Concerning UC/Lawrence Livermore National Lab bombs over Tracy

Submitted: Mar 06, 2008

Organizing / Planning Meeting in Tracy on MARCH 6

Public Hearing in Tracy on MARCH 18


Please circulate widely. Please come. It's crucially important.

An important invitation for you:


We've found the Weapons of Mass Destruction! Five years ago, the U.S. attacked Iraq based on flimsy allegations of non-existent WMDs. Now, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released new plans to modernize and "revitalize" the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex at 8 locations across the country, including at the Livermore Lab's Site 300 in Tracy. The DOE calls the plan, "Complex Transformation."

We call it "Bombplex." Tri-Valley CAREs and allied organizations are calling on all anti-nuclear, anti-war, environmental, and peace and justice activists to turn the "Bombplex" public hearings into a national public referendum on the future of nuclear weapons.

Here is where you come in. We are holding a special organizing / mobilizing / planning meeting in Tracy and calling on key activists and organizations to participate. Our goal is to take action together to MOBILIZE a large and powerful turnout at upcoming public hearings in Tracy (March 18 - see below for hearing time and location) and Livermore (March 19 - the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war).

Planning Meeting in Tracy:
Thursday, March 6th, 7 PM to 8:30 PM, Tracy Community Center, 300 East 10th
Street, Tracy. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148 or email marylia@earthlink.net.

Note: Also at the Tracy Community Center on March 6, beginning at 6 PM, there will be a Dept. of Energy (DOE) workshop on the Superfund cleanup of toxic contaminants at the Building 850 "Firing Table" at Site 300. This Firing Table is one of four highly polluted locations where open-air bomb blasts have been (and still are) detonated at Site 300. The DOE workshop will feature posters about the cleanup (not speakers), so you can pop in and see the displays before the "Bombplex" organizing meeting at 7 PM. (And, if you think that pollution from bomb tests is relevant to why we must stop the "Bombplex," you are correct.)

Planning Meeting in Livermore, too:
Thursday, February 21, 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, at Tri-Valley CAREs, 2582 Old
First Street, Livermore, CA. To RSVP or obtain details, call Marylia at (925) 443-7148.

Elements for each organizing meeting will include:
* What is Bombplex? A primer on nuclear weapons programs embedded in this plan, followed by a discussion on what YOU want to emphasize at the Tracy hearing.
* How do we stop it? Ideas to make the hearings successful, powerful and effective.
* Who can we mobilize? A structured outreach brainstorm to accomplish our goals.
* What's next? A broader discussion on nuclear disarmament action beyond the hearings.

"Bombplex" Action Alert for Newsletters, etc.

Public Hearings on the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex!

The Dept. of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration has released its draft plan to revitalize the nuclear weapons complex at 8 locations across the country, including Livermore Lab. The DOE calls the plan "Complex Transformation" (formerly known as "Complex 2030"). We call it "Bombplex."

The draft plan is in the form of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). The most important thing to know is that the plan is fundamentally about the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex. Do you want to see a revitalized weapons complex with added capabilities to research, develop, test and produce new and militarily modified nuclear bombs? Or, do you want to see the U.S. fully comply with its legal obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Don't be silent at this critical juncture. Your voice is needed now. Make the hearings a public referendum on nuclear weapons. At the hearings, you can speak on the changes you want to see at Livermore Lab, or on U.S. nuclear weapons policy writ large. You can speak out to stop polluting nuclear weapons activities at the Livermore Lab main site and its Site 300 in Tracy. You can tell the government to stop new nuclear weapons, like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which the DOE is still pushing for with $40 million in its latest budget request. You can call on the government to end ALL bomb testing at Site 300. Tell DOE not to detonate depleted uranium, high explosives and other toxic and radioactive materials on open-air Firing Tables that are already polluted from past use. Tell DOE that plans to conduct even bigger bomb blasts under a "for hire" program for the Department of Homeland Security is unacceptable. You may also wish to point to the U.S. hypocrisy in planning to produce new weapons of nuclear mass destruction on the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Come and speak your truth to power. Choose the peace issues that are most meaningful to you. There will also be a 90-day period for written public comments. Public hearings are:

Tuesday March 18, 2008 -- Tracy, California
Holiday Inn Express, 3751 N. Tracy Blvd. One session only: 6 p.m.-10 p.m.

Wednesday March 19, 2008 - Livermore, California
Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave. 2 sessions: 11 a.m.-3p.m. and 6 p.m. -10 p.m.

Comments may be submitted by mail to:
Mr. Theodore Wyka, Complex Transformation SPEIS Document Manager, Office of
Transformation, NA-10.1, U.S. Department of Energy/NNSA, 1000 Independence
Avenue, SW. Washington, D.C. 20585
Or by fax: (703) 931-9222 (request confirmation of receipt)
Or by e-mail: ComplexTransformation@nnsa.doe.gov (request confirmation of receipt)

More info at -- www.trivalleycares.org o www.wslfweb.org o www.peaceactionwest.org

Marylia Kelley,
Executive Director

Tri-Valley CAREs
2582 Old First Street
Livermore, CA 94551

Ph: (925) 443-7148
Fx: (925) 443-0177
Web: www.trivalleycares.org
Email: marylia@trivalleycares.org or marylia@earthlink.net

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Regarding sheds

Submitted: Feb 18, 2008

A number of years ago a state forester was interviewed concerning changes in the culture of his agency following the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the California Environmental Quality Act, and kindred legislation regarding the forests. He said, "I knew I was in a different world when bureaucrats started talking about 'viewsheds.'"

The term 'viewshed' indicated that the public had made the aesthetic pleasure of looking at a stretch of forest unblemished by clearcuts a value in the resource bureaucracy by the late 1970's, not just a conservationist howl to the moon. The term, 'watershed,' is older:

"line separating waters flowing into different rivers," 1803, from water + shed. A loan-translation of Ger. Wasser-scheide. Fig. sense is attested from 1878. Meaning "ground of a river system" is from 1878.

Yesterday, in a meeting in Los Banos concerning funding for local management efforts in the state's many watersheds, an interesting conversation broke out regarding the state of San Joaquin Valley agriculture and its future. The vision put forth by a Merced County planning commissioner favored organic agriculture (the commissioner owns an organic farm) and local food system (the commissioner is also a boardmember of organizations advancing this vision).

A member of the group without vision put forth the view that the Valley could probably feed itself on about a third of the farmland now in cultivation but that the problem a planning commissioner ought to be "envisioning" is what will happen to the remaining two-thirds of the farm and ranch land, the economy of which -- as is certainly the case with the county's almond industry -- is based on large-scale exportation. Export-led growth, to eastern US markets and expanding to international markets has been the basis for the Valley's agricultural economy since the early years of the last century and the cropping pattern remains largely the same, although the populations of county seats and some of the other hamlets of that period have swollen enormously. The visionless viewpoint was also advanced that if the same amount of acreage in production today in the same crops, in the same concentration, attracting the same swarms of pests specific to those crops, were converted to organic orchards and rowcrops, it would do very little but destroy the organic market and many of the growers engaged in it. One also wondered silently how long it would be before "organic" pesticide regulations were relaxed to include pesticides perhaps not quite as organic as they were purported by their manufacturers to be.

The vision quest for consensus-based environmental reform through analyses that change from year to year, mirroring environmental disintegration, seems to some to be not a very serious enterprise.

At this point, the planning commissioner, demonstrating leadership skills, put a new term on the table, 'foodshed.' The purpose of this bit of jargon du moment seemed to be to return the conversation to watersheds, and grants for watershed coordinators, another of which the commissioner is writing to fund her valuable political work of going to more meetings where she will learn yet more vital analytical tools like the term, foodshed.

Fleeing the mindless Jargon Monster, another participant tried to address the problem of how to treat the land retired from farming so that the Valley will only grow enough food to feed itself -- and organically! Will it all go to housing?

Or should much of the retired land be preserved as open space, restored to wildlife habitat, provide better and cleaner groundwater recharge? it was asked. Later, it was recalled that on the west side at least, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of land that should be retired because they are full of toxic heavy metals as the result of totally reckless, resource-destroying irrigation, and that it would be hard to restore it to livable wildlife habitat. Facilitators returned the meeting to the topic of watersheds and whether the state should reinvest in watershed coordinator programs on the Merced River watershed.

Some in the room advanced the idea that the state agencies ought to spend the money on their own staffs to inventory and map the amount of land already in state easements through the State Lands Commission among other agencies and enforce existing laws and regulations rather than fund watershed coordinators who broker rather than share information concerning the Merced River watershed for their own financial gain. In other words, the evidence is in that these Reaganesque localizing, privatizing programs merely induce an annual grant-writing feeding frenzy inherently corrupting in local publics because the regulation of natural resources is properly and adequately only as a state function. Local publics ought to be monitoring state and federal governments to do their job in their areas. If it is necessary to go around elected officials in the pockets of finance, insurance and real estate special interests who pressure resource agencies, then it should be done. That is a function the public can do better than it can manage watersheds under the legal jurisdiction of state and federal resource agencies and the mandate of the Public Trust Doctrine.

Driving home from the meeting, through field after field in early preparation for another crop of cotton, participants realized they were driving through a 'fibershed,'interrupted occasionally by various 'cowsheds,' 'poultrysheds' and possibly one 'goatshed.'

Returning the next day to the problem -- What would happen to all the farm and ranch land retired if the Valley should swing away from export-led growth to a local food supply? -- another idea occurred to participants of the stimulating meeting in Los Banos: Why not speciessheds?

What about a vernalpoolshed? A San Joaquinkitfoxshed? A Californiatigersalamandershed? Why not a mangycoyoteshed? Despite a great deal of government policy to the contrary, empirical evidence suggests that wildlife species require wildlife habitat, in fact a good description of a speciesshed would be the natural habitat required by that species in order to live, have a home in the world.

So, now when one looks at a field of seasonal pasture containing vernal pools, cows, coyotes and other wildlife species, one knows he is actually looking at a multi-speciesshed, not a cattle ranch. And as the urban resident gazes across the street from his door, he realizes that he is observing an 'alleycatshed.' Downtown, one realizes he is looking at a 'decayingurbancentershed.' When observing the many half-finished new subdivisions that ring this town, one realizes he is looking at 'foreclosuresheds.'

Leaders like the planning commissioner, superbly trained by the Great Valley Center/UC Merced leadership programs, are constantly bringing us valuable new analytical tools like this, language that will permit our vision to soar and transcend reality, the present, the past and the future. so that we, too, may glide far above this 'littlebluemarbleshed' in a beautiful "Bullship."

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Public minutes of the Merced River Stakeholders meeting, January 28, 2008

Submitted: Feb 08, 2008

Washington School, Winton CA


Merced Irrigation District, 2
Granite Construction, 2
Santa Fe Aggregate, 1
East Merced Resource Conservation District, 2
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, 1
Merced County Planning Commission, 1
Landowners, 8
Stillwater Sciences, 1
Merced Sun-Star, 1
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, 1
Members of the public, 2-3

Ted Selb reported for MID: Pray for rain, the reservoir is down. The snow pack is at 100- percent normal for this time of year, MID hoping for another storm a little on the warm side to melt some low snow into the reservoir. Selb introduces Dan Pope, MID hydrological manager for Exchequer Dan, who will be in charge of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing of the dam.

Teri Murrison, the facilitator explains that CALFED is being dismantled and the watershed program is now being administered by the state Department of Conservation, which has expanded the watershed program to the entire state, from Modoc to Imperial counties.Murrison and John Brody are chairing the San Joaquin regional meetings for the statewide watershed program, which will be held in Modesto on Feb. 11 and in Los Banos on Feb. 15.

Murrison, an experienced facilitator and former watershed coordinator for the RCD and MRS facilitator, volunteered to facilitate the meeting for no fee. She focused the meeting “options for Merced River Stakeholders:”

1. Stop MRS?
Glenn Anderson, board member of the East Merced RCD, said that the feeling was unanimous to continue MRS.
The representative for Santa Fe Aggregate said MRS functions best as an information-sharing organization within the disparate interests representing all aspects of the river.
Commissioner Lashbrook said that if decisions are to be made, more defined governance is necessary. Anderson said MRS should continue the Merced River Restoration Project.

In fact, despite the controversy with Commissioner Lashbrook and the RCD, which has been going on for nearly a year, MRS has continued to meet on schedule, bi-monthly and no members, who are not also members of the board of directors of the RCD have called for stopping the MRS. Therefore, for some, there is a sense of redundancy about this topic.

Murrison read the 2003 MRS Mission Statement and Goals:


Provide a collaborative forum for coordination, and gathering and sharing of information about the Merced River watershed. Protect and enhance the lower Merced River Watershed such that the natural processes, ecosystems, and its unique characteristics are conserved and restored. Foster voluntary stewardship in advance of habitat degradation and regulatory action.
Strive for a balanced level of human interaction within the watershed.

Educate the public about the Merced River watershed and its importance.
Foster and improve communication among affected private individuals, interested citizens, commercial interests, educational institutes, and representatives of local, state and federal agencies.

Murrison recapitulated the history of MRS. Although now a Tuolumne County supervisor; she was the MRS facilitator for several years until 2006.

From 1999 to 2001, federal and state agencies and a grant from the Central Valley Project Improvement Act funded MRS and the MRRP, the science done by Stillwater Sciences. A technical advisory board was established including agencies, industry, the county, MID, MRS members and Stillwater.

The first phase (1999-2000) workshops were held, the TAC was established, private access was arranged, and goals and objectives for the MRRP were developed.

Phase II, EDAW consultants did baseline studies and various reports were released for public dissemination.

2001-2002: field studies and modeling was developed, design guidelines were establishing, geomorphic functions identified, specific strategies worked out for each of the five reaches of the lower river, the Wild on the Watershed tour was held, and the MRRP was released January 2002.

Murrison noted that the MRRP plan did not address water quality, land-use, education or water supply issues.

In 2001, East Merced Resource Conservation District received a watershed coordinator grant that allowed Murrison to become the MRS facilitator. The function of the EMRCD was to provide help facilitating for MRS. Murrison wrote the last Prop. 13 grant and the DOC watershed grants from 2001-2007.

Phase IV: CalFed grant for dredge-tailing reach baseline studies on fish and mercury, etc., 2005.

Lydia Miller noted that the MRS did other work as well: elimination of Water Hyacinth, and past restoration projects, for example the Robinson and Ratzlaff restoration projects, and had a lengthy set of meetings on the governance committee.

Joe Mitchell said restoration was too narrow a focus for MRS and was only looking at salmon and invasive species.

Commissioner Lashbrook said that recreational uses “always brought angst.”

Miller added that so did aggregate mining.

A representative from Granite Construction (aggregate miners) said that MRS was a good “sounding board.”

Murrison asked if this should be broadened to policy.

Participants agreed.

The Santa Fe Aggregate representative said that MRS was good for networking and for listening to the “range of considerations.”

Mitchell said that there were conflicts within the agencies, for example between salmon and stripped bass, and between and within agencies, for example conflicts between state Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife Service. Taxpayers are asked to reclaim post-mining disasters, which irritated the recreationists, plus they didn’t get the option of access to the riverbank through private property, he said.

MRRP is a working document, not a “policy” statement. Several participants agreed that the agencies tried to assume MRRP was policy for purposes of their own projects.

Anderson brought up the topic of property rights v. public access.

Murrison brought up the topic of whether MRS was an advocacy or an information-sharing organization.

Miller said that MRS had advocated on the water Hyacinth issue when they met with the agencies to advocate; MRS developed a proposal for a town-hall meetings in each of the reaches and also a proposal for a river tender.

Mitchell said MRS needed to know when and how much 2-4-D the agencies were spraying on the hyacinth.

Murrison said there seemed to be some contention about the role of MRS.

Commissioner Lashbrook mumbled something about a “continuum” that Murrison interpreted as the phrase “a continuum from information-sharing to action.” Since becoming a planning commissioner, Lashbrook has patented a form of utterance that often escapes meaning unless one is “in the know” on the latest workshop phraseology.

Anderson asked if MRS could not conduct a formal way of “visioning.” (Anderson attends different workshops than the Commissioner does.) But, neither one of them, both members of the RCD board of directors, is pleased with the MRS as it is, as it functions now, and particularly as it functioned last year when MRS members voiced opposition to an RCD grant, of direct financial benefit to the commissioner, that claimed MRS support when it did not have it or any governance means for getting it.

Pat Bettencourt said she didn’t understand what Anderson meant by “visioning.”

Anderson replied that some people “envision” a parkway on the river. Others don’t. That’s two extremes. He proposed a set of meetings that got into each individual MRS member’s “wildest dreams for the river.”

Murrison returned the attention of the group to its mission and goals.

The Granite representative said they too had a vision.

Mitchell said that MRS had “knockdowns meetings on this,” and MRS found information was neutral; but nobody was to speak for the whole group.

Murrison noted that the group went through its mission and goals, word-by-word, defining each as they went along.

Anderson said he wanted a “revisitation” of the mission and goals.

The Santa Fe Aggregate representative said that the goal of MRS was sharing information: members have projects and it is unlikely that the whole group would approve any project.

Murrison described this as “the dog on the carpet – the long-term sticking point.

Mitchell said MRS has always recognized that nobody agreed with each other.

Miller said that the WOW tour was agreed on and carried out and that the governance committee agreed to meet for a year to conclude that there couldn’t be a voting structure in MRS because of disagreement.

Commissioner Lashbrook stated that three people on the governance committee were not happy “how that turned out.”

Miller said: “Then they should have challenged the conclusion. We speak up and have dialogue.”

Murrison noted that there was a difference “in communication styles.”

Mitchell noted that the “interests would pursue their interests no matter what.”

Murrison, who was facilitator at the time the governance committee met, said: “We agreed to pursue our own interests, knowing there were other forums to air those views.”

She then concluded that no one in the group wanted to disband MRS.

Commissioner Lashbrook said, “A lot of people don’t attend.”

Mitchell replied that there are no projects at the moment to draw them in or a grant.

Murrison said MRS members come to protect their interests.

Anderson said, “If there is something like an emergency on the river, it brings them in.”

Pat Bettencourt said that MRS changed its focus when the Black Diamond aggregate project (Wendell Reid, Modesto) went ahead without coming to the MRS. “There was a sense of loss of focus because we didn’t have a chance to look at it or the requirements for a permit. (Bettencourts and their partners, Santa Fe Aggregates, do bring projects to MRS for discussion.) “MRS functions best when everyone comes with their own interests, informs the group. MRS has had the credibility and influence to attract people to come to vet their projects.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that Merced County and most agencies have “backed out.”

We noted that county Planning Commissioner Lashbrook was present, along with two officials from MID and that a representative from the county Planning Department has been providing regular updates on river projects until this meeting, and that last year, as usual, state and federal agency representatives were usually in attendance.

Maia Singer, representing Stillwater Sciences, endorsed MRS input, saying that it was very important to Stillwater’s studies.

Murrison said there is no perceived threat that fewer landowners and agencies were dropping out.

Mitchell said that agency funding sources are also drying up (making it difficult to travel to Merced).

Commissioner Lashbrook started a sentence with, “If the group …” but became incoherent.

Murrison interpreted the commissioner’s utterance to have something to do with staff.

Anderson said that the salmon count was not good, after millions of dollars spent on restoring the run.

Selb of MID said the salmon runs are diminishing all along the coast and maybe the problem on the Merced River is not local.

Jill Ratzlaff said that state Department of Fish and Game badly botched the restoration project on her family project.

Mitchell said that stakeholders do try to pressure agencies to do the right thing.

Ratzlaff added that the agencies do not have enough follow-through on their restoration projects. She and Mitchell agreed that the agencies do not correct their mistakes.

Commissioner Lashbrook attempted to interject with a comment beginning, “We can’t …”

Mitchell said the lead agencies in restoration projects didn’t follow its own policies and didn’t follow through. Ratzlaff agreed that continuity was a big problem. Mitchell said, “When a project fails, there is no mechanism to make it right. There are X amount of dollars for reclamation (of old mining projects) and then they walk away.” He mentioned the Carson project, on which the created ponds would not hold water – “the designer should have been accountable to do it right.”

Murrison and Commissioner Lashbrook seemed to express a common frustration that the group couldn’t come together (return to the governance problem).

Mitchell asked why there was no enforcement on reclamation projects.

Murrison said that the other side of that question is that the MRS doesn’t make recommendations.

Pat Bettencourt said that the Ratzlaff problem was that the agency was telling her what to do. But how would the MRS members vote: by acre? Investment? Mines?
She disagreed that people did not attend MRS meetings because they could not vote. She said there was “spirited discussion” on the Bettencourt/Santa Fe Aggregate project. “This forum died because nothing was on the agenda.”

(What Bettencourt did not add was the reason that there was nothing on the agenda, which had to do with RCD facilitation of the meetings after Murrison left, and RCD began to plan to eliminate MRS.)

Murrison asked: “Do you want to continue?”

Anderson joked: “Let’s vote on it!”

Miller listed some upcoming projects: the MAGPI grant for studying area groundwater; a bird study with Natural Resource Conservation Service; FERC relicensing of the Exchequer Dam; a landowner mining project; another Black Diamond mining project; Bernie Wade’s mining project; a new Santa Fe Aggregate project; and the Schmitt mining project. She pointed out that the planning department is changing staff at the moment, perhaps explaining why someone from the planning department was not at this meeting. Jeff Wilson (planner) has come but a lot has been left off the table. She listed other projects ongoing: Fish and Game, Stillwater, the ag waiver on water quality.

Miller said that controversy around a project brings in the stakeholders and that ahead are: the county General Plan update; general plan updates for Ballico, Stevinson, Cressey and Snelling.

Singer said that when grants are written, they ought to include money for information sharing with MRS.

Pat Bettencourt said that the MRS process worked “very well in the latest debacle,” in which a coalition of stakeholders successfully opposed the last RCD grant.

Commissioner Lashbrook (whose personal income was affected by the rejection of that grant) stated: “If we had had a vote on May 19, we would have gone forward with that grant. I will not come to another meeting …” if stakeholders address a funder using MRS letterhead.

It is always foolish to predict the outcome of a vote and particularly foolish to predict the outcome of a vote of the group with know governance mechanism to vote, and even more foolish to predict that outcome when very, very few of the stakeholders present on March 19 had been provided a copy of the grant by Commissioner Lashbrook and her associate pork barrel-ettes.

Miller, who had written one of the letters under MRS letterhead, said she would not agree with Commissioner Lashbrook dictum, saying that the first sentence of the letter explained that it was written from members of the group.

Murrison showed us why she is a great facilitator at this moment, by suggesting, “Let’s do ‘parking lot.’” “Parking lot” is facilitator jargon for parking a hot issue on the sidelines for a while.

Miller said “parking lot” was what was done with MID use of aquatic pesticides and the Santa Fe Aggregate issue with the Williamson Act.

Mitchell said he didn’t agree with anyone using MRS – “only members.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that Gwen Huff (former RCD facilitator for MRS) thought she had an active, open agenda.

Murrison said that the MRS no longer has funding for a facilitator so “now it will be a stakeholder-driven process.”

Miller said that the MRS had been “disengaged” by the RCD staff, so this will be an improvement.

Murrison asked if MRS still wanted to meet bi-monthly. Stakeholders agreed.

Mitchell said that individual groups within MRS that have non-profit status could take grants forward … as long as they were for an information-sharing group.

Murrison mentioned an old grant proposal for holding town-hall meetings on each reach of the lower river, saying she thought it was within the scope of what everyone agreed on.

Pat Bettencourt asked where was the repository for the information. Murrison did an index and Stillwater has information.

Miller said MRS asked the RCD to make the binder of MRS information available – and it was not made available. She added that the MRS website got buried by RCD.

Commissioner Lashbrook said there was no money for it.

There was enough money for RCD to post the wrong date for the meeting now being held.

Anderson said, of the missing stakeholders, “Maybe they’ll be absent and they’ll ask us to change before they’ll be here.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that “the action people” are elsewhere.

Maureen McCorry said that there are now two groups but that the MRS here has a special place and that self-interest was the best reason to get people here. She added that she has seen that there are social and political repercussions to not attending the “right” MRS meeting. “There is a perception of an incorrect move …” she explained.

Miller added that there are political pressures surrounding the situation between MRS and RCD. “The public has to be cautious, but we’ve had good debate here.

The group decided would meet again at the Washington School from 6-8 p.m. on March 24.

Mitchell asked what happened “to the other website.” (There have been two MRS websites. The RCD announced the domain of one of them was for sale and have not been particularly diligent about keeping the other one up-to-date, although they have, at least until recently, been paid to do so.

Miller mentioned that the RCD has refused to release the binder, which serves as the repository for records of MRS proceedings.

Murrison said that grants require that the RCD hold that data. “But, now, you’ll have to facilitate yourselves,” she added.

Miller asked how much Murrison would charge to facilitate more MRS meetings.

Murrison said she would have to think about it. Miller suggested two more meetings.

At least two future agenda items were mentioned: an MID presentation of the FERC relicensing and a county planning department update on aggregate projects on the river.

The meeting adjourned.

Holly Bettencourt remarked later: “Rather than all this politics stuff, I think it would be good to talk about the river.

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Public minutes of East Merced Resource Conservation District meetings, December 13, 2007 and January 16, 2008

Submitted: Feb 06, 2008

December 13, 2007 meeting

RCD staff Karen Whipp announced that the agenda for the meeting was legally posted outside the RCD meeting room in the USDA building on Wardrobe Ave. She also said that staff doesn’t not send out staff reports on agenda items to either board members of members of the public because of time constraints. She said county and city boards do the same.

In fact, it is possible to get staff reports for all items on county Board of Supervisor agendas Friday afternoon before the meeting on the following Tuesday.

Lydia Miller said she requested the November staff reports in a timely manner (11:05 a.m. on the day of the board meeting). In attendance at the meeting, she got a copy of all staff reports at the meeting.

Whipp said she had the original copy of the resignation letter of Bernie Wade, former RCD president, who resigned both his position and his board membership at the November meeting.

The board approved the minutes.

Whipp said she had emailed the Nov. 21 minutes (to Miller??)

Whipp led the board through the latest spreadsheets on various RCD grants.

Wade’s letter was not in the minutes of the November meeting. It was explained that he gave the letter to them after adjournment of that meeting. However, Wade read his letter before adjournment. Yet his resignation was not on the November agenda.

Board member Karen Barstow wondered where to put Wade’s letter. Whipp informed her it would go in the minutes for the December meeting because it came in late.

Board member Glenn Anderson asked if Wade’s resignation would be the cause for an action item. Whipp said Wade’s resignation was to the county Board of Supervisors, not the RCD, so no.

Malia Hildebrandt gave her monthly report for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, beginning by saying that NRCS doesn’t yet have its new budget, so is working on another extension of the federal budget, therefore some local contracts will be lost if funding doesn’t come before the end of 2007.

The US Senate has passed the 2007 Farm Bill and it is now in conference committee. The old Farm Bill is extended until February 2008. Meanwhile, some funding has been sent to the local NRCS.

Regarding funds from state initiatives, NRCS has funded two replacements of diesel engines on farm sites, and funded windbreaks around dairies for dust reduction (PM10) and projects for spray reduction, wood chipping and tillage changes.

Anderson asked if there was an environmental issue when orchards heavily sprayed with pesticides have been chipped.

Hildebrandt said some at least were removed, chips from pruning were left in the orchard and that removal might be to a cogeneration plant.

Barstow remarked that prunings on almond orchards could run to one ton/acre.

Board member Bob Bliss said the ground was already sprayed and the prunings had been exposed to weather.

Board member Tony Azevedo, chairing the meeting, moved the subject to Animal Facility Operations issue: slabs, waste storage, pipelines, flow meters, gate valves, etc. lagoons, “anything to keep waste water on the dairy property. This is part of the whole Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, (which calls for) new standards.”

Board member Cathy Weber asked if most dairies were up to the standards.

Hildebrandt replied, “No.” However, she noted that the process was opening the eyes of dairy managers. The new standard is to spread manure equal to 1.6 times the nitrogen needed for the fodder crops. It used to be 2 times the amount needed. Today, dairies cannot have more cows than they had in 2005 – the gist of the new regulation (1.6 times to nitrogen need) means either less cows or more acreage. The intent is to get a better mix of clean and lagoon water. “We could use $5 million to help folks (dairies) out,” she said.

Anderson asked if community pipelines could be developed.

Hildebrandt replied that this involves negotiations with irrigation districts to make sure the flows stay separated.

Azevedo said dairymen (at least in his distinct, Stevinson) have to give written notice to the irrigation districts when they are going to pipe lagoon water off-site, and it takes place during restricted hours.

Hildebrandt said the NRCS is telling dairy managers to protect themselves about when and how wastewater goes off their property. She added that water conservation funds sunsetted this year but a new fund is being created, and that in the new Farm Bill perhaps there will be funds to support new applications.

Bliss suggested spreading the funds out at a lower percentage to reach more people.

Hildebrandt replied that that was tried to make special deals for dairies with limited resources and for new dairies, because the way the fund is structured its hurts those who cannot afford to make the upgrades.

Azevedo asked about wildlife.

Hildebrandt said there were funds for riparian habitat restoration along the Merced River, removing replacing rock and dirt and planting trees.

Weber (who lives in Snelling, full of dredge-tailing cobble) asked about projects for Snelling.

Hildebrandt said there was a project near the Kelsey property (Diedre Kelsey is a county supervisor and the family mines dredge tailings for aggregate). Hildebrandt said the project involved layering rock and dirt for better drainage.

Whipp said that the new grant proposal for a watershed coordinator would help coordinate local and state agencies for such projects.

Members of the public at this point wondered if a lack of funding wasn’t a worse problem than a lack of staff. The NRCS reports monthly to RCD, their reports appear to be up-to-date and organized and realistic.

Whipp informed the board that “we” held a watershed workshop meeting on December 12 for over 20 people who want to meet quarterly. RCD board member, RCD/Merced River Alliance staff, and Merced County Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook and Whipp prepared the agenda for the meeting. They are also working on a grant proposal.

The public wondered if the December 12 meeting was a public meeting. Public funds were used to organize it but not all members of the public were invited, even members of the public with well-known, long-term interests in the watersheds of eastern Merced County.

But MID, Department of Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cramer Sciences, Supervisor Kelsey, state Parks and Recreation, county Public Works and UC Merced were invited and the meeting was duly posted on the bulletin board at the UC Cooperative Extension office (where UCCOP staff were sure to see it).

Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook said Ezio Sansone and Lynn Sullivan, two members of the Merced River Stakeholders, were very excited about the meeting because this new group, the Watershed Workshop, “will get projects done. It is a project-oriented work group.”

The public attending the RCD meeting – two members of the MRS – viewed this new workshop as simply the latest way RCD staff has devised to destroy the MRS, some of whose members wrote letters opposing that last RCD-staff grant to fund RCD staff.

Commissioner Lashbrook then said something incomprehensible about the Merced Area Groundwater Pool Interests. We would report this public official’s comments more fully if she would speak more clearly. She did add something about Stillwater Sciences and Merced River Alliance coordinator Nancy McConnell working on how to format a final report due in May. This report may be going to MAGPI. The commissioner also announced the upcoming California Women for Agriculture tour of the river, to be led by RCD staff, including the commissioner.

Commissioner Lashbrook continued, saying that the watershed kits (created by another MRA staffer, Terry McLoughlin) are now available for teachers and that a new one is now being assembled at the NRCS office. McLoughlin is now developing a new monitoring kit for groundwater.

The board moved on to nomination of the new president. Azevedo nominated Bliss. Bliss refused. Azevedo said, “We need experience. I haven’t been on the board that long – only three years.” (And he missed some meetings during that period.)

Anderson asked if it were the Year of the Woman.

Again, Commissioner Lashbrook makes a vague comment about “Johnny” Pedrozo having only been on the board of supervisors for two years and already he’s chairman.

Azevedo pleads a “full plate” and reluctance to doing a “half-assed job.”

Commissioner Lashbrook counseled Azevedo: “If you get your board right, it’s not so bad.” Whipp prepares the agendas, she added.

Azevedo said that the president has to make public appearances from time to time.

Commissioner Lashbrook asked Whipp if digital agendas weren’t available for the president. Whipp replied that some presidents have asked, others haven’t.

Bliss philosophized, telling a story about old tires, meant to illuminate the issue.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the trick was “to develop trust and hire the right people.”

Bliss said that Whipp was the best staffer RCD had ever had.

Whipp replied that she had been doing agendas “for controversial agencies for years.”

Commissioner Lashbrook qualified that remark, saying RCD is “only temporarily controversial.”

Anderson nominated Karen Barstow for president.

Bliss seconded, asking if Azevedo would serve as vice president and Weber as treasurer.

Weber declined, citing lack of experience with numbers and money.

Bliss commented: “You walk up the chain to become president, then you become a rabble rouser.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said Weber would not have to be the financial officer. She added that she would follow through with the grants although not being a state-RCD approved officer.

Whipp noted that nobody had ever been a secretary treasurer.

Azevedo said to leave it open until there are more members on the board.

Anderson said he came back on the board with no idea of becoming an officer. “I feel myself transitional,” he said.

Barstow said she was used to running meetings and philosophized that “everyone has to serve.” She asked Weber to be the secretary treasurer.

Weber said she had no business experience.

Azevedo said she was a housewife, wasn’t she?

Weber said she was a physical therapist but not into the business side of it.

The board voted Barstow president, Azevedo vice president.

The next agenda item called for the creation of a personnel committee.

Weber said she was concerned that the RCD was running out of funds. “How does the RCD function without funds?” she asked. She said McConnell told her Mariposa RCD had a personnel committee, therefore a couple of board members could form such a committee and look at the options, anticipate different funding scenarios. “We’ve never come to grips …” with the possibility the RCD will run out of funds in August 2008. “And if we get the DOCIII grant, how will we allocate it?” (What staff will the RCD pay?)

Barstow said the RCD doesn’t have “personnel.”

Weber said Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook are “contractors.”

Whipp said it would be a good idea to have this committee to develop the scope of work for the upcoming contracts.

Anderson asked, “You mean job descriptions?”

Weber replied that would be part of it but that she didn’t know the full breadth of personnel committees, but one question she had was how to allocate the few funds the RCD may end up with. “We will run out of the bulk of our funds by August,” she said.

Azevedo asked if the personnel committee would look for funds.

Weber said: not for the board.

Whipp said she’d just written that job into the description of the personnel committee, adding that every group she has worked for had a personnel committee.

Azevedo said the board needed more members, otherwise it is the same people.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the DOCIII grant proposal is a personnel grant and that this new proposed personnel committee should come up with some options.

Weber said it would be an advisory committee.

Azevedo and Bliss moved and seconded for the personnel committee.

As far as the public could tell, the motion passed (RCD board voting is sort of a vague process.) But the public was unable to determine what members of the board would serve on the new committee.

Commissioner Lashbrook said it would be nice to have board members involved and bringing reports back to the board.

The public hoped for the sake of the board that these reports would be clearer than board member Commissioner Lashbrook’s reports to the board.

Azevedo asked Hildebrandt where farmers go to find a place on the river to dump riprap.

Hildebrandt referred Azevedo to an agency staff person “to look at it.”

Commissioner Lashbrook asked if concrete was “permittable” on the river.

Hildebrandt said “in some places.”

Azevedo said Stevinson farmers always kept it for floods.

Hildebrandt said “it needed a permit.”

Anderson said, “Suppose we know somebody is doing it?”

Hildebrandt said to contact the Army Corps.

Bliss said to Anderson, “So, you’re the little birdy.”

Whipp informed the board that staff has prepared a draft “work plan” or possibly a “draft narrative” or both for the DOCIII watershed coordinator grant proposal. However, somehow she failed to bring a copy. But Barstow, who had a copies, ran off some more. It is only eight pages of narrative. There was no attached list of what the grant is proposing to fund. The grant will cover all watersheds in the RCD sphere of influence (not just the Merced River). There is money to fund facilitation of only one meeting a year of the Merced River Stakeholders.

Commissioner Lashbrook commented, “…to kind of keep it going.”

The public in attendance wondered what the grant proponents are going to do for stakeholders, but presumably they feel that their new work group will be sufficient to bamboozle state officials deciding on grants.

Whipp said that most of the grant is “project oriented,” for the landowners.

Which landowners, the public present wondered.

Commissioner Lashbrook continued in a low mumble, “…assuming the MRS still wants us hosting one meeting a year.”

Whipp said staff is already “building an amended work plan.” It will be “project oriented, not meeting oriented,” she said, and staff is looking for five projects for collaboration with RCD. She mentioned the Sullivan Ranch restoration, educational programs with MID and county Public Works. However, Whipp added, staff doesn’t need to name the projects at this point. All they need to do is indicate it is a “project-focused proposal” in the preliminary stage.

Staff is thinking of a traveling watershed fair. “What it is will be decided by the RCD,” she said. There is also a brochure developed by the former RCD watershed coordinator, Gwen Huff.

Commissioner Lashbrook said something about adding permitting agencies.

Whipp added that people at the work group really wanted the information on permitting. “They are very much more focused on doing” … than RCD staff and board members would like the world to believe the Merced River Stakeholders are.. In fact, six months earlier a coalition of MRS members successfully stopped a grant to RCD, which has threatened the income flow of RCD staff, because the MRS coalition could find nothing in the grant that had anything to do with anything but income flow to RCD staff.

The public was bemused by seeing that Supervisor Kelsey had taken sides with RCD staff against the Merced River Stakeholders by attending the watershed workshop meeting in December. Like Commissioner Lashbrook, as a public official, some feel it is dumb politics for Kelsey to have attended invitation-only meeting (verging on the secret but with public funds) about the Merced River that do not involve notifying all the MRS members, which has the clear intent, if only for another staff-funding grant, to replace the MRS. But Ms. Kelsey has her own aggregate interests on the river. Nevertheless, her support for one side in a controversy over the lower river at large demonstrates once again that Kelsey doesn’t represent the river, only a handful of landowners in Snelling and staffers like Commissioner Lashbrook.

Whipp said the watershed-group newsletter would be called, “Watersheds Newsletter,” which would list the projects RCD is doing.

Anderson asked what the scope of the projects would be?

Commissioner Lashbrook replied that for homecoming festivals etc. “we would be there with our little dog-and-pony show.”

Whipp clarified: “But on the watersheds,” by which she meant: not only the Merced River.

Public members attending the meeting were not immediately aware of festivals along Deadman Creek, Dutchman Creek, Mariposa Creek and others – homecoming or otherwise – by the public is notoriously ignorant of such events, events like the December watershed workshop. Some thought a Homecoming Festival for recidivists could be held on the bank of Deadman Creek, near the county jail.

Anderson asked: with a local focus?

Commissioner Lashbrook replied: “We would have to get partnership with those communities.” It wouldn’t be like the Merced River Alliance with all its staff.

Whipp clarified again: the intent is to give citizens watershed monitoring experience and establishing protocols. They need good training.

The public wondered at the dimensions of the conflicts involved: staff is “creating” the equipment for this monitoring; state and federal agencies do monitoring; MRS members, which includes most of the landowners and aggregate mines on the lower river do not relish the thought of “citizens” – mainly middle schoolers – doing water monitoring on the river.

Anderson said that after this training, the RCD needs to keep the citizens involved. “You are looking for a particular kind of activist.”

Commissioner Lashbrook expanded, saying the object was “to train the trainer types to take it to the grassroots.”

Weber said the object was to coordinate all the testing and the agencies to determine who is doing what where. The program shouldn’t be duplicative. She asked if oxygen studies had been done everywhere.

Commissioner Lashbrook noted that storm water drainage was one of the least monitored in all the small communities. She said that the idea was for citizens to adopt a park, either upstream or downstream from human activity and track the e. coli impacts on the river. The farmers are already being monitored. But are “urban” areas. There are gaps in the monitoring, apparently.

The public wondered if, now that citizen water-monitoring kits of some kind have been created, at public expense, now a market must be found for them, regardless of need or local desire for more water monitoring.

Anderson said it would be necessary to work out some sort of monitoring protocol.

Commissioner Lashbrook said it had been hard to get the San Joaquin Monitoring Partnership going, but that UC Merced and Merced College were willing to help on this proposal. It would work well in a fourth through eighth-grade curriculum.

Whipp informed the board that only two staffers would be allowed to share in this grant. The grant is only a draft at this stage and that there would be many rewrites in the process. Remaining funding, however, is low and there are only about 36 hours of funding left for grant preparation. So, would the broad approve $3,200 for Whipp and Commissioner Lashbrook to finish preparing the proposal and provide one or two board members to review to 44-page final draft before submission? The draft would probably be done by December 31. It could be reviewed on New Years Eve.

Weber said she could review it on January 2.

Commissioner Lashbrook said staff was getting letters of support and partnership collaboration from groups like Grasslands RCD, Chowchilla River RCD and others.

The board voted unanimously to approve the $3,200.

The board moved on to discuss its five-year plan.

Anderson asked if the RCD mission statement was unique to this RCD or parallel to the state association of RCDs.

Commissioner Lashbrook said it was “from the CARCD template and is in alignment with most RCDs.”

Bliss asked if it needed tinkering.

Azevedo focused on #5: “to actively pursue funding.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said that RCD staff had been doing NRCS outreach to farmers on the EQIP program funding. But that funding really meant getting this grant.

Anderson suggested taking the list of goals home to prioritize them.

Azevedo said he got an opportunity to see the mission statement.

A member of the public pointed out that the RCD mission statement is on the agenda page for the meeting.

Anderson moved to take the items home for individual prioritization. The motion passed.

The board said it would attempt to track down the RCD seeder and Azevedo would inspect it and report.

Anderson said RCD having equipment is a thing of the past.

Bliss said an RCD land plane had gone from Merced to Fresno in a year.

Anderson said that’s been privatized.

Azevedo said let’s see what the seeder looks like.

Barstow brought up the issue of the annexation (an addition to the RCD special district).

Commissioner Lashbrook said she thought the RCD missed the LAFCO deadline “for the money thing – we need to try to get some earmarks. About $2,700 is at stake and there might be further expenses.”

“Earmarks” from whom or what was unclear. A little provision in the county Mental Health budget perhaps? Or will it take an act of Congress to do “the money thing”?

Bliss said that the district excludes the city of Merced but “we get everything from the Grasslands to the mountains. If you take money from the USDA you’re in, whether you are signed up or not.”

Next the board turned to the issue of the Hilmar Cheese deep injection pumps. Azevedo said the company made a presentation. It is doing deep injection and the community had no input into the decision.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the EPA gave them a test permit. Azevedo said he’d learned that once it’s below 1,000 feet it is out of state jurisdiction and into federal (EPA). Anderson said the wells are below 3,000. Azevedo said it is injecting milk processing wastes under pressure. It might work in Texas, he said, but one California earthquake could make a mess. He repeated that nobody local had any input.

Commissioner Lashbrook said there was a little meeting in Modesto she went to, but she didn’t report on what was said at the little meeting.

The next item concerned RCD board participation in the county general plan update. Anderson sits on the agriculture focus group, Weber on the open space group. They invited board to provide input for them to carry back to their focus groups. (The general plan update process involves citizen input in focus groups. The oldest, most active environmental groups in the county, including the one that sued the county to force it to do its original general plan, are excluded from these focus groups because they have sued local governments for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. Worst of all, they have sued on UC Merced, which stimulated a real estate boom resulting in the county’s top national position for rate of foreclosure.)

Weber said the open space and habitat group was “a really good group and had state agencies in it.” It covers a lot of issues. She said if she’d known she’d have brought the text, which involves smart growth, oak woodlands and a grading ordinance. She said there was no ordinance involving agriculture-to-agriculture conversions (seasonal pasture to orchard deep-ripping).

Azevedo noted that if there is any change to the flow of water that will affect vernal pools, you have to have a permit. Bliss said a former RCD board member had man-made vernal pools.

Weber said assistant planning director Bill Nicholson was at the focus group, that everybody likes the idea of riparian habitat and that it is a “very good group.”

The next item was board recruitment. Anderson asked if they could recruit Hmongs and Hispanics.

The next item was about RCD relations with the MRS. Azevedo asked how well the two mission statements gelled. Bliss said that the RCD controls the lower half of the river. He said to leave the issue alone, see how it works out.

Commissioner Lashbrook said they needed to go beyond the mission statement to how the group is formed. She said RCD needed to revisit the issue if MRS goes ahead with its planned meeting at Washington School on January 23. Do they need Whipp to do email invitations and agendas. She said the RCD agreed to that.

Whipp questioned that, saying there is no money to do that work and that the board would have to pay her to do the notification. Weber asked how much. Bliss said to just give the MRS the list of addressed.

Lydia Miller, a member of the public in attendance and also a member of the MRS, said the MRS also wanted the archived MRS binders (of MRS business).

Whipp said the RCD needed to keep them.

Miller said, just for the meeting. “We’ll commit to bringing them back or give them to an RCD member attending the MRS meeting,” she said.

Bliss said, “We can’t turn loose of that stuff.”

Miller said that MRS archives belong to the MRS.

Then they returned to the Hilmar injection-well situation. It was suggested the board write a letter, but Azevedo was concerned about RCD liability – if it wanted to get involved. Barstow said she’d ask some of the Hilmar Cheese people at her Bible Study group.

The RCD December board meeting adjourned shortly after.

January 16, 2008 East Merced Resource District board meeting

Karen Barstow presides. Four members present. Tony Azevedo is absent.

Karen Whipp, RCD staff, announces that staff reports will not be available to the public before the meeting. Barstow said that board members receive their reports at the meeting. Whipp said she doesn’t get them ready before the meeting.

Board Member and county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook said: “That’s the way we do it.”

Members of the public present noted that up until two months ago, Whipp had made reports available before meetings. They also noted that without reports being available before the meeting, the public was not able to make public comments on them and that board members we not competent to decide on them, either.

Whipp said RCD staff was going to submit a final proposal for the DOCIII grant (third round of state Department of Conservation grants) and a $6,000 bill at the end of January. Then she discussed the various budget spreadsheets (staff reports) and talked about “recoupments” and “invoice cycles.”

Cherchant dans La Larouse Elementaire (1956) il est decouvert:

Recoupment: n.m. Verification d’un fait au moyen de renseignements provenant de sources diverses. Procede particulier de leve des plans.

Board members and the public were not clear about what she was talking about because they had had no time in advance to study the spreadsheets. Whipp’s report, so to speak, was French aux vaches espanoles.

The next item was Bernard Wade’s resignation as president and from the board in November. Board member Bob Bliss asked if the board had to accept it. Whipp said it was properly submitted to the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and that the RCD should write a letter to the supervisors requesting them to announce the vacancies on the RCD board.

Barstow asked if there were two vacancies.

Commissioner Lashbrook confirmed. Whipp said the supervisors had already advertised the vacancy for the other position. She added that the RCD could recommend board members to the supervisors. Weber said that if there is more than one candidate, it has to go to one of the election days this year.

Bliss and board member Glenn Anderson discussed adding American Indians or Hispanics because there were already women on the board. Weber said there was a notice board in Snelling where the announcement should be posted. Anderson said there were several notice boards in Hilmar. Weber said there should be more effort at outreach beyond a public notice in the Merced Sun-Star. Anderson suggested a press release.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the board should write to each supervisor for suggestions, noting that almost all of the board members are from Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s district now. The board decided it was weakest in the Planada/Le Grand area.

Natural Resource Conservation District director Malia Hildebrandt was absent but sent a written report.

Commissioner Lashbrook, RCD and Merced River Alliance staff, said she had not written her report but had spent a lot of time grant writing in the last month and had conducted a watershed tour for the California Women for Agriculture. She added that they should know about the watershed grant by early March.

Anderson noted that the watershed tour was the final forum required by the last grant and that at least 30 of the 80 attendees were local, which was good, he thought.

Commissioner Lashbrook said that UC Merced showcased its local research into dairy groundwater monitoring, global warming and Blue oaks and the Sierra snow pack … “They got to do their commercial,” she said.

The tour went to the dam and the Kelsey aggregate mining project and observed vernal pools on graze land.

Weber said that Supervisor Kelsey had said during the tour that “you can’t deep rip without a permit,” but that we don’t have a grading ordinance that covers agriculture-to-agriculture conversions (which often involve deep ripping).

Commissioner Lashbrook wondered if something could be done with that in the general plan update.

Lydia Miller, a member of the public in attendance, said the county won’t report to the federal agencies on agriculture-to-agriculture conversions, whether deep-ripped or disked. The federal agencies require a permit but there is a question about how much or often they will enforce a violation. The county won’t agree to a grading ordinance on ag-to-ag conversion, she said.

Barstow asked the board if it wanted someone to address this issue at a later meeting.

Anderson said something about “the local culture.”

Commissioner Lashbrook said the CARCD has workshops on this issue and that Mariposa and Solano counties have grading ordinances.

Miller said the county was on notice about ag-to-ag conversions. She added that conversion from non-irrigation to irrigation agriculture should trigger an environmental impact report.

Merced River Alliance staff director, Nancy McConnell’s written report took another angle on the watershed tour, mainly pointed at burying the Merced River Stakeholders.

Whipp announced that the Feb. 11 Alliance dinner at Cathey’s Valley now had an expanded number of (new) participants and would be called, “Vision to Action.” She added that MRA staffer Terry McLoughlin was developing a new water monitoring kit for groundwater.

Anderson noted that groundwater changes through the season and depends to some extent on the irrigation techniques used.

Commissioner Lashbrook said that was why the RCD had to support the $5-million grant proposal of the Merced Area Groundwater Pool Interests to model how groundwater moves, where recharge is viable and where it isn’t.

Barstow canvassed the group to see where groundwater studies were being done. In her area, there were studies, she said. Bliss said he had been preaching groundwater recharge in his area for years but farmers don’t listen, they just want water. Barstow said recharge was another topic for a later meeting.

Staff announced there would be a water-monitoring training in Mariposa for the lower watershed volunteers on February 9. Anderson asked who it would be best to have there. Bliss said teachers. Anderson asked, agriculture or science teachers? Whipp said science teachers. Commissioner Lashbrook though ag teachers would be good, too. Anderson said UC Merced people and what about Merced College.

The next topic was the board’s ethics review, which involves board members watching a DVD and reading a book. Weber and Barstow decided how to break up the chapters so that individual members could make 30-minute reports on ethics in future meetings.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the state association of RCDs has a nice power point presentation on the state law of public meetings or Brown Act.

Commissioner Lashbrook asked about the Riverside Motorsports Park. Weber said the RCD had not taken a position on that project. Barstow said she thought it was going to go through.

Miller said the key was the foreign trade zone at the former Castle Air Force Base, which the base developers cannot get without the RMP project on adjacent land. But, if it doesn’t make it as a racetrack, it would become some other development project. The best thing would be for the supervisors to put it in an easement, she said.

Next, the board briefly discussed its five-year plan and the Hilmar Cheese deep injection wells, noting the wastewater is processed before it is injected but salinity is an issue. It was reported that the company planned to add three more injection pumps and the present one is down to 4,100 feet.

Staff reported that on January 25, the San Joaquin Regional Water Quality Control Board will have a 90-minute public presentation on the injection wells.

Anderson said there were 273 deep injection wells in Florida and that they are leaking into the Gulf. Those are also processed wastewater wells. Someone asked what relation the Hilmar wells have to groundwater studies. The RCD policy seems to be to study deep injection without mentioning Hilmar Cheese.

To recap the Hilmar Cheese wastewater situation for the casual reader of these public minutes, the Sacramento Bee did an expose on the amount of wastewater the company, which bills itself as the largest cheese factory in the world, was dumping into the groundwater around Hilmar, a small farming community in north Merced County, in the northern San Joaquin Valley. Note that neither of the local McClatchy Chain outlets dare to speak of Hilmar Cheese except in the most flattering terms. The Sac Bee articles resulted in the region water board finally fining the company several million dollars, which the company got reduced after the heat was off. But, either stung by this terrible call to accountability or according to a business plan already worked out, the company announced it was building its new plant in the Panhandle of Texas (“more friendly to business than California,” etc.) Meanwhile, the plant is pumping millions of gallons of treated cheese-plant wastewater are being deep injected into the ground.

Moving on to fund-raising, Anderson volunteered Tony Azevedo (absent) to hold professional fund-raising events at his ranch, which has facilities for it.

Next they moved to the subject of educating youth on endangered species. Weber said it was not realistic and that the way to go was with MRA staffer McLoughlin’s water monitoring kits. Commissioner Lashbrook asked if there should be outreach. Weber said the kits are the things. Barstow said RCD should help disseminate the kits and educate the community on them.

Anderson wondered if the grant should “feed Stillwater Science into the community.”

Weber said the grant had a component for that. Commissioner Lashbrook said it would be easy with the grant. Then she mentioned teachers and kits again before her cell phone rang.

Anderson said that confined livestock fits into this, too, and that “we all need enlightenment on this.

Weber said she is starting to work with landowners on riparian vegetation.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the RCD needs library cataloging. “We aren’t sure where things are.”

Then they discussed information it would be necessary to present new board members. The meeting broke down briefly into a multitude of contending themes: Anderson’s New Age library; Bliss’ belief there would be an east side canal; getting county planning staff to RCD workshops; suburban sprawl needs autos, no services in walking distance; and argument between Commissioner Lashbrook and Weber on the utility of the general plan focus groups.

Miller suggested the RCD should consider the field agricultural and conservation easements because it used to be a leader in conservation. She said biologist John Vollmar did good work with RCD, but it got turned around during the property rights hoopla and the incredible misunderstanding fomented by elected officials about the Williamson Act being mitigation for UC Merced. There is lots of funding for easements, she said, suggesting that the RCD should ask UC Merced or the state Department of Fish and Game about the strategic plan for easements to mitigate for UC Merced. Numerous mitigation banks are entering the market, she added. There is a distinction between agricultural and conservation easements and traditional land trusts favor agriculture and are adverse to species-habitat conservation easements, Miller explained.

Anderson said the RCD should be at the center of this “cultural transition, creating hybrids of agriculture and conservation.”

Commissioner Lashbrook interrupted this line of thought to say that the riparian initiative deadline is January 31 and the fund has $1.5 million for landowner incentives – full costs of restoration and $400/acre for 10 years to maintain. She added that (although her land is on the river) she doesn’t have any land “I can back off on” but she’d like to get her neighbors involved in the program.

Anderson said the board needed more maps to visualize their space. He mentioned an upcoming CEQA workshop organized by the WalMart Action Team. Commissioner Lashbrook referred to it as “for grassroots activists.” (County officials will also hold a CEQA workshop the same day.)

Miller said that last CEQA workshop her group organized was mainly attended by attorneys and land-use officials. So attendance varies.

Weber brought up a new Santa Fe Aggregate project to take 400 acres of dredge tailings down to grade level and assume nature will do the reclamation. She couldn’t define what “grade level” meant.

Merced County Planning Commissioner Lashbrook said the RCD is not set up to comment on land-use issues. It needs a steering committee.

Anderson wondered if the board couldn’t have a staffer do comments. (Certainly not a board member.) Weber and Whipp describe the runaround the planning department is giving them on getting project staff reports mailed to the RCD. Nobody checks the RCD post office box, evidently. Barstow said that as long as Planning Commissioner Lashbrook is already there, couldn’t she highlight the items for the RCD? Whipp said the RCD isn’t getting any environmental impact reports. Commissioner Lashbrook said the planning department doesn’t post any staff reports but offers to fax Weber staff reports.

Commissioner Lashbrook said the county had just hired a new lawyer to clean up the planning situation and make the county less “sue-able.”

Bliss and Anderson lurch off into a conversation that ends with Bliss saying a barracuda was caught off San Francisco two weeks ago.

Commissioner Lashbrook said how the grant proposal is expanded to the entire watershed in the RCD district, not just the river.

Miller said that the Merced River Stakeholders need the archive binder of MRS business for its January 28 meeting. (Advance: the RCD did not provide the binder.)

The rest of the meeting was about developing local food systems, a “buy fresh, buy local” campaign, a grant for obesity, enhancing the value of farms, and nostalgia about Korean vegetable gardens grown in human and animal wastes observed by one board member during the Korean War.

The meeting adjourned.

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The idiocies of California water journalism

Submitted: Jan 29, 2008

One of the ways we used to wile away our time in the newsroom during the first Gray Davis administration was to observe the subtleties of developer propaganda. Our favorite example was that shifting figure, the amount of water it took to supply a California household. At the beginning of the Davis administration it was two acre-feet per year for a household of four. Shortly before the Davis recall and the arrival of the Hun, our present governor, the figure had shrunk to one acre-foot per household.

We were delighted to see that development flaks are still plying their trade despite the resent misfortune in the credit market. See below for the latest statement of fact on the amount of water it takes to supply a household in California according to the San Diego press.

North County Times
Threats to imported water supplies make clouds welcome sight...Gig Conaughton, staff writer

...An acre foot of water is 325,900 gallons, enough to sustain two households for a year.

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CEQA "General Rule Exemption" Awareness Month in Merced

Submitted: Dec 12, 2007
California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines
15061 Review for Exemption
15061 (b) 3:
The activity is convered by the general rule that CEQA applies only to projects which have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. Where it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment, the activity is not subject ot CEQA.

On November 20, the Merced County Board of Supervisors received a great deal of pointed comment on the CEQA General Rule Exemption in connection with a parcel split of some 265 acres into five parcels of about 50 acres each on Bear Creek near Planada.

On October 24, the county Planning Commission had rejected the project, persuaded by the public and county counsel that the general rule exemption could not apply to this project and that it would need some level of environmental review because it would, in fact, have effects on the environment.

The applicants appealed the planning commission decision to the county Board of Supervisors. Below the counsel's comments to the planning commission is a letter written by attorney Marsha Burch to the board of supervisors that discusses the same issue: the legality of claiming a general rule exemption to CEQA.

The general rule exemption to CEQA has been popular in Merced County land-use decisions during the recent speculative real estate bubble. It has been so common, in fact, that members of the public were unable to get a count from the planning department of how many general rule exemptions it has granted in Merced County. One supervisor noted exphasized this point -- that the planning department doesn't even know how many exemptions it has granted.

Robert Gabriele, county deputy counsel, commented on the general rule exemption on a minor subdivision application in Gustine at the October 24 Planning Commission hearing:

...What impresses me, and I’ve only been with the county a little over two months, in this particular case there is what would be reasonably described as very reliable evidence because as the expression goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

And typically, what I’ve seen during the course of these hearings, and I have noted that on average, there appears to be one minor subdivision that’s on the agenda (every hearing) but this is the first time I have seen what could be described without question as substantial evidence on the issue, in addition to just an aerial of the site in the type of pictorial that is presented so from a standpoint of the process; if I may, the speakers who have raised issues in opposition to this particular project -- I’m not expressing an opinion on the validity or invalidity from the standpoint of weighting of the evidence -- but this type of presentation is what the CEQA process -- the administrative process – envisions, and that is when there is a pro and a con to any of these issues since CEQA is essentially a process calculated to provide information so that the decision maker can make and appropriate and lawful decision. This is the type of presentation that I just want to make a comment from a legal perspective is very significant and is helpful to the process.

And I mean that from a standpoint of both anyone who is in favor because of what’s going on around the property, what has gone on before the presentation, the proposed use, the split, what the history is -- all of those are factors that go into the analytical mix so that staff can have the benefit of that information and then exercise their expertise in technical knowledge as to whether or not an exemption applies and whether it does or it doesn’t beyond that concerns to address issues that are raised and then they are presented before the hearing I think it always makes the process a little more easier and its more helpful to the staff.

Presentation of evidence, like this, at the time of the hearing, I think always present -- I mean it’s a benefit -- because you need the evidence, but it presents a practical problem because there has already been dispersion of substantial information and evidence up to a week before the hearing and so the Planning Commissioners have had an opportunity to digest that. This is all a first impression. So I would encourage anyone that has a position on any of these issues in particular since this is an issue that comes up more
than one time. The more, and the sooner, in terms of submittal -- the better and easier to facilitate the process and perhaps have a desired impact on the decision makers.

Later in the discussion of the minor subdivision in Gustine, Gabriele spoke again on the general rule exemption, aka the "common sense" exemption.

Before (the vote), [if] it would be acceptable to you, before the motion is made and before a vote, just so there is not lack of clarity as to what the legal standard is. First and foremost, the board is asked to determine whether or not what is called the common sense exemption applies.

Let me read the guide to CEQA and this is on page 166 (he proceeds to find the correct page), Page 166, the guide to CEQA, the most recent version. It provides the legal standard so when you do review the evidence and when you do act on whatever the motion is going to be you have the legal standard in mind.

In order for any decision, if the applicant were denied and he were to challenge that decision, that’s part of his position. If an application were granted and a challenger were to challenge that then, that’s part of what makes the decision of this body defensible. The seminal case in the area of the law is actually, in that area called Davidson Homes v The City of San Jose. And, in particular, what the court did state with respect to what the showing is required to support an exemption is this, quote: “the showing required of a party challenging an exemption under guidelines section 15061 subdivision (b) 3 is slight. "

Since the exemption requires the agency to be certain, that there is no possibly, meaning practical possibility -- in other words, just a reasonable mind thinking about it -- there no possibility that the project may cause significant environmental impacts.

If a legitimate question can be raised, based on evidence, this is not just hypothetical, theoretical, impractical and unrealistic, but, -- if legitimate questions based on evidence can be raised about whether the project might have a significant impact and there is any dispute about the possibility again, dispute, there are many times people can have unrational, unreasonable arguments and disagreements, we are talking about what a reasonable person, an adult of reasonable average intelligence would consider. A dispute about the possibility of such an impact; then, the agency cannot find with certainty that a project is exempt.

If a reasonable argument is made to suggest a possibility that a project will cause a significant environmental impact, then that must be taken into account in the evaluation process. Fundamentally, the board is inured with substantial legal discretion to evaluate evidence and exercise that discretion in a reasonable way.

So, no one can dictate to the board what to believe or not to believe in terms of the evidence; but you have the discretion to weigh evidence and make a determination as to whether or not there is substantial evidence or not. So, I hope that’s helpful in at least in terms of establishing or confirming the framework -- the legal framework within which to make these types decisions.

Planning Commission Chairman Steve Sloan said that Gabriele's comments were helpful helpful, and then he voted alone in favor of the application. The other four commissioners doubted the project was exempt from CEQA.

On November 20, the county Board of Supervisors considered another application for subdivision in which the issue of the general rule exemption had been debated at the Planning Commission, with the result that the commission rejected the application and the applicants appealed to the board of supervisors. The supervisors received the following letter from attorney Marsha Burch, writing on behalf of members of the Merced public.

Date: November 19, 2007
Re: Proposed Minor Subdivision MS07-022 (Geneva Development Co./Bear
Creek Ranch Partnership) at Planada, Merced County, California

Dear members of the Board of Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water, groups with an interest in the above-referenced proposed minor subdivision (“Proposal”). We submit the following comments on the Proposal.

This proposal comes to you by way of an appeal of the August 22, 2007, Planning Commission determination that the Proposal is not exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The applicants argued to the Planning Commission that the Proposal was exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b)(3), known as the “common sense” exemption. This exemption applies where “it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment.” (CEQA Guidelines § 15061(b)(3).)

The Planning Commission rejected the argument that the Proposal is exempt from CEQA, and so should the Board of Supervisors. The Proposal will result in physical changes to the environment, including the potential for conversion of productive agricultural lands, for construction of residences, easements, etc. on the newly created parcels. As discussed in greater detail below, evidence in the record also suggests that the Proposal could result in impacts to listed species and to groundwater supplies. There is no basis for the
County to rely on the common sense exemption.

A. Exemptions under Section 15061(b)(3)

An agency may find a proposed project exempt under Section 15061(b)(3) only if its precise language clearly applies. Any possibility that the project might culminate in a significant adverse change removes it from this exemption. If a reasonable argument is made that suggests a project might have a significant impact, the agency must refute that argument to a certainty to rely on the exemption. (Davidon Homes v. City of San Jose (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 106, 118.)

The Planning Commission was convinced that the Proposal was not subject to the common sense exemption, and did so in light of evidence in the record that the Proposal may result in significant impacts. The burden is now on the agency, the County, to refute the argument to a certainty, which is not possible under the circumstances.

The Planning Commission staff report stated that the Proposal was exempt from CEQA “review of the material submitted for the application and information on file.” This is simply not enough. When a project will result in physical changes to the environment, and there is dispute regarding the possibility of significant impact, the agency must prove that significant impacts cannot possibly occur. (Davidon Homes, supra, 54 Cal.App.4th at 118, emphasis added.) Also, when evidence is presented to a lead agency showing
possibility of adverse impact, the agency cannot rely on the absence of supporting data, because the agency cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of significant effect on the environment. (Dunn-Edwards Corp. v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 644, emphasis added.)

B. Potential for Conversion of Agricultural Lands

In this case, the Proposal will create five new parcels of approximately 50 acres each. Each of these new parcels could result in the construction of new residences, barns, other outbuildings and roads/driveways. The applicants continue to insist that they themselves have no plans to change the use of the property, but the fact remains, the County’s action in approving this would allow for development of the individual parcels.

When that development occurs is not the issue.

The General Plan, Land Use Chapter, Goal 7, is “Conservation of productive agricultural and other valuable open space lands.” The staff report to the Planning Commission suggested that the Proposal was consistent with this Goal because “[t]he applicant has stated that the property would continue to be used as a commercial almond orchard.”

Again, the fact that the applicants do not have any immediate plans does not change the fact that the five new parcels would be subject to development. In other words, the Proposal will allow for land use changes that could be contrary to Goal 7.

Additionally, Land Use Chapter, Policy 7.3 states that “[p]remature and uncoordinated division of land which forces the early cessation of valid agricultural uses shall be avoided.” Correctly, the staff report for the Board notes that the Proposal may well be contrary to this Policy. The Planning Commission staff report admitted that irrigation easements would likely be required to provide irrigation supplies to all parcels in the
event they are sold, but there is no indication that such easements will be included in the subdivision, and here again, the General Plan Policy favoring large, productive agricultural parcels is not consistent with the Proposal.

There is substantial evidence in the record before you indicating that the Proposal may result in premature conversion of productive agricultural lands.In addition to being inconsistent with the General Plan, this conversion is a potentially significant impact under CEQA. The County may not, at this point,rely upon an absence of data in the record regarding the specific impacts to agricultural lands, but must move
forward to an Initial Study. (See Dunn- Edwards Corp. v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. (1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 644.)

C. Potential Impacts to Listed Species

The United States Fish and Wildlife (“USFWS”) has reviewed the Proposal and stated that the subdivision may have significant impacts on federally listed species. This opinion from the experts at the USFWS is “substantial evidence” under CEQA. (See Stanislaus Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 144, 156 [memorandum from the state Department of Conservation was substantial evidence].)

The inquiry should end here. An Initial Study is required, as the County simply cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of a significant effect on listed species.

D. Potential Impacts to Groundwater

There is also evidence in the record that the Proposal could ultimately impact groundwater supplies. For example, the staff report indicates that the applicants are “prepared to dig another well if needed” and goes on to note that the Merced Irrigation District has submitted a comment that the groundwater supplies in the Planada area are in an overdraft condition. Thus, the Proposal may result in significant impacts to
groundwater supplies. The County cannot say with certainty that there is no possibility of a significant effect on the environment. Again, this should be the end of the inquiry.

It is unclear why the applicants and/or Planning Staff so wish to avoid the preparation of an Initial Study, but one is required under CEQA. Approval of the Proposal based upon a finding that the Proposal is exempt under the common sense exemption would be a violation of CEQA.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment. We respectfully request that the Board of Supervisors uphold the decision of the Planning Commission that the Proposal is not exempt from CEQA, and deny the Proposal.

Very truly yours,
Marsha A. Burch
cc: San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Donald B. Mooney, Esq.

The land under discussion is flat, rich farmland lying just below the foothills to Yosemite into which deep layers of topsoil have been carried down from the hills by Bear Creek The local row croppers regard it as the best land in the county. On days when the smog is not too heavy, the peaks surrounding Yosemite
Valley are visible. Its misfortune, from an agricultural standpoint, is that lies only a few miles south of UC Merced. This rich farmland lies on the border of gently rolling hills in seasonal pasture that rise to the Sierra foothills. The proposed development, which the county Planning Department describes as exempt from CEQA because it will cause no environmental effects, also lies near a small, unencorporated village, Planada,
populated mainly by farmworkers who work in the nearby orchards, dairies and rowcrops.

The developer pressure on its decrepit sewer system is more evidence that the whole region, thanks to the arrival of UC Merced, is now viewed as profitable residential and commercial real estate.

Finally, the preceding and following should be viewed in the context that the planning department claims it is unable to come up with a list of how many general rule exemptions it has recommended and county land-use authorities have approved during a speculative real estate boom -- greatly exacerbated by UC Merced -- that has resulted in Merced achieving the top mortgage-foreclosure rate in the nation.

You are in the midst of yet another chapter of the finance, insurance, real estate and large landowner corruption in Merced County. But this chapter, like so many in the annals of the real estate development of the county, also has a twisted ending. So read on.

Merced County Board of Supervisors Public Hearing:
To consider an Appeal of the Planning Commission Denial of Minor Subdivision Application No. 07-022 submitted by Bear Creek Ranch Partnership ...to divide one 265.6-acre into five parcels ...

County Planner James Holland described the project as the subdivision of a commercially viable parcel of agricultural land, noting comments made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Maureen McCrorry, criticizing the project. Holland explained that one corner of the property is occupied by a farm labor housing project and another parcel would be the home of another farm labor housing project (recently removed from another location in Planada for the benefit of the same developers who needed its sewer hookups). The entire area is within the Agricultural Preserve but has a relatively low rate of Williamson Act contracts, Holland said. He noted that according to the county General Plan, splitting commercially viable agricultural parcels into smaller parcels is to be avoided. The land is prime farm land that lies within the Merced Irrigation District and also has wells on the property.

Noting that public access is generally good on the property, Holland explained that the parcelization seemed compatable with surrounding parcel sizes. However, he said that the planning staff received no answer from the developers about the reason for the splits. He explained that these splits have to do with the ownership situation and not with agricultural competitiveness. The planning commission could not make the findings to
approve the project.

Holland explained the board's necessary considerations:

1. Deny the appeal that the project is exempt from CEQA.
2. Decide it is potentially eligible for exemption and send it back to the planning commission.
3. To prove that "common sense" shows that the project would have no environmental effects, the board must be able to refute the information that it would have effects.

Therefore, the options Holland put before the board were:
1. Close the hearing.
2. Determine CEQA is necessary.
3. Uphold the planning commission decision.

In reply to a request from Supervisor Mike Nelson for clarification, Holland explained the status of a project versus a non-project. If the project is denied, it no longer exists, therefore CEQA doesn't apply, he said.

Supervisor Diedre Kelsey felt compelled to say to the public that she had read all the comments.

County Counsel James Fincher said that all the comments from the Planada Association were included in the administrative record now before the board.

David Corser, representing the Planada Association said that in order to establish standing to file a lawsuit, this acknowledgement of receipt of comments was necessary. Corser went on to say that this project is part of a much larger project, although it lies 2,000 feet outside the Planada Specific Urban Development Plan. (Because Planada is unincorporated, its SUDP is designed by the county planning department and approved by a local municipal advisory commission, appointed by the district's supervisor.)

Corser noted that former county Supervisor Gloria Keene and former county Planner Des Johnson both work for the three developers behind this and the larger project. He said supervisors are not charged with bailing out developers who invest in prime farm land, but are required to review the entire Village of Geneva at Planada project.

Corser then began to talk about one of the investors behind the sometime partnership between Sessions, Pacific Holt and Ranchwood Homes, the developers. Board Chairman John Pedrozo, who represents Planada, stopped him abruptly at five minutes as the lurid tale of Thomas Nevis' business dealings began to unfold.

Bryant Owens followed Corser and finished reading the letter on Nevis, citing convictions for bank fraud, revocation of prole and violations of the IRS Code that resulted in a civil judgment against him of $36 million. According to Owens and Corser's research, Nevis is permanently enjoined from doing business by any name other than his own.

Louie Bandoni, president of the Merced County Farm Bureau testified that the farm bureau opposes the project because it is on prime farm land and therefore protected by CEQA. He said the split was not a typical kind of parcelization farmers use, for example to divide and among children. Reminding the board that this land had been considered earlier for the Red Rock Golf Club and remains part of the overall Villages of Geneva at Planada project. The intent of the developers was clear, he said: the conversion of prime agricultural land for commercial real estate development. Furthermore, this conversion would lead to more lot splitting and conversion because, surrounding smaller parcel sizes would only increase the planning department's recommendations for more lot splits and general rule exemptions.

Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the county Farm Bureau, told the board the project is inconsistent with the county General Plan. She also asserted that CEQA requires special consideration be given to agricultural land conversion. She read from a letter prepared by a Farm Bureau attorney that quoted and cited CEQA case law. She concluded saying that hydraulogical studies are required to prove there would be no detrimental effects to groundwater in an area that already has a significant overdraft of
its aquifer.

Maria Giampoli, representing her family and the Marchini family of farmers from nearby Le Grand, said they could vouch for it being the finest quality agricultural land because they have leased adjoining land for a long time. She argued that there was no point to dividing one of the best stretches of farmland in the county ... "and parcelization divides."

Colette Alvernaz of Livingston told supervisors is was time to "Just Say No" to rezoning agricultural land for other uses and chipping away at large, commercially viable parcels for the sake of real estate development.

Benita Burroughs, president of the Merced Chapter of the California Women for Agriculture, told the board it should not make this kind of decision while the county General Plan was being updated. She noted that the number of houses that could be built on the smaller parcels would definitely have an impact on the acquifer. "Farmers are under a domino impact," she said.

Kim Rogina said her family also owns prime farm land adjacent to the project site and knew that it was excellent tomato ground. She added that although she was for development, being a realtor, she was for development within the Planada SUDP. She concluded that Merced now has an abundance of houses for sale and that this project was premature.

Steve Herum, an attorney representing the developers, lectured the board on teh "fair and equal application of the subdivision ordinance and that no one has access to the motives behind the requested split. He said that the proposed splits are still much larger than the requirement. CEQA requires substantial evidence, he said, and the best substantial evidence the board could get is that its own planning staff agreed there would be no environmental effect, therefore recommended the general rule exemption.

CEQA requires significant evidence of cumulative impacts as opposed to mere evidence and speculation without quantification, he argued. The larger Villages of Geneva at Planada question is irrelevant.

"Your professional staff is your evidence, the capital Evidence," Herum asserted.

Rob Hawkins, the engineer on the application said that county planning staff concluded that the project was exempt from CEQA.

John Colbert, the farm manager for the Bear Creek property, testified that the parcel splits would not change the way the land is farmed. The splits are just to implement option agreements, he said.

John Sessions, the project proponents said that the board's rejection of the previous project for this land, involving three developers (Ranchwood, Pacific Holt and Sessions) was probably a favor, given the way the real estate market is going. He said that three-developer group has disbanded and that the current plan is to buy a fifth of the property at a time while keeping the rest in farming. They need to pay $100,000 a year to
preserve the option. He said the application is "not about land-use." This was followed by several sad personal stories, ending with: "I appeal to your innate sense of fairness," and a vintage developer whine: "I hope not every farmer splitting land has to go through CEQA review ... aleviated by the next speaker, Mary Furey, a Planada rancher.

Furey told the supervisors that this applicated boiled down to "speculators rights versus property rights." On the previous attempt by the three-developer combo, the guidance package was denied and the parcel splits should be denied. No farmer could farm at these land prices, she said. When the next boom starts, these parcesl will be built out. This is the best land in the county and possibly the best land left in the state, Furey continued. The aquifer in the area has been overdrafted for 30 years, she added.

"It will be the death of Planada as we know it," Furey concluded.

Tom Grave of Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, noted that the Planada Municipal Advisory Council opposes this project and "they are your eyes on the ground." He mentioned that the General Rule Exemption requires "certainty that there is no possibility of environmental impacts." Without that certainty, the exemption cannot be used. The ownership situation with the property does not justify the split, Graves said,
concluding that, "Everything in Merced County depends on agriculture."

Maureen McCorry, noting a letter of concern from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the letter from Marsha Burch, said that Sessions and other developers in Planada have gotten the Planada Community Services District to propose a grant to get the state to pay for doubling the sewer capacity. She said that if she had sat down to plot out a novel of how developers overrun a town, she could not have come up with the reality in Planada.

Prior to the supervisors taking a break, Supervisor Kelsey announced that she had read everything but the USFWS letter.

After the break, County Counsel James Fincher laid out the supervisors' options:

1. Deny the appeal.
2. Deny the appeal on the CEQA issue, i.e. that the general rule exemption doesn't apply, and send it back to the Planning Commission.
3. Approve the application and the findings that CEQA doesn't apply (i.e. the general rule exemption is suitable for this application).
4. Send it back to the Planning Commission to consider new evidence.

Supervisor Gerry O'Banion asked if there was new evidence.

Fincher said there was new information, some of it relevant to the CEQA issue. There is also a letter from the USFWS citing impacts to 10 species. The USFWS recommends studies, Fincher said. Also, the board would have to refute the planning commission's determination that the exemption doesn't apply.

Supervisor Mike Nelson asked if the application was "premature and uncoordinated.Planner Holland replied that there is no need for this under agricultural economics. The split does nothing to enhance agricultural operations or improve adjacent agricultural operations.

Holland posed the question: Why is CEQA review now required? On its face, the project is exempt from CEQA, he said. The board had denied the Villages of Geneva at Planada project, so this is not piecemeal development. However, the comment letters changed the minds of the planning staff because all that is needed is one question to throw out the general rule exemption. The board should direct CEQA review, he

Nelson asked what bearing the former Villages of Geneva project has on this project?

Holland said that was a "yes/no" situation. Yes, there is a history, but No, we look at this project separately. He said the project has gone through a reasoned, deliberative process and that what the public provided signaled the need for additional information.

"The project works," concluded Holland, the planner for the Riverside Motorsparts Pork project.

Supervisor Kelsey asked if the decision the supervisors were being asked to make was discretionary. Then she launched, noting that the supervisors in this case know more about the project than the planners seem to. And there are some "shocking" elements to this project, including that it appears that "some members of the Local Agency Formation Commission may be on somebody's payroll. " She said that there is a cumulative impact to parcel splits. Merced County does more splits than most jurisdictions, she explained. There is no general rule exemption in this case. CEQA will require mitigation, and there is no mitigation here, she concluded.

Supervisor John Pedrozo, who represents Planada, asked how many houses could be built on the proposed parcels.

Holland said that there could be five houses per 50 acres, but an administrative permit could increase that to 20 and a conditional use permit could increase it to 30.

Pedroza said to leave it as it is.

Kelsey said that speculative land prices are not related to agricultural prices. She added that the board has asked for mitigation for discretionary actions and that it seems that the intent on this project is probably for development (not agriculture).

Kelsey concluded that she would like to see future appeals like this one contain some sort of environmental review. If the board denies this, she said, it might affect the economic viability of the ownership of this property, but that is not the board's problem.

Supervisor Kathleen Crookham said she thought it was a property rights versus a community feeling issue. (Crookham has an ownership in a large ranch east of Planada and is a well-known organizer in the past of property-rights mob scene, along with Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.

Kelsey asked if there were no motion, what would happen.

Fincher replied that it would be a denial of the application and the appeal.

Herum, Sessions' attorney barged in (the public hearing was over) pleading that if the project was denied that it would be without prejudice.

Board Chairman Pedrozo told him no more public comments would be heard.

Silence ensued.

Nelson mused on the General Plan. "When is too small too small?" Forty acre minimums are permitted and 20's are legal. He wondered if only family farmers were to have rights under the General Plan. It was vintage rightwing ideologue pseudo-reflection.

Nelson then moved to send the project back to the staff for an initial study.

Fincher interpreted his motion to mean a denial of the appeal and a return of the project to the planning department.

O'Banion also mused (possibly reflecting on the Gustine minor subdivision): 20-acre splits are easy, 50-acre splits are hard. He noted that the board is setting a dangerous precedent of CEQA review on agricultural conversions that are ag-to-ag conversions on 50-acre parcels.

(This contradicts the facts on the table, that this split is not about agriculture but about an option scheme by developers. God forbid, something like this could happen in Dos Palos, where O'Banion lives.)

"Efforts will be made," O'Banion muttered darkly, to dig up what's happened on other parcels in the future that would allow CEQA review. (Death of the general rule exemption as the board has been employing it so long and so profitably.)

"There is going to be CEQA review on every subdivision!" he said.

(End of civilization is at hand.)

Nelson asked Fincher if this would set a precedent.

Fincher said, "Yes and No. It depends on the evidence in the record."

Kelsey wondered by the applicant "pushed this this far. It's not the parcels, it's the houses you can put on them." She said it was precedent setting.

O'Banion said he couldn't support a motion to send the project back to the planning department.

Kelsey said neither could she. She wanted to just deny the application and the appeal.

Fincher reminded her there was already a motion on the floor.

Crookham asked if sending it back to the planning department was precedent-setting.

Fincher replied: "Yes and No, depending on the evidence. However, people could argue that it set a precedent.

O'Banion said there was a presumption for general rule exemption but not in the documents.

Fincher said it is a denial based on procedure.

The board voted 3-2 against Nelson's motion to send it back to the planning department.

After some other chit-chat, O'Banion, chuckling, moved to approve the appeal.

The motion died for lack of a second.

Fincher said that the project would die without action. "This item is now closed."

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Public minutes of the Merced River Stakeholders November meeting held at the Merced County Agricultural Extension conference roo

Submitted: Dec 07, 2007

At the meeting held on November 19 at the Agricultural Extension conference room, a quorum of East Merced Resource Conservation District board members was present: Glenn Anderson, Bernard Wade, Cathy Weber, Bob Bliss and county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook and EMRCD staff, Karen Whipp…so this was also an EMRCD meeting, regardless of the view of some RCD directors that the RCD is a completely private institution not subject to such pesky laws. Last month, if readers recall, the Merced River Stakeholders held two meetings simultaneously. One meeting was hosted by river stakeholders and held at the Washington School (near the river). The other meeting was hosted by the EMRCD board of directors and was held at UC Merced.

At this meeting, in addition to the EMRCD board quorum, there was one representative of the river landowner group that hosted last month’s meeting at Washington School and several new people, two of whom heckled environmentalists at the table.

EMRCD brought in a new facilitator, Netty Drake, because Gwen Huff resigned. Drake announced she was working on a new grant and asked: Where is MRS going?

In the introductions, Whipp’s husband, Fred, introduced himself as “operating the computer tonight.” Fred attends all RCD board meetings.

Karen Whipp told the MRS it was her understanding that the MRS could not approve its own minutes. Whipp did the staff work in this part of the meeting.

It was announced the 3rd Annual Merced River Alliance dinner has been postponed from November to March 2008.

Stakeholder Lydia Miller commented that the packet at the MRS meeting held by the RCD board and staff at UC Merced wasn’t complete because it didn’t include the emails surrounding the grant proposal. Planning Commissioner Lashbrook (RCD board member, staffer and Merced River Alliance staffer) denied this. Miller replied that she had received the material from someone who attended the meeting and that the packet had only contained the first page of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center/Protect Our Water letter. There was no reply to this from any of the RCD board members who had run the UC/MRS October meeting.

The grant proposal was the main topic of the evening. To recapitulate, RCD staff applied for a grant for studies of the river that cut the MRS out of participation and oversight. MRS stakeholders weren’t even given a copy of the final draft of the grant until after it had been submitted. Two groups of stakeholders wrote letters to the state funding agency, Department of Water Resources, in opposition to the grant for reasons concerning both the content of the grant and significant conflicts-of-interest issues about grant writing, administration, staff salaries and oversight. Although DWR has not indicated to either the grant writers or to those who wrote in opposition to the grant the reason it rejected the grant, it is clear from comments and actions taken by the grant writers that they have no doubt the opposition letters killed it. This issue dominates the following meeting.

Bernie Wade announced a mining permit on the river. A scoping meeting will heard on Dec. 12. It is a 400-ac tailings project. The Initial Study will be out the last week in November. Also, the Schmidt Ranch mining project is before the county Planning Commission on Dec. 5 for a mitigated negative declaration and a conditional use permit. There is a small sand removal operation on El Capitan Road on a farm, also, Wade announced.

Miller asked when will the Jaxon Mine administrative DEIR be out? Completed by end of year? No one knew. Aggregate specialist for the county Planning Department, Jeff Wilson, said the Jaxon project wasn’t on the Merced River. Miller noted it is on a tributary, Mariposa Creek, which contains good riparian habitat. MRS does address problems of tributaries to the Merced River from time to time.

David Hu, from USFWS and a representative from Cramer Fish Science spoke on the record low numbers of salmon counted in the Merced River – 44 to date.
“Salmon aren’t doing well throughout these rivers,” Hu said. “On the Stanislaus, 200 where usually over a thousand. Merced the worst of the three (Stanislaus and Tuolumne are the other two).

We notice at this point no representatives are present from DWR, DFG, MID, county, Stillwater Sciences, aggregate mines, UC, state RCD, or the Farm Bureau, any other RCD staffers involved in the grant or any of the new group of “stakeholders” that had replaced the MRS on the grant proposal.

Natural gravel cools water. Salmon can’t pass Crocker Huffman dam, siltation kills eggs.

Pat Ferrigno said farmers wanted to put gravel in the river but it costs $14,000 for a permit for what we can do in half and hour. DFG is the culprit. But many agencies are involved, FWS, ACE, DWR, RWCB.

Jill Ratzlaff: DFG put the wrong size gravel in our restoration project. Too big. Spent $6-7 million.

Hu commented, “corrupt system.”

Drake: They change people and projects are left unfinished.

Ratzlaff: “I don’t trust government restoration anymore.

Wade: We should have asked Rhonda Reed.

Ferrigno: Farmers will add gravel to river without a permit but not if we get fined for it.

Weber: Adaptive management is the key.

Ratzlaff: our suggestions weren’t followed.

Hu: “Lessons were learned.” The fall pulse cleans out debris, cleans gravel and the flow attracts fish.

Ezio Sansone: The pulse is for temperature?

Cramer consultant: “Haven’t heard that river temperature is controlled by air temperature.”

Sansone: is the pulse working? MID sends down 30,000 acre-feet in the fall. If it’s not working farmers need to know about it.

Cramer consultant: Merced River needs a counting fish weir and to photograph the fish.

There is bass predation from the old gravel pits. The pike are native. About 20 percent of the fish released from the hatchery make it to the downstream traps, two miles from the hatchery.

McClure Reservoir is at 28 percent capacity. Actually the total pulse was 37,500 AF.

DFG has announced a “California Landowner Initiative. DFG will design the restoration of riparian habitat and lease the land for up to 10 years at various prices depending on use. Lashbrook announced that the news came from the state RCD that day. Cramer can help with the permits (probably not for free).

Lashbrook said this is the last MRS meeting funded by the RCD.

Drake described herself: managed a 2-million AC watershed in Fresno Co. Tried to help interested non-govt. groups find a vision!! She proclaimed to the MRS stakeholders that she “hadn’t read anything” about its issues. Presumably, in the world of professional value-free facilitators, ignorance of documents and issues is a virtue. On the other hand, such facilitators do not probably read for free. And it fails the “reasonable person” test now widely propounded by county counsels that Drake would have been hired by the RCD staffer proponents of the failed grant without having heard an earful about opponents.

One small example among others of Drake’s failure of “value-free facilitation” occurred when this reporter responded verbally to one of several direct lies told about his group by Commissioner/RCD board member/RCD staffer/MRA staffer Lashbrook and her husband, Bill Thomson, sitting outside the circle of tables, quite audibly ordered the reporter, “Outside!” then began circling behind the reporter’s back. The reporter, believing physical attack was a possibility from a man defending his wife, began to get up from his chair and was restrained by the hand of Drake on his hand. Presumably, in the world of “value-free facilitation,” some people cannot respond to threats by other people. Thompson, to his credit, calmed down and returned to his seat.

“I understand,” she said. “The goal tonight is to help you find your goal and ‘navigate’ to it. What do you expect from this program – immediate, intermediate, and long-range?

Anderson said he wanted to continue the broad based collaborations for the entire watershed.

Wade said he wanted to environmentally preserve the Merced River watershed. Show respect for property owners, agriculture and recreation.

Ferrigno: 85 percent of the farmers along the river (she represents). We come to protect ourselves. We want equal representation in grant formulation. We’ll live with the consequences. Take the grant money, but leave us alone re. projects on site that we don’t initiate or have equal part in. Stillwater wasting funds and not listening to local knowledge. Funds better spent on a weir than on snorkeling to count fish – its’ ridiculous.
Somehow MRS became subservient to EMRCD. Who put our website up for sale? We were moved into a different category

Ratzlaff: funds are wasted by the govt. on bad restoration projects. People don’t know how much money has been wasted. On her land, agencies killed acres of old growth oak trees.

Wade: RCD didn’t write the checks. Grants were written to DWR’s RFP.

Ferrigno: If the RFP doesn’t fit, don’t write a grant to it.

Sansone is interested in property issues on Black Rascal and Bear creeks.

Lynn Sullivan: said she wanted action and projects done. Don’t study it to death.

Weber: the studies (in the failed grant) were to establish baselines to be able to act.

Sullivan: Let’s plant trees.

Miller: Like Chris Robinson did?

Fisherman wants a healthy anadromous fishery.

Lashbrook: There is tension between private property owners and the good of the environment. We need more carrots for the landowners. We have to pretend, make up those processes. We have to have the agencies listen, have the dialogue stronger. But I also know that Stillwater had to do those studies – you can’t do it from hearsay.

Miller wanted quality and quantity of habitat, density of species and protection and improvement of the natural resources. Having been involved in the stakeholder process since 1998, she knows the process works: there is tension, critical voices and supportive commentary. It is frustrating to have to go back to the mission statement. A technical advisory committee is being brought back, excluding the MRS. We should not be cut out of certain organizations.

Bill Thompson (couldn’t understand his comment)

Joe Mitchell: river is degraded by agriculture, mining, etc. for economic reasons. We have a canal now. He would like to see farmers farm subsidized riparian corridors, movement corridors. We take road rights of ways by eminent domain, why not riparian corridors.

Biologist from McConnell/Hatfield parks introduces herself.

Lashbrook says she and her husband bought their place by the river in 1996. They wanted info on the river about permits, projects, grants, wanted a watershed booklet to show how dumping oil down a sewer impacted the river, etc.

Thompson (Lashbrook’s husband) said his goal was to make this place (their farm) good for seven generations, learning to protect the land, not letting people drill gas wells. Some stakeholders wondered why, if this statement was true, neither Thompson nor Planning Commissioner Lashbrook had opposed the recent approval of a gas-well project directly across the river from their ranch. Where were they when support was needed at the Hearing Officer hearings on the well?

Cramer guy gave another advertisement for his consulting firm’s services.

Mitchell: a dense riparian corridor will increase total food supply for all fish, including predators.

Lashbrook: get DFG to lift limit on bass when smolts are being released. Again, this left some stakeholders wondering if Lashbrook would propose a Riverdance Farm Bass Derby on their ranch during this time. Perhaps they could get a grant?

Also Lashbrook: There are reports that agencies are tired of the negativity and inertia (of MRS). “This is a dying thing as far as I’m concerned.” Some stakeholders wondered that if Lashbrook really believed this, why would she apply for grants on behalf of the lower river, represented by the MRS?

Ferrigno: MRS is the only forum that lets all the stakeholders sit down together. We want it to go on in an enhanced way.

Miller added that opponents of the grant were not trying to hinder the MRS process, in which quite divergent interests sit down every other month or so and thrash out their differences. Lashbrook and other RCD board members do not want MRS participation in grants – and have proved it by deeds – because MRS participation would require accountability for distribution of grant funds, which RCD board members, staffers and MRA staffers do not want. There is too much evidence of failure to report spending of these public funds on RCD/MRA river projects.

Drake: Communication needs to be clearer. (MRS) accomplishes what?

Some stakeholders wondered how the professionally ignorant value-free facilitator would know what was clear and what wasn’t, not having read anything about the issues and only having heard one side of the story hissed in her ear.

Miller said dialogue could not have been clearer and pages of concerns were submitted to the MRS, the RCD and ultimately to the DWR in Sacramento. It did achieve our goal. We followed MRS process. We were clear about our participation. We were up front. We said what was going to happen on the grant. And the next grant will also be killed, she said, after what she and other opponents of the grant have been through making a state Public Records Act request of the RCD.

Lashbrook: “Pre-innoculated.” Not sure what that meant. Undigested jargon like that is exactly the problem of communication between MRS and RCD. A great deal of what comes out of county Planning Commissioner Lashbrook’s mouth is pure gibberish, in the view of some Merced River stakeholders. And this impedes vital communication.

Lashbrook then went back to the MRS governance committee, again accusing Miller and Ferrigno of wanting no governance, no way to “yea or nay” a grand. “You didn’t want MRS to take a position. Then she went through the famous letter of opposition to the grant, written by some stakeholders, accusing them of speaking for all stakeholders.

Miller said the RCD didn’t make the grant information available to the MRS.

Lashbrook replied that there was nothing in either the RCD or MRS charters telling us that you have to be in the first “dreams and nightmares” of a grant.

Again, asked some MRS members, what does she mean, exactly or even approximately?

“Lydia!” Sansoni shouted. He said one of the last reports to the governance committee of the MRS said that we weren’t mandated by any agency. MRS is a venue for all agencies and participants to exchange information and views. Miller had no right to write a letter signing for all the MRS.

Weber called it “dishonorable.”

Lashbrook called it “heinous.”

Ferrigno said that the people who wrote the grant were on the RCD and were receiving salaries from grants. It was a question of oversight versus recipients. Direct beneficiaries wrote grants and were to oversee them. This is an incestuous process. Cindy had no mandate. I am a taxpayer. That’s my mandate. How is this to go on with EMRCD negativity and antagonism toward Pat and Lydia?

Lashbrook interrupts. Her comment was unclear.

Ferrigno. WE will form our own group; get a lawyer and a lobbyist.

Drake: If you want money to do something, find another pass-through (other than RCD). As a grant writer herself, she said sometimes there is very little time to write a grant. You have to come up with a decision-making structure for those quick situations, some process, someone in authority. Someone who knows what our priorities are.
Action needs money.

Mitchell said most of the action was done through DFG and the landowners.

Lashbrook said when the DWR grant came up we were told to do another planning process.”Gwen asked you a zillion times for input. We couldn’t do enough. We don’t want that? Rather than alternatives, you gave us roadblocks.
This has probably killed millions of dollars in restoration implementation.
That’s my river! You just put a big roadblock on it,” said Commissioner Lashbrook, who bought her farm on the river in 1996.

Some MRS stakeholders know that there were people in the room whose ancestral relationships to the Merced River goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries and the Merced River is a Public Trust, not a RCD/MRA staffer private piggybank full of public funds.

Sullivan exclaimed in Miller’s direction: “You killed money for the river?!” (and left shortly thereafter).

Miller: “First of all, I am tired of people criticizing that have not read the material. The RCD has refused to distribute it. Why am I having this dialogue with you when you have not read the grant proposal? We read the grant and had outside counsel read it and make comments. We offered to meet with the RCD. The RCD refused. We told Gwen from March to June what our position was and our questions were blown off. We told you in March we would appeal it. We told you we wanted to meet. We made 41 points of objection at the May meeting” (boiled down to five by yet another interim value-free facilitator).

Drake: “You don’t have any money.
1. Put in a process for making decisions.
2. 2. Agencies won’t come if we don’t have a paid facilitator.”

Weber: “Maybe I want this process to dissolve. If there is always a group to oppose in MRS, RCD is the group” (to get the money).

Miller: “We don’t always oppose. Individually, we’ve sued the Bettencourts. How is it that from one isolated grant proposal now you’re killing the MRS? We’ve been treated badly by the RCD. Is the RCD a participant in the MRS or is MRS subservient to the RCD.”

Thompson: “In your MRS at the school, you said you could get your own grants.” (The implication Thompson made was that the non-RCD MRS stakeholders could then compete for administrative fees, salaries, and expenses with RCD staffers, including his wife Lashbrook).

Miller: “We can get grants. But, we’re here. We knew we’d be met with hostility. You still haven’t read the material.”

Ferrigno said that we have all written grants. It’s no big deal.

Drake: “Would you oppose a grant from MRS members?”

Miller: “It depends.”

Lashbrook: “MRS asked RCD for a facilitator. As far as RCD is concerned, it doesn’t matter. The agencies have no reason to be here now.”

An exchange took place between Lashbrook and Ferrigno about landowners and victims. Ferrigno said that the landowners object to the paternalism of RCD and to some mission Lashbrook is talking about “protecting landowners.” Lashbrook asked: When does any agency come to you on everything? Ferrigno: “Often.”

Miller: “It’s called environmental review.”

Sansoni and another gentleman announced that in a nutshell you folks effectively killed the grant. So, what’s your perception? Basically dead without the grant.

Miller:” The RCD allotted more for facilitation.”

Lashbrook: “The project manager wanted it to go to something positive.”
(The manager is Nancy McConnell, who lost a salary due to the loss of the grant)

Whipp chimed in with the “fact” that the state doesn’t or won’t allow it. (It allowed it two months ago but now doesn’t?)

Sansoni: “Where do you want to go?”

Ferrigno: “We need to study what’s appropriate to the MRS. We can oppose anything from the MRS.”

Sansoni brought up the letterhead issue again.

Ferrigno said he should read her letter signed by numerous river landowners (separate from Millers on behalf of San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center).

Miller: ”…and you should read the opening paragraph in our letter.”

Sansoni: “You cannot speak for the MRS.”

Miller said she had spoken as a member of MRS, and she said she would do it again. The groups she represents – at this point Lashbrook snared, “Groups! Ho, ho ho!” – have standing in the MRS since the beginning of MRS, she said. Miller added that she resented it that Sansoni had not read the material.

Lashbrook (nearly sobbing with hysteria):”The RCD and MRA had a letter to answer Lydia and Bill’s letter but we didn’t submit it!” She also mentioned that she had consulted with several attorneys about remedies for the grievous injustice. This alleged “injustice,” for which she has not yet found a mouthpiece, is evidently what the commissioner imagines is being done to her. Forget the river.

Miller replied that she ought to have submitted that letter. “It’s an open process,” she said.

After the grant was rejected, Commissioner Lashbrook abused her public office with numerous phone calls to members of the public, frightening one group to the point they do not admit signing onto the opposition letter. This harassment by a public official has become Lashbrook’s vendetta against Miller and groups associated with her.

Wade (RCD president at the time) said the next MRS meeting would be on Jan. 21, 2008.

A heckler from the crowd who had without doubt read less of the pertinent documents than the facilitator said you can’t do anything in this world without money.

Lashbrook urged the group to bring in ideas for raising money.

Money for whom, some stakeholders wondered.

Ferrigno said the meeting should be held at the Washington School and asked why the venue is always an issue.

Ratzlaff said Washington School is easier for the landowners to get to.

In one of her patented loud mumbles, Lashbrook commented, “Rubbish!” Due to lack of bridges, her ranch, on the other side of the river from the school, is closer to some other venues. The landowners on the river can get 40 other landowners to a meeting at Washington School. Lashbrook can only muster shrinking groups of associates, including a quorum of a shrinking number of RCD board members, at other venues.

Drake urged the group to be realistic on effectiveness. Can you effect change? Don’t think about what happened, but what will happen. You have to be really honest.

Meeting adjourned.

After the meeting Wade approached Miller and Ferrigno and the reporter with pictures of strange fill that had appeared on his river bank, wondering if any of us knew how this dirt would have gotten there to join a small island with his bank. This encounter turned out to have serious consequences for the RCD. RCD board members and staff told him after the meeting that he would not be permitted to talk with Miller, the reporter or Ferrigno. It was the last straw for Wade. At the regular RCD board meeting two days later, he resigned his presidency and membership on the RCD board effective immediately.

Ferrigno and the reporter speculated on a possible psychological diagnosis for one of the RCD board members.

Drake told them there were difficult personality problems in the group.

The article on this meeting that appeared in the Merced Sun-Star the following day, written by a Sun-Star reporter present at the meeting, plus an incoherent audio interview of that reporter on the subject of the meeting, confirmed the suspicions of some stakeholders that this Sun-Star reporter hadn’t read the grant or any of the other pertinent documents either. An earlier puff piece featuring a front-page picture of Lashbrook by the river in Snelling with a child and a dip net led some stakeholders to the opinion that this reporter is writing as if she has chosen sides in a conflict of which she is ignorant, perhaps because it is easier for her to listen to diatribes and play on riverbanks with school children than it is to read public documents. The same dismal aversion to the written page afflicts most of the MRS stakeholders as well. Don’t we already know where people with the most illiterate sound bites have led us?

Stakeholders who opposed the infamous grant proposal written by and for staff of the RCD and the Merced River Alliance were willing to try to reach a compromise before final submission of the proposal and clearly communicated that intent during MRS meetings in March and May. The staff, intent on subordinating the MRS stakeholders to the RCD and to itself, refused to meet. Now there are no possible compromises left and the RCD/MRA staff vendetta goes on, led by Planning Commissioner Lashbrook, who now behaves as if her public post is a license to bully and burble however she likes. When she was appointed to a seat on the planning commission, people who weren’t dogmatically pro-growth believed they had a seat at the county’s table. Unfortunately, it has turned out that the county gained a seat at the table of the numerous local non-governmental organizations to which Lashbrook belongs. On the commission, she is a compliant voice and vote who doesn’t challenge prevailing, environmentally destructive policy, choosing to nitpick around the edges of projects instead. In fact, Lashbrook is loudly establishing herself in Merced as an “environmentalist” in name only.

An air of remorseless stupidity clings to the rejected grant issue. This stupid wind, as they say, “is going around” in government circles at the moment. It is driven ultimately by the terrible failure Merced has experienced at the hands of its UC Merced-bedazzled land-use officials (“Nothing bad can happen because we got UC Merced!”). They approved real estate projects that produced a colossal rate of mortgage foreclosures that has made the name “Merced” a national poster child for irresponsible growth and financial, insurance and real estate fraud. In this rush to grow, local land-use officials also bet on the come on a sales tax increase to help fund the streets and roads necessary to serve the half-built subdivisions with empty houses that now ring cities, but lost that vote three times. Did Lashbrook and spouse bet their ranch on the money she would make from the infamous rejected grant? She is reliably reported to have said as much.

Neither Lashbrook nor her corrupt, witless cronies in local government. have anything to lose. Their reputations are shot. So why not declare a vendetta against MRS stakeholder groups that have consistently stood for fair and open public process, honest accounting for public funds, and environmental, social and economic justice for 30 years, taking those governments to court on behalf of the public whenever necessary?

But, who believes Planning Commissioner/UC-Great Valley Center IDEAL graduate/RCD-MRA staff/RCD associate board member/MRS member/Agricultural Futures Alliance participant/MARG member/CAFF board member/ESA anti-Pombo campaigner/CCOF trustee/owner of Riverdance Farms and host of the publicly funded Harvest/River Fair/ owner of Four Seasons ecological consultants Lashbrook anymore?

For some environmentalists, organizations are tools for achieving environmental goals. Lashbrook, on the other hand, seems to have amassed a large hat collection through which to babble and conduct a personal funding drive and a personal vendetta. Are state officials in charge of monitoring public grant funds aware of the extent to which they have subsidized Lashbrook's public/private win-win hat collection?

Badlands Journal editorial board

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Unasked questions about TNC Staten Island

Submitted: Nov 17, 2007

Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, sicced the state auditor on a Natural Conservancy-owned ranch near the San Joaquin Delta recently. Maze says the easement and TNC management of the 9,200-acre ranch stink and asks why $17.6 million in state flood protection funds is being spent on a Delta island that shows no signs of levee improvement.

The money came from Prop. 13, passed in March 2000, originally AB 1584, the $1.97-billion Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Act authored by then Assemblman Mike Machado, D-Linden.

The Sacramento Bee article on the flap fails to raise several important questions.

For example, quite aside from the issue of who funded the project, would TNC be able to build flood-control levees according to the terms of its conservation easement on Staten Island, winter home of a TNC-estimated 15 percent of the migratory Sand Hill cranes? The plan, as best we can determine from the article is to flood the island in the winter after the grain crops are harvested to make a pleasant habitat for the traveling cranes and other flocks. Some in Merced familiar with the quality of the TNC conservation easements to mitigate for UC Merced know that TNC is not shy about taking public funds for easements that cannot stand the light of public scrutiny. And so does the state Department of Fish and Game, the Wildlife Conservation Board and UC.

Another example of questions unasked is: how much money did TNC contribute to get Prop. 13 passed? According to CalVoter archives for the March 7, 2000 primary, although no funds were recorded in opposition to the proposition, $10,502,802 were spent selling it. (Sixty-five percent of the voters approved it.) TNC, the top contributor to the Prop. 13 campaign, gave $3,022,068 -- 29 percent of all money raised for the proposition. TNC was also the top contributor, with the same amount, to Prop. 12, the Parks, Water and Coastal Protection Act Bond, according to CalVoter.

It is also a matter of political curiosity that Staten Island is on the border of Machado's present state Senate district.

Three million to make $35 million (the other half of the Staten Island funding comes from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program) isn't a bad deal if you have the $3 million to put down when the time is right. And TNC did and no doubt made many friends among the state and federal agencies in charge of dispensing these public funds. A similar return on investment could no doubt be traced to some of the other top 10 contributors to the Prop. 13 campaign.

If this background is added to the particulars of Maze's Tulare County district, represented in Congress by Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, Scourge of the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement that passed its first hurdle in Congress last week, perhaps the story below becomes clearer as part of the general California water war. But it is also evidence of the very arrogant way in which the multi-national environmental Leviathan TNC does business (as we have seen in Merced County), it gives bushwhackers like Maze their opportunity, it encourages every grant grifter in the tules to whip up a group of bogus stakeholders and write the state for the big bucks, and it darkens the reputation in the general public of every environmental group trying to do a decent job in a lawful, socially responsible way.

Bill Hatch

Sacramento Bee
Quiet island in dispute
Use of state flood grants to buy land scrutinized...Judy Lin

STATEN ISLAND – This time of year, when the sun falls earlier by the day and the corn has been harvested, is the best time to see the sandhill cranes.

The sky above a stretch of flooded farmland on this island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta becomes speckled with white and pale gray birds.

The creatures – distinguished by long legs and longer necks – come to roost on this wetland each winter. Some have been spotted for at least 18 years.

Conservationists tout the 9,200-acre island, located south of Walnut Grove in San Joaquin County, as a successful marriage between wildlife and agriculture. They applaud the state Department of Water Resources for its willingness to invest in wildlife preservation.

But a recent state audit has raised questions about the department's decision to hand $17.6 million in flood protection bond money to a non-governmental organization that emphasizes habitat protection over flood control.

State Auditor Elaine Howle stressed the need for better monitoring as the department gets ready to dole out $330 million in additional flood protection bonds.

"DWR needs to do a better job of managing the flood protection corridor program," Howle said in an interview. "We found several weaknesses in awarding the grant, as well as monitoring how well those programs are proceeding."

The audit, which was released Nov. 5, said the department failed to show the merits of five grants in 2001, including the $17.6 million Staten Island grant. The grants, which totaled $28 million in all, were funded through the Flood Protection Corridor Program, created by Proposition 13 in 2000.

DWR Director Lester Snow agreed the department needs to do a better job of tracking grants and decisions. The audit was especially critical of the department, then under former director Tom Hannigan, for not using a scoring tool that would have ranked projects based on their merit.

Snow said more staff members have since been assigned to the program.

The Staten Island grant helped the Nature Conservancy buy the island for $35 million. The California Bay-Delta Authority put up the rest of the money.

In return for the department's investment, the state retains easement rights for flood projects.

Keeping the land undeveloped gives Staten Island the potential to absorb water in case of a flood, said Dawit Zeleke, regional director for the Nature Conservancy. The water around the island is fed by the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers.

"When I look at the cranes, I think it's a wise investment," Zeleke said.

Some believe the money should never have been spent on buying Staten Island.

Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, who called for the audit, took notice of Staten Island in 2005 after reading a story in The Bee about the precarious nature of levee funding. At the time, the story found that only six of the 26 miles of levees surrounding Staten Island had been maintained.

"It should not have been used for that project whatsoever," Maze said.

Since then, the audit found that not much has improved.

"Six years after Nature Conservancy acquired Staten Island, Water Resources has yet to implement a flood protection project on the island, and it is unclear whether the acquisition will ultimately result in a tangible flood protection project," the audit states.

The audit also questioned the department's contention that the island provides significant flood protection by preventing development in a flood-prone area, given what the audit called "the current legal restrictions prohibiting such development."

Snow, however, defends the department's selection of Staten Island.

Snow said funding from Proposition 13 allowed the department to acquire easements to protect floodplains while preserving the agricultural use of the property.

"The Staten Island project," Snow said, "clearly meets the statutory criteria for the program."

In addition to questioning the Staten Island grant, Howle recommended changing the grant selection process to require the department to justify the merits of each project. She also recommended following up to make sure grant recipients spent the money appropriately.

Auditors said they had no way to review the selection committee's decisions. Of 11 projects the department considered funding, five were selected without proof of a competitive process.

Snow said he intends to adopt a ranking system for future flood protection projects as the department prepares to hand out new bond money.

Last November, voters approved two bond measures – propositions 84 and 1E – that provide the department with $330 million for flood protection projects. The money has been designated for the protection, creation and enhancement of flood protection corridors and bypasses.

At Staten Island, the Nature Conservancy says the state's investment allows the farm to export nearly 40,000 tons of corn a year and provide a home for up to 15 percent of the region's greater sandhill cranes, which are listed as a threatened species.

The cycle is simple. Farmers grow corn and wheat during the year, then flood the land after crops are harvested, creating a haven for cranes and other birds.

The cranes that winter on the island are playful. On a dirt road cutting through the farm, Zeleke looks out on the birds as they throw their heads up, fan their wings and occasionally toss grass.

"This is the ideal situation," Zeleke said. "You have the economy benefiting ... and also managing the land in a successful way that the cranes keep coming back."



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The importance of care

Submitted: Oct 29, 2007

Care, writes one of our best environmental journalists and activists, is at the basis of civilization. Yet, here we sit in a valley, one of the world's richest agricultural places, still largely rural, and its leaders spend their boundless energy figuring out how to replicate the mindless slurb to the south and to the north of it for the profits of finance, insurance, real estate, large landholdings and themselves. Although there is no balance left between man and Nature, as the growing number of wildlife species listed as endangered or threatens indicates, there are still wildlife species and habitat in the Valley. It is absolutely pathetic that the only current check to the speculative real estate boom is massive fraud these special interests have practiced here, which now endangers the international credit system.

Care for the Valley as it is, not the fraudulent "leadership" vision of an urban tomorrow, is what we need. Only care has the power to stop and reverse the race to destruction that is now our path here and elsewhere. Care is the only human power strong enough to defeat the system of greed now devouring the valley under empty, grant-grifting slogans like "economic, social and environmental well-being." This is a quite conscious materialist perversion of the more civilized slogan of Valley environmentalists a dozen years ago: "economic, social and environmental justice." A little real justice, unlike an illusion of well-being, is never achieved by consensus with your grave diggers.

Badlands Journal editorial board

Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already?

A powerful novel's vision of a dystopian future shines a cold light on the dreadful consequences of our universal apathy

George Monbiot
Tuesday October 30, 2007
The Guardian

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small Is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, "their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl". McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do? The only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity's time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN's new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures. There were some bright spots - lead has been removed from petrol almost everywhere and sulphur emissions have been reduced in most rich nations - and plenty of gloom. But the issue that stopped me was production.

Crop production has improved over the past 20 years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. "World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased". There will be roughly 9 billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger [halving the proportion of hungry people] would require a doubling of world food production. Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level.

There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. "Meeting the millennium development goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050." Where will it come from? "Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion's share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater." Ten per cent of the world's major rivers no longer reach the sea all year round.

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. "If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two-thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress." Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, are we going to feed the world? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learned that climate change could eliminate half the world's species; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule. But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: "If it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?"

On Saturday, for some light relief from the UN report (who says that environmentalists don't know how to make whoopee?), I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting 18 new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning. The improvements to the climate change bill that Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, announced yesterday were welcome. But in every major energy sector - aviation, transport, power generation, house building, coal mining, oil exploration - the government is promoting policies that will increase emissions. How will it make the 60% cut that the bill enforces?

No one knows, but the probable answer is contained in the bill's great get-out clause: carbon trading. If the government can't achieve a 60% cut in the UK, it will pay other countries to do it on our behalf. But trading works only if the total global reduction we are trying to achieve is a small one. To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut the greater part - possibly almost all - of the world's current emissions. Most of the nations with which the UK will trade will have to make major cuts of their own, on top of those they sell to us. Before long we will have to buy our credits from Mars and Jupiter. The only certain means of preventing runaway climate change is to cut emissions here and now.

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties' policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won't be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme - Top Gear - that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show.

The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more, yet none of them are deemed to offend the rules, which really means that they don't offend the interests of business or the pampered sensibilities of the Aga class. The media, driven by fear and advertising, are hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.

It seems to me that we are already pushing other people ahead of us down The Road. As the biosphere shrinks, McCarthy describes the collapse of the protagonist's core beliefs. I sense that this might be happening already: that a hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble.

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St. Clair series on Colorado River

Submitted: Oct 27, 2007

Jeffrey St. Clair is in the midst of writing a series of environmental, political and historical reflections from campsites along the Colorado River during a raft trip. They are published on CounterPunch.com (links cited below).

This series is essential reading for Californians interested in water politics and history because what is happening on the Colorado River now has a direct bearing on what is happening in the San Joaquin Delta. The combination of drought on the Colorado Plateau, growth of its region's cities and the diminished allotment of Colorado River water flowing into Southern California has direct impact on the extinction of the Delta Smelt and the Hun our Governor's campaign for a peripheral canal and two new dams.

St. Clair is a prolific writer on the environment, mainly in the West as far as I have read, although his Grand Theft Pentagon is well worth reading, too. His experience goes back to working with David Brower of the Sierra Club and Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang). In articles like "The War Club Torquemadas in Birkenstocks," (www.counterpunch.org/stclair1212.html), St. Clair described in familiar detail the ethically disadvantaged policies of state and national environmental corporations (non-profit, of course) and he recently noted that war, as in Iraq, is the worst environmental catastrophe, particularly when depleted uranium is involved (http://www.counterpunch.com/stclair10252007.html). St. Clair understands the environment of the West, he understands the politics behind it and he maintains an old Western journalistic tradition by telling it as it is from a real point of view.

Bill Hatch

October 26, 2007
The Dam That Isn't There
Going Down on the Rocks in Dinosaur

(this article provides links to the previous parts of the series)

Part One: Dams, Oil and Whitewater.
Part Two: Through the Gates of Lodore.
Part Three: At Disaster Falls.
Part Four: A Half Mile of Hell.
Part Five: Greetings from Echo Park.
Part Six: The Dam That Isn't There

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book is End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate, co-written with Alexander Cockburn. This essay will appear in Born Under a Bad Sky, to be published in December. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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