UC Merced environmental permit retrospective

Submitted: May 29, 2007

Below is a list of articles reflecting the major milestones in the UC Merced Clean Water Act permitting process. Will our 800-Pound Scoflaw Blue-and Gold Goose Anchor Tenant pass the test? Will Merced achieve the greatness of Modesto, recently voted in one study the worst city to live in in the nation? Or will we become just another Fresno with UC and development from Highway 99 to the foothills? What kind of science will the research university be practicing, guided by its memorandum of understanding with UC/Bechtel et al/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, now building the next generation of nuclear warheads and proposing a biosafety level-4 biowarfare laboratory near Tracy, to go along with its slightly less lethally dangerous level-3 lab in Livermore?

Amid all the questions, there is one certainty: not one elected official from the city to the federal government will mutter a word in defense of the health and safety of the Merced public today against UC Merced tomorrow nor a word in defense of the natural resources that sustain what is left of health in the environment.

Badlands editorial staff

Modesto Bee
UC Merced's expansion on hold as study continues...Michelle Hatfield

UC Merced's expansion remains on hold while Army Corps of Engineers officials finish a study that could permit the school to build over protected vernal pools. More than five years after the application was submitted, and after an additional year of subsequent delays, the corps is still a few steps away from completing revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. After the draft is released, the corps will take public comment for 60 days. A final decision will then be made, pushing the timeline well into 2008. If denied, UC Merced has three alternative sites — two spots near neighboring Lake Yosemite and one in Livingston, about 15miles northwest of the campus. Corps officials gave no specifics for the delay, but said the draft study is going through "a number of revisions," said Lt. Col. James Porter of the corps' Sacramento office. UC Merced officials will meet with representatives from the corps, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service early next month. There is no updated release date for the draft report, Porter said... Seasonally flooded depressions...UC Merced is home to thousands of vernal pools, according to watchdog Web site vernalpools.org. UC Merced officials set aside 25,000 acres of wetlands for preservation....proposed plans call for expansion of its 104-acre campus and the construction of a 2,000-acre university community of housing and shopping. "It's about balancing and minimizing the impacts to wetlands and ag land," Young said. The corps needs to decide whether the expansion is the "least environmentally damaging practicable alternative."... University completing its reports...While corps officials keep postponing the study's release, UC Merced officials are busy completing their environmental reports for expansion, Young said. UC Merced officials are optimistic about reaching the end of the permitting process. Even if the delays continue, they have enough room to grow on the current 104 acres,... "Although we are finishing out our housing project, we're not maximizing our use of the 104 acres (yet),"...Upcoming projects include a social sciences and management building, a second science and engineering building, more student housing, possibly a child care unit and an infrastructure plant, Young said. That will end Phase I of construction, which is meant to accommodate 5,000 students. Officials expect fewer than 2,000 this fall, the campus's third year.

Tiny shrimp could put big hitch in development plan...Leslie Albrecht, Merced Sun-Star...http://www.modbee.com/local/story/13349413p-13972980c.html

Builders in Merced might have to shuffle order of construction. Fairy shrimp, the tiny critters that derailed the University of California at Merced's original building plans, now are forcing developers to rethink the future of Bellevue Ranch, the largest development planned within Merced city limits.

Corps moves faster on UC growth plan...Victor A. Patton, Merced Sun-Star

A long-awaited report crucial to UC Merced's 900-acre expansion plans might be available by late February, university and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say. UC Merced's expansion just east of Lake Yosemite would cover 93 acres, 72 of which contain vernal pools with endangered species.

Permit trouble ahead in Merced...Corinne Reilly, Merced Sun-Star...

University's proposal to expand questioned by Corps of Engineers...the vision for expanding the University of California at Merced beyond 100 acres could be forced to change. A permit the university needs in order to build on federally protected wetlands likely will not be granted to allow the university to move forward with a 900-acre expansion plan, according to a senior manager at the Army Corps of Engineers... "We feel that the project they have proposed, at this point, isn't permittable," Kevin Roukey, a senior project manager in charge of UC Merced permitting, said Tuesday

Lawsuits challenge species protection...Bee Staff Reports and News Service

A conservative legal foundation on Wednesday filed lawsuits challenging federal protection for 42 species — including two fairy shrimp that kept the University of California off the university's preferred building site near Merced... Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation asserts that the government's critical habitat designations drive up housing costs and taxes and harm private property rights without doing much to save species...filed its lawsuits simultaneously in Fresno and Sacramento federal courts... The foundation filed the lawsuits on behalf of the Home Builders Association of Northern California, the Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation, the California Building Industry Association and the California State Grange.

UC Merced needs permit to grow...Cheri Carlson, Merced Sun-Star...

University of California at Merced ...doesn't have a permit to put up more than the first several buildings needed to educate the first wave of students. To fully develop its 910-acre campus adjacent to Lake Yosemite, the university needs a permit to fill more than 80 acres of wetlands. In February 2002, UC Merced and Merced County applied to the corps for a permit. The university hoped to have it in by January 2004, a schedule the corps called optimistic. It will be three or four years before the university will need money -- and the permit -- for construction outside the golf course boundaries. Wetlands, vernal pools will be analyzed... Administrators are working closely with the corps and other government agencies to make sure they are doing what's required. Nancy Haley, the corps' UC Merced project manager...in general, more than 90 percent of projects receive permits. However, she said, most projects go out the door looking differently than they did coming in. The permit process is not behind schedule, according to the corps Haley said it's a huge project and it's hard to predict how long it will take.

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US dairy industry running off the rails again?

Submitted: May 16, 2007
The latest milk production figures for March 2007 show that 13 out of 23 top dairy states produced less milk in 2007 than they did in March of 2006. Most of the states producing additional milk are Western states. That additional milk from Western states is not the result of efficiency or market forces. Milk production in Western states is driven by California real estate values and the IRS tax code 1031.

The 1031 tax provision enables people selling their land to forgo paying any capital gains taxes if they reinvest in a like business. With land values in California ranging from $400,000 to $500,000 per acre, these dairy farmers can sell out to developers, then relocate and build new cow factories 5,10, or 20 times their original size with the money they save on taxes. Small to medium sized family farms in other parts of the country are forced to compete with the outcomes of this expansion.

The reality we face today tells us that milk is now located where the International Panel on Climate Change predicts will soon become a permanent dustbowl. Two dairy plants, one located in Clovis, New Mexico and the other in the Texas Panhandle, about 100 miles away, will soon be producing 40% of the nation’s Cheddar cheese. Both the plants and the farms supplying those plants draw irreplaceable water from the Ogallala aquifer.

Testimony of Randy Jasper, National Family Farm Coalition, before US Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee
April 24, 2007

Tom Harkin (D-IA) is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Foresty Committee. Neither senators Diane Feinstein or Barbara Boxer serve on the committee, although California is the largest agricultural producing state in the nation and, by this report at least, is playing a major role in distorting the national milk market. -- Bill

TESTIMONY PRESENTED BY RANDY JASPER Wisconsin Farmer National Family Farm Coalition Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing on: Economic Challenges and Opportunities Facing American Agriculture Producers Today
106 Dirksen Senate Office Building April 24, 2007

My name is Randy Jasper. Along with my son Kevin, I milk 100 cows and raise 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans along with 200 acres of hay in Muscoda, Wisconsin.

We are members of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association, who is a member of the National Family Farm Coalition. I am pleased to submit this statement for consideration by the Senate Agriculture Committee on behalf of the Dairy Subcommittee of the National Family Farm Coalition.

As the 2007 Farm Bill is being written, please keep in mind dairy farmers are not looking to Washington for handouts. We simply want to be paid, from the market, a price which yields a return on our investment greater than our cost of producing raw milk.

The policy recommendations I present today have been crafted over the years by real dairy farmers, the voice rarely heard on Capitol Hill. We do not have the lobbying money of corporate agribusiness or the dairy industry which contributed over $3 million in campaign contributions in 2006.

Our nation needs a fair and effective system that will ensure a regional, dispersed, safe and resilient milk supply serving as the backbone of our nation’s food security and rural economy.

Dairy producers throughout the country need:

• Public policy that results in dairy farmers receiving cost of production plus a return on investment; • Access to affordable credit with fair terms; • Competition restored to a non-competitive dairy market; • Protection from predatory practices of the largest corporations including the largest co-ops; • Protection of the integrity of dairy products meaning no support for domestic Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC) or for any MPC used in our food supply; • Prohibition on forward contracting; • Promotion of smaller co-ops and increase oversight of co-op management to ensure interests of producers are met.

My milk goes to a co-op, Scenic Central Milk Producers. There are 250 farmers in the co-op that market 19 million pounds of milk a month with a 98% return to farmers on gross sales of milk. ARMPPA gets one penny per cwt for services rendered. This co-op is independent and it works.

A crisis has befallen dairy farmers, large and small, throughout America in the past year as dairy farmers saw a steep rise in fuel and fuel surcharges, feed grain prices and costs to produce our own feeds. When these rising costs of production are combined with weather related disasters and continued low milk prices, how do you expect us to stay in business? I literally can not work any longer hours.

In real dollars, it was the worst year ever for dairy farmers, including the years encompassing the Great Depression. We sit on conference calls late into the night after 16 hour work days, talking with fellow dairy farmers across 20 plus states, sorting out what changes we need in dairy policy.

We have developed a milk pricing proposal entitled the Federal Milk Marketing Improvement Act of 2007 that includes:

1) All milk produced in the United States will be priced based on the national average cost of production.

2) All milk used for manufacturing purposes will be classified as Class II milk.

3) The value of Class I milk will be the same across the United States.

4) The Class II price will be the Basic Formula Price for all markets in the United States.

5) Dairy farmers’ prices will be adjusted four (4) times a year.

6) All federal and state orders will determine the amount of adjustments for pricing butterfat, etc.

7) The proposal allows the USDA to implement a supply management program. This can be implemented only when the value of exported dairy products equals the value of imported dairy products.

8) This proposal does not allow any hauling costs to be charged to dairy farmers

9) This proposal does not allow any make allowance cost to be charged to dairy farmers.

The proposal, if in place today, would provide a Blend Price of $18.65 in Federal Order 1. (see Appendix I)

The National Family Farm Coalition has also proposed changes to the Class III and IV pricing system through recent Federal Order Hearings. We were disappointed to learn the U.S. Department of Agriculture had decided to remove our proposal from consideration along with many others that raised the issue of cost of production.

On February 20, 2007, NFFC delivered a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong identifying problems with inaccurate price reporting in the NASS Survey. This situation is costing dairy farmers millions of dollars a month. Our understanding is that the Inspector General is currently involved in an investigation of the situation.

America’s dairy farmers are suffering a perfect storm. However, no action has been taken to alleviate their dire straits, despite the fact they are the ones who lack the ability to achieve any recourse from the marketplace. The root cause of the problem is not the increased grain prices, but the inability of the current dairy pricing system to reflect the cost of production and receive market signals from producer to consumer and vice versa.

We will continue to demand a pricing system that allows family dairy farmers the dignity of a fair price through the current Class III and IV hearings and with our legislative proposals for the 2007 Farm Bill, the Food from Family Farms Act. The solution is a fair price; a fair price for dairy farmers and for farmers who raise program crops based on a non-recourse loan program with a price floor that reflects a farmers’ cost of production, farmer-owned, humanitarian and strategic reserves, incentives for participation in conservation programs, and international cooperation on supply management. Years of depressed grain prices have fueled the expansion of mega-dairies and forced thousands of dairy farmers and other diversified family farm operations out of business.

The problems associated with achieving a price for raw milk that dairy farmers can function with are threefold:

• Pricing system • Production expansion • Imports

Problem #1 Pricing:

Congress, cooperatives, producers and private firms share the blame on this one, as massive consolidations of milk cooperatives and private enterprises have left the dairy industry’s marketing and pricing strategies in the hands of a few entities. Larger co-ops have vested interests with private firms causing collusion, corruption and manipulation of our pricing system, beginning at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Farmer members are so removed from the inner workings of the management of our co-ops that they do not have the means or the will to demand accountability of their co-ops’ leaders. With market consolidation and antitrust violations gone way too far, competition has been nearly eliminated. Near-monopoly structures leave farmers in many parts of the country without an alternative place to sell their milk.

The price of milk that farmers receive and the cash trading for cheese at the CME has had an almost perfect correlation. (See Chart 1). Daily trading of cheese at the CME happens most of the time with only two traders, one buyer and one seller, while butter trading lasts only a few minutes each day. Often there is no actual trade involved to change the price. All of this occurs with virtually no government oversight—that is not a functioning marketplace!

Farm milk price bears no relationship to U.S. milk production. Arguments about the market sorting out supply and demand are pure fiction. (See Chart 2).

It’s not that federal policy can’t have an effect on those structural changes that force out smaller farmers. It’s not a given that the federal government has to stand by while agribusiness consolidates and consume larger and larger shares of the dairy market, by destroying competition. Under this administration, policy won’t have a proper effect unless Congress demands enforcement of antitrust regulations that the USDA and the Department of Justice have failed to enforce. Without antitrust action we will continue to wonder why programs like MILC aren’t working while ignoring the structural impacts of market consolidation. The status quo ultimately costs tax payers and farmers money because of lack of political will to address the problem.

Problem #2 Production Expansion:

Milk production has doubled since 1975. However, it is not an overproduction. For the last ten years, milk production in the US has not kept pace with consumption in the US. (See Chart 3).

The latest milk production figures for March 2007 show that 13 out of 23 top dairy states produced less milk in 2007 than they did in March of 2006. Most of the states producing additional milk are Western states. That additional milk from Western states is not the result of efficiency or market forces. Milk production in Western states is driven by California real estate values and the IRS tax code 1031.

The 1031 tax provision enables people selling their land to forgo paying any capital gains taxes if they reinvest in a like business. With land values in California ranging from $400,000 to $500,000 per acre, these dairy farmers can sell out to developers, then relocate and build new cow factories 5,10, or 20 times their original size with the money they save on taxes. Small to medium sized family farms in other parts of the country are forced to compete with the outcomes of this expansion.

The reality we face today tells us that milk is now located where the International Panel on Climate Change predicts will soon become a permanent dustbowl. Two dairy plants, one located in Clovis, New Mexico and the other in the Texas Panhandle, about 100 miles away, will soon be producing 40% of the nation’s Cheddar cheese. Both the plants and the farms supplying those plants draw irreplaceable water from the Ogallala aquifer.

NFFC believes that the low price of milk tends to increase expansion more than a high price for milk. Farm milk price that is below the cost of production forces a decision by the farmer to change one’s farming practice (a switch to organics or grazing for example), sell out, or expand to achieve the multiplier effect.

Family farmers are constantly told by processors, bankers, government, suppliers, and retailers, “If you want to make more money, you have to get bigger,” or “Get bigger or get out.” The truth is, getting bigger does not mean being more efficient. Smaller family farms are far more efficient in the long run than larger factory farms when factors such as culling percentage, death loss rates, breeding efficiencies, number of lactations and number of purchased replacements are weighed, as they must be.

Problem #3 Imports:

America imports dairy products from well over 100 countries, many of which have questionable sanitation. Most dairy imports drive the farm milk price down without any savings passed on to the public. Imports of milk protein concentrates should also be of great concern to Congress. MPCs are still untested and illegal by law to be used as a food ingredient in any capacity in the United States. Since when does a free market rule apply to illegal food ingredients with no scientific, safety, or nutritional tests? Virtually no other country in the world feeds this garbage to its people. The use of MPCs in cheese products creates poor quality and possibly unsafe products with short shelf life. These items are sold to unsuspecting consumers who think they are buying real dairy products, but they are really victims of uninformed consent. When this happens, we cheat the citizens of this country and insult American dairy farmers who strive to produce the highest quality milk in the world. (See Chart 4).

In conclusion, we ask the Senate Agriculture Committee to keep in mind that the original intent of the farm bill is to provide the nation with a safe and resilient food supply. We are not greedy people; we only want to provide a living for our families and a chance to improve our farming practices so that we can pass our farms down to the next generation. The MILC payment program has helped to supplement the loss of family income but is insignificant in paying monthly operating bills.

Agribusiness marketing and processing giants want to monopolize all the profits from every sector, wholesale and retail. Even government payments are merely subsidies passed to agribusiness through farmers. Of course, the dairy farmer has absolutely no means by which he can provide an income other than taking whatever milk procurers decide to pay. Today’s price support at $9.90 is of little benefit to dairy farmers given the fact that the average cost of production (according to the USDA Economic Research Service) for 100 lbs. of milk for Wisconsin in February 2007 was $23.68. We need a realistic price support or floor price that reflects the true cost of production. Today we are receiving $14 to $15/cwt, which can keep no dairy farmer in business.

I appreciate this opportunity to submit a prepared statement. Dairy farmers need a fair price for their production. Our country deserves a program that will work for all family dairy farmers regardless of region and one that works for all of us in our role as farmers, consumers, and taxpayers.

Hilmar Cheese Co. website
Dalhart, Texas Facility

Construction of Hilmar Cheese Company’s new cheese and whey protein plant in Dalhart, Texas is proceeding on schedule. The facility will be able to process an additional 5 million pounds of milk each day... Dalhart was selected for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to:

• Proximity to existing and new East Coast and Midwest customers;
• Access to a growing and reliable local milk supply;
• Excellent local infrastructure, including ground and rail transportation;
• Positive local business climate including state support for economic development; and
• A stable regulatory environment.

The new processing facility is being constructed in two phases. Phase I is well underway and expected to be completed on time and on budget in the Fall of 2007. The new plant will initially employ 120 people.

We will begin hiring for the new facility 2007. Please check the Hilmar Cheese Company employment page for updates. Visit Work in Texas to learn more.
Articles about the new facility:

Hoard's Dairyman West February 2007

Amarillo Newschannel 10 February 2007

Hoard's Dairyman West April 26, 2006

Amarillo Economic Development Corporation

Learn more about Dalhart, Texas with these links:
High Plains Dairy Council
“Official” Home Page for Dalhart
Texas High Ground

For information about supplying milk for the new facility, please contact David Ahlem 806-244-8801.

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Ethanol biotech bubble

Submitted: May 01, 2007

The ethanol bubble reveals the pathological side of the political economic system as well as the housing bubble did, and no doubt the same few people involved in ethanol were involved in housing speculation not long ago. The housing bubble pushed our air quality over the edge: the San Joaquin Valley now has as bad or worse air than the Los Angeles basin. Ethanol is shaping up to be nothing but a huge water grab. The ethanol bubble will end about the time a new housing bubble begins.

There is a reason why corn is primarily a Midwest crop. The reason is called rain, as in what Central California doesn't have, being a desert.

As the GMO boys and girls get busy on engineering just the perfect corn for ethanol, gene drift will occur, as it has occurred wherever corn is grown. The ethanol-making genes will drift into corn grown for dairy sillage and get into the milk supply, here in the land free of GMO regulation, perhaps causing gases of another sort. Then UC can study the contribution milk-drinking San Joaquin Valley citizens make to air pollution, along with the bovine flatulence (adding insult to the injury of doubled corn prices and continuing low milk prices to dairymen in the largest dairy state in the nation).

But, that's OK because the honey bees are dying, so the almond growers can convert to ethanol corn and make a real killing before selling for real estate. We know nothing is going to be done about the honey bee collapse because the House subcommittee in charge is chaired by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a man who doesn't like any non-human species that shows signs of weakening. Dairies could follow behind the almonds and everybody could grow ethanol corn with the latest chemical fertilizers and diesel farm equipment.

Federal and state government doesn't solve ag insect problems anymore,it funds them:

Medfly: $150 million since 1980, now proposal for permanent program at $16 million/year; the government cannot control its entry through ports like Long Beach;

Pierce's Disease, Glassy-winged sharpshooter: now spread to 28 counties, control programs in 51 counties, population of GWSS growing, two new infestations last year, 80 research projects, $20 million a year.

No wonder UC Merced wants to start a medical school. It's following a hallowed tradition of colonization of diseases as each generation of government/corporate/university technologists goes to work on the plagues caused by the last generation of the great win-win, public-private funded technologists, and government/corporate/university propagandists keep promising us that famous Black Box. The latest is a UC/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory biowarfare lab on a site where it also tests depleted uranium bombs near Tracy. So, the UC Board of Regents, under the guidance of Chairman Richard Blum, Sen. Feinstein's husband, dangle the promise of a medical school for the Valley (first conceived for Fresno in the mid-60s) and give you depleted uranium dust and a lab full of the most dangerous pathogens to local agriculture in existence, and hope nothing bad happens because Pentagon biowarfare pork it prime.

Actually, there is a black box. It is called Boomdoggle. It's not a solution for you and me, but it works for people speculating on the next Valley bubble, and who can afford to live outside the worst air pollution area in the nation. But they are the same speculators from finance, insurance and real estate special interests that control the dumbest, most corrupt air quality board in the nation.

Corporate domination of political institutions has meant economy-by-bubble, and each step of the way, working people get poorer, our common environment gets worse, and fewer people get richer. While corn growers yawp about their high prices, the subsidies are going to investors in the ethanol plants. We're a long way from biomass tax breaks now. We've entered the era of high finance in Green Pork.

Way back in 1981, Grass Valley-based folk singer, Utah Phillips, defined the problem in a song called "All Used Up."

I spent my whole life making somebody rich;
I busted my ass for that son-of-a-bitch.
And he left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I'm all used up ...

They use up the oil and they use up the trees,
They use up the air and they use up the sea;
Well, how about you, friend, and how about me?
What's left when we're all used up?" -- Utah Phillips, (c) 1981, On Strike Music.

1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons = 130 gallons ethanol/acre foot (if, as Sacramento Bee editorialists wonder, the USDA figures are right).

Badlands editorial board

Sacramento Bee
Can't drink ethanol...Editorial

Businesses in California are racing to build plants to make ethanol...But it will take the state's most fought-over resource -- water -- to grow the crops used to produce ethanol. Many crops can be used for that purpose, but at the moment ethanol plants are picking corn -- the most water-intensive ethanol crop there is. How much water? How much corn? The answer is startling. According to a study of California agriculture by the respected Water Education Foundation, it takes about 118 gallons of water to grow a pound of corn. And how many pounds of corn does it take to produce a gallon of ethanol? About 21 pounds of corn, according to one publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If these numbers are accurate, the answer is about 2,500 gallons of water. For one gallon of ethanol. There is a goal to produce about a billion gallons of ethanol in California a year. That's about 2.5 trillion gallons of water for 1 billion gallons of ethanol. Take all the water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that now goes to Southern California and Valley farms, use it to grow corn -- and it still wouldn't be enough water. First, a water-intensive crop such as corn in the Central Valley is a bad choice. Second, since there is only so much water for agriculture in California, some other existing crops won't be grown. Third, it behooves the state to grow ethanol crops in the most water-efficient manner possible and set up laws and policies that guide industry in that direction. It is downright scary to see such a rush to ethanol without a better look at the consequences.

Modesto Bee
Flat land
Prices stagnant despite demand for dairy acreage

Farmland in the Northern San Joaquin Valley is pretty flat — at least as property appraisers saw it last year.
Land prices leveled off despite the continuing strength of the almond industry and the demand for dairy acreage and rural homesites, said an annual report from the state chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

"It was a pretty dull year following a huge increase that took place between 2003 and 2005," chapter president Randy Edwards, an appraiser based in Hilmar, said Friday.

The report, released Wednesday in Sacramento, tracked land values around the state for dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, rangeland and other acreage that produces California's bounty.

The per-acre values ranged from $150 for dry rangeland in the state's northeast corner to $600,000 for dairy land in the path of Los Angeles-area growth.

The values varied even for a single crop in a single region, depending on soil quality, water supply and other factors.

An acre of Stanislaus County almond trees, for example, could cost as little as $10,000 if watered from a well or as much as $25,000 if supplied by the Modesto or Turlock irrigation districts.

Dairy, the top farm sector by gross value in the northern valley and statewide, continued to be a major force in land values. These farmers have been adding land for feed crops and for disposing of manure under increasingly strict rules.

The dairy industry has struggled recently, however, with low milk prices, high costs for feed and other factors, as well as the lingering effects of last summer's severe heat wave.

"It appears the market is poised for a downward correction, unless a recovery in milk prices and reduction in feed costs (primarily corn) ensues in the near future," the report said.

Almonds, the region's No. 2 farm product, continue to thrive because of efforts to market the increasing harvests. Nut growers are even moving onto less-than-ideal soil, thanks to advances in tree breeding and irrigation, the report said.

Walnut orchard values continued to be strong. The report noted that this crop has not been as vulnerable as almonds to periods of low commodity prices.

Peach orchards ticked up in value. The report said it was too early to tell whether this was because of an ongoing industry effort to trim the acreage to deal with an oversupply of the fruit.

The report said farmland prices continued to be pushed up by the demand for rural homesites — parcels much larger than city lots but often too small for commercial agriculture. This trend includes grazing land on the west and east sides of the valley, up into Tuolumne and Mariposa counties.

Edwards said the report overall shows that agriculture remains a key part of the valley economy.

"It's not the 800-pound gorilla, but it's stable, with the low spot being the dairy industry and the high spot being the almonds," he said.

The report, "2007 Trends in Agricultural Land and Lease Values," is available for $15 from the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. For more information, call 368-3672 or e-mail secretary@calasfmra.com.

Inside Bay Area
Tracy should ponder benefits from Site 300...Tim Hunt, former editor and associate publisher of the Tri-Valley Herald. He is the principal with Hunt Enterprises, a communications and government affairs consulting firm.
(In other words, one more journalist who has become a flak and a lobbyist -- Badlands)
LETTERS of support abound as the University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory seek to bring the nations premier agriculture and animal research facility to the labs Site 300 facility near Tracy. The missing letter, unfortunately, is from the nearest municipality to Site 300, the city of Tracy. The University of California is seeking what the Department of Homeland Security calls the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. There are 18 sites across the nation being considered with selection of three to five finalists scheduled in June...new site is scheduled to open in 2013 or 2014 and replace the governments current site at Plum Island off the coast of New York...homeland security department plans to build the lab to research human, zoonotic (animal to human) and animal diseases to counteract the potential terrorist threat of a weapons-grade animal diseases that have both human health effects as well as huge potential to disrupt the food supply. To conduct the research, the facility would contain secure biosafety labs at the level 3 and level 4 (most secure) levels. Forty University of California sites have BSL-3 labs, while there are seven BSL-4 labs operational in the United States. The UC effort has received a strong letter of support from Gov. Schwarznegger, as well as support from Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher and former Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews from the Tracy area, as well as a number of agriculture and animal trade groups, such as the Farm Bureau. The San Joaquin Board of Supervisors is on record favoring the facility. The sticking point is Tracy... The lab and Site 300 management have a good safety record and have significantly upgraded security since the terrorist attacks of 9/11... Theres no BSL-4 further west than Montana despite the Bay Areas growing focus on the biosciences. Agriculture and ranching are huge economic engines in California, and there also are the potential dangers that come with being the container gateway to Asia through ports in Long Beach/Los Angeles and Oakland. The only question should be whether the facility can operate safety at Site 300, because once thats determined, the lab has nothing but upside for the region and the state.

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Valley hydraulic brotherhood coocaloo as usual

Submitted: Apr 25, 2007

There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation. -- Mike Whitney, Counterpunch.com, April 24, 2007

To effect the San Joaquin River settlement agreement between environmental groups and the Friant Water Users Authority, a congressional bill was required. The amount specified in the December bill was $250 million. McClatchy Washington Bureau reported yesterday that a "long-awaited study" put funding at $500 million to restore water flow through a 50-mile stretch of the river in the middle of Fresno County. Fresno Bee reports today, "Cost to restore river set at $1b," according to the executive director of the west San Joaquin Valley water district, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority. Yesterday a state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee (known to McClatchy as a "Senate panel," not even a legitimate committee), voted against funding two reservoirs in Northern California, one of them the Temperance Flats dam proposal, above the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River.

Hello, world, we are the San Joaquin Valley. We are going through one of our periodic water-madness periods in which it is revealed to the discerning eye that the San Joaquin Valley is nothing but a gigantic public works project for agribusiness and finance, insurance and real estate. We talk like we own it. We don't. The American public paid for most of it.

Consider the official voice of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors, for example. The exchange contractors sued the federal government about 50 years ago for building the Friant Dam where the San Joaquin River leaves the Sierra foothills, sending about 90 percent of its water down the east side of the Valley in the Friant-Kern Canal. The federal government thoughtfully built the exchange contractors the Delta-Mendota Canal, which sent San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta water south to the contractors, because cattle baron Henry Miller had good riparian rights to the San Joaquin on the west side and because the Bureau of Reclamation had stolen all the water for the City of Fresno and eastern Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties' growers. Now that federally subsidized water is worth a mint in Los Angeles and Valley cities at municipal retail rates. But, so too the Delta Mendota water, worth municipal millions in fast-growing Los Banos, Patterson, and the "new towns" planned all up and down Interstate Highway 5, the magnificent achievement of Chuck Erreca of Los Banos, chairman of the state Department of Transportation when I-5 was approved in the days of Gov. Pat Brown.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Water Resources is reporting the snow pack hasn't been so low in 30 years, reminding old farmers of the drought of 1976-77, worse than the early 1990s. It serves to remind us that modern California, built on the boundless exploitation of limited natural resources, has never been rationally managed, and this year will be no different.

Consider how $250 million becomes $500 million becomes a billion dollars in a matter of days in McClatchy. Here we haven't even gotten to the next level of congressional debate on the dirty secret of west-side irrigation, that it produces extremely toxic levels of heavy metals and salts to grow its subsidized cotton, the almond orchards of finance, insurance and real estate speculators and federally subsidized ethanol corn -- and it has no place to put the toxic waste from this destructive form of agriculture.

A very powerful political coalition is forming to stop the San Joaquin Valley settlement agreement between farmers and environmentalists. It will probably force the case back into court for a ruling, negating years bargaining work between the farmers and environmentalists. Federal judge Lawrence Karlton has said no one will like how he will rule and it would be far, far better if a good settlement was put into effect. But the lobby of what the great former generation of San Joaquin journalists dubbed "the hydraulic brotherhood" won't let that happen and their little terriers like Rep. Devin Nunes, Water Agency Mouthpiece-Visalia, are yapping. Behind the yappers are other Valley congressmen, Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for example, quiet in the press but working behind the scenes to derail the settlement agreement. To the hydraulic brotherhood and its minions in public office, there is something obscene about farmers and environmentalists agreeing on anything and, besides, they don't pay the big bucks developers do to fund the magnificent political campaigns among turkeys chosen in advance by the largest landowners and developers in the districts.

The price of letting water flow in the second longest river in California is a pittance compared to the hinky mortgages speculators assumed in the mad home construction boom-and-bust in the San Joaquin Valley as politicians, finance, insurance and real estate special interests seek to convert farms to subdivisions upstream from LA.

Bill Hatch

Fresno Bee
Cost to restore river set at $1b...Mark Grossi

The price tag of restoring the San Joaquin River might be $1 billion or more, according to an analysis announced Tuesday night. An official from a west San Joaquin Valley irrigation authority quoted the figure, which differs from other estimates that place the cost closer to $600 million. Environmentalists and east Valley farmers last year ended a long-running lawsuit and agreed to revive the seasonally dry river. The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, the west-side irrigation group, represents owners of 240,000 farmland acres next to the river. Officials fear their land might be flooded if the restoration isn't done well. "I know the numbers are going to cause controversy," said Steve Chedester, executive director of the authority. "The river basically hasn't existed in one stretch since the 1960s." The restoration project probably is among the biggest in the country, said Bill Loudermilk, regional manager in this area for the state Department of Fish and Game. The restored river will either run through a rebuilt section of the river or the bypass, said Monty Schmitt, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed the lawsuit over the river in 1988. He said no decision has been made yet.

Sacramento Bee
Defeated dams still supported; Governor isn't backing away from $4 billion in bonds after negative vote by Senate panel, By Judy Lin, http://by135w.bay135.mail.live.com/mail/ReadMessageLight.aspx?Aux=4%2c0%2c633131105411770000&FolderID=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000001&InboxSortAscending=False&InboxSortBy=Date&ReadMessageId=d7772f79-fc83-4424-948d-5ba938593446&n=659198169

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday he has no plans to scale down his $4 billion proposal for building two new dams in the state despite watching Democrats reject his bill earlier in the day.
The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee killed the governor's plan to put bonds for two dams -- one on the west side of the Sacramento Valley and one east of Fresno -- on the 2008 ballot. Senate Bill 59 by Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, had Republican support, but couldn't muster the necessary five votes to pass out of the Democrat-led committee...SB 59 called for voters to approve a $3.95 billion plan to build one dam at Temperance Flat just above Friant Dam near Fresno, and the other on Sites reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties. Together the dams would yield up to 3.1 million acre-feet of water. By comparison, Folsom Dam holds about 1 million acre-feet...Opponents led by environmental groups argue that the dams aren't needed as long as Californians continue to conserve. They say the projected cost of constructing the two dams has already increased by 10 percent, from $4 billion to $4.4 billion, and noted that some of the water would be lost due to evaporation.Republicans from the Central Valley counter that there hasn't been new dam construction in the last 25 years while the state's population has grown by 15 million...

Fresno Bee
River price tag put at $500mLawmaker says the restoration cost creates a problem.By Michael Doyle / Bee Washington Bureau -- http://www.fresnobee.com/263/story/43412.html

A long-awaited study puts the federal government's cost of restoring the San Joaquin River at $500 million -- raising questions about how to pay for the painstakingly negotiated plan.
One legislator is using the new Congressional Budget Office study in his attempts to derail the proposal to send more water down the river. The additional water would allow the return of long-depleted salmon populations.
"I think the costs are a lot higher than have been advertised, and that's a considerable problem for the bill," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. He has been critical of the restoration plan's possible effect on farmers if less water is available for irrigation.
The plan's supporters retort that the costs aren't unexpected. As they prepare for a May 2 Senate hearing, they will try to shave the cost estimates and identify the necessary offsetting savings.
"We've known for some time that we had a [budget] issue," Dan Dooley, an attorney for the Friant Water Users Authority, said Friday. "Until this report, we didn't have the specifics, but I'm confident we'll work through it."
The bill language itself only specifies $250 million in spending. The new cost estimate adds other required environmental spending, as well as the loss of federal tax revenue from California bonds that would be sold to help pay for the project as part of the state's share of funding.
Farmers and environmentalists differ over what the final total cost will be, with estimates ranging from between $600 million and $1.2 billion.
New rules in place under Democratic leadership require congressional spending to be balanced with additional revenues or with new savings. The San Joaquin River bill is one of the first natural resources bills to confront the new pay-as-you-go budget requirements.
In coming weeks, river restoration supporters will confront the political challenge of identifying other programs to trim so that the San Joaquin River might live.
"Good luck," Nunes said. "Who are they going to cut?" ...

April 24, 2007
"Is It Too Late to Get Out?"
Housing Bubble Boondoggle

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson delivered an upbeat assessment of the slumping real estate market on Friday saying, "All the signs I look at" show "the housing market is at or near the bottom."
Paulson added that the meltdown in subprime mortages was not a "serious problem. I think it's going to be largely contained."
Wrong again.
Paulson knows full well that the housing market is headed for a crash and probably won't bounce back for the next 4 or 5 years. That's why Congress is slapping together a bailout package that will keep struggling homeowners out of foreclosure. If defaults keep skyrocketing at the present rate they are liable to bring the whole economy down in a heap.
Last week, the Senate convened the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer. The committee's job is to develop a strategy to keep delinquent subprime mortgage holders in their homes. It may look like the congress is looking out for the little guy, but that's not the case. As Schumer noted, "The subprime mortgage meltdown has economic consequences that will ripple through our communities unless we act."
Schumer's right. The repercussions of millions of homeowners defaulting on their loans could be a major hit for Wall Street and the banking sector. That's what Schumer is worried about---not the plight of over-leveraged homeowners.
Every day now, another major lending institution unveils its plan for bailing out the housing market. Citigroup and Bank of America have joined forces to create the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America which will provide $1 billion for the rescue of subprime loans. This will allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages and keep them out of foreclosure. The new "30- year loans will carry a fixed interest rate one point below the prime rate, putting it currently at 5.5 percent. There are no fees, and the banks pay all the closing costs."
But why are the banks being so generous if, as Paulson says, "the housing market is at or near the bottom." This proves that the Treasury Secretary is full of malarkey and that the problem is much bigger than he's letting on.
Last week, Washington Mutual announced a $2 billion program to slow foreclosures (Washington Mutual's subprime segment lost $164 million in the first quarter) while Freddie Mac committed a whopping $20 billion to the same goal. In fact, Freddie Mac announced that it "would stretch the loan term to a maximum of 40 years from the current 30-year limit."
40 years!?! How about a 60 or 80 year mortgage?
Can you sense the desperation? And yet, Paulson says he doesn't see the subprime meltdown as a "serious problem"!
Paulson's comments have had no effect on the Federal Reserve. The Fed has been frantically searching for a strategy that will deal with the rising foreclosures. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that "Federal bank regulators called on lenders to work with distressed borrowers unable to meet payments on high-risk mortgages to help them keep their homes".
When was the last time the feds ordered the privately-owned banks to rewrite loans?
Never--that's when.
That gives us some idea of how bad things really are. The details of the meltdown are being downplayed in the media to prevent panic-selling among the public. But the Fed knows what's going on. They know that "U.S. mortgage default rates hit an all-time high in the first quarter of 2007" and that "the percentage of mortgages in default rose to a record 2.87%". In fact, the Federal Reserve and the five other federal agencies that regulate banks issued this statement just last week:
"Prudent workout arrangements that are consistent with safe and sound lending practices are generally in the long-term best interest of both the financial institution and the borrowerInstitutions will not face regulatory penalties if they pursue reasonable workout arrangements with borrowers."
Translation: "Rewrite the loans! Promise them anything! Just make sure they remain shackled to their houses!"
Unfortunately, the problem won't be "fixed" with a $30 or $40 billion bailout scheme. The problem is much bigger than that. There is an estimated $2.5 trillion in subprimes and Alt-A loans---20% of which are expected enter foreclosure in the next few years. Any up-tick in interest rates or unemployment will only aggravate the situation.
Kenneth Heebner, manager of CGM Realty Fund (Capital Growth Management), provided a realistic forecast of what we can expect in the near future as defaults increase.
Heebner: "The Greatest Price Decline in Housing since the Great Depression" (Bloomberg News interview)
"The real wave of pain and foreclosures is just beginning.subprimes and Alt-A are both in trouble. A lot of these will go into default. The reason is, that the people who took these out never really intended to fully service the mortgage---they were counting on rising home prices so they could sign on the dotted line without showing what their income was and then 2 years later flip into another junk mortgage and get a big profit out of the house with putting anything down
"There's a $1.5 trillion in subprimes and $1 trillion in Alt-A the catalyst will be declining house prices which is already underway. But as we get a large amount of these $2.5 trillion mortgages go into default, we'll see foreclosed houses dumped on an already weak market where homebuilders are already struggling to sell there houses. The price declines which have started will continue and may even accelerate in some of the hotter markets. I would expect that housing prices in "2007 will decline 20% in a lot of markets".
"What you are going to see is the greatest price decline in housing since the Great Depression..The one thing that people should not do, is go near a CDO or a residential mortgage backed security rated Triple A by Moody's and S&P because these are going to get down-graded by the hundreds of millions---because they are secured by subprime and Alt-A mortgages where there'll be massive defaults".
Question: "Will the losses in the mortgage market exceed those in the S&L crisis?"
Heebner: "They're going to dwarf those losses because the losses could easily approach $1 trillion---that dwarfs anything that has ever happened. Enron was $100 billion---this will be far greater than that..The good news is that most of these loans are owned by Hedge FundsYou hedge funds buying these subprime and Alt-A loans and leveraging them at 10 to 1. They buy a pool of mortgages at 8% and they borrow against it in yen for 3% and then lever it at 10 to 1so you have a lucrative profit And the hedge fund you are running, the manager is going to get 20% of the gain---so even if it's a year before you go broke; you get rich until the fund is shut down".
Heebner added this instructive comment: "The brokerage firms created "securitization" they know the products are toxic. I don't think they are going to suffer losses; they simply passed them on to everyone else. The only impact this will have is the profits that flow from it will get less.But it is less than 3% of revenues in even the most exposed brokerage firm so THEY'RE NOT GOING TO GET CAUGHT" ...

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April 12, 2007: Day in the life of the north San Joaquin Valley

Submitted: Apr 12, 2007

A strong, chilly wind is blowing in the north San Joaquin Valley today, stirring up an enormous amount of dust coming in part from graded but unfinished subdivisions, as the financial, insurance and real estate industry hunkers down for an explosion of mortgage default.

But, poetry aside, the news of the day is as gritty as the sight of tons of topsoil blowing away from the county.

The Merced Sun-Star editorialists have returned to wearing their other hats as editors of the UC Daily Bobcat, once again flakking for the institution where one administrator is currently serving 60 days for forgery and theft. In their opinion, we should all go out to the UC Merced to celebrate Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival. Last year's UCM Fairy Shrimp Festival was a dud, so the UC bobcatflaksters renamed it, evidently hoping the mammalian charm of cuddly bobcat mascot, Baby Boy, would overwhelm the feckless hauteur of the endangered crustaceans.

When it comes to wildlife, UC believes its right to exploit is above the law. It broke every regulation and practice on the care of wildlife when it appropriated its little mascot, found mysteriously in a paper bag outside the city zoo more than a year ago. He should have gone to a rehabilitation center certified for bobcats in Morgan Hill. Instead, he was stolen by UC Merced in violation of a number of regulations established by the state Department of Fish and Game, which that institution of easy virtue did not enforce. As for the fairy shrimp, even as UC pretends to celebrate vernal pools and the 15 federally endangered species that inhabit them, including the shrimp, in the densest fields of vernal pools in the nation that surround the campus site, UC lawyers are working ceaselessly behind the scenes to undermine the federal Clean Water Act provisions that would prevent UC Merced from expanding and destroying the vernal pools and the fairy shrimp. With that level of propaganda coming out of the UC Merced administration, the public wonders how much truth is taught in the classrooms. To suppose there was no connection between the propaganda and the instruction is naive.

UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June,

the UC Daily Bobcat announces, in another article that appears to be news but is just more propaganda. We think the UCM bobcatflaksters have a schedule made up at least a year in advance detailing the release of stories about how UCM administrators are developing this med school. Who can be against a med school? Right? Except, doesn't UC Davis -- also located, despite UC Merced flak, in Central California -- also have a med school? Why would it not expand its own medical services, as it has recently done as far away from Davis as Willits? Isn't the problem with medical services in the Valley the same as it is throughout the nation, rapacious insurance companies, aided and abetted in the latest Medicare "Reform" Act by the Valley's own former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield? Does the Valley really need another research medical facility, in the announced case of UC Merced, focused on respiratory diseases? UC Merced has precipitated the biggest speculative growth boom in local history, bringing with it immeasurable increases in air pollution. It appropriated the bobcat for sentiment; it wants to appropriate the vernal pools for its ediface complex; and it wants to appropriate our lungs for research grants.

Speaking of our lungs, UC Merced's partner within the UC system, UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, confessed recently that its bomb-testing activities on Site 300 near Tracy will put depleted uranium in the air. Perhaps UC Merced telemedical facilities on the west side will be able to measure how much depleted uranium will travel how far and how deadly its effects are, neatly broken down into ethnic cohorts. This sort of information will be of use to the Pentagon and UC will be able to get grants to study it, no doubt.

Not satisfied with terrorizing the north San Joaquin Valley with depleted uranium bomb drift, the UC Livermore lab is on the short list to locate the most dangerous type of biological warfare lab (Level 4) on the same site . The UC Livermore lab is in court with Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment, which sued over establishment in Livermore of a Level 3 lab. In testimony for the court, the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration provided this useful bit of information:

"it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks..."

The Level 4 lab UC Livermore wants to establish near Tracy would be called a National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, "which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants..."

In light of the world health threat posed by Avian Flu, it is an interesting choice of locations because the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds intersects in these counties with the largest concentration of poultry in the state. Assuming the wild, migratory birds to be the vector from Asia, where the virus is florishing, it seems likely, despite excellent bio-security at our modern poultry facilities, infection from the wild to the domestic could take place. Presumably, the proximity of the biolab would help the poultry industry deal more quickly with an epidemic, which in turn might help protect people in the vicinity. On the other hand, in the event of a "catastrophic accident" in the lab, or a terrorist attack on it, Avian Flu would be the least of our worries, down wind from Ebola, etc. We could have a biological Chernobyl on our hands?

We aren't supposed to ask that question because if we get scared, defense experts tell us, they -- the terrorists -- have already won.

But, don't worry: UC medical researchers in space suits would be right there to study your final moments and you would have made your personal contribution to research science. Maybe there will be a plaque over your mass gravesite.

That's just downright cynical, some would say. By not wanting this lab in our backyards, they would go on, we are preventing valuable scientific discovery and defeating our technological edge in this important field. Defense experts would go on to say that biological warfare is in our future and labs like these will have to produce the antidotes to weapons genetically engineered. And they will have do so quickly. And that's all we can know about it because the rest is secret for reasons of national security. We Americans must become "resilient" to terrorist attacks, the experts say. Like we were after 9/11? We were so resilient that in addition to having put our "footprints" on the "arc of instability" (aka Muslim nations with oil) we restricted habeas corpus, the oldest liberty we had -- not the acts of a people resilient either economically or politically. Given our national experience, what can we expect from the combination of universities, corporations and the government in response to more terrorist attacks but more autocracy, militarism and corruption? Given our local experience, can we expect this university to tell the truth about anything?

In other news of the day, Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student-loan sharks, have agreed to quit bribing college administrators in charge of advising students and their parents on where to get the student loans. This is a staggering ethical achievement. Sally Mae began in 1972 as a government program, but, as its website puts it, "The company began privatizing its operations in 1997, a process it completed at the end of 2004 when the company terminated its ties to the federal government." The investigation began in New York. Colleges and universities (UC loudest of all) bray about the personal and national necessity of higher education for one and all, leading the cattle to the financial slaughter while taking kickbacks. We will just have to wait and see which UC administrators were in on the deal. USC has already been hit with a scandal.

Here in Merced, the stink from local law enforcement is still rising, after all these months. A local criminal defense attorney, John Garcia, has filed a civil suit in Merced Superior Court, adding former DA Gordon Spencer to a list of respondents including the DA's office, Merced County and the Merced County Sheriff's Office. The suit alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and civic rights violation arising from what appears to be a drug sting operation. We can find no word on the Richard Byrd v. County of Merced, et. al. case filed in July 2006 in federal district court in Fresno. In that case, Byrd, a former local policeman, alleged that some of the same characters Garcia is suing bilked him out of a valuable piece of property while he was in the county jail on trumped up charges. Either Spencer was a sloppily corrupt public official or the Sun-Star got involved in a (prize-winning) witch hunt that produced no convictions. So far, the jury is still out unless the Byrd suit was settled so quietly the Sun-Star missed it.

The Modesto Bee is up in arms about mortgage foreclosures and beating the drums for federal assistance to homeowners. What McClatchy really means is a federal bailout for finance, insurance and real estate special interests. Mortgage lenders, focusing on areas like Stockton, Modesto and Merced, among other vulnerable locations in the nation (Atlanta and South Texas, for example), went on a feeding frenzy under the banner of "Freedom through Home Ownership," babbled daily in the press and in every other media outlet in the land. The "lending industry," as banks and other financial institutions like hedge funds and derivative ghouls are called these days, bought bundles of these loans, including a lot of bad paper. Now, they are crying to the federal government -- on behalf of the poor homeowners, naturally. The only question here is if the bailout of these obscenely wealthy speculators will be larger than the savings and loan bailout. If the experience of six years of Bush is any indication, the homeowning victims of predatory lending practices will get the shaft.

A desperate bit of flak from the state Department of Water Resources yesterday prefaces our next story:

“The Department of Water Resources has long been committed to balancing water operations with protection of the Delta environment,” said DWR Director Lester Snow. “Today’s court filing underscores the department’s ongoing efforts to protect these resources, our actions to comply with the court’s findings, and the long term strategy to restore Delta ecosystems while ensuring reliable water supplies to the 25 million Californians served by the State Water Project.”

DWR sensitivity to the dying Delta ecosystem is so overwhelming that it filed with the Alameda Superior Court yesterday to do what it can to modify the judge's draft order to fix the environmental disaster caused by the state's systematic overpumping the Delta for the last four years. DWR enlisted the state Department of Fish and Game in its desperate plea. Once the judge issues a final order, DWR has 60 days to fix the problem. As the fish die and water rationing begins, there is bound to be an extraordinary display of sophistry. However, we think the last word has already been spoken by the original petitioner, Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The state, he said, was "refrying the egg."

Meanwhile, The Bush pulled back another nomination for a top position at the Environmental Protection Agency, sensing it might have some problems in Congress. Nevertheless, the administration and a nation that spent the weekend dithering about Iran and Imus while the UN's report on global warming was ignored, especially that bit about human agency.

Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Time to mingle with Bobcats...Our View

Merced area residents will have a golden opportunity this weekend to get to know their recent neighbors to the north...Saturday's Bobcat Day and Fairy Shrimp Festival represent a chance for Mercedians to get to know the almost brand-new UC Merced campus and the people who live and work there, as well as have some fun in the process. For the uninitiated, the Golden Bobcat is the school's mascot and vernal pools surrounding the campus are home to fairy shrimp. Events at the North Lake Road campus are free and open to the public... arts and crafts fair...vendors, live bands, performers and family-oriented presentations...public tours. Can't you visualize a 6-year-old deciding he wants to attend UC Merced when he grows up, based on the fun and inspiration he soaked up while visiting the campus with his mother, father and siblings? That could happen and we hope it does. The once-a-year event will allow UC Merced students and faculty to get to know local residents and people who have never visited the university to learn what it has to offer. Students trying to figure out their future academic direction certainly could gain some insight on programs and options at UC Merced... Let's bridge the distance between UC Merced and the city by enjoying Bobcat Day and the Fairy Shrimp Festival.

UC Merced plans to build high-tech health centers...Victor A. Patton

UC Merced administrators say plans are in motion to establish a series of health centers in the San Joaquin Valley that would improve access to health care in underserved areas...the school has received a $225,000 state grant to jump-start plans to create four telemedicine centers, also referred to as "eHealth Centers." Telemedicine centers generally use videoconferencing equipment to transmit a patient's medical information and images from relatively remote areas to doctors and specialists in other areas of the state...centers also allow doctors in different areas to have live videoconferencing discussions about their patient's health -- even if they are hundreds of miles apart. University officials have not decided where the centers will be located since the plan is in its preliminary stages... Doctors from UC Davis and UC San Francisco will be providing some of the medical expertise. UC Merced is partnering with administrators at UC Davis to help develop the centers, since UC Davis was one of the first entities to establish its own telemedicine program in 1996. Establishing the telemedicine centers fits with UC Merced's ambitions to eventually establish a medical school at the campus. UC Merced administrators expect to submit the medical school's business plan to the UC Office of the President by June. If the plan is approved by UC regents, the state legislature would then decide whether to fund the medical school.

Stockton Record
Livermore lab says bigger blasts would send depleted uranium into air...Jake Armstrong

Bigger outdoor blasts proposed at an explosives test range southwest of Tracy could release up to 453 pounds of depleted uranium into the air a year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials told air pollution regulators in an application last week. Lab officials did not disclose that information in a November request to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District... The district initially granted the lab permission, but revoked the permit in March after learning the blasts would contain radioactive materials. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium, and when detonated, it would be carried by wind, said Gretchen Gallegos, of the lab's Operations and Regulatory Affairs Division. The lab has not found radiation levels above federal thresholds at its monitoring stations, she said. "All of our activities are well within any health measure, and there's nothing to be concerned about," Gallegos said. Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials will tour Site 300 Monday to further evaluate the University of California's proposal to locate there the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, which would research incurable diseases that harm humans, animals and plants. The visit is part of a nationwide tour of 18 sites vying for the federal laboratory. DHS officials will then shorten the list of proposals, conduct environmental reviews of the finalists, and decide on a site in October 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore...'Unlikely' attack at lab could release microbes, study says...Keay Davidson

U.S. Energy Department draft environmental assessment study concludes that a direct terrorist assault on the facility is "highly unlikely" to succeed. But because it acknowledges local activists' concerns that catastrophic accidents are possible, it is now up the lab critics who have sued to block the opening of the facility to consider whether to pursue further court action, including a possible order to stop the Livermore lab from opening the microbe facility. The Livermore site already has a lower-level lab for investigating microbial diseases, but the proposed new Biosafety Level 3 lab -- dubbed BSL3 for short -- would store microbes of medieval scariness. They include plague, botulism and Q fever, a bacterial disease that in its more virulent form, chronic Q fever, kills up to 65 percent of its victims...proposed lab would also investigate anthrax. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Energy Department to conduct the environmental study following a suit by Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment and Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Construction of the facility was finished in 2005, but it hasn't opened pending the completion of litigation. On Wednesday, lab critics responded with scorn to the long-awaited, 80-page environmental study. The study was released by the U.S. National Nuclear Safety Administration...environmental study acknowledges that "dramatic human health impacts and economic disruption can result following the release of pathogenic materials...also says "it is not possible to accurately predict the probability of intentional attacks at (Livermore) or at other critical facilities, or the nature of these attacks. The number of scenarios is large, and the likelihood of any type of attack is unknowable."...study does not describe any potential scenarios for terrorist attacks "because disclosure of this information could be exploited by terrorists to plan attacks." Ironically, the report includes a map showing the precise location of the microbe lab, in Building 360 on the Livermore lab site. Public feedback is welcome through May 11. Afterward, the Energy Department will issue a final version of the environmental assessment.

Modesto Bee
Sallie Mae settles, agrees to school-lending ethics...Karen Matthews

The nation's largest student loan provider will stop offering perks to college employees as part of a settlement announced Wednesday in a widening probe of the student loan industry. SLM Corp., commonly known as Sallie Mae, also agreed to pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about the financial aid industry, and it will adopt a code of conduct created by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is heading the probe. Cuomo said the expanding investigation of the $85 billion student loan industry has found numerous arrangements that benefited schools and lenders at the expense of students. Investigators say lenders have provided all-expense-paid trips to exotic locations for college financial aid officers who then directed students to the lenders. Sallie Mae is the second lender to agree to the code, which is aimed at making the loan process more transparent. Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, which does business at about 3,000 schools, last week agreed to donate $2 million to the same fund as part of a settlement with the attorney general's office.

Byrd sues on civil rights violations, Badlandsjournal.com, 7-28-07

Former D.A. added to civil rights lawsuit...Scott Jason

A local criminal defense attorney who said he was the victim of a failed interagency drug sting last year has added former Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer to his civil lawsuit...is accused of working with a state agent and a Merced sheriff's deputy to have a man give lawyer John Garcia, 64, a bag of methamphetamine disguised as tobacco. Drug agents then got a judge to let them search Garcia and his office. No charges were filed in connection with the Feb. 6, 2006, undercover sting operation that Garcia said violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, damaged his reputation and caused him emotional distress. The lawsuit, refiled on April 5 to accuse Spencer, also names Taylor, Cardwood, the District Attorney's Office, Merced County and its sheriff's department, and the city of Merced and its police department. Garcia is seeking an unspecified amount of money in the Merced County Superior Court case that alleges conspiracy, assault, false arrest, false imprisonment and a civil rights violation.

Modesto Bee
Realtors: Housing slump will worsen in 2007...Alan Zibel and Dan Caterinicchia, AP

Key Senate Democrats issued a report Wednesday detailing the housing market's decline amid calls for federal aid to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The report from New York Democrat Charles Schumer, chair of the Joint Economic Committee, came on the same day that the nation's trade group for Realtors offered new projections that the housing slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors said the national median price for existing homes would decline this year for the first time since 1968 on the same day an activist nonprofit called on Wall Street to help homeowners restructure their mortgage loans. Across town, senators called for the government to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to help at-risk homeowners. NAR predicting the median price for existing homes nationwide will drop 0.7 percent...estimated existing home sales will fall 2.2 percent... As 1.8 million adjustable rate mortgages reset to higher rates this year and next, foreclosures are sure to continue rising, the 32-page report from the JEC said. The Federal Housing Administration could be revamped to refinance mortgages in danger of default, the JEC's report said... Lawmakers also are talking up proposals to strengthen federal regulation of mortgages, impose a national ban on predatory lending practices among all lenders and require those lenders to establish a borrower's ability to pay back a mortgage loan through the life of the loan, not just for two or three years. Rising delinquencies and defaults among borrowers have resulted in more than two dozen so-called subprime lenders going out of business, moving into bankruptcy protection or putting themselves up for sale.

Stockton Record
Water officials: Judge's ruling went overboard...Alex Breitler and Hank Shaw

The Department of Water Resources filed its official response to a March 22 court ruling that, when finalized, could reduce water supplies for 25 million people from Livermore to Los Angeles. In a series of three dozen objections, the state reasserted its claim that older agreements allow it to kill threatened Delta smelt and salmon at the Banks Pumping Plant, even without an official permit under state law. Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow in a statement said Wednesday's court filing underscores a long-term strategy to restore the Delta while ensuring future water supplies. Bill Jennings, whose California Sportfishing Protection Alliance brought the lawsuit that culminated with Roesch's ruling, said the state was "refrying the egg." "They're trying to reopen the case," Jennings said. "The judge provided a brief period of time to comment on the proposed order, not to reargue the entire case." Among its objections, the state said the word "massive" used by the judge to describe the amount of water shipped south is inaccurate and subject to misinterpretation. And a reference to "significant" numbers of fish killed at the pumps is ambiguous and ignores the state's attempts to save fish and replace those that are killed. Snow's solution presented Monday was to ask the state Department of Fish and Game to determine that the pumps comply with state law, based on federal biological opinions. This "consistency determination" would be the quickest way to obey the judge's order, he said. Fish and Game has 30 days to make that determination. The 60-day pump shutdown clock, meanwhile, would begin ticking when Roesch issues his final ruling, Jennings said. Committee Chairman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, asked the officials why they chose to ask for a consistency determination rather than go through the normal process. Broddrick said this way is far faster and will in effect mirror the rules the federal government relies on to operate its own set of giant water pumps in the area. Steinberg wanted to know why the state would rely on the federal rules. He asked Broddrick if those rules were in dispute. "They certainly are," Broddrick said, referring to an active lawsuit similar to the one that threatens the state pumps. "So how do we reconcile that one?" Steinberg asked. They cannot, Broddrick acknowledged. Essentially, the state is playing double-or-nothing: If the federal lawsuit invalidates the rules governing the federal pumps, and the state's "consistency determination" relies on those federal rules, then the courts could shut down both sets of pumps.

Good to the last drop...Steve Rubenstein
It must be serious...Rain and snow were so sporadic this winter that water could be scarce this summer. Water districts around the state have begun calling for "voluntary conservation... Unfortunately, many of the water-conservation tricks from past droughts will no longer work. Voluntary conservation is the official term for the step before mandatory conservation, also known as rationing. On Wednesday, San Francisco water officials warned that if things get dire over the summer, rationing is possible...

Warming Could Spark N. American Water Scramble: U.N.
by Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK - Climate change could diminish North American water supplies and trigger disputes between the United States and Canada over water reserves already stressed by industry and agriculture, U.N. experts said on Wednesday.More heat waves like those that killed more than 100 people in the United States in 2006, storms like the killer hurricanes that struck the Gulf of Mexico in 2005 and wildfires are likely in North America as temperatures rise, according to a new report that provided regional details on a U.N. climate panel study on global warming issued in Brussels on April 6...

Washington Post
White House pulls nomination to top EPA air post...Chris Baltimore, Reuters

The White House on Wednesday withdrew its choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution office after he ran afoul of key U.S. lawmakers. William Wehrum, nominated to head the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of rules to regulate harmful power plant emissions that environmental groups and many Democrats blasted as too lenient. The White House withdrew Wehrum's nomination, along with that of Alex Beehler, its pick to be the EPA's Inspector General, in a routine personnel announcement. Rather than face near-certain rejection from Boxer's committee, the White House withdrew the nominations.

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The MacDonald Affair

Submitted: Mar 31, 2007

Having observed and commented on the corruption of local, state and federal environmental law in this region for nearly a decade, the recent hoopla surrounding Julia MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Department of Interior, is not news. We met MacDonald shortly after her appointment as aide to Judge Craig Manson, the assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, in 2002. She urged us to get in touch. We think we have her card somewhere.

Locally, we see it as being within the general context of another spring offensive by finance, insurance, real estate and the Bush regime against the San Joaquin Valley. We are going into a drought, Bush is losing his war, and the local speculative housing boom is collapsing, generating skyrocketing foreclosure rates and some class-action suits on building defects. However, as we have said since they stole the Florida election in 2000, these people crossed their Rubicon and have had nowhere to go since but straight into the public's face.
The Badlands editorial staff honestly admits that MacDonald's corruptions would be quite beyond our scope if any of Interior's Inspector General's report were news to us. But we've covered most of it when her meddling and bullying first appeared. It's all back there in the archives somewhere and we will dig it out at the appropriate times. Meanwhile, she's a certifiable California "waterperson." She went after Klamath Bull Trout to help Rove do his stunt in the Klamath basin before the 2004 election; she went after the San Joaquin Delta Smelt, when heavy pumping caused by Interior's brokered Colorado River Agreement meant Southern California would have to get more water from the Delta; she went after seasonal wetlands and vernal pools and California Tiger Salamanders, all local issues here in the Pombozastan. We reported it all as it was happening.

However, that said, we were titillated by MacDonald's intimate relations with the California Farm Bureau and Pacific Legal Foundation, on the same ideological page: private property's right to public water.

On the other hand, the changes proposed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Endangered Species Act, a story that appeared a day earlier, is news. A story of human sacrifice, particularly of a woman, is cool, but the dry, bureaucratic language of the proposed ESA changes are meanwhile concealed. Yet, these proposals capture the worst aspects of the Pomboza bill to gut the ESA in the last session, which aroused so much anger in the environmental community that, with help from former Rep. Pete McCloskey, they defeated Pombo at the polls. Furthermore, they would turn over many key ESA decisions to governors. In California, where the governor and the Legislature is actually owned by finance, insurance and real estate special interests, you could kiss some species goodbye if this proposal passes judicial review. As a recently retired Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species specialist put it, the reason we have federal protections for endangered species is because the states will not protect them.

The Bush regime is consistent, if nothing else, and that consistency has fallen heavily on the San Joaquin Valley. The other federal proposal-of-the-month of special impact is the idea of privatizing the heavy-metal laden water of the San Joaquin Valley west side, including giving the water districts partial ownership of the San Luis Reservoir. This is the Bush regime solution to upcoming review of the selenium situation around Kesterson.

Of course, there is a connection between this story and the MacDonald Affair. She's a genuine California water girl.

But, our question is: was she any worse than the Cowgirl Chancellor of UC Merced, who built the first phase of the beloved boondoggle without the required federal permits, quit her job (along with a number of other of her starting team), and dropped a regulatory mess in her successors' laps and a bigger mess in the community's lap. If MacDonald was in the air in Washington, the Cowgirl was right here on the ground, building that anchor tenant for one of the greatest, most destructive speculative real estate booms in the nation. Nor has the attempt by UC to corrupt environmental law and regulation at every level of government by its lobbyists, administrators, lawyers, politicians like Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced and the regional finance, insurance and real estate special interests stopped. These interests will destroy California's fragile water-delivery system in order to save their profits. A key step in that is to get public attention off endangered species that in any way appear to interfere with delivery of paper water through the Delta pumps via crumbling levees. The collapsing housing bubble only encourages them.

There is a rough equivalence between the endangered species menaced by MacDonald's policies and the misery of students at UC Merced, which is today a sort of developer's model home of a university, with decorative students in residence (not all of them expiring in the shrubbery). However, like the endangered species, about which the Cowgirl's rhetoric was just fine, the students are not there for display; they want a life, too.

Nope. We admit the corruption of the federal government and the University of California, in full color, is too much for our humble descriptive abilities. We'll leave the job to the mainstream press. Its reporters are well-rested after seven years on a vacation from reality. Let them "investigate" and give each other prizes.

Meanwhile we will ask why Judge Manson was rewarded for his crimes against Nature with an appointment to McGeorge Law School. McGeorge needs some looking into, actually. Its dean is a former general counsel for the CIA. What's going on there? Why did UC Boalt Hall hire John Yoo, author of the torture-justifying memo during his years as counsel to the president?

And, isn't the timing of the MacDonald story and the ESA changes interesting? How much do top Fish and Wildlife Service officials support the Bush proposals? FWS Director Dale Hale appears, in the Inspector General's report, to be the epitome of a guardian of pure biology in the MacDonald Affair stories, while simultaneously trying to squelch any news about the new ESA rules. Are we headed for a "show hearing" at the House Natural Resources Committee in May on MacDonald, while the ESA changes wend their unnoticed way through the Bush regime "process"?

Will the next proposal for rule changes coming from the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service be to privatize all the wildlife refuges in the nation?

We might also ask -- from the ground here in UC/Great Valley Center/Pombozastan, home of a state "blueprint" for growth along the lines indicated by Pombo Family Real Estate Farms -- how soon will UC give up on UC Merced and move it to Tracy, which wants a college, where it can be absorbed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Level-4 Biowarfare Lab and the Tsakopoulos family's Hellenic studies programs? Our nation needs genetic technologists who can create the biological weapons of the future (and, of course, their antidotes) while simultaneously learning to conjugate irregular Greek verbs and reading a bit of Jaeger's Paideia. Don't it? Ain't that the kind of "shared experience" we need?

How long will it be before the next Peripheral Canal proposal surfaces to convey paper water in a drought to Southern California? Before or after the next levee break?

It is the very bravest of new worlds possible, my dear Calaban. How's the asthma?

Bill Hatch

New York Times
Proposed changes would shift duties in protecting species...Felicity Barringer

The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering limiting the ability of federal wildlife protection agencies to intervene on behalf of endangered species that may be harmed by federal actions...would also increase the role of state governments in administering some of the species protections that are now the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. H. Dale Hall...said Tuesday that the draft proposal detailing the changes was “really a beginning of a process.” "It had all options on the table,” Mr. Hall said. “It really doesn’t represent anything that we support or don’t support.” Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the Seattle office of Earthjustice, an environmental group, said that he had obtained a copy of the draft proposal from a federal official, and that it was created in June but had been edited as recently as a month ago. “I certainly don’t think that anyone ever contemplated a wholesale delegation of fundamental duties” to the states, Mr. Hasselman said. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed legislation amending the act when he was a senator from Idaho, and more drastic changes were proposed in the last Congress in an unsuccessful bill.

Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act
Proposed regulatory changes, obtained by Salon, would destroy the "safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction," say environmentalists.
By Rebecca Clarren

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

"The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act," says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. "This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America's most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction."

In recent months, the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone to extraordinary efforts to keep drafts of regulatory changes from the public. All copies of the working document were given a number corresponding to a person, so that leaked copies could be traced to that individual. An e-mail sent in March from an assistant regional director at the Fish and Wildlife Service to agency staff, asking for comments on and corrections to the first draft, underscored the concern with secrecy: "Please Keep close hold for now. Dale [Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] does not want this stuff leaking out to stir up discontent based on speculation."

Many Fish and Wildlife Service employees believe the draft is not based on "defensible science," says a federal employee who asked to remain anonymous. Yet "there is genuine fear of retaliation for communicating that to the media. People are afraid for their jobs."

Chris Tollefson, a spokesperson for the service, says that while it's accurate to
characterize the agency as trying to keep the draft under wraps, the agency has every intention of communicating with the public about the proposed changes; the draft just hasn't been ready. And, he adds, it could still be changed as part of a forthcoming formal review process.

Administration critics characterize the secrecy as a way to maintain spin control, says Kieran Suckling, policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group. "This administration will often release a 300-page-long document at a press conference for a newspaper story that will go to press in two hours, giving the media or public no opportunity to digest it and figure out what's going on," Suckling says. "[Interior Secretary Dirk] Kempthorne will give a feel-good quote about how the new regulations are good for the environment, and they can win the public relations war."

In some ways, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act should come as no surprise. President Bush has hardly been one of its fans. Under his reign, the administration has granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That's fewer than in any other administration in history -- and far fewer than were listed during the administrations of Reagan (253), Clinton (521) or Bush I (234). Furthermore, during this administration, nearly half of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who work with endangered species reported that they had been directed by their superiors to ignore scientific evidence that would result in recommendations for the protection of species, according to a 2005 survey of more than 1,400 service biologists, ecologists and botanists conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

"We are not allowed to be honest and forthright, we are expected to rubber stamp
everything," wrote a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist as part of the survey. "I have 20 years of federal service in this and this is the worst it has ever been."

The agency has long seen a need to improve the act, says Tollefson. "This is a look at what's possible," he says. "Too much of our time as an agency is spent responding to litigation rather than working on recovering the species that are most in need. The current way the act is run creates disincentives for people to get involved with recovering species."

Kempthorne, boss of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been an outspoken critic of the act. When he was a U.S. senator from Idaho in the late 1990s, he championed legislation that would have allowed government agencies to exempt their actions from Endangered Species Act regulations, and would have required federal agents to conduct cost-benefit analyses when considering whether to list a species as endangered. (The legislation failed.) Last June, in his early days as interior secretary, Kempthorne told reporters, "I really believe that we can make improvements to the act itself."

Kempthorne is keeping good on his promise. The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says Suckling.

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn't make for easy reading.

However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades.

"It makes absolutely no sense biologically," wrote Hasselman in an e-mail. "One of the Act's weaknesses is that species aren't protected until they're already in trouble and this proposal puts that flaw on steroids."

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

"If states are involved, the act would only get minimally enforced," says Bob Hallock, a recently retired 34-year veteran of the Fish and Wildlife Service who, as an endangered species specialist, worked with state agencies in Idaho, Washington and Montana. "States are, if anything, closer to special economic interests. They're more manipulated. The states have not demonstrated the will or interest in upholding the act. It's why we created a federal law in the first place."

Additional tweaks in the law would have a major impact. For instance, the proposal would narrow the definition of a species' geographic range from the landscape it inhabited historically to the land it currently occupies. Since the main reason most plants and animals head toward extinction is due to limited habitat, the change would strongly hamper the government's ability to protect chunks of land and allow for a healthy recovery in the wild.

The proposal would also allow both ongoing and planned projects by such federal agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service to go forward, even when scientific evidence indicates that the projects may drive a species to extinction. Under the new regulations, as long as the dam or logging isn't hastening the previous rate of extinction, it's approved. "This makes recovery of species impossible," says Suckling.

Gutting the Endangered Species Act will only thicken the pall that has hung over the Fish and Wildlife Service for the past six years, Hallock says. "They [the Bush
administration] don't want the regulations to be effective. People in the agency are like a bunch of whipped dogs," he says. "I think it's just unacceptable to go around squashing other species; they're of incalculable benefit to us. The optimism we had when this agency started has absolutely been dashed."

Endangered Species Act changes in the works...Janet Wilson and Julie Cart

Bush administration officials said Tuesday that they were reviewing proposed changes to the way the 34-year-old Endangered Species Act is enforced, a move that critics say would weaken the law in ways that a Republican majority in Congress was unable to do...draft of suggested changes, which was leaked Tuesday, would reduce protection for wildlife habitat and transfer some authority over vulnerable species to states. Acting under orders from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who has long fought for changes in the law, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall said he had asked his senior field staff to evaluate proposals in the draft by policy advisors in the Departments of Interior and Commerce, which oversee almost 1,300 imperiled species. Hall made his comments after environmental groups and the online journal Salon.com published a draft version of the proposals Tuesday. The draft contains language from Kempthorne's proposed 1998 legislation and from a controversial bill by former Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), both of which died in Congress.

Washington Post
Govt. eyes changes in Species Protection...H. Josef Hebert, AP

Details of some of the proposed changes surfaced Tuesday in a number of draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act. Department spokesmen said the drafts were still under review and that no decision had been made by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on whether to proceed. "The focus is how we can do a better job of recovering more species," department spokesman Hugh Vickery said in an interview. He called the documents that have surfaced preliminary and in some cases out of date. Some of the proposed changes are outlined in a 117-page draft regulation and in a half-dozen separate memorandums, some dating back to last summer and others as recent as mid-February. The proposed changes "touch on every key program under the Endangered Species Act. It is a rewrite from top to bottom," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group based in Tucson, Ariz. The draft was the subject of a story Tuesday on Salon.com. Vickery said the 117-page document, which includes many of the proposed changes, is old. "It does not represent the latest thinking by the Fish and Wildlife Service," he said. "Recommendations are still being floated." But Daniel Patterson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which put the documents on its Web site Tuesday, said the memos have been circulated among agencies outside the Interior Department, suggesting that the proposals are in the late stage of consideration.

Stockton Record
GOP launches early attack on McNerney...Hank Shaw

National Republicans have begun their attempt to unseat Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, a full 20 months before Election Day 2008. The Republican National Campaign Committee, which spent tens of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to save former Tracy Rep. Richard Pombo last fall, has included McNerney in its first round of targets posted on www.therealdemocratstory.com. NRCC will also send about 100,000 e-mails into McNerney's 11th District highlighting their criticism of the freshman Democrat's voting record. McNerney has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time so far this year.

Center for Biological Diversity
Interior Department Official Distorted Agency's Own Science to Avoid Protecting Endangered Species...Press Release...3-29-07

Report from Inspector General Department of Interior Blasts Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald
3-23-07...A copy of the Inspector General’s report is available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/esa/pdfs/DOI-IG-Report_JM.pdf.

San Francisco Chronicle
Judge tosses new forest rules...Henry K. Lee

A federal judge in San Francisco threw out the Bush administration's new rules Friday for managing the country's 155 national forests, saying the government had failed to consider the environmental effects that could result from the changes...administration also failed to give the public a chance to review the new regulations before they went into effect in 2005, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said in a ruling on two consolidated lawsuits filed by environmental groups and the state of California. Hamilton said the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and couldn't institute the new rules until environmental reviews are conducted. More than a dozen environmental groups had filed suit, including Citizens for Better Forestry, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

San Francisco Chronicle
UC faculty to join talks on big BP biofuels deal...Rick DelVecchio

UC Berkeley's administration has invited faculty members to join the contract talks on the $500 million BP biofuels deal amid pressure to ensure that campus traditions and values are safeguarded in the partnership. Journalism Professor Bill Drummond, chairman of the campus Academic Senate, said the administration will allow four professors who chair Senate committees -- Calvin Moore, Patrick Kirch, Christopher Kutz and J. Miguel Villas-Boas -- to participate in the negotiations... The university's administration is being sharply challenged by faculty members who fear the BP deal is so big that it threatens to upset the tradition of shared governance on campus between the Academic Senate and the administration. A petition signed by 130 faculty members, including some of the campus' most widely respected academics, calls for the immediate convening of a blue-ribbon committee to look into aspects of the BP deal that impinge on the Academic Senate's mandate. The petitioners argue that decisions on hiring faculty and allocating resources to the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute, to be staffed by 50 BP-appointed researchers and 100 from academia, are going forward without proper campus review. A second petition by a different group of faculty members seeks to cancel the BP deal on the grounds that it constitutes the "greenwashing" of the oil company's environmental record through its association with the university. Robert Dudley, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and a member of the Academic Senate's academic freedom committee, said the lack of disclosure of the BP deal's details is "potentially suspicious."...cited a 1998-2003 research deal under which the Swiss biotech firm Novartis provided $25 million in funding to the university's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Faculty members were upset that a funding deal that large wasn't discussed universitywide before it was implemented. Ironically, the Novartis controversy prompted Cornell's faculty to develop standards that could be put into action in a similar partnership. Cornell faculty's 26-page document was finished in 2005 after two years of debate...document coined a new term for large-scale research sponsorships: "strategic corporate alliances."

San Francisco Chronicle
UC-Merced hopes to lure large-campus rejects...San Jose Mercury News

The University of California, Merced has a new strategy to attract students:...The "Shared Experience" program will allow about 1,000 students who narrowly miss admission to UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine or UC San Diego to attend the Merced campus for two years, and then finish their studies at a more established school. Growth has been slower than expected at UC Merced, where freshman enrollment dropped 38 percent last fall in the school's second year. The Shared Experience program was also used to increase attendance at UC Santa Cruz in the 1980s, when some students were guaranteed subsequent entry to the Berkeley campus.

Los Angeles Times
Southland's dry spell could get worse...Betinna Boxall

Nature is pulling a triple whammy on Southern California this year. Whether it's the Sierra, the Southland or the Colorado River Basin, every place that provides water to the region is dry. It's a rare and troubling pattern, and if it persists it could thrust the region into what researchers have dubbed the perfect Southern California drought: when nature shortchanges every major branch of the far-flung water network that sustains 18 million people. The mountain snowpack vital to water imports from Northern California is at the lowest level in nearly two decades. The Los Angeles area has received record low rainfall this winter... And the Colorado River system remains in the grip of one of the worst basin droughts in centuries. Thanks to a bountiful Sierra snowpack in the spring of 2006, the state's reservoirs are in good shape. Twice during the 20th century — in the late 1950s and the early 1980s — drought strained all three regions that supply Southern California, said Scripps Institution of Oceanography hydrologist Hugo Hidalgo. UCLA geography professor Glen MacDonald, warned, "if you went into a decade or longer of persistent drought that affected the Sacramento [River Basin], the Los Angeles area and the Colorado, you would end up basically taxing all of the those water storage facilities, from the dams on the Colorado to what we have here, to beyond the breaking point." As a result of this spring's skimpy Sierra snowpack — it's at 46% of the normal statewide average — the State Water Project will reduce deliveries of Northern California water to the central and southern parts of the state, but not dramatically.

Washington Post
Extinct sense...Editorial
IT LOOKS LIKE another story of endangered ethics on the Bush administration's environmental staff. Last week the Interior Department's inspector general submitted the results of an investigation of Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, to congressional overseers. According to numerous accounts collected in the inquiry, Ms. MacDonald has terrorized low-level biologists and other employees for years, often yelling and even swearing at them. One official characterized her as an "attack dog." Much of this bullying, the report suggests, was aimed at diluting the scientific conclusions and recommendations of government biologists and at favoring industry and land interests. Ms. MacDonald's subordinates said she has trenchantly resisted both designating new species as endangered and protecting imperiled animals' habitats. She defended her interventions in an interview with the inspector general's staff, saying that she kept Interior's scientists accountable, according to the report. But the evidence available suggests she was at the least too aggressive. H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, recounted a battle he had with Ms. MacDonald over the Southwest willow flycatcher, an endangered bird. claims that Ms. MacDonald insisted on lowering that to 1.8 miles so that the nesting range would not extend into California, where her husband maintained a family ranch. The inspector general noted that she has no formal training in biology. The inspector general's review of Ms. MacDonald's e-mail account also showed that she had close ties to lobbying organizations that have challenged endangered-species listings and that she had "misused her position" to give them information not available to the public on Interior Department policy. Reports of Ms. MacDonald's alleged sins have emerged soon after revelations of other ethical lapses by Bush environmental appointees. J. Steven Griles, the former second in command at Interior, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal. And Sue Ellen Wooldridge, formerly the government's top environmental lawyer, jointly purchased a vacation home with Mr. Griles and a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips. These are troubling incidents. Ms. MacDonald works for an agency tasked with making determinations based on scientific fact, not on her, or her lobbyist friends', inclinations. She appears to have betrayed that vital principle. The inspector general has sent his report to top officials at the Interior Department. They should investigate for themselves the document's troubling descriptions and take action to ensure that Ms. MacDonald and other managers at Interior make policy fit the science, not the other way around.

Sacramento Bee
Canal still best Delta water fix...Dan Walters

One of Brown's better initiatives was closing a gap in the water system that had been started under his father, Pat Brown...the "Peripheral Canal" enjoyed support from both environmentalists and municipal and agricultural water agencies... After a highly misleading, farmer-financed campaign, voters rejected the Peripheral Canal in 1982. Had the Peripheral Canal been built as Jerry Brown urged, the fish being chewed up in the pumps would have been alive and more numerous. Had the Peripheral Canal been built, we wouldn't have to worry so much about Delta levees collapsing due to an earthquake or being breached by rising ocean levels from global warming, either of which would threaten water deliveries. But the canal wasn't built. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." Arnold Schwarzenegger is the first governor since Brown to truly confront the water policy gridlock. Schwarzenegger described the fish-kill decision as "one more indication of how our system doesn't really work, and that we have to upgrade it. We have to fix our levees. There are a lot of things that need to be done. We need to have more above-the-ground water storage. We have to start thinking about our Delta; it's very, very vulnerable. As I said, one earthquake and one big storm, and it could wipe out this whole system, and 25 million people will suffer because of it." He's right.

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Hun to increase state water supply -- Read all about it!

Submitted: Mar 27, 2007

There is something about a governor that loves a dam. Maybe it's the ribbons. In any event, Our Hun is no different. But the justification for more off-stream storage of water in California is beginning to reach a stage we might call "officially sanctified lunacy." It based on the mathematical assumptions that benefit a very powerful handful of people: the Hun, parts of the Legislature and the editorial board of the McClatchy Chain. The numbers go like this: as long as the finance, insurance and real estate sector of the economy continues to lavish campaign contributions on politicians and buy enormous quantities of media advertising, the politicians and the Chain will continue to promote the voodoo math that because the population is growing, the quantity of water in California can be made, magically, to grow by building more dams.

Regarding this latest promotion of the Temperance Flats dam on the San Joaquin River above the Friant Dam on the same river, the McClatchy chain, after a few false starts quoting the fulminations of a Tulare County congressman of knuckleheaded rightwing sentiments rapidly going out of fashion, they have gotten their rhetoric down: WATER CRISIS for the growing population. This conveniently obscures the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement that would -- by federal court ruling -- put enough water back in the San Joaquin River below the Friant Dam (and the Friant-Kern Canal that sucks out most of its water) so that the river actually flows on the surface of the earth across Fresno County and contains enough fresh water so that salmon could again inhabit it from the Delta to the Friant Dam.

The distraction of the Temperance Flat project -- CRISIS IN WATER SUPPLY! -- shows that the McClatchy Chain remains firmly on the side of unlimited population growth in California and the fewer and fewer people who truly benefit from it, come drought or high water.

It is bad enough that the public had to wait 18 years, arguing on behalf of fish, to get a federal court ruling that would mean, if it is ever implemented, that a river would not go underground for 50 miles and when it surfaces be filled with agricultural drainage for the remainder of its 100-mile journey to the Delta.

It is bad enough that the Delta smelt population had to crash so severely that an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled last week that the pumps to the California Aqueduct must stop in 60 days unless there is a solution to another wildlife crisis.

It is bad enough that Westlands Water District of Fresno is permitted to buy 3,000 acres of river frontage on a tributary feeding into the Shasta Dam, just in case it is decided to increase the size of the reservoir.

There can be no more naked display of the unmitigated greed of finance, insurance and real estate interests and the pusilanimity of politicians and the McClatchy Chain, and that's the main chance for the public. This is a cartoon written so large anybody can see it. A huge number of people, from all parts of California, can now see that its plumbing system is absurdly vulnerable -- a sizeable levee break in the Delta would cause a crisis in drinking water supplies for 24 million people and large floods besides -- and yet this narrow group of special interests keeps mindlessly promoting more water storage. There is no more water, and the system that delivers it now is waiting for an earthquake or floods to self-destruct, as the result of a 30-year run of corrupt policies promoting unlimited population growth at the expense of limited natural resources, a period marked by the arrival of laws that recognize resource limits.

The public wants the San Joaquin River back. A federal court ruling says it should get its river back. Therefore, every special interest in the land must gather together to promote yet another dam on that river to make absolutely certain the public does not get its river back. Fifth graders would reject the math behind the proposal and have a good class giggle at the absurdity of this particular "word problem."

If it isn't the ribbons, maybe it's the money. It sure isn't the math.


San Francisco Chronicle
Schwarzenegger promotes dams as way to boost water reserves
Associated Press

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday promoted a $6 billion plan for increased water storage and protecting fresh water supplies, calling for two new dams and better management of the delta.

"Our state's population is increasing rapidly. We also have earthquakes and major storms that could really destroy our levee system," the governor said, speaking against the backdrop of Friant Dam at Millerton Lake, in the Sierra foothills east of Fresno.

Two-thirds of Californians depend on the Sierra Nevada snowmelt for drinking water while Central Valley growers use it to irrigate their fields. Schwarzenegger said the state's expected growth — to 55 million people by 2050 — requires it to create more water storage.

In addition, officials must plan for the effects of global warming, which is expected to reduce the Sierra snow pack and lead to earlier run off. Rising sea levels also could increase salinity in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, jeopardizing fresh water supplies.

Schwarzenegger introduced his water projects in January during his State of the State address, proposing $4.5 billion for reservoirs and groundwater storage, $1 billion to manage the delta, $250 million for restoration of several rivers and $200 million for water conservation.

The governor faces building two new dams, one above the existing Friant Dam and Millerton Lake and another in the northern Sacramento Valley.

Environmentalists have criticized Schwarzenegger's plans. They say California could find more cost-effective ways to meet its water needs, particularly through conservation.

Fresno Bee –
Editorial: Addressing water needs; Governor presents his plan to increase water surface storage

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took up the cudgels in Fresno Monday for the controversial proposal to build new surface storage capacity for water supplies in California, including a dam above Millerton Lake in the Temperance Flat area. Unlike the story line of most of his action movies, it won't be a fight the governor can win alone.

The governor, backed by agricultural and business interests, originally included money for new dams in last year's package of infrastructure bonds. Such projects proved too much for Democrats in the Legislature to swallow, and the people never got a chance to vote on them.

Schwarzenegger said he would be back with a new water storage package, and Monday's media event at the base of Friant Dam marked the public kickoff of the new campaign. Schwarzenegger stood in front of an assemblage of local elected officials and asked for public support to lobby the state's legislators on the effort.

The Bee supports the idea of a new dam at Temperance Flat, assuming the engineering and environmental studies underway confirm its feasibility. Such additional surface storage is badly needed in California, and must be part of a three-part package that also includes underground storage and dramatically revved-up conservation efforts.

The vehicle for Schwarzenegger's water package would be a $5.95 billion bond measure. The vast majority of the funds -- $4.5 billion -- would be set aside for surface water storage projects. About $1 billion would be spent on efforts to keep the vital Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta healthy. Another $260 million would be spent on the state's rivers, including the San Joaquin, and some $200 million would be used to provide funding for local water conservation efforts.

State Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, is the principal sponsor of SB 59, which would place the measure on the ballot.

It won't be easy. Democrats flatly rejected the approach last year, and continue to argue that conservation and groundwater storage are the only viable solutions to California's looming water crisis.

And crisis it is: The state's population is expected to grow by 30% in the next 20 years, and if even the most conservative estimates of global climate change prove true, we could have serious shortages of water in the state by the next generation.

There are many details to be decided, and battles to be fought. But this is no routine political exercise. The future of California is on the line, and the governor is correct to push for more water storage capacity.

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Hun appoints next peripheral canal campaign committee

Submitted: Feb 18, 2007

Our Hun announced after deadline Friday that he has appointed a Blue Ribbon Task Force to develop a "Delta Vision." Badlands editorial staff predicts this is the beginning of the next campaign for a peripheral canal.

The 41 leaders on the task force are a Who's Who of Usual Suspects, chaired by former state Assemblyman Phil Isenberg. Isenberg, who knows everyone in the world but his world doesn't extend beyond the Sacramento city limits, is an interesting choice. Throughout Willie Brown's long speakership in the Assembly, Isenberg, whatever committee chairs he might be sitting in, was Willie's nuts-and-bolts campaign foreman in election years. Isenberg could actually run an effective statewide campaign for a peripheral canal. It is hard to see than he would have any other interest in the Delta beyond having the levees break downstream from Sacramento.

State Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman made the announcement. A Tulare County rancher and agricultural leader, nobody but Our Hun would have appointed him to this position because Chrisman and south Valley leadership like him are responsible for the air and water quality mess down there. Will the visionary Delta peripheral canal somehow modify the San Joaquin River Agreement, reached between the Friant Water Users Authority (largely a Tulare County group) and the Natural Resources Defense Council?

Reading down the list, we find Tom Birmingham, General Manager and General Counsel of the Westlands Water District. Westlands just bought the 3,000-acre Bollibokka fishing club on the McCloud River, just in case the federal government wants to buy it back to raise the level of the Shasta Dam to flood it out. Tom's deal is real simple: as his west side grower customers are bought out by the government because of selenium, salts and other heavy metals, Westlands can sell more federally subsidized water to the Southern California municipal market and to growing communities in the south Valley for real big profits.

It's hard to fault former members of various committees of CAL-FED on the blue ribbon task force. Although water experts predicted nothing would come of that effort from the beginning, it was certainly hampered by the continual opposition of the former Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, chairman of the former House Resources Committee, now known again as the Natural Resources Committee.

Nor do we develop automatic prejudices against notable officials in the Dickensian world of water politicians based on their names, and so we expect enlightenment on Delta issues from Joan Anderson Dym, Executive Director of the Southern California Water Committee. However, we wonder where former Gov. Gray Davis' great water guru, Keith Brackpool, is hiding.

With Randy Fiorini, President of the Association of California Water Agencies and Director of the Turlock-Modesto Irrigation District, we appear to be wandering in the darkness of Hun Flak. There is no such thing as the T-MID. He appears to be a director of the Turlock Irrigation District. However, ACWA is a well-known promoter of any dam project.

Ditto: Tony Francois, Director of Water Resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Tom Hurlbutt, Water Advisor for J.G. Boswell Co., will doubtless have a conservative solution: More water for Boswell; less for the rest.

Zeke Grader, Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Executive Director of the Institute for Fisheries Resources, is lonely champion of environmental interests among the blue ribbons. Perhaps there are a few others, Jonas Minton for example, but the Hun's Blue Ribbon Task Force is about exploiting water resources and real estate, with a little farming thrown in. It is not about fish, restoration of a Bay or Delta fishery, preservation or enhancement of the Delta and its communities as they are. We believe it is about recycling a 20-year old bad idea: the peripheral canal. Beyond the millions that will be spent, we cannot predict. But, at least, it is a make-work project for politicians and their consultants. Developers will be unable to refuse the temptation; money will flow; the party will go on. See you at Fat's.

Steve LaMar, Chair of both the Water Resources Subcommittee and the Flood Taskforce for the Building Industry Association, represents interests that would probably welcome a flood and the reconstruction projects to follow, a la Katrina. Build on a flood plain once, rebuild after the next flood. It just makes good dollars and cents. How would the BIA come down on a peripheral canal? Developers would approve a canal that would take flood pressure off the Delta. They could fill up the whole flood-plagued area with gated communities and ranchettes surrounded by brackish, stagnant sloughs unfit for a carp. Vista de la Ultima Carpa Estates!

David Shabazian, Senior Planner, Sacramento Area Council of Governments; project manager of SACOG's intelligent-transportation systems integrating regional systems with Caltrans, appears to represent smart growth and perhaps believes he does. Actually, all he represents is northern California's most successful regional lobby for federal highway funds -- with a lot of pretensions thrown in to confuse the public. The proof his SACOG's pudding is Roseville.

Adding a van Loben Sels to the task force adds a touch of history. The family had a dairy on the Delta, wiped out before most of the now-crumbling levees were built. A witness to that event once described the view of an entire herd of dairy cows floating down a flooding river, feet up, c. 1905.

But, with the appointment of Steve Johnson, Director of Strategic Initiatives for The Nature Conservancy, California Chapter; and member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee, we leave the realm of possibility and enter the realm of corporate eco-sleeze. UC Merced is still digging itself out from under the famous conservation easements Johnson purchased for it, using state funds but not adhering to state easement standards. The Nature Conservancy's ace environmental slut boy's collaborator, Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, is reported trying to get a off-shore job in the administration of a Hawaian university, while the Merced public wonders when the state is going to begin to call the UC Merced easement mess by its name: fraud against California taxpayers. In this activity, Johnson and the Chancellor were enabled at every step by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, in the state Assembly at the time before advancing to Congress. Other participants in the deal were former Gov. Gray Davis and numerous officials in the state Department of Resources. Throughout the process of siting the greatest growth-inducing project in the history of Merced, both the law and the endangered species it is meant to protect were the victims and the tools of a "win-win, public-private partnership" that enriched a few large landowners at the expense of state taxpayers and while appearing to satisfy some of the natural resources mitigation for the UC project, built in the middle of the densest fields of vernal pools in the state, probably in the nation. However, by definition, this is really not what happened, because as all right-thinking, educated people know, the University of California is always right and good. Our Hun might regard Johnson as just the man to handle the mitigation for the environmental impacts of a peripheral canal, particularly since it would doubtless pass through vernal pool territory. Unfortunately, a peripheral canal doesn't enjoy the high, if unreflective public opinion enjoyed by UC. On the other hand, water in California is related to life and wealth; while UC is associated with weapons of mass destruction and escalating tuition.

To end on an upbeat note, however, we notice that there is a member of the task force with a background in environmental economics, Spreck Rosekrans, Senior Analyst for Environmental Defense, specializing in land, water and wildlife and electric utility issues. A UC math graduate, Rosenkrans may be able to crunch a few numbers with the boys and girls from the "real world" of finance and real estate. Who knows, maybe "inevitable growth" is prohibitively expensive.

There are key people missing from the Blue Ribbon Task Force. They are missing because they are effective advocates for the Delta ecology, they know what they are talking about, they have extensive records, and they file lawsuits to protect the Delta rather than to plunder it.

Older Californians hark back to the day when such task forces and commissions seemed to work better. Some are even aged enough to remember when the Public Utilities Commission was an effective agency. It may be a problem of scale. Our state Legislature, for example, was designed to adequately represent about 10-15 million people. Now it badly represents 37 million people with a term-limited Legislature of the same size. Meanwhile, lobbyists are neither termed nor limited in number. But maybe when we reach 50 million people, things will all even out if we get that technological black box that will restore representative government. Democracy is just another business, isn't it?

Badlands editorial staff


News Release from Resources Agency: 41 Member Delta Vision Stakeholder Panel Named
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2007 13:42:30 -0800
From: "Parker, Annie"

41 Member Delta Vision Stakeholder Panel Named

Sacramento -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Delta Vision" plan moved another step forward today as Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman named appointments to a 41-member Delta Stakeholders Group.

This panel will represent Delta interests, provide assistance and make recommendations to a Blue Ribbon Task Force appointed by the Governor last week, on ideas and innovations that will lead to a sustainable Delta. Former Assemblyman and past Sacramento Mayor Phil Isenberg will serve as chairman of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

"The Governor's Delta Vision process depends upon a wide array of stakeholders and the wealth of knowledge and depth of experience they bring to the table," said Chrisman.

In creating Delta Vision, the Governor clearly stated its purpose: to provide a sustainable management program for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, a unique natural resource of local, state, and national significance. Delta Vision was established by and Executive Order in September 2006.

The Delta, formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, has long been a center of controversy as both the largest estuary on the West Coast and hub of the state's water system. In addition, the 57 islands and waterways of the Delta are traversed by a major portion of Northern California infrastructure, including hundreds of gas lines, six highways, five high voltage lines and three railroads.

"We recognize the competing demands upon Delta interests as we work toward a sustainable management plan," Chrisman said. "But we need to develop a common vision that we'll be able to implement and this group will play an integral role in helping us reach that goal."

Named to the stakeholder group are:

Juan Acosta, Director of Government Affairs for BNSF Railroad (California/Nevada); currently serves on the Regional Rail Steering Committee (Bay Area) and participates in the Air Resources Board's Goods Movement Advisory Committee.

Blanca Banuelos, Attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance Program.

Linda Bendsen, Member of the Delta Protection Commission's Recreation Citizens Advisory Committee and board member of Recreational Boaters of California.

Tom Birmingham, General Manager and General Counsel of the Westlands Water District.

Gary Bobker, Program Director at the Bay Institute, member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee and co-chair of CALFED's Ecosystem Restoration Subcommittee.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento; serves on the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Delta Protection Commission and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

John Cain, Director of Restoration Programs for the Natural Heritage Institute.

Steve Chappell, Executive Director of the Suisun Resource Conservation District.

Lenore Clark, Vice-chair of the state Boating and Waterways Commission and Vice-President (North) of Recreational Boaters of California.

Marci Coglianese, Member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee; former mayor and council member of the City of Rio Vista, and former member of the Delta Protection Commission and Solana Land Trust.

Gilbert Cosio, Principal Engineer, MBK Engineers.

Debbie Davis, Legislative analyst for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water.

Joan Anderson Dym, Executive Director of the Southern California Water Committee.

Bob Ferguson, Vice-Chair of the South Delta Water Agency and Vice-Chair of the Delta Protection Commission; owner of Ferguson Farms.

Randy Fiorini, President of the Association of California Water Agencies and Director of the Turlock-Modesto Irrigation District.

Tony Francois, Director of Water Resources for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Bill Gaines, President, California Outdoor Heritage Alliance.

Henry Gardner, Executive Director, Association of Bay Area Governments; former City Manager for City of Oakland; and former consultant on municipal management, public financing, capital projects and new business development.

Greg Gartrell, Assistant General Manager, Contra Costa Water District; and member of CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee

Zeke Grader, Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Executive Director of the Institute for Fisheries Resources.

David Guy, General Manager of the Northern California Water Association and member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee.

Tom Hurlbutt, Water Advisor for J.G. Boswell Co.

Steve Johnson, Director of Strategic Initiatives for The Nature Conservancy, California Chapter; and member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee.

Jeff Kaspar, Deputy Director of Properties and Environmental, Port of Stockton.

Jeff Kightlinger, General Manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Steve LaMar, Chair of both the Water Resources Subcommittee and the Flood Taskforce for the Building Industry Association.

Mike McGowan, Yolo County Supervisor; Chair of the Delta Protection Commission and Chair of the Port of Sacramento

Jonas Minton, Senior Project Manager for the Planning and Conservation League; former Deputy Director of the California Department of Water Resources and former executive director of the Sacramento Water Forum.

Anson Moran, General Manager of the Delta Wetlands Project and former manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Barry Nelson, Senior Policy Analyst, Natural Resource Defense Council; formerly Executive Director of Save the Bay in Oakland.

Valerie Nera, Policy Advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, specializing in water supply and conveyance, agricultural land use and labor, balanced resource development, private property rights protection and federal environmental laws.

Spreck Rosekrans, Senior Analyst for Environmental Defense, specializing in land, water and wildlife and electric utility issues.

Rudolph Rosen, Director, Ducks Unlimited Western Regional Office

Diane Ross-Leech, Manager of Environmental Support and Services, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.; member of Santa Clara Valley Habitat Conservation Plan Stakeholders Group.

David Shabazian, Senior Planner, Sacramento Area Council of Governments; project manager of SACOG's intelligent-transportation systems integrating regional systems with Caltrans.

Kerry Sullivan, Director of San Joaquin County Planning and Community Development; serves on the San Joaquin Council of Governments’ Habitat Technical Advisory Committee.

Topper van Loben Sels, Member of the Delta Protection Commission and the Delta Citizens Municipal Advisory Committee.

Mark Wilson, Chair of Wilson Farms and Wilson Vineyards.

Jim Wunderman, President and CEO, Bay Area Council; serves on the boards of the Bay Area Economic Forum, the Bay Center and the California Center for Regional Leadership.

Greg Zlotnick, Board Member, Santa Clara Valley Water Agency and Association of California Water Agencies; Vice-Chair of Bay Area Water Forum.

Tom Zuckerman, Co-Counsel, Central Delta Water Agency and member of the CALFED Bay-Delta Public Advisory Committee.

San Francisco Chronicle
Land sale fuels fear of higher dam at Shasta
Greg Lucas, Tom Stienstra, Chronicle Staff Writers

The Fresno-based Westlands Water District -- already the largest agricultural user of Northern California water -- has spent nearly $35 million to purchase 3,000 acres of land on the McCloud River to make it easier to one day raise Shasta Dam. The land acquired by Westlands would be sold to the federal government and inundated if officials and lawmakers decided to raise the dam.
Located on the property is the private Bollibokka fishing club, built in 1904 by the founders of Hills Brothers Coffee, and 26 Winnemem Wintu Indian villages with burial grounds. The Indians worry that their access to sacred sites could be blocked by Westlands...

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"This Magic Moment": Open Letter #1 to UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang

Submitted: Jan 23, 2007

Dear Dr. Kang,

Welcome to Merced, once a Valley town and gateway to Yosemite, now a "crossroads" in the middle of the greatest real estate speculation crash in its history, thanks to the arrival of UC Merced.

What a "magic moment," as Great Valley Center (GVC) President, Carol Whitesides tells it. But you would already know that because UC Merced has absorbed the Center in yet another of the public/private, win-win partnerships for which our Valley is famous.

One always got the impression from the First Chancellor that she fervently believed that Valley history began when she got here, but you have arrived in Merced as a "clean slate." UC has already gutted what brief institutional memory might have adhered to UC Merced, reinforcing its institutional strategy of pleading ignorance to history.

Yet, for a campus so young, Dr. Kang, you have inherited quite a colorful history. Allow us to list a few of its grosser features:

· UC was donated land with the richest fields of vernal pools and their associated endangered species in California;

· UC was told there was adequate water beneath this land; there wasn’t;

· UC, Gov. Gray Davis, Rep. Gary Condit, state Sen. Dick Monteith, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, regents from the Valley and prominent Valley interests conspired with state and federal resource agencies to corrupt environmental laws and regulations in order to build the campus on this land;

· In 2000, the state non-partisan legislative analyst office told the Legislature UC Merced was an unnecessary campus;

· UC Merced propagandists, including the first chancellor, have repeatedly and deceitfully described the campus as the only UC campus in the Central Valley, forgetting the existence of UC Davis;

· UC Merced, barred from agricultural research by the powerful, established UC Davis, must ignore and destroy the agriculture around it, denying that the only purpose for a UC campus in the Central Valley is agriculture; if UC Merced cannot be an agriculture school, Merced agriculture must disappear;

· In view of UC Davis medical school, UC Merced’s claims to establish one are the mere, empty flak of a boondoggle land deal pretending to be a university;

· However, if UC Merced, anchor tenant for eastern San Joaquin Valley growth from Folsom to Porterville, were to establish a medical research facility, as growth-induced Valley air pollution attains the distinction of being the worst in the nation UC would study the ravages of respiratory illness on children and the elderly while continuing to deny any complicity with the environmental conditions creating growing respiratory illness;

· UC sold Kearney Park in Fresno, donated to establish another agricultural campus;

· UC Santa Cruz is the university’s legitimate annex to Silicon Valley;

· UC Merced’s future is tied to its memorandum of understanding with UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory;

· UC Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been testing depleted uranium bombs for years and is now seeking to establish a level-4 biowarfare laboratory at Site 300 near Tracy; in other words, UC has already contaminated some Valley groundwater with depleted uranium and now wishes to expand its bomb testing and experiment with the most toxic substances known to man, here in the most productive agricultural valley in the world;

· UC Merced has been sued on its long-range development plan, on sewer and water, on its annexation plan, and on its new town;

· Every other environmental lawsuit brought in Merced County is attributable to the chaotic growth induced by UC Merced;

· UC Merced stimulated a speculative bubble in Merced that drove its real estate values to be among the least affordable in the nation, followed by the present slump in which it has the highest foreclosure rate in the state;

· UC Merced wiped out the ability of Merced County to do any further local planning;

· The corruption of local land-use authority is complete;

· UC Merced stated it would mitigate for its growth by purchasing easements on 68,000 acres of neighboring ranchland; it bought easements for 25,000 acres;

· Those easements are inadequate because they are not comparable land and/or fail to provide monitoring standards required by the public agencies who paid for them; i.e. UC Merced defrauded the taxpayers of California for more than $16 million;

· UC, on behalf of UC Merced, is currently trying to intervene in a lawsuit over critical habitat in order to get exempted from the designation for its project;

· UC has continually conspired in the state Legislature and Congress to weaken state and federal laws protecting the environment, notably the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal Endangered Species Act, simply to build the land-deal boondoggle known as UC Merced;

· UC wrote an amicus curiae brief to the state Supreme Court supporting CSU Monterey Bay’s case that state agencies do not have to pay for mitigation of off-site impacts; UC attorney Lawrence Holtz wrote that if the court did not rule in favor of CSU-MB, UC Merced would have to pay $200 million in off-site mitigation costs, which it had promised Merced and tried in that suit to evade;

· Environmentalists and an honest Republican, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, defeated Pombo in November;

· The House Resources Committee Pombo chaired has now had its original title restored, House Committee on Natural Resources; and Cardoza is no longer a member of that committee;

· Whitesides’ “magic moment” for building more roads for more growth, degrading more natural resources and agriculture, worsening air quality, water quality and supply, is part of a “regional planning” scheme originating with UC Merced;

· UC Merced is the best proof there is in the Valley that regional planning, driven by state government entirely controlled by finance, insurance and real estate interests, is nothing but a developer confidence game that started with the UC regents;

· There was no legitimate reason for UC Merced, it has created nothing but havoc in the San Joaquin Valley and has elevated possibly the worst collection of “leaders” the Valley has ever had;

· This Valley has sunk from politicians like Assembly Speaker Ralph Brown 60 years ago and Assemblyman John Williamson 40 years ago to the present gang of pretentious thugs in federal, state and municipal government that has, with “one voice,” repeatedly corrupted the Brown Act, the California Public Records Act and the Williamson Act, all for the benefit of UC Merced and its induced slurb.

This is the truth about the “magic moment” you’ve inherited, Dr. Kang. You are floating in a sea of propaganda concocted by liars and parroted by ignoramuses for the benefit of a handful of special interests in a position to profit from proximity to a UC campus. You are chancellor of a fraud on the Public Trust. The UC Merced project is totally unworthy of the once greatest public university in America.

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Merced County sued for approval of Black Diamond Aggregates mining project

Submitted: Jan 19, 2007

Merced (January 19, 2007) – Two local environmental groups filed suit Thursday in Merced County Superior Court against the Black Diamond Aggregates project under provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water challenged the Merced County Board of Supervisors’ approval on Dec. 19 of a mitigated negative for Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc., a mine close to the Merced River near Snelling owned by Reed Family Vineyards, LLC, and The Reed Leasing Group, LLC of Modesto.

The writ of mandate challenges the supervisors’ Dec. 19 adoption of the mitigated negative declaration, the General Plan amendment, rezoning, modifications to the mine reclamation plan, and major modifications to the existing mine’s conditional use permit.

Essentially, the County has permitted Black Diamond to mine up to 25 feet below the surface of a mine in the Snelling dredge tailings, originally permitted to mine only to grade level and reclaim the site as grazing land. Under Black Diamond and the County’s reclamation scheme, 25-foot deep mining pits will fill with water and we will have “open space” and “wildlife habitat” (at least until the next big flood on the Merced River).

The causes of action for the suit are Merced County’s abuse of discretion under CEQA and procedural noncompliance with CEQA and CEQA Guidelines.

Petitioners assert county abuses of discretion include:

* Failure to adequately analyze the environmental impacts of the proposal, its necessary or feasible mitigation measures, and to consider a reasonable range of project alternatives;

* Failure to consider the “fair argument” provision under CEQA that the County’s approval of this project may result in significant environmental impacts;

*Failure to adequately analyze the project’s impacts to water resources, biological resources, traffic, air quality, and failure to consider the cumulative impacts resulting from the project;

*Failure to make required mandatory findings;

*Ignoring the project’s inconsistencies with the County’s outdated General Plan.

The County ignored letters from two state and one federal resource agency that the Black Diamond project would have a significant impact on the hydrology and water supply of this area, rezoned out of the Snelling Rural Residential Center (RRC) No. 1 Residential and Agricultural zone. The project is two miles from downtown Snelling and about a half a mile from the Merced River.

The County adopted no mitigation measures on hydrology and water supply before the supervisors approved the project.

“Respondents violated their duty to prepare a legally adequate environmental impact report as required by CEQA …” petitioners said.

The petition asks the court to set aside the environmental findings and related decision by the County on the Black Diamond mine.

“This aggregate company, deeply involved with the destruction of the Tuolumne River, has now come to the Merced River and proposed a strip mine in the dredge tailings,” said Lydia Miller, president of the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center. “The planning department, project proponents and the supervisors tried to sneak the multiple violations of CEQA in this project through on a very crowded agenda at the end of the year despite a petition signed by 60 Snelling residents against it. This county government is encouraging outside special interests to run roughshod over its citizens and its natural resources.

“We are represented by the skilled, experienced environmental law firm of Don Mooney and Marsha Burch,” Miller added.

The petition is attached.

For further information contact:

Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
(209) 723-9283, ph.

Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
Davis, California 95616
Telephone: 530-758-2377

San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water

Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney
129 C Street, Suite 2
Davis, California 95616
Telephone: 530-758-2377
Facsimile: 530-758-7169

Attorney for Petitioners
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center;
and Protect Our Water



) No.
Petitioners )
and DOES 1 to 20, )
Respondents )
And DOES 21-40, )
Real Parties in Interest. )
________________________________________ )

Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”) and Protect Our Water (“POW”) (collectively “Petitioners”) petition this Court for a Writ of Mandate, directed to Respondents Merced County and the Merced County Board of Supervisors. Petitioners challenge Respondents’ December 19, 2006, adoption of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and approval of the amendment to the General Plan from Snelling RRC #1 Residential to Agricultural with a concurrent rezoning from Agricultural Residential (A-R) to General Agricultural (A-1), and modification of CUP-2870 to allow below grade level mining and revise the reclamation plan’s end land use from agricultural to open space for the Black Diamond mining operation (General Plan Amendment No. GPA05-009, Zone Change Application No. ZC05-010, and Major Modification No. MM05-016) (“Project”). By this Petition, Petitioners allege:
1. Petitioner San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center is a non-profit group that works for preserving wildlife habitats and the environment in general in the San Joaquin Valley and Merced County area. To that end, it is involved in efforts to protect the resources of the Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. The Center also is committed to public education regarding these various issues and ensuring governmental compliance with the law of this state. The Center is composed of persons whose economic, personal, aesthetic, and property interests will be severely injured if the adoption of the project is not set aside pending full compliance with CEQA and all other environmental laws. Center members utilize and enjoy the county's and state's natural resources. The Center brings this petition on behalf of all others similarly situated who are too numerous to be named and brought before this court as petitioners. As a group composed of residents and property owners generally within the San Joaquin Valley and specifically in Merced County, the Center is within the class of persons beneficially interested in, and aggrieved by, the acts of respondents as alleged below. Members of the Center participated in the administrative processes herein, and exhausted its remedies. Accordingly, the Center has standing to sue.
2. SJRRC and its members have a direct and substantial beneficial interest in ensuring that Respondents comply with the laws relating to environmental protection, particularly the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Public Resources Code, sections 21000 et seq. SJRRC is affected by Respondents’ failure to prepare an environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the Project.
3. Petitioner Protect Our Water is an unincorporated association formed in 1998 for the purpose of increasing the awareness, appreciation, and preservation of the environmental resources within the Central Valley region of central California, as well as within other areas of the State of California. POW aims to protect natural resources and the environment and to uphold the integrity of environmental and land use planning and review processes. POW’s membership includes residents and property owners within Merced County and the San Joaquin Valley in general, and as such is within the class of persons beneficially interested in, and aggrieved by, the acts of respondents as alleged below. POW participated in the administrative processes herein and has exhausted its remedies, and has standing to sue.
4. POW and its members have a direct and substantial beneficial interest in ensuring that Respondents comply with the laws relating to environmental protection, particularly CEQA. POW is affected by Respondents’ failure to prepare an EIR for the Project.
5. Respondent Merced County is a political subdivision of the State of California and a body corporate and politic exercising local government power. Merced County is the CEQA “lead agency” for the Project. As lead agency for the Project, Merced County is responsible for preparation of an environmental document that describes the Project and its impacts, and, if necessary evaluates mitigation measures and/or alternatives to lessen or avoid any significant environmental impacts.
6. Respondent Merced County Board of Supervisors is a legislative body duly authorized under the California Constitution and the laws of the State of California to act on behalf of the County of Merced. Respondent Merced County Board of Supervisors are responsible for regulating and controlling land use within the County including, but not limited to, implementing and complying with the provisions of CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines, 14 California Code of Regulations, title 14, section 15000 et seq. (the “Guidelines”).
7. Real Party in Interest Reed Family Vineyards, LLC is a California Limited Liability Company formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. Reed Family Vineyards, LLC is one of the owners of the property where the Project is located.
8. Real Party in Interest The Reed Leasing Group, LLC is a California Limited Liability Company formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. The Reed Leasing Group, LLC is one of the owners of the property where the Project is located.
9. Real Party in Interest Black Diamond Aggregates, Inc. (“Black Diamond”) is a corporation formed pursuant to the laws of the State of California, with its principal place of business in Modesto, California. Black Diamond operates the mine that received a conditional use permit allowing expansion of the mining operations as a result of Respondents’ approval of the Project. The Project also includes Black Diamond’s new reclamation plan for the expanded mining operation.
10. Petitioners are unaware of the true names and identities of DOES 1 through 20 and 21 through 40, inclusive, and sues such unnamed Respondents and Real Parties in Interest respectively, by their fictitious names. Petitioners are informed and believe, and based thereon allege, that fictitiously named Respondents and Real Parties in Interest also are responsible for all acts and omissions described above. When the true identities and capacities of Respondents and Real Parties in Interest have been determined, Petitioners will, with leave of Court if necessary, amend this Petition to include such identities and capacities.

11. This Court has jurisdiction over the matters alleged in this Petition pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1085, and Public Resources Code section 21168.5. In the alternative, this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 and Public Resources Code section 21168.
12. Venue for this action properly lies in the Superior Court for the State of California in and for the County of Merced pursuant to section 394 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

13. The Project site is located on Assessors Parcel Numbers 43-040-43, 43-080-06, 043-040-33 and 37 at Township 5S, Range 14E, SE1/4 of Section 7 and portion of SW1/4 of Section 8, Mount Diablo Baseline Meridian, approximately 2 miles west of the community of Snelling and 15 miles north of Merced. The site is accessible by State Route 59 with a service road connecting at the west end of the property.
14. The Project involves a major modification of Conditional Use Permit (“CUP”) 2870 to expand the Black Diamond mining operation by allowing the operator to mine below grade into the perched water table. The previous CUP allows for mining to grade, but not below. Thus, the Project approval results in a significant increase in the magnitude and duration of the mining activities allowed on the Project site. The modification will allow for mining to a maximum depth of 25 feet and will facilitate the removal of approximately 2.5 million cubic yards of sand and gravel material over an estimated 15 year period. The removed material will be transported to an onsite processing facility and then hauled off-site for use in construction projects.
15. The Project also includes a revision to the previously approved Reclamation Plan (required by the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act). The previous Reclamation Plan provided for an end land use of grazing. The Project modified the end land use, allowing for reclamation to open space, including a pond with island and a perimeter of natural vegetation.
16. The Project also includes a rezone and General Plan amendment. In order to continue mining on an approximately 70-acre portion of the Project site, Black Diamond sought the General Plan Amendment and Zone Change. The Project site had a General Plan designation of Snelling Rural Residential Center (RRC) No. 1 Residential and Agricultural. The site was zoned as A-1 (General Agriculture) and A-R (Agricultural Residential). The Project approved a General Plan amendment and Zone change re-designating a portion of the Project site from Snelling RRC No. 1 , Residential to Agricultural and re-zoned a portion of the Project site from A-R to A-1.
17. On June 14, 2006, the Merced County Planning Department released for public review and comment an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Project. The public comment and review closed on August 12, 2006, as the comment period was extended from July 14, 2006 to August 12, 2006.
18. On December 19, 2006, Merced County, through the Merced County Board of Supervisors, adopted the mitigated negative declaration and approved the Project.
19. On December 19, 2007, Respondents filed a Notice of Determination with the County Clerk of Merced County as provided for in Public Resources Code, section 21152.


20. Petitioners have performed any and all conditions precedent to filing the instant action and have exhausted any and all available administrative remedies to the extent required by law.
21. Petitioners have complied with the requirements of Public Resources Code, section 21167.5 by mailing written notice of this action to the Respondents. A copy of this written notice and proof of service are attached as Exhibit A to this Petition for Writ of Mandate.
22. Petitioners have complied with Public Resources Code section 21167.6 by concurrently filing a request concerning preparation of the record of administrative proceedings relating to this action.
23. Petitioners have no plain, speedy or adequate remedy in the course of ordinary law unless this Court grants the requested writ of mandate to require Respondents to set aside their approval of the Project and adoption of the Mitigated Negative Declaration. In the absence of such remedies, Respondents’ approval will remain in effect in violation of State law.
24. This action has been brought within 30 days of the filing of the Notice of Determination as required by Public Resources Code section 21167(c).
25. Petitioners have standing to assert the claims raised in this Petition because Petitioners’ aesthetic and environmental interests are directly and adversely affected by Respondents’ approval of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and approval of the Project.
26. Petitioners bring this action on the basis, among others, of Government Code section 800, and other applicable laws, which award Petitioners’ attorneys’ fees in actions to overturn agency decisions that are arbitrary and capricious, such as the decisions here in question.

Abuse of Discretion
CEQA, Public Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.

27. Petitioners reallege and incorporate herein, as if set forth in full, each and every allegation contained in paragraphs 1 through 26 of this petition and further allege as follows:
28. Respondents have abused their discretion and failed to act in the manner required under CEQA with respect to the Project because they have failed to adequately analyze its environmental impacts, necessary or feasible mitigation measures, and a reasonable range of alternatives to the Project. Additionally, the mitigation measures adopted by Respondents are insufficient. Moreover, substantial evidence in the administrative record supports a “fair argument” that the Respondents’ approval of the Project may result in a significant impact to the environment. Conversely, Respondents have no evidence that these impacts will not be significant.
29. Substantial evidence in the administrative record supports a “fair argument” that the Respondents’ approval of the Project may result in a significant impact to the environment. The substantial evidence before Respondents demonstrates, at a minimum, that:
a. Land Use. The Project may have a significant impact to land use as the Project changes land use designations and zoning, and does so in a way that conflicts with the County General Plan. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s impacts to these land uses are potentially significant.
b. Water Resources. The Project may have a significant impact on water resources, including, but not limited to the following: Changes in, drainage patterns and surface runoff; water related hazards; impacts to surface water quality; impacts to groundwater supply and quality; impacts to groundwater recharge; impacts to public water supplies; and cumulative impacts to water resources. Evidence submitted to County during Project review by the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”), California Department of Fish and Game (“CDFG”) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) shows that the Project may have significant impacts to ground water supplies, surface waters, wetlands and riparian habitat.
c. Biological Resources. The Project may have a significant impact on biological resources, sensitive species habitat and populations. Federal and State protected species occur in the Project area and impacts to such habitat triggers the mandatory requirement for the preparation of an EIR under CEQA. The Project may impact protected species, degrade habitat, and have significant watershed impacts. The Project may result in significant adverse impacts to Merced River Fisheries. Further, the USACE identified jurisdictional waters of the United States on the Project site, a conclusion the County simply noted that if the “Corps disagrees with the County’s position [that there no jurisdictional waters], it has the authority to contact the applicant directly. . . .” County refused to prepare a wetland delineation for the Project site. Substantial evidence in the record, including opinions provided by the California State SWRCB, CDFG and the USACE, supports a fair argument that the Project’s impacts to biological resources are potentially significant.
d. Traffic Impacts. The Project may have significant traffic impacts. The California Department of Transportation commented regarding these potentially significant impacts, recommending a traffic impact study. The Project approval results in a significant increase in the magnitude and duration of mining activity at the Project site. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s traffic impacts are potentially significant.
e. Air Quality. The Project may have significant air quality impacts. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District submitted comments showing that the Project may have significant air quality impacts, and recommended a full air quality impact assessment. County declined. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project’s air quality impacts are potentially significant.
f. Cumulative Impacts. The Project may have significant cumulative impacts on water resources, wildlife habitat, protected species, air quality and land use. Adjacent mining activity and the potential for this Project approval to spur additional applications for authorization to mine below-grade in the tailings (a practice historically prohibited), was not considered during Project review. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project will have cumulative impacts that are potentially significant.
g. Mandatory Findings of Significance. The Project will have impacts that require a mandatory finding of significance under CEQA. Evidence was submitted in comments from USACE and CDFG indicating that wetlands and/or sensitive species habitat exists in the Project area, and these comments were dismissed by Respondents. Substantial evidence in the record supports a fair argument that the Project will have impacts on rare or endangered plants and animals such that a mandatory finding of significance was required.
h. Inconsistency with General Plan. CEQA provides that where a project is inconsistent with a governing general plan, the lead agency must treat that inconsistency as a significant environmental effect. The Project is inconsistent with General Plan policies relating to land use, open space and conservation and agriculture. For example, County concluded that new Reclamation Plan will be “more beneficial” to watershed and wildlife habitat uses, consistent with General Plan Policies, and yet made this conclusion in the face of contrary expert opinion from the CDFG and USACE. Moreover, Merced County's General Plan is outdated, with the last revision taking place in 1987. A comprehensive General Plan update is needed. Amendments to an outdated General Plan cannot be allowed to substitute for such an update.
30. Respondents have also failed to analyze reasonable and feasible alternatives to the Project. Numerous comments requested that the County review Project alternatives, and also address the concerns of the citizens of Snelling. The truncated environmental review performed by Respondents foreclosed any opportunity to review alternatives, in direct violation of CEQA.
31. Respondents failed to provide a good faith and reasoned response to all of the comments submitted by the public and public agencies on the draft Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study for the Project.
32. Respondents inappropriately deferred the development of mitigation measures known by Respondents to be feasible. For example, experts from SWRCB, USACE and CDFG provided opinions that the Project could have significant impacts to hydrology and water supply, and yet County ignored this evidence, concluded that no potentially significant impacts would occur, and no mitigation measures were adopted for potential impacts to hydrology, instead putting off consideration of mitigation to the future.
33. Respondents inappropriately refused to perform necessary investigations, studies or inquiry with respect to known areas of conflicting expert opinion and information suggesting that significant impacts would occur.
34. Respondents inappropriately deferred the performance of necessary investigations, studies or inquiry with respect to the development of mitigation measures and provided no performance standards, criteria or specific guidance with respect to future studies used to develop mitigation measures.
35. Respondents failed to adequately consult with the appropriate trustee agencies, responsible agencies and agencies with jurisdiction over natural resources affected by the Project as required by CEQA.
36. Respondents failed to provide an adequate Project description in that it did not adequately identify and contrast existing conditions with those of the proposed Project.
37. The Mitigated Negative Declaration and the Initial Study fail to provide substantial evidence to support Respondents’ conclusions that the Project will not have a significant effect on the environment.
38. Respondents violated their duty to prepare a legally adequate environmental impact report as required by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines (Title 23 California Code of Regulations, § 15000 et seq.).

Writ of Mandate Pursuant to C.C.P. § 1094.5 for Procedural
Noncompliance with CEQA and CEQA Guidelines

39. Petitioners reallege and incorporate herein, as if set forth in full, each and every allegation contained in paragraphs 1 through 38 of this petition and further alleges as follows:
40. Respondents abused their discretion and failed to proceed according to law in that they failed to adequately respond to the correspondence, information and other materials that evidenced the Project’s significant environmental impacts, as submitted to Respondents by various resource agencies during the Project approval process and CEQA review.
41. Respondents further abused their discretion and failed to proceed according to law in that they adopted a “baseline” condition intended to minimize disclosure of the true Project impacts, thereby failing to fulfill CEQA’s informational purposes.
42. Respondents failed to include sufficient description, data and information in the Project description and environmental review to support Respondents’ conclusions.
43. Respondents failed to require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the project, despite the existence of a "fair argument" based on substantial evidence in the record, that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
44. As a result of Respondents’ failure to comply with the procedures required by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines, a preemptory writ of mandate must issue ordering Respondents to set aside its environmental findings and the related decision, and directing Respondents to comply with the procedures mandated by CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines before acting on any development proposal under the Project.

Wherefore, Petitioners respectfully request the following relief and entry of judgment as follows:
1. A peremptory writ of mandate directing Respondents to vacate and set aside the approval of the Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared for the Project on the grounds that it violates the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000 et seq.
2. Petitioner’s attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Proc edure section 1021.5 and other applicable authority;
5. Costs of suit; and
6. Such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

DATED: January 18, 2007

By Donald B. Mooney
Attorney for Petitioners
San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center; and
Protect Our Water

I am the attorney for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water who are all located outside the County of Yolo, State of California, where I have my office. For that reason, I make this verification for and on their behalf pursuant to the California Code of Civil Procedure section 446. I have read the foregoing Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and know its contents. The matters stated in this Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate are true of my own knowledge except those matters stated on information and belief, and as to those matters I believe them to be true.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the above is true and correct. Executed this 18th day of January 2007, at Davis, California.
Donald B. Mooney

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