We aren't supposed to ask that question because if we get scared, defense experts tell us, they -- the terrorists -- have already won.

But, don't worry: UC medical researchers in space suits would be right there to study your final moments and you would have made your personal contribution to research science. Maybe there will be a plaque over your mass gravesite.

That's just downright cynical, some would say. By not wanting this lab in our backyards, they would go on, we are preventing valuable scientific discovery and defeating our technological edge in this important field. Defense experts would go on to say that biological warfare is in our future and labs like these will have to produce the antidotes to weapons genetically engineered. And they will have do so quickly. And that's all we can know about it because the rest is secret for reasons of national security. We Americans must become "resilient" to terrorist attacks, the experts say. Like we were after 9/11? We were so resilient that in addition to having put our "footprints" on the "arc of instability" (aka Muslim nations with oil) we restricted habeas corpus, the oldest liberty we had -- not the acts of a people resilient either economically or politically. Given our national experience, what can we expect from the combination of universities, corporations and the government in response to more terrorist attacks but more autocracy, militarism and corruption? Given our local experience, can we expect this university to tell the truth about anything?

In other news of the day, Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student-loan sharks, have agreed to quit bribing college administrators in charge of advising students and their parents on where to get the student loans. This is a staggering ethical achievement. Sally Mae began in 1972 as a government program, but, as its website puts it, "The company began privatizing its operations in 1997, a process it completed at the end of 2004 when the company terminated its ties to the federal government." The investigation began in New York. Colleges and universities (UC loudest of all) bray about the personal and national necessity of higher education for one and all, leading the cattle to the financial slaughter while taking kickbacks. We will just have to wait and see which UC administrators were in on the deal. USC has already been hit with a scandal.

Here in Merced, the stink from local law enforcement is still rising, after all these months. A local criminal defense attorney, John Garcia, has filed a civil suit in Merced Superior Court, adding former DA Gordon Spencer to a list of respondents including the DA's office, Merced County and the Merced County Sheriff's Office. The suit alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and civic rights violation arising from what appears to be a drug sting operation. We can find no word on the Richard Byrd v. County of Merced, et. al. case filed in July 2006 in federal district court in Fresno. In that case, Byrd, a former local policeman, alleged that some of the same characters Garcia is suing bilked him out of a valuable piece of property while he was in the county jail on trumped up charges. Either Spencer was a sloppily corrupt public official or the Sun-Star got involved in a (prize-winning) witch hunt that produced no convictions. So far, the jury is still out unless the Byrd suit was settled so quietly the Sun-Star missed it.

The Modesto Bee is up in arms about mortgage foreclosures and beating the drums for federal assistance to homeowners. What McClatchy really means is a federal bailout for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Mortgage lenders, focusing on areas like Stockton, Modesto and Merced, among other vulnerable locations in the nation (Atlanta and South Texas, for example), went on a feeding frenzy under the banner of "Freedom through Home Ownership," babbled daily in the press and in every other media outlet in the land. The "lending industry," as banks and other financial institutions like hedge funds and derivative ghouls are called these days, bought bundles of these loans, including a lot of bad paper. Now, they are crying to the federal government -- on behalf of the poor homeowners, naturally. The only question here is if the bailout of these obscenely wealthy speculators will be larger than the savings and loan bailout. If the experience of six years of Bush is any indication, the homeowning victims of predatory lending practices will get the shaft.

A desperate bit of flak from the state Department of Water Resources yesterday prefaces our next story:

“The Department of Water Resources has long been committed to balancing water operations with protection of the Delta environment,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “Today’s court filing underscores the department’s ongoing efforts to protect these resources, our actions to comply with the court’s findings, and the long term strategy to restore Delta ecosystems while ensuring reliable water supplies to the 25 million Californians served by the State Water Project.”

DWR sensitivity to the dying Delta ecosystem is so overwhelming that it filed with the Alameda Superior Court yesterday to do what it can to modify the judge's draft order to fix the environmental disaster caused by the state's systematic overpumping the Delta for the last four years. DWR enlisted the state Department of Fish and Game in its desperate plea. Once the judge issues a final order, DWR has 60 days to fix the problem. As the fish die and water rationing begins, there is bound to be an extraordinary display of sophistry. However, we think the last word has already been spoken by the original petitioner, Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The state, he said, was "refrying the egg."

Meanwhile, The Bush pulled back another nomination for a top position at the Environmental Protection Agency, sensing it might have some problems in Congress. Nevertheless, the administration and a nation that spent the weekend dithering about Iran and Imus while the UN's report on global warming was ignored, especially that bit about human agency.

Bill Hatch
----------------

4-12-07
Merced Sun-Star
Time to mingle with Bobcats...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/ourview/story/13479121p-14088905c.html

Merced area residents will have a golden opportunity this weekend to get to know their recent neighbors to the north...Saturday's Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival represent a chance for Mercedians to get to know the almost brand-new UC Merced campus and the people who live and work there, as well as have some fun in the process. For the uninitiated, the Golden Bobcat is the school's mascot and vernal pools surrounding the campus are home to fairy shrimp. Events at the North Lake Road campus are free and open to the public... arts and crafts fair...vendors, live bands, performers and family-oriented presentations...public tours. Can't you visualize a 6-year-old deciding he wants to attend UC Merced when he grows up, based on the fun and inspiration he soaked up while visiting the campus with his mother, father and siblings? That could happen and we hope it does. The once-a-year event will allow UC Merced students and faculty to get to know local residents and people who have never visited the university to learn what it has to offer. Students trying to figure out their future academic direction certainly could gain some insight on programs and options at UC Merced... Let's bridge the distance between UC Merced and the city by enjoying Bobcat Day and the Fairy Shrimp Festival.

UC Merced plans to build high-tech health centers...Victor A. Patton
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479084p-14088947c.html

UC Merced administrators say plans are in motion to establish a series of health centers in the San Joaquin Valley that would improve access to health care in underserved areas...the school has received a $225,000 state grant to jump-start plans to create four telemedicine centers, also referred to as "eHealth Centers." Telemedicine centers generally use videoconferencing equipment to transmit a patient's medical information and images from relatively remote areas to doctors and specialists in other areas of the state...centers also allow doctors in different areas to have live videoconferencing discussions about their patient's health -- even if they are hundreds of miles apart. University officials have not decided where the centers will be located since the plan is in its preliminary stages... Doctors from UC Davis and UC San Francisco will be providing some of the medical expertise. UC Merced is partnering with administrators at UC Davis to help develop the centers, since UC Davis was one of the first entities to establish its own telemedicine program in 1996. Establishing the telemedicine centers fits with UC Merced's ambitions to eventually establish a medical school at the campus. UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June. If the plan is approved by UC regents, the state legislature would then decide whether to fund the medical school.

Stockton Record
Livermore lab says bigger blasts would send depleted uranium into air...Jake Armstrong
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120321

Bigger outdoor blasts proposed at an explosives test range southwest of Tracy could release up to 453 pounds of depleted uranium into the air a year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials told air pollution regulators in an application last week. Lab officials did not disclose that information in a November request to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District... The district initially granted the lab permission, but revoked the permit in March after learning the blasts would contain radioactive materials. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium, and when detonated, it would be carried by wind, said Gretchen Gallegos, of the lab's Operations and Regulatory Affairs Division. The lab has not found radiation levels above federal thresholds at its monitoring stations, she said. "All of our activities are well within any health measure, and there's nothing to be concerned about," Gallegos said. Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials will tour Site 300 Monday to further evaluate the University of California's proposal to locate there the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants. The visit is part of a nationwide tour of 18 sites vying for the federal laboratory. DHS officials will then shorten the list of proposals, conduct environmental reviews of the finalists, and decide on a site in October 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore...'Unlikely' attack at lab could release microbes, study says...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78DN1.DTL&hw=livermore+lab&sn=004&sc=1000

U.S. Energy Department draft environmental assessment study concludes that a direct terrorist assault on the facility is "highly unlikely" to succeed. But because it acknowledges local activists' concerns that catastrophic accidents are possible, it is now up the lab critics who have sued to block the opening of the facility to consider whether to pursue further court action, including a possible order to stop the Livermore lab from opening the microbe facility. The Livermore site already has a lower-level lab for investigating microbial diseases, but the proposed new Biosafety Level 3 lab -- dubbed BSL3 for short -- would store microbes of medieval scariness. They include plague, botulism and Q fever, a bacterial disease that in its more virulent form, chronic Q fever, kills up to 65 percent of its victims...proposed lab would also investigate anthrax. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Energy Department to conduct the environmental study following a suit by Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Construction of the facility was finished in 2005, but it hasn't opened pending the completion of litigation. On Wednesday, lab critics responded with scorn to the long-awaited, 80-page environmental study. The study was released by the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration...environmental study acknowledges that "dramatic human health impacts and economic disruption can result following the release of pathogenic materials...also says "it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks. The number of scenarios is large, and the likelihood of any type of attack is unknowable."...study does not describe any potential scenarios for terrorist attacks "because disclosure of this information could be exploited by terrorists to plan attacks." Ironically, the report includes a map showing the precise location of the microbe lab, in Building 360 on the Livermore lab site. Public feedback is welcome through May 11. Afterward, the Energy Department will issue a final version of the environmental assessment.

Modesto Bee
Sallie Mae settles, agrees to school-lending ethics...Karen Matthews
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479198p-14089044c.html

The nation's largest student loan provider will stop offering perks to college employees as part of a settlement announced Wednesday in a widening probe of the student loan industry. SLM Corp., commonly known as Sallie Mae, also agreed to pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about the financial aid industry, and it will adopt a code of conduct created by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is heading the probe. Cuomo said the expanding investigation of the $85 billion student loan industry has found numerous arrangements that benefited schools and lenders at the expense of students. Investigators say lenders have provided all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations for college financial aid officers who then directed students to the lenders. Sallie Mae is the second lender to agree to the code, which is aimed at making the loan process more transparent. Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, which does business at about 3,000 schools, last week agreed to donate $2 million to the same fund as part of a settlement with the attorney general's office.

Byrd sues on civil rights violations, Badlandsjournal.com, 7-28-07

Former D.A. added to civil rights lawsuit...Scott Jason
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/13479083p-14088942c.html

A local criminal defense attorney who said he was the victim of a failed interagency drug sting last year has added former Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer to his civil lawsuit...is accused of working with a state agent and a Merced sheriff's deputy to have a man give lawyer John Garcia, 64, a bag of methamphetamine disguised as tobacco. Drug agents then got a judge to let them search Garcia and his office. No charges were filed in connection with the Feb. 6, 2006, undercover sting operation that Garcia said violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress. The lawsuit, refiled on April 5 to accuse Spencer, also names Taylor, Cardwood, the District Attorney's Office, Merced County and its sheriff's department, and the city of Merced and its police department. Garcia is seeking an unspecified amount of money in the Merced County Superior Court case that alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and a civil rights violation.

Modesto Bee
Realtors: Housing slump will worsen in 2007...Alan Zibel and Dan Caterinicchia, AP
http://www.modbee.com/business/story/13479195p-14089041c.html

Key Senate Democrats issued a report Wednesday detailing the housing market's decline amid calls for federal aid to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The report from New York Democrat Charles Schumer, chair of the Joint Economic Committee, came on the same day that the nation's trade group for Realtors offered new projections that the housing slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors said the national median price for existing homes would decline this year for the first time since 1968 on the same day an activist nonprofit called on Wall Street to help homeowners restructure their mortgage loans. Across town, senators called for the government to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to help at-risk homeowners. NAR predicting the median price for existing homes nationwide will drop 0.7 percent...estimated existing home sales will fall 2.2 percent... As 1.8 million adjustable rate mortgages reset to higher rates this year and next, foreclosures are sure to continue rising, the 32-page report from the JEC said. The Federal Housing Administration could be revamped to refinance mortgages in danger of default, the JEC's report said... Lawmakers also are talking up proposals to strengthen federal regulation of mortgages, impose a national ban on predatory lending practices among all lenders and require those lenders to establish a borrower's ability to pay back a mortgage loan through the life of the loan, not just for two or three years. Rising delinquencies and defaults among borrowers have resulted in more than two dozen so-called subprime lenders going out of business, moving into bankruptcy protection or putting themselves up for sale.

Stockton Record
Water officials: Judge's ruling went overboard...Alex Breitler and Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070412/A_NEWS/704120333

The Department of Water Resources filed its official response to a March 22 court ruling that, when finalized, could reduce water supplies for 25 million people from Livermore to Los Angeles. In a series of three dozen objections, the state reasserted its claim that older agreements allow it to kill threatened Delta smelt and salmon at the Banks Pumping Plant, even without an official permit under state law. Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow in a statement said Wednesday's court filing underscores a long-term strategy to restore the Delta while ensuring future water supplies. Bill Jennings, whose California Sportfishing Protection Alliance brought the lawsuit that culminated with Roesch's ruling, said the state was "refrying the egg." "They're trying to reopen the case," Jennings said. "The judge provided a brief period of time to comment on the proposed order, not to reargue the entire case." Among its objections, the state said the word "massive" used by the judge to describe the amount of water shipped south is inaccurate and subject to misinterpretation. And a reference to "significant" numbers of fish killed at the pumps is ambiguous and ignores the state's attempts to save fish and replace those that are killed. Snow's solution presented Monday was to ask the state Department of Fish and Game to determine that the pumps comply with state law, based on federal biological opinions. This "consistency determination" would be the quickest way to obey the judge's order, he said. Fish and Game has 30 days to make that determination. The 60-day pump shutdown clock, meanwhile, would begin ticking when Roesch issues his final ruling, Jennings said. Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, asked the officials why they chose to ask for a consistency determination rather than go through the normal process. Broddrick said this way is far faster and will in effect mirror the rules the federal government relies on to operate its own set of giant water pumps in the area. Steinberg wanted to know why the state would rely on the federal rules. He asked Broddrick if those rules were in dispute. "They certainly are," Broddrick said, referring to an active lawsuit similar to the one that threatens the state pumps. "So how do we reconcile that one?" Steinberg asked. They cannot, Broddrick acknowledged. Essentially, the state is playing double-or-nothing: If the federal lawsuit invalidates the rules governing the federal pumps, and the state's "consistency determination" relies on those federal rules, then the courts could shut down both sets of pumps.

Good to the last drop...Steve Rubenstein
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/12/BAGDDP78EG1.DTL&hw=water&sn=007&sc=996
It must be serious...Rain and snow were so sporadic this winter that water could be scarce this summer. Water districts around the state have begun calling for "voluntary conservation... Unfortunately, many of the water-conservation tricks from past droughts will no longer work. Voluntary conservation is the official term for the step before mandatory conservation, also known as rationing. On Wednesday, San Francisco water officials warned that if things get dire over the summer, rationing is possible...

Reuters
Warming Could Spark N. American Water Scramble: U.N.
by Timothy Gardner
http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/12/477/

NEW YORK - Climate change could diminish North American water supplies and trigger disputes between the United States and Canada over water reserves already stressed by industry and agriculture, U.N. experts said on Wednesday.More heat waves like those that killed more than 100 people in the United States in 2006, storms like the killer hurricanes that struck the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and wildfires are likely in North America as temperatures rise, according to a new report that provided regional details on a U.N. climate panel study on global warming issued in Brussels on April 6...

Washington Post
White House pulls nomination to top EPA air post...Chris Baltimore, Reuters
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/11/AR2007041101710.html

The White House on Wednesday withdrew its choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution office after he ran afoul of key U.S. lawmakers. William Wehrum, nominated to head the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of rules to regulate harmful power plant emissions that environmental groups and many Democrats blasted as too lenient. The White House withdrew Wehrum's nomination, along with that of Alex Beehler, its pick to be the EPA's Inspector General, in a routine personnel announcement. Rather than face near-certain rejection from Boxer's committee, the White House withdrew the nominations.

| »

The MacDonald Affair

Submitted: Mar 31, 2007

Having observed and commented on the corruption of local, state and federal environmental law in this region for nearly a decade, the recent hoopla surrounding Julia MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Department of Interior, is not news. We met MacDonald shortly after her appointment as aide to Judge Craig Manson, the assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, in 2002. She urged us to get in touch. We think we have her card somewhere.

Locally, we see it as being within the general context of another spring offensive by finance, insurance, real estate and the Bush regime against the San Joaquin Valley. We are going into a drought, Bush is losing his war, and the local speculative housing boom is collapsing, generating skyrocketing foreclosure rates and some class-action suits on building defects. However, as we have said since they stole the Florida election in 2000, these people crossed their Rubicon and have had nowhere to go since but straight into the public's face.
The Badlands editorial staff honestly admits that MacDonald's corruptions would be quite beyond our scope if any of Interior's Inspector General's report were news to us. But we've covered most of it when her meddling and bullying first appeared. It's all back there in the archives somewhere and we will dig it out at the appropriate times. Meanwhile, she's a certifiable California "waterperson." She went after Klamath Bull Trout to help Rove do his stunt in the Klamath basin before the 2004 election; she went after the San Joaquin Delta Smelt, when heavy pumping caused by Interior's brokered Colorado River Agreement meant Southern California would have to get more water from the Delta; she went after seasonal wetlands and vernal pools and California Tiger Salamanders, all local issues here in the Pombozastan. We reported it all as it was happening.

However, that said, we were titillated by MacDonald's intimate relations with the California Farm Bureau and Pacific Legal Foundation, on the same ideological page: private property's right to public water.

On the other hand, the changes proposed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Endangered Species Act, a story that appeared a day earlier, is news. A story of human sacrifice, particularly of a woman, is cool, but the dry, bureaucratic language of the proposed ESA changes are meanwhile concealed. Yet, these proposals capture the worst aspects of the Pomboza bill to gut the ESA in the last session, which aroused so much anger in the environmental community that, with help from former Rep. Pete McCloskey, they defeated Pombo at the polls. Furthermore, they would turn over many key ESA decisions to governors. In California, where the governor and the Legislature is actually owned by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, you could kiss some species goodbye if this proposal passes judicial review. As a recently retired Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species specialist put it, the reason we have federal protections for endangered species is because the states will not protect them.

The Bush regime is consistent, if nothing else, and that consistency has fallen heavily on the San Joaquin Valley. The other federal proposal-of-the-month of special impact is the idea of privatizing the heavy-metal laden water of the San Joaquin Valley west side, including giving the water districts partial ownership of the San Luis Reservoir. This is the Bush regime solution to upcoming review of the selenium situation around Kesterson.

Of course, there is a connection between this story and the MacDonald Affair. She's a genuine California water girl.

But, our question is: was she any worse than the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced, who built the first phase of the beloved boondoggle without the required federal permits, quit her job (along with a number of other of her starting team), and dropped a regulatory mess in her successors' laps and a bigger mess in the community's lap. If MacDonald was in the air in Washington, the Cowgirl was right here on the ground, building that anchor tenant for one of the greatest, most destructive speculative real estate booms in the nation. Nor has the attempt by UC to corrupt environmental law and regulation at every level of government by its lobbyists, administrators, lawyers, politicians like Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the regional finance, insurance and real estate special interests stopped. These interests will destroy California's fragile water-delivery system in order to save their profits. A key step in that is to get public attention off endangered species that in any way appear to interfere with delivery of paper water through the Delta pumps via crumbling levees. The collapsing housing bubble only encourages them.

There is a rough equivalence between the endangered species menaced by MacDonald's policies and the misery of students at UC Merced, which is today a sort of developer's model home of a university, with decorative students in residence (not all of them expiring in the shrubbery). However, like the endangered species, about which the Cowgirl's rhetoric was just fine, the students are not there for display; they want a life, too.

Nope. We admit the corruption of the federal government and the University of California, in full color, is too much for our humble descriptive abilities. We'll leave the job to the mainstream press. Its reporters are well-rested after seven years on a vacation from reality. Let them "investigate" and give each other prizes.

Meanwhile we will ask why Judge Manson was rewarded for his crimes against Nature with an appointment to McGeorge Law School. McGeorge needs some looking into, actually. Its dean is a former general counsel for the CIA. What's going on there? Why did UC Boalt Hall hire John Yoo, author of the torture-justifying memo during his years as counsel to the president?

And, isn't the timing of the MacDonald story and the ESA changes interesting? How much do top Fish and Wildlife Service officials support the Bush proposals? FWS Director Dale Hale appears, in the Inspector General's report, to be the epitome of a guardian of pure biology in the MacDonald Affair stories, while simultaneously trying to squelch any news about the new ESA rules. Are we headed for a "show hearing" at the House Natural Resources Committee in May on MacDonald, while the ESA changes wend their unnoticed way through the Bush regime "process"?

Will the next proposal for rule changes coming from the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service be to privatize all the wildlife refuges in the nation?

We might also ask -- from the ground here in UC/Great Valley Center/Pombozastan, home of a state "blueprint" for growth along the lines indicated by Pombo Family Real Estate Farms -- how soon will UC give up on UC Merced and move it to Tracy, which wants a college, where it can be absorbed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Level-4 Biowarfare Lab and the Tsakopoulos family's Hellenic studies programs? Our nation needs genetic technologists who can create the biological weapons of the future (and, of course, their antidotes) while simultaneously learning to conjugate irregular Greek verbs and reading a bit of Jaeger's Paideia. Don't it? Ain't that the kind of "shared experience" we need?

How long will it be before the next Peripheral Canal proposal surfaces to convey paper water in a drought to Southern California? Before or after the next levee break?

It is the very bravest of new worlds possible, my dear Calaban. How's the asthma?

Bill Hatch
----------------------------

3-28-07
New York Times
Proposed changes would shift duties in protecting species...Felicity Barringer
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/washington/28habitat.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering limiting the ability of federal wildlife protection agencies to intervene on behalf of endangered species that may be harmed by federal actions...would also increase the role of state governments in administering some of the species protections that are now the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. H. Dale Hall...said Tuesday that the draft proposal detailing the changes was “really a beginning of a process.” "It had all options on the table,” Mr. Hall said. “It really doesn’t represent anything that we support or don’t support.” Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the Seattle office of Earthjustice, an environmental group, said that he had obtained a copy of the draft proposal from a federal official, and that it was created in June but had been edited as recently as a month ago. “I certainly don’t think that anyone ever contemplated a wholesale delegation of fundamental duties” to the states, Mr. Hasselman said. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed legislation amending the act when he was a senator from Idaho, and more drastic changes were proposed in the last Congress in an unsuccessful bill.

3-27-07
Salon
Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act
Proposed regulatory changes, obtained by Salon, would destroy the "safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction," say environmentalists.
By Rebecca Clarren

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

"The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act," says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. "This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America's most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction."

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Many Fish and Wildlife Service employees believe the draft is not based on "defensible science," says a federal employee who asked to remain anonymous. Yet "there is genuine fear of retaliation for communicating that to the media. People are afraid for their jobs."

Chris Tollefson, a spokesperson for the service, says that while it's accurate to
characterize the agency as trying to keep the draft under wraps, the agency has every intention of communicating with the public about the proposed changes; the draft just hasn't been ready. And, he adds, it could still be changed as part of a forthcoming formal review process.

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

In some ways, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act should come as no surprise. President Bush has hardly been one of its fans. Under his reign, the administration has granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That's fewer than in any other administration in history -- and far fewer than were listed during the administrations of Reagan (253), Clinton (521) or Bush I (234). Furthermore, during this administration, nearly half of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who work with endangered species reported that they had been directed by their superiors to ignore scientific evidence that would result in recommendations for the protection of species, according to a 2005 survey of more than 1,400 service biologists, ecologists and botanists conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

"We are not allowed to be honest and forthright, we are expected to rubber stamp
everything," wrote a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist as part of the survey. "I have 20 years of federal service in this and this is the worst it has ever been."

The agency has long seen a need to improve the act, says Tollefson. "This is a look at what's possible," he says. "Too much of our time as an agency is spent responding to litigation rather than working on recovering the species that are most in need. The current way the act is run creates disincentives for people to get involved with recovering species."

Kempthorne, boss of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been an outspoken critic of the act. When he was a U.S. senator from Idaho in the late 1990s, he championed legislation that would have allowed government agencies to exempt their actions from Endangered Species Act regulations, and would have required federal agents to conduct cost-benefit analyses when considering whether to list a species as endangered. (The legislation failed.) Last June, in his early days as interior secretary, Kempthorne told reporters, "I really believe that we can make improvements to the act itself."

Kempthorne is keeping good on his promise. The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says Suckling.

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn't make for easy reading.

However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades.

"It makes absolutely no sense biologically," wrote Hasselman in an e-mail. "One of the Act's weaknesses is that species aren't protected until they're already in trouble and this proposal puts that flaw on steroids."

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

"If states are involved, the act would only get minimally enforced," says Bob Hallock, a recently retired 34-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service who, as an endangered species specialist, worked with state agencies in Idaho, Washington and Montana. "States are, if anything, closer to special economic interests. They're more manipulated. The states have not demonstrated the will or interest in upholding the act. It's why we created a federal law in the first place."

Additional tweaks in the law would have a major impact. For instance, the proposal would narrow the definition of a species' geographic range from the landscape it inhabited historically to the land it currently occupies. Since the main reason most plants and animals head toward extinction is due to limited habitat, the change would strongly hamper the government's ability to protect chunks of land and allow for a healthy recovery in the wild.

The proposal would also allow both ongoing and planned projects by such federal agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service to go forward, even when scientific evidence indicates that the projects may drive a species to extinction. Under the new regulations, as long as the dam or logging isn't hastening the previous rate of extinction, it's approved. "This makes recovery of species impossible," says Suckling.

Gutting the Endangered Species Act will only thicken the pall that has hung over the Fish and Wildlife Service for the past six years, Hallock says. "They [the Bush
administration] don't want the regulations to be effective. People in the agency are like a bunch of whipped dogs," he says. "I think it's just unacceptable to go around squashing other species; they're of incalculable benefit to us. The optimism we had when this agency started has absolutely been dashed."

3-27-07
Endangered Species Act changes in the works...Janet Wilson and Julie Cart
http://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-endangered28mar28,1,7044899.story

Bush administration officials said Tuesday that they were reviewing proposed changes to the way the 34-year-old Endangered Species Act is enforced, a move that critics say would weaken the law in ways that a Republican majority in Congress was unable to do...draft of suggested changes, which was leaked Tuesday, would reduce protection for wildlife habitat and transfer some authority over vulnerable species to states. Acting under orders from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who has long fought for changes in the law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said he had asked his senior field staff to evaluate proposals in the draft by policy advisors in the Departments of Interior and Commerce, which oversee almost 1,300 imperiled species. Hall made his comments after environmental groups and the online journal Salon.com published a draft version of the proposals Tuesday. The draft contains language from Kempthorne's proposed 1998 legislation and from a controversial bill by former Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), both of which died in Congress.

3-27-07
Washington Post
Govt. eyes changes in Species Protection...H. Josef Hebert, AP
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/27/AR2007032701623_pf.html

Details of some of the proposed changes surfaced Tuesday in a number of draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act. Department spokesmen said the drafts were still under review and that no decision had been made by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on whether to proceed. "The focus is how we can do a better job of recovering more species," department spokesman Hugh Vickery said in an interview. He called the documents that have surfaced preliminary and in some cases out of date. Some of the proposed changes are outlined in a 117-page draft regulation and in a half-dozen separate memorandums, some dating back to last summer and others as recent as mid-February. The proposed changes "touch on every key program under the Endangered Species Act. It is a rewrite from top to bottom," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz. The draft was the subject of a story Tuesday on Salon.com. Vickery said the 117-page document, which includes many of the proposed changes, is old. "It does not represent the latest thinking by the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "Recommendations are still being floated." But Daniel Patterson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which put the documents on its Web site Tuesday, said the memos have been circulated among agencies outside the Interior Department, suggesting that the proposals are in the late stage of consideration.

3-30-07
Stockton Record
GOP launches early attack on McNerney...Hank Shaw
http://recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070329/A_NEWS/703290337

National Republicans have begun their attempt to unseat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, a full 20 months before Election Day 2008. The Republican National Campaign Committee, which spent tens of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to save former Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo last fall, has included McNerney in its first round of targets posted on www.therealdemocratstory.com. NRCC will also send about 100,000 e-mails into McNerney's 11th District highlighting their criticism of the freshman Democrat's voting record. McNerney has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time so far this year.

3-31-07
Center for Biological Diversity
Interior Department Official Distorted Agency's Own Science to Avoid Protecting Endangered Species...Press Release...3-29-07

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/press/macdonald-03-29-2007.html
Report from Inspector General Department of Interior Blasts Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald
3-23-07...A copy of the Inspector General’s report is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/esa/pdfs/DOI-IG-Report_JM.pdf.

3-31--07
San Francisco Chronicle
Judge tosses new forest rules...Henry K. Lee
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OVFUT1.DTL&hw=endangered+species&sn=003&sc=374

A federal judge in San Francisco threw out the Bush administration's new rules Friday for managing the country's 155 national forests, saying the government had failed to consider the environmental effects that could result from the changes...administration also failed to give the public a chance to review the new regulations before they went into effect in 2005, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said in a ruling on two consolidated lawsuits filed by environmental groups and the state of California. Hamilton said the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and couldn't institute the new rules until environmental reviews are conducted. More than a dozen environmental groups had filed suit, including Citizens for Better Forestry, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

3-32-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC faculty to join talks on big BP biofuels deal...Rick DelVecchio
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/31/BAGE5OV6G61.DTL&hw=uc&sn=001&sc=921

UC Berkeley's administration has invited faculty members to join the contract talks on the $500 million BP biofuels deal amid pressure to ensure that campus traditions and values are safeguarded in the partnership. Journalism Professor Bill Drummond, chairman of the campus Academic Senate, said the administration will allow four professors who chair Senate committees -- Calvin Moore, Patrick Kirch, Christopher Kutz and J. Miguel Villas-Boas -- to participate in the negotiations... The university's administration is being sharply challenged by faculty members who fear the BP deal is so big that it threatens to upset the tradition of shared governance on campus between the Academic Senate and the administration. A petition signed by 130 faculty members, including some of the campus' most widely respected academics, calls for the immediate convening of a blue-ribbon committee to look into aspects of the BP deal that impinge on the Academic Senate's mandate. The petitioners argue that decisions on hiring faculty and allocating resources to the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute, to be staffed by 50 BP-appointed researchers and 100 from academia, are going forward without proper campus review. A second petition by a different group of faculty members seeks to cancel the BP deal on the grounds that it constitutes the "greenwashing" of the oil company's environmental record through its association with the university. Robert Dudley, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and a member of the Academic Senate's academic freedom committee, said the lack of disclosure of the BP deal's details is "potentially suspicious."...cited a 1998-2003 research deal under which the Swiss biotech firm Novartis provided $25 million in funding to the university's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Faculty members were upset that a funding deal that large wasn't discussed universitywide before it was implemented. Ironically, the Novartis controversy prompted Cornell's faculty to develop standards that could be put into action in a similar partnership. Cornell faculty's 26-page document was finished in 2005 after two years of debate...document coined a new term for large-scale research sponsorships: "strategic corporate alliances."

3-30-07
San Francisco Chronicle
UC-Merced hopes to lure large-campus rejects...San Jose Mercury News
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2007/03/30/state/n125253D42.DTL&hw=uc&sn=009&sc=878

The University of California, Merced has a new strategy to attract students:...The "Shared Experience" program will allow about 1,000 students who narrowly miss admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine or UC San Diego to attend the Merced campus for two years, and then finish their studies at a more established school. Growth has been slower than expected at UC Merced, where freshman enrollment dropped 38 percent last fall in the school's second year. The Shared Experience program was also used to increase attendance at UC Santa Cruz in the 1980s, when some students were guaranteed subsequent entry to the Berkeley campus.

3-31-07
Los Angeles Times
Southland's dry spell could get worse...Betinna Boxall
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-dry31mar31,1,7683947

Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it's the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It's a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter... And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. Thanks to a bountiful Sierra snowpack in the spring of 2006, the state's reservoirs are in good shape. Twice during the 20th century — in the late 1950s and the early 1980s — drought strained all three regions that supply Southern California, said Scripps Institution of Oceanography hydrologist Hugo Hidalgo. UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, warned, "if you went into a decade or longer of persistent drought that affected the Sacramento [River Basin], the Los Angeles area and the Colorado, you would end up basically taxing all of the those water storage facilities, from the dams on the Colorado to what we have here, to beyond the breaking point." As a result of this spring's skimpy Sierra snowpack — it's at 46% of the normal statewide average — the State Water Project will reduce deliveries of Northern California water to the central and southern parts of the state, but not dramatically.

Washington Post
Extinct sense...Editorial
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/30/AR2007033001998.html
IT LOOKS LIKE another story of endangered ethics on the Bush administration's environmental staff. Last week the Interior Department's inspector general submitted the results of an investigation of Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, to congressional overseers. According to numerous accounts collected in the inquiry, Ms. MacDonald has terrorized low-level biologists and other employees for years, often yelling and even swearing at them. One official characterized her as an "attack dog." Much of this bullying, the report suggests, was aimed at diluting the scientific conclusions and recommendations of government biologists and at favoring industry and land interests. Ms. MacDonald's subordinates said she has trenchantly resisted both designating new species as endangered and protecting imperiled animals' habitats. She defended her interventions in an interview with the inspector general's staff, saying that she kept Interior's scientists accountable, according to the report. But the evidence available suggests she was at the least too aggressive. H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, recounted a battle he had with Ms. MacDonald over the Southwest willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. claims that Ms. MacDonald insisted on lowering that to 1.8 miles so that the nesting range would not extend into California, where her husband maintained a family ranch. The inspector general noted that she has no formal training in biology. The inspector general's review of Ms. MacDonald's e-mail account also showed that she had close ties to lobbying organizations that have challenged endangered-species listings and that she had "misused her position" to give them information not available to the public on Interior Department policy. Reports of Ms. MacDonald's alleged sins have emerged soon after revelations of other ethical lapses by Bush environmental appointees. J. Steven Griles, the former second in command at Interior, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal. And Sue Ellen Wooldridge, formerly the government's top environmental lawyer, jointly purchased a vacation home with Mr. Griles and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. These are troubling incidents. Ms. MacDonald works for an agency tasked with making determinations based on scientific fact, not on her, or her lobbyist friends', inclinations. She appears to have betrayed that vital principle. The inspector general has sent his report to top officials at the Interior Department. They should investigate for themselves the document's troubling descriptions and take action to ensure that Ms. MacDonald and other managers at Interior make policy fit the science, not the other way around.

4-1-07
Sacramento Bee
Canal still best Delta water fix...Dan Walters
http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/147490.html

One of Brown's better initiatives was closing a gap in the water system that had been started under his father, Pat Brown...the "Peripheral Canal" enjoyed support from both environmentalists and municipal and agricultural water agencies... After a highly misleading, farmer-financed campaign, voters rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Had the Peripheral Canal been built as Jerry Brown urged, the fish being chewed up in the pumps would have been alive and more numerous. Had the Peripheral Canal been built, we wouldn't have to worry so much about Delta levees collapsing due to an earthquake or being breached by rising ocean levels from global warming, either of which would threaten water deliveries. But the canal wasn't built. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." Arnold Schwarzenegger is the first governor since Brown to truly confront the water policy gridlock. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." He's right.

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