State Government

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.
-----------------------------------------------

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.
----------------

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..
-------------------------------------

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.
--------------------------

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.
-------------------------

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.
----------------------------

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!
----------------------------

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.

| »

Canada buys a brace of local legislators

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

Toronto-based Brookfield Land Co., with offices in Roseville, honored state Sen. Jeff Denham, Dolt-Salinas, and Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, Shill-Tracy, at a developer fete in Sacramento last night. The Canadian developers plan to build 13,000 houses between Merced and Atwater in the near future.

Booze, finger-food and campaign contributions were served.

Was Brookfield's local fixer, Cameron Doyel, authorized to offer the Dolt and the Shill emigration papers after their terms expire and Valley air quality reaches a level unhealthful for retired developer representatives in the former state Legislature?

http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11777657p-12497098c.html

| »

Publicly subsidized Merced Grifters to give another "One Whine" concert at state Capitol

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006

“ With a paid lobbyist by their side, the group of two dozen people calling themselves the "One Voice Delegation" will meet with directors, cabinet heads and politicians in the capital today and Wednesday.” Chris Collins Merced SunStar Tues Feb-07-2006

Regular Meeting
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2005

Regular Meeting – 10:00 a.m.

48. Supervisor Kelsey - Approve the One Voice Program Membership Contribution of $16,982 for FY 2005/2006 and approve the necessary budget transfer. APPROVED AS RECOMMENDED AYES: ALL

Editor,

The One Voice Delegation walks like a political action committee and talks like a political action committee, it collects political contributions from its members and expends those monies on political special interests like a political action committee, except the One Voice Delegation hasn’t registered with the state of California as a political action committee.

According to the minutes of the October 18th 2005 Board of Supervisors meeting (Item #48), the supervisors unanimously voted to transfer $16,982 from the general fund to the One Voice Delegation for expenses in the 2005/6 fiscal years. This lobbying is therefor being subsidized, directly by county residents through taxes!

That money should be clearly recorded and identifiable as to where that funding comes from and how and where it is being spent. An accounting of how those funds eventually return any appreciable benefit to the unwitting taxpayer should be traceable at the end of the process. Without an accurate audit trail these benefits will not be possible to determine.

This audit trail will not even exist if MCAG is allowed to continue expending county general fund revenues without formally declaring its political motivations and complying with the laws regulating those activities.

It would be appropriate and prudent for this group to document all of its donors and expenditures insofar as the lobbying activities outlined in the Sun Star article represent the “consensus” of a very small and select special interest group from among the diverse population of Merced County. Though brash in the scope of its ambition, the One Voice Delegation cannot possibly believe that it represents the consensus of Merced County as a whole.

The rules under which a political action committee must operate are necessarily more stringent than the requirements imposed by the leadership of the Merced County Association of Governments. There are good and logical reasons for this kind of official supervision not the least of which is to avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest.

While I strongly defend any political groups right to lobby for a cause, I take great exception to them doing so with my tax dollars if I happen to disagree with either their philosophy or their stated agenda. I happen to disagree that this groups stated philosophy would be achieved by their stated agenda.

I see a request for money to build a bypass for Los Banos, and to widen Hwy 99 and to build the UC campus yellow brick road, and I wonder how do any of these projects or funding alleviate poverty, unemployment or traffic congestion, for the people who actually live in Merced County?

I see an effort to regain access to gasoline taxes for road maintenance at the county level, yet I see a county administration dedicated to urban sprawl. Why should the state build or upkeep roads in Merced so that more people can commute from the Valley to jobs in the Bay Area? For that matter, why does Merced county think building better freeways through the county will alleviate the surface traffic congestion throughout the county?

I am not saying that lobbying the state for funding is wrong, although it does clearly highlight how ‘welfare dependant’ the administration of this county actually is, I rather intend to point out that the One Voice Delegation’s is acting as a political action committee and must submit to the same standard and regulations as any other similar organization.

Ms. Steelman, one of the MCAG facilitators interviewed for the SunStar article is indeed charming and adroit at her job! Having participated directly in the MCAG’s previous program ‘Partners in Planning’ I am painfully aware of the process through which the facilitators are able to steer a disparate group of ‘pre-identified’ stakeholders, to a predetermined consensus. The whole process is chilling in its efficiency, imbued with an indomitable sense of self-preservation and when all is said and done demonstrates as little concern with the input of the stakeholder as an Australian shepherd has with the concerns of a lone sheep.

Bryant Owens- Plainsburg (209) 769-0832

| »

Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

Felix Torres CEQA Scoping Request to Agencies
Feb. 6, 2006

From:

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax
raptorctr@bigvalley.net
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
(209) 523-1391, ph. & fax
sburke5@sbcglobal.net
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

Bryant Owens
Planada Association and Planada Community Development Corporation
(209) 769-0832
recall@mercednet.com
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550

To:

Robert Lewis Director
Merced County Planning and Economic Development
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7654
via Fax (209) 726-1710

Board of Supervisors Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 385-7366
via Fax (209) 726-7977

Board of Commissioners
Housing Authority of Merced County
405 U Street
Merced CA 95340
Phone:(209) 722-3501
Fax (209) 722-0106

Sunne Wright McPeak Secretary
Business, Transportation & Housing Agency
980 9th Street, Suite 2450
Sacramento, CA 95814-2719
Phone (916) 323-5400
Fax: 916-323-5440

Judy Nevis Director
Housing & Community Development
1800 Third Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone (916) 445-4775
Fax (916) 324-5107

Richard L. Friedman Acting Deputy Dir.
Division of Financial Assistance
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Kim Dunbar Assistant Division Chief
Phone (916) 322-1560
Fax (916) 327-6660

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

Asset Management & Compliance Section
Phone (916) 327-2896
Fax (916) 327-6660

Patrick Dyas Program Manager
Office of Migrant Services
Phone (916) 327-0942
Fax (916) 327-6660

Monday, February 06, 2006

Re: CEQA review of proposed new migrant housing in Planada (Merced County), Scope of Project, Analysis of alternatives to project, irregularity in NEPA analysis of environmental impacts; project incompatibility with current County General Plan; misappropriation of federal funding for migrant housing to construct low-income housing. Environmental Justice Abuse.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are greatly dissatisfied with and concerned over the actions of the Housing Authority of Merced, especially concerning the demolition of the Felix Torres Migrant Camp, and a documented agreement made with certain Merced county officials by Housing Authority Executive Director, Nick Benjamin in which the County of Merced purportedly required Housing Authority to relocate Planada Village in collaboration with SUDP zoning changes proposed by the County of Merced during the environmental review of Planada’s Community Specific Plan Update (Dec 2003).

As you all may certainly verify, the funding for the proposed renovation of the Felix Torres Camp, and funding for the demolition and replacement of Planada Village (asbestos) was individually encumbered in two separate OMS grant in year 2003. There was also a third grant awarded to the Housing Authority bringing the aggregated total for renovation of Planada Migrant camps to just over $10 million dollars.

Planada citizens were delighted with the concept of renovation of the existing camps, but were solidly in opposition to the idea of moving either camp further away from the community. .

The decision to combine these grants into a single ‘project’ seems to have been solely at the discretion of Mr. Nick Benjamin. [1] No satisfactory explanation was ever given to date as to why the Felix Torres camp could not be rebuilt on its original site. It is clear that Department of Housing and Community Development owns the structures of the Planada Village Camp and contracts with Housing Authority of Merced for the maintenance thereof, and it is also clear the Housing Authority owns the land, and both parcels were and are still zoned for the use of Migrant Housing.

Our contention is that CEQA review should have begun at that point at which Mr. Benjamin decided to move the existing camps to new locations, back in 2003. As a semi-autonomous State Agency, Housing Authority has lead agency status with regard to NEPA review of this proposed project, however, that autonomy does not supercede land use authority in Merced County when a proposed project requires a zoning change, or as in this case, a conditional use permit. (Migrant Housing is not an automatically granted land use on land zoned A-1 Agricultural, there are specific requirements of the County General Plan that must be met and approved, and that process requires public review and opportunity to comment under CEQA).

Mr. Benjamin’s decision to relocate the camp(s), was facilitated by the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing (a non-profit organization formed by the Housing Authority of Merced in 1987), which secured a loan from (or through) Housing Authority to purchase alternate land for the construction of a proposed ‘combined’ migrant and year round camp.

Mr. Nick Benjamin at that time was both the Executive Director of Housing Authority, and the Secretary of Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing and it is believed that he had full authority to act on behalf of both organization’s boards with regard to the procurement of the specific 24-acre parcel on Gerard Avenue (the originally intended location to which Felix Torres camp was to be moved).

Public outcry and written opposition to the change in location of Felix Torres Camp presented to the County Board of Supervisors, stalled the project and lead to an elaborate ‘shell game’ of deed transfers and money laundering that culminated in Jan. with the recording of the sale of that parcel to Merced County C.E.O. Demetrios Tatum and his wife. This land sale and all its intermediary steps are currently under the investigation of the Merced County Grand Jury.

Mr. Benjamin is a person who wears many hats in Merced County. Beside those previously mentioned, he also holds a position on the board of the Community Action Agency (a quasi-governmental non-profit agency whose funding, such as Community Development Block grants, is directly controlled by the Merced County Board of Supervisors). Mr. Benjamin also sits on the Workforce Investment Board, (established by statute in 2001 and whose members are appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors).

Mr. Benjamin has collaborated extensively with Mr. Rudy Buendia, the director of FirmBuild, (a non-profit corporation involved with other projects in Planada such as the Bear Creek Village) for many years. Mr. Buendia currently is appointed as a Commissioner of the Housing Authority of Merced’s Board of Commissioners (appointed by the District Supervisor for district 1 which includes Planada.) Mr. Buendia also hold an appointed position on the Merced County Planning Commission as a Commissioner (also appointed by the District 1 Supervisor)

Mr. Buendia seems to be in the enviable position of sitting as a voting member of the ‘lead agency’ for the NEPA approval of the proposed new Felix Torres Project, and as an advisor to the ‘lead agency’ for the CEQA review of this same project. Additionally FirmBuild may be involved in the eventual reconstruction of the Felix Torres Camp. Consequently the public has no clear or speedy means of determining whether or not any other inappropriate financial aggrandizement may occur through the eventual release of these encumbered OMS grant funds.

The normal checks and balances, which would preclude such conflicts of interest, are demonstrably absent in a rural setting such as Merced County where one person can wear so many hats simultaneously.

There seems to be a great deal of overlap in the funding streams coming into Merced County through the Department of Financial Assistance of the Department of Housing and Community Development. It is clear to these commentators that the restrictions on the beneficiaries of grant funding through specific programs such as Joseph C. Serna Farmworker housing (which represents about one third of the grant funding for this proposed project) may be effectively circumvented under the aegis of Mr. Benjamin’s proposal.

The Predevelopment Loan Program used to demolish the Felix Torres Camp may have been used in violation of CEQA in that no environmental review was even contemplated for that aspect of the project until during the actual demolition when the commentators did a site inspection and discovered evidence of endangered and/or protected species on site, and brought such information to the attention of Housing Authority. The public will never know whether or not there was illegal ‘take’ of endangered/protected species during the demolition of the Felix Torres Camp buildings, but what is clear from written communications with the Housing Authority is their stated contention was that the contractor would have been liable for the illegal ‘take’.

This demonstrably limited understanding of the Housing Authority’s responsibility for complying with the laws of the State of California and those of the United States does not inspire confidence that this project is proceeding according to established standards of environmental review.

Having brought this situation to the attention of the grantors, it should not remain incumbent upon the public to force an internal audit of this morass; it would seem incumbent on the director of the Department of Financial Assistance or his superiors to follow up on a complaint such as this.

We clearly see and understand the financial incentive Housing Authority has in cooperating with the parties financially interested in securing the zoning changes proposed in the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update; the Planada Village was to be replaced with a zone for commercial development along Hwy 140, and the Felix Torres Camp is directly adjacent to a riparian waterway (Miles Creek) and is being actively sought for the residential development capabilities afforded by the proposed change to low density residential zoning.

Both parcels would appreciate multiple orders of magnitude in value and would represent an irresistible temptation to seek less valuable real estate on which to build replacement migrant housing with the already encumbered grant funding.

While we can appreciate the considerable potential financial benefit of this collaboration to Housing Authority, we can also clearly see conflicts with other applicable land use authorities of the State of California including tenets of the Cortese-Knox- Hertzberg Act of 2000, as it would apply to the provision of municipal services outside of an established SUDP; specific proscriptions under CEQA disallowing a public entity to select a preferred alternative based solely upon the affordability of the land in question; the ongoing environmental injustice being inflicted upon the displaced population; not to mention the near impossibility of evaluating the compliance of this proposed project or any like it with the hopelessly outdated Merced County General Plan.

The community has already suffered the deprivation of the 88 Felix Torres Camp units and has born for three years the added congestion of accommodating those returning migrants in the sparsely available low and very low-income housing. The local economy has suffered commensurately lack of workforce during crucial times of harvest during the last three years.

The public was informed by Housing Authority representatives that the decision to close and demolish Felix Torres Camp was a directive of the State of California, and under the Public Records Act we wish to inspect any written document corroborating that assertion, if such could be identified in the files of any of the above parties to whom this letter is addressed. It is our belief that the decision to close and then demolish Felix Torres Camp was rather retaliatory and punitive of the public who voiced opposition to the political and residential development interests who were clearly the intended beneficiaries of this collaboration.

The citizens of Planada participated in the federal NEPA review of this proposed project. Written comments regarding the draft EA (Environmental Assessment) have not been acknowledged or answered and the Housing Authority acting as its own lead agency has approved their NEPA review. We attach a copy[2] of the submitted comments to assist you in determining whether substantive information has been overlooked in the EA by the ‘Lead Agency’(Housing Authority of Merced County).

Irrespective of the relative weight given to public comment during the NEPA environmental review process, the Housing Authority has now contacted the Merced County Planning Department seeking CEQA review and approval of this disputed project.

CEQA requires that the Lead Agency (Merced County) examine all feasible alternatives to the proposed project, and that the scope of that analysis include all issues identified in the earliest initial study, including, in particular, the intent of the original funding source, and the setting in which those particular funds were encumbered. By completing the NEPA analysis of this project independently from the CEQA review, the Housing Authority has sought to limit the analysis of the environmental impact solely to their preferred alternative. This is both subtle and inappropriate.

Plaintiffs who sued Merced County over the inadequacy of the 2003 Planada Community Plan on behalf of those migrants displaced by the actions of the Housing Authority (closing the Felix Torres Camp in 2003 and demolishing it in 2005) have not abandoned their suit. In fact that suit is currently in 5th Appellate Court in Fresno.

Merced County’s recently disclosed plans to radically expand the SUDP boundary of Planada as part of a County General Plan Update, seek to circumvent and moot the efforts of the appellants.

There is clearly a nexus of growth pressures, lack of sewer capacity, declining economic opportunity, and poverty in Planada that demand a comprehensive environmental analysis. The migrant housing to be built with this funding (encumbered since 2003) is certainly a seminal component of Planada’s housing supply, and crucial in that it will be supportive of the actual agricultural labor force indigenous to the community.

Unfortunately, though, it has come to light that the Housing Authority has no intention of limiting residents of the proposed new Felix Torres Camp to farm workers and their dependents. The overarching intent of providing low-income housing in Merced County on which so many other government subsidized funding streams reaching Merced County tend to depend, would seem to provide an incentive for County Planning to limit the CEQA review of this project. We hope this scrutiny will persuade Housing Authority Executive Director Nick Benjamin and County Planning to honor the actual legislative intent of the OMS grant funding. We wish to somehow ensure that the proposed housing is actually going to replace both the structures and the context that were demolished at the original Felix Torres site. The conclusions presented to the public in the Housing Authority’s draft EA do not inspire confidence that the public’s expectations for this project will be realized.

It seems clear that more specific guidance from the State Agency with direct control over the expenditure of these funds is necessary. Without intending to jeopardize the funding for migrant housing in Planada, may we suggest that Housing Authority is within their authority to rebuild the Felix Torres Camp on its original site, and can do so without abusing Merced County’s land use authority or the public’s trust.

If, as we believe the County of Merced is the land use authority and Lead Agency for the CEQA review of the Housing Authority proposed project on newly acquired property, then we request and require that the Scope of this project be broadened to include the original site of the Felix Torres Camp and all of the previous public involvement and comment on this proposal.

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

| »

Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

Viewed from an ecological perspective, rooted in the environment of the San Joaquin Valley of California, politically affairs this week seem to be perched on a very wobbly three-legged stool.

The short, skinny leg

When (funded) “value-free facilitators” begin showing up in your community, it is probably time to count the silverware or, from an ecological perspective, inventory the environmental quality of your neighborhood. We have an area called “South” Merced, where, traditionally, minority groups have lived south of the tracks and the highway. Through the years, the city has done a pretty decent job of hustling federal funds to repair and restore old single-family houses and build some multi-family apartment complexes. The county housing authority is located there. However, the area has almost no business, at least business useful to the residents, like a decent shopping center with a supermarket. In recent months, the city has proposed the development of a specific urban development plan for the neighborhood, appointed a citizen’s advisory commission and has engaging consultants to draw up a land-use plan.

What the area needs is development that pays its way for the schools it overcrowds, a decent shopping center with a supermarket, and more employment. A dark thought is that it will the area in which the city will fulfill its low-income housing quotient required to keep its general plan correct. Several new low-income complexes have already been built and more are already in the planning pipeline.

“We’re just glad to be here to facilitate this process,” said the value-free facilitator with a Crash Davis (“Bull Durham”) grasp of cliché, before a group of about 40 at a meeting two weeks ago. A number in the audience were government officials, including three city council members (including the mayor) and two supervisors. A city planner led a significant portion of the meeting.

An elderly resident complained about the governing vocabulary. “My tax bill doesn’t tell me I live in North or South Merced,” she said. “It says Merced. All we want is to have the same facilities throughout Merced.” She described 24 empty streetlights on her street. Later, an officious city councilman told the group those streetlights were in the county, not the city, so the city wasn’t responsible.

“There is something ignorant about this whole thing,” the resident commented. “Let’s use our intelligence and forget this North/South Merced.”

The value-free facilitator and the city planner went right on calling it South Merced, referring to my neighborhood as “Middle Merced.” North Merced is where the growth, induced by the arrival of UC Merced, is rapidly doubling the size of the city.

One of the neighborhood’s present dilemmas is what to do with Carl Pollard, an African-American resident of the neighborhood who, after losing six campaigns for the city council, was recently appointed to it. Less than a month after the appointment, he was charged with driving a car without insurance, with an open container of alcohol and some amount of marijuana in it. He has been fired from his realtor job. If convicted, presumably he would lose his council seat. Pollard led an invocation at the beginning of the meeting.

There are better people than Pollard, a political accident that has happened, trying to work for a decent level of services (at least one supermarket south of the tracks, for example), as development that does not pay its way rages to the north and more “low-income” housing development – horribly impacting schools in the south – is planned for the neighborhood. Perhaps, if they organize themselves, beginning by believing almost nothing of what city and county officials tell them, they will have a prayer the Rev. Pollard shall not lead.

“Value-free community organizing” facilitated from the top down by University of California personnel is illusory. What has worked in a modest way in the neighborhood has been volunteer crime watches that have existed for years. What will make things more miserable is crowding in more low-income residents to satisfy regional low-income housing mandates into an area with a chronically low level of services and usable commercial enterprises.

The fat, middle leg

A year ago, the Sacramento Bee did a series of articles exposing a classic situation of corporate power in diary processing. Hilmar Cheese had been polluting surface and groundwater near its site for years. The San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board had been effectively bought off by the corporation. Publicly embarrassed, the board levied a $4-million fine against Hilmar.

After the state Water Resources Board in November refused Hilmar Cheese’s proposal to pay a fraction of the fine the regional water quality board had levied against it for polluting its area with huge quantities of wastewater, the federal EPA approved a test deep-injection well this week. Presumably, if the engineers on this project are more skillful than on the plant’s last techno-fix, the test will be successful, paving the way for injection of Hilmar Cheese’s 2-to-3 million gallons a day of waste water more than 3,000 feet below the Valley surface.

Meanwhile Hilmar’s corporate lawyers and water board lawyers continue to negotiate a settlement of the fine. The board should hear a new proposal by March, Catherine George, water board attorney, said today.

Vance Kennedy, a retired hydrologist from Modesto, told me yesterday it was as “done deal:” EPA has the power to override the state water board’s decision, on the grounds that deep injection is out of the state board’s jurisdiction over surface and ground water.” George confirmed Kennedy’s report.

“Ground water” refers to the aquifers several hundred feet down from which well water is drawn for domestic and agricultural use.

Kennedy said the EPA is using the analogy of water injection into oil and gas wells to force the products to the surface from beneath impenetrable layers. Hilmar, he said, is supposed to have a 100-foot thick layer of shale deep down, presumably impermeable.

He repeated the point he made in several hearings on the project: that water is incompressible and will move laterally, for miles, until it begins to push salty water up into groundwater aquifers lying above “impenetrable” layers.

“The sad thing is that salty water elsewhere may not show up for years or decades,” he said. He added it might not ever be possible to trace salt-water intrusion into wells back to the lateral pressure caused by Hilmar’s deep injection system.

Worse, Kennedy said, it’s a precedent for the San Joaquin Valley. Every wastewater facility from Redding to Bakersfield will be looking at this technology. EPA approved a number of wastewater deep-injection wells in Florida, providing another decade of rapid growth. The Sierra Club sued in February 2005, citing massive ecological damage. Kennedy said he’d been told Miami effluent has been traced as far away as Bermuda.

This middle leg is overweening corporate power to dominate surrounding communities and destroy their environments. Merced, the second largest dairy county in the nation, is afflicted with Big Dairy, an extremely powerful lobby from county to country devoted to the propositions: Bigger and More. The best comment I’ve heard on the economic philosophy of Big Dairy was from a small dairyman who said: when someday milk is so over-produced it isn’t worth a penny, some dairyman will say it’s a good day to buy cows.

The Hilmar Cheese deal reveals a tendency in our economy toward outright corporate ownership of government. In the lexicon of American politics exists the phrase, which covers the situation so well a book about the political career of a former Merced congressman, Tony Coelho, is titled, “Honest Graft.”

This sort of corruption tends to spiral out of control, as in the present case of the Abramoff affair. Some economists argue that eventually, the power of special interests devours the nation’s substance for the gains of very few, if gigantic firms. In the case of US transnational corporations, the approach has been to cause deep structural unemployment of domestic industrial workers and devour other nations’ substance at very low wages. The process is well advanced in the US, particularly in California, where the state budget is beginning to resemble the budget of Third World nations like Argentina and Chile, raped by utility and development corporations and thrown into the tender claws of Wall Street for the foreseeable future.

The impact of the EPA decision may go far beyond Hilmar.

The housing development industry is a radical example of the domination of sheer financial interest over the construction of subdivisions containing rows of three or four “housing products.” Everything about the structure of this “industry,” from the elaborate system of subcontracting to the pittance the state requires it pay for the schools it overcrowds, is designed to protect the developer investor from any public liability. In employs mobs of illegal aliens, heretofore always called “unskilled farmworkers,” to do highly skilled construction work for well below union wages. It has bought wholesale political and legal attacks on state and federal environmental law. It is pricing out farmers on agricultural land while making large rural landowners who sell for development rich. Development in states like California and Florida has made a mockery of any concept of urban planning.

If the deep-injection fix takes off in the Central Valley, residents and farmers will be the losers but the corporations will be the winners in the near term, which is their only time frame. Meanwhile, laws that haven’t already been written will be written to limit or exempt them from liability. But, one might object, wastewater facilities likely to jump on this fix are public entities. They are public entities driven every step of the way into surface and groundwater pollution by private development corporations. The system to protect the genuinely public interest is broken, corrupted, for sale, less and less often these days with even a pretence of being other than for sale. Growing numbers of rightwing politicians aggressively promote the ideology that public policy ought to be for sale to the highest bidder. Up and down the ranks of the Republican Party, this is considered to be “the hard, right decision.”

The local glaring, daily example is the loss of rights of existing residents of a region to the same quality of life they had before a UC campus was located in their county and development took off, running roughshod over law, regulation and resources. Against the local land-use authorities’ power to reject projects under the California Environmental Quality Act is the constant drum of developer propaganda: “Growth is inevitable.” You hear it on street corners out of the mouths of people who were once citizens but now passively accept the role of being mere subjects of alien, hostile government. It makes you wonder what else could have been done with all the money it took to convince Californians of this suicidal proposition that has, in 30 years, distorted this state out of all self-recognition, that has replaced, for private gain, a state composed of cities, towns, communities with abundant natural resources and rural economies of hope, with a slurbocracy of mere subjects.

Hilmar Cheese, “largest cheese plant in the world,” is using demonstrably bad Florida technology because its industry largely owns its regulators. Not that the EPA needed much encouragement to worsen the environment of the San Joaquin Valley. Its present administrator started his scientific career at Litton Bionetics, one of the nation’s leading developers of chemical and biological weapons: he is the perfect Bush fox for the EPA henhouse.

But, in our terribly contemporary political culture here in the 18th Congressional District, in Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, we have the epitome of the emerging one-party state, under the relentless pressure of special interest corruption. Cardoza is referred to locally simply as the south end of O Pomboza, the northern end being Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy. Pombo is an exemplary modern American fascist, complete with his corruption problems linked to Abramoff, who he denies knowing, and his strong penchant for breaking laws he can’t change, like the Endangered Species Act.

The EPA decision leaves people to believe – and they are definitely meant to believe – they are powerless to stop this level of pollution, corporate irresponsibility and corruption, because the corporations, the Pomboza and the regulating agencies don’t give a damn about the people and believe they exist to do the bidding of the least responsible whim of the corporations who effectively own their own regulating agencies. Some political theorists call this form of government corporatist and describe it as a precursor to fascism. We will content ourselves with the homey old American expression, “honest graft,” well established in government during the McKinley administration, apparently the guide to all domestic politics in the W. administration.

There are residual American political tactics against such corruption. People concerned about this well and its implications for the future of groundwater in the Central Valley ought to consider starting a national boycott against Hilmar Cheese products. A boycott has the old-fashioned charm of asserting the dignity of human communities in the face of inhuman corporate power. People might find it a refreshing diversion from being oppressed and depressed by decisions affecting their lives over which they have no control.

The long, weird leg

A preface is required to begin to describe the last leg of the current stool. I’ve chosen a passage from Douglas Dowd’s book on Thorstein Veblen, an American economist who wrote this during the McKinley administration, at the turn of the 20th century:

“Business interests urge an aggressive national policy and businessmen direct it. Such a policy is warlike as well as patriotic. The direct cultural value of a warlike business policy is unequivocal. It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times, under martial law, civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance … a military organization is a servile organization. Insubordination is the deadly sin. (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Thorstein Veblen, 1904, p. 391)

What is true of those directly involved in the military applies also to the civilian population in significant degree:

“They learn to think in warlike terms of rank, authority, and subordination, and so grow progressively more patient of encroachments upon their civil rights … At the same stroke they (patriotic ideals) direct the popular interest to other, nobler institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comfort. (Ibid. p. 393)

But for those who might see this as a triumph of business enterprise over the threat of social change led by workers, it is turned by Veblen into a hollow triumph. For, if the discipline and values of the warlike and patriotic society may “correct” the institutionally disintegrative trend of the machine process, it is just as probable that, for the same reasons there would be “a rehabilitation of the ancient patriotic animosity and dynastic loyalty, to the relative neglect of business interests. This may easily be carried so far as to sacrifice the profits of the businessman to the exigencies of the higher politics (Ibid. 395).

Thus, Veblen sees the system of business enterprise caught in a terrible historical dilemma: If, to offset the institutional and threatening imperative of industrialism, it encourages, or acquiesces in, developments that will cause social unrest to “sink in the broad sands of patriotism,” it is faced with the equal probability that what is quicksand for one will sooner or later pull down the other.

The last paragraph of the Theory might be Veblen’s epitaph for the system of business enterprise:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either. (Ibid. p. 400)

(Thus, in the late 1930s, German industrialists who had supported Nazism as a “corrective discipline” for the political and economic troubles of the early 1930’s found themselves increasingly harassed by regulation, taxation, and general interference in their affairs by Nazi Party and Wehrmacht functionaries.) – Thorstein Veblen, by Douglas Dowd, 1964, pp. 52-53.

In our suddenly radical contemporary experience in Merced, we now host UC, a university whose two national laboratories of mass destruction are now competing for the design award for new nuclear weapons. Therefore, we must ask, for what end, the Cold War having ended some years ago? Our current, neo-McKinley imperial administration cum dynastic, monarchal pretensions, aims at nothing less than world domination. Like the Nazis, the neocons didn’t come to power just to regulate, tax and interfere with business. They came with a plan for world domination. Read all about it at the Project for the New American Century (http://www.newamericancentury.org).

The details of the vision really don’t matter nearly as much as the absurd fact of the vision itself “for the spread of American ideals.” For the neocons, the vision is the only fact that matters. One observes the tendency daily in the president. In fact, as opposed to vision, America cannot even fight successfully in two war theaters, let alone the many anticipated by the PNAC. And their he-man, Ariel Sharon, is in a coma.

On the other hand, they have our UC to build new nuclear weapons.

The fat leg should be called by its name: totalitarian ambition. It has not happened yet. The Alito confirmation hearing was held up for a week. Investigations of scandals mount. The drums for impeachment tap, if inaudibly to the ears of American subjects. However, “yet” is a highly ambiguous term in such a moment, because, although we are aware of the velocity of change, we aren’t able to measure it accurately, in large part for lack of honest media. The totalitarian ambition has been an old dream of American industrialists and financiers, evident to Veblen in 1904, far more overt before the two world wars, and the Bush family has been heavily involved in it since before WWI.

The only question of any importance today is whether the American people have the intelligence to see it and the energy left, in this rapidly decaying economy, to resist it, particularly without an effective opposition political party. Appeals to the ideals of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights fall on largely deaf ears. The fundamental right for which American subjects of the British crown fought was the right of political participation. After a century of fraudulent commercial advertising and government propaganda, is there enough citizenship left in the subject population to resist the neocon plan to make the Mideast safe for Israel, US oil companies, conduct an eternal Indian War against Arabs, and subject the US population to enough terror so that it doesn’t notice the absurdity of the neocon vision and the destruction of both the domestic economy and its environment.

The question is important, however, as a preliminary to the larger, more dangerous problem of how we confront global warming and lesser forms of environmental destruction. We haven’t a prayer of avoiding the global tipping point without strong state regulation of corporate environmental destruction. It also leads one to wonder just how many UC-built nuclear bomb blasts it would take to tip the planet over the edge. It is hard to imagine anything more destructive to the environment than a nuclear bomb. But, UC Merced is an environmentally conscious campus.

And they ask why the public mind is boggled so often these days.

Veblen’s prognosis for American business is a useful anchor:

“It seems possible to say this much, that the full domination of business enterprise is necessarily a transitory dominion. It stands to lose in the end whether the one or the other of the two divergent cultural tendencies wins, because it is incompatible with the ascendancy of either.” (Ibid. p. 400)

“Full domination” has been achieved all too successfully. The rule of law is rapidly crumbling before this full domination. Law was the arena in which the divergent tendencies met and argued. Without law effectively protecting the rights of citizens, the United States of America ceases to be itself and the voice of reason is drowned by the screaming antinomy between privileged and desperate subjects in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The reasonable solution would appear to be something less than “full domination of business enterprise,” beginning with regulatory agencies that are permitted to perform their necessary public function, uninfluenced by either political pressure or foxes in henhouses. The political irony is that business enterprise would have to call for a rapid, perhaps radical reduction of its domination in order to save the system of government that nurtured its rise to power. That would require an act of reason probably beyond the capacity of corporate attitudes today and equally beyond the capacities of its bought and sold political class. The real road to Hell has been paved with done deals between special interests and government.

But that’s just how things look from the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

Hilmar Cheese Permitted to Drill Test Well
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/11676192p-12403995c.html

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

Brooks Jackson, Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process

Upgrades planned for U.S. nuclear stockpile. Agency leader expects significant warhead redesigns...James Sterngold
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/01/15/MNGTTGNL5P1.DTL&type=printable

Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush

| »

California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

Central Valley and Foothills cattlemen, conservationists, and state and federal resource agency officials held a historic summit Jan. 11 in Sacramento. The all-day conference was called to develop a broad action plan to implement the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Resolution, a statement of joint goals reached last year.

"Today we have embarked upon a historic partnership to preserve and enhance California's working landscapes," said California Cattlemen's Association President Mark Nelson. "The California Rangeland Resolution serves as the foundation of an extraordinary partnership between ranchers, environmentalists and governmental agencies ... Our CCA members have a unique standing with respect to the conservation of our state's rangelands, given that ranchers own and/or manage over 30 million acres in California. Given the sheer volume of property managed by ranchers, and the well-documented preference by imperiled species for these properties, it is clear that meaningful species recovery or conservation efforts require the voluntary cooperation of landowners. Put another way, the protection of our state's most valuable natural resources is highly dependent on working partnerships between conservation interests and landowners."

John Hopkins, director of Institute for Ecological Health, said, "The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an exciting and important new venture. The conservation organizations that are signatories to the Coalition's Resolution are very pleased to be working closely with agricultural organizations and a wide array of state and federal agencies in crafting and implementing the important goals of the Resolution.

"Private owned grasslands and oak woodlands around the Central Valley and its surrounding foothills support a stunning variety and abundance of native wildlife and plants. Maintaining the private ranches and their economic viability is essential for the conservation of these critically important natural habitats and their native species.

"This Coalition provides a major opportunity to achieve widespread conservation of rangeland, to aid stewardship and help maintain ranching as a viable way of life. These are steps that are necessary to maintain the many large tracts of grasslands and oak woodlands that are vital to the future of our state's wildlife. For example, vernal pool grasslands possess a rich array of endangered and threatened animals and plants that are found nowhere else in the world. The grasslands are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering birds of prey in North America. Oak woodlands are essential for hundreds of vertebrate species."

Hopkins added that, "Two key areas for future action are the 2007 federal Farm Bill and possibilities for additional funds for rangeland conservation in state bond measures." He said that the CCA and the state Farm Bureau have good relations with members of the House and Senate agriculture committees, while environmentalists have good relations with more urban members of Congress. The Coalition, putting "teams of cowboys and environmentalists in Congressional and legislative offices is very politically effective, he said. "Jaws can drop."

Paul Henson, assistant regional director of the California-Nevada US Fish and Wildlife Service office, pledged to add staff to help qualify ranchers for safe harbor agreements. In these agreements, developed in 1999, the Service will issue a permit to ranches to "enhance the propagation or survival" of an endangered or threatened species, once the Service is satisfied that actions undertaken by the landowner produce a "net conservation benefit" to the species.

Bill Chrisman, Director of the state Department of Resources, promised the members of the Coalition that the state would work on ways to streamline environmental regulations to provide certainty in a timely manner, possibly involving changes to the California
Environmental Quality Act.

Ryan Broderick, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, told the Coalition that the large blocks of land held by Valley and Foothills ranchers are "the key" to conservation of endangered and threatened species of animals and plants. In response to a question from Dan Macon, director of the Nevada County Land Trust, Broderick agreed that the future will see more public/private partnerships for the effective management of publicly held land. The CDFG now has tenant farming agreements that are both economical and good stewardship of the land. "The Department of Fish and Game does a lot of farming,” Broderick added.

California benefits less relative to its size and the value of its agricultural output from the federal Farm Bill than the Midwestern grain states do, said Michael Bean, attorney and chair of the Wildlife program for Environmental Defense, a national environmental advocacy organization. California ranchers benefit even less. The Coalition of California ranchers and environmentalists working together, presenting a unified voice before Congress, could yield better federal funding for California ranching.

Henson, (USFWS) added that the resource agencies agree that rangelands need to stay in ranching and that they need to help ranchers stay on the land by "removing regulatory disincentives and getting more funding for conservation easements."

"We have come together as one and must continue to strengthen our bond, CCA President Nelson concluded his address. "We must not let the opportunities presented by this partnership pass us by, and we look forward to transforming the targets defined earlier today into real-world, on-the-ground successes."

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition came to life through the following resolution:

The California Rangeland Resolution

The undersigned recognize the critical importance of California’s privately owned rangelands, particularly that significant portion that encircles the Central Valley and includes the adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands, including the Sierra foothills and the interior coast ranges. These lands support important ecosystems and are the foundation for the ranching industry that owns them.

WHEREAS, these rangelands include a rich and varied landscape of grasslands, oak woodlands, vernal pools, riparian areas and wetlands, which support numerous imperiled species, many native plants once common in the Central Valley, and are home to the highest diversity and density of wintering raptors anywhere in North America;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are often located in California’s fastest-growing counties and are at significant risk of conversion to development and other uses;

WHEREAS, these rangelands, and the species that rely on these habitats, largely persist today due to the positive and experienced grazing and other land stewardship practices of the ranchers that have owned and managed these lands and are committed to a healthy future for their working landscapes;

WHEREAS, these rangelands are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide this important working landscape for California’s plants, fish and wildlife if private rangelands remain in ranching;

THEREFORE, we declare that it is our goal to collaboratively work together to protect and enhance the rangeland landscape that encircles California’s Central Valley and includes adjacent grasslands and oak woodlands by:

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

Working to recover imperiled species and enhancing habitat on rangelands while seeking to minimize regulations on private lands and streamline processes;

Supporting the long-term viability of the ranching industry and its culture by providing economic, social and other incentives and by reducing burdens to proactive stewardship on private ranchlands;

Increasing private, state and federal funding, technical expertise and other assistance to continue and expand the ranching community’s beneficial land stewardship practices that benefit sensitive species and are fully compatible with normal ranching practices;

Encouraging voluntary, collaborative and locally-led conservation that has proven to be very effective in maintaining and enhancing working landscapes;

Educating the public about the benefits of grazing and ranching in these rangelands.

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

| »

God, law and politics in Merced

Submitted: Nov 09, 2005

I didn’t like this lead in an Oct. 20 story in the Merced Sun-Star.

Two former Merced County lawmen took center stage Wednesday at a state law enforcement change of command ceremony held at the Christian Life Center.

I assumed it was factual and that the event actually took place. It is only in the ninth graph in the story that state Attorney General Bill Lockyer sneaked in, as if from the basement:

 Read More »
| »


To manage site Login