Grassland Water District letter to county Board of Supervisors re: amendment policies during the General Plan update process

Submitted: May 14, 2006

The following letter was submitted by attorneys for the Grassland Water District and Grassland Resource Conservation District to the Merced County Board of Supervisors for its May 2 hearing on General Plan Amendment policies and procedures during the General Plan Update process. The letter has been transcribed from a facsimile. – Bill Hatch

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo
Attorneys at Law
1225 8th Street, Suite 550
Sacramento, California 95814-4810
Telephone: (916) 444-6201
Facsimile: (916) 444-6209
E-mail: omeserve@adamsbroadwell.com

May 1, 2006


Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: General Plan Amendment Policies and Procedures During General Plan Update Process

Dear Chairperson Nelson and Members of the Board:

This firm represents the Grassland Water District and the Grassland Resource Conservation District (collectively, “GWD”). GWD has been following the County’s progress toward updating its General Plan, and the issue of how land use planning should proceed during the General Plan update process. At the Board’s April 11, 2006 meeting, a detailed discussion occurred regarding possible approaches to new project applications submitted during the General Plan Update process. Additional options for the Board’s consideration are included in the staff report for Item 55 on the Board’s April 2, 2006 agenda.

Generally, GWD supports actions by the Board that slow or halt the conversion of agricultural or open space lands located in the vicinity of GWD’s service are to urban and other uses. GWD supports a temporary moratorium on Community Specific Plan (“CSP”) adoptions during the General Plan Update process with respect to the Community of Volta, in particular (Option 3A). GWD also supports reasonable measures to slow or stop conversion of agricultural land during the General Plan update process (Option 3B). GWD also believes that the Board should not allow agricultural subdivision applications to be approved during the General Plan Update process. Such temporary measures are appropriate and would protect the public health, safety and welfare of the residents of the County while the important planning processes are completed. (See Gov. Code, Sec. 65858.)

Background Information

GWD contains over 60,000 acres of privately-owned and managed wetlands located in Merced County. GWD lands, in combination with state and federal refuges and other privately-held wetlands, comprise the approximately 230,000 acre Grassland Ecological Area (“GEA”) designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). These lands are managed as habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wildlife.

The wetlands of western Merced County are a critical component of the remaining Central Valley wetlands and constitute the most important waterfowl wintering area on the pacific Flyway. These wetlands are acknowledged by the Merced County General Plan to be highly valuable wildlife and vegetation habitats, and international treaties have recognized the habitat as a resource of international significance. The Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention) recently designated the GEA as a “Wetland of International Importance”. The GEA is one of only four such sites in California, and twenty-two sites in the country.

A study commissioned by the Packard Foundation, the Great Valley Center and GWD in 2001 found that wetlands within the GEA provide substantial direct economic contributions to the local and regional economies. The GEA receives over 300,000 user visits per year for hunting, fishing and non-consumptive wildlife recreation. Recreational and other activities related to habitat values within the GEA contribute $41 million per year to the Merced County economy, and account for approximately 800 jobs. Agricultural lands within the GEA also account for approximately five percent (5%) of Merced County’s $1.45 billion agricultural economy.

Community Plans Should Not Be Adopted or Updated During the General Plan Update Process

GWD’s concerns relating to adoption and updates of CSPs stem primarily from a long-term concern about the small, unincorporated community of Volta. Located about four miles northwest of Los Banos, Volta is adjacent to GEA, the Volta Wildlife Management Area, and other agricultural lands that provide a buffer to these sensitive wetland areas. Encroachment of incompatible uses associated with CSPs into areas near protected wetland habitats undermines both the long-term viability of the GEA and the core habitat values GWD and other entities are working to protect.

In the 1970’s, Volta was designated by the County as a Specific Urban Development Plan (“SUDP”) area. (General Plan, at p. I-7.) As a small SUDP area, the limited residential and service commercial land uses are oriented toward meeting the needs of the local rural population. (General Plan, at p. I – 11.) No Community Specific Plan (“CSP”) has ever been adopted.

Volta has been the subject of numerous proposals for large-scale residential subdivisions and has long been of concern to state and federal resource management agencies, wetland and waterfowl advisory organizations, the Merced County Farm Bureau, the City of Los Banos, GWD and other public and private entities. GWD has submitted numerous comments on other proposed projects in and near Volta, including Wilkinson Ranch, Volterra, and most recently, the Areias subdivision. These projects, had they been implemented, would have been incompatible with the long-term protection of nearby ecologically sensitive areas and the existing rural character of the Volta community.

Given that it is adjacent to GEA resources, GWD supports the redesignation of Volta to an Agricultural Service Center (“ASC”), as suggested by the current General Plan. (General Plan, at pp. I-11, VII-27.) Primarily, this is because further development of Volta would create conflicts with existing agricultural and open space uses. (General Plan, at p. I-11.) According to the General Plan, redesignation to ASC is appropriate for areas with the following characteristics: (1) lacking a full range of services; (2) stable or declining populations; (3) isolated location; and (4) agricultural service orientation to existing land uses. (General Plan, at pp. VII-27 to 28.) Volta meets all of these criteria; thus, ASC is a more appropriate designation for this rural area.

The current SUDP designation for Volta is inappropriate and will lead to encroachment of incompatible land uses into a sensitive area not suited for urban development. Therefore, GWD believes that adoption of a temporary moratorium on CSP adoptions and updates during the General Plan Update process is appropriate.

Agricultural Subdivisions Should Not Proceed During the General Plan Update Process

GWD also recommends deferring General Plan amendments that facilitate conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses in and near the GEA. None of the current options under consideration by the Board directly address subdivision of agricultural land (“ag subdivisions”). While Option 3B would limit approval of General Plan amendments from agricultural to non-agricultural uses (which GWD generally supports where such subdivisions would impact GEA resources), it is not applicable to ag subdivisions, which do not typically involve a change in land use designation.

Converting land currently in use for farming or grazing to ranchettes is incompatible with the long-term viability of the biological resources of the GEA. Furthermore, agricultural activities around the GEA help buffer the area for incompatible urban uses. According to a recently released report by the American Farmland Trust, nineteen percent (19%) of all developed land in Merced County is outside of city spheres of influence.
Additionally, fifty-nine percent (59%) of all development within the 1990 to 2000 time period occurred in High Quality Farmland. (Ibid.)

GWD has commented on numerous ag subdivisions over the years because of the grave danger fragmentation of viable farmland and grazing land poses to the GEA and other natural resource values. Though the “parcelization of large holdings is discouraged: under the current General Plan, numerous ag subdivisions continue to be approved. (Agricultural Chapter, Objective 2. B.) GWD encourages the Board to also include provisions in its General Plan update procedures to limit approval of ag subdivisions and to ultimately adopt long-term policies that would effectively prevent further fragmentation of farmland and open space in and around the GEA.


GWD is participating in an ad hoc advisory group formed to advise local entities on Grassland-related issues. This group is called the Grasslands Resources Regional Working Group (“GRRWG”), and includes representatives from GWD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Fish and Game and Ducks Unlimited. Through the GRRWG and individually, GWD will be participating in the General Plan update process to ensure that appropriate protections are implemented to protect the incredibly valuable wetland resources within the Merced County Grasslands. We look forward to participating in the County’s planned focus groups in the near future.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the information presented in this letter. Thank you for considering GWD’s perspective on these important land use planning issues.

Very truly yours,

Osha R. Meserve

cc: Robert Lewis
William Nicholson
Grassland Water District Board of Directors
Grassland Resource Conservation District Board of Directors
Don Marciochi

| »

Scholar Ship

Submitted: Apr 24, 2006

----Gary McMillen
3 April 2006

High in the February sky, a flock of cranes angle into the maroon sunset and prepare their gliding descent into a nearby rice field. On the ground below this V-patterned formation, a group of students, faculty and employees from LSU Health Sciences Center—New Orleans are huddled next to a plastic shelter for protection from the cold wind. It’s not easy in the Big Easy anymore. After the battering ram sucker punch of Hurricane Katrina, it’s life on the run. Displaced from their jobs and homes, they wait for a yellow school bus that crunches into the gravel parking lot and stops in front of them. A makeshift line assembles. On this forced journey in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there is no pecking order.

Faculty of all rank, sport coats draped over their arms, punching Blackberries and carrying suit cases, accordion files and umbrellas, step up and into the bus. Students clutching pillows, CD players, boxes of pizza, book sacks and anatomy bone boxes stuff themselves into seats designed for 8th graders. Employees (from custodial workers to Assistant Director of Payroll) drag suitcases, laundry bags, cartons of bottled water and laptop computers down the narrow aisle.
Along a twisting asphalt road, the bus lumbers up the protective levee to a moored Baltic cruise ferry called the GTS Finnjet. Flying the flag of Finland, she is the temporary residence with a rudder for over 600 students, faculty and staff, who are participating in the recovery of an academic, research and patient care organization that, so far, has refused to fail. Water drove them from their homes and jobs and now, each day, they eat, sleep, work and live while floating on the brown, muddy current of the Mississippi River.
* * *
Dockside. A bitter wind, cross current, is whipping up froth on the pre-dawn surface of the river. Corliss Quillens (Accounting Technician), who evacuated her New Orleans 9th Ward home in a National Guard rescue boat and survived a week in the Super Dome, has seen enough water for a lifetime.

This morning, the rising water levels of the river have elevated the boat and passenger departure is precarious. Quillens, who has moved up her retirement date, is bundled in layers of clothes to protect her from the icy blast. Checking for slippery spots, Quillens steps slowly down the steep ramp. Gripping the chain rail with one hand and holding her cell phone with the other, she is in conversation with her insurance agent about a check that has been lost three times in the mail.

“I’m tired. Really tired,” an exasperated Quillens says under her breath. “I’ve moved so much that they can’t find me. Tell you the truth; I don’t know my address anymore. You can’t get mail on the boat and I’m afraid to have them mail it to my job. I tried to rent a post office box but the waiting list was too long.”
* * *
There is no white flag above Cabin 4132. Trying to keep Allied Health (Cardiopulmonary Science) Physical Therapy senior Tricia McDonald from graduating is like trying to drown a shark. When the Finnjet’s gangplank lowered on October 10th, McDonald was the first student to register on the boat. How she got there is a test tube sample of raw determination.

Like other students, McDonald discovered student housing was available on the Finnjet in Baton Rouge through the LSU emergency website. Rumors about the ferry swarmed like mosquitoes on a summer bayou: rooms were small and cramped; roommates were selected at random, first come, first serve. “When I first came on the boat I thought my room (with four beds) was really tiny,” McDonald remembers, “but when I walked around I was really happy with all the space they had to study. The boat was just what I needed.”

McDonald lived at 2316 Trio St in Chalmette, which was Ground Zero for Hurricane Katrina. As the surge of water, mud and chemicals rose with frightening speed (the watermark reached 12 feet), McDonald’s parents put the three dogs and two cats in the attic and swam to a neighbor’s second story house. They broke through a window. Rescued a day later, they were brought to a warehouse where they were given a half a glass of water twice a day. The pets weren’t so lucky.

McDonald had evacuated a day earlier with her best friend and fellow student Kelli Ford. “I went to sleep Saturday night, thinking the storm was Category 1,” McDonald remembers. “Kelli was honking in the driveway Sunday morning and telling me we had 20 minutes to leave. It was a Category 5.” McDonald threw some clothes in a bag, a toothbrush and some deodorant and, like Thelma and Louise, the two girls were off and running.

Using a combination of interstate and back roads, McDonald and Ford reached Shreveport (364 miles to the north) seventeen hours later. They stayed in an unfinished house—two rooms, 12 people. “It was a bare shell,” McDonald recalls. “Without television we didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if my parents were alive or dead for one week. I couldn’t sleep.”

From a borrowed cell phone that was showing one bar on the battery, McDonald’s father finally reached her a week later. “I started crying when my Dad called,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if they had made it out.”

So much for the kindness of strangers---McDonald and Ford were told that their 5-day stay in Shreveport would come to $500. After coming up with the money, they were off to Bossier City where they lived with a retired RN, who gave the girls the key to her house. Next stop was Houston, where they lived in a pool house behind a couple’s home. The owners gave them money for food, clothes and loaned them a car. Unsure when school would re-open, they signed a six month lease on an apartment (they still owe $5,500 on the lease). With each move calculated to get closer to school, the girls next lived in a log cabin at a campground in Lake Charles, Louisiana, eating MRE’s (meals ready to eat).
“We didn’t know where we were going to stay from night to night half the time,” McDonald says. “Something in me said that I had to keep going. I didn’t work 3-1/2 years to quit at the end.”

Pearl River, Mississippi was McDonald’s eighth city and third state in one month. She commuted two hours each way to attend the opening of classes in Baton Rouge. “Everybody was looking at me like I was a foreigner,” McDonald says about being the first student on the boat. “I felt relieved that I didn’t have to drive so far any more. I was really wore out and doing bad on my tests. I needed to settle down and start studying. I didn’t care how small the room was; I finally had a place to stay.”

Once bunked in, McDonald’s grades went from average to excellent. “The hurricane was a test of our strength, both emotionally and psychologically,” McDonald expounds from the 7th deck study area. “You see the faculty and you know that their offices and labs are gone. We have all shared in the same suffering. If you would have asked me a year ago if I could have been able to go this far I would say definitely not. But when you are put in that position you do what you have to do.”
* * *
If you weren’t there or if you didn’t go back, you just don’t get it. Professor of Anatomy Bill Swartz is on the phone, trying to explain to a colleague at the Mayo Clinic why he had not responded to a September 3rd e-mail regarding revisions to an article he had submitted for publication.

With sarcasm thinly disguised, a frustrated Swartz goes through a list of explanations for his malingering. There has been a flood of Biblical proportions. The entire Health Sciences Center has been re-located ninety miles northwest. Gross anatomy is being taught in a vet school without cadavers. He is living under a bridge on a boat on the Mississippi River. The Health Science Center is close to a financial flat line. He doesn’t have time to read the newspaper.

When Swartz explains that he has not received one piece of business mail since August 24th the fog clears. “The moment he put himself in the position of not getting any mail for three and a half months then it hit him,” Swartz says with a grin. “He couldn’t relate to the actual devastation but not getting mail caught his attention.”

Swartz and his wife evacuated to Atlanta prior to the storm. When called back by his chairman, Swartz (with 31 years of LSU service) could have hung up the phone. He was well past retirement eligibility. “It looked awful on television,” Swartz says. “I thought if anything they would postpone the semester. I was 600 miles away from the action and I could just not get motivated. What eventually changed my mind was that I felt I owed the students something. After all, I had started the semester with them.”

Swartz came to Baton Rouge, completed a payroll deduction for the Finnjet and started hunting around for cadavers. He re-designed tests and prepared curriculum that would catch up for the month lost. In lectures and demonstrations, he asked questions, challenged the students, repeated procedures and reviewed everything under the sun. “I never worked so hard in my life,” Swartz admits. “My concern was that I did not want the kids to feel they were being cheated out of an education or getting a watered down exposure to gross anatomy.”

Something clicked. According to Swartz the numbers of honors in his course increased two and a half times the “pre-Katrina” norm. One particular student scored a 51 on her first exam then got a grip like a bulldog once she got on the boat. “I would come down for coffee every night around 9 o’clock,” Swartz recalls, “and she would be busting her tail studying.” The same student marked a 75 on the next exam and an 88 on the final. “I was shocked,” Swartz explains. “Somebody that gets a 51 on their first exam, you don’t expect them to even pass.”
* * *
According to Melanie Chelette, the variety and quality of the food on the boat is excellent but she misses the traditional New Orleans Monday meal of red beans and rice---Cajun style. “I love to cook and just be in the kitchen,” Chelette says, pausing from her study of estrogen replacement therapy. “I miss my husband. I miss my gym membership and working out. I just miss the normal routines.”
Chelette lived in a condo in Metaire and evacuated to Monroe, Louisiana where her mother got sick and was hospitalized. Chelette stayed next to her mother while texts messaging on her cell phone with fellow classmates from the School of Dentistry while watching the levees break on CNN. Her cabin on the Finnjet is windowless. “It feels pretty weird,” Chelette says. “You take a nap and you can’t tell the difference between three o’clock in the morning or three o’clock in the afternoon.”

Aboard the Finnjet now for over four months, there are slips of the tongue when the third year student refers to the boat as her “home.” Not surprising. Except for time attending class, Chelette is on the boat twenty-four/seven. The Navigator’s Pub (bar closed) on the 6th deck has become her living room.
Fearless when it comes to fashion, Chelette isn’t timid about showing up in her pajamas and slippers. “I’ve learned that I am very low maintenance,” she says with a sudden laugh, “and that I can deal with discomfort. A high maintenance girl can’t make it on this boat. A lot of things are more important right now than having the right shade of make-up.”
* * *
The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful. No one has ever received a post card from Port Allen, Louisiana where the Finnjet is moored to a Port of Baton Rouge wharf. Dockside Port Allen is a jumble of: grain elevators, sulfur dust, rusted refrigerators, weeds, port-o-lets, coils of copper cable, gas cylinders, piles of mulch, discarded septic tanks, conveyor belts, barges of soy beans, stacks of telephone poles coated with creosote, oil tankers, railroad yards, water towers, cement trucks, warehouses, drainage ditches, a man sitting outside PiK-A-Pak Fried Chicken spitting chewing tobacco into an empty cling-peach can while reading a pamphlet on chain saw safety, chemical storage tanks, pawn shops, sand and gravel pits.
* * *
Sitting next to a plastic lemon tree in Robert’s Coffee Shop, Associate Professor of Cardiopulmonary Science Andy Pellett is pushing the envelope. He is smiling, engaging people in nose-to-nose conversation. For the 41 year old Pellett (a career introvert) this behavior marks a radical departure from his usual reserved nature. “I have a tendency to stay by myself,” Pellett says, making eye contact with everybody that walks by. “Work had turned me into a dull boy. I’m much more conversational at this point. If I have something to say I just spit it out.”

Blame the boat. “I can’t stand being in the room by myself,” Pellett explains. “Getting out from behind those walls and talking and helping students has turned into my nightly entertainment. I guess you can call it unlimited office hours.”

With four cats and two kittens at home, evacuation in the face of Hurricane Katrina was a challenge. Unable to find a hotel that would take pets, Pellett and his wife left New Orleans late Sunday in the bumper-to-bumper exodus and headed north. With two teenagers and six cats crammed into carriers, the caravan required both Toyotas. After a minor fender bender to the lead vehicle, hours of blasting horns and ambulance sirens, Pellett’s wife Christine was on the verge of Stage 3 meltdown.

When the nervous goldfish in the front seat began to lose its scales the discussion was over. Pellett’s wife pulled off at the first Baton Rouge exit and offered $20 to a motel clerk so they could sleep in the parking lot. It was a stroke of luck when a conventioneer from Minnesota checked out of his room. The Pellett family moved in. “We were there long enough to get the cats de-clawed,” Pellet says. “They were tearing up the furniture.”

The achievement of Tricia McDonald stands out in Pellett’s memory. “When she came on the boat she was still traumatized,” he recalls. “She was struggling, getting low to average grades. The change was gradual but she eventually got to the point where she is now getting A’s and B’s.”
* * *
With 23 years at sea, handling the barge and freighter traffic on the Mississippi is a piece of cake to ship’s master Juha Rautavirta. Having worked his way up through the ranks, Rautavirta can ratchet mooring cable, lower any of the 3.5 metric ton lifeboats, take a turbine apart and navigate and maneuver the ship through a rocky fjord on the coast of Sweden as narrow as a needle. “There are some inlets where we have ten meter clearance on each side of the ship,” Rautavirta says, “and we are going at full speed.”

With the Finnjet docked, Rautavirta’s job gave way to paperwork, administration and management. The morale of the crew was an early challenge. “In the beginning they were not even allowed to walk in the harbor,” Rautavirta says. “Some of the crew got a bit restless. Now we have two cars and the local Seamen’s Church comes around once in awhile to take us into town.” To keep attitudes in perspective, the 40-year-old master has encouraged his cadre of captains and engineers to travel to New Orleans for “sensitivity training.”
On his favorite watch (midnight to 4:00 a.m.) Rautavirta likes to enjoy a cigarette and look out on the water from the Finnjet’s wheelhouse. With the Baton Rouge night skyline strung out like a flat string of white pearls, he remembers the moment the ship entered the mouth of the Mississippi River. “Mark Twain was quite popular reading for us as children,” Rautavirta says, his eyes sparkling. “When we met the river pilot, I called home, telling everyone that we were following the journey of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”

Upon arrival in the Port of Baton Rouge it was apparent that a “new normal” would have to evolve for the Finnjet’s crew. Incidents like toasted televisions and smoking hair dryers caused by the 220 voltage were minor. Rautavirta’s focus was on his new cargo---the displaced youth. “The circumstances here are quite different than what we are used to,” Rautavirta says, studying a national weather service report called Advanced Hydrologic Prediction. “European tourists are one thing. They are paying for the trip. Our berths now are filled with students that are in need of a temporary home. It is an important consideration that we keep them safe.”
* * *
It is an hour before sunrise on a Thursday morning and the breakfast buffet is displayed under a motif of fish nets, starfish and plastic seagulls hanging from strings. A miniature Eiffel Tower is centerpiece to platters of sliced watermelon and pineapple. The serving line is an international smorgasbord: yogurt, mandarin figs, apricot halves, pepper liver pate, cream cheese, Rice Krispies, oatmeal, peanut butter, herb omelets, bacon, sausage links, biscuits and white gravy, croissants, blueberry pancakes, bowls of mixed fruit, baskets of green and red apples, assorted Danish, muffins, orange juice and coffee. The music of Nora Jones is piped in over the intercom. A laminated sign by the spiral pyramid of napkins warns: “Do Not Take Food or Silverware Outside of the Dining Area.”
* * *
After the flooding of the campus in New Orleans, there were a thousand reasons not to come to work. Pick an excuse, any excuse. Many individuals took full court advantage of the opportunity. Then there were people like Kathleen McDonough. The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies had no clue what she was going to do but four days after the destruction of an American city, McDonough walked into the LSU Systems Office on the Baton Rouge campus with her sleeves rolled up. “Mass confusion was the first thing that hit you,” she remembers. “There were six tables in the room and a bunch of computers. The phones were ringing off the hook. People were asking all sorts of questions.”
You can take McDonough out of her research but you can’t take the scientist out of McDonough. She noted that each of the seven phones was ringing at the average rate of 40 times per hour. A command phone was set up to filter and coordinate the calls. The operation took on the frenzy of a battlefield MASH unit. Calm and stability were in short demand.

Once in stride, McDonough focused on the re-construction of the graduate school and assisting employees with the online emergency contact registration process. All hands on deck. Her two daughters came in to the Systems Office (volunteers without pay) to assist in answering the phones.

The moored Baltic ferry became a sanctuary for McDonough that helped her find her calm again---almost. “I’ve noticed that I lose my temper more quickly,” McDonough offers about her behavior. “The gap of time where I normally lose my composure is getting smaller and smaller.”
* * *
Keith Washington can rub off on you and that’s a good thing. When it comes to setting an upbeat tone for the day, the 40-year-old Washington is the straw that stirs the drink. Clock work yellow. Starting at 4:00 a.m. and ending at 12 midnight, buses arrive and depart the Finnjet every ten minutes. Chances are it is going to be Washington behind the wheel.

Born at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Washington could not sit still until he found a way to serve the evacuees that escaped to Baton Rouge. “I was glued to the television when the storm flooded the city,” Washington recalls. “Tears came to my eyes. That’s my roots. Those were my people and I knew I had to find a way to help.”

Washington was awarded the bus contract to shuttle students, faculty and staff to and from the parking lot to the Finnjet as well as hourly trips to the LSU Main Campus, Pennington Bio-Medical Research Center, Citi Place movie theater and the Dental School South Campus.

At Christmas, Washington purchased a souvenir T-shirt for each rider and called them by name. He has given the students his cell and home phone number in the event they get stranded in the city. “I fell in love with these kids,” Washington says, with a smile that could light up a Kentucky cave. “It’s going to be sad when they go back. I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve never seen such strength. You stop and consider what they have been through and on top of all of that they are staying focused on their school work. They got my admiration.”
* * *
Every refuge has its price. For the single car family of Patrick Gorman, the issue of who would get the 2000 Chevy Prizm came down to a vote between him, his wife Melissa and two teenage daughters. The Director of Student Financial Aid lost in a landslide. Bags packed and resigned to bite the bullet, Gorman came on the boat. “I listen to other people and the commute is tense and draining,” Gorman says, pausing to examine his bowl of lentil soup at the dining table. “The traffic can be horrendous. Living on the ship makes it a relatively short bus ride to the office.”

Gorman and his staff (reduced from seven down to four after resignations and furloughs) work out of a double-wide trailer parked adjacent to the Pennington Bio-Medical Research Center. The trailer has no running water or toilets and is shared with Financial Aid, Bursar and Office of the Registrar. Each day at lunchtime, Gorman walks four miles on a walking trail to ease the stress of the cramped conditions. He is a regular on the boat-to-campus bus shuttle where he spends the 20 minute ride reading the Bible and listening to New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues.

“This experience is like an educational commune,” Gorman says, sliding his salad plate and fork into position. “Faculty and staff dining together and living in close quarters. You see students coming to breakfast with their hair still wet. When we get back to New Orleans and land on our feet we can put on our resumes--‘Katrina hardened’.”

Gorman thrives on the boat. He brought his family in from Mandeville, Louisiana to have Thanksgiving Dinner on the Finnjet. “The pumpkin pie tasted a little strange but the staff was warm and gracious and it gave us all a sense of normalcy.”
* * *
Hurricane Katrina’s gift to Flora McCoy was a diagnosis of shingles. By the time McCoy got on the boat the accumulated stress had taken its toll. Connect the dots. McCoy (Rambo style) had driven 800 miles from Tampa, Florida to sneak through armed roadblocks to return to New Orleans before the evacuation order was lifted. She dealt with a damaged home that included fighting off a squirrel that had taken up occupancy in her attic. As Assistant Director of Human Resources, McCoy fought to keep her department intact by working wireless from the lid of a garbage can at a coffee shop. When that arrangement terminated, she positioned her laptop in the windowsill of her kitchen to hook into the neighbor’s signal.

“It was just like our parents told us about the Depression,” McCoy says about her early return. “The only way you could tell if a store was open was if there were long lines outside. Food shelves were mostly empty. Making a grocery list was a joke. You just went in and bought whatever they had.”

McCoy, who insists she cannot imagine living anywhere but New Orleans, now stays on the boat four nights a week. “At first I thought I could commute to Baton Rouge,” she says. “It didn’t take long to get over that idea.”

When McCoy first arrived on the boat, the television in her room offered one channel. There was no sound so she made up her own dialogue. A radio knob on the headrest of the bed leaked music that you could not completely turn off. “With that quality of an entertainment system, it wasn’t hard to go to sleep around 8:30,” McCoy says.

Despite the cloistered ambiance of her room, McCoy is an advocate for the boat. “It speaks volumes to what we can do if we set our minds to it,” she says. “How many other institutions could have reacted in such a quick and positive way?”

After dinner, McCoy decompresses from work by reading a novel. A bookmark protrudes from Chapter 19 of The DaVinci Code. She pulls it out. The bookmark is from the Campus Assistance Program and lists seven bullets on identifying symptoms of depression. “Somebody gave this to me today,” McCoys says holding the strip up as evidence. “Do you think they were trying to tell me something? I read the list and I got all eight of them.”
* * *
“I don’t have time for the hurricane,” Xiao-Cheng Wu explains about the morning of August 27th. “At that time, I have a class to teach. I must prepare and not think about the storm,” Wu says, unblinking. “My friends call and plead for me to go but I hang up the phone.” With her husband in Boston, attending parents’ orientation at M.I.T., Wu busied herself around the house, vacuuming and doing the laundry.

A second call from another friend made her uneasy. “Now I have some trouble concentrating so I pray,” Wu remembers. “I ask God to tell me what to do. I tell God I don’t want to go away from home. I walk around and pray to help me make the decision but God does not answer.”

The message may not have come in the form of a divine lightening bolt but Wu’s friends pulled up in the driveway and insisted she evacuate with them. Wu packed one blouse and a pair of slacks. “I keep on the same pair of shoes and take my lap-top to prepare for the class,” she says of the hasty departure.

Left behind, both of the Wu cars were totaled in the storm. With a daughter enrolled at M.I.T to the tune of $45,000 in tuition and living expenses, the Wu’s were pressed to become a single car family and move onto the boat. Sometimes it’s the little things that people miss. “For a married couple, the one car is very stressful,” Wu says, dipping her tea bag into a glass of hot scalding water. “Of course we want to have some time alone but we cannot.”

An assistant professor in the School of Public Health, Wu reports to work at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center every morning. Her husband (also a LSUHSC faculty member) has a temporary assignment at the Health Care Services Division Headquarters across the interstate from his wife.

“We don’t know how long the boat will be here,” Wu says, “but we are very grateful to have home even if temporary. Not to have to cook or wash dishes is more time to work.”

* * *
As a first year student in Allied Health, Kim Phuc Nguyen is determined to improve her grades---even if it means not sleeping. Wearing hospital scrubs and sitting at her favorite booth in the Ocean Club Casino Lounge, Nguyen appears to be in meditation. Tonight (Feb 12) is her birthday and messages are popping up on the chat room screen that is minimized on her computer screen. Under normal conditions, Nguyen would be out celebrating with friends but tomorrow’s exam is on Molecular Diagnostics and the 22-year-old Nguyen expects to stay up all night to prepare.

“Everyday, everybody is trying to make it on this boat,” Nguyen says, lowering the volume on her pink IPOD. “It make me feel like I have to get in and study with them. It gives me courage.”

Focused on Clinical Lab Sciences, Nguyen relates having a new respect for her instructors, “You see them night and day and you know something has happened that connects you to them. There have been a lot of changes in our lives. You learn that it is not all about you.”

When Nguyen could not find an apartment within 50 mile radius of Baton Rouge she came to the Finnjet. Nguyen was told by the information desk that she could not look at the room first and then decide. “I was warned that the room was small but when I opened the door I was shocked. It was hard to walk in. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this.”

Disruption of family routine may be contributing to Nguyen’s academic struggle. “I miss eating dinner each night with my family,” Nguyen says. “It is very traditional thing with us.”

* * *
The colder the winter, the sweeter the plum. For Associate Dean for Student Affairs Joe Delcarpio, the low point of post-Katrina events was the Chancellor’s decision to furlough his fellow faculty. “The impact was like getting hit in the face,” Delcarpio says. “It happened right before Thanksgiving break. It was a pretty sobering event to see your friends being taken off the payroll just before the holidays.”

“We already knew the city had been changed forever but when we had to furlough tenured faculty it was a galvanizing moment. You knew the institution was in emergency status. We all understood that decisions had to be made. It was not a time for forming a bunch of committees.”

As a Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Delcarpio has taught Nursing, Dental, Allied Health and Medical students over the years. Since living on the boat, the blinders have come off as far as his total range of vision. “The boat takes away the barriers,” Delcarpio says. “You discover there is so much resilience in these kids. We started with 186 freshman medical students. So far we have lost one to illness, one an older student that lost his home and his wife lost her job. A third student came in and resigned. Under the worst conditions on the face of the earth we have only lost three students in the freshman medical class. Unbelievable.”
* * *
When Elizabeth Fontham registered for occupancy on the Finnjet many of her peers in administration were surprised. They didn’t have a clue.
Scattered like a leaf blown in the wind, the Dean of the School of Public Health had sought shelter in three different locations in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Carrying her belongings around like a migrant worker, Fontham was in and out of the Faculty Club on the LSU Baton Rouge campus. She lived with her daughter in Lafayette, Louisiana and alternate weekends with her sister and ailing mother in Crowley. Fontham’s transient existence reached the breaking point when she could not recall any of the zip codes. “I welcomed the boat with open arms,” Fontham says. “It was a Godsend. Working 12 hours a day and then sitting in traffic for three hours was killing me. There were times when my car was running on fumes.”

Because of her rank, Fontham drew a riverside cabin on the 9th deck. Savoring a cup of coffee (two creams) Fontham is the happiest of campers. “Life on the river is reduced to bare essentials,” Fontham says. “As strange as it sounds, I like my room. It’s nice to return to a place that is mine even if it is temporary. I put the window shades up and watch the barges in the evening and the sunrise in the morning.”
* * *
Catch me if you can. Christened in Katajanoka, Finland on April 28, 1977, the GTS Finnjet was billed as the fastest ferry in the world. Nine stories tall and over 700 feet in length, the ferry can reach speeds of 33 knots (about 61 km/h). The more observant passengers see irony in the fact that the boat has moved once (200 yards upstream) in the past four months. Pushed by two harbor tugs, the Finnjet changed berths to accommodate a freighter loaded with sheetrock.
There are ghosts on board. For 30 years the FinnJet has been transporting tourists (not always sober) from Helsinki to ports in Russia, Estonia and Germany. The inner sanctum of the hull can accommodate 400 cars. In 1978 the ferry hosted the Miss Europe Pageant and competition. 1982 saw the millionth passenger come on board. On July 7, 2002 a waitress disappeared from the ship sometime after midnight.

Latvia meets Las Vegas. The nightclubs, lounges and entertainment bars on the FinnJet with names like Ocean Club, Commodore Lounge, Club Stardust have been transformed to study halls where students spread out their piles of paper and colored pens on the dance floors and casino stage.

Languages can be assimilated just by using the elevator. The words engraved in stainless steel (Hissi, Hiss, Aufzug) tell passengers they are going up. A crate labeled “Helicopter Net” bolted to the stern makes a perfect card table for gin rummy on a Sunday afternoon. Each of the 11 life boats hoisted in metal racks weighs in at 3.5 metric tons. At the Information Desk you can check out hair dryers or an iron. For $5 American currency, your laundry can be washed and folded.
* * *
Pride and prejudice. Cheng Sshan Jiang feels there is a dangerous undertow to his personal and professional life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A Research Associate in Biochemistry for 15 years, Jiang returned to his apartment in uptown New Orleans to find everything piled out on the street. His prized master’s degree from Fudan University in Shanghai went out with the garbage. “When we come back,” Jiang explains, “already a month passed. The landlord pushes everything out. I am a very long resident there and never fail to pay the rent.”

Jiang looks for the best in human nature but doubts are creeping in. Delayed repairs, raising rents as leases expire are a common theme in New Orleans for people in Jiang’s position. He sees trouble on the horizon. “The salary for a research associate is low and I worry about the rent going high,” Jiang points out. “This is a very serious matter. Where are we going to live? My car is 1994 and will be difficult to drive long distance. We will need money to buy furniture. Maybe someone is considering what will happen to us.”

The 59-year-old, who has brought his wife with him on the boat, is proud of being called back to work. “The first thing I make contact with the university,” he emphasizes. “I know this part is essential and is my responsibility. I need my job. I am a hard worker and good at publications.”

Before dinner each evening Jiang takes 15 minutes of exercise, walking around the 7th deck. “I heard that there is a gym, a swimming pool and a sauna on the boat,” Jiang says with a furrowed brow. “I wonder why these kinds of facilities on the boat but we cannot use it. It would tremendously reduce our stress.”
* * *
Information Technology Analyst Greg Prusiewicz is the boat’s resident expert on curfews. He has missed two of them. Monday Night Football and four Abita Amber draft beers was the culprit on both occasions. When Prusiewicz looked up, the witching hour of the boat had past. “If you don’t make midnight curfew, you got two options,” Prusiewicz says, staring at the bar graphs on his laptop. “You sleep in your car or go to Waffle House.”

Prusiewicz is the only staff member that both lives and works on the boat. His job description is to keep tabs on the computer networks, monitor and manage wireless performance in different locations on the boat. Leaning up against the wall behind him is a styro-foam sign that says “LSU Computer Support.”
Providing technical assistance and trouble-shooting are his nightly chores.
The 23-year-old’s world revolves around power source converter boxes, VPN connections and e-mail viruses. His office is a circular couch, well positioned to view the ladies. “I’ll be here. I’m not going anywhere,” Prusiewicz says to a girl with a pony-tail that has raced back to her room to get her charger cord. “I’ve got the best seat in the house.”
* * *
Living in a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana and constantly engaged with LSU payroll processing, it was early October before Valencia Stimage had the time and courage to return to her home in New Orleans East. There were three dead fish on the brittle leather seats of her pick-up truck and water in the glove compartment. “Where we lived looked like a ghost town. All you would have needed for special effects would have been some wind and tumbleweed,” Stimage remembers. “Mold was everywhere. My mother’s sermons, bills and recipes were pasted to the floor and there were flies and gnats thick around the refrigerator and freezer.”

One of the unknown soldiers of LSU Health Sciences Center’s recovery, the Assistant Director of Payroll evacuated not to save herself but to establish an off-site presence and run “vanilla” processes to insure over 5,800 employees got paid on time. Hours were brutal. Four trips a day to local bank branches, she assisted employees in getting their checks deposited into their accounts. “We had a job to do and we did it,” Stimage remarks without lagniappe. “Payroll is used to working under pressure. Sometimes our mistakes show up more than our accomplishments.”

Being stranded in Shreveport for five months was a wild ride. She worked 14 hours on Labor Day. Thanksgiving flipped over on the calendar like it was just another Thursday. She swallowed lunch (Nachos Bell Grande from Taco Bell) everyday while sitting in front of the computer and answering phone calls from employees scattered across the United States from Atlanta to San Francisco. In one stretch Stimage pulled 35 straight days before taking a Sunday afternoon off to attend church services.

Stimage came on the Finnjet during the Christmas holidays when there was a break in payroll processing. Facing deadlines, Stimage often works from the boat at night. She says that meals on the ship were fine in the beginning. “Now everything is beginning to taste the same,” she says, arranging a stack of time-sheets on the dining table. “If the main seasoning is not curry then its ginger. What happened to just plain old soul food?”

Keeping a brave face has been a challenge for Stimage, who maintains a cheap hotel room on the weekends just to get away from people asking questions about work and to slowly transition back to a shorter commute when facilities re-open in New Orleans. Returning to live at her 70127 zip code is not an option. “In a way, I’m still in denial about our home,” she says. “I keep occupied all the time so I haven’t stopped to cry. One thing for sure, we can’t go through this again. I’m not convinced the levees are fixed.”
* * *
Professor of Physiology Barry Potter has seen worse things than Hurricane Katrina. Near the end of World War II, German V-2 rockets were pounding London to rubble. For families living in the city, evacuation and dislocation became a way of life. Finding shelter and rationing was the norm. Potter’s parents were no exception. They foraged for food, picked blackberries from the outskirts of the forest. Potatoes, never in short supply, were boiled, mashed and baked in every possible way. “This is nothing,” Potter says, waving his hand as if to encompass the entire boat. “I remember my uncle going out to shoot rabbits so we could eat. There was a lot of muttering and spitting out buckshot at the dinner table.”

Potter’s childhood transitioned into the life of a gypsy, moving from town to town, living with one aunt and then another. “Relatives seemed to stay with us an awful long time and I never quite understood why,” says Potter, who played castle games on bomb sites.

Like clockwork, the 60-year-old Potter is one of the first disembark the boat each morning. His first class (Patho-Physiology to Nursing Students) is held at a United Artists movie theater in Baton Rouge. In describing the teaching conditions, Potter comes across as being happy as a flea at the Westminster Dog and Kennel Show. “The slides for lecture are projected on a screen that is 80 feet across,” he exclaims with admiration. “The acoustics are awesome. If there is a problem it is that the seats recline and the lighting is subdued. At half past seven in the morning, it can be a challenge for some of the kids to stay awake. Class is revitalized at about ten-thirty when they start popping popcorn in the lobby. You can smell the butter.”

Potter (his father’s name was Harry) views the boat in the perspective of his academic discipline. “Physiology is about how things work. How people work,” he instructs. “We start with a simple cell and work up to the whole system. The boat is a little bit like a transplanted organ. The ship is a transplant and we are not sure if it would be accepted or rejected. The faculty and students are like transplants and we are not sure if the boat will accept or reject us. The officers and staff on the boat are trying hard to adapt to our culture as we are forced to adapt to theirs. Tensions are created.”

Two students stop at Potter’s favorite night station in a corner of the Commodore Lounge. They beg for mercy in understanding a chapter on Signal Transaction Pathways. They get the unexpected. Potter distills the highlighted pages down to a simple description of the gastro-intestinal tract. “If it is moving too fast it is diarrhea,” he points out. “If it is moving too slow it is constipation.” Everyone has a chuckle before they get down to a more complex analysis.

“Teaching is an acting job,” Potter offers. “Basically anyone can present material but in order to get through in a meaningful way you have to change something. It boils down to more than just passion. You’ve got to care. That’s what the whole profession is about. All the technology in the world will not save the patient if you don’t care.
* * *
By the time Joe Moerschbaecher gets to the “Sun Deck” it is has been dark for over five hours. It’s been a long day. Awash in a tsunami of research demands, animal care issues, priorities on facility occupancy and the North American record of 700 e-mails in one day, the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs’ face exhibits what (in Vietnam) was called the “the thousand yard stare.” Setting his plastic cup of Scotch on top of a metal container labeled Pelastusliivit Livvastar Schwimmwesten (Finnish for “life jacket”) Moerschbaecher lights up his favorite Macanudo cigar. “Adequate provisions,” Moerschbaecher laughs. “Sailing teaches you never to leave port without adequate provisions.”

A man that has found the balance between art and science, Moerschbaecher is hosting a humorous discussion with faculty friends. Like a crab escaped from a trap---the jokes, local news, gossip, information and anecdotes jump back and forth from topic to topic. Moerschbaecher guides the banter with tales of enraged baboons, the mating habits of lobsters, his Mardi Gras membership in the Half Fast Marching Club and the Rules of Engagement as they pertain to ocean going vessels. He points out a harbor tugboat that is churning upriver. “Knowing the passing lanes and direction is important at night,” he says, inviting the group to the rail. “Red light is for port side; green for starboard.”

Realizing they are with a man that has bumped into his fair share of piers, the select group of professors presses for more navigational answers. The terms “stern” and “bow” become fixed in everyone’s vocabulary. But the difference between “flotsam” and “jetsam” gets muddled in the slur of emptied glasses of Scotch and tabled for further research.

Don’t be fooled. There is a serious side to this academic renegade.

Moerschbaecher begins a winding path of discussion about universities in Spain and Italy in the Middle Ages and how it illuminates the experience on the boat. “Nobody in the country knows this is going on,” he says, extinguishing his cigar into the required canister. “Instead of dispersing in different directions at the end of the day, we have this incredible community where you see faculty members spending two hours with a student after dinner. It speaks to what universities were all about when they were first founded. They were essentially a community of scholars. We have come back to that on the boat. What was unheard of five months ago has become routine.”

Moerschbaecher is concerned about life after the boat. He predicts going back to New Orleans will be more difficult than the sudden jolt of departure. “The bridges to our old environment have been burned,” he says. “We are going to be smaller but better. If we have been paying any attention, these new relationships and patterns of behavior on the boat will be valuable lessons.”

A version of this article was published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday, April 23, 2006

| »

Water's high and the visioning is easy

Submitted: Apr 10, 2006
Water's high and the visioning is easy
So cry, l'il baby
Things done gone awry.

Locke CA

Our governor, the Hun, and the Democratic leaders of the state Legislature, who recently failed to pass an infrastructure bond to finance the public works projects the state needs to catch up with its speculative real estate mania, hand-in-hand this week, are ennunciating a new California vision on how to combat global warming. They're going to "break from the Sacramento gridlock" and lead the nation.

"Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different," San Francisco Chronicle editorialists intone hopefully.

"The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration," they add,problematically.

Vision. Leadership. Smart growth. Win-win public/private partnerships. Environmental stewardship. Consensus! California, the world's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases will -- with leadership -- drastically cut those emissions by ... you pick a date, the Hun likes 2020.

These are the politics of an over-populated region that has grown beyond the carrying capacity of its resources, devouring its incredible agricultural capacity, where developers own leadership, lock, stock and barrel, and so we must be led into paths of denial to keep the development based economy afloat at all costs ... without raising taxes.

In the various cults of leadership elites "workshop" weekend-by-weekend, paying enormous attention to "visioning," (what used to be called "discovering and following your passion," and in an earlier, far, far more honest time, "getting stoned.")

These visions fall upon a discontent and anxious populous like an immaterial fog of WD-40. The only difference is that they don't fix anything.

Why not fix something? Anything. Start small. Work your way up to global warming after you get the deficit down. Why not make something work beside the next greased permit for the next subdivision?

Bill Hatch

State steps up on combatting global warming

San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, April 9, 2006

IF WASHINGTON won't, then Sacramento will. This state has set its own course many times over: on car tailpipe emissions, a ban on coastal drilling and abortion law. Now comes the biggest go-it-alone bet in a long time: greenhouse-gas controls.

Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an avowed greenie, and pro-environment Democrats have produced comparable plans that would put California on a tough pollution diet. By 2020, the state must roll back greenhouse gas emissions -- mainly carbon dioxide -- to 1990 levels.

It's a drop of 25 percent that will bring changes across the state in the ways people work and play. But it also sends a message to the rest of a nation that is neglecting mounting danger signs and passing the buck to future generations.

Other plans to rein in California's air pollution are already underway from farms to freeways, but the attack on global warming goes after greenhouse gases left largely unchecked. These emissions form a heat-trapping ceiling in the atmosphere and are blamed by most scientists for weather swings, higher temperatures, changes in vegetation and wildlife, and future rises in sea levels. In recent years, California state researchers have reported more rain, less snow, floods and beach erosion traceable to a warmer climate.

Nobody from the White House to most state capitals has wanted to face the politically risky choices needed to curb industrial emissions, driving habits and everyday life. That's where California aims to be different.

What makes change possible is a break from Sacramento gridlock. Both the Republican governor and Democratic leaders are on the same wavelength in proposing a major goal and directing state agencies to get there. Heard this before? The governor's vaunted infrastructure package, pegged at $222 billion over 10 years, splintered when it landed in a suspicious Legislature.

And it could happen again with greenhouse controls, which have already come under attack from the state Chamber of Commerce. But the governor's staff has vetted the plan in public meetings ad collected 15,000 comments, mostly favorable. Democrats likewise have sounded out their plan in a bill (AB32) carried by Assemblymember Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has made the bill a top priority.

The plans are more alike than not. Both establish a definite deadline and call for a cap on emissions. The plan by the governor's team leans on trading pollution credits that reward clean businesses while costing dirty ones more. The Democratic plan leans on flat cap on emissions and turns over the regulatory rules to the state smog board. Both plans avoid a tax on fuel to raise research funds, an idea that Schwarzenegger opposed.

The controls aim mainly at industry: oil refineries, cement kilns, dump sites -- even manure ponds on big dairies, which give off lung-clogging gas. State law has already begun mandating caps on power plants. Cleaner tailpipe rules approved in 2004 are tied up in a lawsuit brought by automakers and joined by the Bush administration.

The car emission lawsuit illustrates the problem. Washington isn't about to do anything on global warming. President Bush is a famous non-believer when it comes to the science behind the greenhouse effect.

Last June, Schwarzenegger broke with this antediluvian view and declared the greenhouse effect was real in a speech in San Francisco. He directed Alan Lloyd, head of the state Environmental Protection Agency, to come up with a plan. After fits and starts, including the dropping of a politically touchy tax, this plan emerged.

On Tuesday, from the same perch in City Hall, the governor will explain his year-later outlook on global warming controls. He'll do it before an audience of enviros, scientists and skeptical business leaders.

There's no question that the subject is loaded. Raising clean-air standards will impose costs. Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg believes the state will lose jobs and end up importing products from high-polluting competitors, a double whammy that will punish California.

But supporters have a twofold answer. First, states or countries that have neglected the problem will, over time, follow California's lead because of local pressure. If this state, now the planet's 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, can reform, so can others. Secondly, the conversion to a cleaner industrial landscape will churn out more jobs, not fewer, as new businesses develop to meet the 2020 goals. A UC Berkeley study predicts 20,000 new jobs from such work.

Business may not be united in opposition. Silicon Valley is backing the initiative with notables from Sun Microsystems, Google and the venture capital world writing the governor. Several major oil companies, such as Shell and BP, are already on a voluntary state reporting list of greenhouse emissions.

There remain serious risks in redirecting the state's economy. The suggested system of trading pollution credits is still in its infancy. Policymakers have ducked the question of money for research, enforcement and new programs. Lawsuits may surface as state rule-making enters new areas.

But the governor and Democrats are right to take on these risks. They haven't dodged a future challenge and are working together. California has a shown way to be a leader once again.

Why do anything at all?
A study ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger predicted these effects of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions:

Average temperatures would rise by 3 degrees within 100 years.

The state's snowpack, which is half the water supply, would diminish by 75 to 90 percent.

Los Angeles and the Central Valley, which already have the worst smog levels in the nation, would see a jump from 25 to 75 percent in pollution-heavy bad days.

Rising sea levels in the Bay Delta, water shortages and hotter weather would damage California crops.

Floods would strain the state levee system.

Higher temperatures would damage forests and increase chances of wildfires.

Warmer weather would push demand for air conditioning, driving up prices and demand for more emission-producing power plants.

Source: www.climatechange.ca.gov

| »

Winter storms drive Killer whales up Delta to Capitol

Submitted: Apr 07, 2006

Facing the peril of potential flooding of many new subdivisions built on flood plains, Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, introduced a bill to make it mandatory for homeowners to buy federal flood insurance for homes built where there is an annual one-in-200 chance of flooding. Presently, the state is on the hook for flood damage. Jones' bill required mortgage lenders to make certain homebuyers had flood insurance.

Mortgage banking lobbyists defeated the bill's enforcement provision in the Assembly Insurance Committee Wednesday. They argued that, as a result of Katrina, the federal flood insurance program was probably bankrupt so why buy federal flood insurance.

It's an absurd argument but lobbyists at public meetings have to come up with something to conceal the deal going down in private. Evidently, bankers believe they have a right to profits from their "creative" mortgages and to an endless speculative housing boom, more of it inevitably encroaching on flood plains in the Central Valley.

While developer sharks circle the Legislature daily, we don't often see the killer whales come up the river and dance on their tails. Jones, regardless of the fate of his bill, should be thanked for flushing out a bit of the financial system behind CalGrowth, Inc, which rules this state today in an absolute style not seen since the days of The Railroad.

Nine of the 10 members of the committee are from Southern California. They watched safely from the riverbank as Jones' bill and political reason were devoured by greed. While this is a perfectly normal spectacle at the state Capitol, some interest was added by the rising level of the river in which the lobbyist feeding frenzy occurred.

Seal count:

How they voted against the critical enforcement provision of AB 1898.


Ron Calderon, D-Montibello
Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles
Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach
Sally Lieber, D-Santa Clara
Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara
Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana


John Benoit, R-Riverside (vice chair)
Russ Bogh, R-Beaumont
Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia


Juan Vargas, D-San Diego (chair)


Meanwhile, the local whining industry goes on per usual. Local government permits building on flood plains and goes whining to state and federal governments for "relief" when flood plains flood. Poor little Merced, whose city and county governments constantly raise the salaries and benefits for, at least, their "top" employees -- it just can't buy protection from floods, no matter how much money its public officials are investing in real estate.

Our leadership, in an economy fatted on every kind of government funding from cotton subsidies to UC Merced that still cannot produce enough work for its citizens, is adamantly against any government intervention except one kind: when state or federal funds flow into local coffers like Mariposa runoff.

The flood game is going to get worse due to the number of acres uphill and upstream from Merced that have been paved over and roofed over by the UC Merced-induced building boom.

Local leadership's first play in the flood game is to try to convince itself and the
remaining speculators that they are trying to do something and that floods will never,never happen again in Merced.

Its second play is going to be to blame environmentalists and natural resource agencies for floods. About the only people dumb enough to buy this are going to be real estate speculators still in this market, going nuts losing money. But a lot of them work for the county so this fable has a good start. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Vernal Pool Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is going to be whining to the leaden heavens as the rain comes down that flood damage is anyone's -- absolutely anyone's -- fault but his, beginning with railroading the UC campus through without proper environmental protection.

Local leadership is going to disappear behind its pointing fingers. You'll see a strange creature, something like a Sea urchin, rolling in and out of the county administration building, all fingers, no faces, no names. Or perhaps you'll see it floating down an MID canal, because MID isn't a flood control agency.

Absolutely the only thing real about this farce is flood water.

Bill Hatch

Merced Sun-Star
Estimates at $9.72M for flood damages...Doane Yawger
First estimates from flooding earlier this week in Merced peg damage at $9.72 million...total is certain to go up as more homes, farms, businesses and public facilities are assessed.

County still awaiting disaster relief from governor's office. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, told Schwarzenegger that flooding was overwhelming local response capabilities...state assistance is needed and warranted. Ted Selb said the MID's canals sustained considerable damage...city crews were cleaning out culverts and removing obstructions from pipes to open up waterways, cleaning mud and debris off streets...water rose into streets and into some yards this week...crews Thursday morning cut a 40-foot swath in Sandy Mush Road to let water
drain on wetlands and nonproductive farmland.

Builders, schools can't reach deal...David Chircop
On Tuesday, four school districts and the 26-member Building Industry Association of Central California walked away from the negotiation table again without a deal. In recent months, every major housing project before the city and county have been met with calls from educators to impose building moratoriums. March 10 offer by builders to pay the Merced City School District $3.55 per square foot for new developments. State law requires at least $2.48
per square foot...district made a counteroffer of $4.39, which was turned down by the BIA. In the meantime, construction and land costs have climbed substantially, and the buying power of funds collected for new schools has diminished...district says it will face an $88 million shortfall needed to build new facilities in the next 10 years if fees aren't increased.

We can prevent floods in future...Our View
We have a sense that the finger-pointing has just begun. Merced Irrigation District officials and County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey say the disaster could have been avoided if the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers had finished water control projects. It's clear that a flood like Tuesday's can be avoided if the right people get together and make important decisions. Next time, a flood could be more catastrophic and cause injuries and even deaths. Our leaders must find a way to make sure there isn't another "next time."

Editorial: Banking on clear skies
Mortgage industry weakens key flood bill
Sacramento Bee -- April 7, 2006

Mortgage banking in California is a multibillion-dollar business. It has thrived with the state's real estate boom and the proliferation of homes built in the low-priced floodplains of the Central Valley.

This industry also is enormously exposed. If and when a major flood occurs, the banking industry will be saddled with waterlogged, worthless homes. As in New Orleans, foreclosures will be rampant. Someone will be left holding a very soggy bag.

You might think that mortgage banks would support - or at least want to discuss - a measure to require flood insurance on vulnerable properties. Instead, the industry is using the same deceptive tactics it employs to sell questionable products (such as zero down payment, interest-only loans) to kill a bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento.

Before Wednesday, Jones' AB 1898 made federal flood insurance a condition of obtaining a mortgage in areas with a one-in-200 chance of flooding in any given year. Jones' bill would have required mortgage lenders to enforce the provision, which made sense because lenders have as much to lose as homeowners.

Unfortunately, the banking industry seems more concerned about short-term profits than long-term survivability. Mortgage bankers worry that an insurance requirement would scare off prospective home buyers. They used some highly deceptive arguments to effectively gut AB 1898 ...

GOP lawmakers revive Auburn Dam debate; SAVING SACRAMENTO DURING FLOOD AT ISSUE
San Jose Mercury-News – 4/7/06
By Erica Werner, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Key Republican lawmakers said Thursday that building a dam on the American River

at Auburn is the only way to protect Sacramento against catastrophic flooding that might occur once every 500 years.

But the head of the California Department of Water Resources cautioned against losing focus on flood-control projects now under way that are meant to give 200-year protection to the region.

Sacramento is now protected at only the 100-year level -- the lowest of any large urban area in the nation.

``Our focus right now in the state is that we need to be sure we get these improvements and not get distracted by the next debate over Auburn Dam,'' Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow testified at a hearing of the House Resources Committee's subcommittee on energy and water.

``The debate in the past has actually delayed investment in flood improvements in the region,'' Snow said.

Before Snow spoke, committee chair Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Stockton, and subcommittee chair Rep. George Radanovich, R-Fresno, both spoke in favor of an Auburn Dam, underscoring growing congressional interest in reviving the controversial project years after it seemed to be abandoned for good ...

San Joaquin River Continues To Rise; Mossdale Mobile Home Park Evacuated
KCRA Channel 3 (Sacramento) – 4/7/06

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Heavy runoff from recent storms is expected to tax the San Joaquin River in the coming days, state water officials said Thursday.

The river near Vernalis west of Modesto will likely reach flood stage within about five days or so, said Gary Bardini of the state Department of Water Resources.

At the Mossdale Moblie Home Park, near Manteca, a residents are packing up their belongings and moving out as the river continues to rise. A mandatory evacuation is in effect for the area.

"We've got good weather and that's going to make people wait as long as possible ... sometimes you have to get your feet a little bit damp before it's time to move," Lathrop-Manteca Fire spokesman Jim Monty said.

Reservoirs that feed the San Joaquin are nearing capacity in many cases, making significant water releases necessary. ..

"Our goal is to try to maintain flows at a level that the flood control system should perform adequately," said Bardini, noting that officials are most concerned about the San Joaquin.

But officials are also expecting more wet weather. Another storm will hit the region late Friday, with rain lasting off and on over the weekend.

Longer-range forecasts show more rain in the coming week as well.

"The good news, of course, is that we are in a break right now," said Elizabeth Morse of the National Weather Service. "The bad news is that it ends tomorrow."

Morse said the coming storm will hit hardest in Central California south of Interstate 80.

Thunderstorms are possible, posing a problem for some areas that are already saturated.

"The problem with showers and thunderstorms is that you can drop quite a bit of precipitation in a short period of time," Morse said. "Half an inch of rain in 30 minutes is going to be a real problem in some of the areas where we already have standing water."

Snow levels from this cold storm in the Sierra will remain relatively low, so officials do not expect the problem of huge runoff caused by rain falling on snow.

"Overall, this is a much more gentle system," Morse added. "Unfortunately, it's coming right on the heels of a pretty potent system."

In Calaveras County, those evacuated from about 100 houses in the La Contenta subdivision earier in the week were allowed to return home on Thursday.

A small dam at La Contenta, located near Valley Springs, threatened to fail on Tuesday. Crews have reinforced the dam with sandbags and plastic sheeting.

Thanks to calm weather Wednesday night, the Tuolumne River crested below flood stage in Stanislaus County Thursday morning.

People in the area were particularly worried about the area where Cry Creek meets the Tuolumne. The water, which surpassed levels seen during huge January storms, rose to within feet of a few homes.

In the Sierra, resorts reported a heavy blanket of new snow. At Mammoth Mountain in Mono County, the resort reported 23 inches of fresh snow, resulting in total depths of up to 264 inches in some places. #


| »

Just another day in Corruptionville

Submitted: Apr 05, 2006

I was into the County Administration Building today with another active citizen to look into what the County Counsel’s office had produced on a California Public Records Act request.

We were examining the documents and discussing them in a conference room. The conversation with the assistant counsel was going pleasantly, in fact in such a civilized fashion I was beginning to become disoriented and a little dizzy.

Only for a moment, however.

Soon enough the County Counsel barged into the room imperiously and told us we could not meet in that conference room, but had to go to another conference room. I felt more relaxed immediately.

He marched ahead and we followed to the other conference room. There he left us, with the door open onto the second-floor elevator lobby.

The rest of the meeting conducted amid lobby clatter after the obligatory petty county harassment of the public, I realized my pulse had returned to normal.

Returning home to peruse the daily news clips, I came across the following in the Merced Sun-Star:

Black Rascal Creek dam hasn’t made it past drafting table
By Leslie Albrecht
Last Updated: April 5, 2006, 06:20:51 AM PDT

A long-delayed reservoir could have prevented the major flooding that soaked the county Tuesday, according to Merced Irrigation District officials.
Five dams protect Merced from floods, and local officials have been lobbying Congress for decades to get a sixth dam constructed.
"If that project would have been in place today that could have mitigated or completely avoided the problems that we have," said MID Assistant General Manager Ted Selb. "The projects that we do have in place worked perfectly."

These people have only one speed: blaming another level of government for their own version of planning, which is to violate the laws of all superior jurisdictions as long as they can get away with it. Yet these same local officials are always lobbying Congress for more, more, and more infrastructure so that they and their friends can make big boodle on more and more growth. You could get the impression that they felt entitled, although they all have the dimmest views of entitlement. But when they don't get exactly what they want, they stamp their petty feet. Local leadership is really quite bewildering from a public point of view. I guess we're just suckers for a good comedy show.

Over the past 60 years the Army Corps of Engineers has built five flood retention projects surrounding the city. They include dams on Owens Creek, Burns Creek, Mariposa Creek and Bear Creek, and a reservoir near the former Castle Air Force Base.
Those dams stay dry for most of the year, said Selb. Their sole purpose is to intercept and store water during "high runoff events" and meter the water out through a pipe.
The only major stream without a dam is Black Rascal Creek.

Aha! Learn well, Merced. If the flooding gets worse – and the fabrications in this story suggests at least some local officials believe there is a strong likelihood it will – blame it on the Army Corps of Engineers, the very agency that has said, in essence, the University of California built the first phase of its Merced campus at its own risk because it did not even apply for the Clean Water Act permit required, and administrated by the Army Corps of Engineers, which ought to know, you see.

The Corps of Engineers has been in the process of building a flood control project for Black Rascal Creek since the early 1980s, but the project has never made it past the design phase, said Supervisor Deidre Kelsey.
The reservoir could have prevented the flooding this week, said Kelsey, as well as the serious floods in 1997 and 1998.
"Unfortunately the federal government never finished this series of water control projects and left the locals holding the bag," said Kelsey.
Called the Haystack Reservoir, the reservoir was slated to be built on land now set aside as part of the University of California, Merced's environmental mitigation.

Oh my! Two unpleasant sounds: fingernails scratching at cliff face on the way down; and the scratching of reckless rewrites of history. Kelsey’s only problem with UC Merced was that her husband’s ranch wasn’t included in the area suitable for getting fat conservation easements from the state because state officials evidently felt that vernal pools did not frequently occur amongst the Snelling dredge tailings. Since the famous university was in its planning stages, Kelsey’s fundamental political contribution to the massive speculative growth surrounding the campus has been to tell a group of influential farm leaders anything and everything that would keep them from looking at what was happening to Merced County agriculture – in the name of preserving Merced County agriculture.

She’s very good at this kind of double-talk and is only rarely caught in an out-and-out lie. But now local officials for the first time are facing the consequences of their catastrophic speculative growth boom in a valley, which among its other indubitable charms, on occasion floods. That’s where the rich agricultural soil comes from.

Now, listen to truly vintage One Merced Whine, delivered by a talented local lark, who, frequently leads One Merced Whine delegations to choir tours to Sacramento and Washington to lobby the very agencies that here she treats here with her county manners.

Now local officials are starting from scratch with an alternate project, said Kelsey, with $200,000 scraped together by Congressman Dennis Cardoza.
The alternative project could divert water from Black Rascal Creek and Bear Creek, carry it around Merced, then move it toward the grassland south of Merced where the water could flow back into the Merced and San Joaquin rivers.
One possible source of funding could be the governor's bond initiative, said Kelsey.
With at least 10 agencies involved in the next phase of the project, it could take years for the flood control system to be built, said Kelsey.
Working with federal government has been a slow and bureaucratic process, said Kelsey, who first met with the Corps of Engineers about the Haystack Reservoir in 1995.
Kelsey said she's seen seven engineers cycle through the project over the course of 10 years. It took 10 years of negotiations to install a new head gate on Edendale Creek, said Kelsey.
"I'm trying to work on it, but it's been very frustrating, because it's an inevitable situation that we'll flood again," said Kelsey. "But we're not prepared because we don't have jurisdiction over waters of the United States and we need cooperation from the federal government as well as numerous departments at the state level."

She just don’t have jurisdiction over the waters of the United States. If she just had that, everything would go better, particularly out in Snelling where ground water associated with Kelsey aggregate mining just keeps rising to the surface and flooding the neighbors.

Columns in both the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times this morning hit another, more owlish note, however, on behalf of the state’s taxpayers, presently on the hook for bailing out local jurisdictions that just don’t have authority over flooding surface waters of the United States.

Dan Walters, the Bee columnist, who lives in Roseville where creeks rise as rapidly as subdivisions sprawl, put it bluntly:

If locals want land-use power, they should share flood liability
Sacramento Bee – 4/5/06
By Dan Walters, Sac Bee columnist

Everyone knows that it's risky to build large tracts of homes beside flood-prone rivers, but developers and local governments, especially in the fast-growing Sacramento area, are continuing to do it with little regard for the potential consequences - because financially and legally, they are protected from the consequences.
As long as the subdivisions comply with very outdated federal floodplain maps, or the promoters have obtained some sort of exemption from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there are no restrictions or flood insurance requirements. And under a recent state appellate court decision, if a levee fails and nearby homes are flooded, the state of California is liable, not developers or the local governments that approve the housing plans.
That court decision, involving a 1986 levee break in Yuba County that cost the state nearly a half-billion dollars, put the bifurcation of authority and responsibility in sharp focus. Local governments can approve all the housing they want next to levees in full knowledge that the state alone is liable for any flood damage, even though the state has no authority over development decisions. ...

Editorial: Before the levees break
Los Angeles Times – 4/5/06

IMAGES OF THE LINGERING devastation in New Orleans should be enough to persuade anyone not to bet the safety of their house or business on aging levees.
But Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) doesn't want to rely on voluntary efforts in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys. His bill, AB 1898, would require all property owners in those watersheds to buy federal flood insurance if they faced at least a 1-in-200-years chance of flooding.
That mandate goes far beyond the current requirement, which applies only to those who obtain a mortgage or home-equity loan in areas with at least a 1-in-100-year risk.
The 1,600 miles of levees in the Central Valley are aging and vulnerable, and the low-lying area they protect — from Sacramento to the Bay Delta — floods with alarming frequency. Just Tuesday, levees broke in Merced and south of Sacramento, flooding a trailer park and fields.
It's not clear how many homes and businesses in the area are insured, but Jones offers a disturbing snapshot of North Natomas, a booming Sacramento district ringed by rivers. According to Jones, only 16% of the properties there have flood insurance.
The point isn't simply to protect property owners against their own shortsightedness. It's to protect taxpayers who'll probably have to bail them out when the floods inevitably come. The insurance requirement not only would create a pool of federal money for repairs but would prod developers to raise buildings above ground level and choose safer plots.
More important, the bill asks property owners to shoulder some of the cost and risk of living in an area that state and federal taxpayers are being asked to spend billions to protect. On Monday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee added $22.3 million for California levee projects to an emergency funding bill. Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared a state of emergency Feb. 24 over the levees, has called for at least $2.5 billion for upgrades.
The levees do more than protect property owners' investments; they help safeguard critical supplies of drinking water for the whole state. And they have enabled a boom in developments such as North Natomas, where houses have been built on top of what used to be flood-prone farms and wetlands...

To return to the fable told in the final paragraph Merced Sun-Star,

It will also take cooperation at the local level, said MID officials. There is no flood control agency in eastern Merced County, said Selb, and the response to this week's flooding was a coordinated effort involving MID, the county, and the city.
"MID is not a flood control agency, we're an irrigation district," said Selb. "Because of our expertise and because of our equipment, we collaborate and work closely with the county."

Public documents suggest another story. The Merced Sun-Star, which never reads public documents, could not, of course, have been expected to know.

In addition to providing irrigation water the District also uses its existing irrigation distribution system for local flood control by routing local foothills runoff and stream flood waters away from populated areas. The district formed the Merced Irrigation District Drainage District #1 in 1994. At the end of 2004, there were approximately 11,000 residential, commercial, industrial and governmental parcels located primarily within the urban area of the District that received drainage and flood protection service.

Merced Irrigation District audited financial statements
www.mercedid.org/_images/2004_annual_report.pdf –

Exert authority!

Badlands suggests that if the local officials want to do something really useful, having caused to much absorbent pasture uphill to be paved over and so many more homes to be built so close to unruly creeks, they ought to follow the great Persian king, Xerxes, and go out to Black Rascal Creek with whips and lash it, while supervisors Kelsey and Crookham curse it back into its banks. Then do the same with any other creek that dares rise in Merced, home of the first, environmentally friendly, UC campus of the 21st century, and all its attendant subdivisions – all of it built in violation of state and federal environmental law.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will stay home and dry and contemplate why environmental laws were ever written at all. Could at least some of the motive behind these despised acts have been the protection of life and property against rampaging local officials, development corporations, greedy large landowners, realtors and lending institutions, as well as floods?

Bill Hatch

| »

Who benefits from crumbling Sacramento Delta levees?

Submitted: Mar 28, 2006

California levee politics.

The state Legislature recently failed to pass a bill in time to qualify a large public works bond initiative on the June ballot. It was not the finest hour of the state Legislature. There is a particularly urgent need for billions of dollars to repair the aging Sacramento Delta levees. In view of the disaster in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi caused by Hurricane Katrina, there is a felt urgency in Sacramento, another large, "river" city, protected by levees, that something should be done about the condition and administration of the Sacramento Delta levees. Considering that about 23 million Southern Californians depend on water supplies from the Delta that, in case of disaster, would be contaminated, is an added urgency. This vulnerability is underscored by the long-running drought in the Southwest, increasing pressure on the Colorado River as it diminishes.

There is actually no good argument against the Legislature asking the people to vote for the bonds necessary to overhaul the levees, and every argument for it.

However, from the start, the bond package was for a huge amount of public works (infrastructure projects) and highway funds is a government word for pork. Evidently, the legislators fell to bickering about projects for their own districts.

The capital press corps threw up their hands in disgust.

But, I never saw an old political question asked, so I thought I'd try it, as simple-minded as it appears in the present political culture of consensus and public-private, win-win partnerships. No matter how dysfunctional any political economic situation is, you have to ask who it benefits.

This led my thinking back to developers, who pretty much run things in the capital. When last fall the state Reclamation Board dared to suggest that under certain circumstances some projects built on flood plains near crumbling levees should be more closely examined, the governor fired the whole board and appointed a new one, which has not yet reopened that issue. It was as if the development lobby in Sacramento declared that the disaster in New Orleans did not exist -- and the governor went along with the gag.

Perhaps I place too much weight on the governor's action. Nevertheless, when I add to it SB 50, which establishes an unreasonably low state cap on developer fees to public schools, and the constant attacks on the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as observing the escalation of water wars accompanying more urban growth and the rapidly deteriorating air quality in the state, I think it's pretty simple.

If developers had wanted a strong bond issue that would have included an adequately financed program for repairing Delta levees, I believe it is probable we would have had one to vote on in June. I think this because I cannot see anyone but developers who would benefit from a major levee breakdown. The governor asked for about $67 billion in bonds. A major failure of the Delta levee system would cost more. Wouldn't the lion's share of those contracts go to the firms that had the equipment, manpower, expertise and political lobby position for the task?

Huge engineering firms like Bechtel, UC's new partner in design and manufacture of a new generation of nuclear weapons, would benefit.

An economic study of the Katrina aftermath would reveal what sort of Wall Street financial institutions would benefit.

By waiting for a disaster, I suppose we spread the risk across the nation, so that taxpayers in North Dakota contribute. After all, it's "federal water," isn't it?

I think others that might, short-sightedly, feel a great flood would be helpful at this time are some environmentalists. I say short-sightedly because the environmental mess such a flood would cause would be a horror unimaginable before Katrina. In any such catastrophe, environmental law and regulation is suspended.

There is an observation that can be made at such times on the relationship between the environment and society. The slogan behind the establishment of the CalFed process a decade ago was: "The Delta is broken." It is now being said, "The Legislature is broken."

If the levees go, California is going to be broken. Who does that benefit?

Another thing to consider is that the economic breakdown of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi is one thing; the economic breakdown of California would be quite another thing. Who would benefit from the consquences of that?

At the moment, it looks like there is no government or consortium of governmental agencies in the United States capable of taking effective responsibility for the accelerating decline of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, where some small fish species are rapidly going extinct and the Chinook salmon count is so low off the Pacific Coast that the commercial Chinook fishery will probably be closed this year.

The economic consequences of a major disaster on this system of old levees would be somewhat greater even than the damage done to the Port of New Orleans, it seems to me. Who would benefit from that?

Bill Hatch



Dan Walters: Infrastructure bond collapse proves anew that Capitol is broken
By Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, March 17, 2006
Story appeared on Page A3 of The Bee
If nothing else, the comic opera collapse of the two-month political quest for a plan to improve highways, levees and other strained and deteriorating public facilities should finally convince Californians that their Capitol is a broken institution, endemically incapable of dealing with major policy issues.
Monday morning quarterbacks are working overtime to blame this group or that politician for what didn't happen. While some of those observations are accurate as far as they go, however, singling out immediate factors sidesteps the larger political malaise, not only on infrastructure but on countless other big-picture issues as well.

Simply put, California's dizzyingly dense mélange of ideological, geographic, cultural and economic subgroups interacts with a political structure that, in effect, gives every "stakeholder" a virtual veto power over the product. Under those circumstances, there are only two possible outcomes, both of which are bad. Either the product is a monstrosity that accommodates all demands but collapses of its own weight, or there is stalemate and no product at all.
The infrastructure scheme was becoming a classic monstrosity - like the 1996 electric utility "deregulation" plan that blew up a few years later, or a half-dozen deficit-ridden state budgets in this decade - but in the end could not enfold all demands and stalemated.

Governor ousts flood board
Some say the panel's recent move to review new urban development behind levees prompted the change.
By Matt Weiser -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday replaced all seven board members of the state's top flood-control agency. Some questioned the timing of the change in light of the board's recent decision to review urban development in flood-prone areas.
The state Reclamation Board handles flood-control policy in California and oversees a 1,600-mile network of vital levees, primarily in the Central Valley. Its members serve at the governor's pleasure and can be appointed or removed at any time.

"These appointees represent the Central Valley and are experts in both water issues and engineering," said Julie Soderlund, deputy press secretary to Schwarzenegger.
The previous board members, most appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, brought years of experience to the complicated issue at an important time, said Ronald Stork, a senior policy advocate with Friends of the River ...


Next big quake? Maybe east of Bay Area

By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press Writer | March 25, 2006

HAYWARD, Calif. --New cracks appear in Elke DeMuynck's ceiling every few weeks, zigzagging across her living room, creeping toward the fireplace, veering down the wall. Month after month, year after year, she patches, paints and waits.

"It definitely lets you know your house is constantly shifting," DeMuynck said. So do the gate outside that swings uselessly 2 1/2 inches from its latch, the strange bulges in the street and the geology students who make pilgrimages to her cul-de-sac.

DeMuynck could throw her paint brush from her front stoop and hit the Hayward Fault, which geologists consider the most dangerous in the San Francisco Bay Area, if not the nation. Like others who live here, she gets by on a blend of denial, hope and humor.

It's the geologists, emergency planners and historians who seem to do most of the worrying, even in this year of heightened earthquake awareness for the 100th anniversary of San Francisco's Great Quake of April 18, 1906.

Several faults lurk beneath this region, including the San Andreas Fault on the west side of the Bay area, but geologists say the parallel Hayward on the Bay's east side is the most likely to snap next.

"It is locked and loaded and ready to fire at any time," said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Tom Brocher...

| »

Try, try again

Submitted: Mar 21, 2006

Lydia Miller, President
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350

City of Livingston 1416 C St.
Livingston, CA 95334
209-394-8041 ph.
209-394-4190 fax
Brandon Friesen

Donna Kenny
Community Development Director
Re: Public documents about the Hostetler/Livingston pipeline project

Date: March 21, 2006

Dear Livingston City Public Officials:

On February 6, we made a request under the California Public Records Act to inspect any indemnification agreements entered into by Greg Hostetler or Ranchwood Homes and/ or any of his associates, for example any companies controlled by Michael Gallo, ‘holding harmless’ the City of Livingston for any legal challenge to the environmental review of the proponents’ project. We also requested to inspect any documents showing any other agreements between the two named parties and the City of Livingston. We also requested to inspect any documents pertaining to any agreements between local business and industry (specifically Foster Farms) with regard to connection to the proposed waste water pipeline into the city of Livingston.

Pursuant to public rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.) and the California Constitution, as amended by passage of Prop 59 on November 3, 2004, we are writing to request to review all documents in City possession pertaining to the Ranchwood/Livingston pipeline including but not limited to:

(1) meetings
(2) emails
(3) correspondence
(4) phone logs
(5) memos
(6) inspections
(7) stop orders
(8) findings
(9) agreements
(10) staff reports
(11) We also request any documents pertaining to connecting the Ranchwood/Livingston sewer trunk line to any other unincorporated areas, for example, Michael Gallo and Kelly family land near Stevinson.

Also on February 6, per our PRA request, we reserved the right to inspect any documents identified subsequent to the above request, prior to any copies being made. We will give specific instructions as to which documents we need copies of when they have been identified and are available for inspection.

If you determine that any or all or the information is exempt from disclosure, we ask that you reconsider that determination in view of Prop 59, which has amended the state Constitution to require that all exemptions be “narrowly construed.” Prop 59 may modify or overturn authorities on which you have relied in the past.

If you nonetheless determine that the requested records are subject to a still-valid exemption, we would further request that: (1) you exercise your discretion to disclose some or all of the records notwithstanding the exemption; and (2) that, with respect to records containing both exempt and non-exempt content, you redact the exempt content and disclose the rest.

Finally, should you deny part or all of this request, you are required to provide a written response describing the legal authority or authorities on which you rely. Please also address the question whether Prop 59 requires disclosure even though authorities predating Prop 59 may appear to support your exemption claim.

If we can provide any clarification that will help expedite your attention to this request, please contact us at (209) 723-9283.

The statutory deadline is past. We would like the City to notify us when it is planning to make these public documents available to us.


Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke

Cc: Bruce Owdom, Esq.
Interested parties

| »

Midnight government in Merced County

Submitted: Mar 17, 2006

During the second annual national Sunshine Week, to underscore the need for more open government and the protection of California’s Public Records and Brown acts and other open government statutes, we are publishing for the first time the 2002 petition for San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water for relief from three years of stonewalling by Merced County regarding public record documents on the UC Merced project.

Petitioners won this suit. The results of the victory were ambiguous, however.

The local Superior Court judge, William Ivey, reduced attorneys’ fees and costs by half to petitioners’ winning attorneys, as warning to all attorneys suing in Merced County on public process or environmental law, that they would be punished by the local court for daring to do so. Although Ivey has retired, his policy lives on.

Although Merced County was forced to make these documents available to petitioners, much of the work reflected in the numerous studies remains yet to be done four years later, proving that UC Merced was built on a series of plans-to-make-plans to mitigate for its environmental impacts, with the enthusiastic collaboration of Merced County, the local land-use jurisdiction.

During the planning of UC Merced, the county was so eager to comply with UC demands that it formed a wholly separate planning department just for the UC Merced project, with separate offices and staff, placing the former county planning director and county CAO in charge, while the county promoted two subordinates to the positions of county CAO and county planning director.

In a March 13, 2006 Modesto Bee article http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11926478p-12693374c.html,
Greg Wellman reflected on this suit. Wellman was the Merced County CAO who became CEO of the UC Planning Department, said,
“I think a large amount of what she’s asking for is just a reflection of our democratic process,” he said. “I might personally feel some of the issues raised are not consequential, but those are personal feelings. She has a right to public information — pure and simple.”

Back then, though, Wellman said handing over some of the information felt as if it were inviting a costly lawsuit.

“Back then,” a whole lot of costly lawsuits could have been avoided if the county, the local land-use authority, had not done everything in its power to conceal the UC Merced planning process from its local public, the people now impacted by the anticipated UC Merced-induced rapid growth, speculative housing boom, the wholesale destruction of natural resources, wildlife habitat and agricultural land by developers who figure if UC got away with it, they can, too. “Back then,” UC Merced was promoted by a small, powerful group of special interests: local legislators, large landowners, developers, financial institutions, realtors, and local businesses. They are now taking their profits. The citizens, who were sold out by corrupt county officials like Wellman and his top planner at the UC Planning Department, Bob Smith, now get the traffic, the deteriorated air quality, water of uncertain quantity and quality, and the endless stream of Bobcat Flak from UC Merced in the local newspaper.

The citizens will be stuck with $200 million costs for roads alone from the UC Merced project, as was stated by a UC attorney in a letter to the state Supreme Court in support of a suit that would release state agencies from any obligation to pay for off-site environmental impacts from their construction projects. (Marina, City of v. Board of Trustees, Case S117816, Supreme Court of California)

Labeled at the time by then President Pro Tem of the state Senate, John Burton, as a “boondoggle,” and by senior Sacramento Bee state Capitol columnist, Dan Walters, as “a barrel of pork,” UC Merced, we predict, will go down in the annals of California history of the “Catch Me If You Can” Era, as a legal and environmental scandal; and there will be a special place of notoriety reserved for county, state and federal legislators, state and federal resource agencies and national environmental non-profit corporations like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society. It began as a political payoff by an ambitious governor, Gray Davis, to Valley politicians. We know what happened to Davis. The growth it is stimulating today the rapid destruction of natural resources, is ruining farming and ranching in the region, and is contributing daily to increased smog in the worst air basin in the US.

Since elected in 2002, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, has occupied offices on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. Today, Cardoza is the leading anti-environmental Democrat in the House of Representatives, having authored two unsuccessful bills to destroy the critical habitat designation, and co-authored a third, with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Merced County will never become a responsible local land-use authority and planning agency as long as the Shrimp Slayer is squatting on the third floor.

Bill Hatch

Even today, Merced County does not comply with Public Records Act requests or environmental law and regulation. They are still orchestrating backroom deals, for example, this, Feb. 3, 2006 communication from a prominent developer and a county supervisor:

Feb. 3, 2006:

Hostetler, thinking he is making a call to Supervisor Kathleen Crookham, leaves a message on someone else’s answering machine:

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you!

BRUCE A. OWDOM - 077670
An Association Including Law Corporations
5250 North Palm Avenue, Suite 402
Fresno, California 93704
(559) 435-5250
(559) 435-8776 [fax]

Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor Rescue
Center, Protect Our Water (POW),
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke



SAN JOAQUIN RAPTOR RESCUE CENTER, a California nonprofit corporation, PROTECT OUR WATER (POW), an unincorporated organization, LYDIA M. MILLER, an individual, and STEVE BURKE, an individual,







[Government Code Section 6258]

1. The San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center (“SJRRC”), a California nonprofit corporation, whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources,habitats and wildlife, is a beneficially interested party. SJRRC is charged with the protection of various species of wildlife and with ensuring that commercial, industrial and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. SJRRC serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, as well as private entities, in their promotion of such development.

2. Protect Our Water (“POW”) is an unincorporated organization whose mission includes the protection of environmental resources, habitats and wildlife and is a beneficially interested party. Petitioner POW is charged with ensuring that commercial, industrial, and suburban development is undertaken in a responsible manner and that the public is sufficiently informed as to such matters. Petitioner POW serves an important public function by observing and disseminating information to the general public about the conduct of government agencies and officials, public figures, and private entities, in their promotion of such development.

3. Lydia M. Miller, a private citizen, is a resident of Merced County and is a beneficially interested party. Ms. Miller shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the development of the new University of California Merced campus (“U.C. Merced Project”) is insufficient to inform the public adequately as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of public funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Ms. Miller also serves as president of the SJRRC.

4. Steve Burke, a private citizen, is a beneficially interested party. Mr. Burke, like Ms. Miller, shares many of the same goals as SJRRC and POW and is concerned that the level and manner of public outreach that has occurred in connection with the U.C. Merced Project is insufficient to adequately inform the public as to (a) the decision-making process of those responsible for development of the campus; (b) the allocation of funds in connection with the project; and (c) the impact of the project on the environment. Mr. Burke also serves as spokesperson for POW.

5. SJRRC, POW, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke also have standing as members of the public at large to enforce rights of public access to information and records that reflect the actions taken by governmental agencies and employees in their official capacities.

6. The County of Merced (“County”) was, and is at all times herein mentioned, a body corporate and politic, duly created and existing as a county under and by virtue of the Constitution and laws of the State of California.

7. The County of Merced Board of Supervisors (“Board of Supervisors”) is the governing body of the County of Merced, whose members are duly elected under and by virtue of the laws of the State of California.

8. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that respondents identified herein as Does 1 through 25 are public agencies, or their agents, representatives, or employees, as defined in Government Code section 6252(a), (b) and (d), and that each is also, in some manner, responsible for refusing petitioners’ requests for access to and copies of certain public records that petitioners have requested. Petitioners will seek leave to amend this petition when the names and capacities of these Doe respondents have been ascertained.

9. Petitioners seek relief against each respondent because respondents County and the Board of Supervisors have refused to disclose certain public records which petitioners have requested as more fully alleged below.

10. Petitioners are informed and believe and thereon allege that in or about 1995, the Board of Regents of the University of California (“Regents” or “U.C.” as the context may require) selected certain land located in the County as the site of its tenth campus. Following the selection of the university site, the County made certain amendments to its General Plan to accommodate the construction of the new campus and to establish area objectives with respect to the U.C. Merced Project, including, but not limited to, resource and wetland conservation, low impact urban development, and timely construction of the campus. The U.C. Merced Project has involved the interaction of several federal, state and local agencies, private entities and consultants in addition to community involvement.

11. On November 22, 1999, petitioner Lydia M. Miller sent a letter to Robert Smith, planning director for the Merced County U.C. Development Office, which is in charge of coordinating the activities of various departments and consultants working on the U.C. Merced Project. The November 22, 1999, letter requested that 24 separate, itemized documents and studies related to the U.C. Merced Project be produced. See exhibit A attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

12. On February 12, 2001, Ms. Miller and Steve Burke of POW sent a second request addressed to Robert Smith and then County Administrative Officer (“CAO”), Gregory B. Wellman, requesting public records pursuant to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). This second request sought documents related to County General, Community and Specific plans officially adopted by Merced County, including the plans themselves as last officially amended and adopted. The request also sought correspondence between the County and various departments and agencies concerning the County’s implementation and compliance with various laws and the County’s strategies related to population growth projections. The request likewise sought records relating to specific action taken by the Board of Supervisors on February 6, 2001. See exhibit B attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

13. On May 25, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke sent a third request to then CAO Gregory B. Wellman and planning director Robert Smith requesting certain documents pursuant to the CPRA. The May 25, 2001, letter requested public records pertaining to reimbursement and funding issues, planning, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence as it related to three areas: (1) the Merced County Integrated Plan, (2) $30 million set aside for acquisition of habitats, and (3) the Joint Statement of the County of Merced and the University of California Regarding Conservation Planning and Permitting in Eastern Merced County in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit C attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

14. On or about June 7, 2001, Fernanda A. Saude, Assistant County Counsel, on behalf of Dennis L. Myers, Merced County Counsel, responded to the May 25, 2001, request. The response stated, in relevant part, as follows:

Your request is not specific enough for us to discern exactly what you are asking for. The County in the past has provided you with the following documents:

* The Joint Statement of the County of Merced and University
of California for Conservation Planning and Permitting in
Eastern Merced County[,]

* The Merced County Integrated Plan (MCIP)[,]

* County consulting contracts, excepting those with attorneys
that are confidential or otherwise privileged.

See exhibit D attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

15. On August 6, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested that Messrs. Wellman and Smith reconsider the response provided by Assistant County Counsel Saude. Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke noted that despite the County’s contention that the request did not reasonably describe records, all of the other five public agencies to whom similar requests had been made fully complied. In addition, petitioners noted that from their review of the other agencies’ responses, that responsive documents such as correspondence, notes, memoranda, staff reports, meeting minutes, and the like, exist. Petitioners asked that compliance occur promptly given that the public period on the environmental review was fast approaching. See exhibit E attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

16. On August 21, 2001, petitioners advised the County, planning director Smith and then CAO Wellman that serious problems were being encountered by those members of the public who desired to participate in the environmental review process as provided in the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Included among these problems was the lack of availability of documents which were the subject of the various CPRA requests at issue herein. See exhibit F attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

17. On August 22, 2001,a fourth request was made to Robert Smith and members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings. The request sought public records related to the Long Range Development Plan (“LRDP”) and U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In this regard, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke requested documents related to the findings of the Regents in 1995 which led to the certification of the “Site Selection EIR” as referred to in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”) for the LRDP. See exhibit G attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

18. Also on August 22, 2001, a fifth CPRA request was made. This fifth request was addressed to Messrs. Wellman and Smith as well as to the Board of Supervisors and sought public records relating to contract work performed by consultants in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. See exhibit H attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

19. On August 27, 2001, Ms. Miller and Mr. Burke made a sixth request pursuant to the CPRA. This sixth request was addressed to then CAO Wellman as well as the members of the Regents Committee on Grounds and Buildings and requested 13 categories of documents all related to or necessary for an evaluation of the U.C.’s LRDP and the DEIR for the proposed campus in eastern Merced County. See exhibit I attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

20. On or about August 30, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude wrote petitioners again contending that the petitioners’ request was too general for the County to comply. Ms. Saude also wrote that certain information (e.g., information communicated between consulting contractors and their subcontractors and findings referenced in the DEIR for the LRDP) were not “retained or controlled” by the County. See exhibit J attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

21. On August 31, 2001, attorneys for petitioners wrote to Messrs. Wellman and Smith and contended that, contrary to Assistant County Counsel Saude’s letter of June 7, 2001, the May 25, 2001, CPRA request contained sufficient specificity and that all other agencies to whom the same requests were made were able to comply. Petitioners’ attorneys requested that the County reconsider its insistence on further clarification and asked that the County provide a definitive response to the request. The August 31, 2001, letter further requested that, in the event the County contended certain requested documents were exempt, the remainder be released and its refusal to disclose withheld documents be justified. See exhibit K attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

22. On September 10, 2001, Assistant County Counsel Saude responded to counsel for petitioners’ August 31, 2001, letter stating categorically that the petitioners’ requests of May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, are denied. Ms. Saude reiterated the County’s continuing position that the requests were of insufficient specificity under the CPRA. Ms. Saude countered petitioners’ statement that all other agencies found the requests sufficiently specific with the following statement:

So that there is no uncertainty on the part of you or your clients, the County has denied your clients’request as previously stated until such time as your clients are able to reasonably identify the documents which they are requesting to inspect. . . .

. . . Moreover, how other public agencies may respond to your clients’ request is neither relevant to nor binding upon the County of Merced.

See exhibit L attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference. Petitioners allege that contrary to Ms. Saude’s contention, the fact that other public agencies had no difficulty in complying with the request based upon the same descriptors is relevant to the sufficiency of the descriptions. Petitioners further contend that respondents’ failure to comply is unjustified and in violation of the CPRA, Government Code section 6258 et seq.

23. On October 29, 2001, petitioners’ attorney again wrote to the County. This letter was addressed to Assistant County Counsel, Fernanda A. Saude who, to that date, had undertaken responses on behalf of respondents to petitioners’ CPRA requests. The letter set forth a detailed description of the six prior requests made by petitioners as alleged above, attached copies thereof, and reiterated that each of the requests were being made pursuant to the CPRA. Specifically, Ms. Saude was informed that (1) no response was received in connection with the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests; and (2) that as to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, the County’s denial of the requests on the basis they did not reasonably identify documents was in error. To illustrate the error, counsel’s correspondence cited case law which held that CPRA requests need only describe the content of documents due to the requestor’s lack of access to agency files and the resulting inability of the requestor to identify precisely the documents. The letter asked that the County reconsider its denial of the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests. The letter also specifically requested a response to the unacknowledged November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001 and August 27, 2001, requests. See exhibit M attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

24. On September 14, 2001, attorney Donald B. Mooney, on behalf of the petitioners, wrote then CAO Mr. Wellman advising that the County had violated CEQA and CEQA guidelines. The letter highlighted deficiencies in the County’s public notice procedures relating to the availability of environmental documents for public review. The letter requested a re-noticed review period and remedies related to errors in circulation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report. See exhibit N attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.

25. To date, no response has been received from respondents to petitioners’ attorney’s October 29, 2001, letter. Similarly, the November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, and August 27, 2001, CPRA requests (even though re-requested by the October 29, 2001, letter complete with copies thereof) remain unacknowledged and without response. As to the May 25, 2001, and August 22, 2001, requests, respondents persist in their denial of the requests despite the adequacy of the content descriptions and petitioners’ inability to provide greater detail.

26. Petitioners contend the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records subject to disclosure. The documents requested by the November 22, 1999, request include the following reports and studies: Fresh Water Crustacean Report by EIP; Water Supply Plan by Hill; GIS maps; Vernal Pool Study; LRDP Plan; Habitat Planning; Campus Parkway Express Plan; CPAC Meeting Notification; East Merced Draft Report; Community Plan for U.C.; Draft Report of Soils, Habitat and Rare Species Associated; Draft Report on Soils Report; Merced River Study, Stake Holders and TAC; Concept Report; Regional Transportation Plan (MCAG); University Community Concept (EIP); California Central Economics (PG&E); Water Study by East Merced Resource Conservation District; Sierra Nevada Research Institute; University Wide Academic Senate Task Force on U.C. Merced; Task Force on U.C. Merced; U.C. Merced Research Advisory Committee; Campus Alignment Study; Financial accounting of incoming and outgoing funds associated to the proposed U.C. Campus and Community Plan and associated studies. The County has refused to even acknowledge this request. As with the other CPRA requests at issue, there is no justification for non-disclosure.

27. The documents requested by the February 12, 2001, request include, but are not limited to, the following: the County General, Community, Specific and Specific Urban Development plans (“SUDP”), the County’s General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise, and Open Space Elements, including all incorporated diagrams, maps, policies and texts; officially adopted resolutions and ordinances adopting the SUDP; written policies, correspondence, reports and studies of County boards, commissions and planning committees relating to the SUDP and General Plan Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise and Open Space Elements; legislative history re: ordinances or resolutions adopting the 1996 General Plan Text Amendments which adopted Land Use Policy Goal No. 11 and amendments to the Land Use Policy Diagram; information relating to pending General Plan Text Amendments; information relating to General Plan map or text amendment applications since 1990; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Housing re: compliance with Housing Element law; correspondence between the County and California Division of Mines and Geology re: compliance with mining and reclamation ordinances and related reports and studies; correspondence between the County and the California Department of Finance regarding population growth and related reports and studies; and agendas, notices, and minutes related to Board of Supervisor’s action on February 6, 2001.

28. The May 25, 2001, CPRA request seeks documents pertaining to planning, reimbursement, funding, land use, easements, environmental impact mitigation, consulting contracts and correspondence related to the following three areas: the Merced County Integrated Plan; a $30 million acquisition of sensitive habitats, and the Joint Statement of the County and U.C. re: conservation planning and permitting.

29. Two separate CPRA requests, dated August 22, 2001, seek documents pertaining to contract work performed since 1985 by EIP Associates, Economic and Planning Systems, Fehr & Peers Associates, and Nolte & Associates in connection with the U.C. Merced Project. The first request included items such as “emails, meeting minutes and agendas, internal memos, etc.” The second request made that same date seeks public records pertaining to the LRDP and the U.C. Merced Project alternatives. In that regard, petitioners specifically sought the “Regent’s findings made in 1995 in connection with certifying . . . the ‘Site Selection EIR[]’”as well as other documents such as staff reports, resolutions and ordinances supporting or setting forth the 1995 certification.

30. The August 27, 2001, CPRA request sets forth thirteen specific subject areas for which public records are sought. These areas include documents relating to (1) the standards to be applied by the Committee on Grounds and Buildings (“Committee”) when choosing among alternative sites and design alternatives; (2) the U.C.’s decision to select among alternatives discussed in the March 2001 Comprehensive Alternatives Analysis of the U.C. Merced and Community Project (“CAA”); (3) the Committee’s deliberations or decisions regarding alternative U.C. sites; (4) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in implementing CEQA; (5) the U.C.’s environmental policies and procedures in choosing campus sites, facilities and improvements; (6) the U.C.’s policies and procedures in drafting and distributing long range development plans; (7) the legal authority relating to drafting long range development plans; (8) the U.C.’s policies and procedures re: conducting taxpayer/U.C. economic analyses in connection with campus site selection; (9) the U.C.’s legal and/or equitable ownership or leasing of Fresno County properties; (10) alternative offers of other property owners to provide land for the proposed campus; (11) reasons why the single campus as proposed in County are preferable to other alternatives; and (12) the 85 potential campus site alternatives. An additional thirteenth category seeks documents related to the U.C. Merced Project which were authored by or on behalf of Representative Gary Condit, Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, Senator Dick Monteith, Governor Gray Davis, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Resources Secretary Mary Nichols and other elected officials or agency members.

31. Petitioners allege that the documents requested in all six CPRA requests are public records as that term is used in the CPRA. The requested documents relate to the conduct of the public’s business in developing a tenth campus in the University of California educational system. Substantial public funds are being expended in developing the campus and in undertaking all the various environmental, fiscal, educational, commercial and suburban studies and reports related to the U.C. Merced Project. The requested information is necessary for the public to analyze and evaluate the performance of the County and other government agencies in developing the campus. The documents will allow the public to understand whether its significant financial contribution to the U.C. Merced Project is being wisely spent and whether the County is proceeding in accordance with applicable laws and regulations for a project of this magnitude.

32. Petitioners allege disclosure will also shed light on whether appropriate and/or inappropriate considerations have been involved in the decision making processes of the various governmental agencies and officials involved, including, but not limited to, the County and its duly elected officials.

33. Petitioners allege that the public has a right to know how its funds, including tax revenues, are being spent and whether its duly elected officials are undertaking the U.C. Merced Project in a fiscally and environmentally sound manner. The documents sought are necessary to such determinations. Furthermore, petitioners allege that CEQA requires the respondents to ensure that the public can obtain and review all documents upon which the agency relies in making environmental decisions and therefore constitutes another basis for disclosure. The shared expertise of petitioners and others who desire to review requested documents will serve to ensure that elected and other officials make sound decisions related to the U.C. Merced Project.

34. Each of the six CPRA requests at issue have reasonably described identifiable records as required under California Government Code section 6253(b). In violation of the CPRA, respondents have simply ignored three of the petitioners’ CPRA requests. As to the remaining three CPRA requests, respondents have avoided and ignored their responsibilities by making frivolous contentions that each of the categories of requested documents does not sufficiently describe the records sought. Respondents have violated the CPRA by not making said records available to petitioners for inspection. Furthermore, respondents have failed to identify any exemption (except for attorney-client privilege) upon which they might rely to justify non-disclosure. Respondents have made no effort to comply with the CPRA and instead choose to either ignore petitioners’ CPRA requests outright or to feign an inability to discern the records requested. By way of this petition for writ of mandate, petitioners seek a writ commanding disclosure of the requested documents.

35. Petitioners have no plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law, other than the relief sought in this petition, pursuant to Government Code section 6258.

WHEREFORE, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke pray for relief as follows:

1. That the court grant the petition and issue a peremptory writ commanding respondents, and each of them, including respondents’ agents and employees, to disclose immediately to petitioners originals or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

2. Alternatively, that the court order respondents, and each of them, to show cause why respondents should not be required to disclose immediately to petitioners original or complete, unredacted copies of each and every document described in petitioners’ requests of November 22, 1999, February 12, 2001, May 25, 2001, August 22, 2001 (two letters), and August 27, 2001, and all documents related to those specifically requested in the same requests;

3. For costs and attorneys’ fees as provided by the California Public Records Act; and

4. For such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper.

DATED: May ____, 2002.

Attorneys for Petitioners San Joaquin Raptor
Rescue Center, Protect Our Water (POW)
Lydia M. Miller and Steve Burke

| »

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Submitted: Feb 21, 2006


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

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto CA 95350
(209) 523-1391 phone & fax

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


Merced County Board of Supervisors

Dee Tatum
Chief Administrative Officer ceo@data.co.merced.ca.us

Robert Lewis
Director of Planning and Economic Development rlewis@co.merced.ca.us

Ruben Castillo
County Counsel
c/o Merced Co. Board of Supervisors dist1@co.merced.ca.us etc.
Merced County
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

Re: The Ranchwood pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant into land under Merced County jurisdiction

Sent via email

Date: Feb. 21, 2006

Dear Sirs and Mesdames:

At 5:30 p.m., Feb. 21, Ranchwood was still working on the pipeline from the Livingston Wastewater Treatment Plant that goes south from Vinewood Road beyond Magnolia Road, apparently without any county permits or environmental review. Both the County and Livingston were notified of complaints on Feb. 6. There is no evidence of any code enforcement.

Is the County unable to enforce the numerous ordinances, policies and laws that this illegal project violates, or it is unwilling? We sincerely hope that this project is not what it looks, walks and quacks like: collusion between the County, Livingston, developers and landowners to circumvent environmental regulatory compliance.

We request a meeting with County Chief Administrative Officer Dee Tatum and department heads on this project. We understand all too well that this is the way Ranchwood does business.

We request that the County inspect the project, stop the project and/or fine the developer for proceeding with illegal construction. This is not a mere 42-inch “dry, private” pipeline trench. As you can see by the attached photos (sent under separate cover) we took Feb. 20, the trench for this pipe, which Mr. Lewis was 42 inches, the impacts are broad, to both the environment and to the public. This project crosses several paved county roads; one unpaved county road and an MID canal. There is inadequate posting for public safety as our pictures show; there is wear and tear on the county roads from heavy equipment; and the developers are storing building materials and spoils on the shoulders of county roads.

We estimate that the mounds of dirt on either side of this trench are between 10-15 feet high. Having found numerous paint balls at the foot of these mounds, it’s clear that the public is using these mounds for recreation. Given the instability of this loose, sandy dirt, this is an attractive nuisance of public health and safety concern. Who is liable in case of injury arising from this attractive nuisance? In the attached photos you will see, an ATV driven by teenager, carrying an adult with a young child in his arms.

We realize that Ranchwood is working at breakneck speed to finish. This illegal project must have the County in a desperate situation. To stop now would compromise the County and the City of Livingston. However, there are legal consequences for not stopping it. At this point, indemnification would be entirely inappropriate.

The most obvious effect from the project from a field inspection, is the cumulative impacts from residential development tying into this main sewer line from Joseph Gallo land adjoining the WWTP to Magnolia Road. This requires full review under the California Environmental Quality Act before – not after – construction of the sewer main.

There is an uncalculated amount of agricultural land being -- and to be -- converted to real estate development, enabled by this sewer line. This requires full CEQA review and review under the Agricultural Preserve policy of the county.

At least six wells and four 1-million gallon water tanks are proposed to provide drinking water for residential development. The impact of these new wells on the groundwater level and farmers’ wells has not even been mentioned, let alone considered. Assurances of surface water from Merced Irrigation District are – as everyone knows – useless during a drought.

Ranchwood bought an almond orchard on Robin Road facing Consolidated Farms (see photos). Ranchwood is removing orchards to create a super shoulder on Magnolia for the movement of heavy equipment and construction-material storage. It is now storing sewer pipe on this ranch, called “Hostetler Ranch, Almond Orchard, L3.” The orchard appears to have been called “Merced-Lincoln” before Ranchwood bought it.

The public would also like to know by what arrangement Ranchwood is storing heavy equipment in the Livingston Corporation Yard on Vinewood Road beside the city wastewater treatment plant.

As the County approaches its general plan-update, we urge it, incorporated cities and unincorporated towns with community plans to coordinate the planning process. The update period provides an opportunity for this sensible approach to long-term county planning and it should not be missed. Until the new county General Plan and coordinated general plans of smaller jurisdictions are completed and integrated into a coherent land-use planning policy, we call for a moratorium on any new permits for residential development.

We made a Public Records Request under state Government Code 6250 et seq. in our Feb.6, 2006 letter for all documents associated with this alleged “private pipeline” project that have been generated up to the time that the agencies should comply with the request. They have not yet complied. We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. As provided by the Public Records Act, you have ten days to determine whether you have records subject to the Act. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We are attaching (under separate cover) the first set of photos of the project, bounded by Vinewood, Magnolia, and Robin and Washington roads, taken on Feb. 20, 2006. Two more sets of photos will follow. For reference, we are also attaching our letter of Feb. 6, 2006 (under separate cover).


Brandon Friesen, Mayor/Municipal Officer, City of Livingston Bfriesen@livingstoncity.com

John LeVan, Merced Co. LAFCO jlevan@co.merced.ca.us


Interested parties

| »

Greenland study: sea rising more rapidly than predicted

Submitted: Feb 18, 2006

Sea levels likely to rise much faster than was predicted

By Steve Connor, Science Editor in St Louis
The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (UK) -- 17 February 2006

Global warming is causing the Greenland ice cap to disintegrate far faster than anyone predicted. A study of the region's massive ice sheet warns that sea levels may - as a consequence - rise more dramatically than expected.

Scientists have found that many of the huge glaciers of Greenland are moving at an accelerating rate - dumping twice as much ice into the sea than five years ago - indicating that the ice sheet is undergoing a potentially catastrophic breakup.

The implications of the research are dramatic given Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by up to 21ft, a disaster scenario that would result in the flooding of some of the world's major population centres, including all of Britain's city ports.

Satellite measurements of the entire land mass of Greenland show that the speed at which the glaciers are moving to the sea has increased significantly over the past 10 years with some glaciers moving three times faster than in the mid-1990s.

Scientists believe that computer models of how the Greenland ice sheet will react to global warming have seriously underestimated the threat posed by sea levels that could rise far more quickly than envisaged.

The latest study, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in St Louis, shows that rather than just melting relatively slowly, the ice sheet is showing all the signs of a mechanical break-up as glaciers slip ever faster into the ocean, aided by the "lubricant" of melt water forming at their base.

Eric Rignot, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said that computer models used by the UN's International Panel on Climate Change have not adequately taken into account the amount of ice falling into the sea from glacial movements.

Yet the satellite study shows that about two-thirds of the sea-level rise caused by the Greenland ice sheet is due to icebergs breaking off from fast-moving glaciers rather than simply the result of water running off from melting ice.

"In simple terms, the ice sheet is breaking up rather than melting. It's not a surprise in itself but it is a surprise to see the magnitude of the changes. These big glaciers seem to be accelerating, they seem to be going faster and faster to the sea," Dr Rignot said.

"This is not predicted by the current computer models. The fact is the glaciers of Greenland are evolving faster than we thought and the models have to be adjusted to catch up with these observations," he said.

The Greenland ice sheet covers an area of 1.7 million sq km - about the size of Mexico - and, in places, is up to 3km thick. It formed over thousands of years by the gradual accumulation of ice and snow but now its disintegration could occur in decades or centuries.

Over the past 20 years, the air temperature of Greenland has risen by 3C and computer models suggested it would take at least 1,000 years for the ice sheet to melt completely. But the latest study suggests that glaciers moving at an accelerating rate could bring about a much faster change.

"The behaviour of the glaciers that dump ice into the sea is the most important aspect of understanding how an ice sheet will evolve in a changing climate," Dr Rignot said. "It takes a long time to build and melt an ice sheet but glaciers can react quickly to temperature changes. Climate warming can work in different ways but, generally speaking, if you warm up the ice sheet, the glacier will flow faster," he said.

The ice "balance sheet" of Greenland is complex but - in simple terms - it depends on the amount of snow that falls, the amount of ice that melts as run-off and the amount of ice that falls directly into the sea in the form of icebergs "calving" from moving glaciers.

Satellites show that the glaciers in the south of Greenland are now moving much faster than they were 10 years ago. Scientists estimate that, in 1996, glaciers deposited about 50 cubic km of ice into the sea. In 2005 it had risen to 150 cubic km of ice.

Details of the latest study, published in the journal Science, show that Greenland now accounts for an increase in global sea levels of about 0.5 millimetres per year - compared to a total sea level rise of 3mm per year.

When previous studies of the ice balance are taken into account, the researchers calculated that the overall amount of ice dumped into the sea increased from 90 cubic km in 1996 to 224 cubic km in 2005.

Dr Rignot said that there are now signs that the more northerly glaciers of Greenland are beginning to adopt the pattern of movements seen by those in the south. "The southern half of Greenland is reacting to what we think is climate warming. The northern half is waiting, but I don't think it's going to take long," he said.

| »

To manage site Login