University of California

Reform mood hits Valley

Submitted: Dec 19, 2005

Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.

The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.

The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?

Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,

authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)

It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.

The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.

For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)

Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.

Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.

And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.

Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.


(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05

(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05

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Deep thinking about the Valley

Submitted: Nov 20, 2005

The San Joaquin Valley is in the news this weekend. Two of the great treasuries of American intellect were on display: the University of California and the New York Times.

Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the UC Berkeley Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, lectured 500 business people on the Valley real estate market this weekend. Rosen, a real public/private, win-win partnership kind of guy, "also heads a real estate market research firm and an investment trust with $81 million in assets." (1)

His idea is that:

"A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors," Rosen said. "We're worried too many people are buying houses for investment, not occupancy."

Local Merced realtors say 60 percent but who's really counting?

Rosen imagines a situation in which interest rates would rise, valley home prices would fall, and investors would "dump their investment homes."

Perish the thought! Is it possible that stupid, anti-social investments could yield their just rewards? But, not to worry, Rosen said, there is only a 35-percent chance of a serious recession and the US economy should stay strong (despite record deficits and imbalance of trade). It's just that a lot of people buying homes on interest-only adjustable-rate mortgages could lose them. But those people would be mostly Valley citizens actually trying live in their homes, not speculators, so who really cares?

Next, the 500 business people heard from Anthony Downs, a senior fellow at hte Brookings Institution and former chairman of the Real Estate Research Corp. Downs said high home prices were driving middle-class people out of California while many poor immigrants continue to pour in.

"The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."

Those middle-class people left a lot richer than they came, one figures, having sold their homes in this market.

But Downs is a anti-government man at heart and so begins a fable about how local land-use authorities "discourage new homebuilding and construction of affordable multifamily complexes."

Right! " ... since homeowners politically dominate almost all suburban governments, he said, too few developments are approved."

Downs is an anti-NIMBY man, too, a real critic for our time. And if the local land-use authority policies he fantasizes are allowed to continue:

"There will be a permanent shortage of housing in California."

It could be that the invisible hand of the market is also the blind invisible hand of the market. It sure can't see the resource destruction it is causing, in case it has the brains to think resource destruction cannot go on forever without increasingly serious political, economic and social consequences.

This seminar makes about as much sense as UC studies on Valley air pollution: it is simply make-work for academics.

The Los Angeles Times produced a feature on how Valley kids go away to college and don't come back. (2)

The nicely crafted, patented LA Times nut-graph says:

When the area's most educated residents leave, "it takes away from the culture and intellectual life of the valley," said Raney, 67.

It also hamstrings the economy, strains the social fabric and puts a damper on the quality of life here in California's agricultural heartland.

Lamentations from Fresno culture-vultures follow. It might be too simplistic to note that what we lack in urban, sophisticated "cultural life" we make up for in agri-cultural life, which -- if only uttered with the utmost hypocrisy by Valley leaders in the pockets of developers -- is still the top productive agricultural region in the nation.

The reason the Valley is attracting all this high-powered urban attention is that its agricultural economy has concentrated into fewer and fewer hands as the generations have gone by. Today, there are many farming parcels of a size very attractive to developers for subdivisions. Hence, LA and the Bay Area are frustrated because the Valley, still dominantly agricultural economy cannot support all the people developers want to build houses for. And there is all this speculative money just looking for a home, any home, anywhere, even if the speculator cannot get enough rent for it to cover the mortgage.

To reply to the LA Times piece about brain drain and the terrible "Third World" economy we have here, let us say: the problem in the Valley is the people WITH college degrees, not those without them because the people with degrees are so busy separating themselves from those without them, they do nothing but obfuscate and establish obfuscating organizations like the Great Valley Center, to study how to beautify Highway 99 rest stops and co-opt potential grassroots leaders with a little grant money, some wine and cheese, and a guaranteed career in community betrayal.

Throughout these articles and a spate of others in recent days like them, never the E-word is heard. There is no thought of balance between urban and rural, town and country, the developed and the open spaces. It might take an old Californian with an ear smashed to the ground to hear it, but our intellectual and media leaders are doing their usual number: ignoring and burying a problem that stands in the way of the quick development buck. California is so besotted on developer wealth it can no longer imagine anything more creative, intelligent and sane than building subdivisions (complete with low-income components) on flood plains. That is the extent of the remaining economic imagination -- pathetic and empty.

The Valley looks ripe. Its communities have been rendered deaf and dumb by political corruption and immigration. Its land is now arranged into neatly vendible parcels. Willing sellers and willing buyers seek each other’s company. The speculators are too dumb to know. So, let a win-win, public/private partnership, by all means, fleece them. By the way, forget the people in the Valley because, obviously, they are uneducated. Actually, don’t quite forget them, declare culture war on them for not supporting the arts in Fresno or for not buying all these houses or for not making more money. Above all things, get their land, such as they still have it.

All that stands in the way of creating a slurb from Bakersfield to Redding is a few environmental laws, regulations and resource agencies. UC Merced set the new standards for coping with these obstructions: build it anyway and dare the resource agencies to enforce the law with politicians climbing up their backs in track shoes.

Oh, and one other thing: an economy to support this slurb, because man cannot live by strip-mall alone. Even in Sacramento, very rich in strip-malls, there is that ever-expanding state government to keep pumping money into the smoggy slurb.

Bill Hatch

(1) 11-20-05
Modesto Bee
Investors like valley housing...J.N. Sbranti
Here's a new name for the San Joaquin Valley: "Affordable California." "A significant number of homes — 20 to 40 percent of those sold (from Merced to Bakersfield) — are being purchased by investors... if interest rates rise, the valley's house prices may decline and investors could dump their investment homes. Because of the housing crunch, Downs said there is a large-scale domestic migration out of California. "The state is trading mostly middle-class residents who are leaving for many more poor immigrants from abroad," Downs said. "So California's net population and poverty are both rising."


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Hearst v. UC

Submitted: Nov 18, 2005

In California, you still don’t want to get the Hearsts too angry with you. The arrogance and often ludicrous propaganda of the University of California has been for years more than a match for state Legislature committees and Congress, but apparently it has finally managed to irritate the Hearsts. There are rules, after all, and at least some newspapers will eventually get fed up with a diet of pure flak from a university.

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UC prestige and opulence

Submitted: Nov 15, 2005

“UC gets $8 million to study San Joaquin Valley's bad air...” (1) trumpets this morning’s Fresno Bee. Variously called “the most” or “one of the most” polluted air basins in the nation, depending on the month or the intent of the writer, San Joaquin Valley air is bad, Fresno’s childhood asthma rate is four times the national average, and things aren’t getting any better.

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