State Government

Water's high and the visioning is easy

Submitted: Apr 10, 2006
Water's high and the visioning is easy
So cry, l'il baby
Things done gone awry.

Anonymous
Locke CA

Our governor, the Hun, and the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature, who recently failed to pass an infrastructure bond to finance the public works projects the state needs to catch up with its speculative real estate mania, hand-in-hand this week, are ennunciating a new California vision on how to combat global warming. They're going to "break from the Sacramento gridlock" and lead the nation.

"Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different," San Francisco Chronicle editorialists intone hopefully.

"The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration," they add,problematically.

Vision. Leadership. Smart growth. Win-win public/private partnerships. Environmental stewardship. Consensus! California, the world's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases will -- with leadership -- drastically cut those emissions by ... you pick a date, the Hun likes 2020.

These are the politics of an over-populated region that has grown beyond the carrying capacity of its resources, devouring its incredible agricultural capacity, where developers own leadership, lock, stock and barrel, and so we must be led into paths of denial to keep the development based economy afloat at all costs ... without raising taxes.

In the various cults of leadership elites "workshop" weekend-by-weekend, paying enormous attention to "visioning," (what used to be called "discovering and following your passion," and in an earlier, far, far more honest time, "getting stoned.")

These visions fall upon a discontent and anxious populous like an immaterial fog of WD-40. The only difference is that they don't fix anything.

Why not fix something? Anything. Start small. Work your way up to global warming after you get the deficit down. Why not make something work beside the next greased permit for the next subdivision?

Bill Hatch
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State steps up on combatting global warming

San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, April 9, 2006

IF WASHINGTON won't, then Sacramento will. This state has set its own course many times over: on car tailpipe emissions, a ban on coastal drilling and abortion law. Now comes the biggest go-it-alone bet in a long time: greenhouse-gas controls.

Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avowed greenie, and pro-environment Democrats have produced comparable plans that would put California on a tough pollution diet. By 2020, the state must roll back greenhouse gas emissions -- mainly carbon dioxide -- to 1990 levels.

It's a drop of 25 percent that will bring changes across the state in the ways people work and play. But it also sends a message to the rest of a nation that is neglecting mounting danger signs and passing the buck to future generations.

Other plans to rein in California's air pollution are already underway from farms to freeways, but the attack on global warming goes after greenhouse gases left largely unchecked. These emissions form a heat-trapping ceiling in the atmosphere and are blamed by most scientists for weather swings, higher temperatures, changes in vegetation and wildlife, and future rises in sea levels. In recent years, California state researchers have reported more rain, less snow, floods and beach erosion traceable to a warmer climate.

Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different.

What makes change possible is a break from Sacramento gridlock. Both the Republican governor and Democratic leaders are on the same wavelength in proposing a major goal and directing state agencies to get there. Heard this before? The governor's vaunted infrastructure package, pegged at $222 billion over 10 years, splintered when it landed in a suspicious Legislature.

And it could happen again with greenhouse controls, which have already come under attack from the state Chamber of Commerce. But the governor's staff has vetted the plan in public meetings ad collected 15,000 comments, mostly favorable. Democrats likewise have sounded out their plan in a bill (AB32) carried by Assemblymember Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has made the bill a top priority.

The plans are more alike than not. Both establish a definite deadline and call for a cap on emissions. The plan by the governor's team leans on trading pollution credits that reward clean businesses while costing dirty ones more. The Democratic plan leans on flat cap on emissions and turns over the regulatory rules to the state smog board. Both plans avoid a tax on fuel to raise research funds, an idea that Schwarzenegger opposed.

The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration.

The car emission lawsuit illustrates the problem. Washington isn't about to do anything on global warming. President Bush is a famous non-believer when it comes to the science behind the greenhouse effect.

Last June, Schwarzenegger broke with this antediluvian view and declared the greenhouse effect was real in a speech in San Francisco. He directed Alan Lloyd, head of the state Environmental Protection Agency, to come up with a plan. After fits and starts, including the dropping of a politically touchy tax, this plan emerged.

On Tuesday, from the same perch in City Hall, the governor will explain his year-later outlook on global warming controls. He'll do it before an audience of enviros, scientists and skeptical business leaders.

There's no question that the subject is loaded. Raising clean-air standards will impose costs. Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg believes the state will lose jobs and end up importing products from high-polluting competitors, a double whammy that will punish California.

But supporters have a twofold answer. First, states or countries that have neglected the problem will, over time, follow California's lead because of local pressure. If this state, now the planet's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, can reform, so can others. Secondly, the conversion to a cleaner industrial landscape will churn out more jobs, not fewer, as new businesses develop to meet the 2020 goals. A UC Berkeley study predicts 20,000 new jobs from such work.

Business may not be united in opposition. Silicon Valley is backing the initiative with notables from Sun Microsystems, Google and the venture capital world writing the governor. Several major oil companies, such as Shell and BP, are already on a voluntary state reporting list of greenhouse emissions.

There remain serious risks in redirecting the state's economy. The suggested system of trading pollution credits is still in its infancy. Policymakers have ducked the question of money for research, enforcement and new programs. Lawsuits may surface as state rule-making enters new areas.

But the governor and Democrats are right to take on these risks. They haven't dodged a future challenge and are working together. California has a shown way to be a leader once again.

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Why do anything at all?
A study ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted these effects of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions:

Average temperatures would rise by 3 degrees within 100 years.

The state's snowpack, which is half the water supply, would diminish by 75 to 90 percent.

Los Angeles and the Central Valley, which already have the worst smog levels in the nation, would see a jump from 25 to 75 percent in pollution-heavy bad days.

Rising sea levels in the Bay Delta, water shortages and hotter weather would damage California crops.

Floods would strain the state levee system.

Higher temperatures would damage forests and increase chances of wildfires.

Warmer weather would push demand for air conditioning, driving up prices and demand for more emission-producing power plants.

Source: www.climatechange.ca.gov

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Winter storms drive Killer whales up Delta to Capitol

Submitted: Apr 07, 2006

Facing the peril of potential flooding of many new subdivisions built on flood plains, Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill to make it mandatory for homeowners to buy federal flood insurance for homes built where there is an annual one-in-200 chance of flooding. Presently, the state is on the hook for flood damage. Jones' bill required mortgage lenders to make certain homebuyers had flood insurance.

Mortgage banking lobbyists defeated the bill's enforcement provision in the Assembly Insurance Committee Wednesday. They argued that, as a result of Katrina, the federal flood insurance program was probably bankrupt so why buy federal flood insurance.

It's an absurd argument but lobbyists at public meetings have to come up with something to conceal the deal going down in private. Evidently, bankers believe they have a right to profits from their "creative" mortgages and to an endless speculative housing boom, more of it inevitably encroaching on flood plains in the Central Valley.

While developer sharks circle the Legislature daily, we don't often see the killer whales come up the river and dance on their tails. Jones, regardless of the fate of his bill, should be thanked for flushing out a bit of the financial system behind CalGrowth, Inc, which rules this state today in an absolute style not seen since the days of The Railroad.

Nine of the 10 members of the committee are from Southern California. They watched safely from the riverbank as Jones' bill and political reason were devoured by greed. While this is a perfectly normal spectacle at the state Capitol, some interest was added by the rising level of the river in which the lobbyist feeding frenzy occurred.

Seal count:

How they voted against the critical enforcement provision of AB 1898.

Yes

Ron Calderon, D-Montibello
Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles
Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach
Sally Lieber, D-Santa Clara
Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara
Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana

No

John Benoit, R-Riverside (vice chair)
Russ Bogh, R-Beaumont
Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia

Abstained

Juan Vargas, D-San Diego (chair)

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Meanwhile, the local whining industry goes on per usual. Local government permits building on flood plains and goes whining to state and federal governments for "relief" when flood plains flood. Poor little Merced, whose city and county governments constantly raise the salaries and benefits for, at least, their "top" employees -- it just can't buy protection from floods, no matter how much money its public officials are investing in real estate.

Our leadership, in an economy fatted on every kind of government funding from cotton subsidies to UC Merced that still cannot produce enough work for its citizens, is adamantly against any government intervention except one kind: when state or federal funds flow into local coffers like Mariposa runoff.

The flood game is going to get worse due to the number of acres uphill and upstream from Merced that have been paved over and roofed over by the UC Merced-induced building boom.

Local leadership's first play in the flood game is to try to convince itself and the
remaining speculators that they are trying to do something and that floods will never,never happen again in Merced.

Its second play is going to be to blame environmentalists and natural resource agencies for floods. About the only people dumb enough to buy this are going to be real estate speculators still in this market, going nuts losing money. But a lot of them work for the county so this fable has a good start. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Vernal Pool Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is going to be whining to the leaden heavens as the rain comes down that flood damage is anyone's -- absolutely anyone's -- fault but his, beginning with railroading the UC campus through without proper environmental protection.

Local leadership is going to disappear behind its pointing fingers. You'll see a strange creature, something like a Sea urchin, rolling in and out of the county administration building, all fingers, no faces, no names. Or perhaps you'll see it floating down an MID canal, because MID isn't a flood control agency.

Absolutely the only thing real about this farce is flood water.

Bill Hatch
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Merced Sun-Star
Estimates at $9.72M for flood damages...Doane Yawger
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12026735p-12784522c.html
First estimates from flooding earlier this week in Merced peg damage at $9.72 million...total is certain to go up as more homes, farms, businesses and public facilities are assessed.

County still awaiting disaster relief from governor's office. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, told Schwarzenegger that flooding was overwhelming local response capabilities...state assistance is needed and warranted. Ted Selb said the MID's canals sustained considerable damage...city crews were cleaning out culverts and removing obstructions from pipes to open up waterways, cleaning mud and debris off streets...water rose into streets and into some yards this week...crews Thursday morning cut a 40-foot swath in Sandy Mush Road to let water
drain on wetlands and nonproductive farmland.

Builders, schools can't reach deal...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12026741p-12784550c.html
On Tuesday, four school districts and the 26-member Building Industry Association of Central California walked away from the negotiation table again without a deal. In recent months, every major housing project before the city and county have been met with calls from educators to impose building moratoriums. March 10 offer by builders to pay the Merced City School District $3.55 per square foot for new developments. State law requires at least $2.48
per square foot...district made a counteroffer of $4.39, which was turned down by the BIA. In the meantime, construction and land costs have climbed substantially, and the buying power of funds collected for new schools has diminished...district says it will face an $88 million shortfall needed to build new facilities in the next 10 years if fees aren't increased.

We can prevent floods in future...Our View
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/opinion/story/12026750p-12784512c.html
We have a sense that the finger-pointing has just begun. Merced Irrigation District officials and County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey say the disaster could have been avoided if the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers had finished water control projects. It's clear that a flood like Tuesday's can be avoided if the right people get together and make important decisions. Next time, a flood could be more catastrophic and cause injuries and even deaths. Our leaders must find a way to make sure there isn't another "next time."

http://www.sacbee.com/content/opinion/story/14240239p-15060058c.html
Editorial: Banking on clear skies
Mortgage industry weakens key flood bill
Sacramento Bee -- April 7, 2006

Mortgage banking in California is a multibillion-dollar business. It has thrived with the state's real estate boom and the proliferation of homes built in the low-priced floodplains of the Central Valley.

This industry also is enormously exposed. If and when a major flood occurs, the banking industry will be saddled with waterlogged, worthless homes. As in New Orleans, foreclosures will be rampant. Someone will be left holding a very soggy bag.

You might think that mortgage banks would support - or at least want to discuss - a measure to require flood insurance on vulnerable properties. Instead, the industry is using the same deceptive tactics it employs to sell questionable products (such as zero down payment, interest-only loans) to kill a bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento.

Before Wednesday, Jones' AB 1898 made federal flood insurance a condition of obtaining a mortgage in areas with a one-in-200 chance of flooding in any given year. Jones' bill would have required mortgage lenders to enforce the provision, which made sense because lenders have as much to lose as homeowners.

Unfortunately, the banking industry seems more concerned about short-term profits than long-term survivability. Mortgage bankers worry that an insurance requirement would scare off prospective home buyers. They used some highly deceptive arguments to effectively gut AB 1898 ...
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GOP lawmakers revive Auburn Dam debate; SAVING SACRAMENTO DURING FLOOD AT ISSUE
San Jose Mercury-News – 4/7/06
By Erica Werner, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Key Republican lawmakers said Thursday that building a dam on the American River

at Auburn is the only way to protect Sacramento against catastrophic flooding that might occur once every 500 years.

But the head of the California Department of Water Resources cautioned against losing focus on flood-control projects now under way that are meant to give 200-year protection to the region.

Sacramento is now protected at only the 100-year level -- the lowest of any large urban area in the nation.

``Our focus right now in the state is that we need to be sure we get these improvements and not get distracted by the next debate over Auburn Dam,'' Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow testified at a hearing of the House Resources Committee's subcommittee on energy and water.

``The debate in the past has actually delayed investment in flood improvements in the region,'' Snow said.

Before Snow spoke, committee chair Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, and subcommittee chair Rep. George Radanovich, R-Fresno, both spoke in favor of an Auburn Dam, underscoring growing congressional interest in reviving the controversial project years after it seemed to be abandoned for good ...
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San Joaquin River Continues To Rise; Mossdale Mobile Home Park Evacuated
KCRA Channel 3 (Sacramento) – 4/7/06

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Heavy runoff from recent storms is expected to tax the San Joaquin River in the coming days, state water officials said Thursday.

The river near Vernalis west of Modesto will likely reach flood stage within about five days or so, said Gary Bardini of the state Department of Water Resources.

At the Mossdale Moblie Home Park, near Manteca, a residents are packing up their belongings and moving out as the river continues to rise. A mandatory evacuation is in effect for the area.

"We've got good weather and that's going to make people wait as long as possible ... sometimes you have to get your feet a little bit damp before it's time to move," Lathrop-Manteca Fire spokesman Jim Monty said.

Reservoirs that feed the San Joaquin are nearing capacity in many cases, making significant water releases necessary. ..

"Our goal is to try to maintain flows at a level that the flood control system should perform adequately," said Bardini, noting that officials are most concerned about the San Joaquin.

But officials are also expecting more wet weather. Another storm will hit the region late Friday, with rain lasting off and on over the weekend.

Longer-range forecasts show more rain in the coming week as well.

"The good news, of course, is that we are in a break right now," said Elizabeth Morse of the National Weather Service. "The bad news is that it ends tomorrow."

Morse said the coming storm will hit hardest in Central California south of Interstate 80.

Thunderstorms are possible, posing a problem for some areas that are already saturated.

"The problem with showers and thunderstorms is that you can drop quite a bit of precipitation in a short period of time," Morse said. "Half an inch of rain in 30 minutes is going to be a real problem in some of the areas where we already have standing water."

Snow levels from this cold storm in the Sierra will remain relatively low, so officials do not expect the problem of huge runoff caused by rain falling on snow.

"Overall, this is a much more gentle system," Morse added. "Unfortunately, it's coming right on the heels of a pretty potent system."

In Calaveras County, those evacuated from about 100 houses in the La Contenta subdivision earier in the week were allowed to return home on Thursday.

A small dam at La Contenta, located near Valley Springs, threatened to fail on Tuesday. Crews have reinforced the dam with sandbags and plastic sheeting.

Thanks to calm weather Wednesday night, the Tuolumne River crested below flood stage in Stanislaus County Thursday morning.

People in the area were particularly worried about the area where Cry Creek meets the Tuolumne. The water, which surpassed levels seen during huge January storms, rose to within feet of a few homes.

In the Sierra, resorts reported a heavy blanket of new snow. At Mammoth Mountain in Mono County, the resort reported 23 inches of fresh snow, resulting in total depths of up to 264 inches in some places. #

http://www.kcra.com/money/8511490/detail.html

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Who benefits from crumbling Sacramento Delta levees?

Submitted: Mar 28, 2006

California levee politics.

The state Legislature recently failed to pass a bill in time to qualify a large public works bond initiative on the June ballot. It was not the finest hour of the state Legislature. There is a particularly urgent need for billions of dollars to repair the aging Sacramento Delta levees. In view of the disaster in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi caused by Hurricane Katrina, there is a felt urgency in Sacramento, another large, "river" city, protected by levees, that something should be done about the condition and administration of the Sacramento Delta levees. Considering that about 23 million Southern Californians depend on water supplies from the Delta that, in case of disaster, would be contaminated, is an added urgency. This vulnerability is underscored by the long-running drought in the Southwest, increasing pressure on the Colorado River as it diminishes.

There is actually no good argument against the Legislature asking the people to vote for the bonds necessary to overhaul the levees, and every argument for it.

However, from the start, the bond package was for a huge amount of public works (infrastructure projects) and highway funds is a government word for pork. Evidently, the legislators fell to bickering about projects for their own districts.

The capital press corps threw up their hands in disgust.

But, I never saw an old political question asked, so I thought I'd try it, as simple-minded as it appears in the present political culture of consensus and public-private, win-win partnerships. No matter how dysfunctional any political economic situation is, you have to ask who it benefits.

This led my thinking back to developers, who pretty much run things in the capital. When last fall the state Reclamation Board dared to suggest that under certain circumstances some projects built on flood plains near crumbling levees should be more closely examined, the governor fired the whole board and appointed a new one, which has not yet reopened that issue. It was as if the development lobby in Sacramento declared that the disaster in New Orleans did not exist -- and the governor went along with the gag.

Perhaps I place too much weight on the governor's action. Nevertheless, when I add to it SB 50, which establishes an unreasonably low state cap on developer fees to public schools, and the constant attacks on the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as observing the escalation of water wars accompanying more urban growth and the rapidly deteriorating air quality in the state, I think it's pretty simple.

If developers had wanted a strong bond issue that would have included an adequately financed program for repairing Delta levees, I believe it is probable we would have had one to vote on in June. I think this because I cannot see anyone but developers who would benefit from a major levee breakdown. The governor asked for about $67 billion in bonds. A major failure of the Delta levee system would cost more. Wouldn't the lion's share of those contracts go to the firms that had the equipment, manpower, expertise and political lobby position for the task?

Huge engineering firms like Bechtel, UC's new partner in design and manufacture of a new generation of nuclear weapons, would benefit.

An economic study of the Katrina aftermath would reveal what sort of Wall Street financial institutions would benefit.

By waiting for a disaster, I suppose we spread the risk across the nation, so that taxpayers in North Dakota contribute. After all, it's "federal water," isn't it?

I think others that might, short-sightedly, feel a great flood would be helpful at this time are some environmentalists. I say short-sightedly because the environmental mess such a flood would cause would be a horror unimaginable before Katrina. In any such catastrophe, environmental law and regulation is suspended.

There is an observation that can be made at such times on the relationship between the environment and society. The slogan behind the establishment of the CalFed process a decade ago was: "The Delta is broken." It is now being said, "The Legislature is broken."

If the levees go, California is going to be broken. Who does that benefit?

Another thing to consider is that the economic breakdown of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi is one thing; the economic breakdown of California would be quite another thing. Who would benefit from the consquences of that?

At the moment, it looks like there is no government or consortium of governmental agencies in the United States capable of taking effective responsibility for the accelerating decline of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, where some small fish species are rapidly going extinct and the Chinook salmon count is so low off the Pacific Coast that the commercial Chinook fishery will probably be closed this year.

The economic consequences of a major disaster on this system of old levees would be somewhat greater even than the damage done to the Port of New Orleans, it seems to me. Who would benefit from that?

Bill Hatch

Notes:

http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/columns/walters/story/14231453p-15053924c.html

Dan Walters: Infrastructure bond collapse proves anew that Capitol is broken
By Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, March 17, 2006
Story appeared on Page A3 of The Bee
If nothing else, the comic opera collapse of the two-month political quest for a plan to improve highways, levees and other strained and deteriorating public facilities should finally convince Californians that their Capitol is a broken institution, endemically incapable of dealing with major policy issues.
Monday morning quarterbacks are working overtime to blame this group or that politician for what didn't happen. While some of those observations are accurate as far as they go, however, singling out immediate factors sidesteps the larger political malaise, not only on infrastructure but on countless other big-picture issues as well.

Simply put, California's dizzyingly dense mélange of ideological, geographic, cultural and economic subgroups interacts with a political structure that, in effect, gives every "stakeholder" a virtual veto power over the product. Under those circumstances, there are only two possible outcomes, both of which are bad. Either the product is a monstrosity that accommodates all demands but collapses of its own weight, or there is stalemate and no product at all.
The infrastructure scheme was becoming a classic monstrosity - like the 1996 electric utility "deregulation" plan that blew up a few years later, or a half-dozen deficit-ridden state budgets in this decade - but in the end could not enfold all demands and stalemated.
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http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/projects/flooding/story/13775401p-14478776c.html
Governor ousts flood board
Some say the panel's recent move to review new urban development behind levees prompted the change.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday replaced all seven board members of the state's top flood-control agency. Some questioned the timing of the change in light of the board's recent decision to review urban development in flood-prone areas.
The state Reclamation Board handles flood-control policy in California and oversees a 1,600-mile network of vital levees, primarily in the Central Valley. Its members serve at the governor's pleasure and can be appointed or removed at any time.

"These appointees represent the Central Valley and are experts in both water issues and engineering," said Julie Soderlund, deputy press secretary to Schwarzenegger.
The previous board members, most appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, brought years of experience to the complicated issue at an important time, said Ronald Stork, a senior policy advocate with Friends of the River ...
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http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/03/25/fault_east_of_bay_area_locked_and_loaded/

Next big quake? Maybe east of Bay Area

By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press Writer | March 25, 2006

HAYWARD, Calif. --New cracks appear in Elke DeMuynck's ceiling every few weeks, zigzagging across her living room, creeping toward the fireplace, veering down the wall. Month after month, year after year, she patches, paints and waits.

"It definitely lets you know your house is constantly shifting," DeMuynck said. So do the gate outside that swings uselessly 2 1/2 inches from its latch, the strange bulges in the street and the geology students who make pilgrimages to her cul-de-sac.

DeMuynck could throw her paint brush from her front stoop and hit the Hayward Fault, which geologists consider the most dangerous in the San Francisco Bay Area, if not the nation. Like others who live here, she gets by on a blend of denial, hope and humor.

It's the geologists, emergency planners and historians who seem to do most of the worrying, even in this year of heightened earthquake awareness for the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's Great Quake of April 18, 1906.

Several faults lurk beneath this region, including the San Andreas Fault on the west side of the Bay area, but geologists say the parallel Hayward on the Bay's east side is the most likely to snap next.

"It is locked and loaded and ready to fire at any time," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Tom Brocher...

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Tools for public political participation

Submitted: Mar 21, 2006

"Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business." -- Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy
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The Modesto Bee publicized some excellent tools for public political participation last week. We include synopses of the articles below, which include links to organizations focused on public access to governmental information. The Modesto Bee celebrated Sunshine Week in fine style. Unfortunately it was a small party, at least in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where we regularly monitor the two other Bees, the Stockton Record and the Tracy Press, as well as the Merced Sun-Star.

Given the corruption prevailing in Merced government, where Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, continues to squat in the county Administration Building, we can understand the local establishment’s disinterest in encouraging public activism if it isn’t correct rightwing thuggery like that inflicted on citizens opposing the Wal-Mart distribution center by the latest crew of local spokesgoons. Their view is that you should get out of town if your soul isn’t recorded with the County has having been legally sold to a corporation.

If you are tired of the local goon squad, here are some tool for public political participation.

Bill Hatch
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3-19-06
Modesto Bee
Mark Vasche column: We won't let the sun go down on public's right to open government...Mark Vasche, Bee Editor

http://www.modbee.com/opinion/story/11951559p-12716139c.html
Sunshine Week turned out to be anything but sunny — and quite appropriately so...it was a week of unsettled weather, with everything from gray, gloomy sky to chilly temperatures to showers and hail and, in some areas, even snow. What better way to illustrate the status of open government at the local, state and national levels. ...during Sunshine Week, openness is critical to our government of, by and for the people. And, because "watchdogging" is one of the most important things newspapers do; it is a historic role and responsibility we take very seriously. Jay Rosen of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy explains it: "Journalism, at least journalism in the public interest, is not a business. It is not an industry. It is a public act supported by a business."
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Renew commitment to open government...Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware...3-16-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11938203p-12704283c.html

This is Sunshine Week and a good time to look at California's commitment to open government. Here are 10 problems with our public forum and whistle-blower laws and some long-overdue solutions:...
1 Needless Mystery about Closed Sessions:... Solution:...
2 Done Deals in Settlements:... Solution:...
3 They've Got a Secret: ...Solution:...
4 Too Clueless to Hold Accountable:... Solution:...
5 Police State of Denial, Part I:... Solution:...
6 Police State of Denial, Part II: ...Solution:...
7 Secrecy for Effective Science Policy:... Solution:...
8 Putting Teeth in Transparency Law:...Solution:...
9 Making Illegal Court Secrecy Pay Its Way: ...Solution:...
10 A Tale of Two Lawyers:... Solution:...
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Polls: Public values open government...Bee Starr and News Services...3-16-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11938202p-12704277c.html

"Polls are people, and, once more, the people have demonstrated that (President) Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool most of them for very long," said Hodding Carter III, honorary chairman of Sunshine Week. "They know that information is power in a democracy...
Related Resources
Scripps Survey Research Center poll
Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University poll
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State agencies get 'F' for access...Bee Staff and News Services...3-15-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11934278p-12700647c.html

A survey of 31 state agencies found public records violations at each agency, ranging from illegally charging for copies to taking too long to release basic public information.
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White House inaugurated era of secrecy, critics claim...David Westphal, Bee Washington Bureau
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11930095p-12696762c.html

WASHINGTON — Working at the National Archives in the late 1990s, historian William Burr stumbled onto a 1962 telegram written by diplomat George Kennan about China's nuclear program. Today, the original document has been removed from the archive... Between 1999 and 2004, the number of documents ordered sealed annually nearly doubled, to 15.6 million, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. Meanwhile, declassifying documents has slowed dramatically — from 127 million pages in 1999, to 28 million pages in 2004.
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Central Valley Shines...Adam Aston...3-13-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11926464p-12693365c.html
With a few exceptions, open records provided in informal Bee survey
------------------

Merced woman guards public projects process

Now open to the public...Lorena Anderson...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923667p-12690527c.html
State laws make most government document available to all who ask

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasché

Government watchdog follows the money trail

Paper Trails

Tips on making a request for a public document

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied

Eschew obfuscation - write it so we get it...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923666p-12690526c.html

The meetings of elected bodies should be easily accessible to the public — in time, location and, whenever possible, through broadcasts on TV or the Internet. Likewise, the records of government agencies should be available to anyone who wants them, without undue delays, costs or intimidation. But there's another dimension to open government: The way in which government communicates should be understandable to the average citizen. Very often, it is not. Consider these examples:

AP shines light on public information...AP...3-12-06
http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11923665p-12690523c.html

Tom Curley, The Associated Press' president and chief executive officer, has been an outspoken advocate in the campaign against government secrecy. He discussed this year's Sunshine Week initiative spearheaded by media organizations. Q & A's.
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Open Government Resources on the web...3-10-06

http://www.modbee.com/sunshine/story/11914720p-12682876c.html
California

http://ag.ca.gov/publications/#opengovernment - California Attorney General open government page

www.calaware.org - Californians Aware

www.cfac.org - California First Amendment Coalition

www.cnpa.com - California Newspaper Publishers Association

| »

Midnight government in Merced County

Submitted: Mar 17, 2006

During the second annual national Sunshine Week, to underscore the need for more open government and the protection of California’s Public Records and Brown acts and other open government statutes, we are publishing for the first time the 2002 petition for San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water for relief from three years of stonewalling by Merced County regarding public record documents on the UC Merced project.

Petitioners won this suit. The results of the victory were ambiguous, however.

The local Superior Court judge, William Ivey, reduced attorneys’ fees and costs by half to petitioners’ winning attorneys, as warning to all attorneys suing in Merced County on public process or environmental law, that they would be punished by the local court for daring to do so. Although Ivey has retired, his policy lives on.

Although Merced County was forced to make these documents available to petitioners, much of the work reflected in the numerous studies remains yet to be done four years later, proving that UC Merced was built on a series of plans-to-make-plans to mitigate for its environmental impacts, with the enthusiastic collaboration of Merced County, the local land-use jurisdiction.

During the planning of UC Merced, the county was so eager to comply with UC demands that it formed a wholly separate planning department just for the UC Merced project, with separate offices and staff, placing the former county planning director and county CAO in charge, while the county promoted two subordinates to the positions of county CAO and county planning director.

In a March 13, 2006 Modesto Bee article http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html,
Greg Wellman reflected on this suit. Wellman was the Merced County CAO who became CEO of the UC Planning Department, said,
“I think a large amount of what she’s asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process,” he said. “I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple.”

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

“Back then,” a whole lot of costly lawsuits could have been avoided if the county, the local land-use authority, had not done everything in its power to conceal the UC Merced planning process from its local public, the people now impacted by the anticipated UC Merced-induced rapid growth, speculative housing boom, the wholesale destruction of natural resources, wildlife habitat and agricultural land by developers who figure if UC got away with it, they can, too. “Back then,” UC Merced was promoted by a small, powerful group of special interests: local legislators, large landowners, developers, financial institutions, realtors, and local businesses. They are now taking their profits. The citizens, who were sold out by corrupt county officials like Wellman and his top planner at the UC Planning Department, Bob Smith, now get the traffic, the deteriorated air quality, water of uncertain quantity and quality, and the endless stream of Bobcat Flak from UC Merced in the local newspaper.

The citizens will be stuck with $200 million costs for roads alone from the UC Merced project, as was stated by a UC attorney in a letter to the state Supreme Court in support of a suit that would release state agencies from any obligation to pay for off-site environmental impacts from their construction projects. (Marina, City of v. Board of Trustees, Case S117816, Supreme Court of California)

Labeled at the time by then President Pro Tem of the state Senate, John Burton, as a “boondoggle,” and by senior Sacramento Bee state Capitol columnist, Dan Walters, as “a barrel of pork,” UC Merced, we predict, will go down in the annals of California history of the “Catch Me If You Can” Era, as a legal and environmental scandal; and there will be a special place of notoriety reserved for county, state and federal legislators, state and federal resource agencies and national environmental non-profit corporations like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. It began as a political payoff by an ambitious governor, Gray Davis, to Valley politicians. We know what happened to Davis. The growth it is stimulating today the rapid destruction of natural resources, is ruining farming and ranching in the region, and is contributing daily to increased smog in the worst air basin in the US.

Since elected in 2002, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has occupied offices on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. Today, Cardoza is the leading anti-environmental Democrat in the House of Representatives, having authored two unsuccessful bills to destroy the critical habitat designation, and co-authored a third, with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Merced County will never become a responsible local land-use authority and planning agency as long as the Shrimp Slayer is squatting on the third floor.

Bill Hatch

Even today, Merced County does not comply with Public Records Act requests or environmental law and regulation. They are still orchestrating backroom deals, for example, this, Feb. 3, 2006 communication from a prominent developer and a county supervisor:

Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!
-----------------------------------------------

BRUCE A. OWDOM - 077670
PETER G. FASHING - 195756
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE
An Association Including Law Corporations
5250 North Palm Avenue, Suite 402
Fresno, California 93704
(559) 435-5250
(559) 435-8776 [fax]

Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue
Center, Protect Our Water (POW),
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA

COUNTY OF MERCED

SAN JOAQUIN RAPTOR RESCUE CENTER, a California nonprofit corporation, PROTECT OUR WATER (POW), an unincorporated organization, LYDIA M. MILLER, an individual, and STEVE BURKE, an individual,

Petitioners,

-vs-

COUNTY OF MERCED, COUNTY OF MERCED BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, and DOES 1 through 25, inclusive,

Respondents.
__________________________________________

CASE NO.

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDATE PURSUANT TO CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

[Government Code Section 6258]

1. The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”), a California nonprofit corporation, whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources,habitats and wildlife, is a beneficially interested party. SJRRC is charged with the protection of various species of wildlife and with ensuring that commercial, industrial and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. SJRRC serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, as well as private entities, in their promotion of such development.

2. Protect Our Water (“POW”) is an unincorporated organization whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources, habitats and wildlife and is a beneficially interested party. Petitioner POW is charged with ensuring that commercial, industrial, and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. Petitioner POW serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, and private entities, in their promotion of such development.

3. Lydia M. Miller, a private citizen, is a resident of Merced County and is a beneficially interested party. Ms. Miller shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the development of the new University of California Merced campus (“U.C. Merced Project”) is insufficient to inform the public adequately as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of public funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Ms. Miller also serves as president of the SJRRC.

4. Steve Burke, a private citizen, is a beneficially interested party. Mr. Burke, like Ms. Miller, shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the U.C. Merced Project is insufficient to adequately inform the public as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Mr. Burke also serves as spokesperson for POW.

5. SJRRC, POW, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke also have standing as members of the public at large to enforce rights of public access to information and records that reflect the actions taken by governmental agencies and employees in their official capacities.

6. The County of Merced (“County”) was, and is at all times herein mentioned, a body corporate and politic, duly created and existing as a county under and by virtue of the Constitution and laws of the State of California.

7. The County of Merced Board of Supervisors (“Board of Supervisors”) is the governing body of the County of Merced, whose members are duly elected under and by virtue of the laws of the State of California.

8. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that respondents identified herein as Does 1 through 25 are public agencies, or their agents, representatives, or employees, as defined in Government Code section 6252(a), (b) and (d), and that each is also, in some manner, responsible for refusing petitioners’ requests for access to and copies of certain public records that petitioners have requested. Petitioners will seek leave to amend this petition when the names and capacities of these Doe respondents have been ascertained.

9. Petitioners seek relief against each respondent because respondents County and the Board of Supervisors have refused to disclose certain public records which petitioners have requested as more fully alleged below.

10. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that in or about 1995, the Board of Regents of the University of California (“Regents” or “U.C.” as the context may require) selected certain land located in the County as the site of its tenth campus. Following the selection of the university site, the County made certain amendments to its General Plan to accommodate the construction of the new campus and to establish area objectives with respect to the U.C. Merced Project, including, but not limited to, resource and wetland conservation, low impact urban development, and timely construction of the campus. The U.C. Merced Project has involved the interaction of several federal, state and local agencies, private entities and consultants in addition to community involvement.

11. On November 22, 1999, petitioner Lydia M. Miller sent a letter to Robert Smith, planning director for the Merced County U.C. Development Office, which is in charge of coordinating the activities of various departments and consultants working on the U.C. Merced Project. The November 22, 1999, letter requested that 24 separate, itemized documents and studies related to the U.C. Merced Project be produced. See exhibit A attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

12. On February 12, 2001, Ms. Miller and Steve Burke of POW sent a second request addressed to Robert Smith and then County Administrative Officer (“CAO”), Gregory B. Wellman, requesting public records pursuant to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). This second request sought documents related to County General, Community and Specific plans officially adopted by Merced County, including the plans themselves as last officially amended and adopted. The request also sought correspondence between the County and various departments and agencies concerning the County’s implementation and compliance with various laws and the County’s strategies related to population growth projections. The request likewise sought records relating to specific action taken by the Board of Supervisors on February 6, 2001. See exhibit B attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

13. On May 25, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke sent a third request to then CAO Gregory B. Wellman and planning director Robert Smith requesting certain documents pursuant to the CPRA. The May 25, 2001, letter requested public records pertaining to reimbursement and funding issues, planning, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence as it related to three areas: (1) the Merced County Integrated Plan, (2) $30 million set aside for acquisition of habitats, and (3) the Joint Statement of the County of Merced and the University of California Regarding Conservation Planning and Permitting in Eastern Merced County in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit C attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

14. On or about June 7, 2001, Fernanda A. Saude, Assistant County Counsel, on behalf of Dennis L. Myers, Merced County Counsel, responded to the May 25, 2001, request. The response stated, in relevant part, as follows:

Your request is not specific enough for us to discern exactly what you are asking for. The County in the past has provided you with the following documents:

* The Joint Statement of the County of Merced and University
of California for Conservation Planning and Permitting in
Eastern Merced County[,]

* The Merced County Integrated Plan (MCIP)[,]

* County consulting contracts, excepting those with attorneys
that are confidential or otherwise privileged.

See exhibit D attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

15. On August 6, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested that Messrs. Wellman and Smith reconsider the response provided by Assistant County Counsel Saude. Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke noted that despite the County’s contention that the request did not reasonably describe records, all of the other five public agencies to whom similar requests had been made fully complied. In addition, petitioners noted that from their review of the other agencies’ responses, that responsive documents such as correspondence, notes, memoranda, staff reports, meeting minutes, and the like, exist. Petitioners asked that compliance occur promptly given that the public period on the environmental review was fast approaching. See exhibit E attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

16. On August 21, 2001, petitioners advised the County, planning director Smith and then CAO Wellman that serious problems were being encountered by those members of the public who desired to participate in the environmental review process as provided in the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Included among these problems was the lack of availability of documents which were the subject of the various CPRA requests at issue herein. See exhibit F attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

17. On August 22, 2001,a fourth request was made to Robert Smith and members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings. The request sought public records related to the Long Range Development Plan (“LRDP”) and U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In this regard, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested documents related to the findings of the Regents in 1995 which led to the certification of the “Site Selection EIR” as referred to in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the LRDP. See exhibit G attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

18. Also on August 22, 2001, a fifth CPRA request was made. This fifth request was addressed to Messrs. Wellman and Smith as well as to the Board of Supervisors and sought public records relating to contract work performed by consultants in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit H attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

19. On August 27, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke made a sixth request pursuant to the CPRA. This sixth request was addressed to then CAO Wellman as well as the members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings and requested 13 categories of documents all related to or necessary for an evaluation of the U.C.’s LRDP and the DEIR for the proposed campus in eastern Merced County. See exhibit I attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

20. On or about August 30, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude wrote petitioners again contending that the petitioners’ request was too general for the County to comply. Ms. Saude also wrote that certain information (e.g., information communicated between consulting contractors and their subcontractors and findings referenced in the DEIR for the LRDP) were not “retained or controlled” by the County. See exhibit J attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

21. On August 31, 2001, attorneys for petitioners wrote to Messrs. Wellman and Smith and contended that, contrary to Assistant County Counsel Saude’s letter of June 7, 2001, the May 25, 2001, CPRA request contained sufficient specificity and that all other agencies to whom the same requests were made were able to comply. Petitioners’ attorneys requested that the County reconsider its insistence on further clarification and asked that the County provide a definitive response to the request. The August 31, 2001, letter further requested that, in the event the County contended certain requested documents were exempt, the remainder be released and its refusal to disclose withheld documents be justified. See exhibit K attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

22. On September 10, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude responded to counsel for petitioners’ August 31, 2001, letter stating categorically that the petitioners’ requests of May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, are denied. Ms. Saude reiterated the County’s continuing position that the requests were of insufficient specificity under the CPRA. Ms. Saude countered petitioners’ statement that all other agencies found the requests sufficiently specific with the following statement:

So that there is no uncertainty on the part of you or your clients, the County has denied your clients’request as previously stated until such time as your clients are able to reasonably identify the documents which they are requesting to inspect. . . .

. . . Moreover, how other public agencies may respond to your clients’ request is neither relevant to nor binding upon the County of Merced.

See exhibit L attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference. Petitioners allege that contrary to Ms. Saude’s contention, the fact that other public agencies had no difficulty in complying with the request based upon the same descriptors is relevant to the sufficiency of the descriptions. Petitioners further contend that respondents’ failure to comply is unjustified and in violation of the CPRA, Government Code section 6258 et seq.

23. On October 29, 2001, petitioners’ attorney again wrote to the County. This letter was addressed to Assistant County Counsel, Fernanda A. Saude who, to that date, had undertaken responses on behalf of respondents to petitioners’ CPRA requests. The letter set forth a detailed description of the six prior requests made by petitioners as alleged above, attached copies thereof, and reiterated that each of the requests were being made pursuant to the CPRA. Specifically, Ms. Saude was informed that (1) no response was received in connection with the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests; and (2) that as to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, the County’s denial of the requests on the basis they did not reasonably identify documents was in error. To illustrate the error, counsel’s correspondence cited case law which held that CPRA requests need only describe the content of documents due to the requestor’s lack of access to agency files and the resulting inability of the requestor to identify precisely the documents. The letter asked that the County reconsider its denial of the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests. The letter also specifically requested a response to the unacknowledged November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001 and August 27, 2001, requests. See exhibit M attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

24. On September 14, 2001, attorney Donald B. Mooney, on behalf of the petitioners, wrote then CAO Mr. Wellman advising that the County had violated CEQA and CEQA guidelines. The letter highlighted deficiencies in the County’s public notice procedures relating to the availability of environmental documents for public review. The letter requested a re-noticed review period and remedies related to errors in circulation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report. See exhibit N attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

25. To date, no response has been received from respondents to petitioners’ attorney’s October 29, 2001, letter. Similarly, the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests (even though re-requested by the October 29, 2001, letter complete with copies thereof) remain unacknowledged and without response. As to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, respondents persist in their denial of the requests despite the adequacy of the content descriptions and petitioners’ inability to provide greater detail.

26. Petitioners contend the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records subject to disclosure. The documents requested by the November 22, 1999, request include the following reports and studies: Fresh Water Crustacean Report by EIP; Water Supply Plan by Hill; GIS maps; Vernal Pool Study; LRDP Plan; Habitat Planning; Campus Parkway Express Plan; CPAC Meeting Notification; East Merced Draft Report; Community Plan for U.C.; Draft Report of Soils, Habitat and Rare Species Associated; Draft Report on Soils Report; Merced River Study, Stake Holders and TAC; Concept Report; Regional Transportation Plan (MCAG); University Community Concept (EIP); California Central Economics (PG&E); Water Study by East Merced Resource Conservation District; Sierra Nevada Research Institute; University Wide Academic Senate Task Force on U.C. Merced; Task Force on U.C. Merced; U.C. Merced Research Advisory Committee; Campus Alignment Study; Financial accounting of incoming and outgoing funds associated to the proposed U.C. Campus and Community Plan and associated studies. The County has refused to even acknowledge this request. As with the other CPRA requests at issue, there is no justification for non-disclosure.

27. The documents requested by the February 12, 2001, request include, but are not limited to, the following: the County General, Community, Specific and Specific Urban Development plans (“SUDP”), the County’s General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise, and Open Space Elements, including all incorporated diagrams, maps, policies and texts; officially adopted resolutions and ordinances adopting the SUDP; written policies, correspondence, reports and studies of County boards, commissions and planning committees relating to the SUDP and General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise and Open Space Elements; legislative history re: ordinances or resolutions adopting the 1996 General Plan Text Amendments which adopted Land Use Policy Goal No. 11 and amendments to the Land Use Policy Diagram; information relating to pending General Plan Text Amendments; information relating to General Plan map or text amendment applications since 1990; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Housing re: compliance with Housing Element law; correspondence between the County and California Division of Mines and Geology re: compliance with mining and reclamation ordinances and related reports and studies; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Finance regarding population growth and related reports and studies; and agendas, notices, and minutes related to Board of Supervisor’s action on February 6, 2001.

28. The May 25, 2001, CPRA request seeks documents pertaining to planning, reimbursement, funding, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence related to the following three areas: the Merced County Integrated Plan; a $30 million acquisition of sensitive habitats, and the Joint Statement of the County and U.C. re: conservation planning and permitting.

29. Two separate CPRA requests, dated August 22, 2001, seek documents pertaining to contract work performed since 1985 by EIP Associates, Economic and Planning Systems, Fehr & Peers Associates, and Nolte & Associates in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. The first request included items such as “emails, meeting minutes and agendas, internal memos, etc.” The second request made that same date seeks public records pertaining to the LRDP and the U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In that regard, petitioners specifically sought the “Regent’s findings made in 1995 in connection with certifying . . . the ‘Site Selection EIR[]’”as well as other documents such as staff reports, resolutions and ordinances supporting or setting forth the 1995 certification.

30. The August 27, 2001, CPRA request sets forth thirteen specific subject areas for which public records are sought. These areas include documents relating to (1) the standards to be applied by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings (“Committee”) when choosing among alternative sites and design alternatives; (2) the U.C.’s decision to select among alternatives discussed in the March 2001 Comprehensive Alternatives Analysis of the U.C. Merced and Community Project (“CAA”); (3) the Committee’s deliberations or decisions regarding alternative U.C. sites; (4) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in implementing CEQA; (5) the U.C.’s environmental policies and procedures in choosing campus sites, facilities and improvements; (6) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in drafting and distributing long range development plans; (7) the legal authority relating to drafting long range development plans; (8) the U.C.’s policies and procedures re: conducting taxpayer/U.C. economic analyses in connection with campus site selection; (9) the U.C.’s legal and/or equitable ownership or leasing of Fresno County properties; (10) alternative offers of other property owners to provide land for the proposed campus; (11) reasons why the single campus as proposed in County are preferable to other alternatives; and (12) the 85 potential campus site alternatives. An additional thirteenth category seeks documents related to the U.C. Merced Project which were authored by or on behalf of Representative Gary Condit, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, Senator Dick Monteith, Governor Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and other elected officials or agency members.

31. Petitioners allege that the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records as that term is used in the CPRA. The requested documents relate to the conduct of the public’s business in developing a tenth campus in the University of California educational system. Substantial public funds are being expended in developing the campus and in undertaking all the various environmental, fiscal, educational, commercial and suburban studies and reports related to the U.C. Merced Project. The requested information is necessary for the public to analyze and evaluate the performance of the County and other government agencies in developing the campus. The documents will allow the public to understand whether its significant financial contribution to the U.C. Merced Project is being wisely spent and whether the County is proceeding in accordance with applicable laws and regulations for a project of this magnitude.

32. Petitioners allege disclosure will also shed light on whether appropriate and/or inappropriate considerations have been involved in the decision making processes of the various governmental agencies and officials involved, including, but not limited to, the County and its duly elected officials.

33. Petitioners allege that the public has a right to know how its funds, including tax revenues, are being spent and whether its duly elected officials are undertaking the U.C. Merced Project in a fiscally and environmentally sound manner. The documents sought are necessary to such determinations. Furthermore, petitioners allege that CEQA requires the respondents to ensure that the public can obtain and review all documents upon which the agency relies in making environmental decisions and therefore constitutes another basis for disclosure. The shared expertise of petitioners and others who desire to review requested documents will serve to ensure that elected and other officials make sound decisions related to the U.C. Merced Project.

34. Each of the six CPRA requests at issue have reasonably described identifiable records as required under California Government Code section 6253(b). In violation of the CPRA, respondents have simply ignored three of the petitioners’ CPRA requests. As to the remaining three CPRA requests, respondents have avoided and ignored their responsibilities by making frivolous contentions that each of the categories of requested documents does not sufficiently describe the records sought. Respondents have violated the CPRA by not making said records available to petitioners for inspection. Furthermore, respondents have failed to identify any exemption (except for attorney-client privilege) upon which they might rely to justify non-disclosure. Respondents have made no effort to comply with the CPRA and instead choose to either ignore petitioners’ CPRA requests outright or to feign an inability to discern the records requested. By way of this petition for writ of mandate, petitioners seek a writ commanding disclosure of the requested documents.

35. Petitioners have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law, other than the relief sought in this petition, pursuant to Government Code section 6258.

WHEREFORE, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke pray for relief as follows:

1. That the court grant the petition and issue a peremptory writ commanding respondents, and each of them, including respondents’ agents and employees, to disclose immediately to petitioners originals or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

2. Alternatively, that the court order respondents, and each of them, to show cause why respondents should not be required to disclose immediately to petitioners original or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, and all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

3. For costs and attorneys’ fees as provided by the California Public Records Act; and

4. For such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.

DATED: May ____, 2002.
DIETRICH, GLASRUD, MALLEK & AUNE

BY:________________________________
BRUCE A. OWDOM
PETER G. FASHING
Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor
Rescue Center, Protect Our Water (POW)
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

| »

Sun shines on government in Modesto, but not in Merced

Submitted: Mar 16, 2006

Badlands Journal appreciates the Modesto Bee’s emphasis this week on the second annual, national Sunshine Week. We note, however, that it remains overcast in Merced. There is no excuse for this except the “independence” of the local Sun-Star publisher. The Sun-Star is a McClatchy paper, like the Modesto Bee. However, the Sun-Star appears as a matter of editorial policy to be against protecting and promoting open government for all citizens. That’s a rotten definition of journalistic independence, in the opinion of Badlands Journal.

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

Secrecy on the March:
Making the Case for Sunshine Week

… Sunshine Week is not about journalists, it's not about partisan politics, it's about the public and the importance of protecting and promoting open government. Sunshine Week is not about protecting journalists' rights, it's about the right of all citizens to know what their government is doing—and why. -- http://www.sunshineweek.org/
------------------------------------

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasché

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690450c.html

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Sunshine Week.

Over the course of the week, we’ll be shining a light on open government, with stories, editorials and columns designed to help you understand the importance of public access to government proceedings and records – and the growing attempts to limit that access.

We’ll help you understand that open government is an issue that affects every citizen, not just journalists.

We’ll help you understand your rights as a citizen, show you how to file a public records request and tell you what to do if your request is denied.

We’ll tell you what happened when we went out and asked 21 local agencies for public documents. We’ll tell you what happened when a First Amendment group made the same request of 31 state agencies. And, we’ll tell you what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

We’re not alone in doing this. Newspapers, magazines, broadcast outlets and Web sites throughout the nation are joining The Bee in observing Sunshine Week.

Why? Because a government that ceases to be open and accessible to its citizens ceases to be a government of, by and for the people. And, we never want that to happen.

Mark S. Vasché

Editor and Senior Vice President
-----------------------

Paper Trails

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690451c.html

Here are some records to which people have access:

Jail logs -- You can see who's in jail, their ages, hometowns and the offenses for which they were arrested.

Elected officials' statements of financial interest -- Called Form 700, the California Fair Political Practices Commission says each elected and appointed official and certain public employees must file one annually. City hall is required to keep them on file.

Property records -- You can learn the assessed value of the homes in your neighborhood, see who has owned them and what they paid and sold them for, find out zoning and get other information at the county assessor's office.

Restaurant inspection reports -- The county health department issues reports on every restaurant in town. Find out if your favorite restaurant meets cleanliness standards.

Bankruptcies and divorces, civil and criminal court files -- Most court cases in California are open to the public, though judges can choose portions to be sealed, such as search warrants. The only real exception is juvenile court -- all records are closed.

Employment contracts of public officials -- You can compare your city manager's contract with those in similar towns, or find out how your school district superintendent's salary and benefits stack up against others.

Voter registration -- An Internet database allows people to look up the names, addresses and phone numbers of all registered voters (though some people choose not to have their numbers listed).

The city budget -- You can see how your city spends the money that comes in. You can even look at the monthly bills.

Development agreements -- These allow someone to see whether developers follow through on their commitments.

City or county staff reports -- What proposals do staffers generate and how do they justify the costs?
-----------------------------------

Tips on making a request for a public document

Modesto Bee -- March 12, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690452c.html

Preparing your request

1. Identify the record you want. Knowing the specific document type – a birth certificate or a building permit, for example – will make it easier to direct your request.

2. Identify the agency that has it. Government operates at several levels, so be sure to ask the county for county records, the city for city records, and so forth.

3. Check the agency's Web site to see if the information is available online. More and more, government agencies are posting documents online, so Web sites are worth a look.

4. Find out when the agency is open and its location. You'll save a lot of time and
frustration by knowing the hours of operation.

5. Plan your visit. Expect delays. Go early enough in the morning or afternoon so clerks have time to fulfill your request before lunch or closing time. Park where you won't have to worry about feeding a meter. If you plan to photocopy documents, make sure you have enough money to cover the cost.

At the agency

1. You do not have to prove or even state a "need to know" to justify access.

2. You don't need to explain why you want the record.

3. Your request need not be in writing.

4. You don't need to identify yourself, with a few exceptions. The law requires

identification only when you seek information about pesticides or the addresses of people arrested or crime victims.

5. You have the right to inspect records, but the agency need not compile lists or write reports. For instance, the county assessor's office could produce records of home sales on your block but would not be required to compute the median sales prices or otherwise analyze the data for you.

6. You may be charged a fee for copying records, but not for looking at them.

Overcoming obstacles

1. The agency is obligated to do its best to help you find what you want. Your request should be reasonably clear, but if you need help describing exactly what you need, don't be afraid to ask for help.

2. You should expect prompt access to the records. Delay is allowed only to resolve good-faith doubts on whether all or part of a record is accessible by the public.

3. If there is a dispute over whether a record is open to inspection, the agency has 10 days in which to produce it or provide a written reason for denial. That 10-day delay applies only when there is a dispute over whether the document is exempt from inspection. Otherwise, the document must be produced promptly – which generally should be the day you ask.

4. Occasionally, documents may not be immediately available. For example, old records may be stored at a different location. If you'd like, you may leave your name and contact information so the agency can alert you when the record is ready. But you do not have to identify yourself and always have the option of returning to the agency later.

5. If the agency declines your request, it must justify doing so by citing the law, either a statute or a case interpreting a statute. Write down that information or ask the clerk to do so for you. And get the name of the person who told you.

6. If your request is denied, you have the right to appeal. You may send a letter of appeal, or go to Superior Court. For a sample appeal letter, go to www.modbee.com/sunshine. If you go to court and a judge rules that the agency improperly denied you access, you may be able to recover court and attorney fees.
---------------------------------

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690453c.html
Last Updated: March 12, 2006, 05:34:56 AM PST

Date
Name and Title (of the official with custody of the records) Name of Agency Address

RE: Public Records Act Request

Dear ________________,

Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) and the California Constitution, as amended by passage of Prop 59 on November 3, 2004, I am writing to request a copy of the following records, which I understand to be in the possession of your agency:

(Describe the record(s) as precisely as possible, including the designation of any forms or
reports with titles, the date or dates if relevant, the author and addressee if the item is a letter or memo, etc. If the record is referred to in another document or published report and it will help to attach a copy of that reference, do so.)

I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even earlier reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record(s) in question.

(Use the following if applicable:)

I would not ordinarily trouble you with this written request, but when I first made it informally I was told by __________________ that your agency considers the information to be exempt from disclosure because ________________________________. I respectfully suggest that this position, if I understand it correctly, is wrong. It is wrong because

___________________________________________________________________________.

If you determine that any or all or the information is exempt from disclosure, I ask that you reconsider that determination in view of Prop 59, which has amended the state Constitution to require that all exemptions be "narrowly construed." Prop 59 may modify or overturn authorities on which you have relied in the past.

If you nonetheless determine that the requested records are subject to a still-valid exemption, I would further request that: (1) you exercise your discretion to disclose some or all of the records notwithstanding the exemption; and (2) that, with respect to records containing both exempt and non-exempt content, you redact the exempt content and disclose the rest.

Finally, should you deny part or all of this request, you are required to provide a written response describing the legal authority or authorities on which you rely. Please also address the question whether Prop 59 requires disclosure even though authorities predating Prop 59 may appear to support your exemption claim.

If I can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to this request, please contact me at (provide phone or fax number, pager number, etc.). I ask that you notify me of any duplication costs exceeding $xx so that I may decide which records I want copied.

(Use the following as applicable:)

I am sending a copy of this letter to your legal advisor to help encourage a speedy determination, and I would likewise be happy to discuss my request with (him/her) at any time.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
---------------------------------

Merced woman guards public projects process
Lawsuits force the county, UC to toe the legal line

By ADAM ASHTON
BEE STAFF WRITER
Modesto Bee -- March 13, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html

For some in Merced County, Lydia Miller's name prompts the same reaction: Why is she suing me now?

Miller, the county's foremost environmentalist, positions herself at the front of often impassioned debates on the spread of subdivisions and the footprint of the University of California at Merced.

She crafts her arguments using the state's Public Records Act to ensure local governments adhere to laws protecting the environment.

"Public process is the only tool in ensuring integrity of a project," said Miller, 48, who leads the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center. "When the process is compromised, then the project is compromised. We see very few projects that follow good process."

One of the biggest of 19 lawsuits Miller's group has filed against local agencies forced Merced County to turn over thousands of pages of documents regarding its interactions with the University of California before the system placed its newest campus there.

Miller believed the county was treating the campus as if it were a done deal and speeding through the approval process.

That case, which ended in 2002 with a judge's order to open the records, provided the groundwork for a lawsuit Miller filed in late 2004 seeking to halt plans on an 11,600-home community that would border the campus.

Her opponent in the three-year push to open the county's UC records was Greg Wellman, the county's former chief executive who now works as Atwater's city manager.

He said Miller had a right to most of the information she requested, even if it gave him headaches at the time.

"I think a large amount of what she's asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process," he said. "I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple."

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

"You don't want to give up your defense strategy resulting in a higher award or any other such thing," he said.

Bruce Owdom, Miller's lawyer on the open records lawsuit, said agencies sometimes are too quick to deny a request like hers, giving an impression that a "culture of secrecy" prevails in their offices.

"They sometimes have an attitude like it's our domain here and the public doesn't have a right to these things," he said.

Miller says that attitude prevails in many government offices. She said the county should start keeping running files on controversial projects so people could drop by and check out a proposal's progress.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said that recommendation might run afoul of privacy protections for some applicants.

He also said the county shouldn't hand over information while it's being sued unless it's ordered to do so. The Public Records Act has an exemption for documents under litigation.

"There's client-privileged information that may help in regards to giving guidance to a project that shouldn't be part of a public document that anyone could see," he said.

Nonetheless, he said, the public should be able to see all the information that leads to supervisors' decisions.

Miller says the information her group obtains helps it ensure agencies follow through on mitigation plans, and support projects with sufficient resources.

Her group recently filed a public records request with Livingston and Merced County seeking information about plans for a sewer line that would make it easier for a developer to build a subdivision outside the city limit.

The City Council approved Ranchwood Homes' pitch to lay the sewer line in late 2004, but Miller argues the county would have had to sign off on it because it's in unincorporated land. She's waiting for the documents.

"We participate in the process," she said. "We can't sue on emotion; the only thing we can sue on is to make sure the process was adhered to rightly."
---------------------------

Judge rules against county
Merced Sun-Star – July 23, 2002
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/281651491740333.shtml

That was the good news. The bad news came five months later, when Merced County Superior Court Judge William Ivey ruled on attorney’s fees and costs. Attorney for the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Bruce Owdom, spent $42,000 on the case. Judge Ivey, forced to rule in favor of the Center on the merits of the case, slammed the plaintiff and its attorney on costs and fees to which they were entitled, as if to say to the Merced public and the bar: We may give the case, but you will not get costs and fees in Merced County.

And that has been largely true.
--------------------------

Records suit costs county $22,000
Court orders reimbursement for group’s court costs
By Cheri Carlson
Merced Sun-Star – Nov. 25, 2002

“Everybody thinks that we make money from the lawsuit. We don’t. – Lydia Miller, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center

Two local environmental groups that successfully sued Merced County earlier this year have won more than their right to view public records. In fact, they won nearly $22,000.

Superior Court Judge William T. Ivey on Friday awarded the groups their court costs, which must be paid for by the county.

Neither of the organizations – the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water – nor the individuals involved in the suit – Lydia Miller and Steve Burke – will actually see the money. It will go straight to their attorney, Bruce Owdom.

Owdom said Friday that when he took the public records case it was on a full contingency basis, which means if they lost, his firm wouldn’t get paid.

But they won, and now Merced County – and taxpayers – must foot the bill.

Not the entire bill, however.

Owdom said he was disappointed that the court decided to award only about half the amount he had requested.

He had sought about $42,000 in fees, but the judged awarded $21,796 instead, stating that the issues involved were not complex. He added that the $42,000 figure was based on the 222 hours he said his firm worked on the case.

Miller, Burke and their organizations filed a lawsuit in May claiming the county had repeatedly ignored or denied requests for information related to the University of California, Merced.

Mille said at the time that the information the groups had requested was “a pretty substantial file” of information that they felt the community needed to review, and the county had said, “No, we’re not giving it to you.”

The county argued that some of the requests were denied because the documents had already been provided. Other requests, according to the county, were vague and the requesting parties couldn’t clarify them.

In June, Ivey ruled in favor of the environmental groups and ordered the county to respond to the requests and to produce any of the public records that the county may have.

Owdon said Friday that since Ivey issued that order, the county has complied and produced more than 100 separately identified documents that hadn’t previously been made available to his clients.

Awarding court costs is necessary, according to Owdom, so public interest groups can find lawyers who’ll take these types of cases.

“Attorneys are only willing to take these cases if they have some assurance of getting fees awarded,” he said. “Nonprofit (groups) can’t afford to pay attorneys’ fees.”

Dennis Myers, the county’s attorney, said Friday that the judge’s order for the county to pay the environmental groups’ court costs adhered to state law.

Court costs and reasonable attorney fees are awarded to the plaintiff if they prevail in litigation regarding public record compliance, according to California code. The fees are paid by the public agency.

The code also states that if the court finds that the plaintiff’s case “is clearly frivolous,” it should award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the public agency.

According to Myers, which account within the county’s funds will provide the money has not been decided since more than one department was involved.

Miller said Friday that she and Burke took their case to court “on behalf of the public,” and one of the benefits is that the court awarded them their attorney’s fees.

“Everybody thinks that we make money from the lawsuit,” she said. “We don’t.”
------------------------------

Central Valley Shines
With a few exceptions, open records provided in informal Bee survey

By ADAM ASHTON
BEE STAFF WRITER
Modesto Bee -- March 13, 2006
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926477p-12693365c.html

… Merced County, which charged 10 cents for copies of financial disclosure forms, charged the highest fee in the area for copies of other documents. It wanted 50 cents apace, a sum it set in 1990 to recoup some processing costs.

Three agencies — Livingston's building department, Manteca's building department and Tuolumne County's community development department — wanted to charge research fees for requests they deemed burdensome.

Bee representatives did not pay those fees; they reduced their requests from broad attempts to gain several months' worth of inspections to queries for a handful of specific documents.

Outside records firm a wrinkle

The Public Records Act says agencies cannot charge fees for researching or processing, unless the agency has to create a document to meet the request.

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for the state Attorney General's office, said that under the act, an agency may charge a retrieval or research fee for staff time on nonelectronic documents only if the public entity contracts with a private company to keep the records. The fees come through the company's bill.

Livingston's building department is run by a private company and could meet that exception.

City Manager Richard Warne said the department would charge extra fees only for requests that take several hours of staff time.

Its research fee was $46 an hour, city Building Official Rex Wyatt told a reporter.

"If it's a document off the shelf, we just give it to people. If it involves several hours of research, we might charge, but we haven't run into that problem," Warne said …

Bruce Owdom, a Fresno attorney who has worked for The Fresno Bee, said the amount of work that could go into satisfying a public records request is not a sufficient excuse not to comply with the law, or to charge fees beyond what the Public Records Act allows.

"They might say some other department has those records and we don't have those records. Or it would be too difficult to compile," he said. "My recollection is that there's not an exception to the Public Records Act for that type of situation."

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said research fees violate the Public Records Act.

"In general, you can't be charged for the time, the effort or the money of conducting a search that responds to an individual's request — not for the search time, not for the consultation with lawyers, not for any discussions about the request.

"None of that represents the cost that may be passed on to the requester," Scheer said.
---------------------------

Notes:

3-12-06
Modesto Bee
Now open to the public...Lorena Anderson
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690527c.html
Sunshine Week...Your right to know. Anyone can request public records any time, without providing a reason or even identification, and it is up to the government to explain why a document can't be released.Assemblyman Bill Bagley, who represented Marin and Sonoma counties from 1961 to 1974 and wrote the California Public Records Act, said he intended the government to operate in an "atmosphere of openness." ...agencies must prove that withholding a document has more public benefit than releasing it; nothing in the act is to be construed as preventing an agency from releasing records.

Message from Bee Editor and Senior Vice President Mark S. Vasche
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690450c.html
Over the course of the week, we’ll be shining a light on open government, with stories, editorials and columns designed to help you understand the importance of public access to government proceedings and records – and the growing attempts to limit that access. Why? Because a government that ceases to be open and accessible to its citizens ceases to be a government of, by and for the people.

Government watchdog follows the money trail...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690518c.html
Documents let him verify what officials are saying

Paper Trails...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690451c.html
Here are some records to which people have access

Tips on making a request for a public document...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690452c.html
Preparing your request... At the agency... Overcoming obstacles...
1. You do not have to prove or even state a "need to know" to justify access.
2. You don't need to explain why you want the record.
3. Your request need not be in writing.
4. You don't need to identify yourself, with a few exceptions. The law requires identification only when you seek information about pesticides or the addresses of people arrested or crime victims.
5. You have the right to inspect records, but the agency need not compile lists or write reports. For instance, the county assessor's office could produce records of home sales on your block but would not be required to compute the median sales prices or otherwise analyze the data for you.
6. You may be charged a fee for copying records, but not for looking at them.

Sample letter: how to appeal if your public record request has been denied...
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11923683p-12690453c.html

3-13-06
Modesto Bee
Merced woman guards public projects process...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html
For some in Merced County, Lydia Miller's name prompts the same reaction: Why is she suing me now? Miller, the county's foremost environmentalist, positions herself at the front of often impassioned debates on the spread of subdivisions and the footprint of the University of California at Merced. She crafts her arguments using the state's Public Records Act to ensure local governments adhere to laws protecting the environment. "Public process is the only tool in ensuring integrity of a project," said Miller who leads the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center. "When the process is compromised, then the project is compromised. Greg Wellman, the county's former chief executive who now works as Atwater's city manager...Back then, though, handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion..."There's client-privileged information that may help in regards to giving guidance to a project that shouldn't be part of a public document that anyone could see,"...Nonetheless, he said, the public should be able to see all the information that leads to supervisors' decisions. "We participate in the process," Miller said. "We can't sue on emotion; the only thing we can sue on is to make sure the process was adhered to rightly."

Central Valley Shines...Adam Ashton
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926477p-12693365c.html
Bee survey-The Bee informally assessed compliance with open government laws at 17 cities and four counties over the past two weeks by visiting government offices and asking forbasic rec-ords — financial disclosure forms for officials,executive contracts, building permits and restaurant inspections. Most agencies, such as the cities of Modesto, Sonora and Ceres, had the information on hand and disclosed it immediately. Others, such as Riverbank, Turlock and Merced County, wanted written requests. Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, called the level of compliance documented by The Bee "unusual." Californians Aware, another open government advocacy group, is scheduled to release an audit Tuesday indicating that more than half of the state agencies it checked failed to comply with the Public Records Act. Bruce Owdom, a Fresno attorney who has worked for The Fresno Bee, said the amount of work that could go into satisfying a public records request is not a sufficient excuse not to comply with the law, or to charge fees beyond what the Public Records Act allows. Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said research fees violate the Public Records Act.

| »

Beware the web you weave

Submitted: Mar 14, 2006

Contributors to Badlands sent “Merced Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event,” March 10, 2006, to a number of individuals, one of whom was Bobby Lewis, the recently hired county planning director who arrived from Nevada without a resume available to the public.

Lewis replied to the article:

----- Original Message ----- From: "Robert Lewis"
To:
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 5:06 AM
Subject: Re: BadlandsJournal -Merced's Development Rodeo

Ranchwood homes was issued a stop work order. Based on findings ...
--------------------------

We decided to search for evidence of the stop-work order and the findings. The search took us back a couple of years.
--------------------------

Feb. 3, 2004:

MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AGENDA
http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 A. M.
PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
Appeal of Planning Commission approval to approve Major Subdivision Application No. 03001- McPherson Subdivision submitted by Bryant Owens. Application submitted by Ranchwood Contractors to subdivide two parcels totaling 19.0 acres into 96 residential building lots on property located on the south side of Savanna Road and 580 feet west of Santa Fe Avenue in the Le Grand area.
----------------------------------------
Feb. 4, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=93758 Supervisors: Le Grand development may proceed…Ranchwood Homes
----------------------------------

Feb. 28, 2004:

http://www.modbee.com/2004/election/merced/supervisors/story/8190479p-9040645c.html 2-25-04
Candidate’s poll raises questions about support
Lee Neves says it was an innocent mistake when he attributed an $8,500 polling expense to a political action committee instead of local developers…six contributors: Bert A. Crane Jr., a Merced farmer and rancher; Rucker Construction of Merced; Ranchwood Homes of Los Banos; Trans County Title of Merced; Maxwell Enterprises of Merced, a construction and development company; and James Abatte of Merced, who owns a number of fast food franchises in the county.
--------------------------------------------------

July 22, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/8882627p-9772671c.html …Melanie Turner…Donation brings UC gym bit closer…
University of California, Merced, got off to a strong start with a
$500,000 donation from Greg and Cathie Hostetler, Los Banos developers of Ranchwood Homes for a gymnasium, featuring a NCAA regulation-size basketball court and seating for 480. The university plans to fund the recreation center in large part with a loan from the UC office of the president, which would be paid back in student fees, Wyan said. Gymnasiums, dormitories, dining halls and other nonacademic facilities cannot be financed with state money, Wyan said. Campbell said there likely will be intramural sports in the 2005-06 school year, as well as sailing and other water sports at nearby Lake Yosemite.
--------------------------

Dec. 8, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9564250p-10454279c.html …Adam Ashton…Developer gets tacit OK for sewer pipe…
LIVINGSTON — Projections for growth on the city’s outskirts look so good that one developer is ready to build a sewer connection for a project that won’t
take shape for several years. Ranchwood Homes asked the City Council if it could move ahead with plans to build a nearly one-mile sewer extension south of Livingston for a planned 300-home development that is still in its concept stages. Council says it’s his risk if homes don’t win approval.
-----------------------------

Dec. 21, 2004:

Some sections from:

Agreement to design, construct and dedicate section of sewer pipeline by and between City of Livingston and Ranchwood Homes Corp.

… WHEREAS, City needs to add a pipeline section … to the System outside the City’s current boundaries to serve the City; and

WHEREAS, City has determined the New Section project is categorically exempt under the California Environmental Quality Act; and

WHEREAS, City does not currently have the financial resources to design, acquire rights of way and construct the new Section; and

WHEREAS, Ranchwood is willing to incur all of the costs to design, acquire the rights of way and construct the New Section then dedicate it to the City …

1. Ranchwood will use its reasonable best efforts to acquire, at Ranchwood’s expense, the necessary temporary construction and permanent utility rights-of-way necessary for the construction, operation and maintenance of the New Section and related pipelines and facilities, which may be required in the future. In the event Ranchwood is unable to acquire these rights-of-way, City may take the appropriate and necessary steps to acquire the rights-of-way …

3. Ranchwood agrees to defend, indemnify, and hold the City or its agents, officers and employees harmless from any claim, action, or proceeding against the City or its agents, officers, or employees to attack, set aside, void or annul, an approval of the City concerning this Agreement and/or the New Section, which action is brought within the time period provided for in Section 66499.37 of the Government Code of the State of California.

4. (Same language as above except) “prior to acceptance of the New Section to the City.”

5. Ranchwood agrees to dedicate the new Section to the City upon completion of the New Section and acceptance as complete of the New Section by the City’s public works director. Acceptance shall be timed to when connection to City System occurs.

6. City agrees to establish and maintain a mechanism to collect funds from new development, if any, which might be served by the new Section, to reimburse Ranchwood in full for the costs and expenses incurred by Ranchwood under the terms and conditions of this Agreement … so that all new development, if any, served by the new Section pays its pro rata share of the Reimbursable Costs and Ranchwood is reimbursed all of the Reimbursable Costs …

The rest of the agreement basically says that Ranchwood proceeds on this project at its own risk. There are risks: Livingston has no jurisdiction over the land through which the pipeline will pass.

CALIFORNIA CODES
GOVERNMENT CODE
SECTION 66499.37: Any action or proceeding to attack, review, set aside,
void or annul the decision of an advisory agency, appeal board or
legislative body concerning a subdivision, or of any of the
proceedings, acts or determinations taken, done or made prior to such
decision, or to determine the reasonableness, legality or validity
of any condition attached thereto, shall not be maintained by any
person unless such action or proceeding is commenced and service of
summons effected within 90 days after the date of such decision.
Thereafter all persons are barred from any such action or proceeding
or any defense of invalidity or unreasonableness of such decision or
of such proceedings, acts or determinations. Any such proceeding
shall take precedence over all matters of the calendar of the court
except criminal, probate, eminent domain and forcible entry and
unlawful detainer proceedings.

This section would apply if Livingston had the legal right to approve this project in the first place.
-----------------------

Dec. 22, 2004:

http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9652113p-10536591c.html Adam Ashton…
Work can start on Livingston sewer line…
The City Council and Ranchwood Homes agreed Tuesday night that the builder can proceed with its plans to place a 5,100-foot-long sewer pipe just outside of Livingston’s sphere of influence at its southwest corner
---------------------

Feb. 3, 2005

Investigation unit was on move before board vote…Scott Pesznecker
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9885814p-10731412c.html
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer was so confident the Board of Supervisors would OK a proposed move of his investigations staff that he had the office’s employees pack up their desks before supervisors even voted Tuesday. The day after supervisors approved his plans, more questions surfaced about $16,000 in renovations to the new office space made before supervisors signed off on the move. Spencer also mentioned using the asset forfeiture money at Tuesday’s supervisor’s meeting.
Merced County Auditor Stephen Jones said late Wednesday he couldn’t find any records of money drawn from the county treasury to be paid to Hostetler, Ranchwood Homes Corp. or Ranchwood Contractors, Inc. However, there are two other funds Spencer has access to that do not need Jones’ signature on a check, though they still need supervisors’ approval. Schecter, who is
also an ethics professor at CSU Fresno specializing in local government, said the lease agreement could have been handled better from start to finish. “Ethically, I think there are some problems,” he said.
--------------------------------------------------

April 25, 2005:

Development closer to reality…Adam Ashton
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/10373719p-11176985c.html
LIVINGSTON — Two major subdivisions on the outskirts of town are inching closer to reality with a city analysis of their environmental impacts expected at the end of the year. The Ranchwood and Gallo plans together make up about half the number of homes Livingston has on its books now with a mix of more than a dozen other subdivisions. That’s why the two companies are footing most of the bill for the city’s new master plan and environmental documents.
---------------------------------------

Oct. 19, 2005

Added funds propel Livingston Master Plan…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11369021p-12116135c.html
Funding is now in place to create Livingston’s new master plan. With the presentation of a check for $155,760 to the Livingston City Council at last night’s meeting, developer Ranchwood Homes provided the last portion of funds need to create the new plan. Two other developers, Gallo and Del Valle, have already made major contributions to fund the plan.
---------------------------------------------

Nov. 16, 2005

Livingston OKs draft of city in 2025…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11486665p-12225871c.html
The council unanimously approved a draft project description of a Master Environmental Impact Report…the consultants writing the impact report now have a map of where Livingston intends to develop and a timeline for when it will get there. …representatives from Ranchwood Homes and Gallo Homes, both of which are planning large subdivisions in Livingston, urged the council to move forward. Both Ranchwood and Gallo are paying for most of the consultants’ work on the city’s new impact report.
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Dec. 13, 2005:

Merced County Board of Supervisors authorized the updating of its General Plan, absurdly outdated since UC Merced was amended in to a plan that emphasized the protection of Merced County’s rural, agricultural and natural resources.
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Jan. 21, 2006:

Session to tackle city’s effort toward affordable homes…Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11714888p-12438920c.html
LIVINGSTON — New housing is popping up all over town, but how many residents can actually afford it? Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler said forcing developers to keep prices low can backfire by driving up the cost of market-rate units. Hostetler said inclusionary housing ordinances are relatively new to Valley cities… Livingston is looking at inclusionary housing..
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Jan. 24, 2006:

Loose Lips: Land baron becomes local celeb…David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11724259p-12448018c.html
When Merced land baron Greg Hostetler isn’t donating fists full of money to his pet charities, “Mr. Ranchwood Homes” is giving away his John Hancock. Hostetler, arguably the county’s most successful homegrown developer, said he was stopped recently by a man who wanted his autograph.
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Jan. 25, 2006:

The General Plan Review Steering Committee, a shadowy, backroom body whose members are unknown to the public (Supervisor Deirdre Kelsey, however, is known to be a member) and whose meetings are not announced publicly, found it could not reach a consensus on the updating of the Planada Community Plan. A lawsuit on this plan is now in state appellate court. However, what concerned the committee that day was that developers, including Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, of a 1,450-acre project called Village of Geneva at Planada,” outside of the Specific Urban Development Plan of Planada, were asking for a community plan update that would include their project.
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Jan. 27, 2006:

Annexations OK’d; city grows by nearly 200 acres…David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11736481p-12459428c.html
MERCED - Two Merced annexations gained final approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission on Thursday morning and a third was tabled until next month. • The Ranchwood N Street Annexation • And the Mission Avenue Annexation. LAFCO commissioners held off on approving the Barnell Annexation, a 73 acre swath south of Cardella Road. That annexation proposal will be discussed at the next LAFCO meeting on Feb. 23.
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Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!
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Feb. 6, 2006:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect our Water and Bryant Owens (Planada Community Association), wrote to Lewis, John LeVan (Local Agency Formation Commission), the Board of Supervisors, and Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen. It was posted on Badlands, Feb. 7, “Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston.”

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It has come to our attention that the City of Livingston has authorized a private developer to install a 42 -inch sewer main connecting a 300 acre parcel along Magnolia Avenue near Westside Blvd, in a portion of unincorporated Merced County adjacent to but outside the SUDP of the City of Livingston.

This is clearly a ‘project’ under CEQA, and must be halted immediately and the City of Livingston must be enjoined and required to follow all the appropriate protocols for environmental review of a project of this nature. In addition we request and require the County of Merced Planning and Economic Development Department to assert its land use jurisdiction in this matter.

It is our understanding that the installation of these municipal services is a prelude to annexation of this 300-acre parcel into the City of Livingston. As such the entire project is premature and represents a clear violation of LAFCo of Merced County’s jurisdiction and statutory authority with regard to out of boundary service extensions in Merced County.

The City of Livingston’s mistaken authorization of this project has allowed grading and deep ripping on agricultural land in violation of the County of Merced’s Williamson Act Zoning.

The particular parcel must be removed from the Agricultural Preserve according to a prescribed process adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in 2000. This has not been done.

The City of Livingston has acted irresponsibly and precipitously in authorizing non agricultural land uses on land not properly under its legal jurisdiction: Livingston may not act as lead agency with regard to any aspect of this ‘project’ without providing the appropriate Notice of Exemption to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, The EPA at the federal level, the County and the Local Agency Formation Commission. No evidence exists that any such notice of exemption has been filed with any of the aforementioned agencies. If such notice has been approved at any level of the City of Livingston City Council level, these commentators challenge the validity of such notice and ask that it be invalidated.

Proceeding in the aforementioned manner places the City Council of Livingston in violation of California Government Code 65402 requiring mandatory referral of such a proposal to the county LAFCo, and the county Department of Planning and Economic Development. This has not been done. If this project is to proceed correctly, given the total acreage involved, such project would definitely qualify as a ‘major expansion’ of an SUDP. Such a designation automatically triggers the need for CEQA review and an EIR is mandatory. The City of Livingston has previously attempted to annex agricultural land by designating it as blighted. This tactic was rebuked by the County of Merced and eventually rescinded by the City of Livingston.

There is no evidence of any negotiations between the County of Merced and the City of Livingston regarding tax and revenue sharing agreement, and consequently there have been no noticed public meetings to discuss those agreements, in violation of state law, local ordinance, and Merced County’s current General Plan. The county of Merced is currently in the preliminary stages of updating its General Plan. The City of Livingston has not yet filed even a notice of preparation for expanding its SUDP. The proposed project is therefore premature in that the context for approving such a major expansion does not yet exist for either jurisdiction. There is no notice of preparation on file with the county or the state reflecting any such intention on the part of the City of Livingston. We therefore request that this project be stopped until such time as the appropriate land use authority can be determined and that jurisdiction be asserted.

The commentators’ request, under the California Public Records Act, to inspect any indemnification agreements entered into by this developer, Mr. Hostetler and Co., and/ or any of his associates, specifically Mike Gallo and Co., ‘holding harmless’ the City of Livingston for any legal challenge to the environmental review of the proponent’s (s’) project. We also request to inspect any documents showing any other agreements between the two named parties and the City of Livingston. We also request to inspect any documents pertaining to any agreements between local business or industry (specifically Foster Farms) with regard to connection to the proposed wastewater conduit into the city of Livingston …

We have grave concerns over the lack of information concerning who will be allowed to access this new infrastructure. Can the City of Livingston WWTF actually serve the anticipated urban expansion? What funding source exists for other necessary municipal services? How does this proposed project coordinate with regional water and wastewater needs? If a municipality in Merced County becomes incapable of serving the WWTF needs of its customers and fails, does the responsibility for those services revert to the county? Can the county afford to assume that sort of infrastructure liability?

Have there been any Can/Will Server letters of agreement between the Livingston WWTF and this developer? Is a Will Serve letter valid in the demonstrable absence of capacity?

Given that this developer has a plethora of residential development projects in Merced County and elsewhere, and considering the abject indiscretion of the City of Livingston in lending its ‘approval’ to this developer (especially since the approval lacked jurisdiction or authority), we request that all development projects by this developer throughout Merced County and especially anywhere proximate to the City of Livingston or the surrounding unincorporated communities be red-tagged (administratively halted) until such time as the environmental review of each of those current projects can be reviewed for accuracy and compliance with the appropriate laws, codes mitigation measures and appropriate checklists, and until the public is assured that each project is under the inspection and review of the appropriate agency.

This hubris on the part of the developer coupled with the abject irresponsibility of those agents of the City of Livingston demands commensurate sanctions by the appropriate governing bodies and/or state agencies. We request that those authorized to do so pursue such sanction to the fullest extent of the law.

We appreciate your consideration of this information and request to be notified in writing prior to deliberations and/or actions pertaining to this information by each of the notified agencies. Regarding inspection of the documents requested above, we reserve the right to inspect any documents identified subsequent to the above request, prior to any copies being made. We will give specific instructions as to which documents we need copies of when they have been identified and are available for inspection. It is our understanding that each agency notified in this document is responsible to respond to our request, within the statutory time frame with any identifiable documents described herein.
Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water
Bryant Owens- Chairman Planada Community Development Corporation
Cc: Interested Parties
--------------------

Feb. 7, 2006:

Sent By: County of Merced; 209 726 1337; Feb-7-06 4:16PM; Page 2/2
j14 EIjlEIJra4st Ruben CastiIlo

COUNTY COUNSEL County Counsel
COUNTY
February 7, 2006
Transmitted bythcsirnile &U.S Mail

Ms. Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3 105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada
Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced, CA 95340-9550

Regarding: Sewer Line Extension to the Ranchwood Homes Development located in or about the City of Livingston

Gentlepersons:

This letter is sent in response to yours of February 6, 2006. We have careftilly considered the information contained in your letter and value your input At this point, the County is in the process of gathering information regarding the status of the installation of this sewer line and the development project that it serves. We would appreciate your relaying to us any further information you have concerning these matters.

Sincerely,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL

WALTER WILLIAM WALL,
DEPUTY COUNTY COUNSEL
WWW/jaf
CC: Robert Lewis, Development Services Director
-----------------------------

Feb. 8, 2006:

Groups Aim to Stop Sewer Line Construction …Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11781260p-12500357c.html
Environmental groups want Ranchwood Homes to halt construction on a sewer line in Livingston, according to a letter released Monday.The San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and Planada Community Development Corp. say that Livingston shouldn’t have approved construction of the sewer line because the project is on county land.
“The city of Livingston should not have given Ranchwood any authority to do anything out there,” said Bryant Owens of the Planada Community Development Corp. “Ranchwood needs to stop what they’re doing and come back to the county and get an annexation.”
The mile-long sewer line between Vinewood and Magnolia Avenue could eventually connect a proposed 420-acre Ranchwood Homes subdivision to Livingston’s wastewater treatment plant.
The environmental groups say the sewer line can’t go in until Ranchwood gets permission to annex the land, meaning that the land would be brought into Livingston’s city limits. But Livingston has been following the rules, according to Interim City Manager Vickie Lewis.
“We followed every regulation that was required of us,” said Lewis. “We have only gone as far as phase one, which is our only responsibility at this time. Anything beyond that is between the county and (Ranchwood).”
Ranchwood has received three encroachment permits from the county so far, but the county won’t issue any other permits until the county responds to the environmental groups’ charges, said Development Services Director Bobby Lewis …
Ranchwood Homes officials could not be reached for comment.
--------------------------------

Feb. 9:

A number of local agriculture and environmental groups had been debating whether to call for a moratorium on the approval of new projects before the General Plan update. Prior to meeting on this day, there was momentum to call for a moratorium both on approvals of new projects and on bringing an end to the habit of developers (either public like UC or private) indemnifying local land-use jurisdictions for legal expenses arising from lawsuits brought against them for approving arguably bad projects. Special interests, however, won the day by managing to orchestrate the defeat of the call for a moratorium. Nevertheless, as readers will not below, not all was lost.

Meanwhile, the City of Livingston wrote a letter to San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center et al, expressing outrage that their civic wisdom should be questioned by “outsiders.”

RE: Your February 6, 2006 letter

Dear Sirs and Madam,

This letter has been prepared in response to the allegations contained in your letter dated February 6, 2006. You state that the City of Livingston has authorized a private developer to install a 42 inch sewer main outside of city limits and our sphere of influence. This information is incorrect. The project in question is a private pipeline within an easement-secured right-of-way, on private property within the County. The City did not authorize its construction. The City of Livingston agreed to be the lead agency for the environmental review of a portion of the pipeline because the pipeline may eventually be dedicated to the City. The City’s only role at the jobsite is to inspect the pipeline to determine if it would meet City standards in the event it is dedicated to us. Period.

You claim that the City did not follow the appropriate environmental review protocols. This too is an incorrect assumption. The project was reviewed in detail by the City’s consultants. Meetings and discussions were held with City Council before a determination was made that a statutory exemption under Public Resources Code 21080.21 could apply. The resulting Notice of Exemption and a Design, Construct, and Dedicate Agreement were presented by our City Attorney and approved by City Council at their regular meeting of December 21, 2004. You further state that the installation of these municipal services are a prelude to the annexation of Ranchwood land on Westside Blvd. This also is incorrect. This is a private, not municipal, pipeline and item #7 of the Design, Construction, and Dedication Agreement states: Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to obligate the City to approve any future land use projects proposed by Ranchwood.

Your letter goes on to state that the City’s authorization of the project allowed grading and deep ripping to occur on agricultural land in violation of the County’s Williamson Act Zoning. Again, the City did not authorize this project located outside of city limits, and no grading or encroachment permit applications were submitted for our review and approval.

You claim that neither a Notice of Exemption for the pipeline nor a Notice of Preparation to expand our Sphere of Influence was filed. According to CEQA guidelines, the City is not required to file a Notice of Exemption. The appeal deadline for this Notice of Exemption was June 20, 2005. The City has recently released our Notice of Preparation of a Master Environmental Impact Report (MEIR) for our General Plan Update and proposed changes to our Sphere of Influence. The comments deadline for this MEIR Notice of Preparation was February 2, 2006.

You have made allegations that the City Council violated California Government Code 65402 which requires mandatory referral to LAFCo and Merced County Planning. There was no submitted project application to refer to these agencies. Our consultants contacted both agencies concerning the CEQA exemption. In discussions with County Planning staff, it was suggested that the City be the lead agency but that the County would require the applicant to apply to them for any encroachment permits necessary to disturb County-maintained roadways. County staff indicated that LAFCo would not serve as the lead agency because the project is a “dry pipe” that will not extend sewer services. From a City staff position, utilizing the City as lead agency was preferable in that we could inspect the pipeline for compliance with City standards and codes before possible dedication.

You claim there is no evidence of a tax and revenue sharing agreement between the City and County. There is nothing for the two agencies to agree on. These agreements happen during the annexation process, which would be premature at this point in time. Should annexation happen, the public hearing process will be followed.

Your letter questions the employment status of a Donna McKinney. Ms. Donna M. Kenney (correct spelling), our Community Development Director, has been employed by the City of Livingston since April 11, 2005. She is not acting Director of Planning and has never worked for our consultants, PMC. She was hired four months AFTER the City and Ranchwood signed the Design, Construct, and Dedicate Agreement for the pipeline. To imply that she has been collaborating with Ranchwood Homes is ludicrous and slanderous.

Your allegation that our City Council has violated the Subdivision Map Act is baseless. The Subdivision Map Act applies to parcel maps and subdivision maps. No subdivision of land has been proposed or considered by the City or the County in connection with this pipeline.

Your letter further states that Ranchwood has requested prezoning prematurely. The City requires that prezoning and General Plan amendment applications be filed and approved concurrently with annexation applications. Although the City received and reviewed a concept plan from Ranchwood for land use assumptions for its General Plan update, there are no active applications in process for the 300 acres at Westside Blvd.

You question whether or not the City will be able to provide services to areas proposed to come into our Sphere of Influence. The City is currently updating its five Master Plans: Water, Wastewater, Stormwater, Parks, and Roadways. These Master Plans will tell us and LAFCo whether or not we can provide those services. No Will Serve letters have been issued to Ranchwood.

Finally, Mr. Owens was quoted in the Merced Sun-Star newspaper on February 8, 2006 as stating “There’s got to be some kind of money changing hands” between the City and Ranchwood. This is an absolutely irresponsible and untrue comment aimed at damaging our community and we demand an apology. Your documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes has placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it. Most of our department heads have been with the City less than 2 years. This new staff has worked long and hard to earn the trust of our citizenry with meetings and workshops and you have managed to push us back to square one with one thoughtless and inflammatory comment. Had you the dignity to come into our City and ask us for this information directly, we would have gladly met with you and provided you with the answers you seek. Instead, you have managed to tarnish the reputations of all the environmental groups with which you claim association.

Sincerely,

Brandon Friesen
Mayor, City of Livingston

cc: Robert Lewis, Director of Planning and Economic Development, Merced County
John LeVan, Local Agency Formation Commission, Merced County
Merced County Board of Supervisors
Livingston City Council
Livingston Planning Commission
Merced Sun-Star
Livingston Chronicle
Channel 30 News
----------------------------------

Feb. 14, 2006:

The General Plan Review Steering Committee couldn’t decide if it could recommend the Hostetler et al developer-sponsored Planada plan update before completion of the county General Plan Update. So, it threw the problem to staff. Staff advised the supervisors that either they could continue to process community plan updates (there are at least three currently driven by developers) while updating the General Plan, or it couldn’t. Or it could except where prime farmland would be involved (as in the Planada project). Or, it could hold “in abeyance any and all General Plan amendment applications.”

The board continued discussion of the issue for two months.

Valentine’s Day at the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting was lively. The supes, staff and developers were trying to sneak through a plan to make a plan about how, maybe, someday, they’d update the county General Plan, but in the meantime developers and their friends in the county Administration Building wanted to make certain the chaotic process of growth would continue unabated with as little regulation as possible. This involved fixing a shadowy, backroom committee called the General Plan Steering Committee, which had recently stubbed its toe on Planada development.

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and the Planada Community Association replied to the scheme with the following letter. Attached to the letter was a statement from a coalition of local groups calling for a moratorium on new projects until a general-plan update is completed, and a moratorium on any further legal indemnification of local land-use agencies (cities and the County):

On Item 31: General plan amendment policy and procedures (Badlandsjournal.com, Feb. 14, 2006)
Letter to the Merced County Board of Supervisors on General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures during the General Plan Update Process

Re: General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures during the General Plan Update Process

Agenda Item 31

Date: Feb. 14, 2006

Members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors:

This policy and its procedures are nothing but a license for developer-driven growth with impunity for three or more years. County planning staff apparently has written Item 31 to implement unfinished, developer-funded, community plans while the county general plan update process is going on. It will not wash.
Item 31 is unacceptably vague. It sounds like a plan for a bunch of “updates.” However, it isn’t stated whether there are major zoning changes, added densities, or what. If we had to guess, we would say the steering committee, board of supervisors, planning commissioners and planning staff are laying the groundwork for a bunch of major residential and commercial projects, but they want to front load a lot of the work, so that by the time they have to do a project-level EIR, they can tier off of the plan update EIRs.

Most significantly, they don’t disclose anything about the nature of these “updates.” Nor are they providing needs or impact analyses for these proposed “policies and procedures,” which, in their present state, amount to further piecemealing the existing general plan, contributing to greater cumulative impacts. Item 31 constricts the geographical area any general plan update will be left to consider. It also results in limiting the environmental review of these as-yet-unnamed development projects within unfinished, developer-funded community plans.

To begin with a procedural issue, this steering committee does not appear on the county website, its meetings are not announced to the public, its membership is rumored but not publicly known, its scope of authority and responsibility is nowhere described for the public. And, whatever rules govern this steering committee do not supercede state guidelines and regulations governing the general plan update process. It is said to be composed of several county supervisors and county planning commissioners. The rumor goes that, when confronted by two Planada developers, about possible impacts of a new general plan to their developments, the committee “could not come to a consensus in recommending the County accept new property owner sponsored Community Plans or refrain from processing any more until the General Plan update process is complete or new policy direction has been identified” … because new general plan policies “may negatively impact the policy and environmental work (sic) performed on property owner sponsored proposals.”

Given the tremendous impact to infrastructure and natural resources already caused by the rapid, UC Merced-induced growth and housing-bubble speculation in the county, the only thing the county should be thinking about complying with are state laws and guidelines governing general plans. Tiering more development off an admittedly moribund general plan for the three years is not reputable, responsible and quite possibly an illegal planning practice.

Knowing the incoherent state of its existing general plan and the number of development projects already in the permitting process, the county should have already stopped the application process. The county cannot accurately assess and analyze the impacts to infrastructure and resources of the current projects in the pipeline, because its general plan is so badly out of date that it no longer reflects the real growth issues and impacts. Now, to give permission for the next three years to a special constituency to proceed “at their own risk” is irresponsible and legally dubious.

The county Planning Department has been and is now incapable of providing coherent guidance to development and protecting Merced County resources. For example, the county has one separate department devoted completely to UC Merced; another devoted to the redevelopment of Castle Air Force Base; a third operating out of the Public Works Department to develop the UC Campus Parkway; a fourth focused on transportation infrastructure called the Merced County Association of Governments; and a fifth, the University of California Board of Regents, which is its own, autonomous land-use authority.

Now, to add to the absurdity, the county community plans are not complete or are being legally challenged. So, to allow developers, a very special interest, to guide them, fund them and use them in lieu of a county general plan for the next three years, is nothing but a license for more unplanned, chaotic, resource-devouring development speculation.

What the impacted Merced public sees is a backroom committee inviting developers to continue to pay for three community plans, inviting developers to pay for county planning staff, and inviting Planada developers to decide agricultural land mitigation policy for the county — all while, during a period of time said to be “three years,” consultants yet to be hired by the county will presumably labor on a general plan update for whatever is left in unincorporated Merced County, while these developer-funded community plans are amended into the old, now useless general plan, amended out of all coherence beginning with the UC Merced project. To take, for example, the Planada plan, it is now being challenged in state appellate court and a Washington state-based corporation funds it. As for developers deciding agricultural land mitigation policy, this is an already established, legally dubious practice in Merced County.

The only real policy and procedure in this proposal is to accommodate special interests as usual by the usual technique of trying to confuse the public with bureaucratic babble. Not one of the topics addressed to counties and municipalities in the state’s General Plan Update Guidelines is mentioned in this banal, corrupt verbiage concerning how developers, property owners, and developer-funded community plans can rig the planning process for three or more years.

Only the most naive and “hopeful” of our newest, progressive citizens could possibly believe there are the votes on the board to resist the intent of the steering committee, county supervisors, planning commissioners and planning staff to continue general plan amendments at developers’ direction for at least the next three years.

Item 31 is a license to gut a Merced County General Plan Update before consultants on the process are even hired.

Therefore, we would ask the board of supervisors to reject each of the four options presented by county staff. In place of these alternatives, we are submitting another option: a moratorium on all new development projects during the general plan-update process, according to the accompanying document to be read into the record called Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process.

This is the only responsible leadership position the board can take after the county’s participation in the orchestration of the UC Merced red and green teams, the Williamson Act as mitigation for development scheme, the RCD-HCP, CPAC, CAPS, MCIP, MAGPI, BAP, MRZ, RCD-HCP, NCCP-HCP, PIPS, Measure M — right down to the inappropriate occupation of the third floor of the county Administration Building by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, author of several bills to gut the federal Endangered Species Act.

Finally, to restore public confidence in its leadership, the board must reject the practice of indemnification by public and private project applicants for legal expenses arising from public lawsuits against its irresponsible land-use decisions. Rejecting the corrupt practice of indemnification would give the planning departments the ability to do responsible land-use planning.
Sincerely,
Lydia M. Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
Bryant Owens- Chairman
Planada Community Development Corporation
Cc: Interested Parties
Attachments:
2-13-06 Growth Articles (below)
2006 Coalition Statement (under separate cover)

ATTACHMENT

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.

We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club

CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORK
MISSION STATEMENT
Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341

Two other groups, Central Valley Food and Farmland Coalition and Northern San Joaquin Valley Chapter of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, joined the coalition in publicly calling for a moratorium on Merced County growth until a new General Plan is completed at the Board of Supervisors meeting.
------------------------

Feb. 16, 2006:

Although the County did not honor the PRA request to inspect public documents on this project by its 10-day deadline, Castillo wrote the following letter to the Livingston city attorney itemizing the number of laws the city and Ranchwood had broken. It was posted on Badlands, Feb. 28, “Merced County challenges legality of Ranchwood Home’s Livingston sewer trunk line.”

From:
Merced County
Ruben E. Castillo
County Counsel
February 16, 2006

To:
Thomas Hallinan, Jr., City Attorney
City of Livingston
Post Office Box 486
Oakdale, CA 95361
Fax: (209) 847-5515
Re: Sewer Line Trunk Extension

Dear Mr. Hallinan:

After reviewing the facts of the case, Castillo writes:

Given these facts, I thought it important to share with you our legal view concerning the project. It is the County’s reasoned opinion that the approval of this project by the City does not comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority. Furthermore, it appears to run afoul of the Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law. As County Counsel, I respectfully request that the City take every action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis, and I further request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law and the jurisdictional authority of each respective public agency.

1. The City had no Power to Approve a Project Outside its Territorial Limits.

As you know, the California Constitution at Article XI, section 7, confers on a city the power to “make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” Thus, “[u]nder the police power granted by the Constitution, counties and cities have plenary authority to govern, subject only to the limitation that they exercise this power within their territorial limits and subordinate to state law. (Cal. Const., art. XI, Section 7.) Apart from this limitation, the ‘police power [of a county or city] under this provision . . . is as broad as the police power exercisable by the Legislature itself.’ Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Ca. 3d 129, 140 [130 Cal. Rptr. 465, 550 P.2d 1001].” (Candid Enterprises, Inc. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist. (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

A municipal corporation has generally no extraterritorial powers of regulation. It may not exercise its governmental functions beyond its corporate boundaries. (Von Schmidt v. Widber (1894) 105 Cal 151, 38 P 682; Mulville v. San Diego (1920) 183 Cal 734, 192 P 702; Oakland v. Brock (1937) 8 Cal 2d 639, 67 P2s 344.) The Constitution delegates directly to inferior governmental agencies the police power in their respective localities, provided only that its exercise by any city must be confined to such city. (People v. Taylor (1938) 33 Cal App 2d Supp 760.) A municipal ordinance can have no extraterritorial force unless by express permission of the sovereign power. (Ferran v. Palo Alto (1942) 50 Cal App 2d 374, 122 P2d 965.)

It is only when annexation occurs that the police power transfers from the County to the City. Police power has been given a county and a city, respectively, for exercise only “within its limits” and when land in suit was annexed to city it left territorial jurisdiction of county, ceased to be “within its limits,” and hence was no longer subject to provisions of county zoning ordinance classifying land as residential and limited to single family dwellings. (South San Francisco v. Berry (1953) 120 Cal App 2d 252, 260 P2d 1045.)

2. The Out-of-Boundary Extension of Service Requires Approval by LAFCO.

This sewer line extension should have been approved by LAFCO. As you know, a city that wishes to extend sewer service outside of its jurisdictional boundaries must go to LAFCO;

(a) A city or district may provide new or extended services by contract or agreement outside its jurisdictional boundaries only if it first requests and receives written approval from the commission in the affected county.

(b) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries but within its sphere of influence in anticipation of a later change of organization.

(c) The commission may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries and outside its sphere of influence to respond to an existing or impending threat to the public health or safety of the residents of the affected territory if … [certain requirements are met].
(Cal. Gov. Code Section 56133.)

Since the sewer is intended to serve a 300-acre parcel outside the City, it implicates LAFCO’s jurisdiction over an “out of boundary” service extension. (See Ceres v. Modesto (1969) 274 Cal. App. 2d 545.)

3. The California Environmental Quality Act.

In December of 2004, the City made a determination that the sewer line
project was categorically exempt from CEQA. Of course, we do not believe the City ever had jurisdiction to make a valid CEQA determination for land uses on land that is not within its territorial limits.

Nevertheless, the City may have incorrectly applied a statutory exemption, instead of a categorical exemption, to find the project exempt from environmental review. In the review and approval of December 21, 2004, the City stet (sic) on Section 21080.21 of the Public Resources Code to find the project exempt. Section 21080.21 provides:

“This division does not apply to any project of less than one mile in length within a public street or highway or any other public right-of-way for the installation of a new pipeline or the maintenance, repair, restoration, reconditioning, relocation, replacement, removal, or demolition of an existing pipeline. For purposes of this section, “pipeline” includes subsurface facilities but does not include any surface facilities related to the operation of the underground facility.”

Reliance on this section may be misplaced. The total sewer line project greatly exceeds one mile in length. Thus, even though the project – as approved – appears to fit the statute, as the length of the first phase of pipeline installation is 5115 feet, this run afoul of a principle of CEQA that one cannot “piecemeal” a project in order to avoid the applicability of CEQA. (Association for a Cleaner Env’t v. Yosemite Community College Dist. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 629, 638. A lead agency may not split a single large project into small pieces in order to avoid environmental review of the entire project. Orinda Ass’n v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 182 Cal. App. 3d 1145, 1171.

In the most far-reaching decision on the issue of “piecemealing” development projects, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center successfully set aside an EIR for a housing project in Stanislaus County, based on the failure of the project to include construction of sewer lines and construction of a wastewater treatment plant to serve the project. (San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Ctr. V. County of Stanislaus (1994) 267 Cal. App. 4th 713.) In that case the court relied on 14 Cal. Code Regs. Section 15378 (a) which defines the term “project” as “the whole of an action, which has the potential for resulting in a physical change in the environment, directly or ultimately.” Because the sewer expansion had been proposed to serve a housing project, and the housing project could not proceed without an expansion of sewer service, the court concluded that the expansion was an integral component of the housing project.

Second, the pipeline is not located within a public right-of-way. Instead it is located on private property, from which the City got a number of public easement dedications. The acquisition of easements after approval of the proposed project is not in keeping with the claimed exemption.
In addition, the City did not notify the County of its determination as a responsible agency. CEQA sets a standard of communication and cooperation among responsible government agencies with respect to projects.

Lastly, the City did not file a “notice of Exemption” for the pipeline project. (Pub. Res. Code Section 21108.) Although the filing of such a notice is not required by CEQA, it is the standard practice for California government agencies to do so.
According to PMC, consultant to the City, an EIR is being prepared for the City’s sewer and water master plan and this “project” is probably a part of that master plan. WE are concerned that a project has already been approved and constructed that is (or should be) a part of the larger master planning effort that is currently undergoing environmental review.

4. Livingston’s Actions May Have Violated Government Code section 65402.

Section 65402 (b) of the California Government Code states:
“[A] city shall not acquire real property for any of the purposes specified in paragraph (a), nor dispose of any real property, nor construct or authorize a public building or structure, in another city or in unincorporated territory, if such other city or the county in which such unincorporated territory is situated has adopted a general plan or part thereof and such general plan or part thereof is applicable thereto, until the location, purpose and extent of such acquisition, disposition, or such public building or structure have been submitted to and reported upon by the planning agency having jurisdiction, as to conformity with said adopted general plan or part thereof.”

Thus, the City may not authorize a project within the County until the County has determined its consistency with the County’s general plan. If found to be inconsistent, the city council must vote to overrule it. The County was neither consulted nor has the City taken action to overrule the County general plan on the truck line extension.

CONCLUSION

As you can see from the above, the approval of this project by the City is questionable. The project failed to comport with the City’s jurisdictional authority, the Cortese-Know Local Government Reorganization Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and general land use and planning law.
Your help is sought so that the City may take every lawful action to bring its approval of this project into compliance with these laws, including all appropriate environmental analysis. I also request that the City communicate with and cooperate with the County to make certain this project is carried out in conformance with the law.

It is important that the County and the several cities maintain a cooperative and positive working relationship. It is in that spirit that this letter is provided to you. I hope to hear from you soon.

Highest regards,

RUBEN E. CASTILLO
MERCED COUNTY COUNSEL

On the evening of Feb. 16, Supervisor John Pedrozo held a “town hall” meeting in Livingston. Livingston is actually represented by both Pedrozo and Supervisor Kelsey but, if the reader cares to go to the Merced County website to see how the districts are gerrymandered, he or she will discover that the pipeline runs through Pedrozo’s slice of Livingston.

Pedrozo was flanked by a panel of County officials, including Planning Director Lewis. Members of the public brought up the issue of the pipeline, particularly how Hostetler’s equipment was making access difficult to at least one farm.

Lewis stated that evening that the County had never inspected Hostetler’s pipeline. When confronted by a resident from the vicinity of the pipeline who had issues with it, he gave her two pieces of advice: file a code enforcement complaint; or hire a lawyer. Having filed several code-enforcement complaints with the County this year, some members of the public can verify that the County does not enforce codes.
-----------------------------

Feb. 21, 2006:

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

From:
Lydia Miller
President San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
(209) 723-9283, phone & fax
Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto CA 95350
Sburke5@sbcglobal.net
(209) 523-1391 phone & fax
Bryant Owens
Planada Association, Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 S. Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550
recall@mercednet.com
(209) 769-0832

To:
Merced County Board of Supervisors
Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us
Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development rlewis@co.merced.ca.us
Ruben Castillo
County Counsel
c/o Merced Co. Board of Supervisors dist1@co.merced.ca.us etc.
Merced County
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Sent via email
Date: Feb. 21, 2006

Dear Sirs and Mesdames:

At 5:30 p.m., Feb. 21, Ranchwood was still working on the pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant that goes south from Vinewood Road beyond Magnolia Road, apparently without any county permits or environmental review. Both the County and Livingston were notified of complaints on Feb. 6. There is no evidence of any code enforcement.

Is the County unable to enforce the numerous ordinances, policies and laws that this illegal project violates, or it is unwilling? We sincerely hope that this project is not what it looks, walks and quacks like: collusion between the County, Livingston, developers and landowners to circumvent environmental regulatory compliance.

We request a meeting with County Chief Administrative Officer Dee Tatum and department heads on this project. We understand all too well that this is the way Ranchwood does business.

We request that the County inspect the project, stop the project and/or fine the developer for proceeding with illegal construction. This is not a mere 42-inch “dry, private” pipeline trench. As you can see by the attached photos (sent under separate cover) we took Feb. 20, the trench for this pipe, which Mr. Lewis was 42 inches, the impacts are broad, to both the environment and to the public. This project crosses several paved county roads; one unpaved county road and an MID canal. There is inadequate posting for public safety as our pictures show; there is wear and tear on the county roads from heavy equipment; and the developers are storing building materials and spoils on the shoulders of county roads.

We estimate that the mounds of dirt on either side of this trench are between 10-15 feet high. Having found numerous paint balls at the foot of these mounds, it’s clear that the public is using these mounds for recreation. Given the instability of this loose, sandy dirt, this is an attractive nuisance of public health and safety concern. Who is liable in case of injury arising from this attractive nuisance? In the attached photos you will see, an ATV driven by teenager, carrying an adult with a young child in his arms.

We realize that Ranchwood is working at breakneck speed to finish. This illegal project must have the County in a desperate situation. To stop now would compromise the County and the City of Livingston. However, there are legal consequences for not stopping it. At this point, indemnification would be entirely inappropriate.

The most obvious effect from the project from a field inspection, is the cumulative impacts from residential development tying into this main sewer line from Joseph Gallo land adjoining the WWTP to Magnolia Road. This requires full review under the California Environmental Quality Act before – not after – construction of the sewer main.

There is an uncalculated amount of agricultural land being — and to be — converted to real estate development, enabled by this sewer line. This requires full CEQA review and review under the Agricultural Preserve policy of the county.

At least six wells and four 1-million gallon water tanks are proposed to provide drinking water for residential development. The impact of these new wells on the groundwater level and farmers’ wells has not even been mentioned, let alone considered. Assurances of surface water from Merced Irrigation District are – as everyone knows – useless during a drought.

Ranchwood bought an almond orchard on Robin Road facing Consolidated Farms (see photos). Ranchwood is removing orchards to create a super shoulder on Magnolia for the movement of heavy equipment and construction-material storage. It is now storing sewer pipe on this ranch, called “Hostetler Ranch, Almond Orchard, L3.” The orchard appears to have been called “Merced-Lincoln” before Ranchwood bought it.

The public would also like to know by what arrangement Ranchwood is storing heavy equipment in the Livingston Corporation Yard on Vinewood Road beside the city wastewater treatment plant.

As the County approaches its general plan-update, we urge it, incorporated cities and unincorporated towns with community plans to coordinate the planning process. The update period provides an opportunity for this sensible approach to long-term county planning and it should not be missed. Until the new county General Plan and coordinated general plans of smaller jurisdictions are completed and integrated into a coherent land-use planning policy, we call for a moratorium on any new permits for residential development.

We made a Public Records Request under state Government Code 6250 et seq. in our Feb.6, 2006 letter for all documents associated with this alleged “private pipeline” project that have been generated up to the time that the agencies should comply with the request. They have not yet complied. We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. As provided by the Public Records Act, you have ten days to determine whether you have records subject to the Act. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We are attaching (under separate cover) the first set of photos of the project, bounded by Vinewood, Magnolia, and Robin and Washington roads, taken on Feb. 20, 2006. Two more sets of photos will follow. For reference, we are also attaching our letter of Feb. 6, 2006 (under separate cover).

cc:
Brandon Friesen, Mayor/Municipal Officer, City of Livingston Bfriesen@livingstoncity.com
John LeVan, Merced Co. LAFCO jlevan@co.merced.ca.us
Badlandsjournal.com
Interested parties
--------------------------

Feb. 27, 2006:

County Council Ruben Castillo replied to San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center et al:

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Gentlepersons:

I responded to your February 6, 2006 letter regarding the Sewer pipeline extending from the Livignston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction, by return letter of February 6, 2006 and February 17, 2006. I have received no reply to either of my letters.

In my letter of February 17, 2006, I attempted to clarify what documents if any you were asking the County of Merced to supply as it appeared that the Public Records Act in your February 6, 2006 letter was directed to the City of Livingston only. Again, I have received no reply.

Despite the fact that you have no responded to either of my letter and have failed to clarify what records, if any, you are searching for from the County, I have worked with the various County departments to make a diligent search of any and all records the County has in its possession that could possibly relate to the above-referenced matter and have located two documents, which are likely to be responsive to your request, both of which I have enclosed with this letter, to wit:

1) A revenue sharing agreement between the County of Merced and the City of Livingston; and
2) A copy of the agreement between the City of Livingston and Ranchwood Homes.

These constitute all of the Public Records in the possession of the County which are responsive to your request …
--------------------

Feb. 28, 2006:

Another visit to the site of the pipeline showed that Ranchwood had filled the pipeline and, although construction equipment was still parked along the path of the trench, it appeared the job was completed.
-------------------------

March 13, 2006:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and Protect Our Water wrote the Franklin County Sewer District concerning another Ranchwood project:
Board of Directors
Franklin County Sewer District
2115 N. Drake Ave.
Merced CA 95348
(209)723-1353
Fax (209)723-1433
Email FCWD1@sbcglobal.net Sent Via: Email and Fax

March 13, 2006

Dear Directors;

Under California Government Code Sections 6250 et seq., we are filing a Public Records Act request to inspect all Franklin County Sewer District files pertaining to the construction of settling ponds by developer Greg Hostetler or Ranchwood Homes.

We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We await your timely reply.

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc:
Badlandsjournal.com
-------------------------------------

Questions for CEO Dee Tatum and staff:

Where is the evidence that the County issued a stop-work order on any Hostetler project?

What project stop-work order is Lewis referring to in his note?

What findings on what project is he referring to?

Why won’t the county or the City of Livingston comply with the requests to see public documents made twice under the California Public Records Act?

Badlandsjournal.com

| »

Jack-hammering the Castle wall, II

Submitted: Feb 13, 2006

ORDINANCE ESTABLISHING CASTLE REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY

Bryant Owens
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550 (209) 769-0832

Monday, February 13, 2006

To:

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340 ` Via fax (209) 726-7977

And via email: dist 1-5 @ co.merced.ca.us etc.

RE: Request for continuance of these items to a later public hearing.

RE: Public Hearing Feb 14, 2006 et seq/ Establishment of an Ordinance of the County of Merced Establishing Agency and adopting Redevelopment Plan for the
Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center Redevelopment Project

RE: CEQA required notice of public hearing

RE: Feb 10 non-responsive written answers by county counsel to written public comments submitted 1-23-06.

RE: Establishing common definitions for “REDEVELOPMENT”, “BLIGHT”, and “INDEMNIFICATION”.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are in receipt of written responses to 27 comments (as enumerated by county counsel) derived from our previous letter to the board regarding this agenda item. According to the final paragraph of the document sent to us, the answers to the specific comments are to be presented to you at the Board meeting of Feb 14th 2006. It should be noted for the record that these comments were received under protest by staff that this was ‘last minute’ and were somehow not meritorious because of timing.

While we appreciate that the county has responded at all to public comments, we note that this response letter was mailed Friday Feb 10th 2006 prior to a holiday weekend immediately preceding the next scheduled board of supervisors meeting.

In light of the county’s decision to respond at the last minute, and then to entertain these items on Tuesday Feb.14th, 2006 we respectfully note that the county’s previous angst over the public’s insistence on its ability to participate in a ‘public process’ seems both hollow and contrived.

In anticipation of similar calumny being offered to the press regarding the public’s purported ‘tactics’ in overseeing the County Administration, we ask an impartial audience to suppose how the public could possibly process and respond any faster regarding our concerns over the propriety of the county proceeding with this process.

The county must not distinguish between the concerns of the public who pay their salary through taxes and concerns of financially invested developers who can afford to pay the county to look the other way. This sort of cherry picking with regard to official responses by the county, to legitimate concerns of the public regarding expenditures coming from the county purse cannot be condoned any longer. There must not be a double standard in the ‘public process’ whether or not such concerns are over potential environmental impacts or gross fiscal mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds.

We are therefor submitting this request (to continue the above items to a later meeting) by fax on an official holiday, during which the county is officially closed and as soon as was possible to do so! To clarify further, we make this request in order to give the public the necessary time to assess the county’s reply and because we were not given the courtesy of receiving a copy of the staff’s report to the board on this matter. There simply has not been any time allocated to make any further refinements to our previous comments in light of those responses from the county.

Addressing failed communications between the supervisors and the county staff is of equal importance to us as members of the public, as the substance of the offered comments, and the putative responses thereto. There must be sufficient time and proper notification by the County, of the board’s intended actions (beyond the merely administrative functions of the county) in order properly to address those issues.

No effort was made to disabuse the media of its previous misperception of the ‘public process’ regarding this proposed ordinance however, the county is once again abusing the public’s right to participate in this process by failing to give timely notice in the legally prescribed manner that they intend to adopt an ordinance with a CEQA component.

While it was gratifying, while reading through the responses to our comments, to see evidence that at least one other official of the county had actually read through the Report to the Board of Supervisors (the report which prompted these referenced comments in the first place) there remains a chasm of misunderstanding between the contextual setting of the proffered comments, and the textual references regurgitated from the same report as putative ‘answers’ to those referenced comments.

County counsel has, in most instances therein, merely restated the authorities under which the board had originally intended to adopt the ordinance, cited above, establishing the existence of a Redevelopment Agency, et cetera, for the Plan area.

These authorities were not questioned in our previous comment! Simply restating that the supervisors have a certain legal authority to follow a particular path from A to B does not in and of itself give the public any more information on which to determine, decide or intelligently debate whether or not taking such a path is in the best interests of the county purse. As for establishing common definitions of words and phrases, the term ‘public hearing’ carries with it implicit expectations by the public to which the counselor’s ear seems particularly deaf. We fully intend to further address the counselor’s responses to our comments in later correspondence; hence the need for continuing this item clearly exists.

What is clear from the county counsel’s responses is that “staff”, on whom the board relies for decisions such as this, would readily recommend applying for grant money to teach pigs how to sing, if it in any way secured yet another government subsidy. (Although such a subsidy might even be appropriate given the ‘historic’ agricultural basis of Merced County’s economy, it is offered as a preposterous and profligate example of administrative behavior, unacceptable to the public who has elected this particular administrative body!)

The concerns raised by these commentators are meant to address the disturbing trend in Merced County Administration towards blatant and uncritical adoption of what is becoming widely knows as “Win-win Public/Private Partnerships”! This sort of welfare entitlement mentality on the Administrative level is fraught with opportunity to misappropriate and misspend staggering amounts of public funding with little chance of public oversight because of flaws in the process by which such funds are encumbered and subsequently accounted for.

A very pertinent case in point is the very concept of delaying the CEQA review process of this project by 18 months. The authority to make this determination was not questioned by these commentators however the needs analysis process (listed merely as findings) that gives such a decision, by the supervisors, the pretended urgency that has been described in the previous board agenda item paperwork, remains in and of itself opaque to the public.

Such a decision to delay CEQA review of a project must also be subject to proper notification and public hearing; this has not been properly documented. We therefore must respectfully request that you defer any further consideration of the proposed Ordinance until such time as the needs of the citizens of the County are clearly enumerated and whether such a proposed delay of the environmental review process is necessary or pertinent in light of the county’s citizens’ needs!

(At the very least, the public needs must be distinguished from the supposed needs of the board of supervisors and those sycophantic parties whose job security depends on guiding the supervisors down this particular path, whether or not such activity is technically legal according to the federal guidelines cited in county counsel’s reply).

With regard to the Environmental Impact Statement adopted by the County of Merced in 1996 in response to the closure of Castle AFB, we find that the context of the project both at the proposed site, and in the surrounding areas have changed substantially and significantly and that such changes have rendered such document unsuitable as an analytic tool from which to tier subsequent environmental review, especially environmental review of ‘projects’ under California Law (CEQA).

There seems to be some confusion in the county’s mind that it is appropriate to tier supplemental CEQA environmental review off of a 10-year-old document prepared under federal guidelines (NEPA). While the concept underlying such environmental review is common to both processes, the federal and state review processes are not interchangeable. Of course counsel knows this but perhaps the subtlety of comparing apples with oranges escaped the board’s notice somewhere in the sheer volume of the county counsel’s reply to these public comments.

The county should be properly chastened for allowing the city of Atwater to suck the marrow from Castle AFB’s rotting bones, prior to the dissolution of the joint powers authority which exercised land use authority when that city was busily retooling its housing market and the overall marketability of the intervening residentially developable land formerly identifiable as housing for Castle AFB staff and families.

It would seem that the city most ‘blighted’ by the closing of Castle has already rebounded with a will, approved annexed and developed abundant upscale housing, and has successfully attracted a major supply of ‘guest residents’ who appear for the most part to be employed outside of Merced County.

Now the county wants to do something about attracting industry to this empty shell left behind by the USAF, and the illuminati of Atwater’s land use authorities. Without putting too fine a point on the situation, the horse is already out of the barn. The Redevelopment funding the county is seeking to attract is being pursued under the basest of intention. To put it more clearly, the county is seeking government pork to dole out to specific non-profit corporations and private entrepreneurs of their own choosing. There are neither readily available raw material nor suitable workforce to make such redevelopment economically feasible.

There would not necessarily be anything wrong with trying to alleviate blight in Merced County, however, the various cooperating/participating agencies whose funding would flow into Merced County through the proposed ‘blight alleviation’ have widely divergent definitions as to what constitutes ‘blight’.

In the case of Castle AFB Redevelopment Plan, it is not at all clear to the public when analyzing the Kayser Marsten report to the Board, that efforts undertaken with the state’s money will ever provide any suitable return on such investment, or that any such return would even remotely resemble the benefits envisioned in the State’s Redevelopment Act law.

Conclusions presented in counsel’s response to our comments, and in previous staff reports to the board of supervisors present as bare fact that redevelopment will alleviate blight, and if saying so made it true we would have no grounds for concern. Admittedly this ‘Plan’ contains a laundry list of proposed projects for which the anticipated redevelopment money will certainly provide some benefits, but the beneficiaries, seem to be corporate entities, rather than natural persons inhabiting Merced County.

There is no evidence that this redevelopment is part of an overarching plan that will provide any long-term financial stability for the county of Merced on the order of the former USAFB. All of the component parts of this plan seem to be perfectly portable as individual business entities, and therefore do not represent a prudent investment of state funds in this county’s hands.

Given the county’s extensive history of turning a blind eye to discrepancy between the intent of government funding streams and their ultimate expenditures in Merced County, the public remains unconvinced that this project is in the best interests of the county in General. There is no question that some entrepreneurs may benefit from the expense of public monies to upgrade the existing infrastructure at the former Castle AFB, but that still doesn’t establish that ‘blight conditions have been alleviated.

County counsel’s responses to comments number 3 and 7 are illustrative of the administrative schizophrenia evident in allowing the board of supervisors to designate themselves as a Redevelopment Agency for a particular set of parcels of unincorporated Merced County. In response to comment 3, counsel establishes that the purpose of redevelopment is to redevelop the project area, not to cause a general benefit to the County at large. And in reply to comment 7, that, ‘there is no mechanism nor is it the goal to proportionally [sic] distribute the benefits of redevelopment throughout the County”.

This is an amazing admission with regard to the public’s expectations regarding the role of the persons elected to supervise the county! Given that this same administrative body (in establishing a massive Williamson Act Preserve in 2000 essentially coterminous with virtually all unincorporated land within Merced County) adopted and embraced the State Legislature’s findings that farmland was vitally important to the people of California, it could be fairly argued that the ‘redevelopment’ goals in any portion of that preserve are in fact counter productive an ‘blighting’ of the agricultural value of the land so designated.

This is merely one example from a plethora of conflicting goals and policies of the County of Merced that tend to demonstrate how fundamentally flawed and out of date, the county’s general plan really is. Making decisions as to the relative value of disparate programs with conflicting goals and implementing measures is impossible and in many cases clearly illegal. Without having an internally consistent and current General Plan in place, this decision concerning the Castle Redevelopment Plan is entirely suspect.

Counsels claim that the county intends to continue to administer economic development and other housing programs countywide utilizing HUD funds, Enterprise Zoning, Community Development Block Grant funding, and other funding sources and incentives as available and applicable presupposes a continued lack of public oversight of the administration of such programs in this County. It would be unwise to assume that the public will remain inattentive to the previous abuses of these funding sources.

The ‘moral turpitude’ of the previous District 1 Supervisor, Gloria Keene, is now a matter of public record with regard to filing of fraudulent claims. Other abuses of civil and administrative process are still under the purview of the courts, both State and Federal. The county of Merced’s involvement with the private non-profit Planada Community Development Corporation is of particular concern to the public insofar as the interaction between public and private entities in that unincorporated portion of Merced County, which were facilitated through the District 1 supervisor have blurred the distinctions and responsibilities of what should be clearly separable land use authorities and financial interests, in this County.

Not to seem flippant about this penchant of the board of supervisors for wearing a multiplicity of hats simultaneously, it should be pointed out that haberdashery often produced dementia and insanity in those practicing such a trade, hence the term “ mad as a hatter”. This situation was a direct result of failing to mitigate for the significant environmental impacts (chemical exposure) implicit in the process of molding felt into various shapes. In a similar fashion, there will be economic consequences down the road for misappropriation and incompetent accounting of government subsidies already encumbered by Merced County, and disproportionate scrutiny of any future funding requests if the county (or Agency) as described in response to comment No. 12, fails to maintain an ‘excellent’ rating with regard to the issuance of bonds, etc.

The response to Comment No. 12 concludes thusly, “The purpose of the Foreign Trade Zone and AN objective of the Redevelopment Plan are to attract businesses to an area and create additional jobs”. Once again, these commentators must point out the conflicting nature of the goals and implementation measures inherent in ‘being’ an agriculturally based economy, struggling to artificially force the creation of ‘additional jobs’ with no underlying source of raw material or labor force. The county’s goals and policies are clearly at odds with the realities of the situation ‘on the ground’ in Merced County, and a fundamental shift away from an agricultural based economy must be subject to intense and competent public discussion and yes, even debate.

The board has a demonstrable history of proceeding on a course of action in spite of public opposition to the decision. This calls into question the practice of allowing parties with vested financial interest to proceed with plans or ‘projects’ clearly beneficial to the project proponent to ‘indemnify’ the county from the legal recourse available to Merced County’s citizens. This concept of ‘paying to play’ is neither new nor subtle; it is merely abusive of the entire concept of public review and oversight of elected administrative officials.

To conclude: The board is faced once again with a list of possible action items.

· Uncertainty remains with regard to the official definition of the words ‘blight’, redevelopment, and indemnification.

· There has been inadequate response to the public comments on the Castle Redevelopment Plan Ordinance, and

· The public has no confidence with regard to the staff’s recommendations regarding the process of amending the county general plan.

The public has a right and expectation of full disclosure with regard to the disposition of public funds. Inherent in the process of such disclosure is the entire concept of a ‘public process’. There remains much to be considered before the board can competently render a fully informed decision with regard to the above referenced items.

We respectfully request that the ‘public process’ be more complete and certainly more transparent before the board takes any further action on these items.

Sincerely,

Bryant Owens,

Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced, CA 95340-9550
(209) 769-0832

Cc:

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center- Lydia M. Miller, President

Protect Our Water- Steve Burke

The Planada Association

Badlandsjournal.com – Bill Hatch, Editor

Other interested parties

| »

Friends of Denny

Submitted: Feb 11, 2006

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has recently inaugurated a weekly email newsletter to keep his constituents "in the loop." The Shrimp Slayer's loop, however, would not be large enough to rope a heavily drugged alley cat. So, we thought we'd somewhat extend the loop to include the Shrimp Slayer's wider circle of friends.

No one among today's elected officials, for example, has a better claim to the title "Mr. UC Merced-- Political Class" than Denny. So we thought we'd read up on how UC is doing these days, because the Shrimp Slayer is working ceaselessly working for UC in Congress. That brought us to remember the academic chair in public policy at UC Merced, endowed by Shrimp Slayer predecessor Rep. Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho. It is always important to set good leadership examples for the young.

In a recent “town hall meeting” stacked with senior citizens who harkened in vain for the “prescription drug” word, Denny introduced another good friend, UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, whose elemental grasp of Valley history begins and ends with the theme: When UC got here! The Shrimp Slayer said he’d spent more time with the Chancellor recently than he had with his wife. Good taste and family values are hallmarks of Denny’s tenure in office.

Then there is Denny's real good friend in Tracy, Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer, with whom Denny teams up from time to time to gut the Endangered Species Act on behalf of their common developer friends and UC, Merced's anchor-tenant developer. So, we thought we'd read up on how Ol' RichPAC's campaign was going against former Rep. Pete "The Elder" McCloskey, Real Republican-Lodi. All this led us to recall The Shrimp Slayer's friends in the Federal Republic of Micronesia.

Returning to the theme of history beginning when UC Merced got here, the campus seems to be operating as a kind of memory wash. Former UC Provost M.R.C. Greenwood, whose compensation package is at the center of the present controversy raging in the state Legislature, was apparently able to stash her son on the UC Merced payroll. And then there’s former UC president David Gardner, a member of the UC Merced Foundation board of trustees, whose golden parachute 13 years ago occasioned the last outbreak of public outrage against UC administrators bilking the public.

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

Pombo charges taxpayers for vacation
Nick Juliano
Tracy Press
Feb. 9, 2006

http://www.tracypress.com/local/2006-02-09-Pombo.php
In summer 2003, just after he was named chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo loaded the family in an RV for “two weeks on vacation” traveling around the West.

Documents obtained by the Tracy Press show taxpayers covered most of his expenses.

“This August, my family and I rented an RV and set out to explore the West,” Pombo, R-Tracy, wrote in a 2003 article posted on the Resources Committee’s Web site.

“We spent two weeks on vacation, stopping along the way to enjoy the splendor of many of our national parks.”

Pombo was reimbursed $4,935.87 to rent the RV and spent $1,500.51 on a government credit card for “travel subsistence” during a two-week span from July 27 to Aug. 11, 2003, according to a Resources Committee spending ledger obtained by the Press.

A spokesman for the committee, Brian Kennedy, said the RV rental was the only vacation expense covered by taxpayers. The credit card bill referenced in the Statement of Disbursements for the House was for expenses incurred during previous field hearings, he said. House rules dictate “official travel may not be for personal … purposes,” but allows for members of Congress to bring family members along on official trips.

Kennedy defended Pombo’s expenses. He said Pombo spent those two weeks visiting and meeting with officials at 10 national parks, over which his committee has jurisdiction.

“You bet his family was with him, of course,” Kennedy said. “What better way to see and judge the visitor experience of a national park?”

Larry Noble, a former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission, said the trip gives the impression “that members of Congress are out of touch and feel entitled to things the average person doesn’t get,” even though he may have been doing some official business.

“I understand what he’s saying … but it does look like a family vacation, and the taxpayer has a right to ask, ‘Is this the best way to do this?’” said Noble, who is now the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

Kennedy said Pombo and his family traveled through California, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana, meeting with officials and touring the parks. In an article published on the Resources Committee’s Web site, Pombo said he also visited Colorado.

It is unclear exactly how much of Pombo’s time during the two-week span was spent on official business, but it was “probably a substantial amount,” Kennedy said.

“Frankly, I think it should be refreshing for people to know that Chairman Pombo is the kind of guy who will jump behind the wheel of an RV and drive 5,000 miles to see … and learn about the national parks that taxpayers pay him to oversee,” he said.

No Resources Committee staff members or fellow members of Congress accompanied Pombo on the trip, and Kennedy said he did not know how Pombo’s family occupied themselves while he was in meetings.

By renting an RV and toting along his family, Kennedy said, Pombo likely saved money on hotels and airfare that he would have incurred if he’d traveled alone.

“If the chairman could have loaded the family into a helicopter to go to all of these
meetings and all of these parks for $5,000, he would have,” Kennedy said.

House travel rules require that members reimburse travel expenses for family members

accompanying them on chartered airplanes paid for with government money, but no similar rule exists for RV travel.

The rules also require that personal travel in officially rented vehicles be kept to a minimum and must “not otherwise constitute a significant activity or event.”

Kennedy said Pombo’s travel did not violate these rules.

“The House rules are relatively lax about these types of things,” Noble said. “It’s supposed to be official business, and a number of them (members of Congress) are reluctant to call things official business. This, to me, is really in that questionable area.”

Congressional Democrats have previously accused Pombo of misusing taxpayer funds to pay his top aide to travel between Stockton and Washington, D.C.

Bay Area Reps. George Miller and Ellen Tauscher on Tuesday publicly requested an investigation into the arrangement in which Steve Ding, Pombo’s and the House Resources Committee’s chief of staff, has billed taxpayers more than $87,000 during the last several years for his nearly weekly flights and hotel stays in Washington. The deal also has allowed Ding to collect tens of thousands of dollars in political consulting fees from clients in California.

Pombo has defended that relationship, saying it fosters an outside-the-beltway perspective among his committee staff.
------------------------------

McCloskey for Congress
February 6, 2006
For Immediate Release

"FOLLOW THE MONEY"

In a speech to the Lodi Rotary Club today, former Congressman Pete McCloskey responded to press reports that incumbent Congressman Richard Pombo had raised $1.2 million in campaign funds by year end 2005, as against McCloskey's zero.

"I intend to make Pombo's campaign funding sources and Mr. Pombo's actions in response to those sources a major issue in this campaign," McCloskey said.

He challenged Pombo to respond to the following facts:

1. Indian gaming lobbyist Jack Abramoff has recently pled guilty to felonious efforts to
bribe Members of Congress.

2. Mr. Pombo and his PAC, "RICHPAC," have received more money from Abramoff, his wife and clients ($54,500) than any other California congressperson.

3. Mr. Pombo has also received more money (over $500,000) from Indian tribes than any other Member of the House.

4. One of Mr. Abramoff's most lucrative clients was the infamous clothing manufacturing industry in the Marianas Islands, a U.S. trust territory under the jurisdiction of Chairman Pombo's Committee on Resources. The industry, led by one Willie Tan, paid Abramoff millions to fend off legislation which would reform applicable immigration and labor standards to the thousands of young women brought to the Marianas to work in the sweatshops there.

5. Working conditions had become so notoriously bad by 2000 that conservative Senator Frank Murkowski, (R. Alaska) was able to obtain unanimous Senate passage of a Marianas reform bill. The bill upon passage was referred to Pombo's Committee on Resources, then chaired by James Hansen (R-Utah) where it died.

6. Over a two year period Abramoff records reflect he met on at least two dozen occasions with Majority leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) seeking to prevent Marianas reform legislation and on other topics.

7. During an 8-month period in 2000, Mr. Pombo's press secretary and legislative assistant received at least a dozen tickets to Abramoff's private "skybox," on five separate occasions, the tickets being valued at $1,000 each for inside-the-Beltway fundraising purposes.

8. On September 16, 2003, Abramoff's associate Kevin Ring, a former staff person for Congressman John Doolittle, gave Pombo's RICHPAC $1,000. Mr. Ring also gave Mr. Pombo an additional $3,000 between September 13, 2002, and February 18, 2005. In the fall of 2005, Mr. Ring took the 5th Amendment when questioned by Senator John McCain's Committee on Indian Affairs.

9. In January 2004, Mr. Pombo traveled to the Marianas, and on May 18, 2004, received nine campaign contributions from the following residents of the Marianas connected with the garment industry or the government of the Marianas.

Jerry Tan $500
Eloy Inos $500
Juan Baubata $500
Paul Zak $500
Hsia-Ling Lin $2,000
Richard Pierce $1,500
Clarence Tenorio $1,000
Pedro Atalig $1,000
Diego Benevente $500
Total = $7,750

10. In January 2005, Mr. Pombo and the House Republican leadership changed the House Ethics Rules to prevent any further investigation of Tom Delay who had been three times admonished on the House Ethics Committee.

11. As of February 2006, Chairman Pombo has neither considered a bill to implement the Murkowski bill, nor has he responded to repeated requests to investigate the Abramoff influence on either the Marianas reform bill or the Indian casino industry.

"At the very least, Mr. Pombo should explain to his constituents why he has taken so much money from Mr. Abramoff, his clients, and the Indian tribes interested in casino gambling,"

McCloskey said.

For more information contact:
Robert Caughlan
650 575 9448
www.PeteMcCloskey.com
---------------------------

US delegation leaves Pohnpei with "first-hand island experience"
www.fsmgov.org/press/pr011704.htm

PALIKIR, Pohnpei (FSM Information Service): January 17, 2004 - Congressman Richard Pombo of the United States House of Representative and his Congressional Delegation (CODEL) along with Secretary Gale A. Norton of the US Department of Interior left Pohnpei State with an experience of the island life, "first-hand" during their visit to the seat of the nation.

The welcome for the high-level CODEL was punctuated by the famous heavy rain showers of Pohnpei upon arrival. Mwaramwars and a chorus of songs from the local Head Start - as they waived mini FSM/US flags, continued the display of island-welcome when officials from both State and National Governments greeted the CODEL at the Pohnpei International Airport.

Continued rainfall accompanied their drive to the nation's capitol in Palikir where they met with President Joseph J. Urusemal and Speaker Peter M. Christian of the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia.

President Urusemal welcomed the delegation to Palikir and explained that rain-shower in local folklores, is a good omen.

The President expressed FSM's appreciation for U.S.'s passage of the amended Compact and thanked, especially, the US Congress for its "swift action" on the amended Compact legislation.He also noted the recent establishment of DOI's Honolulu Office to monitor financial assistance under the Compact and expressed FSM's willingness and commitment to making the amended Compact work to the benefit of both nations.

Along the same line, Secretary Norton said the signed Compact signals tremendous opportunities for both nations to "further strengthen our relationship" and that she is "looking forward to working with the FSM, to go forward with the Compact of Free Association, to go forward with the future." …

During the evening's dinner reception at the Cliff Rainbow Hotel, Chairman Pombo echoed Secretary Norton's remarks when he also referenced Specialist Bermanis's sacrifice. He thanked the FSM for their sons and daughters that are serving alongside U.S's own. Chairman Pombo said their visit to Pohnpei afforded the opportunity for members of his delegation to see and experience first-hand the issues which they have been working on from afar.

Secretary Norton said, "it provided a tremendous opportunity to experience the FSM first-hand." … Pombo chairs the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The chairman headed a CODEL that included: Rep. Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, Rep. Frank Lucas from Oklahoma, Rep. Jeff Flake from Arizona, Rep. Dennis Rehberg from Montana, Rep. Dennis Cardoza from California, Rep. Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and a several Congressional staff.

Representing the 11th District of California, Chairman Pombo is serving his sixth term in the House. His personal leadership has been noted as "very instrumental and effective" in the passage of the amended Compact legislation …
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Pombo introduces rewrite of Endangered Species Act

Sep 26, 2005 9:17 AM
By Forrest Laws, Farm Press Editorial Staff
http://westernfarmpress.com/news/9-26-05-Pombo-Endangered-Species-Act/

Rep. Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., introduced his long-awaited rewrite of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, saying it was “time to do better” by the plants and animals the law was designed to protect.

Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, was joined by fellow West Coast Congressmen Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.; and George Radanovich, R-Calif., at a press conference announcing the new legislation in Stockton, Calif., Sept. 19.

After the announcement, critics complained the new legislation would cripple the current Endangered Species Act and “punch loopholes in the law on behalf of greedy developers, oil companies and other special interests.” Pombo said the 1973 law simply has not done what it was intended to do...
------------------------------------

http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2002/jan25art1.htm

Former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho Commits Endowment for UC Merced

Merced, CA - Tony Coelho, a former U.S. Congressman who represented California's Central Valley for more than a decade and pioneering advocate for a University of California campus in the region, has committed an endowed chair to the University of California, Merced. A special ceremony will be held this afternoon (Friday, January 25) in Merced to announce the Tony Coelho Endowed Chair in Public Policy and to recognize his longtime commitment to the 10th UC campus.

"For our campus to have a faculty chair bearing the name of Tony Coelho is indeed a privilege," said UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. "He is a visionary leader whose work to promote education, disability awareness, agriculture and many other important issues has improved the lives of millions of Americans. Tony Coelho's dedication to public service will live on in the faculty research and education of future leaders made possible through this endowment." …

===================================================

SENATORS DEMAND ANSWERS ON UC PAY
Unreported compensation raises ire at panel's hearing
- Tanya Schevitz, Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, February 9, 2006
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/02/09/MNG8JH5HBO1.DTL&type=printable

Sacramento -- Members of the state Senate Education Committee expressed annoyance Wednesday and demanded to know why the University of California has failed to fully disclose its pay practices and follow its own policies.

At a contentious hearing, UC President Robert Dynes faced one difficult question after another and offered a personal apology for the university system's failure to meet its obligations to account for the money it gives employees.

"It is with real regret that I have come to acknowledge that we have not always met the standards others hold us to in matters of compensation and compensation disclosure,'' Dynes said. "My ethics are upset by this."

The hearing was one of a series called in response to reports in The Chronicle that the 10-campus system has paid some employees much more than was reported to the public. Dynes is scheduled to testify again before the Senate committee on Feb. 22. An Assembly committee plans to hold its own hearings in late spring.

At Wednesday's session, senators peppered Dynes with questions about golden parachutes offered to former Provost M.R.C. Greenwood and former UC Davis Vice Chancellor Celeste Rose as well as about hidden pay and perks offered to other executives.

In one of the harshest exchanges, Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, demanded to know whether any UC executives had resigned or been fired in the wake of the payment revelations.

Dynes noted that Greenwood had resigned, eliciting snickers from the audience.

"We heard about what happened to her," Romero replied, referring to a $301,840, 15-month leave she was given after her resignation as well as her cushion of a $163,800 faculty job at UC Davis. Greenwood resigned in November after UC opened an investigation into the hiring of her business partner and son after questions were raised by The Chronicle.

Romero also asked whether anyone at UC was examining whether any of the mistakes "border on criminality."

"Yes, there are internal investigations,'' Dynes said. UC has previously announced an array of internal audits, though this was the first mention of the possibility that any laws were violated.

In general, Dynes admitted that he had sometimes let the university go astray in its secretive approach to compensation.

"It is perhaps true that at times I have been so committed to competitiveness and excellence that I have not been as mindful of the other responsibilities that come with being steward of this public institution," he said.

Half of the senators on the 12-member committee were outspoken in their criticism, some saying Dynes' apologies and promises of improvements ring hollow considering that UC was in the same situation in 1992.

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, ticked off a series of reforms recommended to the UC Board of Regents back then by retired Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post.

Dynes conceded that UC has continued to provide several executive perks that Post had urged be eliminated. Those include an executive severance pay plan that UC now says is deferred compensation (and is converting to a retirement plan), an executive auto allowance and a special life insurance policy.

"That was something that was asked of you, and you didn't comply," Speier said.
Dynes said a reporting and monitoring system will be put in place to make sure the reforms "stick" this time.

Under questioning from the senators, UC officials admitted for the first time that they had violated policy in secretly agreeing to give Rose, the former UC Davis vice chancellor, $50,000 and a new job that pays $205,000 a year. That agreement came after Rose, who is African American, threatened to sue for discrimination when she was told to resign. Rose's new job doesn't have any regular duties, and UC promised to keep her on the payroll for two years regardless of whether she does any work.

"This should have been approved by the regents," UC attorney Jeff Blair told the committee. "There was confusion as to who was taking action to get it approved. It was an error."

In other cases, Dynes acknowledged that UC administrators had made exceptions to policy to pay employees additional money or perks. Last month, UC drew fire for an exception granted former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl, allowing him to keep the full $355,000 he earned on a 13-month leave even though he plans to quit to take another job before fulfilling his teaching commitment.

Dynes said he had no idea how often such policy exceptions were granted. Until the audits can be completed, Dynes announced, future policy exemptions for senior managers will require his approval in consultation with the regents.

"I want to see the exceptions to see if there are flagrant violations,'' Dynes said. "I am only guessing at this point, and guessing is not a healthy thing to do."

Critics, however, said the new policy does not go far enough.

"Dynes continues to insist that he will consult, rather than requiring approval by, the regents before making exceptions to new compensation policies. That's an insufficient safeguard," said UC Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller, who led a faculty drive for an independent investigation into the compensation practices. "It's a sugar-coated version of the status quo."

Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas, urged Dynes to impose a salary freeze until the university can finish reviewing and improving its pay practices.

"Why not stop the blatant abuse we have seen and figure it out," Denham said.
Dynes said UC has already frozen executive pay.

"We have had a salary freeze the past three years,'' Dynes said. "I have had no salary increase in three years."

In fact, the UC regents in November approved a retroactive pay raise of 2.5 percent for dozens of senior managers, including Dynes. Dynes' pay, for instance, went up $10,000 to $405,000 as of Oct. 1.

UC spokesman Michael Reese said executive pay had been frozen for three years, despite the recent increases, so "that does not negate the basic point he was trying to make."
------------------------------------

UC provost who quit got questionable perk
$125,000 payment for housing possibly violated policy
Todd Wallack, Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, November 11, 2005
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/11/11/MNGFMFMNV01.DTL

…In addition, UC has placed one of Greenwood's underlings, Winston Doby, on paid leave while it investigates whether he did anything improper to help Greenwood's 43-year-old son, James Greenwood, win a paid internship at UC Merced.
----------------------------------------------

PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE
Lessons not learned at UC
Louis Freedberg
http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/11/23/EDGVPFS9FO1.DTL
Wednesday, November 23, 2005

WILL THEY ever learn?

The most depressing aspect of the recent revelations by my Chronicle colleagues Tanya Schevitz and Todd Wallack about the lack of transparency in awarding compensation to top University of California employees is that the university went through a similar nail-pulling experience 13 years ago.

In 1992, the university was thoroughly shaken by disclosures that the Board of Regents, in a series of closed door meetings, had awarded then-UC President David Gardner a "deferred compensation" and retirement package worth close to $1 million.

That included an annual pension of $126,000, adjusted annually for inflation, that Gardner, who chose to retire at age 58, would receive for life.

The revelations came during another period of financial duress for the university. During the three years leading up to the Gardner disclosures, student fees had risen by 85 percent. That was the last time student fees had escalated so rapidly until the most recent round of fee increases -- up 79 percent since 2001.

I covered the ins and outs of the scandal, which included publishing transcripts of a closed-door meeting at which regents schemed how to keep details of Gardner's compensation from the press. (As we later discovered, I and other reporters were waiting right outside the room where the regents brazenly discussed how to keep the information from us).

Revelation upon embarrassing revelation followed -- including how the university bought Gardner's house in Utah in order to facilitate his move to California and ended up losing $111,000 on the deal when it sold it later. Gardner didn't want to live in the president's house in Kensington, so the regents gave him a low-interest loan, plus a generous housing allowance, so he could buy a house in Orinda. It even paid for the property taxes on the Orinda property.

The scandal widened when it turned out that 22 other top officials of the university also received similarly secretive "deferred compensation" packages.

The furor reached its peak when then-Gov. Pete Wilson and Speaker Willie Brown showed up at a tumultuous special meeting of the regents to defend Gardner's severance package.

In his memoir "Earning My Degree," published last year by UC Press, Gardner tried to rewrite history by downplaying the seriousness of the scandal.

He blamed the media for its "unremitting, and unrestrained (mostly inaccurate) news reporting" -- even though he never once requested a correction for any of the dozens of stories I wrote about the furor.

In his memoirs, he paid me a backhanded compliment by describing me as "an intelligent and accomplished journalist." But, in a conspiratorial flight of fancy, he concocts a theory that has no basis in fact by suggesting my reporting was driven or manipulated by Ralph Nader, simply because I knew his sister Laura, an anthropology professor at UC Berkeley.

In his 432-page memoir, Gardner leaves out any mention of a lacerating 1992 report commissioned by the university by retired Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post, at the time perhaps the most respected fiscal analyst in California.

"The manner in which compensation issues have been presented, considered and approved during the last 10 years has been seriously deficient," Post concluded. "The imposition of secrecy (regarding executive compensation) appears to have become commonplace, becoming a matter of convenience rather than principle."

Gardner's memoir also neatly leaves out any reference to a 178-page audit by the state's auditor general, also in 1992, expressing concerns about questionable practices by UC officials, including first-class air travel, using university money to pay for a wedding reception and making charitable contributions using UC funds with no clear benefit for the university.

The auditor rejected the argument that some of these perks were paid for from "private funds." "Because UC exists as a constitutionally based public trust, it is an entity of the state," the auditor wrote. "As such, all of UC's funds are state funds and should be expended with similar regard for UC's responsibilities as a public trust."

After Gardner left, new UC president Jack Peltason introduced a range of reforms that promised more openness in disclosing executive compensation. The university, for example, pledged to provide full details of executive compensation to the Legislature and involve UC faculty in helping to set administrative salaries.

So what happened? Gardner went on to become president of the Hewlett Foundation and chairman of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Over time, the scandal faded in memory, and Gardner was lionized by his peers. A smart new addition to the Doe Library on the UC Berkeley campus was named after him.

The transparency promised by the university gradually become more opaque, making a mockery of the "reforms" adopted by the regents -- with the unfortunate results we have seen over the past weeks. As Jeremiah Hallisey, the retired regent who was Gardner's most persistent critic at the time, reflected this week, "If they have to pay these salaries, let's justify it in a public meeting, and let's have transparency."

It's pretty simple. A public university has no choice but to do its business in public.

That is a truism that the University of California has yet to fully embrace. It should not take a lashing from the public and the press every dozen years or so to force it to do so.

Louis Freedberg is a Chronicle editorial writer.
--------

List of SF Chronicle stories on the UC administration pay scandal:

List of execs who got severance
(1/27)
President gets power to boost salaries
(1/19)
Big changes sought in how UC raises pay
(1/13)
Details given on extra pay
(1/12)
Legislative hearing into UC compensation
(12/6)
Ex-provost still on payroll
(11/26)
Freedberg: Lessons not learned at UC
(11/23)
Outrage in Capitol at pay revelations
(11/16)

Editorial: UC's hidden pay
(11/16)
UC refuses to release exec raise list
(11/15)
Student services cut as high-pay jobs boom
(11/14)
Free mansions for people of means
(11/14)
UC piling extra cash on top of pay
(11/13)
Other perks include gifts, travel, parties
(11/13)
Database of highest paid UC employees
(11/13)
-------------

UC Merced introduces foundation board of trustees

http://www.ucinthevalley.org/articles/2000/march1700.htm

...The blue-ribbon board consists of several Silicon Valley executives from such companies as Lucent Technologies and Sun Microsystems. Several current and former members of the UC Board of Regents included in the UC Merced Board of Trustees are current UC Regent chairman, John Davies, former chairs Leo Kolligian, Meredith Khachigian and Roy Brophy, current Regent Odessa Johnson, former Regents Carol Chandler and Ralph Ochoa. In addition, UC President Richard C. Atkinson, and Emeritus Presidents David Gardner and Jack Peltason are members of the new board ...

| »

Ranchwood in the news

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006
    2006

2-8-06
Merced Sun-Star
Groups Aim to Stop Sewer Line Construction ...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11781260p-12500357c.html
Environmental groups want Ranchwood Homes to halt construction on a sewer line in Livingston, according to a letter released Monday.The San Joaquin Raptor Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and Planada Community Development Corp. say that Livingston shouldn't have approved construction of the sewer line because the project is on county land.
"The city of Livingston should not have given Ranchwood any authority to do anything out there," said Bryant Owens of the Planada Community Development Corp. "Ranchwood needs to stop what they're doing and come back to the county and get an annexation."
The mile-long sewer line between Vinewood and Magnolia Avenue could eventually connect a proposed 420-acre Ranchwood Homes subdivision to Livingston's wastewater treatment plant.
The environmental groups say the sewer line can't go in until Ranchwood gets permission to annex the land, meaning that the land would be brought into Livingston's city limits.
But Livingston has been following the rules, according to Interim City Manager Vickie Lewis.
"We followed every regulation that was required of us," said Lewis. "We have only gone as far as phase one, which is our only responsibility at this time. Anything beyond that is between the county and (Ranchwood)."
Ranchwood has received three encroachment permits from the county so far, but the county won't issue any other permits until the county responds to the environmental groups' charges, said Development Services Director Bobby Lewis ...
Ranchwood Homes officials could not be reached for comment.

1-27-06
Merced Sun-Star
Annexations OK'd; city grows by nearly 200 acres...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11736481p-12459428c.html
MERCED - Two Merced annexations gained final approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission on Thursday morning and a third was tabled until next month. • The Ranchwood N Street Annexation • And the Mission Avenue Annexation. LAFCO commissioners held off on approving the Barnell Annexation, a 73 acre swath south of Cardella Road. That annexation
proposal will be discussed at the next LAFCO meeting on Feb. 23.

1-26-06 LAFCO
http://web.co.merced.ca.us/lafco/pdfs/agendas/01262006.pdf
VI. PUBLIC HEARINGS (Testimony limited to 5 minutes or less per person)
A. Ranchwood Annexation to the City of Merced – File No. 0622

1-24-06
Merced Sun-Star
Loose Lips: Land baron becomes local celeb...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11724259p-12448018c.html
When Merced land baron Greg Hostetler isn't donating fists full of money to his pet charities, "Mr. Ranchwood Homes" is giving away his John Hancock. Hostetler, arguably the county's most successful homegrown developer, said he was stopped recently by a man who wanted his autograph.

1-21-06
Merced Sun-Star
Session to tackle city's effort toward affordable homes...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11714888p-12438920c.html
LIVINGSTON -- New housing is popping up all over town, but how many residents can actually afford it? Ranchwood Homes president Greg Hostetler said forcing developers to keep prices low can backfire by driving up the cost of market-rate units. Hostetler said inclusionary housing ordinances are relatively new to Valley cities... Livingston is looking at inclusionary housing..

    2005

11-16-05
Merced Sun-Star

Livingston OKs draft of city in 2025...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11486665p-12225871c.html
The council unanimously approved a draft project description of a Master Environmental Impact Report...the consultants writing the impact report now have a map of where Livingston intends to develop and a timeline for when it will get there. ...representatives from Ranchwood Homes and Gallo Homes, both of which are planning large subdivisions in Livingston, urged the council to move forward. Both Ranchwood and Gallo are paying for most of the consultants' work on the city's new impact report.

10-19-05
Merced Sun-Star
Added funds propel Livingston Master Plan...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/11369021p-12116135c.html
Funding is now in place to create Livingston's new master plan. With the presentation of a check for $155,760 to the Livingston City Council at last night's meeting, developer Ranchwood Homes provided the last portion of funds need to create the new plan. Two other developers, Gallo and Del Valle, have already made major contributions to fund the plan.

4-25-05
Merced Sun-Star
Development closer to reality...Adam Ashton
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/10373719p-11176985c.html
LIVINGSTON -- Two major subdivisions on the outskirts of town are inching closer to reality with a city analysis of their environmental impacts expected at the end of the year. The Ranchwood and Gallo plans together make up about half the number of homes Livingston has on its books now with a mix of more than a dozen other subdivisions. That's why the two companies are footing most of the bill for the city's new master plan and environmental documents.

2-3-05 Merced Sun-Star
Investigation unit was on move before board vote...Scott Pesznecker
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9885814p-10731412c.html
Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer was so confident the Board of Supervisors would OK a proposed move of his investigations staff that he had the office's employees pack up their desks before supervisors even voted Tuesday. The day after supervisors approved his plans, more questions surfaced about $16,000 in renovations to the new office space made before supervisors signed off on the move. Spencer also mentioned using the asset forfeiture
money at Tuesday's supervisor's meeting.
Merced County Auditor Stephen Jones said late Wednesday he couldn't find any records of money drawn from the county treasury to be paid to Hostetler, Ranchwood Homes Corp. or Ranchwood Contractors, Inc. However, there are two other funds Spencer has access to that do not need Jones' signature on a check, though they still need supervisors' approval. Schecter, who is
also an ethics professor at CSU Fresno specializing in local government, said the lease agreement could have been handled better from start to finish. "Ethically, I think there are some problems," he said.

2-1-05
Merced Sun-Star
County investigation unit's move raises questions...David Chircop
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9874084p-10720593c.html
Merced County supervisors are being asked today to terminate a lease with familial ties tothe district attorney's office in favor of a contract with a company that has business ties with the district attorney himself. The move won't financially benefit Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer or any members of his staff. However, it will benefit Greg Hostetler, president of Ranchwood Homes. Hostetler, Spencer and several other partners own about 25 acres on Bellevue Road that they hope someday to develop. Spencer acknowledges having both a friendship and business dealings with Hostetler, but says those bonds have no connection with today's request.

    2004

12-22-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9652113p-10536591c.html Adam Ashton...
Work can start on Livingsto sewer line...
The City Council and Ranchwood Homes agreed Tuesday night that the builder can proceed with its plans to place a 5,100-foot-long sewer pipe just outside of Livingston's sphere of influence at its southwest corner.

12-8-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/9564250p-10454279c.html ...Adam Ashton...Developer gets tacit OK for sewer pipe...
LIVINGSTON -- Projections for growth on the city's outskirts look so good that one developer is ready tobuild a sewer connection for a project that won't
take shape for several years. Ranchwood Homes asked the City Council if it could move ahead with plans to build a nearly one-mile sewer extension south of Livingston for a planned 300-home development that is still in its concept stages. Council says it's his risk if homes don't win approval.

7-22-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/local/story/8882627p-9772671c.html ...Melanie Turner...Donation brings UC gym bit closer...
University of California, Merced, got off to a strong start with a
$500,000 donation from Greg and Cathie Hostetler, Los Banos developers of Ranchwood Homes for a gymnasium, featuring a NCAA regulation-size basketball court and seating for 480. The university plans to fund the recreation center in large part with a loan from the UC office of the president, which would be paid back in student fees, Wyan said. Gymnasiums, dormitories, dining halls and other nonacademic facilities cannot be financed with state money, Wyan said. Campbell said there likely will be intramural sports in the 2005-06 school
year, as well as sailing and other water sports at nearby Lake Yosemite.

2-28-04
Modesto Bee
http://www.modbee.com/2004/election/merced/supervisors/story/8190479p-9040645c.html 2-25-04
Candidate's poll raises questions about support
Lee Neves says it was an innocent mistakewhen he attributed an $8,500 polling expense to a political action committee instead of local developers...six contributors: Bert A. Crane Jr., a Merced farmer and rancher; Rucker
Construction of Merced; Ranchwood Homes of Los Banos; Trans County Title of Merced; Maxwell Enterprises of Merced, a construction and development company; and James Abatte of Merced, who owns a number of fast food franchises in the county.

2-4-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=93758 Supervisors: Le Grand development may proceed...Ranchwood Homes

2-3-04 MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AGENDA

http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 A. M.
PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
Appeal of Planning Commission approval to approve Major Subdivision Application No. 03001- McPherson Subdivision submitted by Bryant Owens. Application submitted by Ranchwood Contractors to subdivide two parcels totaling 19.0 acres into 96 residential building lots on property located on the south side of Savanna Road and 580 feet west of Santa Fe Avenue in the Le Grand area.

1-21-04
Modesto Bee
http://www.modbee.com/local/story/8034324p-8897076c.html Los Banos builders busy trading lawsuits... Larry Anderson of Anderson Homes suing Greg Hostetler of Ranchwood Homes, his
former partner.

1-5-04
Merced Sun-Star
http://www.mercedsun-star.com/news/newsview.asp?c=89194 Board eyes meetings in evening...Merced County Board of Supervisors
Attachment:

Notice of Public Hearing...Feb. 3, 2004 Ranchwood Contractors

    2003

12-23-03 Merced County Board of Supervisors agenda

http://www.co.merced.ca.us/bos/boardagenda/current.pdf
10:30 a.m. PLANNING - PUBLIC HEARING
CONSENT CALENDAR (Items #1 - 25)
Board of Supervisors
16. Set public hearing for February 3, 2004 at 10:30 a.m. to consider an Appeal received by Bryant Owens to Major Subdivision Application No. 0300 - Ranchwood Contractors.

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