Dairy

Cardoza did the right thing

Submitted: Mar 23, 2007

I received a note from the MoveOn.org political action team today, urging me to personally thank Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, for voting for the Iraq Accountability Act, which was passed today, 218-212, two Republicans voting in favor, and 14 Democrats joining the Republican opposition. Tallying up the Democrat opponents, I found six members of the Progressive Caucus and seven members of the 43-member Blue Dog Caucus, of which Cardoza is the communications director. Strange bedfellows, but these are fractious times.

Reading through the press reports on the bill, I noticed that some critics of it made allusions to pork.

"The sweeteners in this bill are political bribery," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and who delivered an emotional speech to conclude the Republican side of the debate. -- LA Times, March 23, 2007

I thought, before I rushed into the arms of MoveOn's conveniently available website to send our members of Congress our thanks (when I write Cardoza, the messages bounce back unopened), I might check out the pork a little first.

There may be some reason these agricultural appropriations are included in a bill on Iraq War appropriations. Maybe the old Contract-on-America crowd are just griping because they have not gotten used to two-party rule in the House yet. There could be a reasonable explanation why $252 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract Program is included in this bill beyond what Johnson calls "political bribery." But, the most reasonable explanation is that the communications director of the Blue Dog Coalition, representing the second largest dairy district in the nation, got a "sweetner." All but the handful of the remaining 34 Blue Dogs who aren't from agricultural districts, got their sweetners, too.

So, Speaker Pelosi lost progressive representatives Kucinich, Lee, Waters, Waston and Woolsey on principle, but picked up less-than-progressive Cardoza and the 34 Blue Dog Democrats, for a price.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, a long-term opponent of the Iraq War, is in a special category. The spinach growers in his district, "the Salad Bowl of the Nation,"economically harmed last fall by an outbreak of E. Coli traced to his district, got $25 million in relief. But Farr sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and on three subcommittees:

* Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
* Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
* Subcommittee on Homeland Security

which puts him in a position to both know what he wants and to get it. However, in this instance, where his vote seemed in little doubt, it appears the Speaker may have rewarded with some honey-cured ham.

More than 650,000 Iraqis have died in this war, now longer than WWII. This war was begun and maintained by one-party, rightwing Republican rule in the White House and Congress, during a period when, it is said, pork was also distributed to friends of the Republican administration like Halliburton. Vice President Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton before he reentered "public service." After billions in no-bid contracts in Iraq, Halliburton has expressed its loyalty to the nation by moving its corporate headquarters to Dubai.

So there is pork and there is pork, Mr. Sam.

We are by no means beyond the trauma of authoritarian one-party rule. In that shadow a middle-aged Northern Californian does a little dance at the pure normalcy of the pork deals. Farr plays the game like his father, former state Sen. Fred Farr did. Cardoza plays as his predecessors did. Pelosi deals with the rurales as San Francisco politicians have always dealt with them, when they needed them. But, don't you tell Cardoza that his bio-region has anything to do with the politics; Not necessarily judging by what he says, but by what he does, in his view, his farming district is a metropolis-in-waiting.

Therefore, I am going to resist the request of MoveOn.org to thank Cardoza for doing the right thing. The way it looks now, if the Senate doesn't take the timetable out, Bush will veto it. Neither House or Senate Democrats have the votes to override. So, maybe the pork stays in, the timetable goes out, and even the almond growers -- in case the bees didn't work this year -- will get bailed out with Crop Disaster Assistance.

But business-as-usual is preferable to recently deceased Contract on America.

Bill Hatch
---------------

Nita Chaudhary, MoveOn.org Political Action (moveon-help@list.moveon.org) +Add contact
To: Bill Hatch (billhatch@hotmail.com)
Subject: Rep. Cardoza does the right thing on Iraq

Dear MoveOn member,
We're one step closer in the fight to end the war. Today the Iraq Accountability Act passed Congress. For the first time, Congress passed a real deadline to end the war—by fall of 2008. Your representative, Congressman Dennis Cardoza voted right and helped make that happen.

This was a very hard vote for members of Congress. But Rep. Cardoza supported Speaker Pelosi in her strategy to wind down this war. Can you write him a quick note to say 'thanks' for bringing us one step closer and to keep up the fight until all our troops are home?

http://pol.moveon.org/endwar?id=10080-5558129-WDXVEY&t=1

There's no question that this bill was not as strong as most of us would have wanted—-and we're going to keep fighting together to bring the troops home sooner than next year. But it's an important step forward, and at today's vote 63 of the 71 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus voted for the bill. All but 2 Republicans voted against it.

Now the fight moves to the Senate. If Senators also pass a hard timeline to end the war then this plan goes to the President.

If he makes good on his promise to veto it, he'll be forced to stand up in front of the American people—a strong majority of whom want to set a date to end the war—and argue for a war with no end. And he'll have to veto funds for the war along with the timeline and send the whole thing back to Congress.

We've taken one big step in the right direction and together, we are going to keep fighting until we bring all our troops home safely.

This is just the beginning. Please write Rep. Cardoza and thank him for making this victory possible.

http://pol.moveon.org/endwar?id=10080-5558129-WDXVEY&t=2

Thanks for all you do,

–Nita, Eli, Justin, Karin and the MoveOn.org Political Action Team
Friday, March 23rd, 2007
-------------------

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HR01591:@@@D&summ2=m&
H.R.1591
Title: Making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2007, and for other purposes.

Sponsor: Rep Obey, David R. [WI-7] (introduced 3/20/2007) Cosponsors (None)
Related Bills: H.RES.261
Latest Major Action: 3/22/2007 House floor actions. Status: Considered under the provisions of rule H. Res. 261.
House Reports: 110-60
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SUMMARY AS OF:
3/20/2007--Introduced.

U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007 - Makes emergency supplemental FY2007 appropriations for specified activities related to the global war on terror to the Departments of Agriculture (including food aid to Africa and Afghanistan), of Justice, of Defense (Military, including funds for Iraqi and Afghan security forces), of Defense (military construction and base closure), of Energy, of Homeland Security, of Veterans Affairs (particularly veterans' health programs), and of State (including international peacekeeping operations), and related agencies as well as the House of Representatives.

Provides funds to enable military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements.

Specifies conditions for assistance to Lebanon.

Prohibits the use of funds under this Act to deploy any unit of the Armed Forces to Iraq unless the chief of the military department concerned has certified to the congressional appropriations committees in advance that the unit is fully mission capable. Sets a maximum number of days for deployment in Iraq for military units. Authorizes the President to waive such prohibition and deployment limits on a unit-by-unit basis for reasons of national security.

Directs the President to transmit to Congress by specified dates certain determinations and certifications with respect to conditions to be met by the Government of Iraq. Requires redeployment of the armed forces from Iraq if any of such conditions is not met.

Directs the President to appoint a Coordinator for Iraq Assistance, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Declares that Congress will fully support the needs of members of the Armed Forces who the Commander in Chief has deployed in harm's way in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and their families.

Declares the sense of Congress that the U.S. Constitution grants: (1) the President the sole role of Commander in Chief; and (2) Congress the sole power to declare war.

Declares the sense of Congress that: (1) the commanders of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq should be allowed to conduct the war and manage the movements of the troops; and (2) Congress should remain focused on executing its oversight role.

Makes additional appropriations for disaster relief and recovery related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the Departments of Agriculture, of Commerce, of Defense (Civil), of Homeland Security, of Health and Human Services, of Education, and of Housing and Urban Development.

Makes appropriations to the Secretary of Agriculture for emergency crop and livestock disaster assistance.

Makes additional appropriations for specified purposes to the Legislative Branch and to the Departments of Agriculture, of Commerce, of State, of the Interior and of Agriculture (for wildfire suppression), and of Health and Human Services (for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and for response to an influenza pandemic).

Rescinds specified unobligated balances of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Prescribes requirements for DHS contracts, subcontracts, and task orders.

Requires each federal agency that has awarded at least $1 billion in the preceding fiscal year to develop and implement a plan to minimize the use of no-bid and cost-reimbursement type contracts.

Makes appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to eliminate the FY2007 shortfall in funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 - Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to increase the federal minimum wage to: (1) $5.85 an hour, beginning on the 60th day after enactment of this Act; (2) $6.55 an hour, beginning 12 months after that 60th day; and (3) $7.25 an hour, beginning 24 months after that 60th day. Applies federal minimum wage requirements to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and to American Samoa.

Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2007 - Amends the Internal Revenue Code to extend and revise: (1) the work opportunity tax credit; (2) expensing for small businesses; and (3) the credit for certain taxes paid with respect to employee cash tips.

Waives alternative minimum tax limits on the work opportunity credit and the credit for taxes paid with respect to employee cash tips.

Defines qualified joint venture with respect to family business taxes.

Makes certain dependents ineligible for the lowest capital gains rate.

Lengthens the period of failure to notify a taxpayer of liability before interest and certain penalties must be suspended.

Increases the amount of any required installment of estimated tax otherwise due in 2012 from a corporation with assets of at least $1 billion.

------

SEC. 3107. MILK INCOME LOSS CONTRACT PROGRAM.

Notwithstanding subsections (c)(3), (f), and (g) of section 1502 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (7 U.S.C. 7982), there is hereby appropriated $283,000,000, to remain available until expended, for payments under such section, using the payment rate specified in subsection (c)(3)(B) of such section, from September 1, 2007, through September 30, 2008. Of such amount, $252,000,000 shall be available only on or after September 30, 2007, and only so long as an Act to provide for the continuation of agricultural programs for fiscal years after 2007, including such section 1502, is not enacted.

H.R.1591
U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007 (Reported in House)

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

SEC. 3101. CROP DISASTER ASSISTANCE.

(a) Assistance Available- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to make emergency financial assistance available to producers on a farm that incurred qualifying quantity or quality losses for the 2005 or 2006 crop, or for the 2007 crop before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to damaging weather or any related condition (including losses due to crop diseases, insects, and delayed harvest), as determined by the Secretary. However, to be eligible for assistance, the crop subject to the loss must have been harvested before the date of the enactment of this Act or, in the case of prevented planting or other total loss, would have been harvested before the date of the enactment of this Act in the absence of the damaging weather or any related condition.

(b) Election of Crop Year- If a producer incurred qualifying crop losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 crop years, the producer shall elect to receive assistance under this section for losses incurred in only one of such crop years. The producer may not receive assistance under this section for more than one crop year.

(c) Administration-

(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary of Agriculture shall make assistance available under this section in the same manner as provided under section 815 of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2001 (Public Law 106-387; 114 Stat. 1549A-55), including using the same loss thresholds for quantity and economic losses as were used in administering that section, except that the payment rate shall be 50 percent of the established price, instead of 65 percent.

(2) LOSS THRESHOLDS FOR QUALITY LOSSES- In the case of a payment for quality loss for a crop under subsection (a), the loss thresholds for quality loss for the crop shall be determined under subsection (d).

(d) Quality Losses-

(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to paragraph (3), the amount of a payment made to producers on a farm for a quality loss for a crop under subsection (a) shall be equal to the amount obtained by multiplying--

(A) 65 percent of the payment quantity determined under paragraph (2); by

(B) 50 percent of the payment rate determined under paragraph (3).

(2) PAYMENT QUANTITY- For the purpose of paragraph (1)(A), the payment quantity for quality losses for a crop of a commodity on a farm shall equal the lesser of--

(A) the actual production of the crop affected by a quality loss of the commodity on the farm; or

(B) the quantity of expected production of the crop affected by a quality loss of the commodity on the farm, using the formula used by the Secretary of Agriculture to determine quantity losses for the crop of the commodity under subsection (a).

(3) PAYMENT RATE- For the purpose of paragraph (1)(B) and in accordance with paragraphs (5) and (6), the payment rate for quality losses for a crop of a commodity on a farm shall be equal to the difference between--

(A) the per unit market value that the units of the crop affected by the quality loss would have had if the crop had not suffered a quality loss; and

(B) the per unit market value of the units of the crop affected by the quality loss.

(4) ELIGIBILITY- For producers on a farm to be eligible to obtain a payment for a quality loss for a crop under subsection (a), the amount obtained by multiplying the per unit loss determined under paragraph (1) by the number of units affected by the quality loss shall be at least 25 percent of the value that all affected production of the crop would have had if the crop had not suffered a quality loss.

(5) MARKETING CONTRACTS- In the case of any production of a commodity that is sold pursuant to 1 or more marketing contracts (regardless of whether the contract is entered into by the producers on the farm before or after harvest) and for which appropriate documentation exists, the quantity designated in the contracts shall be eligible for quality loss assistance based on the 1 or more prices specified in the contracts.

(6) OTHER PRODUCTION- For any additional production of a commodity for which a marketing contract does not exist or for which production continues to be owned by the producer, quality losses shall be based on the average local market discounts for reduced quality, as determined by the appropriate State committee of the Farm Service Agency.

(7) QUALITY ADJUSTMENTS AND DISCOUNTS- The appropriate State committee of the Farm Service Agency shall identify the appropriate quality adjustment and discount factors to be considered in carrying out this subsection, including--

(A) the average local discounts actually applied to a crop; and

(B) the discount schedules applied to loans made by the Farm Service Agency or crop insurance coverage under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.).

(8) ELIGIBLE PRODUCTION- The Secretary of Agriculture shall carry out this subsection in a fair and equitable manner for all eligible production, including the production of fruits and vegetables, other specialty crops, and field crops.

(e) Payment Limitations-

(1) LIMIT ON AMOUNT OF ASSISTANCE- Assistance provided under this section to a producer for losses to a crop, together with the amounts specified in paragraph (2) applicable to the same crop, may not exceed 95 percent of what the value of the crop would have been in the absence of the losses, as estimated by the Secretary of Agriculture.

(2) OTHER PAYMENTS- In applying the limitation in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall include the following:

(A) Any crop insurance payment made under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.) or payment under section 196 of the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333) that the producer receives for losses to the same crop.

(B) The value of the crop that was not lost (if any), as estimated by the Secretary.

(3) DUPLICATIVE PAYMENTS- The Secretary of Agriculture shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this section and any other Federal program for the same loss.

(f) Eligibility Requirements and Limitations- The producers on a farm shall not be eligible for assistance under this section with respect to losses to an insurable commodity or noninsurable commodity if the producers on the farm--

(1) in the case of an insurable commodity, did not obtain a policy or plan of insurance for the insurable commodity under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.) for the crop incurring the losses;

(2) in the case of a noninsurable commodity, did not file the required paperwork, and pay the administrative fee by the applicable State filing deadline, for the noninsurable commodity under section 196 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333) for the crop incurring the losses; or

(3) were not in compliance with highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation provisions.

(g) Timing-

(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to paragraph (2), the Secretary of Agriculture shall make payments to producers on a farm for a crop under this section not later than 60 days after the date the producers on the farm submit to the Secretary a completed application for the payments.

(2) INTEREST- If the Secretary does not make payments to the producers on a farm by the date described in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall pay to the producers on a farm interest on the payments at a rate equal to the current (as of the sign-up deadline established by the Secretary) market yield on outstanding, marketable obligations of the United States with maturities of 30 years.

(h) Definitions- In this section:

(1) INSURABLE COMMODITY- The term `insurable commodity' means an agricultural commodity (excluding livestock) for which the producers on a farm are eligible to obtain a policy or plan of insurance under the Federal Crop Insurance Act (7 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.).

(2) NONINSURABLE COMMODITY- The term `noninsurable commodity' means a crop for which the producers on a farm are eligible to obtain assistance under section 196 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (7 U.S.C. 7333).

SEC. 3102. LIVESTOCK ASSISTANCE.

(a) Livestock Compensation Program-

(1) AVAILABILITY OF ASSISTANCE- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to carry out the livestock compensation program established under subpart B of part 1416 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, as announced by the Secretary on February 12, 2007 (72 Fed. Reg. 6443), to provide compensation for livestock losses during calendar years 2005 and 2006, and during calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to a disaster, as determined by the Secretary, including wildfire in the State of Texas and other States and blizzards in the States of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. However, the payment rate for compensation under this subsection shall be 75 percent of the payment rate otherwise applicable under such program.

(2) ELIGIBLE APPLICANTS- In carrying out the program described in paragraph (1), the Secretary shall provide assistance to any applicant that--

(A) conducts a livestock operation that is located in a disaster county with eligible livestock specified in paragraph (1) of section 1416.102(a) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (72 Fed. Reg. 6444), an animal described in section 10806(a)(1) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (21 U.S.C. 321d(a)(1)), or other animals designated by the Secretary as livestock for purposes of this subsection; and

(B) meets the requirements of paragraphs (3) and (4) of section 1416.102(a) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, and all other eligibility requirements established by the Secretary for the program.

(3) ELECTION OF LOSSES- If a producer incurred eligible livestock losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 calendar years, the producer shall elect to receive payments under this subsection for losses incurred in only one of such calendar years, and such losses must have been incurred in a county declared or designated as a disaster county in that same calendar year.

(4) MITIGATION- In determining the eligibility for or amount of payments for which a producer is eligible under the livestock compensation program, the Secretary shall not penalize a producer that takes actions (recognizing disaster conditions) that reduce the average number of livestock the producer owned for grazing during the production year for which assistance is being provided.

(5) LIMITATION- The Secretary shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this subsection and another Federal program with respect to any loss.

(6) DEFINITIONS- In this subsection:

(A) DISASTER COUNTY- The term `disaster county' means--

(i) a county included in the geographic area covered by a natural disaster declaration; and

(ii) each county contiguous to a county described in clause (i).

(B) NATURAL DISASTER DECLARATION- The term `natural disaster declaration' means--

(i) a natural disaster declared by the Secretary during calendar year 2005 or 2006, or calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, under section 321(a) of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (7 U.S.C. 1961(a)); or

(ii) a major disaster or emergency designated by the President during calendar year 2005 or 2006, or calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.).

(b) Livestock Indemnity Payments-

(1) AVAILABILITY OF ASSISTANCE- There are hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture such sums as are necessary, to remain available until expended, to make livestock indemnity payments to producers on farms that have incurred livestock losses during calendar years 2005 and 2006, and during calendar year 2007 before the date of the enactment of this Act, due to a disaster, as determined by the Secretary, including hurricanes, floods, anthrax, wildfires in the State of Texas and other States, and blizzards in the States of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

(2) ELECTION OF LOSSES- If a producer incurred eligible livestock losses in more than one of the 2005, 2006, or 2007 calendar years, the producer shall elect to receive payments under this subsection for losses incurred in only one of such calendar years. The producer may not receive payments under this subsection for more than one calendar year.

(3) PAYMENT RATES- Indemnity payments to a producer on a farm under paragraph (1) shall be made at a rate of not less than 30 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock on the day before the date of death of the livestock, as determined by the Secretary.

(4) LIVESTOCK DEFINED- In this subsection, the term `livestock' means an animal that--

(A) is specified in clause (i) of section 1416.203(a)(2) of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (72 Fed. Reg. 6445), or is designated by the Secretary as livestock for purposes of this subsection; and

(B) meets the requirements of clauses (iii) and (iv) of such section.

(c) Limit on Amount of Assistance- The Secretary of Agriculture shall ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, that no producer on a farm receives duplicative payments under this section and any other Federal program for the same loss.

SEC. 3103. SPINACH.

There is hereby appropriated to the Secretary of Agriculture $25,000,000, to remain available until expended, to make payments to growers and first handlers, as defined by the Secretary, of fresh spinach that were unable to market spinach crops as a result of the Food and Drug Administration Public Health Advisory issued on September 14, 2006. The payment made to a grower or first handler under this section shall not exceed 75 percent of the value of the unmarketed spinach crops.

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Grassrooters' factual flyer on the racetrack

Submitted: Dec 11, 2006

THE OPPONENTS OF RMP WANT YOU TO KNOW:
The attitude of Riverside Motorsports Park and Merced County government toward your environment, health and public safety is: Gentlemen, start your engines, put your pedal to the metal and pass every law and regulation protecting public health and safety on the right as fast as you can.

RMP Chief John Condren claims he’s got your elected officials in his pocket.

Although it’s too early to start planning a ground-breaking party, we can report that RMP has won the support of 4 of the 5 members of the Merced County Board of Supervisors … and we may succeed in securing the unanimous support of the Board once the EIR is released. In addition, RMP has secured the approval and support of State Senator Jeff Denham, US Congressman Dennis Cardoza, 5 Chambers of Commerce within Merced County, the City Councils of Atwater and Merced, and RMP has the support of the California Builders Industry Association. Added to this list are over 1,500 local Merced County citizens who have signed to be on our project update mailing/e-mail list.

--Riverside Motorsports Park, 1 January 2005 “To all our valued investors and supporters, Happy New Year!”

A quorum of supervisors should be disqualified from voting on this project at all, when a developer is bragging that loudly about how he owns them. To begin with, Jerry O’Banion and Kathleen Crookham. O’Banion is widely known as having steered the project from the west side to its present location. Crookham gave a promotional talk on the RMP project before the Clipper Club at Central Presbyterian Church. Their involvement with the project ought to disqualify them from voting on it.

In a January 1, 2005 letter to RMP investors, Condren claimed:
· The traffic plan for the project was complete; NOT TRUE
· Zoning restrictions pertaining to noise impacts have been amended such that unlimited Motorsports activities
may occur without additional restrictions; NOT TRUE
· The RMP Master plan is approved; NOT TRUE
· RMP event schedule will include all the largest names in motorsports. NOT TRUE

Two years later, there is no traffic plan; the EIR simply states that the noise level from auto racing is a “significant, unavoidable impact” to be overridden by a vote of the supervisors; the RMP master plan is only a draft that will be rewritten after – not before – the supervisors approve the project; while RMP tells its investors it will draw all the big names in auto racing (and hundreds of thousands of spectators), it tells the locals the eight tracks in the project will be almost exclusively for local car clubs, drawing only a few thousand spectators.

The Big Consultants Shuffle. The County recommended a firm it has done a great deal of work with, including the lion’s share of planning for UC Merced. It couldn’t come up with a traffic plan, so RMP replaced them with another firm willing to say there is a traffic plan when there isn’t one.

RMP wrote its investors two years ago the traffic studies are all done by Jan. 2005. At the Nov. 15 public hearing on the project, county Public Works informed the public there was no traffic plan. The RMP traffic consultant agreed: there is no traffic plan beyond waiting to see what roads spectators choose.

On Nov. 28, for the first time, county Public Works informed the people of Delhi, that Shanks Road, El Capitan and Palm were going to be a major thoroughfare for race traffic until two weeks ago, that some county roads would need to be widened, which might call for eminent domain if residents and RMP cannot agree on prices.

Who are RMP’s investors? These people are presumably underwriting a project that will significantly worsen our already severe air pollution, fill our country roads with frequent, periodic traffic jams, and fill our ears with the din of racecar engines. The Merced public has a right to view a full financial disclosure statement on who these people are who are investing in the destruction of our environment – before the supervisors we elected vote to approve this project. The public needs to ask how much RMP investor money will end up in campaign coffers of officials we elect.

Indemnification. The County and RMP have an agreement:

Indemnification and Hold Harmless
Approval of this Project is for the benefit of Applicant. The submittal of applications by Applicant for this Project was a voluntary act on the part of the Applicant not required by the County. Therefore, as a condition of approval of this Project, the Applicant agrees to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of Merced and its agents, officers, employees, advisory agencies, appeal board or legislative body of Merced County (collectively, “County”) from any and all claims, actions and proceedings against the County to attack, set aside, void, or annul an approval by the County concerning the Project occurring as a result of the action or inaction of the County, and for any and all costs, attorneys fees, and damages arising
therefrom (collectively, “Claim”).”

– INDEMNITY AND HOLD HARMLESS AGREEMENT BETWEEN COUNTY OF MERCED AND RIVERSIDE MOTORSPORTS PARK, LLC, Sept. 12, 2006.

This agreement allows the County to approve this project without taking any responsibility for these new, impacts to our environment added on top of UC Merced and its induced housing boom – air, traffic and noise – because they aren’t liable for legal costs.
However, the County has not yet signed the agreement. nor did they include it in the conditions in the staff report on the project.

Water. A year ago, Board Chairman Mike Nelson misspoke, saying Atwater would supply RMP with potable water. Winton doesn’t have enough water. Water Castle is supplying off-base residents is contaminated. So, where’s the drinking water?

Overweening control of Planning Director.

Modifications to the Development Plan and Administrative Permit may be approved administratively by the Planning Director if determined consistent with the intent of the Master Plan, the RMP EIR, and the procedures and finds defined in Section 18.50.02(D) of the Merced County Zoning Code.

-- P. 7-1, RMP Draft Master Plan

This means that planning director, in concert with RMP, can change the plans for the project any way they want to, unless the public challenges it. In other words, the planning director works from RMP, not for you.

Conflict of interest. The Merced County Board of Supervisors is the land-use authority for all unincorporated land in the county. But, it is also the land-use authority for the former Castle Air Force Base. The RMP project, which adjoins Castle, cannot be approved until the board overrides the noise-zone for the Castle airport established by the airport commission. The board plans to do this on Dec. 12. But, these are two separate actions, both with large consequences to the noise level, and the airport override must be analyzed in the RMP environment impact report. The County did not do that. In fact, there is no analysis on the environmental, public health and safety impacts from this decision. The County is in conflict of interest on these two projects.

Contempt for the public. The County did not make the new staff report to the public (including state and federal agencies) available until 4:30 p.m. on Monday, the day before the hearing. Nothing could better express the County’s complete contempt for the public and favoritism for special development interests. It also perfectly expresses the County’s lack of respect for law and elemental fairness. In violation of public access provisions within the California Environmental Quality Act, the public has not been allowed to view the working file of this project without recourse to the state Public Records Act. This is illegal.

The lack of analysis of cumulative economic and environmental impacts from the chaotic growth in Merced requires the public to demand a moratorium on any more projects not already approved by appropriate local, state and federal agencies. RMP is not approved by the appropriate agencies, therefore the board should not approve it before the county general plan has been fully updated in a legally compliant fashion.

The board of supervisors must deny the Riverside Motorsports Park General Plan Amendment No. GPA03-005, Zone Change Application No. ZC03-007, the Board of Supervisors’ override of the Castle Airport Land Use Commission, the Environmental Checklist, the Notice of Application, Draft Master Plan, Draft EIR, Final EIR, Appendices to Vol. 2, Response to Comments, Vol. 1, Staff Report, Findings, Resolutions and Overrides, and Indemnification.

The process that produced these documents was seriously flawed by

· an inadequate project description that can be modified at will by administrative decision without public review;
· serious conflicts of interest involving at least two members of the board voting on the project and the applicant’s claims nearly two years ago that he already had a super-majority of supervisors in his pocket;
· segmenting and peacemealing the entirely different project of the override of the Castle Land Use Commission decision, which requires its own EIR;
· deliberate failure of the County to make essential project documents available to the public in a timely manner;
· failure of the land-use authority to perform its mandatory duty to consult federal resource regulatory agencies on the environmental impacts of the proposed project;
· failure to do any analysis on the economic impacts of the proposed project on the Castle Commercial-Aviation Economic Development area;
· failure of the County to do cumulative economic impact studies on the impacts of this proposed project and other commercial, growth-inducing anchor tenants;
· failure of the County to consider the negative impact on the proposed project of the third failure of the transportation tax measure;

OPEN APPEAL TO MERCED COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Dear Supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson, Kelsey and O’Banion: November 27, 2006

Thank you, Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, for scheduling three town-hall meetings this week to address the immediate impacts that the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park will have on your district. We would ask that supervisors Pedrozo, Crookham, Nelson and O’Banion also schedule meetings in their districts and listen to their constituents’ concerns about the RMP project.

Town-hall meetings are not formal hearings and we question how much impact they will have. However, the Board of Supervisors has closed the public hearing. At this stage, town-hall meetings appear to be the best way we have to afford citizens the opportunity to participate in the process.

At the close of the public hearing on RMP, there was still no traffic plan. The traffic study that had been done was based on a flawed, deceptive traffic count in the wrong season for either agricultural harvests or auto racing. This is unacceptable to the public.

The RMP project proposes that District 4’s rural two-lane roads be used as highways for thousands of cars to reach the raceway site. The RMP project will negatively impact the roads, environment and public health and safety of other districts as well. Districts 1, 2, and 3 (Livingston, Atwater & Merced) will be impacted by traffic congestion, slowed response by emergency vehicles, noise, and air quality threats of the project.

All residents will be impacted by road deterioration. Our nationally recognized air pollution could ultimately cause the federal government to stop highway funds until we make greater efforts to clean up our air. We will then be asked to raise our taxes to fix the roads because development does not pay its way.

All Merced County residents will be impacted when the Board of Supervisors lowers the standards of our out-dated General Plan to accommodate the RMP project. The Board should not even consider projects with the massive impacts of RMP before it updates the county General Plan.

We request that the Board of Supervisors do the following:

· hold meetings in all the districts and be accountable to those that elected you to represent our County, not developers’ interests;
· re-open the public hearing on RMP, since about 50 people were not able to testify at the last hearing;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review RMP’s and the Planning Department’s responses to public testimony;
· re-circulate RMP environmental documents to allow the public to review the traffic study, which was not finished at the time of the public hearing.
· not decide on RMP or other large development projects before the County has finished updating its General Plan.

Thank you.
Tom Grave
Merced County- Citizens Against the Raceway

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Write and call your supervisor and tell them to reopen the public hearing and/or deny this project.

Attend Board of Supervisor meetings on Dec. 12 at 5 p.m. and on Dec. 19 at 10 a.m.

Write and call Congressman Cardoza, whose wife is a doctor.

Write and call state Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Paid for by Citizens Against RMP

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Conglomerate bagman flying quietly under the radar

Submitted: Dec 10, 2006

Castle Farms, Toronto-based Brookfield’s stake in Merced County, has a big interest in a vote the Merced County Board of Supervisors will be taking on Dec. 12. If the noise zone of Castle airport is diminished from two miles to one mile, Castle Farms may be able to develop the back part of its property, which it has claimed would be left in open space.

The board is voting on this Castle Aviation and Economic Development issue because, since the Castle joint powers agreement between the County and the cities of Merced and Atwater fell apart, the County has had sole land-use authority over the former airbase. They also have land-use authority over the RMP land, which in unincorporated. So, wearing one hat, supervisors will vote to diminish the noise zone of the Castle airport, and wearing another, they will vote – according to best informed guesses – to approve the racetrack.

Then, the supervisors will sit back and watch the lawsuits fly, knowing they are indemnified by RMP from having to pay legal fees and costs arising from their decision, irresponsible to the environment and public health and safety.

However, from the public point of view, considering the mutually reinforcing negative environmental impacts of the three projects -- the airport, the RMP, and the Castle Farms should be considered one and the same from the viewpoint of the California Environmental Quality Act. Both RMP and Castle Farms plans rely to a significant extent on the decision to reduce the airport’s noise zone. All three of the projects look to one land-use authority, the County. If the CEQA legal term, cumulative impacts, is to retain any meaning in law or policy, the decision to override “for economic reasons” the airport’s 2-mile noise zone will have cumulative impacts from the western part of the City of Merced into an area stretching to the Merced River Corridor, Atwater, Winton, Cressey, Ballico, and Delhi because it will pave the way from the RMP project and permit expansion of the Castle Farms project.

A representative of the Canadian financial conglomerate, Brascan, of which Brookfield is a subsidiary and Castle Farms is a project, will be watching the supervisors’ vote on the airport with deep interest.

The Roseville-based conglomerate’s representative is described in the Sacramento business press as a “veteran land-development consultant,” linked with Angelo Tsakopoulos and Eli Broad in projects in Natomas (a major flood plain) and about 6,000 acres west of Roseville. He came to Merced about two years ago and began to show up in all kinds of interesting groups.

In the past year, an entity called Brookfield Castle Del Mar directed $43,000 to the measures A and G campaigns to raise sales taxes to pay for new roads, a direct benefit to Castle Farms and RMP. How much Brookfield money has been directed into the campaign war chests of supervisors is an interesting question.

Toronto-based Brookfield Homes is a subsidiary of the Canadian conglomerate, Brascan. According to the Brookfield website:

Brascan is engaged in the business of asset management with a focus on real estate and power generation. The company’s assets include about 70 office properties in seven major North American cities and London and 120 power generating facilities, primarily located in the northeast. In addition, the company provides a host of management and advisory services, primarily in the real estate sector to corporate and individual clients. Brascan is recognized as a developer of master planned residential communities in both Canada and the United States. The primary operations are real estate, power generation and asset management.

Brascan operates in many areas of the real estate business. The company owns and manages a portfolio of office properties, develops master planned residential communities and offers its clients an array of bridge and mezzanine lending, alternative asset funds and financial and advisory services. The company’s master planned residential community business is conducted under established trade names Brascan, Brookfield Homes and Carma, with operations in six North American markets: California, Virginia, Denver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto and two markets in South America: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brascan also builds homes for sale and develops commercial lands and income properties for investment and sale.

The company has created a platform of alternative asset funds within the real estate sector. The funds managed by the company and its co-investors include: Brascan Real Estate Finance Fund, Brascan Real Estate Opportunity Fund, and the TriContinental Capital Fund. The company also manages the Royal LePage Franchise Services Fund, a royalty fund targeting primarily retail investors … Brascan's asset management activities are focused on alternative investments, including private equity and direct investments in real estate; and energy and resource assets. The asset management business of Brascan has clients which include pension funds, life insurance companies, financial institutions, corporations and high net-worth individuals. In addition, Brascan also develops and manages structured investment products and companies designed to appeal to specific investors including income trusts, split-share companies and asset securitizations. Brascan also manages a number of hedge funds. The company also has investments in privately-held investment management and mutual fund companies that manage equity and fixed income investments.

-- http://www.brookfield.com/

So, on Tuesday, follow the money to discover why the supervisors don’t take the obvious step that would stop the racetrack: voting down the airport noise-zone reduction.

Brookfield is one of the biggest, richest development corporations operating in California. This Canadian assets/real estate/energy conglomerate last year bought Olympia & York, which, until its spectacular collapse in the London commercial real estate market, was the largest development company in the world.

The rumor is that distressed developers with unfinished subdivisions are flocking to the deep pockets represented by the veteran Roseville development consultant.

The benefit to Castle Farms from reducing the airport noise zone may prove once again the ancient political truism: No matter how screwed up and destructive a situation is – politically, economically and environmentally -- it always benefits somebody, usually the guy with the deepest pockets.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

-- Sacramento Business Journal, March 21, 2003

In order to approve the reduction of the airport noise zone and approve the RMP environmental impact report, the supervisors will have to employ something called an “economic override.” In the case of the EIR, they will have to find that economic benefits override 34 “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. But, whose economics are overriding whose? No economic benefits from the project for Merced County are liable to offset the economic disruption to agriculture in the whole region from Highway 99 to the Merced River Corridor and Delhi to west Merced.

Badlands editorial staff
--------------------------

Notes:

10-25-06
Merced Sun-Star
Supervisors override ban on building near airports
...Corinne Reilly
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12933413p-13590023c.html
The Merced County Board of Supervisors issued a preliminary decision Tuesday to override a 2003 finding that plans for the Riverside Motorsports Park conflict with land use rules at Castle Airport. The Airport Land Use Commission ruled three years ago that plans to build the 1,200-acre motorsports venue adjacent to the airport conflict with the county's 1999 Airport Land Use Plan. Specifically, raceway plans conflict with a safety zone rule that bans development within 10,000 feet of an airport runway. Questions over the legitimacy of the commission's finding were raised when the county's Department of Commerce, Aviation and Economic Development began updating Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center's master plan four months ago to reflect new state guidelines on land use near airports. Under the new state guidelines -- on which local airport land use plans are often heavily based -- development is only banned within 6,000 feet of runways...the conflict between raceway plans and airport rules would be eliminated, said John Fowler, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development. "The problem is that the local plan is inconsistent with the state of California's plan," Fowler told the board during Tuesday's meeting. Tuesday's unanimous vote doesn't mean an end to the debate...board's decision kicks off a 45-day comment period during which local, state and federal aviation agencies can give their input on whether the raceway's proximity to Castle poses a risk...board is scheduled to make its final decision to approve or deny plans for the raceway on Dec. 12.

6-3-05
The Wall Street Journal Online
Brookfield Consortium Buys O&Y Portfolio

http://www.realestatejournal.com/propertyreport/office/20050603-heinzl.html
By Mark Heinzl and Ryan Chittum
TORONTO -- A consortium led by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Brookfield Properties Corp. agreed to acquire O&Y Properties Corp. and a related real-estate investment trust for about 1.1 billion Canadian dollars (US$880 million).
O&Y Properties' flagship property is Toronto's First Canadian Place, a 72-story office complex in the heart of the city's financial district and home to Bank of Montreal's headquarters. Including liabilities, the value of the transaction is about C$2 billion, Brookfield said.
Brookfield, controlled by Toronto conglomerate Brascan Corp., owns 46 commercial properties, including New York's World Financial Center. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board makes investments on behalf of the country's national pension program…

3-21-03
Sacramento Business Journal
Placer university land gift could net developer hundreds of millions

by Mike McCarthy
http://sacramento.bizjournals.com/sacramento/stories/2003/03/24/story2.html

Borrowing a page from local history could put hundreds of millions of dollars in the pockets of land developer Angelo Tsakopoulos and his investment partners.

Many local real estate players believe that Tsakopoulos is donating land west of Roseville for a Catholic university to help him eventually win development approval for land he controls around the college parcels.

If they are correct and Tsakopoulos gains urban zoning for the agricultural land, he and his partners stand to garner huge profits. Some estimate the value of the land that could be rezoned for home construction could reach $800 million — a 1,094 percent increase from average current values.

Real estate observers are neither shocked nor surprised that Tsakopoulos might donate the land to gain leverage. On the contrary, it is seen as a very smart move, and not at all unusual in the land game.

"That's how the public gets a lot of things, and it's nothing new," said Cameron Doyel, a veteran Sacramento land-development consultant. "There's nothing wrong with the profit motive, if it's a clean deal.”

Locally, the practice of giving land in hopes of improving one's nearby investment dates to the mid-1800s when John Sutter Jr. laid out Sacramento's land plan, including parks to be donated to the city in return for development of surrounding parcels, Doyel said.

Environmentalists resent the Placer County move because it could lead to the development of so much open space, on and even beyond the university land.

"There are environmental considerations," said Al Green, a spokesman for the Sierra Club's Placer Group. "We have to speak for wildlife. It can't speak for itself."

Whether Tsakopoulos' group eventually tries to get the land near the proposed school developed, the aging developer really wants to make a lasting cultural contribution to the Sacramento area in the form of the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, Angelo's son and the spearhead for the project.

"I've been very fortunate in life," added the younger Tsakopoulos. "I'd like to do something really meaningful, so I could look back and say I left this place a little better."

Angelo Tsakopoulos last week announced that he and his associates would donate 600 acres for a university site to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the system that owns Saint Mary's College in Moraga and other colleges around the world. Another 500 nearby acres would be donated to be developed and sold for up to $100 million, and all of the proceeds would go to pay for building the university, said Kyriakos Tsakopoulos.

All of the land is located west of Roseville on land now zoned for agriculture. The younger Tsakopoulos stressed that the donation is not accompanied by any request that additional lands be entitled for development.

If, someday, the landowners decide to seek those entitlements, they will still have to pass muster with local officials, he pointed out. "Something like that would be a long way down the road," added Tsakopoulos, who expects his own company, KT Development Corp., will spend four years or more working to get the donated land approved and ready for construction.

But who's counting? Pundits say Angelo Tsakopoulos, who has tried unsuccessfully in the past to get zoning changed on much of the land, stands to reap a sweet harvest if he can do it this time around, when local developable land is scarce and demand is breaking all records.

He controls more than 6,000 acres of agricultural land in south Placer County, including some 5,400 acres just west of the West Roseville Specific Plan area that the city plans to annex, said Dave Jarrette, a partner and land expert in the Roseville appraisal firm of Giannelli, Jarrette & Waters.

Land like that is now selling for $10,000 to $15,000 an acre, and Tsakopoulos bought much of it for considerably less, said several veterans of the Sacramento land market.

The higher prices are for land closer to Roseville, where the likelihood of urbanization is greater. Figuring an average value of $12,500 an acre, the total current value is around $67 million.

If Placer County rezoned the land for residential development, the value would instantly skyrocket to about $60,000 per acre, estimated experts in the land business.

Tsakopoulos would not likely be able to get zoning for home construction on all of the acreage, however. From one-third to 40 percent of the land would likely be for schools, parks and other nondevelopment uses. More would be used to preserve wildlife habitat.

But if Tsakopoulos were able to win rezoning for only 2,000 acres, not counting the 1,100 acres of university land — a reasonable possibility — the value would be some $120 million. That's a 79 percent increase.

If he won the next level of approvals, the creation of tentative maps for parcels, the value would shoot to $150,000 per acre for a total of $300 million, estimated veterans of the land game.

If he took the project further, developing the infrastructure and "finishing" parcels so they are ready to build houses on, he could get at least $400,000 per acre — $800 million in today's dollars.

All of these calculations are based on the observers' estimates of current land value — $67 million. Most of the pundits figure Tsakopoulos and his partners bought or optioned the land for about $2,500 an acre — a normal value for agricultural land, reflecting an investment of less than $14 million.

Should the land be declared permanent open space, the value would probably drop back to that basic, agricultural amount.

At least one professional estimated Tsakopoulos would need to pump another $12 million into getting the land entitled. He surely has already invested millions in the land, including his purchase price of the land and any mortgage payments he may have. But it seems likely that the increase in value would more than compensate for his expense, they said.

A land developer's view: Tsakopoulos' huge landholding west of Roseville runs from the 3,100-acre West Roseville Specific Plan, which Roseville is about to annex, westward to the Sutter County line, Jarrette said.

The stretch runs about four miles east to west and approximately the same distance north to south at its widest point.

The tract is clearly in the path of growth.

On the east, Roseville is annexing toward the Tsakopoulos holdings. To the south, Placer County is processing development approval for the 5,200-acre Placer Vineyards area, in which Tsakopoulos is a major landowner. Just south and west of Placer Vineyards, Sacramento County is processing large tracts for development near Elverta and east of Interstate 5 near Sacramento International Airport. To the west, Sutter County is pushing to develop a huge industrial park.

The combination of these with the Tsakopoulos land would create a new urban corridor between Roseville and the airport.

On top of that, Placer County is planning to build Placer Parkway, an expressway that would connect Highway 65 to Highway 99/70 near the airport. The route would likely pass through Tsakopoulos' land, just north of the future university site.

From a land developer's perspective, the scenario means the land in west Placer is a natural for urban zoning. "It will all fill in someday," said one prominent land expert who asked not to be named.

But there are obstacles. For one, Placer County in 1994 declared the whole area out of bounds to development. Also, the Placer Parkway proposal includes no offramps — a move intended to inhibit growth along the expressway, said Terry Davis, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

And a Placer County committee working to create a huge habitat preserve in the west county sees the Tsakopoulos land, rich in habitat, as a prime candidate to be part of the preserve, he added.

Strategic maneuvering: Tsakopoulos' donation is seen by many as a business strategy that accomplishes several ends for him, beyond the philanthropic contribution.

First and foremost, observers generally expect that the gift of higher education will prompt the county to ease its development restrictions on Tsakopoulos' surrounding land. The gift of the additional 500 acres to fund the university simply makes the idea of zoning the land for development even more compelling for authorities.

Also helping Tsakopoulos, the university land would need public works infrastructure if the county wants to see the university developed. That means lines for electricity, water and wastewater, as well as roads, would have to be built there. This infrastructure in turn would make it easier to develop his adjacent land.

Moreover, the university land is close to the likely route for the Placer Parkway, putting enormous pressure on the county to create one or more connections from the parkway to serve the university, Davis noted. An interchange on the parkway also would make it easier to develop adjacent land.

If the donation ultimately leads to development approval for the balance of Tsakopoulos' land, the likelihood that his land would be used for a habitat area is reduced, Davis said.

Tsakopoulos also owns 900 acres to the north and west of Roseville, at the intersection of Fiddyment Road and Sunset Boulevard West. Much of the acreage between that piece and his west-of-Roseville holdings is controlled by major land developers, including insurance magnate Eli Broad and Brookfield Homes, a major Canadian homebuilder.

10-14-06
Merced Sun-Star
Smoother roads ahead?
...Leslie Albrecht
http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12897397p-13556945c.html
Measure G...For the third time in four years, voters will be asked to support a sales tax increase for road improvements...needs approval from 66.7 percent of voters to pass, debuted in November 2002 as Measure M. It failed, earning 61 percent of the vote. In June 2006 it was reborn as Measure A and garnered 63 percent of the vote, falling 795 votes shy of winning. Just five months later, it's back as Measure G. But with each failure, the voices of those opposed to the measure have grown louder. While there is no organized campaign against Measure G, grumblings from the Letters to the Editor section of the Sun-Star show the battle to finally pass the measure is far from over. If it passes, Measure G will hike the sales tax in the city of Merced to 8.25 percent -- within spitting distance of San Francisco's 8.5 percent -- for the next 30 years...would generate $446 million to help fund transportation projects countywide, from reconstructing Livingston's Main Street to building a new Bradley Overhead. Half the money would go to road maintenance. Kelsey said a Caltrans representative told the county earlier this week that if the governor's infrastructure bond measure passes and Merced achieves self-help status with Measure G, the county will be eligible for funding to widen Highway 99 from the Stanislaus County line to Livingston. The measure's most prominent critic is Cathleen Galgiani, a Democrat running for Assembly against Republican Gerry Machado...said the statewide transportation bond measure on the November ballot will provide funding for Merced County roads...noted that the transportation bond will set aside $614 million for eight Central Valley counties in addition to the $1 billion earmarked for widening Highway 99. William Stockard, a retired superintendent of Merced County schools, said Measure G only benefits developers and other businesses like the proposed Riverside Motorsports Park and the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center that "want to get free money."...said the county should cover the cost of road maintenance by charging developers higher impact fees when they build here. Charles Magneson, a farmer near Ballico-Cressey, said he's opposed to Measure G because some of the projects it would fund will create sprawl and eat up farmland..."(Measure G is) heavily funded by developers that are looking for those roads to encroach on farmland to make their developments possible." In June, fliers denouncing Measure A as "welfare subsidies for the Building Industry Association" appeared in the Sun-Star three days before the election. Measure G campaign has tweaked its strategy...raised about $200,000...with the large contributions from donors like developer Brookfield Castle LLC, Del Mar; construction company Teichert & Son, Sacramento; Foster Farms, Livingston; E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto; K. Hovanian Forecast Homes, Sacramento; Wellington Corporation, Morgan Hill; Team 31, inc., Morgan Hill; Atwater East Investors, Danville; and Ferraire Investment Company; Balico...endorsements from Rep. Dennis Cardoza, all three Merced chambers of commerce, five county newspapers including the Sun-Star, the entire County Board of Supervisors and the entire Merced City Council. If it doesn't win, Measure G could come back, but by law supporters would have to wait until the November 2008 election.

10-23-06
Badlandsjournal.com
Re: Public hearing to consider the issuance of a proposed decision and findings regarding the Airport Land Use Commission's Finding as to consistency between the Airport Land Use Plan and the Riverside Motorsports Park Project- PH #2-10:00am

For more background on the airport noise-zone issue, see this letter of comment from San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW) to the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

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Racetrack promotion meets reality on narrow country roads

Submitted: Dec 08, 2006

The Riverside Motorsports Park/Merced County government pitch for a world-class motor sports facility met a political pitchfork from the nation’s second-largest dairy county on Dec. 5, at the county Board of Supervisors public comment period.

In a short, prepared address concluding the comment period, board Chairman Mike Nelson abused a privileged moment by attacking the public. Nelson’s pitch was that the “leadership of the opposition to the racetrack” had a right to its opinion, but RMP also had a right to its opinion.

In fact, RMP’s position is clearly stated in the environmental review process. The purpose of the environmental review process is to get everybody else’s concerns about a project, not just its proponent’s opinions.

This opponent leadership is always “the same people,” Nelson told the public.

In fact, public opposition to this project is growing by the day as it finds out more about the project and its flaws.

Nelson said, “these same people” time and time again, “try to CEQA projects to death.” They don’t like any projects, he said. In Nelson’s opinion, these leaders of the opponents to the RMP are just a bunch a “NIMBYs.”

“Rarely do we hear any alternatives or mitigation measures proposed” by the leaders of the opponents, he said. “But these people don’t speak for the public,” he said, alleging that a poll taken in Atwater showed a majority of its citizens in favor of the track, located at a site adjoining Atwater.

Members of the audience asked Nelson if they could discuss his claims with him.

“No,” Nelson said, gaveling an end to the morning session, prolonged by almost two hours of 5-minute public comments, a time limit rigidly enforced by Nelson.

To say that the opposition is being led by anybody is a factually challenged statement, but characteristic of the Merced County government, entitled as always to its opinion.

Members of the public against the project weren’t stating opinions but were giving their best analysis of basic, drastic facts. The newest angle on the traffic problem came from dairy families and a custom farmer in the district where, RMP traffic consultants anticipate, possibly four days a week, narrow country roads will be jammed with the cars of concert and race spectators. This will interfere with tight harvest and post-harvest handling schedules, particularly in corn, most of which is harvested about the same time. The possibility of traffic jams interfering with harvest schedules quickly turns to the quantity and quality of dairy feed. Presently, dairies are into months of production below cost, which heightens dairymen’s concerns about all costs, and the quantity and quality of their feed. Jamming narrow country roads with out-of-town auto-racing spectators is a threat to the whole region’s agricultural system, which needs those roads for dairy trucks, tractors, harvesting equipment and feed trucks. And that threat doesn’t include the issue of delayed emergency services, which already take a half an hour.

Farmers and ranchers have had to comply with ever-changing environmental regulations on the parts of their operations that pollute air and water. They look at the RMP environmental impact report and see 34 “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts,” and say if regulation is good for agriculture, it is also good for the motor sports industry, at least in Merced, one of the nation’s premiere agricultural counties.

One dairyman said that if it took six years to get the project right, he urged the board to take the six years if necessary. In fact, farming operations have had to wait as long as six years to get environmental compliance. He added that the board will regain the trust of its constituents by taking the time to do it right, rather than losing the trust of the people doing it the way they are doing it.

You might be able to get away with saying, “So-and-so is an eminent leader, and has long been widely recognized in his business domain.” But if you put those two words side-by-side and speak the term, eminent domain, people become justifiably alarmed. Why the secrecy? That should have been part in the environmental review process. Why was this possibility on certain old, narrow country roads only made known to the public after the public hearing on the environmental review was closed?

Nelson ended his prepared address by noting correctly that none of the testimony at Supervisor Diedre Kelsey’s town hall meetings had any legal force because the public hearing on the RMP environmental review has been closed. In reply to a question on that point at her Delhi town hall meeting, Kelsey said that she could gather new information and inform the supervisors in their discussion of the issue when it comes up for a vote. However, important new information that came out of the meetings from county staff, not from the public.

Everything about this project has the appearance of underhanded dealing for the benefit of special interests. In one commission of bureaucratic slight-of-hand, there will be two votes on the zoning changes and the General Plan amendment necessary to approve the EIR, one expressing “intent” to approve on Dec. 12, the other to approve, on Dec. 19. In another act of tricky dealing, the board will take a crucial vote on the Castle airport noise zone on Dec. 12, without which the RMP project cannot move forward. Some members of the public have already publicly argued for the administrative record in the public hearing that the Castle airport must be a part of the RMP environmental review. Dealing with it the way it is doing, the County is fragmenting and piecemealing the environmental review process.

Experienced observers of Merced County government notice that this sort of bureaucratic trickery reinforces the public opinion that this government is either incompetent, corrupt or both. The learned “experts” on the staff arise and “explain” to the public their ridiculous bureaucratic shenanigans as if they were the latest thing in good planning.

Meanwhile, in the backroom, a select group of representatives of broad-based public organizations receive doses of political cynicism and political impotence from supervisors. It all boils down to the same message: “We are the government. You are the public. We work for special interests. We and special interests win. The public and the Public Trust lose.”

Yet another act of bureaucratic trickery is the indemnification agreement between the County and RMP, which commits RMP to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits the public might bring against the project. In response to a public request to view the indemnification agreement, the County produced an agreement, signed by RMP but unsigned by the County. Approval of the RMP indemnification agreement is on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for Dec. 12.

The Castle airport issue is another bureaucratic hinky wrinkle in the public process. The last we heard, it needed a 4-1 vote to pass. Without it, the RMP project is stopped. It is an intrinsic part of the RMP project that is not considered in the RMP environmental review. Will Kelsey, the hero de jour, stand up for proper public process and vote against it? Will she get another vote against it?

With one stunning exception, important new information has not come from the public from the town hall meetings in either Ballico, Delhi, Winton or the Merced River Corridor. The new information, mainly about anticipated traffic patterns and the eminent domain problem, came from county staff at the town hall meetings. However, the claim by opponents of the project that neither county staff nor project consultants had considered the number of schools located on those narrow country roads is genuinely new, important information concerning the health and safety of children, apart from the broader issue of increased air pollution.

So, where does that leave the public, which Nelson says the opponents of the project cannot speak for, and the project? The California Environmental Quality Act is state law and lays out a procedure for making and voting on EIRs. That procedure includes a public hearing period. The board held one public hearing two weeks ago. Nelson is right: the town hall meetings and the Dec. 5 public-comment period testimony don’t matter for the purposes of CEQA..

It’s clear that public debate is opening up new questions and new information. Yet the public hearing under CEQA is closed. There is an adequate amount of factual information in the official record for the supervisors to reopen the public hearing.

“Time plus integrity produces answers,” one member of the public told the supervisors.

Nelson appeared to be running a campaign for himself rather than chairing a county board of supervisors on a serious issue about a project whose environmental and economic studies are very far from adequate to describe its impacts. Yet, he speaks for the board, identifying a conspiracy of environmental radicals behind every member of the public getting up to express her or his anxiety and anger about the RMP project.

The apparent critic of the project on the board, Kelsey, may be providing toothless forums in her districts for people with serious concerns about RMP impacts, but she is hardly a leader of opposition to the project. If she were, she would not be publicly claiming whenever and wherever possible that she hasn’t made her mind up how she will vote. And she would have moved to keep the public hearing open before it was closed. In fact, the public needs to be very careful about Kelsey, because what we might be seeing here is merely political rivalry between two Republicans seeking higher office jerking around public concerns.

One member of the public chastised Nelson for being rude to a previous speaker. Nelson replied coldly that his comment had been noted.

Where were the other supervisors today? Why weren’t they stepping up and defending the public process? Where is Congressman Cardoza or his staff, state Sen. Jeff Denham or Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani or Matthews or their staffs? The public process by which these massive, environmentally destructive development projects are rubber-stamped in Merced County is broken. It needs the defense of elected officials. It does not need their continual offense.

And, speaking of giving offense to the public process, we include Chairman Nelson’s concluding remarks:

There have been many well meaning, well intentioned leaders of the opposition to the RMP project. I’ve talked to many of them. While we always don’t agree on things (sic) , I have been open to suggestions that they have made. But, just as they have a right to their opinions, the project proponents have a right to their opinions as well.

In my four years on this board, many projects have been proposed. Opponents of this project are many of the same faces we have seen time and time again – those who continually attempt to CEQA projects to death.

You know, CEQA was meant to identify and address environmental concerns. This has been done. The problem appears to me, however, that members of the opposition just don’t like the answers.

I continually hear, “We’re not against racing but the location is wrong,” in essence, “Not In My Back Yard!”

Well, the same can be said for a host of other projects: UC Merced, the UC Community, various housing projects. The list goes on and on.

Rarely do we hear alternatives or mitigations being proposed, other than, “Don’t build it!”

I also keep hearing that many opponents in this audience speak for “the public.”

This is simply not true, at least in District 3.

There was a survey taken back this past spring. Sixty percent of those surveyed were in favor of the project.

The recent call for town hall meetings may be appropriate, however, only with the understanding that public hearings have already been closed on this matter. And, I might point out that there have been many opportunities provided the public to find out about this project.

Next week’s meeting will be a challenge, no doubt. I just hope that the opponents will consider that their opinions are not the only ones that matter.

Thank you.

With that, we’re adjourned for lunch.
---------------------------

To which, some members of the public reply:

· Nelson and the other supervisors refused to meet with members of the public opposed to the RMP project before the close of the public hearing. Afterwards, town hall meetings were held and supervisors met with known opponents. So what?

· Members of the audience were in many instances not offering opinions but responsible estimates (far more realistic and better informed than the project environmental traffic analysis), based on intimate experience with the transportation system, schools and agricultural schedule of the Delhi-Amsterdam-Winton-Merced River Corridor area. People who made written and oral comments to the RMP environmental review used facts, not opinions, to make their arguments.

· Most of the Merced public has not been involved in any CEQA arguments about development projects in Merced County. There are many new faces among the opponents to the RMP project. (Mr. Nelson is beginning his old rightwing war whoop here -- environmentalist-bashing.)

· An environmental review that leaves 34 environmental impacts “significant and unavoidable” glances at environmental issues; it does not address them.

· To the charge of “Not In My Back Yard,” or “NIMBYism,” one must reply: You bet we are trying to defend our backyard against the corrupt influence of special interests on you and the board. That corrupt influence is ruinous to our air and water quality, our road system, our agricultural operations and our natural resources. It is also dangerous to children.

· CEQA does not require the public to do analysis, mitigation, be experts, or offer alternatives.

· The 60-percent of Atwater residents Nelson alleges were in favor of the RMP project weren’t informed in the survey that the County would invoke eminent domain to widen country roads into Atwater to facilitate traffic from Delhi. They weren’t informed that there was no traffic study. They weren’t informed of the number of schools on those routes. They weren’t asked for their approval of the project despite the disruption it would cause normal agricultural operations in the area. The survey wasn’t included in the RMP environmental review. Who wrote the survey and who conducted it?

· The public has been and is standing, and will stand before the board on this project, the next project, and “on and on.”

· They do have legal standing to bring suits on behalf of the public for County noncompliance with environmental law. Most of the people who submitted written and oral testimony during this meeting, town hall meetings and public hearings on this project, represent themselves, their neighbors and their groups. Most of them could prove harm and adverse impacts from this project within the meaning of a number of environmental statutes and regulations. The same is true for regulatory agencies and staff.

· Mr. Chairman, you may be so narrowly focused on special interests that you cannot listen to public concerns that differ from your views. In lieu of so much as a peep out of them, the public assumes you speak for the rest of the supervisors as well, including Kelsey sitting on her fence. No supervisor objected to your offensive oration after the public spent two hours trying to explain, with facts, the major problems with a motorsports park at that location. No supervisor intervened to protect members of the public from your rudeness and unprofessional conduct during the public comment period. You are the politically incompetent chairman of a politically incompetent board and the Merced public is finding your individual and collective incompetence unacceptable dangers to environmental public health and safety. You have broken public due process in this county.

· In the case of development projects, law, at the Merced County Board of Supervisors, boils down to one area: indemnification and hold harmless agreements that commit the developer to pay all legal costs arising from lawsuits brought by the public against abuse of state and federal environmental laws and public process by the County, on behalf of those indemnifying the County. In Merced County, these agreements are being used routinely by local land-use authorities as licenses for environmentally and, in some instances, economically irresponsible land-use decisions. In general, indemnification is a formality because few members of the Merced public have the intestinal fortitude to endure a lawsuit (always accompanied by vilification from public officials, staff and local businessmen).

· You lectured the public who took time off from busy working schedules to come and sincerely tell you their concerns with this project. You use your privileged moment as an opportunity to give them an ideological whipping. You expect us to tolerate political thuggery.

· Mr. Chairman, you are a bully. You are bringing all the contempt for the public in the backroom – from the Planning Department, County Counsel, special interest consultants, supervisors, the offices of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, adjoining your offices – into the board chambers in public session. But the public – concerned, thoughtful, factual – won’t go away just because you choose to trample on the laws and regulations of public process and call the public politically dirty names. The public won’t disappear just because a set of county supervisors chooses to ignore it. The offices you hold and the local land-use authority you have won’t disappear just because you abuse the authority of your office on behalf of special interests rather than in the public interest.

Badlands editorial staff

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Biofuels: a critical perspective

Submitted: Nov 02, 2006

Most people have some trouble developing a critical point of view on an issue without a little help from critics. As it stands in the southern tier of the Pomboza (that part of the district controlled by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Polar Bear/Shrimp Slayer-Merced) biofuel is the hottest technology since the six-foot, deep-ripping chisel, built to tear up seasonal grasslands for temporary orchards and vineyards that will become subdivisions. And we won’t get no help from the newspaper.

Now, Merced dairymen working out their Midwest corn budgets for next year, will complain to each other and their bankers about a price hike, which they are told is the result of competition with biofuel. But farmers are price takers. They are used to it and accept it and don’t try to think about it too much, particularly when milk prices are down below breakeven.

The article below is a good rundown on criticisms of the latest “ecological” fad, biofuels, and should help restore our sane view that Cardoza is the same-old, same-old, ignorant hustler he always has been despite his latest reinvention of himself as a post-Pombo environmentalist with solar panels on his roof.

Bill Hatch

Running on Hype
The Real Scoop on Biofuels
By BRIAN TOKAR
Counterpunch.com – Nov. 1, 2006

You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how they're going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems' Vinod Khosla, and other major venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production, whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the US today, or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It's literally a "modern day gold rush," as described by the New York Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production.

The Times reported earlier this year that some 40 new ethanol plants are currently under construction in the US, aiming toward a 30 percent increase in domestic production. Archer Daniels Midland, the company that first sold the idea of corn-derived ethanol as an auto fuel to Congress in the late 1970s, has doubled its stock price and profits over the last two years. ADM currently controls a quarter of US ethanol fuel production, and recently hired a former Chevron executive as its CEO.

Several well-respected analysts have raised serious concerns about this rapid diversion of food crops toward the production of fuel for automobiles. WorldWatch Institute founder Lester Brown, long concerned about the sustainability of world food supplies, says that fuel producers are already competing with food processors in the world's grain markets. "Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in grain production this year," reports Brown, a serious concern in a world where the grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year. Others have dismissed the ethanol gold rush as nothing more than the subsidized burning of food to run automobiles.

The biofuel rush is having a significant impact worldwide as well. Brazil, often touted as the the most impressive biofuel success story, is using half its annual sugarcane crop to provide 40 percent of its auto fuel, while increasing deforestation to grow more sugarcane and soybeans. Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests are being bulldozed for oil palm plantations-threatening endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and countless other species-in order to serve at the booming European market for biodiesel.

Are these reasonable tradeoffs for a troubled planet, or merely another corporate push for profits? Two new studies, both released this past summer, aim to document the full consequences of the new biofuel economy and realistically assess its impact on fuel use, greenhouse gases and agricultural lands. One study, originating from the University of Minnesota, is moderately hopeful in the first two areas, but offers a strong caution about land use. The other, from Cornell University and UC Berkeley, concludes that every domestic biofuel source ­ the ones currently in use as well as those under development ­ produces less energy than is consumed in growing and processing the crops.

The Minnesota researchers attempted a full lifecycle analysis of the production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy. They documented the energy costs of fuel production, pesticide use, transportation, and other key factors, and also accounted for the energy equivalent of soy and corn byproducts that remain for other uses after the fuel is extracted. Their paper, published in the July 25th edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that ethanol production offers a modest net energy gain of 25%, resulting in 12% less greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of gasoline. The numbers for biodiesel are more promising, with a 93% net energy gain and a 41% reduction in greenhouse gases.

The researchers cautioned, however, that these figures do not account for the significant environmental damage from increased acreages of these crops, including the impacts of pesticides, nitrate runoff into water supplies, nor the increased demand on water, as "energy crops" like corn and soy begin to displace more drought tolerant crops such as wheat in several Midwestern states.

The most serious impact, though, is on land use. The Minnesota paper reports that in 2005, 14% of the US corn harvest was used to produce some 6 million gallons of ethanol, equivalent to 1.7% of current gasoline usage. About 1 1/2 percent of the soy harvest produced 120 million gallons of biodiesel, equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent of gas usage. This means that if all of the country's corn harvest was used to make ethanol, it would displace 12% of our gas; all of our soybeans would displace about 6% of the gas. But if the energy used in producing these biofuels is taken into account ­ the fact that 80% of the energy goes into production in the case of corn ethanol, and almost 50% in the case of soy biodiesel, the entire soy and corn crops combined would only satisfy 5.3% of current fuel needs. This is where the serious strain on food supplies and prices originates.

The Cornell study is even more skeptical. Released in July, it was the product of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell agriculturalist David Pimentel, environmental engineer Ted Patzek, and their colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, and was published in the journal Natural Resources Research. This study found that, in balance, making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil fuel than the net energy produced and biodisel from soy results in a net energy loss of 27%. Other crops, touted as solutions to the apparent diseconomy of current methods, offer even worse results.

Switchgrass, for example, can grow on marginal land and presumably won't compete with food production (you may recall George Bush's mumbling about switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union speech), but it requires 45% more energy to harvest and process than the energy value of the fuel that is produced. Wood biomass requires 57% more energy than it produces, and sunflowers require more than twice as much energy than is available in the fuel that is produced. "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," said David Pimentel in a Cornell press statement this past July. "These strategies are not sustainable." In a recent article, Harvard environmental scientist Michael McElroy concurred: "[U]nfortunately the promised benefits [of ethanol] prove upon analysis to be largely ephemeral."

Even Brazilian sugarcane, touted as the world's model for conversion from fossil fuels to sustainable "green energy," has its downside. The energy yield appears beyond question: it is claimed that ethanol from sugarcane may produce as much as 8 times as much energy as it takes to grow and process. But a recent World Wildlife Fund report for the International Energy Agency raises serious questions about this approach to future energy independence. It turns out that 80% of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars, but from deforestation-the loss of embedded carbon dioxide when forests are cut down and burned. A hectare of land may save 13 tons of carbon dioxide if it is used to grow sugarcane, but the same hectare can absorb 20 tons of CO2 if it remains forested. If sugarcane and soy plantations continue to encourage deforestation, both in the Amazon and in Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests, any climate advantage is more than outweighed by the loss of the forest.

Genetic engineering, which has utterly failed to produce healthier or more sustainable food-and also failed to create a reliable source of biopharmaceuticals without threatening the safety of our food supply-is now being touted as the answer to sustainable biofuel production. Biofuels were all the buzz at the biotech industry's most recent biotech mega-convention (April 2006), and biotech companies are all competing to cash in on the biofuel bonanza. Syngenta (the world's largest herbicide manufacturer and number three, after Monsanto and DuPont, in seeds) is developing a GE corn variety that contains one of the enzymes needed to convert corn starch into sugar before it can be fermented into ethanol. Companies are vying to increase total starch content, reduce lignin (necessary for the structural integrity of plants but a nuisance for chemical processors), and increase crop yields. Others are proposing huge plantations of fast-growing genetically engineered low-lignin trees to temporarily sequester carbon and ultimately be harvested for ethanol.

However, the utility of incorporating the amylase enzyme into crops is questionable (it's also a potential allergen), gains in starch production are marginal, and the use of genetic engineering to increase crop yields has never proved reliable. Other, more complex traits, such as drought and salt tolerance (to grow energy crops on land unsuited to food production), have been aggressively pursued by geneticists for more than twenty years with scarcely a glimmer of success. Genetically engineered trees, with their long life-cycle, as well as seeds and pollen capable of spreading hundreds of miles in the wild, are potentially a far greater environmental threat than engineered varieties of annual crops. Even Monsanto, always the most aggressive promoter of genetic engineering, has opted to rely on conventional plant breeding for its biofuel research, according to the New York Times. Like "feeding the world" and biopharmaceutical production before it, genetic engineering for biofuels mainly benefits the biotech industry's public relations image.

Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the 1970s through the '90s, the US economy significantly decreased its energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone far beyond us in this respect. But no one has figured out how to make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of wealth and profit.

Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont's Institute for Social Ecology (social-ecology.org), and has edited two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering, Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade and the Globalization of Hunger (Toward Freedom, 2004).

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More benefits of a UC campus in the Valley

Submitted: Jun 01, 2006

The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which UC manages, recently announced plans to build a level-4 bio-defense lab near Tracy. Level-4 labs store the most dangerous diseases known to man -- Ebola, dengue fever, Lassa fever and "other illnesses for which there are no known cures." (1)

Opposition to UC Davis establishing a level-4 lab in Davis was so strong -- including a unanimous vote against it by the Davis City Council -- that the federal government dropped plans to fund a $59-million National Biocontainment Laboratory there in September 2003. (2) Opponents argued that such a lab would be an attraction to terrorists and that UC doesn't have adequate security to obstruct them from spreading the lethal contents of a level-4 bio-defense lab to contaminate the surrounding community.

Proximity to a UC campus, former UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey never tired of repeating, creates an ambition to go to college. It also creates a fear of UC weapons-of-mass-destruction research and mistrust of the bland assurances of adequate security.

At least one Tracy city councilwoman, Irene D. Sundberg ... "noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby.

"'The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine,' she said."

Whose backyard the most dangerous, incurable illnesses in the world should be stored, is the question being argued in federal court. Livermore-based Tri-Valley Citizens Against a Radioactive Environment has appealed their case to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, after their district court suit to stop UC from locating the facility in Livermore. CARE argues that it is madness to locate such dangerous substances in such a heavily populated area, where, in case of accident, under certain wind conditions, plumes of deadly diseases could blow all over the Bay Area, where a number of regents live.

Meanwhile, enter the sheer magic of UC flak. The closer you get to weapons of mass destruction the more magical becomes the UC flak. UC is saying:

By contrast, researchers at the second (Tracy) lab would concentrate to a greater degree on natural- or terrorist-caused agricultural diseases, but might also have the authority to work on extremely virulent human diseases such as Ebola, research on which is not permitted in the lower-ranked lab.

UC mentions hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, keeping the door open for anthrax, Ebola, etc, of course.

The situation seems to be that if UC/Lawrence Livermore wins its appeals court case, the deadliest human diseases will be stored and studied in the Bay Area, the most densely (human) populated area in northern California, while hoof-and-mouth disease, for example, will be studied in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains the densest population of cows in the nation.

This is undoubtedly why our wise leaders invited UC to establish a campus in Merced. This is the kind of enlightened, scientific guidance we dumb farmers need down here in the Valley.

My personal favorite from the selection of UC flak was:

"Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

This rises to the level of fabulously fatuous UC Flak. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported in 2002:

On March 14, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) detailed their research priorities for countering bioterrorism. Their broad goals include increased funding for treatment, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as projects in applied immunology and genomics. These include studies on how pathogens affect humans as well as the genetics of biowarfare agents. [10] The NIH also plans to construct six to 10 new biosafety level-3 and-4 facilities to supplement the seven level-4 facilities that already exist or are nearing completion. In response, several other countries have announced plans to build their own high-containment facilities. This is a recipe for disaster. (3)

Here's the political dilemma. Suppose Councilwoman Sundberg is able to rally as many opponents to the establishment of a level-4 bio-defense lab on the outskirts of her town as citizens of Davis were able to muster to oppose a level-4 lab in the middle of their town on the UC Davis campus. It would seem, in view of several factors, that UC Merced would be the next logical step for UC to take to get the millions in federal grants.

As a university, UC Merced is floundering badly. It appears, according to intermittent word from students, to be operated like a genteel prison camp. Its course offerings are meager, some would say eccentrically high-tech. Its chancellor has just quit. Its vice chancellor spent most of her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Its provost departed precipitously for University of Nevada Las Vegas two weeks ago. UC Merced has posted no information on its search for a new chancellor.

First, UC Merced was going to be the UC campus for all the Valley's Hispanics, who according to UC, wouldn't move away from home to go to college. Then it was going to be the environmental campus. This was the period of the Sierra Nevada Institute and the big Nature Conservancy easement program. In fact, due to vicissitudes in the careers of Gov. Gray Davis and Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres, UC was unable to fully complete the railroading of all local, state and federal environmental laws and regulations the campus violates, leaving the actual location of future phases of UC Merced up in the air. Lately, more of its flak has been about being a "bio-tech engine of growth."

Labeled both a "land deal" and a "boondoggle" in the state Capitol, so far UC Merced has produced nothing but a huge speculative real estate boom in eastern Merced County, from which various regents and legislators and their families have personally benefited, along with local landowners, developers and realtors. The huge amount of investment capital in the area is flooding in from elsewhere, the same elsewhere where the big profits will go.

What if Tracy develops some backbone? Now that so many Pombo Real Estate Ranches have been filled up with Bay Area-commuter, labor-camp subdivisions, Tracy shows more signs of regarding itself as a part of the Bay Area every day. They may well argue among themselves quite eloquently and persuasively that the best place for a level-4 bio-defense lab also studying hoof-and-mouth disease should be the second largest dairy county in the United States, Merced.

Whereas San Joaquin County supervisors and Tracy City Council members may choose to dodge their patriotic duty to accept a level-4 bio-defense lab, one has no doubt about the patriotism of Merced County supervisors on anything pertaining to UC Merced's memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

That only leaves the problem of providing the amenities to attract the top-notch scientists we need to study hoof-and-mouth disease, Ebola, Lassa fever and other fatal, incurable diseases in our neighborhood. Our local leaders, speaking with One Voice, have already taken a positive step in this direction -- improving the roads to UC Merced. Next Tuesday, our leaders invite one of the poorest counties in the state to vote for a sales tax increase -- the most regressive tax possible -- to raise transportation funds.

With leadership like this, Merced should get a level-4 bio-defense lab in less than a year. And what a boon it would be to our stay-at-home minorities, our cows, and our environment!

Bill Hatch
-------------------------

Notes:

(1) San Francisco Chronicle
Livermore considers bio-defense lab in Tracy. Proposed research site might store deadly human diseases...Keay Davidson
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/05/28/BAGLSJ3NVT1.DTL&type=printable
The University of California and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which are already pushing for federal court approval to store and study dangerous microbes at the Livermore lab, have expressed interest in building a second bio-defense lab near Tracy -- a lab that could experiment with even deadlier bugs...if approved and funded by the Department of Homeland Security, the 50,000-square-foot facility near Tracy could come with a ranking of "Biosafety Level Four," a status granted in the United States only to biological labs that store and analyze the world's scariest pathogens, both human and animal -- and lab officials refused to rule out the possibility that they'll study human diseases as well. The proposal for the second lab angered Tracy City Councilwoman Irene D. Sundberg, who noted that the city abuts Site 300 -- as the possible location for the second lab is known -- and new housing is planned nearby..."The (UC Regents) should be putting it in their backyard and not mine." UC officials expressed interest in the possibility of constructing the Tracy facility in a March 31 letter to Homeland Security. UC officials refused to release copies, explaining their letter is "confidential and proprietary" and releasing it might leak secrets to potential competitors for the project. "Lawrence Livermore has a long history of safely and securely working with biological agents," Colston said. "There are hundreds of these facilities in the United States with proven track records."

(2)http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/7356341p-8300182c.html
Huge blow for UCD's lab quest
University fails to win key federal funding.
By Pamela Martineau -- Bee Staff Writer
September 5, 2003

UC Davis' bid for a proposed biolab suffered a crushing setback Thursday when federal officials denied the university funding for a critical research consortium that would have operated out of its proposed facility.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services named eight institutions that will receive five-year grants to operate Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE) where scientists would study infectious diseases and defenses against bioterrorist attacks. University of California, Davis, was not among the grant recipients ... Most opponents say they fear the lab could become the target of terrorists and could spread dangerous pathogens through the community through accidents or safety breaches. Marches and silent protests also have been staged to oppose the project ... Don Mooney, an attorney for the group Stop UCD Bio Lab Now, said he has read the NIH's request for proposals for the National Biocontainment Laboratory thoroughly and he believes UC Davis' loss of the Regional Center of Excellence "should be the end" of the biolab proposal. Davis City Councilman Mike Harrington agreed ...

(3)http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=so02choffnes
Bioweapons: New labs, more terror?
By Eileen Choffnes
September/October 2002 pp. 28-32 (vol. 58, no. 05) © 2002 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

(4) http://www.counterpunch.com/zeese06012006.html
June 1, 2006
Return of the Petri Dish Warriors
A New Biowar Arms Race Begins in Maryland
By KEVIN ZEESE
... Expansion of Bio-Weapons Activity Will Make America, and the World, Less Safe

Not only is this a multi-billion dollar misuse of federal funds, but it will encourage our adversaries to develop similar programs, lead to the invention of new, infectious agents and increase the risk of diversion of U.S. made bio-weapons to our adversaries. If the government really want to increase the safety of Americans the U.S. would invest in the public health system, strengthen international controls and work to remove pathogens from the face of the earth, rather than creating new ones.

The only modern bio-weapons attack was the use of anthrax in letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy at the time the Patriot Act was being considered. There is no question the anthrax used in this attack was produced in the United States and came through Ft. Detrick. The type of anthrax used was the "Ames strain," with a concentration and dispersability of one trillion spores per gram--a technology that is only capable of production by U.S. scientists...

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Some reasons that could explain the Modesto Bee endorsement of Pombo (if stupidity is not the whole answer)

Submitted: May 31, 2006

In a quiet little editorial on May 18, the Modesto Bee endorsed Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, against Republican challenger, former Rep. Pete McCloskey.

The Bee says that although Pombo is a (as yet unindicted) crook, he "has been effective in many ways."
McCloskey, is described as a quixotic, 78-year-old renegade, an author of the Endangered Species Act angry over Pombo's attacks.

Pombo's gut-the ESA bills are co-authored by Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, who represents most of the Modesto Bee distribution area. A practical political consideration not mentioned by the editorialists is that without Pombo's hip pocket to ride in, Cardoza would lose influence in the one-party rightwing House. Rather than register as a Republican, Cardoza is a rightwing Democrat, of use to the House rightwing leadership as "bipartisan" cover for Pombo's radical rightwing legislation and decisions in the Resource Committee.

The Bee notes that Pombo was elevated over more senior House Republicans to the chairmanship of the Resources Committee. The Bee fails to mention that Pombo was also elevated several months ago over more senior Republicans to become vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

These important offices, once earned through years of service to the still untermed House, are now doled out by the radically rightwing Republican leadership to bolster its strengths here, fight off a challenge there and especially to reward loyalty to their radical rightwing policies. Once, even under periods of Republican control, the Congress chose its committee leaders on the basis of seniority, encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric subjects like dairy pricing, cotton and rice subsidies (especially at the beginning of a new Farm Bill debate), ability to compromise and negotiate across the aisle, and perhaps, from time to time, even a for little integrity, civility and authenticity.

In Pombo's case, the radical rightwing Republican leadership of the House, whose guidance the Modesto Bee has followed slavishly, has made Pombo as powerful as it could have in two areas -- resources policy and farm policy -- at a time when north San Joaquin Valley special interests are intent on liquidating both natural resources and agricultural land for a huge speculative housing boom.

It is a moment when the Bee editorial board should have stood for a principle. In fact, the "should" word was used:

It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

The Bee editorialists give no reason why 11th congressional district Republicans "should" choose Pombo, but here are a few I imagine might have persuaded the editorialists:

Get rid of the ESA so developers can build from the Altamont to Bakersfield without any interference from environmental law and regulation, despite the air quality disaster unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley;

Let the government buy up agricultural land at development prices;

Get rid of that 3-cent per hundredweight dairy tax proposed for the new Farm Bill;

Continue strong subsidy support for cotton and rice;

Keep the cabal of Pombo, Cardoza and Valley congressmen Radanovich, Nunes and Costa in control for continued pro-growth, anti-environmental, agribusiness-subsidy and racist policies;

Keep out McCloskey, an independent candidate with a proven record for courageous, principled political positions, who would be no tool for regional special interests;

If necessary (if Pombo is indicted before November), elect one of the Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to see who can be the biggest tool of special interests;

Neither Pombo or the Democrats would be votes to impeach the president; McCloskey has shown he has the courage to take that position if he decided it was the right thing to do.

The Modesto Bee sold its readers down the River of Stupid with this endorsement. It was cowardly, corrupt and dumb -- a combination of components in political policies we are finding more common by the day whenever our leaders speak.

Bill Hatch
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Pombo best among GOP options, but he'll have explaining to do later

Last Updated: May 18, 2006, 04:23:03 AM PDT

With his close ties to disgraced Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, contributions from clients of admitted criminal Jack Abramoff, and his off-the-wall plan to sell national parks, Richard Pombo looks to be ripe for defeat in the 11th Congressional District.
We don't think so; not this time. None of Pombo's problems will matter to the majority of Republican voters in a district that includes most of San Joaquin and parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. In this primary, the district's Republican voters are unlikely to vote against their seven-term representative. After all, he is the same big business-friendly, hardball playing, conservative Republican they've been electing since 1992.

As a protegé of DeLay, Pombo was elevated over more senior members to the chair of the House Resources Committee. From that position, he has forged a valley coalition that includes Democrats and Republicans. While we often disagree with the direction he has taken the committee, he has been effective in many ways.

In the primary, Republicans must choose between Pombo and 78-year-old renegade Pete McCloskey (retired Tracy rancher Tom Benigno is a nonfactor). It is highly unlikely they will pick McCloskey over their homegrown congressman. And we don't think they should.

Angry over Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act, of which McCloskey was co-author, Pombo's opponent moved into the district last year to give GOP voters an alternative. This has provided a loud and healthy airing of issues and a real campaign instead of the proforma exercise Pombo usually goes through to win re-election.

We admire McCloskey's quixotic quest, but we doubt that the district's Republicans are interested in an alternative. Besides, even a deeply flawed Pombo has more to offer the district than McCloskey.

It could be a different story in November. Then, a well-financed Democrat with distinctly differing views will present a clearer alternative. Then, Pombo will have to explain why 15 American Indian tribes, all with business before his House committee and some represented by Abramoff, have been so generous to him; why he has voted to protect oil companies' royalties and increase their profits; why he worked so hard to protect DeLay's power, and why he wanted to sell off pieces of15 national parks.

Republican voters should stick with Pombo — at least until they have a better alternative.

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A river of milk runs through it

Submitted: Feb 16, 2006

Elections and debate on a new five-year Farm Bill are upon us. The Bee reported last week that members of the House Agriculture Committee will be visiting Stockton in the first week of March to hold hearings on the Bush administration's proposals.

These proposals include taxing dairymen 3 cents per hundredweight, cutting cotton and rice subsidies and a $200-million annual subsidy to promote American agricultural exports. Recent recipients include Blue Diamond Growers, the California Table Grape Commission and Sunkist Growers, the Bee reported. (1)

It's a shakedown. To make it more obvious, Bush is proposing sizable cuts in farm supports in this year's budget.

Mike Marsh, CEO of United Western Dairymen told the Bee that 3 cents per hundredweight worked out to about "$5,700" per year to an 800-cow dairy. A fraction -- probably a significant fraction but less than the tax -- will be required in the form of campaign contributions to buy off the tax.

Presumably, cotton, rice and the fruit and nut corporations are busily calculating the campaign-contribution costs, too. Meanwhile, learned consultants are coming up with new words for subsidies and new ways of hiding them from the public on the assumption that agricultural economics as we know it will continue and agriculture will come up with the political vig.

The choice of Stockton for the Central California hearing is interesting because Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy has a challenger in the Republican primary, former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Woodside.

Pombo is known primarily as chairman of the House Resources Committee and as the face of the ESA-gutting team. The rear end of the team is Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, a "Democrat" so popular with the Republican developers, landowners and real estate speculators in his district he appears to be running unopposed for his next term.

However, although Pombo and his “bipartisan” sidekick, Cardoza are primarily known for their hard right, pro-growth, anti-environmental positions, they are both members of the Agriculture Committee. He sits on the Livestock and Horticulture, and the Department Operations, Oversight, Dairy, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittees.

In local farming circles, the Pombo/Cardoza operation is known as The Pomboza.

The Bee commented:

Realistically, Capitol Hill is not fertile soil for many of the farm proposals planted by the Bush administration's fiscal 2007 budget, which starts Oct. 1. Some, such as a proposed 5 percent cut in crop subsidies and a $250,000 limit on subsidies paid to individuals, withered quickly in past years. (1)

In other words, it's an old, rotten story we no longer have to think much about because farmland is disappearing, replaced by subdivisions like those on Pombo Real Estate Farms in Tracy.

Coverage of the farm budget is more vivid in Great Falls, MT, not experiencing a speculative housing bubble at the moment, and is probably more representative of how the Central Valley’s remaining farmers sense the situation:

Ag feels pinch in Administration's proposed budget

By DALE HILDEBRANT, For The Prairie Star
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There were few cheers on Capitol Hill, as President Bush delivered his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The budget slashes many domestic programs, including agriculture, while projecting a record $423 billion deficit. The overall suggested spending bill will cost $2.77 trillion and would give the Pentagon a 6.9 percent increase and a 14 percent boost to foreign aid.

There weren't any budget increases in the ag portion of the spending bill, only cuts and a proposed tax on sugarbeet producers and dairy farmers. The Administration plan would cut crop subsidies by five percent while increasing certain agricultural fees, including a 1.2 percent tax on sugarbeet growers, which is identical to a proposal made last year by the White House, but scrapped later by Congress.

Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, in addressing the budget ag proposals said, “The President's budget proposed today is full of gimmicks and runs low on common sense.

“For agriculture, at best, this budget is a rehash of the President's strategy of sacrificing farm support for a sell at any cost international trade policy. At worst, this budget shows no commitment on the part of the President to the needs of our nation's farmers,” he continued. “America 's farmers and ranchers cannot afford the uncertainty that these proposals would create, and Congress should quickly reject them ...” (2)

The choice of Stockton as the site for this congressional hearing also has historical resonance with McCloskey in the race.

Dairy industry critic, Robert Cohen, wrote:

While writing MILK: The Deadly Poison, I discovered transcripts of Nixon's actual meeting with dairymen on March 23, 1971.

Knowing the tapes were running, and having been presented with $3 million dollars in cash, Nixon was recorded saying: "Uh, I know...that, uh, you are a group that are politically very conscious...And you're willing to do something about it. And, I must say a lot of businessmen and others...don't do anything about it. And you do, and I appreciate that. And I don't have to spell it out."

After the dairymen had left, advisor John Connally was alone with Nixon, and said:
"They are tough political operatives. This is a cold political deal." …

What did this $3 million dollar "investment"do for the dairy industry? In 1971, 120 billion pounds of milk were produced. An additional 27 cents per hundred pounds of milk translated to $3.24 billion extra dollars for the dairy industry.

On March 23, 1971, Secretary of the Treasury, John Connally summarized the day's events to Nixon: "These dairymen are organized; they're adamant, they're militant...And they, they're massing an enormous amount of money that they're going to put into political activities, very frankly." (3)

In March 1971, Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-CA, had just returned from Vietnam. Recently, he recalled that month:

While in Vietnam and Laos during March 1971, I had taken sworn affidavits from a number of pilots who stated they had been bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia, many with the coordinates of specific rural villages, some being in Laos' famous Plain of Jars, a considerable distance from the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which had once been a legitimate bombing target.

Upon returning home, I testified before two Senate committees. I was interviewed on various television shows, including that of William Buckley. I related the stories of the bombings of which I had been told, both by Air Force pilots and by Laotian refugees from the Plain of Jars. My statements were immediately denied by various high-ranking administration spokesmen, who stated unequivocally that the United States was not bombing in Laos. The controversy received national coverage ...

A few days later, it was announced that we were indeed bombing in Laos, but that for security reasons, this knowledge had been withheld from the civilian secretaries of the Air Force, Navy and Army. At the direct order from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, false coordinates were reported to the secretaries for the daily and nightly bombing runs over Laos and Cambodia. The justification, then as now, was that national security required that the bombing raids not be disclosed to the American people. (4)

McCloskey ran against Nixon in the New Hampshire Republican primary in 1972. No doubt, the Nixon campaign in New Hampshire was funded partly by dairy money. McCloskey went on to serve another decade in Congress. Among his accomplishments was co-authoring the Endangered Species Act. He said at a Stockton meeting late last year that he had tried to testify on the ESA three times before Pombo’s resources committee and each time Pombo had refused him a hearing.

The Bushites might be holding this hearing in Stockton to shore up Pombo's support in his district against a dangerous opponent, not only of Pombo, but also of this administration. Rove could not possibly want McCloskey, who campaigned for Kerry in 2004, (5) in Congress next year. McCloskey would become an instant leader of moderate, ethically minded Republicans against the war-mad, rightwing House leadership and White House.

The Bush administrative version of political support is more money from fewer, bigger contributors. The aim could be to redeem the hearts and minds of the 11th CD by mixing agriculture and developer cash in with Abramoff contributions. Why not? Rove gave agribusiness what some say was the most lavish farm bill on record in 2002. (6)

Now the White House is playing rough: it's a guns v. butter moment.

What will Pombo say at the hearing on the esoteric topic of the next farm bill? Will he earn their money from gratitude by going against his president and his rightwing ideology? Or will he earn their money from fear by supporting the dairy tax and the subsidy cuts? Or will he, most characteristically, say one thing in public and do another thing in private? How will Pombo of Tracy's Pombo Real Estate Farms relate to Pombo, member of the House agriculture committee? Will he turn the hearing into an anti-ESA, pro-private property rights rally? Will he wear his cowboy hat?

Who cares? Whatever he does, he will remain within character as a buffoon of the emerging autocracy.

One can imagine a Pombo fundraiser in early March, co-hosted by Western United Dairymen and the region's most prominent developers, Grupe, Spanos and Tsakapoulos -- because today's young mega-dairyman may have to sell his real estate tomorrow if the subsidies aren't adequate.

In Pombo's politics, San Joaquin Valley agriculture, the greatest laboratory in the world for the study of what is wrong with the industrial, corporate agricultural model, has reached a higher stage of absurd destruction: Pombo’s politics are like the Holstein heifers born every day without working reproductive organs because their mothers are "spiked" with growth hormones; like the billions of almond blossoms waiting for bees that do not come; like developer-sponsored childhood asthma; like commuter-clogged highways to disappearing Silicon Valley jobs; like Pombo Real Estate Farms; like the dead San Joaquin River; and like the extinction of wildlife on land and fish in the Delta. This absurd destruction must be as attractive and familiar to Bush and Rove as McCloskey's honesty must be hateful to them.

However, rather than any clear political agenda in the latest proposed farm bill, we might just be observing the blind workings of the free market in that business enterprise called the American political system. Despite the recent overwhelming speculative bubble in housing in the Valley, agriculture is still the region’s enduring economy. It’s a terrible system at the moment. It is easy to agree with almost all its critics. The only caution is that if you too suddenly remove the system of subsidies upon which much of the Valley agricultural economy rests, and pave it over and turn it into a horribly polluted labor camp for the convenience of rich, coastal counties, it will have had no more chance of evolving than the San Joaquin Kit Fox.

Perhaps in the course of his campaign, McCloskey can teach the Pomboza the meaning of the word, “oversight.”
------------------

(1) www.modbee.com/business/story/11795200p-12512621c.html

(2) http://www.theprairiestar.com/articles/2006/02/15/ag_news/local_and_regional_news/local12.txt

(3) www.notmilk.com/trickydick.html

(4) http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0405-05.htm

(5) inprogress.typepad.com/republicanswitchers/ files/ifyoureatruerepublicanvote4kerrymccloskey.pdf

(6) www.pacificresearch.org/ press/kqed/2002/kqed_02-06-04.html

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Moutha Gold in Hilmar

Submitted: Nov 25, 2005

There is no doubt a lot of money and influence is on the line in the Hilmar Cheese situation, although the Modesto Bee keeps shrinking the amount. The original fine levied by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board was $4 million. Yesterday it shrunk to $3 million after the Moutha Gold got into it.

To recapitulate briefly, Hilmar came up with a proposal in September to inject its offensive wastewater so deep in the ground it would presumably disappear from human consciousness.

At that hearing, which was public, Vance Kennedy, of Modesto, a retired PhD in hydrology, said and wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency some unflattering, authoritative things about the deep-injection plan. (1) (I have included them in full below.)

Then everything went dead in the water until this week, when the Sacramento Bee wrote a $3-million settlement proposal (instead of a $4-million fine) had been worked out without benefit of more public input, six new members had been appointed to the regional water board and it would decide the issue next Tuesday. But there was one catch: John Norton, from the state Water Resources Control Board, wrote the regional board urging them not to approve the deal.

Enter Mike Boccadoro, the Moutha Gold, senior vice president of the Dolphin Group, a public relations and lobbyist organization. The Moutha Gold gets hold of Mike Mooney at the Modesto Bee with another version of events. Already we’re in deep manure.

See, it was the Sacramento Bee that broke the story that Hilmar Cheese, founded by Chuck Ahlem and others, had routinely violated water quality regulations with impunity for years. The Sacramento Bee thought that was a bit much, probably because our Gov. Hun had appointed Ahlem undersecretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Ahlem was selling himself as the biggest cheese maker in the world but environmental, environmental, environmental. But, by skewering a political hypocrite, the Sacramento Bee incidentally compelled top staff at the Central Valley regional board to act: it fined Hilmar Cheese $4 million – the largest fine for the largest cheesemaker. Symmetry.

But Modesto isn’t Sacramento. Modesto is headquarters for the Western United Dairymen and hometown of Mad Cow Annie Veneman, former secretary of the USDA and Bill Lyons, Jr. former secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. And that’s just the living top agricultural officials Modesto has produced. That city is represented in Congress by Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced (Resources and Agriculture committees), in the state Senate by Jeff Denham, R-Salinas and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and in the state Assembly by Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Reporter Mooney, the modbee’s political veteran, is all ears to the story the Moutha Gold has to sell.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board." (2)

Well, that’s a real mouthful but par for the course of the firm founded by Bill Roberts, who along with Stu Spencer packaged Ronald Reagan for the San Joaquin Valley in 1966 with a whispering campaign about Black welfare mothers driving 10 kids to the LA Welfare office in a gold Cadillac.

The Moutha’s first sentence is your basic character assassination of some witless government bureaucrat on behalf of the environmentally blameless, largest cheesemaker in the world. We’re walking in a myth here and we’ve forgotten Ahlem was ever undersecretary of anything. This is your basic, elemental shoot out between Agriculture and Government.

It’s the second sentence that kinda takes your breath away, when you consider the Moutha Gold has suddenly switched clients and is now representing the State Water Resources Control Board (presumably in the role of a better, truer bureaucrat).

Mooney (anybody who’s read his lyrical pieces on rivers knows the guy’s a closet clean water lover) craftily spends the rest of the article showing that the Moutha Gold and the world’s biggest cheesemaker’s attorney are misspeaking about state water board procedure.

But there is just enough “balance” in the article to possibly half-persuade the incurious reader that state resource bureaucrats are once harming our Holy Agriculture, which is a mortal sin in high, small, tight, rich circles hereabouts. So the Moutha Gold earned his fee for the story.

The Dolphin Group describes itself in the following way:

We are a full service public relations and public affairs consulting firm with a reputation for achieving results for our clients. Everything we do is designed to change the perceptions of an individual or group -- to get them to think differently -- and to ultimately persuade them to change their behavior. We are result-oriented and by the nature of our business, crisis-oriented as well. With offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, and over two decades of experience, the Dolphin Group is prepared to accept any challenge. (3)

The word truth is absent and the public is an adjectival target of the euphemisms it modifies. In English, public relations means propaganda, and public affairs means lobbying. Yet it is an honest statement about itself. The LA Weekly described Dolphin much the same way, but with more detail in a piece written in the midst of a campaign for a phony living wage initiative in Santa Monica to defuse a proposed ordinance that really would have raised wages for local hotel workers:

The Dolphin Group had worked with Nielsen, Merksamer on the Dump Bird campaign, but that was just one of its greatest hits. It labored on Gerald Ford’s presidential and Ronald Reagan’s and Deukmejian’s gubernatorial campaigns. More notably, it was the Dolphins who produced the notorious Willie Horton ads, exploiting racial fears that helped sink the 1988 presidential bid of Michael Dukakis. Over the past few years, the Group coordinated the establishment of an employer-dominated farm-worker union to combat the United Farm Workers’ campaign to organize strawberry workers. (The Dolphin Group did not return the Weekly’s phone calls seeking comment on its campaigns.)

Most important, in 1994 the Group ran the unsuccessful campaign for Proposition 188 — an initiative, funded entirely by the nation’s five major tobacco companies, that sought to pre-empt state and local restrictions on smoking in public with far weaker language. The Dolphins marketed 188 to the public, however, as a strict anti-smoking ordinance.

Proposition 188 went down to defeat when the opposition campaign informed voters that it was funded by such anti-smoking activists as Philip Morris, and KK opponents hope that a similar fate awaits the hotels’ initiative. Their own mailings will surely make clear the hotels’ support for KK, but, as longtime Santa Monica activist Vivian Rothstein pointed out during an anti-KK precinct walk last Saturday, the campaign has a real challenge before it. “The hotels’ message,” she said, “is totally aimed at our base.” (4)

I’m not saying the Moutha Gold lies in his teeth every time he comes down here to the land of the Sacred Cow. Standing in Mooney’s shoes a few years ago, after a week of investigation I agreed that Dolphin was fighting a campaign based on truth against a pack of lies fomented by an Arizona milk magnate who was claiming that California’s regulations adding non-milk-solids back to skim milk didn’t make it any more nutritious. State Senator Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, introduced legislation to gut the state’s milk standards. Despite a forensic UCLA nutritionist hired by the other side to testify the Arizonan was right, the Moutha Gold won that campaign. He had much empirical evidence in verifiable public documents to support his case. I read it all and I believe he was right, an opinion shared by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when it upheld trial-court Judge Stanley Karlton's decision. (5)

During our short, intense time together, I noticed moments of discomfort, as if having been so often on the side of pure fable, the Moutha Gold knew well how vulnerable the truth often is.

On the theory that if the University of California can get away with it, Agriculture and the next owner’s of farmland, developers, are denying larger chunks of reality and taking a harder, more reactionary stance against environmental law and regulation. This is shown in Congress currently by the Pombo/Cardoza Gut-the-Endangered Species Act bill. It is bad politics, particularly if the nation is driven into a reform mood; but meanwhile it remains a good living for the Moutha Gold and Hilmar's lawyers.

Regardless of the superior nutritional value of California skim milk, the dairy industry is a major polluter. It pollutes groundwater with its tremendous quantities of wastewater. It pollutes the air with its dust, manure and diesel fumes. It pollutes our politics with huge campaign contributions. And it pollutes our minds with high priced propaganda/lobbying campaigns that deny dairies pollute anything.

Issues remain. The original $4-million fine was calculated according to some guidelines, presumably legal. Now, the special interest -- the largest cheesemaker in the world -- is trying to settle for $3 million. What's a million dollars to the state of California these days? It's a million dollars the public is owed for the grossest violations of water quality regulations in the history of those regulations in this region. Although that dirty water is a special interest solution to its waste disposal, it is a public problem and will remain one -- in the region the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board is supposed to protect. How much of that million dollars is going to pay Moutha Gold and the lawyers to reduce the fine by a million dollars? When you begin to dwell on these topics, the arrogance of the biggest-cheesemaker-in-the-world and its faith in corruption runs about as deep as the proposed injection wells.

Unlike the fables and threats the five or six new regional water board members, the law is real and here to protect the public health and safety, not special interests -- and it's their job to enforce it.

Bill Hatch

Notes:

(1) COMMENTS ON A PROPOSED HILMAR CHEESE COMPANY WELL
Sept. 9, 2005: Letter to Editor, Modesto Bee

These remarks are intended to supplement more technical comments made in a letter sent to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in early August. If you have ever filled a balloon with water and squeezed it, you know that, when you push on one side, you cause the balloon to bulge out elsewhere. The same principle applies to water underground. When you inject water into a saturated aquifer underground, you force water already there to go elsewhere. That; “elsewhere” has to be upward. The water in the rocks above that aquifer is quite salty for perhaps 2,000 feet and, when that salty water moves upward, it will mix with good water and ruin it for human use.

It would be bad enough if that overlying salty water only moved upward next to the well, but it can go a mile or more in any direction before contaminating near-surface good water, The injected water itself won’t show up near the surface for a long time, but the salty water it pushes ahead of itself can show up in a fairly short time.

I am amazed that EPA technical people did not reject this injection well proposal immediately, given the situation I have described.

/ ORIGINAL SIGNED /

Vance C. Kennedy, Ph, D.
Retired Hydrologist.

5052 Tully Road
Modesto, Ca. 95356
August 6, 2005
-----------------

To: Eric Byous, U.S EPA, Region 9
From: Vance C. Kennedy

Subject: Proposed injection of wastes into a deep aquifer by the Hilmar Cheese Company

These comments relate to the above subject. I will first present a series of questions and follow with a discussion of what I believe are major problems with the proposal.

Question 1. A representative of the California Regional Quality Control Board said that the Board bad no official knowledge of the well proposal. Why not? Does the Board have no jurisdiction?. One would think that such a proposal would be of concern to them, given the points mentioned below.

Question 2. What is the expected chemistry of the injected water and that of the receiving water?

Question 3. What is the salinity of water at various depths fix several thousand fret around the proposed well? See comments below for reasons for this question.

Question 4. What are the relative densities of injected and receiving waters?

Question 5. Does anyone question the statement that water is incompressible? If not, then the discussion presented below should be pertinent.

As a generalization, in sedimentary rocks, the horizontal permeability to water flow us considerably greater than the vertical permeability. Thus, water injected under pressure will flow laterally until the resistance to flow laterally becomes a significant fraction of the resistance to vertical water flow. Then, some displaced water will move toward the surface, pushing deeper saline groundwater upward into shallow aquifers. That upward movement can be tortuous and delayed greatly in time. But, the displacement has to happen due to the incompressibility of water. Furthermore, it is not the chemistry of the injected water as much as the chemistry of the displaced water that is the problem initially. Even if one injected distilled water, the same displacement upward of saline water would occur. Legally, it might be a lifetime before the actual injected water neared the surface and could be identified as coming from Hilmar Cheese, The displaced saline water can be expected to contaminate near-surface aquifers much sooner.

If the injected water is less dense than the receiving water, it will tend to float upward and push saline water upward also, but very slowly. Thus, the regulators may well be gone long before that becomes an obvious problem. Not to worry?

When groundwater is contaminated, it is not a simple matter to clean it up by flushing with clean water. To understand why, picture through-going channels in the aquifer bounded by areas of essentially immobile water in tiny openings. The contaminant flows in the open channels readily but can only penetrate the tiny pores by diffusion, whose rate is concentration dependent. When clean water flushes out the open channels, the contaminants in the pores will diffuse slowly into the open channels until temporary equilibrium is reached or new flushing is done. The process can be repeated over and over, but, as the concentration of the contaminant decreases, the rate of diffusion slows also and “complete” cleaning will take forever. Adsorption processes slow cleaning as well.

In summary, the damage done by deep well injection to shallow aquifers may take years to show up, but, when it does, the damage can be far from the injection well and be impossible to tie to that well. Because the actual injected water is the pusher, that water may stay a long time in the deep injected aquifer before moving upward.

The Modesto Bee has expressed concern about the Hilmar well, so I am sending a copy of this letter to them. The subject is obviously a matter of some public interest. My background is that of a hydrologist that has been involved in studies of contaminant transport in natural water systems. A 5-minute presentation seems inadequate to cover the items discussed in this letter. If you wish to discuss these comments prior to the meeting. I can be reached at 209 545 3575.

Vance C. Kennedy, PhD.

(2) http://www.modbee.com/local/story/11517556p-12254646c.html

Hilmar Cheese decries plan critics
Plant: State regulators' letter may create conflict of interest

By MICHAEL G. MOONEY
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: November 24, 2005, 04:22:09 AM PST

Representatives of Hilmar Cheese Co. on Wednesday blasted state regulators who want the Central Valley Regional Water Control Board to reject a proposed $3 million settlement of the company's long-standing water pollution violations.
Earlier this week, the Office of Statewide Initiatives — a unit of the State Water Resources Control Board — issued a letter criticizing the settlement pact because it was hammered out behind closed doors and would let Hilmar Cheese indefinitely pollute groundwater surrounding its Merced County plant, about a half mile north of Hilmar on Lander Avenue.

"We recommend that the proposed settlement agreement be rejected," the letter states, "and that an order be issued containing a schedule designed to return the discharger to compliance."

The letter is signed by John Norton, chief of the Office of Statewide Initiatives. The Bee was unable to reach Norton for comment Wednesday.

Members of the regional water board are expected to vote Tuesday on whether to accept the settlement.

"It (Norton's letter) is so fraught with reckless, inappropriate and inaccurate statements that I can't even begin to elaborate," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesman for Hilmar Cheese and senior vice president with the Dolphin Group public relations firm. "It is not in any way the official position of the State Water Resources Control Board."

Hilmar attorney Mark Fogelman, in a letter issued Wednesday afternoon, questions the propriety of OSI sending the letter to the regional water board and contends it creates a potential conflict of interest because the state water board likely will review and determine the "correctness" of the regional board's action on the proposed settlement.

"No subdivision or part of the state board should be commenting on the matter when it is pending before the regional board," Fogelman wrote, "and no such comments should be given any weight whatsoever in the deliberations of the regional board."

Hilmar Cheese contends the OSI should have submitted its comments to the state water board's executive director, Celeste Cantú.

"However, the OSI comments indicate that Executive Director Cantú never authorized the filing of the comments," Fogelman wrote.

The Bee was unable to reach Cantú for comment Wednesday.

But William L. Rukeyser, a state water board spokesman, said Norton and other OSI staffers did follow proper procedures by putting their concerns about the proposed settlement in writing.

Rukeyser said Norton took care in the letter to point out that there had been no consultations between his unit and the state water board.

Nor had there been any contact, he said, between Norton and any of the attorneys involved in negotiating the proposed settlement.

Rukeyser did say, however, that attorney Catherine George, who represented the regional board in the negotiations with Hilmar Cheese, was aware of the OSI's reports on the water pollution allegations. He insisted, however, that the proceeding had not been tainted.

Hilmar spokesman Boccadoro was not convinced.

"Clearly," he said, "this is an attempt to grossly misrepresent the facts, to confuse and influence inappropriately the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board."

(3) http://www.dolphingroup.org/

(4) http://www.laweekly.com/ink/00/47/powerlines-meyerson.php

(5) supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/ decisions/lower_court/99-16981.pdf

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Upcoming Hilmar Cheese decision stinks

Submitted: Nov 24, 2005

The Central Valley regional Water Quality Control Board is set to approve a deal between regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. on Nov. 29 that would “grant the world’s largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations – and for future offenses.” (1)

How did this happen? We can only guess.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hilmar Cheese founder, Chuck Ahlem, to the state Department of Food and Agriculture in January 2004, apparently under the apprehension Ahlem was an “environmental” dairyman. (2) When the Sacramento Bee broke the story this year that Hilmar Cheese – far from being an icon of environmentalism – had been cited by this same board numerous times for water quality violations and, somehow, nothing had been done about them. Exposed, Ahlem resigned from the CDFA and the water quality board fined the cheese company $4 million. Some in the Valley thought the fine made a good press release.

After a plan was announced two months ago that Hilmar would inject its wastewater thousands of feet down, to loud public disbelief and derision, the story quieted down and went behind closed doors. Meanwhile, it was discovered the board needed some new members and the governor appointed them. There were six vacancies on the nine-member board that needed immediate attention from the governor. Five are mentioned on the water board’s website:

His appointments are:

Linda Adams, 56, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She most recently served as chief of staff to the state controller from 2004 to 2005. Previously, Adams was a member of the California Performance Review, director of the Department of Water Resources, legislative secretary and chief deputy legislative secretary to the governor and principal consultant to the Senate Agriculture & Water Resources Committee. She is a member of the board of directors of the Sacramento Local Conservation Corps. Adams is a Democrat.

Paul Betancourt, 46, of Kerman, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has been managing partner of VF Farms since 1983, a family farming operation. Betancourt also writes a monthly column on agriculture and urban issues for the Fresno Business Journal. He is a member of the Kerman Unified School Board, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Valley Clean Air Now Board and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District-Community Advisory Committee. Betancourt is a Republican.

Kate Hart, 34, of Granite Bay, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as associate attorney with Trainor Robertson since 2004. Previously, Hart served as associate attorney with Reed Smith and Woods and Daube. She is a member of Trout Unlimited and CalTrout. Hart is a Republican. On 11 November 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the following appointments:

Sopac Mulholland, 60, of Springville, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. She has served as the executive director of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust since 2002. Mulholland was previously interim executive director for the Economic Development Corporation of Tulare County from 1998 to 1999. She is also the owner and operator of River Valley Ranch, McCarthy Creek Ranch and Quail Run Ranch. Mulholland is a former member of the Occupational and Health Standards Board. Mulholland is a Republican.

Dan Odenweller, 60, of Stockton, has been appointed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. He most recently served as a fishery biologist and manager in the Habitat Conservation Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries from 2001 to 2004. Odenweller previously served with the California Department of Fish and Game from 1971 to 2001, retiring as a senior fishery biologist. He is a member of the American Fisheries Society, the Sierra Club and Delta Flyfishers. Odenweller is a Republican. These positions require Senate confirmation. The compensation is $100 per diem.

Hilmar can count of local support from elected officials. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced is a member of the House Resources and Agriculture committees, and is co-author with Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy of the Gut-the-ESA bill. State Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Salinas (or Merced – he can’t quite remember which) is chairman of the state Sen. Agriculture Committee. State Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews, D-Tracy, is chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, a member of Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife, and of the Assembly Select Committee on Water, Infrastructure and the Economy. Each is a beneficiary of dairy largesse through the various associations and PACs the industry generates as abundantly as it produces government commodities.

Monday, an official of the State Water Resources Control Board, which oversees the state’s regional water quality boards, wrote the Central Valley board urging it to reject this settlement.

"We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

Three of the Republicans among the five new appointees to the Central Valley board for which we have public information would seem capable of voting for anything pro-agriculture, anti-environmental, particularly when it would help a prominent Republican dairyman, despite the decision stinking as highly as Hilmar on a bad day.

If this happens, it would remain to be seen what power the state board would have to remedy the injustice done to the people in and around Hilmar. If the executive branch, after a belated but real beginning to bring the cheese company to heel, returns to its corrupt habits under what must be considerable political pressure, a judicial approach should be sought if one is possible.

California is the nation’s top dairy state and the dairy industry is historically a powerful, rich lobby in Sacramento and Washington. Although industry pricing (including subsidies) remains an unfathomable mystery, even to most dairy producers, from time to time its lobbying enthusiasm gets exposed. The last time this happened was called the “milk-fund scandal.” It was revealed as a by-product of the Watergate investigation. (4)

Bill Hatch
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Notes:

(1) Don't let polluters off easy, state says...Chris Bowman
http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/v-print/story/13892086p-14731032c.html
Top state water-quality enforcers on Monday blasted a proposed settlement that would grant the world's largest cheesemaker sweeping immunity for hundreds of water pollution violations - and for future offenses. The officials said the proposed deal between Central Valley regulators and Hilmar Cheese Co. sets a bad precedent and offers scant justification for dropping all violations stemming from years of dumping putrid, poorly treated wastewater on open fields near its Merced County factory. In a letter Monday, the officials urged members of the state's Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board to reject the settlement, which is scheduled for the board's vote Nov. 29. "We are deeply concerned with the precedent of granting immunity from civil liability for all such past and future violations," said John Norton, chief of the state Office of Statewide Initiatives.

(2) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/01/17/jnelson.DTL

(3) http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/centralvalley/HomePageAttachments/new-board-members.pdf.

(4) http://www.watergate.info/tapes/71-03-23_milk-price-supports.shtml

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