Agriculture

Ol' Slippery John and the lawsuits

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

Members of the Board of Supervisors said they weren't surprised by news of the pending lawsuit.

"You can't be surprised that this is what we're seeing," said board Chairman John Pedrozo. "That's why it was so important to get the indemnification, and that's why I voted against the certification (of the environmental reviews)."

Pedrozo and Supervisor Deidre Kelsey voted against approving the project and certifying its environmental reviews in December. The county's three other supervisors voted in favor of the project. – Merced Sun-Star, Jan. 17, 2007

On Tuesday, the Merced County Farm Bureau took the courageous step of filing notice of their intent to sue the county and Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP) for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. On Thursday, the petition was filed along with petitions from other local citizen groups against the racetrack.

During the public hearing process on the RMP project, severely and illegally truncated as it was by the arrogant, corrupt Merced County Board of Supervisors, Farm Bureau Executive Director Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo and a number of Farm Bureau board members joined many members of the public to testify against the project for as long as they were permitted to speak (five minutes). They submitted extensive written comments. They spoke for longer periods at the town hall meetings sponsored by Supervisor Deidre Kelsey after the public hearing on the project had been closed by former Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Mike Nelson. Like many, many other residents of Merced County, the Farm Bureau “exhausted its administrative remedy,” as the lawyers say.

So, now the Farm Bureau are suing the smug, arrogant, corrupt government of Merced County, dominated by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced (since the new House Speaker took him to the river, he’s a reborn Democrat).

The Merced community needs to praise and support the Farm Bureau and other citizens groups for this stand. It is not easy for them. From the time before UC Merced was a “done deal,” the local Farm Bureau has been the target of finance, insurance and real estate special interests (FIRE) as well as the University of California and all local elected officials, because before that time, Merced had a strong commitment to agriculture. Special interests had to get in front of agriculture by trying to spin its largest representative organization, the Farm Bureau. These interests, working through elected officials, set up a host of committees, workshops, plans, programs all aimed at convincing Merced farmers and ranchers that UC Merced would not stimulate the largest agricultural land-eating housing boom the county had ever seen. The politicians even finally agreed to give the county the Williamson Act, which farmers and ranchers had been unable to get through the board of supervisors in two previous attempts over the last 35 years. Somehow, it was sold as “mitigation for UC.”

But that was just a little fib compared to the lies around the great land-deal boondoggle called UC Merced. The problem for Farm Bureau members has been that, as landowners and farmers and ranchers looking at the future of agriculture in Merced County, they have been the objects of most of the strongest special interest, political and economic pressures since the housing boom began.

The FIRE special interests are again lining up to thug around the Farm Bureau. Today the local paper published this interesting tidbit:

After the Merced County Farm Bureau announced plans to sue the county over its approval of the $230 million, 1,200-acre racetrack proposal, RMP CEO John Condren put out a call to arms.
In an e-mail message sent Wednesday afternoon to business heavies Steve Newvine, Julius Pekar, Doug Fluetsch, Robert Rodarte, Bob Carpenter and Bob Rucker, Condren wrote the following. We quote without editing:
"Good day to all -I am pleased to report that RMP has reached a settlement with the US Bureau of Prisons and is close to having a settlement with Foster Farms. Keep your fingers crossed on that one. To date, the Merced County Farm Bureau is the only legal challenge we face. Regarding the Merced County Farm Bureau, they have filed a Notice of Action against Merced County (referencing the RMP EIR) that gives them 10 days to file their actual lawsuit.
Countering this move, our very own Scott Reisdorfer has initiated a campaign to pressure the Farm Bureau to withdraw their lawsuit. Scott has made contact, and continues to make contact, with various farming and ag members and ag-based organizations that are proponents of RMP. All have agreed to inundate the Farm Bureau's offices with phone calls, fax and e-mails demanding that the Farm Bureau back-down.
If you can help with this campaign, please do so! Thanx - John Condren"

Agriculture, still by far the largest industry in the county, suffered a deflation in its value as an industry, while experiencing a tremendous inflation in land value for conversion to subdivisions during the UC Merced hoopla and real estate speculation boom.

Bob “Mr. UC Merced” Carpenter (Leap/Carpenter/Kemps Insurance), is the original, bona fide “Mr. UC Merced.” Bob Rucker, Rucker Construction, worked closely with the original bona fide Mr. UC Merced, when Rucker was chief of staff for state Sen. Dick Monteith, R-Modesto, one of the many political Mr. UC Merceds. Newvine is president and CEO of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce. Fluetsch, of Fluetsch/Busby Insurance, is president of the Merced Boosters. Robert Rodarte represents Citigroup here in town. According to its website, Citigroup is an international financial conglomerate with operations in consumer, corporate, and investment banking and insurance. Julius Pekar represents the Merced County Chamber of Commerce. Scott Reisdorfer seems to be a man involved somehow with auto racing in Fresno. He’s into things like “nostalgia drag racing.” It looks like he’s staff for Condren now.

One could ask, How much do these people want?

All of it, would be the answer.

This is the group dispatched by Condren to put pressure on the Farm Bureau board of directors to block the lawsuit. Despite the ridiculous hash the Sun-Star made of the story Thursday, the lawsuit was filed in a timely manner. Three other local groups filed another lawsuit on the same day. The Merced FIRE faction will leave the heckling and heavy whispering campaign to Don Bergman and others of his ilk, now below the new speculator economy scum line.

Appreciation for farming, the agricultural economy and natural resources has fallen as rapidly in Merced County as farm real estate values have appreciated. Depreciated as vital economic producers, farmers are now appreciated as owners of land, as long as they were willing to sell it. And, by the way, if they decide to keep it and continue to farm, they should keep their mouths shut, according to Condren’s finance, insurance and real estate claque and the chamber flaks.

All growth is good, according to Merced FIRE and their bought and sold politicians, the elected board of supervisors and the city councils in the county. Each time the supervisors have amended the county General Plan, which recognized agriculture as the most important industry in the county, more agricultural land was taken for real estate development. The Farm Bureau has joined early critics of the evolving slurbocracy and become more critical of the county’s de facto policy of amending the General Plan whenever a subdivision is proposed, to the point that it offers no guidance for “planning” at all! The Farm Bureau also has been the agricultural community’s most consistent public opponent of more lot splits on farm and ranch land.

Such is the toady local press that, after mangling a good story about courage and principle, it ends on two lies: that indemnification is good policy; and the Chairman of the Board John Pedrozo voted against the RMP project.

Indemnification was described in a Coalition Statement signed by 17 local, regional, and statewide organizations last spring:

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
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Central Valley Safe Environment Network

Ol’ Slippery John likes indemnification because it shields the board from having to pay public funds for the legal consequences of its decisions. We can’t believe the supervisors themselves were ever bright enough to come up with the lipstick on this pig: that through indemnification the public actually benefits from projects destroying health, public safety, quality of life, agricultural land, natural resources and wildlife habitat.

If the political approach worked, if politicians like Ol' Slippery and his fellow supervisors actually listened to the public rather than the special interests, indemnification would be unnecessary. But, since the arrival of UC Merced and the Merced FIRE speculators, the entire local planning and land-use political faculty – city and county – has been captured by outside special interests. Lawsuits have been the only way the public could make any headway against special interest political pressure.

FIRE, the finance, insurance and real estate sector that controls the state government and its congressional delegation lock, stock and barrel,has found a way to make local elected officials comfortable: indemnification against any financial responsibility from lawsuits filed by citizens and organizations with legal standing to oppose environmentally ruinous land-use decisions.

Indemnification is one of those aspects of corruption that make for stupid county supervisors. Is Ol’ Slippery John stupid enough to believe that the public is going to swallow his story about voting against the RMP project just because he repeats nearly daily that he did? Or is something else going on?

If Pedrozo wanted to stop RMP, all he had to do was vote with Kelsey against the board motion to override the Castle Airport Land Use Commission’s designation of a 10,000-foot noise and safety zone around Castle airport. That motion required four yes votes to pass. If Pedrozo had voted with Kelsey against it, there would have been only three votes for the override, the project would have been stopped and there would be no lawsuits against it.

I spent the evening a year ago in a public hall in Livingston, arguing with Pedrozo about a completely illegal mile-long sewer line the county had allowed, if not permitted, to be built from the Livingston wastewater facility right through the middle of prime farmland. A 42-inch sewer trunk line tends to induce urban development.

It was quite an ugly party, unless you enjoy political pathology. Pedrozo stood before the townspeople, surrounded by county and city staff and officials, all of them lying in their teeth. The city officials and staff said they had legal authority to permit the pipeline, built entirely on county land. The county staff and Pedrozo denied any responsibility for the project.

The fix was in so deep, it was almost as if a band of angels had laid that 42-inch, mile-long pipeline through prime farmland in the middle of the night accompanied by a celestial choir.

Pedrozo shouted down the few people who objected to the illegal pipeline, suggesting they were outside agitators. All three of us lived closer to Livingston than most of the outside liars on the stage, including Slippery John.

The worst thing about Pedrozo is not even that he can’t tell the truth. The more we listen to Ol’ Slippery, the more we suspect he actually believes he did vote against the RMP project. And it is clear he sees absolutely no connection between his vote to approve the Castle airport override and the present lawsuits brought by the Merced County Farm Bureau and three community groups.

It’s one thing to deceive the public consciously. It is quite a different thing to deceive oneself. Contemplating Ol' Slippery's wiggling around indemnification and his crucial vote for RMP, we find ourselves at the borderline between the corrupt and the wacko.

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Merced residents sue County and Riverside Motorsports Park

Submitted: Jan 18, 2007

Merced County sued over approval of Riverside Motorsports Park

MERCED (Jan. 18) – Three local groups on Thursday filed a petition in Merced Superior Court against Merced County and the Riverside Motorsports Park (RMP).

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources filed the petition under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against the County’s approval of the final environmental impact report for the RMP project.

The petition asserts the County failed to follow proper CEQA procedures, violated CEQA and abused its discretion in a number of ways, some of which will be familiar to participants in hearings on the RMP project.

The citizen groups state that Merced County failed under provisions of CEQA:

To recirculate the RMP project final environmental impact report (EIR) for public review and comment;

To consider substantial evidence in the record to support its statement of overriding considerations in connection with the approval of the project;

By approving the RMP project final EIR despite the availability of feasible alternatives and alternative site configurations that would substantially lessen or avoid the project’s significant adverse impacts;

By improperly and too narrowly defining the project objectives to allow adequate treatment and consideration of the project alternatives;

To analyze the potential impacts of the project’s inconsistency with the Merced County Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan (ALUP) and further failure under CEQA to analyze the impacts of overriding the Merced County Airport Land Use Commission’s determination that the project is inconsistent with the ALUP;

To disclose, analyze, consider and mitigate the project’s significant impacts to water quality, biological resources, traffic and circulation.

The citizen groups also assert that Merced County abused its discretion by failing to consider written comments submitted during the Oct. 25, 2006 County of Merced Planning Commission hearing concerning consideration of the RMP project.

A spokesperson for the Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources said Thursday, “Merced County government failed its citizens with the approval of this project. The County sold out substantial economic, agricultural and environmental resources to outside special interests by approving RMP.”

“The supervisors violated numerous provisions of environmental and public-process law to railroad this project through,” said Lydia Miller, president of San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “Increasing numbers of Merced County residents realize that their local government has been fatally corrupted by special interests and that they will have to go to court to protect their natural and wildlife resources, water supply and quality and air quality, and their agricultural economy, for the common good. Otherwise, special interests will turn Merced County and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley into another San Fernando Valley.

“We are very confident in the strong petition submitted to the Merced Superior Court today by attorney Gregory Maxim, of the Roseville firm Sproul and Trost,” Miller added.

The petition and notice of intent is attached.

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller GREGORY L. MAXIM
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center Attorney at Law
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax Sproul and Trost LLP
(916) 783-6262 tel

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Citizens for the Protection of Merced County Resources

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Re: General Plan Text Amendment on Expressways

Submitted: Dec 20, 2006

MARSHA A. BURCH
ATTORNEY AT LAW
131 South Auburn Street
GRASS VALLEY, CA 95945
Telephone:
(530) 272-8411
Facsimile:
(530) 272-9411
maburch@onemain.com

December 19, 2006

Mr. Gene K. Fong
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
980 Ninth St, Suite 400
Sacramento, CA 95814
916-498-5014
gene.fong@fhwa.dot.gov

Margaret Lawrence
Caltrans
P.O. Box 2048
Stockton, CA 95201
209-948-7427
fax 209-948-7782
Margaret_Lawrence@dot.ca.gov

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, California 95340
Fax: (209) 726-7977
Ph: (209) 385-7366

dist1@co.merced.ca.us ; dist2@co.merced.ca.us ;
dist3@co.merced.ca.us ; Dist4@co.merced.ca.us ;
dist5@co.merced.ca.us

Via facsimile and Email

Re: Proposal -- To amend the Merced County General Plan Circulation
Chapter (Chapter II) by establishing an expressway standard and
designate an expressway alignment, known as “Campus Parkway”,
east of the City of Merced from Coffee Street to Yosemite Avenue.
Campus Parkway will be approximately a 4.5-mile route; and 2006
Cycle IV General Plan Amendment: General Plan Text Amendment
No. GPTA06-001- Campus Parkway.

Dear Supervisors, Mr. Fong and Ms. Lawrence:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney,
represents the Central Valley Safe Environment Network, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water with respect to the above-referenced proposal for General Plan Text Amendment.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide the following comments, which are submitted this morning as a result of the fact that, despite considerable effort, our clients were unable to obtain the Merced County Board of Supervisors, staff report for the proposed amendment until approximately 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

The Proposed Text Amendment does not comply with the California
Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) (Public Resources Code § 2100 et seq.) Accordingly, we request that the Board of Supervisors deny the Proposed General Plan Text Amendment, and reject adoption of the Campus Parkway CEQA Findings of Fact, Statement of Overriding Considerations, and Mitigation Monitoring Program.

The Amendment includes two separate projects. The first project is an
amendment to General Plan that will apply County-wide. The second
discretionary approval would designate an expressway alignment.
These two projects require separate environmental review. There has been no environmental review that we are aware of for the County-wide expressway standard, nor any review of the expressway alignments other than the Campus Parkway. The two projects may not legally be lumped together without appropriate review of all of the discretionary acts.

It appears that the entire proposal, including the expressway standard and alignments, will be based upon the EIR for a 4.5-mile route. It appears that two other expressways are planned to join with the Campus Parkway: the Atwater- Merced Expressway and the Bellevue Expressway. These additional expressways are not mentioned in the Campus Parkway Environmental Impact
Report (“EIR”). There are also plans for expressways on the west side of Merced County, which have not been the subject of any CEQA review that we are aware of.

Because of the fact that there has been no environmental review of the
consequences of this amendment to the General Plan, the proposal must be rejected. Sufficient environmental review must take into account the consequence of its cumulative impacts to traffic, air and water quality, public health and safety, and particularly impacts to biological resources and wildlife corridors. Also, the amendment will necessarily result in the loss of a considerable amount of agricultural land, a consequence completely at odds with the General Plan goal of preserving it. This significant conflict with the existing general plan must also be considered during the CEQA process.

Other potentially significant impacts exist, none of which have been the subject of any CEQA review. For example, the potential impacts to private property, including potential for condemnation in the future, that will arise as a result of expressway alignment designations has not been considered or reviewed. Also, the essence of the expressway designation under the state Streets and Highways Code is fully controlled access. By severing county roads used by farmers and ranchers for trucking and agricultural equipment, this
amendment cannot fail to disrupt normal agricultural practices with consequent economic damage.

Also, County staff reports that the Campus Parkway will take 83 acres of agricultural land out of farming but this is “below the threshold of significance established by the Federal Highway Administration,” and the County has no “significance” standard for agricultural lands.

The County sees no problem because the “land use designation
underlying the Campus Parkway will remain Agriculture.” Under this
reasoning, the County, Merced County Associations of Government, the state Department of Transportation and the FHWA could pave over thousands of acres of farmland in Merced County through this General Plan amendment and still account for them as “Agriculture.” This violates planning and zoning laws.

If the expressways already mapped by MCAG and CalTrans are built, the County will be carrying thousands of acres on its zoning maps as “Agriculture,” which will in fact be paved over expressways with “fully controlled access.”

Furthermore, by piecemealing one section of expressway after another, a process that would be enabled by this General Plan amendment, the County would stay beneath the federal threshold for significance, insuring that no state or federal funds could be used for agricultural conservation easements. This results in the untenable situation summed up by County staff as follows: “Thus,
the only potential funding source for agricultural conservation easements is Merced County. No budget exists in the Department of Public Works for the acquisition of agricultural conservation easements.”

One option for the Atwater-Merced Expressway passes close to the
Riverside Motorsports Park (“RMP”). But, said one supervisor at the last meeting on the RMP project, the Atwater-Merced Expressway cannot be discussed in connection with traffic jams around RMP because that expressway “is not a project” (although its alternative routes are mapped and posted on the MCAG website – see attachments).

The proposed General Plan amendment attempts to circumvent the
environmental review for the entire projected expressway system in Merced County by relying upon the EIR for 4.5 miles of expressway. Further, the proposal appears to intentionally deprive agriculture of state and federal funds for conservation easements on lost agricultural land. This bold attempt to create fictional Agriculturally zoned areas should be rejected, as it violates environmental, land use, and agricultural preservation laws.

An additional funding issue has also received no review or discussion. It appears that County plans to divert funds remaining in the transportation budget to the construction of the Campus Parkway. Further analysis and public disclosure is necessary in this regard.

Because of the issues raised above, we believe that the proposal fails to meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

For these reasons, we believe the proposal should be withdrawn and appropriate environmental review completed prior to further consideration.

If you have questions regarding the above, please feel free to contact me at 530/272.8411.

Sincerely,

Marsha A. Burch
Attorney
MAB/tm
Enclosures

cc: Central Valley Safe Environment Network
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Donald B. Mooney, Esq.
Steve Rough, County of Merced Public Works, srough@co.merced.ca.us
Demitrios O. Tatum, County Executive Officer; ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us
Robert Lewis, Development Service Director , RLewis@co.merced.ca.us
Kursten Sheridan, Caltrans , Kursten_Sheridan@dot.ca.gov
Kim Turner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Turner/SAC/R1/FWS/DOI@FWS

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Grassrooters' factual flyer on the racetrack

Submitted: Dec 11, 2006

THE OPPONENTS OF RMP WANT YOU TO KNOW:
The attitude of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County government toward your environment, health and public safety is: Gentlemen, start your engines, put your pedal to the metal and pass every law and regulation protecting public health and safety on the right as fast as you can.

RMP Chief John Condren claims he’s got your elected officials in his pocket.

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released. In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. Added to this list are over 1,500 local Merced County citizens who have signed to be on our project update mailing/e-mail list.

--Riverside Motorsports Park, 1 January 2005 “To all our valued investors and supporters, Happy New Year!”

A quorum of supervisors should be disqualified from voting on this project at all, when a developer is bragging that loudly about how he owns them. To begin with, Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it.

In a January 1, 2005 letter to RMP investors, Condren claimed:
· The traffic plan for the project was complete; NOT TRUE
· Zoning restrictions pertaining to noise impacts have been amended such that unlimited Motorsports activities
may occur without additional restrictions; NOT TRUE
· The RMP Master plan is approved; NOT TRUE
· RMP event schedule will include all the largest names in motorsports. NOT TRUE

Two years later, there is no traffic plan; the EIR simply states that the noise level from auto racing is a “significant, unavoidable impact” to be overridden by a vote of the supervisors; the RMP master plan is only a draft that will be rewritten after – not before – the supervisors approve the project; while RMP tells its investors it will draw all the big names in auto racing (and hundreds of thousands of spectators), it tells the locals the eight tracks in the project will be almost exclusively for local car clubs, drawing only a few thousand spectators.

The Big Consultants Shuffle. The County recommended a firm it has done a great deal of work with, including the lion’s share of planning for UC Merced. It couldn’t come up with a traffic plan, so RMP replaced them with another firm willing to say there is a traffic plan when there isn’t one.

RMP wrote its investors two years ago the traffic studies are all done by Jan. 2005. At the Nov. 15 public hearing on the project, county Public Works informed the public there was no traffic plan. The RMP traffic consultant agreed: there is no traffic plan beyond waiting to see what roads spectators choose.

On Nov. 28, for the first time, county Public Works informed the people of Delhi, that Shanks Road, El Capitan and Palm were going to be a major thoroughfare for race traffic until two weeks ago, that some county roads would need to be widened, which might call for eminent domain if residents and RMP cannot agree on prices.

Who are RMP’s investors? These people are presumably underwriting a project that will significantly worsen our already severe air pollution, fill our country roads with frequent, periodic traffic jams, and fill our ears with the din of racecar engines. The Merced public has a right to view a full financial disclosure statement on who these people are who are investing in the destruction of our environment – before the supervisors we elected vote to approve this project. The public needs to ask how much RMP investor money will end up in campaign coffers of officials we elect.

Indemnification. The County and RMP have an agreement:

Indemnification and Hold Harmless
Approval of this Project is for the benefit of Applicant. The submittal of applications by Applicant for this Project was a voluntary act on the part of the Applicant not required by the County. Therefore, as a condition of approval of this Project, the Applicant agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of Merced and its agents, officers, employees, advisory agencies, appeal board or legislative body of Merced County (collectively, “County”) from any and all claims, actions and proceedings against the County to attack, set aside, void, or annul an approval by the County concerning the Project occurring as a result of the action or inaction of the County, and for any and all costs, attorneys fees, and damages arising
therefrom (collectively, “Claim”).”

– INDEMNITY AND HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT BETWEEN COUNTY OF MERCED AND RIVERSIDE MOTORSPORTS PARK, LLC, Sept. 12, 2006.

This agreement allows the County to approve this project without taking any responsibility for these new, impacts to our environment added on top of UC Merced and its induced housing boom – air, traffic and noise – because they aren’t liable for legal costs.
However, the County has not yet signed the agreement. nor did they include it in the conditions in the staff report on the project.

Water. A year ago, Board Chairman Mike Nelson misspoke, saying Atwater would supply RMP with potable water. Winton doesn’t have enough water. Water Castle is supplying off-base residents is contaminated. So, where’s the drinking water?

Overweening control of Planning Director.

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

This means that planning director, in concert with RMP, can change the plans for the project any way they want to, unless the public challenges it. In other words, the planning director works from RMP, not for you.

Conflict of interest. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is the land-use authority for all unincorporated land in the county. But, it is also the land-use authority for the former Castle Air Force Base. The RMP project, which adjoins Castle, cannot be approved until the board overrides the noise-zone for the Castle airport established by the airport commission. The board plans to do this on Dec. 12. But, these are two separate actions, both with large consequences to the noise level, and the airport override must be analyzed in the RMP environment impact report. The County did not do that. In fact, there is no analysis on the environmental, public health and safety impacts from this decision. The County is in conflict of interest on these two projects.

Contempt for the public. The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) available until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness. In violation of public access provisions within the California Environmental Quality Act, the public has not been allowed to view the working file of this project without recourse to the state Public Records Act. This is illegal.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure;

OPEN APPEAL TO MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Dear Supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson, Kelsey and O’Banion: November 27, 2006

Thank you, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, for scheduling three town-hall meetings this week to address the immediate impacts that the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park will have on your district. We would ask that supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson and O’Banion also schedule meetings in their districts and listen to their constituents’ concerns about the RMP project.

Town-hall meetings are not formal hearings and we question how much impact they will have. However, the Board of Supervisors has closed the public hearing. At this stage, town-hall meetings appear to be the best way we have to afford citizens the opportunity to participate in the process.

At the close of the public hearing on RMP, there was still no traffic plan. The traffic study that had been done was based on a flawed, deceptive traffic count in the wrong season for either agricultural harvests or auto racing. This is unacceptable to the public.

The RMP project proposes that District 4’s rural two-lane roads be used as highways for thousands of cars to reach the raceway site. The RMP project will negatively impact the roads, environment and public health and safety of other districts as well. Districts 1, 2, and 3 (Livingston, Atwater & Merced) will be impacted by traffic congestion, slowed response by emergency vehicles, noise, and air quality threats of the project.

All residents will be impacted by road deterioration. Our nationally recognized air pollution could ultimately cause the federal government to stop highway funds until we make greater efforts to clean up our air. We will then be asked to raise our taxes to fix the roads because development does not pay its way.

All Merced County residents will be impacted when the Board of Supervisors lowers the standards of our out-dated General Plan to accommodate the RMP project. The Board should not even consider projects with the massive impacts of RMP before it updates the county General Plan.

We request that the Board of Supervisors do the following:

· hold meetings in all the districts and be accountable to those that elected you to represent our County, not developers’ interests;
· re-open the public hearing on RMP, since about 50 people were not able to testify at the last hearing;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review RMP’s and the Planning Department’s responses to public testimony;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review the traffic study, which was not finished at the time of the public hearing.
· not decide on RMP or other large development projects before the County has finished updating its General Plan.

Thank you.
Tom Grave
Merced County- Citizens Against the Raceway

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Write and call your supervisor and tell them to reopen the public hearing and/or deny this project.

Attend Board of Supervisor meetings on Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

Write and call Congressman Cardoza, whose wife is a doctor.

Write and call state Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Paid for by Citizens Against RMP

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Conglomerate bagman flying quietly under the radar

Submitted: Dec 10, 2006

Castle Farms, Toronto-based Brookfield’s stake in Merced County, has a big interest in a vote the Merced County Board of Supervisors will be taking on Dec. 12. If the noise zone of Castle airport is diminished from two miles to one mile, Castle Farms may be able to develop the back part of its property, which it has claimed would be left in open space.

The board is voting on this Castle Aviation and Economic Development issue because, since the Castle joint powers agreement between the County and the cities of Merced and Atwater fell apart, the County has had sole land-use authority over the former airbase. They also have land-use authority over the RMP land, which in unincorporated. So, wearing one hat, supervisors will vote to diminish the noise zone of the Castle airport, and wearing another, they will vote – according to best informed guesses – to approve the racetrack.

Then, the supervisors will sit back and watch the lawsuits fly, knowing they are indemnified by RMP from having to pay legal fees and costs arising from their decision, irresponsible to the environment and public health and safety.

However, from the public point of view, considering the mutually reinforcing negative environmental impacts of the three projects -- the airport, the RMP, and the Castle Farms should be considered one and the same from the viewpoint of the California Environmental Quality Act. Both RMP and Castle Farms plans rely to a significant extent on the decision to reduce the airport’s noise zone. All three of the projects look to one land-use authority, the County. If the CEQA legal term, cumulative impacts, is to retain any meaning in law or policy, the decision to override “for economic reasons” the airport’s 2-mile noise zone will have cumulative impacts from the western part of the City of Merced into an area stretching to the Merced River Corridor, Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, and Delhi because it will pave the way from the RMP project and permit expansion of the Castle Farms project.

A representative of the Canadian financial conglomerate, Brascan, of which Brookfield is a subsidiary and Castle Farms is a project, will be watching the supervisors’ vote on the airport with deep interest.

The Roseville-based conglomerate’s representative is described in the Sacramento business press as a “veteran land-development consultant,” linked with Angelo Tsakopoulos and Eli Broad in projects in Natomas (a major flood plain) and about 6,000 acres west of Roseville. He came to Merced about two years ago and began to show up in all kinds of interesting groups.

In the past year, an entity called Brookfield Castle Del Mar directed $43,000 to the measures A and G campaigns to raise sales taxes to pay for new roads, a direct benefit to Castle Farms and RMP. How much Brookfield money has been directed into the campaign war chests of supervisors is an interesting question.

Toronto-based Brookfield Homes is a subsidiary of the Canadian conglomerate, Brascan. According to the Brookfield website:

Brascan is engaged in the business of asset management with a focus on real estate and power generation. The company’s assets include about 70 office properties in seven major North American cities and London and 120 power generating facilities, primarily located in the northeast. In addition, the company provides a host of management and advisory services, primarily in the real estate sector to corporate and individual clients. Brascan is recognized as a developer of master planned residential communities in both Canada and the United States. The primary operations are real estate, power generation and asset management.

Brascan operates in many areas of the real estate business. The company owns and manages a portfolio of office properties, develops master planned residential communities and offers its clients an array of bridge and mezzanine lending, alternative asset funds and financial and advisory services. The company’s master planned residential community business is conducted under established trade names Brascan, Brookfield Homes and Carma, with operations in six North American markets: California, Virginia, Denver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto and two markets in South America: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brascan also builds homes for sale and develops commercial lands and income properties for investment and sale.

The company has created a platform of alternative asset funds within the real estate sector. The funds managed by the company and its co-investors include: Brascan Real Estate Finance Fund, Brascan Real Estate Opportunity Fund, and the TriContinental Capital Fund. The company also manages the Royal LePage Franchise Services Fund, a royalty fund targeting primarily retail investors … Brascan's asset management activities are focused on alternative investments, including private equity and direct investments in real estate; and energy and resource assets. The asset management business of Brascan has clients which include pension funds, life insurance companies, financial institutions, corporations and high net-worth individuals. In addition, Brascan also develops and manages structured investment products and companies designed to appeal to specific investors including income trusts, split-share companies and asset securitizations. Brascan also manages a number of hedge funds. The company also has investments in privately-held investment management and mutual fund companies that manage equity and fixed income investments.

-- http://www.brookfield.com/

So, on Tuesday, follow the money to discover why the supervisors don’t take the obvious step that would stop the racetrack: voting down the airport noise-zone reduction.

Brookfield is one of the biggest, richest development corporations operating in California. This Canadian assets/real estate/energy conglomerate last year bought Olympia & York, which, until its spectacular collapse in the London commercial real estate market, was the largest development company in the world.

The rumor is that distressed developers with unfinished subdivisions are flocking to the deep pockets represented by the veteran Roseville development consultant.

The benefit to Castle Farms from reducing the airport noise zone may prove once again the ancient political truism: No matter how screwed up and destructive a situation is – politically, economically and environmentally -- it always benefits somebody, usually the guy with the deepest pockets.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

-- Sacramento Business Journal, March 21, 2003

In order to approve the reduction of the airport noise zone and approve the RMP environmental impact report, the supervisors will have to employ something called an “economic override.” In the case of the EIR, they will have to find that economic benefits override 34 “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. But, whose economics are overriding whose? No economic benefits from the project for Merced County are liable to offset the economic disruption to agriculture in the whole region from Highway 99 to the Merced River Corridor and Delhi to west Merced.

Badlands editorial staff
--------------------------

Notes:

10-25-06
Merced Sun-Star
Supervisors override ban on building near airports
...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12933413p-13590023c.html
The Merced County Board of Supervisors issued a preliminary decision Tuesday to override a 2003 finding that plans for the Riverside Motorsports Park conflict with land use rules at Castle Airport. The Airport Land Use Commission ruled three years ago that plans to build the 1,200-acre motorsports venue adjacent to the airport conflict with the county's 1999 Airport Land Use Plan. Specifically, raceway plans conflict with a safety zone rule that bans development within 10,000 feet of an airport runway. Questions over the legitimacy of the commission's finding were raised when the county's Department of Commerce, Aviation and Economic Development began updating Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center's master plan four months ago to reflect new state guidelines on land use near airports. Under the new state guidelines -- on which local airport land use plans are often heavily based -- development is only banned within 6,000 feet of runways...the conflict between raceway plans and airport rules would be eliminated, said John Fowler, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development. "The problem is that the local plan is inconsistent with the state of California's plan," Fowler told the board during Tuesday's meeting. Tuesday's unanimous vote doesn't mean an end to the debate...board's decision kicks off a 45-day comment period during which local, state and federal aviation agencies can give their input on whether the raceway's proximity to Castle poses a risk...board is scheduled to make its final decision to approve or deny plans for the raceway on Dec. 12.

6-3-05
The Wall Street Journal Online
Brookfield Consortium Buys O&Y Portfolio

http://www.realestatejournal.com/propertyreport/office/20050603-heinzl.html
By Mark Heinzl and Ryan Chittum
TORONTO -- A consortium led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Brookfield Properties Corp. agreed to acquire O&Y Properties Corp. and a related real-estate investment trust for about 1.1 billion Canadian dollars (US$880 million).
O&Y Properties' flagship property is Toronto's First Canadian Place, a 72-story office complex in the heart of the city's financial district and home to Bank of Montreal's headquarters. Including liabilities, the value of the transaction is about C$2 billion, Brookfield said.
Brookfield, controlled by Toronto conglomerate Brascan Corp., owns 46 commercial properties, including New York's World Financial Center. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board makes investments on behalf of the country's national pension program…

3-21-03
Sacramento Business Journal
Placer university land gift could net developer hundreds of millions

by Mike McCarthy
http://sacramento.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2003/03/24/story2.html

Borrowing a page from local history could put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of land developer Angelo Tsakopoulos and his investment partners.

Many local real estate players believe that Tsakopoulos is donating land west of Roseville for a Catholic university to help him eventually win development approval for land he controls around the college parcels.

If they are correct and Tsakopoulos gains urban zoning for the agricultural land, he and his partners stand to garner huge profits. Some estimate the value of the land that could be rezoned for home construction could reach $800 million — a 1,094 percent increase from average current values.

Real estate observers are neither shocked nor surprised that Tsakopoulos might donate the land to gain leverage. On the contrary, it is seen as a very smart move, and not at all unusual in the land game.

"That's how the public gets a lot of things, and it's nothing new," said Cameron Doyel, a veteran Sacramento land-development consultant. "There's nothing wrong with the profit motive, if it's a clean deal.”

Locally, the practice of giving land in hopes of improving one's nearby investment dates to the mid-1800s when John Sutter Jr. laid out Sacramento's land plan, including parks to be donated to the city in return for development of surrounding parcels, Doyel said.

Environmentalists resent the Placer County move because it could lead to the development of so much open space, on and even beyond the university land.

"There are environmental considerations," said Al Green, a spokesman for the Sierra Club's Placer Group. "We have to speak for wildlife. It can't speak for itself."

Whether Tsakopoulos' group eventually tries to get the land near the proposed school developed, the aging developer really wants to make a lasting cultural contribution to the Sacramento area in the form of the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, Angelo's son and the spearhead for the project.

"I've been very fortunate in life," added the younger Tsakopoulos. "I'd like to do something really meaningful, so I could look back and say I left this place a little better."

Angelo Tsakopoulos last week announced that he and his associates would donate 600 acres for a university site to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the system that owns Saint Mary's College in Moraga and other colleges around the world. Another 500 nearby acres would be donated to be developed and sold for up to $100 million, and all of the proceeds would go to pay for building the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos.

All of the land is located west of Roseville on land now zoned for agriculture. The younger Tsakopoulos stressed that the donation is not accompanied by any request that additional lands be entitled for development.

If, someday, the landowners decide to seek those entitlements, they will still have to pass muster with local officials, he pointed out. "Something like that would be a long way down the road," added Tsakopoulos, who expects his own company, KT Development Corp., will spend four years or more working to get the donated land approved and ready for construction.

But who's counting? Pundits say Angelo Tsakopoulos, who has tried unsuccessfully in the past to get zoning changed on much of the land, stands to reap a sweet harvest if he can do it this time around, when local developable land is scarce and demand is breaking all records.

He controls more than 6,000 acres of agricultural land in south Placer County, including some 5,400 acres just west of the West Roseville Specific Plan area that the city plans to annex, said Dave Jarrette, a partner and land expert in the Roseville appraisal firm of Giannelli, Jarrette & Waters.

Land like that is now selling for $10,000 to $15,000 an acre, and Tsakopoulos bought much of it for considerably less, said several veterans of the Sacramento land market.

The higher prices are for land closer to Roseville, where the likelihood of urbanization is greater. Figuring an average value of $12,500 an acre, the total current value is around $67 million.

If Placer County rezoned the land for residential development, the value would instantly skyrocket to about $60,000 per acre, estimated experts in the land business.

Tsakopoulos would not likely be able to get zoning for home construction on all of the acreage, however. From one-third to 40 percent of the land would likely be for schools, parks and other nondevelopment uses. More would be used to preserve wildlife habitat.

But if Tsakopoulos were able to win rezoning for only 2,000 acres, not counting the 1,100 acres of university land — a reasonable possibility — the value would be some $120 million. That's a 79 percent increase.

If he won the next level of approvals, the creation of tentative maps for parcels, the value would shoot to $150,000 per acre for a total of $300 million, estimated veterans of the land game.

If he took the project further, developing the infrastructure and "finishing" parcels so they are ready to build houses on, he could get at least $400,000 per acre — $800 million in today's dollars.

All of these calculations are based on the observers' estimates of current land value — $67 million. Most of the pundits figure Tsakopoulos and his partners bought or optioned the land for about $2,500 an acre — a normal value for agricultural land, reflecting an investment of less than $14 million.

Should the land be declared permanent open space, the value would probably drop back to that basic, agricultural amount.

At least one professional estimated Tsakopoulos would need to pump another $12 million into getting the land entitled. He surely has already invested millions in the land, including his purchase price of the land and any mortgage payments he may have. But it seems likely that the increase in value would more than compensate for his expense, they said.

A land developer's view: Tsakopoulos' huge landholding west of Roseville runs from the 3,100-acre West Roseville Specific Plan, which Roseville is about to annex, westward to the Sutter County line, Jarrette said.

The stretch runs about four miles east to west and approximately the same distance north to south at its widest point.

The tract is clearly in the path of growth.

On the east, Roseville is annexing toward the Tsakopoulos holdings. To the south, Placer County is processing development approval for the 5,200-acre Placer Vineyards area, in which Tsakopoulos is a major landowner. Just south and west of Placer Vineyards, Sacramento County is processing large tracts for development near Elverta and east of Interstate 5 near Sacramento International Airport. To the west, Sutter County is pushing to develop a huge industrial park.

The combination of these with the Tsakopoulos land would create a new urban corridor between Roseville and the airport.

On top of that, Placer County is planning to build Placer Parkway, an expressway that would connect Highway 65 to Highway 99/70 near the airport. The route would likely pass through Tsakopoulos' land, just north of the future university site.

From a land developer's perspective, the scenario means the land in west Placer is a natural for urban zoning. "It will all fill in someday," said one prominent land expert who asked not to be named.

But there are obstacles. For one, Placer County in 1994 declared the whole area out of bounds to development. Also, the Placer Parkway proposal includes no offramps — a move intended to inhibit growth along the expressway, said Terry Davis, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

And a Placer County committee working to create a huge habitat preserve in the west county sees the Tsakopoulos land, rich in habitat, as a prime candidate to be part of the preserve, he added.

Strategic maneuvering: Tsakopoulos' donation is seen by many as a business strategy that accomplishes several ends for him, beyond the philanthropic contribution.

First and foremost, observers generally expect that the gift of higher education will prompt the county to ease its development restrictions on Tsakopoulos' surrounding land. The gift of the additional 500 acres to fund the university simply makes the idea of zoning the land for development even more compelling for authorities.

Also helping Tsakopoulos, the university land would need public works infrastructure if the county wants to see the university developed. That means lines for electricity, water and wastewater, as well as roads, would have to be built there. This infrastructure in turn would make it easier to develop his adjacent land.

Moreover, the university land is close to the likely route for the Placer Parkway, putting enormous pressure on the county to create one or more connections from the parkway to serve the university, Davis noted. An interchange on the parkway also would make it easier to develop adjacent land.

If the donation ultimately leads to development approval for the balance of Tsakopoulos' land, the likelihood that his land would be used for a habitat area is reduced, Davis said.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

10-14-06
Merced Sun-Star
Smoother roads ahead?
...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12897397p-13556945c.html
Measure G...For the third time in four years, voters will be asked to support a sales tax increase for road improvements...needs approval from 66.7 percent of voters to pass, debuted in November 2002 as Measure M. It failed, earning 61 percent of the vote. In June 2006 it was reborn as Measure A and garnered 63 percent of the vote, falling 795 votes shy of winning. Just five months later, it's back as Measure G. But with each failure, the voices of those opposed to the measure have grown louder. While there is no organized campaign against Measure G, grumblings from the Letters to the Editor section of the Sun-Star show the battle to finally pass the measure is far from over. If it passes, Measure G will hike the sales tax in the city of Merced to 8.25 percent -- within spitting distance of San Francisco's 8.5 percent -- for the next 30 years...would generate $446 million to help fund transportation projects countywide, from reconstructing Livingston's Main Street to building a new Bradley Overhead. Half the money would go to road maintenance. Kelsey said a Caltrans representative told the county earlier this week that if the governor's infrastructure bond measure passes and Merced achieves self-help status with Measure G, the county will be eligible for funding to widen Highway 99 from the Stanislaus County line to Livingston. The measure's most prominent critic is Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat running for Assembly against Republican Gerry Machado...said the statewide transportation bond measure on the November ballot will provide funding for Merced County roads...noted that the transportation bond will set aside $614 million for eight Central Valley counties in addition to the $1 billion earmarked for widening Highway 99. William Stockard, a retired superintendent of Merced County schools, said Measure G only benefits developers and other businesses like the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park and the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center that "want to get free money."...said the county should cover the cost of road maintenance by charging developers higher impact fees when they build here. Charles Magneson, a farmer near Ballico-Cressey, said he's opposed to Measure G because some of the projects it would fund will create sprawl and eat up farmland..."(Measure G is) heavily funded by developers that are looking for those roads to encroach on farmland to make their developments possible." In June, fliers denouncing Measure A as "welfare subsidies for the Building Industry Association" appeared in the Sun-Star three days before the election. Measure G campaign has tweaked its strategy...raised about $200,000...with the large contributions from donors like developer Brookfield Castle LLC, Del Mar; construction company Teichert & Son, Sacramento; Foster Farms, Livingston; E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto; K. Hovanian Forecast Homes, Sacramento; Wellington Corporation, Morgan Hill; Team 31, inc., Morgan Hill; Atwater East Investors, Danville; and Ferraire Investment Company; Balico...endorsements from Rep. Dennis Cardoza, all three Merced chambers of commerce, five county newspapers including the Sun-Star, the entire County Board of Supervisors and the entire Merced City Council. If it doesn't win, Measure G could come back, but by law supporters would have to wait until the November 2008 election.

10-23-06
Badlandsjournal.com
Re: Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project- PH #2-10:00am

For more background on the airport noise-zone issue, see this letter of comment from San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW) to the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

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Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

The Riverside Motorsports Park/Merced County government pitch for a world-class motor sports facility met a political pitchfork from the nation’s second-largest dairy county on Dec. 5, at the county Board of Supervisors public comment period.

In a short, prepared address concluding the comment period, board Chairman Mike Nelson abused a privileged moment by attacking the public. Nelson’s pitch was that the “leadership of the opposition to the racetrack” had a right to its opinion, but RMP also had a right to its opinion.

In fact, RMP’s position is clearly stated in the environmental review process. The purpose of the environmental review process is to get everybody else’s concerns about a project, not just its proponent’s opinions.

This opponent leadership is always “the same people,” Nelson told the public.

In fact, public opposition to this project is growing by the day as it finds out more about the project and its flaws.

Nelson said, “these same people” time and time again, “try to CEQA projects to death.” They don’t like any projects, he said. In Nelson’s opinion, these leaders of the opponents to the RMP are just a bunch a “NIMBYs.”

“Rarely do we hear any alternatives or mitigation measures proposed” by the leaders of the opponents, he said. “But these people don’t speak for the public,” he said, alleging that a poll taken in Atwater showed a majority of its citizens in favor of the track, located at a site adjoining Atwater.

Members of the audience asked Nelson if they could discuss his claims with him.

“No,” Nelson said, gaveling an end to the morning session, prolonged by almost two hours of 5-minute public comments, a time limit rigidly enforced by Nelson.

To say that the opposition is being led by anybody is a factually challenged statement, but characteristic of the Merced County government, entitled as always to its opinion.

Members of the public against the project weren’t stating opinions but were giving their best analysis of basic, drastic facts. The newest angle on the traffic problem came from dairy families and a custom farmer in the district where, RMP traffic consultants anticipate, possibly four days a week, narrow country roads will be jammed with the cars of concert and race spectators. This will interfere with tight harvest and post-harvest handling schedules, particularly in corn, most of which is harvested about the same time. The possibility of traffic jams interfering with harvest schedules quickly turns to the quantity and quality of dairy feed. Presently, dairies are into months of production below cost, which heightens dairymen’s concerns about all costs, and the quantity and quality of their feed. Jamming narrow country roads with out-of-town auto-racing spectators is a threat to the whole region’s agricultural system, which needs those roads for dairy trucks, tractors, harvesting equipment and feed trucks. And that threat doesn’t include the issue of delayed emergency services, which already take a half an hour.

Farmers and ranchers have had to comply with ever-changing environmental regulations on the parts of their operations that pollute air and water. They look at the RMP environmental impact report and see 34 “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts,” and say if regulation is good for agriculture, it is also good for the motor sports industry, at least in Merced, one of the nation’s premiere agricultural counties.

One dairyman said that if it took six years to get the project right, he urged the board to take the six years if necessary. In fact, farming operations have had to wait as long as six years to get environmental compliance. He added that the board will regain the trust of its constituents by taking the time to do it right, rather than losing the trust of the people doing it the way they are doing it.

You might be able to get away with saying, “So-and-so is an eminent leader, and has long been widely recognized in his business domain.” But if you put those two words side-by-side and speak the term, eminent domain, people become justifiably alarmed. Why the secrecy? That should have been part in the environmental review process. Why was this possibility on certain old, narrow country roads only made known to the public after the public hearing on the environmental review was closed?

Nelson ended his prepared address by noting correctly that none of the testimony at Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s town hall meetings had any legal force because the public hearing on the RMP environmental review has been closed. In reply to a question on that point at her Delhi town hall meeting, Kelsey said that she could gather new information and inform the supervisors in their discussion of the issue when it comes up for a vote. However, important new information that came out of the meetings from county staff, not from the public.

Everything about this project has the appearance of underhanded dealing for the benefit of special interests. In one commission of bureaucratic slight-of-hand, there will be two votes on the zoning changes and the General Plan amendment necessary to approve the EIR, one expressing “intent” to approve on Dec. 12, the other to approve, on Dec. 19. In another act of tricky dealing, the board will take a crucial vote on the Castle airport noise zone on Dec. 12, without which the RMP project cannot move forward. Some members of the public have already publicly argued for the administrative record in the public hearing that the Castle airport must be a part of the RMP environmental review. Dealing with it the way it is doing, the County is fragmenting and piecemealing the environmental review process.

Experienced observers of Merced County government notice that this sort of bureaucratic trickery reinforces the public opinion that this government is either incompetent, corrupt or both. The learned “experts” on the staff arise and “explain” to the public their ridiculous bureaucratic shenanigans as if they were the latest thing in good planning.

Meanwhile, in the backroom, a select group of representatives of broad-based public organizations receive doses of political cynicism and political impotence from supervisors. It all boils down to the same message: “We are the government. You are the public. We work for special interests. We and special interests win. The public and the Public Trust lose.”

Yet another act of bureaucratic trickery is the indemnification agreement between the County and RMP, which commits RMP to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits the public might bring against the project. In response to a public request to view the indemnification agreement, the County produced an agreement, signed by RMP but unsigned by the County. Approval of the RMP indemnification agreement is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Dec. 12.

The Castle airport issue is another bureaucratic hinky wrinkle in the public process. The last we heard, it needed a 4-1 vote to pass. Without it, the RMP project is stopped. It is an intrinsic part of the RMP project that is not considered in the RMP environmental review. Will Kelsey, the hero de jour, stand up for proper public process and vote against it? Will she get another vote against it?

With one stunning exception, important new information has not come from the public from the town hall meetings in either Ballico, Delhi, Winton or the Merced River Corridor. The new information, mainly about anticipated traffic patterns and the eminent domain problem, came from county staff at the town hall meetings. However, the claim by opponents of the project that neither county staff nor project consultants had considered the number of schools located on those narrow country roads is genuinely new, important information concerning the health and safety of children, apart from the broader issue of increased air pollution.

So, where does that leave the public, which Nelson says the opponents of the project cannot speak for, and the project? The California Environmental Quality Act is state law and lays out a procedure for making and voting on EIRs. That procedure includes a public hearing period. The board held one public hearing two weeks ago. Nelson is right: the town hall meetings and the Dec. 5 public-comment period testimony don’t matter for the purposes of CEQA..

It’s clear that public debate is opening up new questions and new information. Yet the public hearing under CEQA is closed. There is an adequate amount of factual information in the official record for the supervisors to reopen the public hearing.

“Time plus integrity produces answers,” one member of the public told the supervisors.

Nelson appeared to be running a campaign for himself rather than chairing a county board of supervisors on a serious issue about a project whose environmental and economic studies are very far from adequate to describe its impacts. Yet, he speaks for the board, identifying a conspiracy of environmental radicals behind every member of the public getting up to express her or his anxiety and anger about the RMP project.

The apparent critic of the project on the board, Kelsey, may be providing toothless forums in her districts for people with serious concerns about RMP impacts, but she is hardly a leader of opposition to the project. If she were, she would not be publicly claiming whenever and wherever possible that she hasn’t made her mind up how she will vote. And she would have moved to keep the public hearing open before it was closed. In fact, the public needs to be very careful about Kelsey, because what we might be seeing here is merely political rivalry between two Republicans seeking higher office jerking around public concerns.

One member of the public chastised Nelson for being rude to a previous speaker. Nelson replied coldly that his comment had been noted.

Where were the other supervisors today? Why weren’t they stepping up and defending the public process? Where is Congressman Cardoza or his staff, state Sen. Jeff Denham or Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani or Matthews or their staffs? The public process by which these massive, environmentally destructive development projects are rubber-stamped in Merced County is broken. It needs the defense of elected officials. It does not need their continual offense.

And, speaking of giving offense to the public process, we include Chairman Nelson’s concluding remarks:

There have been many well meaning, well intentioned leaders of the opposition to the RMP project. I’ve talked to many of them. While we always don’t agree on things (sic) , I have been open to suggestions that they have made. But, just as they have a right to their opinions, the project proponents have a right to their opinions as well.

In my four years on this board, many projects have been proposed. Opponents of this project are many of the same faces we have seen time and time again – those who continually attempt to CEQA projects to death.

You know, CEQA was meant to identify and address environmental concerns. This has been done. The problem appears to me, however, that members of the opposition just don’t like the answers.

I continually hear, “We’re not against racing but the location is wrong,” in essence, “Not In My Back Yard!”

Well, the same can be said for a host of other projects: UC Merced, the UC Community, various housing projects. The list goes on and on.

Rarely do we hear alternatives or mitigations being proposed, other than, “Don’t build it!”

I also keep hearing that many opponents in this audience speak for “the public.”

This is simply not true, at least in District 3.

There was a survey taken back this past spring. Sixty percent of those surveyed were in favor of the project.

The recent call for town hall meetings may be appropriate, however, only with the understanding that public hearings have already been closed on this matter. And, I might point out that there have been many opportunities provided the public to find out about this project.

Next week’s meeting will be a challenge, no doubt. I just hope that the opponents will consider that their opinions are not the only ones that matter.

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.
---------------------------

To which, some members of the public reply:

· Nelson and the other supervisors refused to meet with members of the public opposed to the RMP project before the close of the public hearing. Afterwards, town hall meetings were held and supervisors met with known opponents. So what?

· Members of the audience were in many instances not offering opinions but responsible estimates (far more realistic and better informed than the project environmental traffic analysis), based on intimate experience with the transportation system, schools and agricultural schedule of the Delhi-Amsterdam-Winton-Merced River Corridor area. People who made written and oral comments to the RMP environmental review used facts, not opinions, to make their arguments.

· Most of the Merced public has not been involved in any CEQA arguments about development projects in Merced County. There are many new faces among the opponents to the RMP project. (Mr. Nelson is beginning his old rightwing war whoop here -- environmentalist-bashing.)

· An environmental review that leaves 34 environmental impacts “significant and unavoidable” glances at environmental issues; it does not address them.

· To the charge of “Not In My Back Yard,” or “NIMBYism,” one must reply: You bet we are trying to defend our backyard against the corrupt influence of special interests on you and the board. That corrupt influence is ruinous to our air and water quality, our road system, our agricultural operations and our natural resources. It is also dangerous to children.

· CEQA does not require the public to do analysis, mitigation, be experts, or offer alternatives.

· The 60-percent of Atwater residents Nelson alleges were in favor of the RMP project weren’t informed in the survey that the County would invoke eminent domain to widen country roads into Atwater to facilitate traffic from Delhi. They weren’t informed that there was no traffic study. They weren’t informed of the number of schools on those routes. They weren’t asked for their approval of the project despite the disruption it would cause normal agricultural operations in the area. The survey wasn’t included in the RMP environmental review. Who wrote the survey and who conducted it?

· The public has been and is standing, and will stand before the board on this project, the next project, and “on and on.”

· They do have legal standing to bring suits on behalf of the public for County noncompliance with environmental law. Most of the people who submitted written and oral testimony during this meeting, town hall meetings and public hearings on this project, represent themselves, their neighbors and their groups. Most of them could prove harm and adverse impacts from this project within the meaning of a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The same is true for regulatory agencies and staff.

· Mr. Chairman, you may be so narrowly focused on special interests that you cannot listen to public concerns that differ from your views. In lieu of so much as a peep out of them, the public assumes you speak for the rest of the supervisors as well, including Kelsey sitting on her fence. No supervisor objected to your offensive oration after the public spent two hours trying to explain, with facts, the major problems with a motorsports park at that location. No supervisor intervened to protect members of the public from your rudeness and unprofessional conduct during the public comment period. You are the politically incompetent chairman of a politically incompetent board and the Merced public is finding your individual and collective incompetence unacceptable dangers to environmental public health and safety. You have broken public due process in this county.

· In the case of development projects, law, at the Merced County Board of Supervisors, boils down to one area: indemnification and hold harmless agreements that commit the developer to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits brought by the public against abuse of state and federal environmental laws and public process by the County, on behalf of those indemnifying the County. In Merced County, these agreements are being used routinely by local land-use authorities as licenses for environmentally and, in some instances, economically irresponsible land-use decisions. In general, indemnification is a formality because few members of the Merced public have the intestinal fortitude to endure a lawsuit (always accompanied by vilification from public officials, staff and local businessmen).

· You lectured the public who took time off from busy working schedules to come and sincerely tell you their concerns with this project. You use your privileged moment as an opportunity to give them an ideological whipping. You expect us to tolerate political thuggery.

· Mr. Chairman, you are a bully. You are bringing all the contempt for the public in the backroom – from the Planning Department, County Counsel, special interest consultants, supervisors, the offices of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, adjoining your offices – into the board chambers in public session. But the public – concerned, thoughtful, factual – won’t go away just because you choose to trample on the laws and regulations of public process and call the public politically dirty names. The public won’t disappear just because a set of county supervisors chooses to ignore it. The offices you hold and the local land-use authority you have won’t disappear just because you abuse the authority of your office on behalf of special interests rather than in the public interest.

Badlands editorial staff

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Comments on Measure G

Submitted: Nov 04, 2006

Members of the public concerned that Merced County and Merced County Association of Governments immediately recycled Measure A as Measure G after the Primary Election defeat of Measure A, tried repeated times, via California Public Records Act requests, to obtain accurate, complete information about Measure G. Errors and inconsistencies appeared in both the County sample ballot and Measure G Voter Information Pamphlet.

Without the opportunity to view the documents before they were published, the public was unable to spot the errors and advise the County of them. Although officials made themselves available, they did not make most of the requested material available, critics of Measure G said Saturday.

The Measure G Voter Information Pamphlet, for example, calls the measure a "1/2-cent" tax on one page and a "1/2-percent" tax on another. Which is it: a half-cent sales tax per transaction or a half-percent per dollar sales tax on all transactions? local activists asked.

This is misleading "information." If it was not deliberately misleading, the public might have provided a helpful review of this propaganda-as-information before it was sent to every registered voter in the county between Oct. 10 and Oct. 16.

The publicly funded Measure G "information" pamphlet, printed to look exactly like a sample ballot pamphlet, also informs the public that the tax will start on "Oct. 1, 2006." If Merced County retailers, going into the Christmas season, had been allowed to review this document, they would probably have objected to this retroactive, probably illegal tax, critics of Measure G noted.

Members of the public also expressed concern about the accounting of campaign
contributions for measures A and G, which appear to commingle funds from both campaigns. Measure A failed in the Primary. Measure G is a different campaign by a different name in the General Election. Yet, local researchers found, the County recorded contributions to both campaigns as one campaign fund. This may be yet another irregularity in Merced County elections administration.

Another irregularity critics point out is that MCAG or the County or both of them have appointed a citizens oversight committee to monitor the spending of Measure G funds before the citizens have even voted on Measure G, which may or may not be the same as Measure A, but no one is quite sure because neither the County or MCAG have released the actual text of Measure G to the public for review. By the way, neither proponents nor opponents of Measure G, whose comments are printed in the sample ballot, were allowed to see the official text of Measure G, on which they commented.

The public is also concerned about the accounting of campaign contributions for
measures A and G. These funds appear to be commingled. It is understandable that if a candidate wins a primary election or gets enough votes to gain a runoff, campaign finance accounting could roll over the amounts into the general election period.

However, critics are concerned that, since Measure A was defeated in the primary election, accounting that presents cumulative contribution amounts in Measure G accounts that include Measure A contributions is irregular.

Critics of the county planning process are also concerned about a transportation plan promoted by the Merced County Association of Governments that is separate and unrelated to the proposed update to the county General Plan and numerous city and community plan updates now in progress. It looks like whenever lawful planning processes threaten, developers in Merced just pile on another layer of plans and more taxes on the people.

On Friday, the federal court ruled to bar certification of the elections in four Merced cities due to violations of the Voting Rights Act. County elections irregularities appear to be multiplying. Meanwhile, Rep. Dennis Cardoza sits on the third floor of the Merced County Administration building, presumably mulling his economic options as the County administration crumbles beneath his feet, noted one critic of government in Merced County.

Critics of Measure G speculated that the campaign for Measure G might achieve $1 million in campaign funding. However, the public will not know until the last campaign finance period is reported, well after the General Election.

Measure G remains a regressive tax: an increase on sales tax that will fall hardest on the poorest for the benefit of the richest.

Bill Hatch

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Pathogen update

Submitted: Sep 21, 2006

The UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is on the short list to play host to the most dangerous type of biological warfare laboratory in the United States. It is seeking to locate the level 4 lab just outside the city limits of Tracy.

Tracy is the hereditary capital of that area composed of the adjoining congressional districts of RichPAC Pombo, Whale Slayer-Tracy, and Dennis Cardoza, Polar Bear Slayer-Merced, called in these pages, Pombozastan.

The general idea -- if it reaches the level of an idea -- of local, state and federal
government in Pombozastan is to urbanize as much farm and ranch land as possible, rendering the environment toxic in the process. But, the level-4 biowarfare lab is a twist worthy the Chairman Himself, Pombo, who heads the House Resources Committee, guiding it with fervent pre-World War II faith in the infinity of land and natural resources, and the infinite capacity of the globe to stay cool and the air to cleanse itself.

One Tracy city councilwoman tried to get the rest of the council to vote on the issue earlier this week. The mayor adroitly deflected the issue to a 9-member committee called Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond. One possible interpretation of "Beyond" was mentioned by a former UC/LLNL supervisor: “If an animal with a level 4 pathogen ever got loose, the entire valley would be gone, not just Tracy.”

A typical level-4 pathogen is Ebola Zaire, which rapidly turns its victims' organs into slime, producing a high percentage of mortality. Moreover, there doesn't seem to be a cure for Ebola at present.

All Valley residents should feel safer now, knowing the decision will be made by the wise, far-seeing Tracy Tomorrow and Beyond Committee. But somehow, not all of us do feel safer. UC/LLNL flaksters insist that there is no example of the most lethal pathogens ever escaping a biowarfare lab. Supposing that there had been an escape at some point, we also suppose it would have been a matter of the highest national security not to reveal it, for fear of making the public nervous or worse.

The American public is generally aware that the Bush administration is promoting the redesign and upgrade of the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world, ours, and is also promoting development of a new generation of biowarfare weapons, necessary for development of antidotes to protect the public in case of biological attack. What remains murky, however, is the testing of the weapons and the defenses against them on the American public.

Particularly murky is the issue of consent to be tested.

Heather Wokusch, author of The Progressives’ Handbook: Get the Facts and Make a Difference Now (Volume I), explained to readers of Commondreams.com this morning:

There’s a tricky clause in Chapter 32/Title 50 of the United States Code (the aggregation of US general and permanent laws). Specifically, Section 1520a lists the following cases in which the Secretary of Defense can conduct a chemical or biological agent test or experiment on humans if informed consent has been obtained:

(1) Any peaceful purpose that is related to a medical, therapeutic, pharmaceutical, agricultural, industrial, or research activity.

(2) Any purpose that is directly related to protection against toxic chemicals or
biological weapons and agents.

(3) Any law enforcement purpose, including any purpose related to riot control.

The definition is a little too open-ended for comfort; apparently there are a lot of
circumstances under which the Secretary of Defense can test chemical or biological agents on human beings, but at least informed consent has to be obtained in advance.

Or does it. Get a load of Section 1515, another part of Chapter 32, this one entitled "Suspension; Presidential authorization": After November 19, 1969, the operation of this chapter, or any portion thereof, may be suspended by the President during the period of any war declared by Congress and during the period of any national emergency declared by Congress or by the President.

You got it. If the President or Congress decides we’re at war then the Secretary of
Defense doesn’t need anybody’s consent to test chemical or biological agents on human beings. Gives one pause during these days of a perpetual "war on terror."

It’s not a stretch to wonder what kind of clandestine WMD tests the Defense Department could be conducting in the US right now, on military or civilian populations, without consent, let alone on populations abroad.

Nov. 19, 1969 -- Nixon remains among us.

It's probably just a coincidence, but ...

Normally, people of some agricultural experience would look at the statements of the federal government and the press concerning the outbreak of E. Coli as merely more of the laughable and witless distraction we have come to expect from an administration, one of whose most subtle, effective forms of domestic terrorism is absurd utterance.

Otherwise, we can look at it as the inevitable result of the corporate vegetable deal, setting aside for a moment the question of why lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers and green onions grown in the Salinas and San Benito valleys somehow escaped suspicion.

Earthbound Farms, the suspected producer of the tainted spinach, claims
to farm 26,000 acres, all or most of it in organic vegetables for the fresh market. It also claims to employ more than 1,000 people. Earthbound is reported to have sales of $500 million in 2006, a dramatic increase from a reported $156 million in 2004.

From this information, the public would not be illogical to assume that the corporation, probably together with the largest distributors in that trade, have dispatched to Washington DC a phalanx of expensive attorneys of impeccable reputation and deep personal relationships with members of the administration. Perhaps the lettuce growers also have sent some legal representatives to the capital to make damn sure none of this wipes off on them. There, they are no doubt meeting with officials of the Food and Drug Administration, the agency whose corruption has turned the entire American public into unwitting guinea pigs for the biotechnology industry and has done severe damage to American growers in some international grain markets. Together, they are pointing
fingers here, there, and everywhere, in order to evade liability.

In short, common sense and experience would suggest a medium-sized fix is in -- nothing as big as Mad Cow Disease, but a serious corporate effort at damage control. However, who really knows these days?

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

References:

Rumsfeld’s Guinea Pigs: US Citizens at Risk for Military-Weapons Testing
by Heather Wokusch
CommonDreams.org - Sept. 21, 2006
http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0920-31.htm

Discuss bio-lab's pluses, minuses...Our View
http://tracypress.com/content/view/4166/2/
Tracy residents know where City Councilwoman Irene Sundberg stands on the proposed federal Biosafety Level 4 laboratory in Corral Hollow Canyon...she has the issue in the public forum, and it is important that all voices are heard. Some say the bio-lab would bring 300 research scientists and other new jobs to the area. But others say locating the lab here is risky - or, as one former LLNL supervisor cautioned, “If an animal with a level 4 pathogen ever got loose, the entire valley would be gone, not just Tracy.”
BioSafety Level 4 is the highest level of containment for biological organisms. Not located in populated areas Wrong. Level 4 labs are in Atlanta and San Antonio and on Plum Island, off the New York and Connecticut coast. There have been no reports of a pathogen ever escaping such labs. We urge all the council members to learn the facts about the proposed bio-lab, listen to the citizens and make an informed judgment...

Under the microscope...John Upton
http://tracypress.com/content/view/4203/2/
The same nine-citizen committee that helped plan Tracy’s soon-to-be-built aquatics park will review a University of California proposal to build an anti-biological terrorism laboratory near Tracy. Mayor Dan Bilbrey referred the proposal to the City Council-appointed Tracy Tomorrow & Beyond Committee during a public discussion Tuesday night. The discussion heard from six Tracy residents, four City Council members and a public affairs representative from the university, which has been short-listed to run the laboratory at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories’ Site 300. University spokeswoman Susan Houghton said the Department of Homeland Security would call for public comment and thoroughly investigate the site if it is included in six finalist
sites this fall. “There is a very good chance the University of California’s proposal
will not make that list, but if it does we will engage (the community), as will all
entities,” Houghton said. “All the questions that have been raised tonight are really very good ones, and they’re questions that the Department of Homeland Security needs to address.” Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert...“You can love this country deeply and not always have to trust your government — it’s the duty of being an American”...

UC regents vote to bid for Livermore contract...Michelle Locke, AP
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2006/09/20/state/n100606D58.DTL&type=printable
Leaders of the University of California took a step toward solidifying their role as
national nuclear steward Wednesday, voting to put in a bid to continue running the Lawrence Livermore weapons lab...expected to be ratified by the full board Thursday, comes nine months after UC successfully bid to keep running the Los Alamos nuclear lab in New Mexico. UC in partnership with engineering expert Bechtel Corp. won the Los Alamos competition last December, beating out a team of the University of Texas and defense contractor Lockheed Martin.The 10-campus UC system will partner with Bechtel in its bid for Livermore.

E. Coli Pervades Harvest Area; Salinas Valley waterways are known to carry the bacteria that poisoned at least 145 people and killed one who ate tainted spinach
Los Angeles Times – 9/21/06
By Marla Cone
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-water21sep21,0,2311007.story?coll=la-home-headlines
The bacterium that has sickened people across the nation and forced growers to destroy spinach crops is so pervasive in the Salinas Valley that virtually every waterway there violates national standards.
"There are many sources of water coming into the watershed, and I guarantee you that they all have generic E. coli," and many carry the deadly E. coli strain linked to food poisonings, said Christopher Rose, an environmental scientist at the state's Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which tests the region's waterways...

Earthbound Farms: http://www.ebfarm.com/About/EarthboundInnovations.aspx

Live Oak native’s work found in kitchens all over the US
Suwannee Democrat-Sept. 12, 2006
http://www.suwanneedemocrat.com/suwannee/local_story_255165107.html?keyword=topstory
...With the explosion of growth in organic foods, even Wal-Mart has jumped on board. Sweat has steadily guided Earthbound Farm's sales from $50 million in 1998 to $500 million in 2006...

Nutrition Business Journal: January 2005: NBJ's Business Achievement Awards & Executive ReviewBronze: Earthbound Farm for expanding organic sales by 28%. ... 30, 2004, gross sales were $165 million or 56.5% higher than the same period in 2003. ...
nbj.stores.yahoo.net/ja20nbbuacaw.html - 46k

Monterey Herald
Ire over plan's ag land proposal...Larry Parsons
http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/local/15571138.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp
A proposal to offset the future loss of Monterey County farmland to development in the proposed county general plan provoked heated protests Wednesday before county planning commissioners. Another proposal to require water-quality tests on new agricultural wells in the draft general plan -- a 20-year growth blueprint for unincorporated areas -- also hit sore points with members of the public and some commissioners. Christopher Bunn Jr., a farm industry spokesman, said the proposal to require farmland developers to preserve twice as much farmland elsewhere in the county "is particularly designed to send a
farmer's blood pressure up." County planners said the farmland-protection measure was suggested as a means of mitigating the inevitable loss of important farmland to development during the next 20 years. Commissioners suggested changes that would make the program an option, rather than a requirement, to move ahead with a farmland-conversion project...critics said, the proposal would increase land and housing costs and prove very expensive to developers seeking to acquire farmland conservation easements from a shrinking pool of farmland owners willing to sell development rights.
The Planning Commission is in the midst of reviewing the draft general plan -- the
fourth land-use blueprint produced by the county during a seven-year, politically charged debate over rural growth...

The Three Mile Island of Biotech?
John Nichols
The Nation -- Dec. 12, 2002
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20021230/nichols

... According to research by the ACGA, US corn farmers have already lost more than $814 million in foreign sales over the past five years as a result of restrictions on genetically modified food imports imposed by Europe, Japan and other countries.

"When it comes to what is being proposed, and what is actually happening with regard to genetic modification of food crops, we're absolutely navigating uncharted waters at a high rate of speed. And we're being pushed to speed up by people with dollar signs in their eyes and no concern whatsoever for farmers or consumers," says Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen. "There may be a television program here or an article there about what's happening, but I don't think most Americans have any idea of the extent to which things have been pushed forward without the kind of research and precautions that ordinary common sense would demand." ...

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Historic settlement on the San Joaquin River

Submitted: Sep 13, 2006

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Friant Water Users Authority reached an unprecedented settlement agreement Wednesday to restore the flow of the San Joaquin River. NRDC, representing a number of local, state and federal environmental groups, and the FWUA had been at war in court for 18 years.

"Bringing the San Joaquin River back to life will be one of the greatest restoration projects ever undertaken in the United States,” said Peter Moyle, professor of Fisheries biology at UC Davis.

A 60-miles stretch of the river in western Fresno County has been dry since the dam was built in the late 1940s due to irrigation diversions south in the Friant-Kern Canal and north in the Madera Canal.

The settlement agreement documents were handed at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to the court of Judge Stanley Karlton, United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division.

It is anticipated that the increased flows to the river will be enough to provide for both spring and fall runs of Chinook salmon. Before the Friant Dam was constructed, creating Lake Millerton at the base of the Sierra foothills east of the City of Fresno, the San Joaquin River was the southernmost range of the Chinook.

“As a farmer who grew up on the San Joaquin River, I know that salmon and farming can coexist-I’ve seen it,” said Walt Shubin, Fresno County raisin farmer.

Between now and 2026, between 15-20 percent of the water formerly flowing to long-term Friant irrigators will go to restoring the river. A number of financial devises, which the settlement agreement suggests in draft federal legislation should be under the control of the secretary of the Department of Interior, will pay for restoration of the river channel and flood control downstream of the Friant Dam. Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, chairman of the House Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water and Power, has already scheduled in hearing to hear this suggested legislation. Both sides expressed optimism Wednesday that the House could pass it before the end of the year. According to the settlement, the agreement is void-able if the resources committee – chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy – does not approve the bill.

Kole Upton, representing the 15,000 farmers on about one million acres and a number of towns in FWUA, already experienced in conjunctive use techniques, expressed optimism that the irrigators would find the right combination of recirculation, recapture, reuse and exchange or transfer programs to continue farming. He said the irrigators needed certainty about the amounts of water they would receive, which the settlement gives them.

The settlement proposes that about $11 million per year in fees currently paid by the irrigators will be dedicated to river improvement; the proposed legislation (part of the agreement) could produce an additional $250 million in federal funds, either through bonding, guaranteed loans or other financing. The settlement also anticipates financial participation by the state of California. Greg Wilkerson, attorney for FWUA, said the $5.4 billion Clean Water and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 (Prop. 84) contains $100 million earmarked for San Joaquin River restoration.

After the press conference, Hal Candee, lead attorney for NRDC, released an orphaned Red-Tailed Hawk, raised by the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center before a crowd of about 50 people from the media and parties to the lawsuit.

What people are saying about the settlement agreement:

Restoring the San Joaquin River will benefit salmon and numerous other native wildlife species and it will improve the natural habitat along much of the river. It will also improve the quality of life for Valley residents and provide recreational opportunities. – Lydia Miller, president, San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

… Over 150 mile4s of river will once again provide vital habitat for not only salmon but for a wide array of other nativ3 fish, plants and wildlife. Restoring one of California’s long lost salmon runs will be strong symbol of our willingness to make California a better place for both wildlife and people. I also anticipate that restoring flows to the river will have a positive effect on the Delta, an ecosystem in crisis. This monumental restoration effort could not come at a better time. – Peter Moyle, professor of fisheries biology, UC Davis.

Over the past century, West Coast salmon rivers have been devastated by water development and other activities. This agreement provides salmon fishermen with a ray of hope. A restored San Joaquin River will literally bring back to life one of California’s greatest salmon rivers. Our fishing communities deserve a little good news. – Zeke Grader, executive director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association

Drying up the San Joaquin River harmed more than fish. It virtually destroyed the water supply for farmers in the Delta. Restoring the San Joaquin River will help rectify a national disgrace by restoring fisheries and improving water quality, benefiting farmers along the San Joaquin River and in the Delta. Restoring the river is good for farmers, the Delta and all of California. – Dante Nomellini, manager and co-counsel, Central Delta Water Agency.

This settlement represents the triumph of optimism and collaboration among the parties. A jointly supported restoration plan is the best outcome for all. It reverses a historic wrong by reviving a living San Joaquin River for the California public, which owns this important resource. This agreement also demonstrates that the laws protecting the public’s rivers are alive and well. – Philip Atkins-Patterson, outside counsel for the NRDC Coalition, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton LLP

The San Joaquin River is the missing limb of San Francisco Bay. Dewatering the river severed the connection between the Bay and a critical part of its watershed. Restoring flows and salmon to the San Joaquin will not only revive a great river but also improve water quality and habitat conditions in the Bay, at a time when it is facing unprecedented threats. – Gary Bobker, program director, The Bay Institute

This is a truly historic settlement that not only breathes life into a dead river but will measurably improve water quality and lessen human health impacts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. State and federal agencies would do well to consider the elements of this settlement as they begin to fashion a vision for the future of the Bay-Delta estuary. – Bill Jennings, executive director, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance

…this agreement to restore the San Joaquin can bring back this important part of our natural heritage. In fact, restoring flows for salmon could be the best thing to happen to our overdrafted aquifer in Fresno and Madera counties in 60 years. Walt Shubin, Fresno County raisin grower

The settlement shows the remarkable things that people can accomplish when they work together to restore damaged ecosystems. Trout Unlimited and its 15,000 California members are thrilled that this historic agreement puts California on a course to bringing salmon back to this once-mighty river. – Chuck Bonham, senior attorney, California director, Trout Unlimited.

Some irrigation districts north of Fresno, who unsuccessfully tried to enter the settlement meetings before the agreement was reached, have expressed concerns about its impacts on them and are lobbying for a say in decisions during the implementation stage of the agreement.

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Responsibility for Valley air pollution

Submitted: Sep 04, 2006

The defeat of legislation to expand the board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to include members from three cities and two public members, a physician and an environmental expert, appears to be such a story. This bill (SB999) was introduced more than a year ago and went through 10 votes and 10 analyses before it was defeated. A majority of Valley legislators voted against it although it was sponsored by one of their own, state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden. other regional air boards have physicians and environmental experts on them.

Hear what the Assemblywoman from his own county said of the bill:

Assembly Member Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, called the bill a "solution in search of a problem," adding during floor debate Tuesday that "there is no evidence that the current system is broken."

This a barbaric statement. One is six children in Fresno have asthma, triple the national average.

In 2001, the federal Environmental Protection Agency downgraded Valley air quality from "serious" to "severe" non-attainment

In 2003, the state Legislature took away agriculture's exemption from air pollution regulation.

In 2004, the EPA downgraded the Valley air quality from "severe" to "extreme" non-attainment, a category previously "attained" only by Los Angeles, until recently the worst air pollution basin in the US. But, there was a kicker to this downgrading. At the "severe" level, federal highway funds would have been cut off. At the basketcase "extreme" level, they weren't. The Valley was put on a tight schedule to come up with a plan. Given the record of the Valley air board to come up with and to implement plans, as well as enforce existing regulations, the public has a right to be highly cynical about this plan.

Now, the San Joaquin Valley is considered to be as bad an air basin as Los Angeles, thanks in large part to the Valley air board, composed of eight county supervisors and three city council members.

Meanwhile, despite the dominant roll of cars and trucks in producing air pollution, these same eight counties are embarking on a regional transportation plan under the auspices of CalTrans. Four of the eight counties currently have transportation sales tax measures before the voters, which will increase sales taxes to generate matching funds to attract federal highway funds, primarily, and secondarily, funds to repair existing streets and roads. Focusing on traffic congestion caused by irrational, extreme urban growth, a proven danger to the health of our most vulnerable citizens -- children and the elderly
-- they want to build more roads and streets to stimulate more growth.

These same eight county boards of supervisors who control the Valley air board approve the lion's share of the new subdivisions being built. Most of those subdivisions are being built on prime farmland. When the Farm Bureau joined the Building Industry Association and the Chamber of Commerce, landowners, not farmers, were speaking.

They want nothing -- even a mounting public health crisis -- to interfere with their right to sell land to developers.

What Machado wanted to do was let a little "sunshine" into the decision-making process of the Valley air board. Originally, he wanted four new members. He compromised on two, out of a board of 13. The special interests prevailed. Democrat Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, joined Matthews in crossing the partisan line.

This weekend, Dan Walters (Sacramento Bee political columnist) interviewed a termed-out moderate Republican, a physician who will be returning to his medical practice.

As Richman sees it, "the system is corrupt," not in the conventional sense of under-the-table payoffs, but in having lawmakers so beholden to powerful interest groups -- business, labor, Indian tribes, etc. -- that, with term limits and gerrymandered legislative seats, they utterly control who can run and get elected to the Legislature. And because term limits induce lawmakers to be constantly seeking other offices, they must kowtow to the interest groups that have life-and-death power over their careers.

Dr. Richman voted against SB 999, and he cannot even keep his political logic straight for a short paragraph. Special interests maintain control over the careers of our corrupt local, state and federal legislators through money; whether it is below-the-table just before a vote or above-the-table during the next campaign, the legislators are still selling their votes.

Richman doesn't sound nearly as much like the victim of a corrupt system as he does like an ordinary hypocritical politician with a remarkable lack of self-awareness. But it makes an interesting column.

For the Valley however, far more important than the system is the immediate air pollution crisis. Even the UC Merced, from whatever mixture of motives, sees this crisis. Regardless of how much special interest money political candidates are gathering for their fall campaigns, there are other numbers that are more important, at least to the people of the Valley.

These are American Lung Association national air-pollution rankings from 2004.

Metropolitan Areas Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution (24-Hour PM2.5)

2. Fresno-Madera
3. Bakersfield
8. Sacramento, etc.
9. Visalia-Porterville
11. Modesto
12. Hanford Corcoran
15. Bay Area- 27 percent comes to Valley
23. Merced
-------

Metropolitan Areas Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution(Annual PM2.5)

2. Visalia-Porterville
3. Bakersfield
4. Fresno-Madera
9. Hanford-Corcoran
17. Modesto
18. Merced (equal to NYC)

Top 26 U.S. Counties Most Polluted by Annual Particle Pollution (Annual PM2.5)

4. Tulare
5. Kern
6.Fresno
22. Merced = NYC

Metropolitan Areas with the Worst Ozone Air Pollution

2. Fresno-Madera
3. Bakersfield
4. Visalia-Porterville
6. Merced
7. Sacramento, etc.
8. Hanford-Corcoran
20. Modesto

Counties with the Worst Ozone Air Pollution*

2. Fresno
3. Kern
5. Tulare
8. Merced
10. Kings
12. Sacramento

No rural region in the nation approaches these levels of air pollution. After paving over the Valley, plutocrats will be climbing into their airplanes and escaping to some pleasant place, leaving us with a steadily worsening crisis. We've run out of time for hypocrites and crooks in office.

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

References:

1. SB 999, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/
2. Air board expansion fails in the Assembly, Fresno Bee, Aug. 31, 2006
3. http://www.epa.gov/region9/air/sjvalley/
4. California State Assembly Passes Landmark Clean Air Bill, September 11, 2003,
http://www.earthjustice.org/news/press/003/california_state_assembly_passes_landmark_clean_air_bill.html
5. EPA agrees to lower smog rating for Valley, Fresno Bee, April 11, 2004
6. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Worsens, Union of Concerned Scientists USA, Feb. 3, 2005
7. In Central Valley, Angelides Vows to Take On Childhood Asthma, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2006
8. A citizen-politician's frustration underscores Legislature's woes, Sacramento Bee, Sept. 3, 2006
9. http://www.valleyair.org/Board_meetings/HB/agenda_minutes/north/Minutes/HB-NR-Minutes-2006-February-1.pdf
10. CRS Report to Congress, California's San Joaquin Valley: A Region in Transition, Dec. 12, 2005

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