Agriculture

Ranchwood in the news

Submitted: Feb 08, 2006
    2006

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

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

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

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

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

    2005

11-16-05
Merced Sun-Star

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

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

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

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

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

    2004

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

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

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

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

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

2-3-04 MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS AGENDA

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

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

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

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

    2003

12-23-03 Merced County Board of Supervisors agenda

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

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Mysterious sewer line leaps out of Livingston

Submitted: Feb 07, 2006

From:

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

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

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

To:

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development
Merced County
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340

Jon LeVan
Local Agency Formation Commission
Merced County
2222 M Street 2nd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Board of Supervisors
Merced County
2222 M Street 3rd Floor
Merced CA 95340

Brandon Friesen
Mayor
1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the best of our knowledge, a Ms. Donna McKinney, possibly a consultant with the firm PMC, is acting as the director of Planning for the City of Livingston. Who is paying her salary? To whom does she report?

Another matter of concern is the fact that authorizing this sort of activity outside of an existing SUDP is a violation of the Subdivision Map Act. According to the documentation that has been inspected to date it appears as though the developer has requested pre-zoning for parcels within this 300-acre site, to which the 42-inch sewer main is to connect. This seems to be several steps premature for an annexation request. When will the public have an opportunity to comment on any identified significant environmental effects?

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller, President Steve Burke
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- ChairmanPlanada Community Development Corporation

Cc: Interested Parties

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Who bulldozed the Torres farm labor camp and why?

Submitted: Feb 06, 2006

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

From:

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

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

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

To:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet Marzolf, Section Chief

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

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

Monday, February 06, 2006

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

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Lydia M. Miller – President Steve Burke,

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center Protect Our Water

Bryant Owens- Chairman

Planada Community Development Co.

Attachment: Draft EA Comments-2005

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

[1] Housing Authority Board of Commissioner minutes

[2] Comments on Draft Environmental Assessment 2005

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Wobbly three-legged stool

Submitted: Jan 20, 2006

The three-legged stool

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

The short, skinny leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fat, middle leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long, weird leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Hatch

Notes:

Hannah Arendt: Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution

Douglas Dowd: Thorstein Veblen

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

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

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

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

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

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California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit in Sacramento

Submitted: Jan 14, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The California Rangeland Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping common species common on private working landscapes;

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

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

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

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

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

Current signers of the California Rangeland Resolution include the following:

Alameda County RCD

Alameda County Board of Supervisors

American Land Conservancy

California Cattlemen’s Association

California Resources Agency

California Wildlife Foundation

Central Valley Land Trust Council

Bureau Land Management

Defenders of Wildlife

Butte Environmental Council

Environmental Defense

California Audubon Society

Institute for Ecological Health

California Cattlemen’s Association

Natural Resources Conservation Service

California Dept of Fish and Game

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center

California Dept of Food and Ag

San Joaquin Valley Conservancy

California Farm Bureau Federation

Sierra Foothills Audubon Society

California Native Grasslands Association

The Nature Conservancy

California Native Plant Society

Trust for Public Land

California Oak Foundation

US Fish and Wildlife Service

California Rangeland Trust

US Forest Service

California Resource Conservation Districts

VernalPools.org

Wildlife Conservation Board

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Lack of incentive

Submitted: Dec 30, 2005

It's very hard to see that the USDA has any incentive to properly monitor GMO crops, pharma or otherwise, considering they are so gung-ho in favor of them, along with the land grant universities whose "win-win public/private partnerships" with biotechnology corporations have produced them.

When the nation is going to wake up and discover this technology required serious public testing it never received remains a question based on the ability of lobbies and propaganda to bend perception. Using the example of genetic contamination, however, whatever is said from bent perspectives won't change inevitable facts. So far the critics have been right, every step of the way.
-----------------------------------

Investigators say the USDA lacks details on what happens with pharma-crops.

By PHILIP BRASHER
REGISTER WASHINGTON BUREAU
Des Moines Register, December 30 2005
http://desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051230/BUSINESS01/512300334/1030

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to properly oversee field trials of genetically engineered crops, including plants designed to produce chemicals for medical and industrial uses, investigators say.

A report released Thursday by the USDA's inspector general said the department "lacks basic information" on where field tests are or what is done with the crops after they are harvested.

The report is the latest blow to prospects for developing an industry based on mass-producing pharmaceutical chemicals from genetically modified corn. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack once called the idea the "future of our state."

During the inspector general investigation, auditors found that two large harvests of pharmaceutical crops remained in storage at test sites without the USDA's knowledge or approval.

The investigators also said that in 2003 the department failed to inspect fields of pharmaceutical crops with the frequency that officials said they would.

"Current (USDA) regulations, policies and procedures do not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology," the report said.

The report "confirms the public's lack of confidence in the USDA to oversee pharmaceutical and industrial chemical crops," said Susan Prolman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that has been critical of the agricultural biotechnology industry.

USDA officials said they have made a number of improvements since the investigation was done but disagree with some of the findings.

"We were addressing many of the issues as they were looking at the same issues," said Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for biotechnology regulatory services in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She said violations cited in the report were minor. Also, the agency now does all the required inspections of pharma-crop sites, including one last summer near Burlington, Ia., she said.

The department is heeding one of the inspector general's suggestions and may make it mandatory for researchers to provide global positioning coordinates for test sites.

Smith's staff has grown from 23 to 65 since it was established in 2002.

The Agriculture Department oversaw 67,000 acres of biotech field trials in 2004, up from 8,700 in 1994.

Relatively little of that acreage is devoted to pharmaceutical or industrial crops, but there is special concern that those plants could contaminate conventional crops or get into the food supply.

A small biotech company, ProdiGene Inc., was ordered to pay more than $3 million in penalties and cleanup costs in 2002 after mismanaging field trials of pharmaceutical crops in Iowa and Nebraska.

Pharma crops are seen as a cheap way to mass-produce human and animal drugs. Corn has been the crop of choice because it is relatively simple to engineer and produces a lot of grain that can be easily stored and processed.

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Wall Street and the GMOs

Submitted: Nov 14, 2005

This is the best article on the GMO situation in months, from the Wall Street Journal. Wall Street may be asking some pointed questions about agricultural biotechnology at the moment, as market resistance shows no signs of fading and billions in investment go to pay biotech corporate lawyers, lobbyists and propagandists.

 Read More »
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