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<!--adsense: cached-->The following article, "Thirsty down in Nobama County", was published in the August 2009 issue of the Fresno Community Alliance Newspaper. It is the second part of a two-part series examining the California Latino Water Coalition, its key players, and the major international public relations firm guiding the Coalition. If you have not read Part One, click here.
Editor’s note:  In part one  of this two-part series, Lloyd Carter looked at the notorious international public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller,  which is providing advice and guidance to the California Latino Water Coalition,  headed by comedian Paul Rodriguez and a handful of local Latino leaders in the San Joaquin Valley. Part II examines the roles of the Coalition’s prominent personalities.
By Lloyd G. Carter
Act One of the California Latino Water Coalition – six months of marches, rallies, lobbying of state and federal officials, an effort to halt traffic on Interstate 5, and a physical encounter by the Coalition leader with a dairy farmer spokesman caught on TV cameras  - is over.
Act Two of the Coalition’s drive to suspend the Endangered Species Act, drain the Delta, and obtain $20 billion in publicly-funded water infrastructure for San Joaquin Valley agriculture is now underway and will focus, say Coalition leaders, on comedy.  That’s right, comedy.  Fortunately, the group is headed by comedian  and actor Paul Rodriguez, who owns some farmland near Orange Cove and was recruited into the 200-member Coalition more than two years ago by Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez.  Coalition leaders admit Act One was a failure and contend they are now broke. But they are fired up for Act Two.
Now I personally find Rodriguez to be a very funny guy – hilarious in stand-up - but he’s been stretching the truth a lot when he speaks out on water issues.  Whether he is doing this deliberately or is being fed bad information by the people orchestrating the water campaign is not clear.
Here is an example.  On Fox Network’s Sean Hannity TV Show which aired nationally on June 19, the following exchange occurred between Hannity and Rodriguez.  The exchange followed a biased Fox news report implying water was being shut off to the entire San Joaquin Valley:
RODRIGUEZ:  You know, we’re not going to be farmers any longer.  We’re going to be selling fire wood because our trees won’t last another six months without water.  It’s really a sad situation that those of us who choose to farm, my mother and my family in the central San Joaquin, perhaps the most fertile soil in the world, are now just sitting there ready to go on welfare or some other kind of support because we can’t farm.
HANNITY:  Paul, this is so serious, and it's almost mind numbing that this could happen. All right. So we showed the little delta smelt, this little minnow fish that is now on the endangered species list. Now, they literally have shut down — you are getting and farmers are getting zero percent water. Their trees and their farms are dying. Is that right?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes . . .   (Italics added.)  (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,528113,00.html.)
Now that’s a touching story but it’s erroneous.  Rodriguez’s  40 acres of oranges, lemons, persimmons and olives near Orange Cove and Dinuba on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley is definitely not going dry. Farmers in his neighborhood get their water from the San Joaquin River via the Friant-Kern Canal, or from the Kings River, with groundwater as a backup supply.  He had plenty of water available this year (about 90 percent of normal according to federal officials.)
Harvey Bailey, chairman of the Orange Cove Irrigation District and chairman of the Friant Water Users Authority, proudly said at the July 1 Fresno City Hall water rally that Rodriguez gets his irrigation supply from the Orange Cove District.  In any event, Rodriguez’s property  is on the opposite side of the Valley from where the major cutbacks in Delta water deliveries were occurring, i.e. the Westlands Water District, which is many miles away. And only about a quarter  of the Valley’s farmland is suffering the significant water cutbacks, a fact Rodriguez always ignores.  Normal pumping from the Delta to the West Side resumed July 1.  If Rodriguez has acreage in Westlands he hasn’t told anyone about it.  He did say in a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Times that (at that time) he owned about 800 acres.  Rodriguez also developed a shopping center in Orange Cove and owns non-farm land in the area.
 Rodriguez’s orchards are not dying, according to a drive-by inspection last month.   Not surprisingly, Rodriguez has not invited news crews to his farm to see his “dying” trees.  Surprisingly, no Valley newspaper reporters or TV news crews, to my knowledge, have even asked to see his orchards.   If he’s trying to create the impression that his own farm has suffered drastic cutbacks in water, he’s not being candid.   Strangely, at the July 5 Fresno meeting with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Rodriguez indicated he had to buy store nectarines for those attending the meeting because his own nectarine trees were not producing, inferably because of  water cutbacks. He never mentioned nectarines on the July 15 KMJ radio Ray Appleton show when Appleton asked him what crops he farms.
 Rodriguez also joked on the Hannity show that he had never seen a killer whale on the freeway.  Recent government reports have reported plummeting populations of salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and killer whales as a result of the ecological crisis in the Delta, caused in part by massive exports of fresh water from the fragile estuary.  Not everyone thinks the disappearance of killer whales or salmon is funny.  Especially  the thousands of people in the commercial salmon industry who have been out of work for two years.
Rodriguez was on Appleton’s noon hour show July 10 to explain why the Latino Coalition is going to try the new comedy tactic.  Rodriguez and Appleton admitted that Act One of the  two-year-old Coalition’s campaign, including the April 14-17 March for Water from Mendota to the San Luis Reservoir, and the July 1 Rally For Water at Fresno City Hall (that cost the cash-strapped city $10,000 in lost parking revenues), has failed to attract the national attention they feel they need to force state and congressional lawmakers to; (1) suspend the Endangered Species Act, (2) resume full water deliveries to the western San Joaquin Valley despite the concerns of Northern California, and (3) spend billions of taxpayer dollars on new water storage reservoirs and a highly controversial Peripheral Canal (also called a “conveyance facility”) around the beleaguered Bay-Delta Estuary.
Rodriguez’s new comedy tactic, enthusiastically endorsed by Appleton, is to gather 50,000 or 100,000 signatures demanding that Fresno County be renamed “Nobama County”, which, he believes, will generate so much national publicity it will force President Obama to visit the Valley and order the exports of water from the Delta be returned to maximum historic levels, apparently even if it causes the ecological crash of the Delta estuary.  Rodriguez said the nation needed to be reminded that “Nobama County” is where “farming is illegal.”  I suspect this tactic will be about as effective as the boycott of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the UC Merced graduation by the Valley’s five congressmen, Democrats and Republicans.   Apparently the collective thinking there was that If you want something from the President it’s a good idea to insult his wife.  The Nobama County name change is equally feckless if they think the President will respond positively to personal insults.  There is another reason the Coalition is changing tactics. “We’re broke,” admitted Appleton on his July 15 radio show. He then asked listeners for more donations.
Rodriguez also told Appleton on the air, “I don’t know if people want to be led by a fool.  I’m no leader.”  But he added that God intended the San Joaquin Valley to be farmed.  Appleton agreed, saying “We can’t depend on the politicians anymore.  We’ve got to drop the serious stuff.  We’ve got to go silly for awhile.”  Rodriguez added the news media was only interested in “novelty and shock” and said he thought it would also be a great publicity stunt to get 5,000 people to lie on the ground and spell out the word “help.”  Predicted  Appleton, “The national media will jump on it.” 
KMJ callers then began offering their own possible slogans:  “Barack-as-field” instead of Bakersfield,  said one.  Another caller suggested that the camel be named the Fresno County mascot.  Another suggested  “Merdead County” instead of Merced County, even though much of water-rich Merced County farmland received near normal irrigation supplies this year.  One caller suggested Rodriguez do a “Nobama Comedy Tour” to raise awareness of the issue.  One suggested bumper stickers that read “Where ever [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi goes, nothing grows.”  Then, as it frequently does on Appleton’s show, the comments from Appleton’s conservative listeners  turned into trashing of Rep. Jim Costa, Democrats in general, liberals, and “radical” environmentalists.  Democratic members of the Coalition must be uneasy with this.
There is a certain naive Children’s Crusade character to the Latino Coalition campaign which is supposed to be bipartisan.  Appleton’s recent target has been  Rep. Jim Costa (who represents Westlands Water District and has been targeted by the Republican National Committee in next year’s elections).  Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia, who has screamed loud and long in Congress that the Endangered Species Act must be suspended and that “radical” environmentalists have taken over the Democratic Party, must be gleeful about the attacks on Costa, although he claims to be Costa’s friend.  Costa and Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza, representing the Northern Valley, struck back in a July 15 Fresno Bee article accusing Rep. Nunes of “grandstanding”  in trying repeatedly in various House committees to introduce amendments to various bills to suspend the Endangered Species Act.
“This is baloney, to be doing this sort of thing,” Cardoza told the Bee.  “I have had a number of colleagues tell me they are fed up with it.”  Appleton responded, on air, that Cardoza’s statement was “one of the most foolish statements I’ve ever heard.”  Appleton added, “the sniping has begun”  ignoring his own persistent sniping at Costa.
 The most vicious attacks, of course, are reserved for “radical” environmentalists (is there any other kind in the eyes of growers?).   Former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, who clearly misses the spotlight, went even further at the July 1 water rally and branded the Endangered Species Act as terrorism (and, inferably, environmentalists as terrorists).
Other than Mario Santoyo, the long-time employee of the Friant Water Users Authority, who is clearly knowledgeable on water issues, the Coalition is essentially composed of front men Rodriguez and Appleton, some Latino business owners in Los Angeles, water and irrigation districts, and a handful of Latino mayors or council members from small towns in the San Joaquin Valley.  It is overwhelmingly male.
While the “human face” of the coalition (this is the astroturfing tactic proposed by the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller which was discussed in Part One)  is supposed to be the downtrodden farmworkers, the actual field hands participating in the marches and rallies are often either paid or threatened with job loss if they don’t participate.  The Associated Press reported on the July 1 Fresno City Hall rally that one female farm worker admitted being paid to attend and another was told if she didn’t attend she would lose her job.
It seems to matter little to Rodriguez and Appleton that Obama cannot unilaterally void a federal court order, restructure the California water rights priority list, and suspend the Endangered Species Act.  Nor do they ever discuss the plight of Delta farmers who are farming 500,000 acres, Trinity River Indians, commercial and recreational salmon fishermen, or the fact the water they want restored to the Western San Joaquin Valley must come from the people of Northern California.  They stick to the simple-minded slogan ” Fish versus People.”
It is useful to take a brief look at the major characters in Act Two of the Latino Coalition.
Paul Rodriguez
 Rodriguez, son of immigrant farmworkers, who went on to fame and fortune as a stand-up comedian and actor, calls himself the “poster boy” of the California Latino Water Coalition, an ethnic  group funded by agribusiness groups in the San Joaquin Valley.  As chairman of the coalition, he is not entirely comfortable with the role and he freely admits his shortcomings in the Byzantine manuevering  of California water politics.
Rodriguez was born in Sinaloa, Culiacan, Mexico in January of 1955, the youngest of 10 children, and came to America with his family in 1957, he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1998 interview.  They were migrant farmworkers, picking cotton in Texas, sugar beets in Minnesota, apples in Washington and grapes in the San Joaquin Valley.  In the mid 1960s, Rodriguez’s father broke his back in a tractor accident and the family moved to San Pedro.   Rodriguez said his mother cleaned fish at Terminal Island but later lost her job because of phlebitis. They then moved in with an aunt in Compton and Paul attended Dominguez High School in Compton, graduating about 1973. (In a posting on the Coalition website, www.gotwater.org , Rodriguez said he grew up in Orange Cove.)
He attended community college near his home, enrolled at Cal State University, Long Beach, and then joined the Air Force.  In 1979, he became a doorman at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles and got to fill in on stage when a comedian called in sick or failed to show up.  He quickly became popular and by 1984 had his own network sitcom “A.K.A Pablo”, the first TV show in America about a Mexican-American family,  which lasted six episodes.
He has done a lot of charity and benefit shows, from USO tours with Bob Hope to performances at San Quentin Prison.  He has done lots of fund-raisers for many Democrats who he feels have turned their backs on him when he needed their help.  He says former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez rebuffed him and  told him to keep his day job when Rodriguez asked for help on the water issue.
 In the 1998 LA Times interview, Rodriguez admitted he voted for a controversial statewide ballot initiative that year to prohibit bilingual education in California, angering some of his Latino friends.  He said his parents influenced his decision to vote for the measure, which many considered anti-immigrant.
“My father actually took the time to go to the school and insist that none of his children have bilingual education, which is not a popular view among Hispanics,” Rodriguez told the Times.  “My father said, ‘You're not going to get a job in this country because you know Spanish.  You're going to get a job because you know English.’ From my point of view, the hearts of Hispanic leaders are in the right place, but in terms of practicality, bilingual education does not work.”
This independent streak extends to the Latino Coalition.  In one of his first appearances on Ray Appleton’s radio show he said he was uncomfortable with the word Latino  in the Coalition name and thought it should be just the California Water Coalition.  He also has refused to permit Mexican flags or symbols in any of the Coalition events he has participated in.
Rodriguez, although a lifelong Democrat, has been flirting with the idea of becoming a Republican.   In a May 3 speech before the Bakersfield convention of the California Republican Assembly, a very conservative GOP organization, he said he was thinking about switching parties.   The audience was almost entirely white and when Rodriguez saw a Latina waitress in the room he joked that he felt he should be working the tables too.
Regarding the delicate question of why there should even be a race-based water lobbying group, Rodriguez told the Republican conservatives gathered in Bakersfield:
“When I say Latino Water Coalition a lot of you automatically say, ‘Why Latino?  Doesn't everyone need water, Paul? Why just you Latinos and as a Caucasian person I take offense to that, why does everything have to be segregated?’  I don't know. I don't know but we're using this.  We're using this race card in a positive manner, a cloak. You know everybody's welcome to this.  The reason why  we call it the Latino Water Coalition [is] because it gives them a pause.  ‘Better not attack these Latinos, we don't know.’  If we call it the Caucasian Coalition, you bet they would already be attacking us.  Because Caucasians, sadly to say, who is defending you?  I am.  You know, just to put that to rest, there's no division. “
In his speech to the Republicans, Rodriguez said he had been friends with Cesar Chavez, and had hosted the labor leader on his Spanish-language television show, which was, Rodriguez said, later cancelled when grocery chains complained about Chavez’s appearance.  Rodriguez added he had been very disappointed that the United Farm Workers Union had not joined the Coalition to help the growers get more water.
“When I was a young man I was indoctrinated with the belief of the evil, incarnate evil white farmer who mistreated his workers and cared more about his John Deere than Juan,” Rodriguez told the Bakersfield crowd.  “Although I never met that person, although if we ever received kindness it was from a farmer, who treated us decently with respect.  That's what I can remember.  I never heard my father complain.  I'm not defending or kissing up or becoming a coconut or whatever label you want to put [on] me.  I'm simply telling you as I, and what happened to me.  I'm not speaking for the other forty people in my house [crowd laughs]. “
He closed his remarks to the Republicans (without revealing whether he had joined the GOP; Ray Appleton says he’s still a Democrat) by saying:  “I don't know what I'm going to do next.  I'm going to do something because I'm not going to sit there and see a canal with plenty of water go right by my property and my property has no water.  I'm not gonna sit there and see my family suffer needlessly.  And if it's illegal for me to take a backhoe and open up and make a canal, then I've already been accused of being illegal once before. “
Again, Rodriguez doesn’t need to worry about a canal carrying water by his farm while his trees die.  The current problem involves the West Side of the Valley, not the East Side where his farm is.  It was a good story but not true.   
Ray Appleton
Appleton, in addition to being on the air from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., is the host of a two-hour weekday show from noon to 2 p.m. on KMJ, Fresno’s most popular AM radio station.  KMJ General Manager Patty Hixson farms several hundred acres in Fresno County and is clearly sympathetic to growers.  In addition, KMJ is flooded with pesticide commercials during Appleton’s morning and noon shows so there is also an economic reason to champion the cause of the West Side growers.
The KMJ website section on Appleton shows pictures of him taken earlier this year purportedly sneaking into the Delta export pumps and turning them on.   While no doubt  intended as a humorous stunt, if Appleton actually did this it would be a criminal act, probably a felony.  Some of his grower callers are threatening civil disobedience.
His erratic behavior on the show, raging one day, confident and predicting victory the next, is typified by a July 10 posting on his blog at the website:  “Many of you ask me how I can handle all the pressure from the Water War.  I get this all the time.  I’m surprised that many of you feel that I am pressured.  Yes, I know I’ve have had my moments on the air where I have been a bit out of control. Yeah, that’s always a lovely ‘bit’ for live radio when it’s real and I assure you this, for me, has never been more real. “
Here is a sampling of Appleton’s inflammatory comments on the air in recent weeks:
On  July 7, the House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment by Rep. Nunes to suspend the Endangered Species Act and restore water exports from the Delta at “historic maximum levels.”   Appleton, on his show the next day, excoriated the Democrats on the committee and said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Monterey, was “a weasel.” He has called Rep. Costa a “traitor” on the air. He told listeners that Congress was “terrified” of Rodriguez and that, as Act Two gets underway, “we are now deferring everything to him [Rodriguez].  From now on he’s going to be calling all the shots [for the Coalition].”
Appleton has called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “the Antichrist” and slandered Rep. George Miller of Contra Costa County in similar terms.   Appleton claimed that “law enforcement” had estimated the July 1 city hall water rally crowd at 11,000 people, without naming which law enforcement agency or officer had made this alleged estimate.  In contrast, the Fresno Bee and the local TV stations said Fresno police had estimated the crowd at 4,000.
Appleton has called the United Farm Workers Union the “enemy” of farmworkers and claimed if Cesar Chavez were alive he would be in the radio booth with Appleton advocating for more water for growers.
Appleton continues to claim that Delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is not indigenous to the Delta, that it is only on the Endangered Species Act Threatened List, and that smelt are plentiful throughout much of  America.  He is right that the Delta Smelt is only on the Threatened List but wrong about it occurring elsewhere in the United States.  Delta Smelt are members of the Osmeridae family (smelts) and, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Delta Smelt is found only from Suisan Bay upstream through the Delta in several counties.  Once abundant, their numbers have plunged in recent years, in large part due to reductions in freshwater outflow (i.e., water exports), and being ground up (“entrained”) at the massive Delta export pumps near Tracy.  Other causes in the population decline include pollutants, competition and predation from non-native fish.  There are other species of smelt in the Osmeridae family in other parts of America (some grow to eight inches in length) but they are not Delta smelt.  Using Appleton’s logic here, the analogy would be that it is okay if Polar bears go extinct because there are eight species of bear (black and brown bears for starters) in the Bear Family (Ursidae) and because if you’ve seen one bear you’ve seen them all, right?
Appleton takes considerable pride in being the “new best friend” of Paul Rodriguez and loves to entice his listeners with tidbits about Rodriguez but says he cannot say everything he knows.  He told listeners recently Rodriguez had recently been fired from the movie “Family Wedding” starring America Ferrara, even after Rodriguez had completed shooting for his part, but said he couldn’t talk about it on advice of both Rodriguez’s lawyers and KMJ lawyers.  The inference was that Rodriguez was fired because of his political activism for the Coalition.  When Rodriguez came on Appleton’s show a few days later Appleton never asked him if he was fired from the movie.  If Rodriguez was, in fact, fired for exercising his free speech rights, that was wrong.
He told listeners on July 7 that Rodriguez had become so disheartened over the Fourth of July weekend he was thinking of quitting the coalition but later changed his mind.   Appleton also told listeners Rodriguez was feuding with his agents.  “Well, Paul is having a little bit of a crisis with his agent right now, so he’s got that on his back as well because the agents are having a cow because he’s not fulfilling some of his commitments,” Appleton said.  “Paul is getting it from all sides, and I’m trying to be protective of him.”
 Appleton appears unconcerned that blabbing to listeners that Rodriguez is  not keeping his business commitments might be a bad idea.  Appleton later told listeners Rodriguez had fired his agents and retained new representation.  When Rodriguez was next on the show, Appleton never mentioned any of this.
Mario Santoyo
Mario Santoyo is the Assistant General Manager of the Friant Water Users Authority and one of the highest ranking Latinos in California’s water world.  He is probably more responsible for the creation of the California Latino Water Coalition than anyone else.  According to a February 27, 2009 article in the Fresno Bee, the Coalition was formed in 2006 after Santoyo and other Valley Latino leaders met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and asked what they could do to help increase agriculture’s water supply.   Santoyo said the Governor “encouraged us to put together a coalition and spread the word” focusing on pleading their case to the Legislature’s Latino members.  
The incorporation papers for the non-profit Latino Water Coalition were filed on December 29, 2008 (two years after the organization was formed) by Sacramento lobbyist and attorney George H. Soares, who owns a dairy farm in Hanford.  Ruben Guerra of Rosemead, head of the Los Angeles-based Latin Business Association is listed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition and spoke at the July 1 city hall rally.  Curiously, Paul Rodriguez and Mario Santoyo are not listed as officers or named anywhere in the incorporation documents.
Santoyo admitted in the February 27 Bee article that there are few Latinos in positions of California’s water world, either in government or agribusiness, lamenting “the water world has not been a world where there’s been a great diversity of people.  There’s only a few Latinos in that world.  I always felt kind of lonely.”
However, the United Farm Workers and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, among others, have complained the Coalition has focused on getting irrigation water for agriculture while ignoring the campaign for clean drinking water and decent housing for farmworkers, who are the poorest working people in America.  The Coalition has yet to speak out on farmworker health, safety and drinking water issues.
Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez
Lopez is credited with luring Paul Rodriguez to head the Latino Water Coalition two years ago.  He had brought Rodriguez to Orange Cove in 1990 to help raise funds because of a freeze which damaged much of the citrus crop and threw the town’s predominantly farmworker population out of work.
Lopez has been a controversial figure in the small farm town of Orange Cove, 40 miles southeast of Fresno, for more than three decades.  When he was elected to a fifth four-year term as mayor in 2006, his opponents claimed he had disgraced the city by hiring relatives and travelling the world on city funds, ostensibly on “official business.” 
A November 8, 2006 Fresno Bee article said Lopez’s critics and opponents accused him of squandering $174,000 in city funds on travel to China, South Korea, Mexico and elsewhere in the  five years previous to the 2006 election.  Lopez brushed off his critics by claiming they were merely jealous of him and noted he had brought tens of millions of dollars of state and federal grant money to Orange Cove.
Fifteen years ago, Lopez called a community meeting to discuss graffiti, vandalism and gang problems.  “It's a major issue,” Lopez told the Fresno Bee in a January 27, 1994 article. “We have complaints about gang activity, graffiti, vandalism, and we have to deal with it.”  Lopez said then that there were four gangs in Orange Cove, and officials wanted to find the root of the problem.   'We will do whatever has to be done to remedy the situation,” Lopez predicted.
The 66-year-old Lopez is still mired in controversy.  On May 24 of this year, the Fresno Bee ran a front page story saying a BMX bike park in Orange Cove, which was supposed to be financed by a $490,000 state grant from the California State Parks Department, had run into serious financial problems.   The grant application listed gang problems as one of the reasons a bike park was needed.
State auditors say the city spent lavishly for the park but funds were unaccounted for.  The Bee investigation discovered the city had put Lopez’s son in charge of overseeing the project in a no bid contract even though the son had no engineering experience.  A Lopez grandson was given a security guard job at the bike park.  Odilon Ortiz, the city’s former finance manager who challenged Lopez for the mayor’s job in the 2006 election, said Lopez wanted the project completed before the election and classified the project as an emergency and instructed staff to ignore normal contract bidding rules. 
Lopez is also the only mayor in Fresno County paid by the county Economic Opportunities Commission.  Since 1971, he has drawn a $43,000 a year salary from the EOC as a “rural development specialist.”
State Parks officials say Orange Cove, with a meager budget of $1.7 million, may be forced to cover the bike park construction costs if the $490,000 state grant is withheld.   Local officials also admit the bike park is rarely used.  Lopez told the Bee, “I have been here for 30 years and can hold my head high.  We’ve done nothing wrong.”
In what may be a coincidence, the Fresno County Council of Governments (COG), comprised of Fresno City and 15 smaller cities in the county, approved a May 21 letter to the governor on an emergency basis (the item had not been on the agenda) recommending that Mario Santoyo be appointed to the State Parks and Recreation Commission, which sets policy for the state Parks Department.   The letter identified Santoyo as the founder and president  of the Latino Coalition.  Santoyo and Lopez have worked closely together in the Latino Water Coalition.  Lopez sits on the COG board.
Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson
Larson is the 75-year-old Fresno County supervisor who represents the Westlands area.  He is a former pesticide/fertilizer salesman, farmer and former head of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.   After he spoke at the July 1 Fresno City Hall water rally and was leaving the podium, Paul Rodriguez, acting as MC, wisecracked, “there goes a walking sex scandal.” After Victor Lopez gave a near-shouted speech in Spanish, Rodriguez joked he should run for president of Honduras. Like I said, Paul Rodriguez is a funny guy.
Larson has offered his county office and secretarial services to the Latino Coalition, a private non-profit group, raising questions about the appropriateness of the use of his office as a fund-raising mechanism for the private organization.
Larson frequently states in TV interviews that the avowed purpose of environmentalists is to end farming in the San Joaquin Valley. Of course, he never names a single environmentalist who actually holds this view.  It is clear, however, that he’s looking out for the interests of the big growers as well as the small family farms.
On March 1 of this year, there was a special session of the Fresno City Council called by member Cynthia Sterling.  Visiting Fresno was California Rep. Adam Schiff, who is considered to have clout in Congress about where federal economic revitalization funds might be spent.  Stirling was hoping some of that federal stimulus money will flow to Fresno.  According to Stephen Smith, a member of the Fresno County Democratic Party Central Committee, who attended the special session and took notes, Supervisor Larson showed up and wanted to know if the Obama Administration’s announced intention to limit farm subsidies to farms or farm companies producing under $500,000 worth of crops a year  was set in stone.  Larson said he had a friend and a nephew who both easily exceeded the $500,000 figure in gross annual farm receipts, which Larson considered a low figure.  In essence, Smith said, Larson was asking Schiff to go back to Washington and lobby for more subsidy money for big farms.  Rep. Schiff made no commitment to do so.  Smith said he was astounded by Larson’s comments.
KMJ commentator Inga Barks
Barks, who hosts a daytime radio talk show in Bakersfield and a similar evening show on KMJ radio in Fresno, is a conservative who loves to bash Democrats, liberals and environmentalists, who she labels as “humaphobes” a term she coined for me, according to her blog on the KMJ website.  She knows little about water issues but that doesn’t stop her from blathering the agribusiness party line of the moment, oblivious to the fact Big Ag is awash in subsidy programs that, as a conservative, she should despise.
She doesn’t have anything to do with the Latino Water Coalition as far as I can tell.  However she has viciously attacked me on the air several times (as a typical environmentalist) and thus I include her here.  Shortly after my controversial televised remarks about the pathology of farmworker culture in early February she posted the following comment, in part, on the Internet:  “I am convinced that Mr. Carter is not a racist, but an elitist. He doesn’t care about the laborer because he doesn’t care about the farmer.  He doesn’t care about the farmer because he believes the bread basket of the world (Central California Valley) should be a desert where the blunt[-]nosed leopard lizard runs free.  Regardless [of] race, he hates you, your car, your farm and your water faucet.”
Come now Inga, I hate water faucets?  And stop calling the Valley a breadbasket because grains, which is what bread is made from, are mostly grown in the Midwest.  You can call the San Joaquin Valley the Fruit Basket of the Nation, or the Lettuce Bowl of the Nation, but not the bread basket.
But, hey, it’s right wing talk radio, right?
As Mrs. Barks herself put it in an April column in the Bakersfield Californian:  “Talk radio also gives a voice to people who actually believe in God without harassing them like they are some kind of uneducated, back-water, snake-handling, NASCAR-watching, country music-listening, intermarrying, group of bumpkins/possible terrorists. We have a groundswell of populism every day on my show.”  How about a groundswell of accurate facts?
Others in the Latino Water Coalition or supporting the cause
Although  Paul Rodriguez is listed as the chair of the Latino Water Coalition, the organization, according to its website,  includes three co-chairs including Orange Cove Mayor Victor P. Lopez, Ruben Guerra of the Latin Business Association and Tony Estremera, a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.  Lopez and Guerra have spoken at Latino Coalition events along with Piedad Ayala, a farm labor contractor, who has provided farmworkers to West Side agribusiness for nearly 20 years and was reportedly in charge of busing in paid and unpaid farmworkers to Coalition events.  
Last of all is the congressional point man of the Coalition is clearly Rep.  Nunes.  Nunes has taken to posting videos on YouTube of his regular diatribes on the floor of Congress, a  popular astroturfing tactic employed by the big public relations firms.  He is likely the person who connected the Friant Water Users and/or the Latino Coalition with Burson-Marsteller.  After Part One of my article was printed, a B-M official told a Fresno television station it was advising  the Coalition but insisted the firm was donating its services.  Please note, however, that Burson-Marsteller has not said no one is paying the high-priced firm.  They have been advising the Friant Unit  growers for three years and they are surely being paid consulting fees for that.
In the final analysis the biggest problem the Latino Coalition may face in the next year is not finances, or a coherent message that resonates nationally, or being pulled apart by partisan political bickering.  An El Nino weather pattern is forming in the Pacific Ocean and forecasters are predicting we may be heading into a wet winter. It’s hard to cry drought, even regulatory drought, when California’s rivers are running full.   Rodriguez better come up with some good jokes for that scenario. 
Top officials in the Interior Department say Endangered Species Act will not be suspended to aid Westlands Water District
from: http://www.eenews.net/
Obama admin won't relax ESA to aid Calif. farmers -- Interior official…Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Obama administration won't ease enforcement of the Endangered Species Act to help California farmers struggling with three
straight years of drought and decades of water mismanagement, a top Interior Department official said yesterday in an interview.
Deputy Secretary David Hayes, Interior's point person on California water issues, said the administration's commitment to the law is firm despite the intense
pressure from the San Joaquin Valley to lift pumping restrictions ordered to protect salmon and the delta smelt in Northern California.
"Compliance with the ESA is obviously something that's required," Hayes said.
In a recent town hall-style meeting in Fresno, a farming community hit hard by the recession, Hayes' boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, told
frustrated workers that rolling back the law would be "admitting failure" (Greenwire, June 29).
But farmers, water districts and some members of California's congressional delegation have continued taking shots at the law, given the state's tough
economic conditions, the drought and limited pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region to restore salmon runs and protect the delta smelt.
ESA protections have reduced water deliveries from lakes Shasta and Oroville through the delta into the state's aqueducts.
Hayes stressed that he is "sympathetic" with farmers and others suffering from a water supply crisis that by one estimate has cost the state 35,000 agricultural jobs and $830 million in revenue. He is leading an Interior task force to address the multiple problems facing the state, which is also reeling from a collapsed salmon fishing industry to the tune of $1.4 billion, in addition to acres of fallowed fields, the prospect of rationing in urban areas and degraded ecosystems.
"It's important to dial back the rhetoric here," Hayes said. "The major stakeholders on all sides have recognized that the status quo is unsustainable."
Stimulus first
Hayes, a veteran environmental attorney who worked at Interior during the Clinton administration before taking a job at Latham and Watkins, was
handpicked by Salazar earlier this summer to plummet into the worst of the California water maze and start fashioning a federal response.
How's it going? Until now, Hayes has focused on how to spend $160 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act earmarked specifically for
the federal Central Valley Project, which is a primary source of water for farmers and municipalities near the delta.
Interior last week released $40 million in stimulus funds for a number of infrastructure projects, including the installation of pipelines, pumps and water wells. Elsewhere, the Bureau of Reclamation has been busy lining up willing buyers and sellers to move about 250,000 acre-feet of water around the state.
"There are a lot of areas in California that are doing relatively well in terms of water supply," Hayes said. "We've been working hard on water transfers."
Hayes added that the department will continue to identify projects to back financially, to include water reuse and conservation efforts. In all, stimulus funding for California's drought-related activities is $391million.
'Very daunting'
Looking forward, Hayes admitted that the prospect of cutting through red tape to bring competing commercial interests, environmentalists and the
suite of government agencies involved to the table to somehow work toward a solution to California's perennial water problems couldn't be more difficult.
Add to that mix a surging population and climate change likely causing decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada in the years ahead.
"It is very daunting," Hayes said. "It's the perfect storm of challenging problems."
Among the solutions often cited in the state are building more dams to increase storage capacity or constructing a canal around the delta to avoid having to pump water through from reservoirs and rivers to the north. Salazar and others have been cold toward the prospect of new dams, but the canal idea may have legs, Hayes said.
"All the analytical work and evaluation work associated with [the canal] is just getting under way," Hayes said. "It's certainly premature to have a position."
Another shorter-term answer is the "Two Gates" plan, which would drop gates into the delta to prevent the smelt from getting sucked into the pumps. Members of Congress have urged Salazar to speed up an environmental review of the plan, but Hayes said the proposal needs further examination.
"That project just appeared on our radar screen," he said. "We're very interested in it, and we're analyzing it."
Looking at the bigger picture, Hayes said, Interior is working with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to advance the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which aims to improve ecosystem health in the delta while balancing deliveries to 25 million Californians. Hayes said the priority is to "co-prioritize" and not alienate any interest.
"The point is, the system has been operated in a way that is not sustainable either for reliable water supplies or for the environment," he said. "There's a structural challenge that needs to be addressed."
Stealth Legislation Unveiled: A Road Map to the Peripheral Canal...Dan Bacher
The stealth package of water bills proceeding through the California Legislature comprise a virtual road map to the peripheral canal, according to Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
The stealth package of water bills proceeding through the California Legislature comprise a virtual road map to the peripheral canal - an obscenely expensive and environmentally destructive project that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dianne Feinstein and California Legislators have been relentlessly campaigning for over the past two years.
A broad coalition of recreational fishing groups, commercial fishing organizations, Delta farmers, American Indian Tribes and principled environmentalists is strongly opposing the canal, a bad idea that was voted down overwhelmingly by California voters in 1982.
The five bills that were gutted and passed out of Policy Committees have now been reformatted and released, according to breaking news from Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).
"They will be headed to a joint conference committee and then moved to the floor of the respective houses for a vote," said Jennings. CSPA has quickly reviewed the reformatted bills and issued the following initial reaction. An in-depth review will follow in the next day or so.
"As expected, the five bills comprise a road map to a peripheral canal," noted Jennings. "In a stunning abdication of legislative responsibility and due diligence, the package authorizes the creation of a Delta Stewardship Council comprised of four members appointed by the Governor, two from the legislature and the Chairperson of the Delta Protection Commission."
The Council would have authority to implement a peripheral canal and assess fees and issue bonds to pay for it. "In other words, our legislature proposes to allow the Governor, who strenuously advocates building a peripheral canal, the authority to appoint a majority of members to a Council that has authority to build and fund it," explained.
The five bills are: AB 39, the Delta Plan (Huffman), AB 49, Water Conservation (Feuer), SB 12, Delta Governance (Simitian), SB 229, Water Use Reporting (Pavley) and SB 458, Delta Conservancy (Wolk).
"Collectively, the bills are a legislative shell game that raises bureaucratic mumbo jumbo to an art form," stated Jennings. "While there are some good things to like (i.e., no new dams, conservation, and beneficiary pays principle), the total package is a bureaucratic nightmare and a Valhalla for attorneys."
"It pays lip service to fish and Delta restoration, turns the water code upside down, places a financial and water burden on the most senior upstream water rights holders and will double or triple water rates for those least able to pay - in order to subsidize the guarantee of water to the most junior water rights holders that grow subsidized crops on drainage impaired lands on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley; lands that when irrigated leach toxic wastes back to the San Joaquin River and Delta," he emphasized.
Jennings compares the poorly-conceived, fast-tracked peripheral canal legislation to the energy deregulation fiasco that was pushed by Legislators and corporate-funded "environmental" groups under the Pete Wilson administration, resulting in power black outs and dramatic power rate hikes through unscrupulous gaming of the market by energy companies including Exxon and Reliant Energy.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), through its chief energy spokesperson Ralph Cavanagh, played a key role in drafting, passing and then defending the energy deregulation bill that passed through the Legislature in 1996, according to "Unnatural Disaster: Deregulated California Utilities are Electrocuting the Public," by Harvey Wasserman, 1/25/01 (http://www.ratical.org/ratville/dereg/#UD).
"In sum, the package reminds us of the time the Legislature panicked and rushed into energy deregulation without thoughtfully considering the consequences," Jennings concluded. "But, energy deregulation only cost us $43 billion. This package may end up costing us that much and kill the Delta, northern California fisheries and Delta farming along the way."
A water bond including a peripheral canal would cost anywhere from $10-40 billion today and much more over the thirty years trying to pay it back, according to Steve Evans, conservation director of Friends of the River. However, the cost to the commercial and recreational fishing industries and Delta farmers impacted by the building of "Arnold's Big Ditch" would be billions and billions of dollars more. And the cost of driving endangered species including Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales over the edge of extinction would be incalculable.
The peripheral canal would be approximately the size and length of the Panama Canal. The canal would have the capacity to transport 15,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) from the Sacramento River around the Delta. A conveyance to transport 15,000 cfs. would be between 500 and 700 feet wide, requiring a 1300-foot right-of-way, based on an engineering report completed in August 2006 by Washington Group International for the State Water Contractors. That’s the width of a 100-lane freeway!
The length of the conveyance would be between 47 and 48 miles. By comparison, the Panama Canal is between 500 and 1000 feet wide and is 50 miles long.
The current plan for "improved conveyance" under the Delta Vision and Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) processes is for "dual conveyance," consisting of a through Delta route teamed up with the peripheral canal. Two routes for the peripheral canal are proposed - a western route and an eastern route.
The Department of Water Resources will begin drilling in river bottoms at 16 locations for proposed canal intakes on the Sacramento, Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers starting this month. This drilling follows land-based surveys by DWR being done under the BDCP.
Canal opponents from throughout northern California will be holding a “million boat float” from Antioch to Sacramento on August 16 and 17 to save the California Delta and stop the construction of the peripheral canal. For more information, go to: http://www.millionboatfloat.org/index.htm.
For the latest updates on the Delta stealth legislation package, go to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) website at http://www.calsport.org.
Schwarzenegger Appoints New Commissioner Day Before MLPA Vote...Dan Bacher
In an apparent attempt to "stack the deck" in a California Fish and Game Commission vote today over widely-disputed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Governor Arnold Scharzenegger appointed a new Commissioner, Donald Benninghoven, on Monday.
Members of a broad coalition of grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, seaweed harvesters, Native Americans and North Coast elected officials believe that the decision to appoint a Commissioner should have been delayed, since the Commissioner will be making one of the key decisions the Commission will vote on this year. They are asking for a delay in the implementation of Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process, due to concerns over mission creep, conflicts of interest and the corruption of the democracy in Schwarzenegger's corrupt fast-track process.
A Republican from Santa Barbara, Benninghoven served on the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force in the north central region from 2007 to 2009. He voted for the "Integrated Preferred Alternative" (IPA) for the region under consideration today at the F&G Commission in Woodland.
Benninghoven replaces the former President of the Commission, Cindy Gustafson, who resigned from her post on Friday. Gustafson was considered a swing vote on the MLPA and other natural resource issues. Environmental justice advocates fear that Benninghoven, having served on the MLPA panel where he voted for the IPA, will be a ves vote for the IPA favored by the Governor and his staff.
This alternative will kick American Indian and other seaweed harvesters and seafood gatherers off their traditional harvesting areas in the Point Arena and other areas. It will also remove sustainable recreational and commercial fishermen, already hammered by the most restrictive fishing regulations for groundfish in the world, from their traditional fishing areas.
The Governor and his corporate-funded NGO collaborators, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Ocean Conservancy, are pushing for this vote just five days after a peer-reviewed report in Science Magazine revealed that the California current marine groundfish fishery is the healthiest of any surveyed in the world, due to severe fishing restrictions by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and other measures.
Schwarzenegger, the worst Governor for fish and the environment in California history, is pushing the fast-track MLPA process in order to tout his "green" credentials at a time that he presided over the collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, striped bass and other California Delta fish populations. Meanwhile, the Governor, Nature Conservancy, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Schwarzenegger Democrats are campaigning for a peripheral canal and more dams that only exacerbate the imperiled state of estuary fish populations and drive them over the edge of extinction.
Real environmentalists don't support Schwarzenegger in his attempt to kick seaweed harvesters, abalone divers and fishermen off the water in order to remove the strongest opponents of corporate plans to build offshore oil rigs, wave energy projects and corporate aquaculture. Real environmentalists support the suspension or halting of the corrupt MLPA process while taking a strong, definitive stand against the Governor's relentless campaign to build a peripheral canal and more dams!
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Contact: Aaron McLear, Rachel Cameron 916-445-4571
Governor Schwarzenegger Announces Appointment
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced the following appointment:
Donald Benninghoven, 76, of Santa Barbara, has been appointed to the Fish and Game Commission. Prior to retiring, he served as executive director and member of the board for the City-County-School Partnership from 1998 to 2000, a cooperative venture of the California State Association of Counties, the California School Boards Association and the League of California Cities. Prior to that, from 1958 to 1998, Benninghoven held several positions at the League of California Cities including executive director. He served on the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force from 2007 to 2009. Benninghoven also previously served as secretary for the City-County-School Partnership, chairman of the California Center for Civic Renewal and a member of the Institute for Local Self Government Executive Committee. In addition, he was a member on the Governor’s Commission on Transportation Financing, vice chair of the California State Constitution Revision Commission and member on the Governor’s Commission on Local Government Financing. Benninghoven is a member of the California Game Wardens Foundation and is a lifelong outdoorsman, fisherman and hunter. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Benninghoven is a Republican.
Los Angeles Times
Democratic lawmakers introduce bills to deal with California water policy
The package would create a politically appointed council that could approve projects, such as a canal, involving the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Local farm interests are critical...Bettina Boxall
Democratic lawmakers unveiled a package of water bills Tuesday that would create a politically appointed council with power to push through projects dealing with the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the troubled hub of California's waterworks.
The legislation, which deals with issues including conservation, ecosystem restoration and water rights, aims to break the stalemate over state water policy.
But the proposals are already under fire from some interests that fear the bills are a blueprint for jamming through big construction projects, such as a canal that would carry water around the delta.
The legislation, which is to be fleshed out in a conference committee when lawmakers return to Sacramento later this month, does not specifically authorize any projects. Rather, it creates the Delta Stewardship Council, which would have the authority to pursue delta restoration work and a "water conveyance facility."
Four of the council's seven members would be appointed by the governor and two by the Legislature. The seventh would be the chair of the Delta Protection Commission.
The bills call for water conservation and delta protections. They would also set in motion a potentially explosive examination of water rights in the delta watershed.
"Neither the delta ecosystem nor the state's water needs have been well served by decades of benign neglect," said Silicon Valley Sen. Joe Simitian, author of one of five bills in the package and chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. "The system of governance is broken and the system of conveyance is broken."
Backers hope that a confluence of factors has created a window for action on the state's water problems, pushed into headlines this year by drought and environmental restrictions on delta pumping.
They aim to get the package to the Assembly and Senate for floor votes before the Legislature's adjournment in mid-September.
Only majority approval is required for the bills, meaning Democrats would need little Republican support. But that does not necessarily mean smooth sailing.
Delta farm interests and some environmentalists are wary of anything that could clear the way for a delta canal, a version of which was killed by California voters in the early 1980s.
"It's a fairly global, comprehensive package," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which imports water from the delta. "Whenever you do that, you're taking on a lot of sacred cows."
Kightlinger said he was glad the bills dealt with "most of the major issues that need to be addressed. The large 'but' is we have concerns with quite a few of the mechanics of how they want to do it."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has called for construction of new reservoirs and indicated support for a delta canal, said in a statement that "fixing California's broken water system cannot be put off any longer; we must get it done this session.
"I look forward to reviewing their proposal and working in a quick and bipartisan way toward a comprehensive water plan that focuses on water supply reliability, conservation, environmental protection and increased storage."
Merced Sun-Star
Dennis Cardoza: Thoughts on health reform
As the representative for the 18th Congressional District, my office routinely receives calls from people needing my assistance on a host of matters.
Among the most difficult calls are those from constituents who have had a medical need that has gone untreated.
Like many of you, I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe we need to reform health care in the United States.
The simple fact is that health care costs are spiraling out of control in our country. Too many people are sacrificing other basic needs in order to cover the cost of their medical bills.
Even worse, as you know, many people simply are not able to get needed medical treatment because an insurance company considers it to be a "pre-existing condition."
The bottom line is we currently pay much more for our health care than any other country. Yet the satisfaction rate among patients who deal with complicated insurance regulations is among the lowest in the industrialized world.
In our district, we have significant health care challenges.
More than a quarter of my constituents simply have no health insurance at all.
Each year, 6,500 seniors in the district hit the so called "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D and are forced to pay their full drug costs.
In 2008, an estimated 1,730 health care-related bankruptcies in the district were caused primarily by health care costs not being covered by insurance.
Also in 2008, health care providers in the district provided $167 million worth of uncompensated care to patients who lacked insurance coverage and were unable to pay their bills.
The cost of health care for those uninsured is often picked up at the county's expense.
It often results in medical providers shifting the burden to those who can pay for treatment. Our problems are further compounded by a lack of physicians in the Valley due to the reimbursement rates that our doctors receive under current federal policies.
What we need is health care reform that actually works, that actually reduces costs and improves the quality of care we receive.
In July, a health care reform bill was introduced in the House. It is now making its way through various committees and going through the markup process. There is a long way to go before this bill becomes law.
The guiding principles for any measure that receives my vote include:
A mechanism to improve access to care and increase the number of physicians in the Valley.
The patient's right to choose their physicians.
Health care decisions determined by medical professionals and the patient.
Comprehensive coverage.
Additionally, I believe that significant cost savings can be identified within our current system. Until those savings are found -- and waste, fraud and abuse are eliminated -- I cannot support a financing mechanism that places the cost burden solely on private employers or taxpayers.
Please be assured that as this process continues I will work to bring about the best possible outcome for those I represent and am happy to hear your views on this issue. You may e-mail me through my Web site or call my offices at any time.
You can reach Rep. Dennis Cardoza at < i>target="_blank">www.house.gov/cardoza/ or (209) 383-4455.
Letter: Cardoza, come home...PETE ROBINSON, Atwater...Letters to the editor 
Editor: I have just gotten off the phone with a staff member from Rep. Dennis Cardoza's office informing me that he has no plans for any hometown meetings during the current congressional recess.
I warned in a previous letter to the editor (June 2) what would happen when he moved to Maryland.
Whether you agree or oppose Cardoza and his policies, all would have to agree that during this watershed period of our nation, it is incumbent upon our representative to "sound out" his constituents on important issues.
Modesto Bee
Vital Central Valley water sensors at risk from budget cuts…Matt Weiser…8-4-09
http://www.modbee.com/region/v-print804772.html /story/
Dozens of critical sensors tracking temperamental Central Valley rivers could blink out next year because of California's budget problems.
Some of the sensors, known as streamflow gages, have operated for more than 100 years, providing vital real-time data on river elevation and flow volume that are vital to flood safety, environmental protection and water supply.
Hydrologists, engineers and federal agencies spell the device used to measure water velocity and other measurement related issues as gage -- not gauge.
All but six of the threatened gages are in Northern California, and most monitor rivers converging on Sacramento and the Central Valley.
"I'm just astounded by this," said Joe Countryman, president of MBK Engineers in Sacramento, a consulting firm that relies on data from the gages to design flood-control projects accurately. "To cut basic data when you have a budget crisis does not make any sense. You're sacrificing your entire future."
The devices are operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, but 60 percent of the money to keep them going comes from the California Department of Water Resources under an annual contract.
State budget problems delayed this year's contract. It wasn't signed until late June – nine months late – and the state has not yet paid any of the $1.2 million it owes USGS under the contract.
In July, USGS published a list of the threatened streamflow gages on its Web site: 279 in 35 states. California, with 56 on the list, has the most at risk.
There are dozens of additional stream gages throughout the state. But those identified by the USGS as "threatened" are important because they are longtime benchmarks for understanding rivers.
For example, one gage at risk is at a point called Vernalis on the San Joaquin River. It's a key monitor for fish protection and flood management in the southern Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A gage in some form has tracked the river at this location for 85 years.
Another, at a point called Verona on the Sacramento River, helps emergency managers determine how much floodwater is headed for the Sacramento metro area. A gage has operated there for 83 years.
The budget signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week contains funds for the program, said Arthur Hinojosa, hydrology branch chief at the Department of Water Resources. This means the gages are assured to operate through the end of October.
But problems loom. That's because DWR will tap part of next year's budget allocation to cover money due this year, Hinojosa said. This could leave a budget shortfall for the program in 2010.
"We could still end up making cuts to what we provide USGS over the coming year, and have to scale back some of the gages," he said. "I'm just holding my breath hoping for no more (budget) cuts."
The gages consist of electronic devices that measure the depth and flow in rivers. Usually solar powered, their data are relayed via satellite to computers that make the data available on the Internet.
This allows environmental regulators, water managers and flood control officials over a vast area to learn in an instant what all the Valley's rivers are doing.
The information, among other things, provides a long record of river behavior that helps hydrologists design safe levees. It also helps local communities predict when and where a flood might strike.
Each gage costs $22,000 a year to maintain, because an expert must visit each site monthly to check accuracy.
The potential reductions come even as scientists want more river monitors to better understand climate change. Hundreds of streams feed the Central Valley, the funnel for half of California's precipitation, and many have no sensors at all.
Jim Bowers, program manager at USGS, fears perhaps 20 of the threatened gages could be shut down next year.
He said more gages not on the list also could be in danger. That's because they are funded by cities and counties, which have had billions of dollars in revenue taken away by state budget balancing tactics.
"We need a backbone network of gaging stations to assess water supply and provide critical flood-hazard information," Bowers said. "The program now is subject to the ups and downs of the economy."
He said other federal agencies have recently expressed interest in helping pay for some monitors if state or local funds aren't available.
Another bright spot is the potential for $5 million in new USGS funding for national stream monitoring in the federal budget recently proposed by the Obama administration. This could help keep some California gages operating next year if state money isn't available, Bowers said.
Countryman believes the federal government should carry a larger share of the monitoring costs as part of the national agenda on flood protection and climate change.
"A first-class data acquisition program ... would be a very, very small (federal) budget item," he said. "Without this data, policy is just speculation."
State adopts new set of marine protected areas...JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO -- State wildlife regulators on Wednesday voted to establish new protected areas off the central and northern California coast where fishing would be banned or restricted.
The California Fish and Game Commission approved the second of five planned areas of California coastline in which marine reserves and parks will be created.
The approved zone stretches from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County to just north of the Point Arena in Mendocino County and includes 21 marine protected areas.
The protected areas - a mixture of reserves, marine parks and managed recreation areas covering about 155 square miles of sea - become official on Jan. 1, 2010. They cover waters up to three miles off the coast, beyond which lies ocean under federal jurisdiction.
About 11 percent of the total protected area will be completely closed to fishing, said Adrianna Shea, the commission's deputy director. The hope is that by creating these underwater wildlife preserves where sea life can live unharmed, populations of groundfish like cod, abalone and crab will rebound.
The first cluster of marine protected areas was approved in 2007, scattered throughout an region covering about 200 square miles from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to Pigeon Point.
California has 1,100 miles of coastline, and the area approved Wednesday is the second of five currently under study. Up next are plans for waters off the Southern California, the northernmost coasts and San Francisco Bay. It is all part of the state's Marine Life Protection Act, which passed in 1999 to create these refuges to help struggling sea life rebound.
The plan was formed after a year of study by a 40-person committee of conservationists, fishermen, coastal residents and others who worked out a compromise to submit to the commission.
Some commercial fishing groups disagreed strongly with the plan, saying enough regulation currently exists on fisheries. The state's commercial fisherman have been hit hard after two years of canceled Chinook salmon fishing seasons and other restrictions.
"It's a fishy business that this expensive new program claims to protect the ocean, but in reality won't even address water pollution, which we all know is a major issue," Vern Goehring of the California Fisheries Coalition said in a statement.
However, environmental groups applauded the commission's vote, pointing to studies of similar marine protected areas in Florida and elsewhere that have helped struggling fish populations recover.
"Each of us has a stake in the health of the ocean, and we have a responsibility to protect it," said Samantha Murray of the Ocean Conservancy, who worked in the state's study group.
"Studies show that marine protected areas allow fish and wildlife to grow larger, more abundant and healthier," she said. "And that's a win for everyone."
Stockton Record
Agency faulted for chlorine in creek...The Record
SONORA - The State Water Resources Control Board says in a proposed order that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board disregarded excessive chlorine being discharged into Woods Creek from a Sonora sewage treatment plant and also inappropriately increased the amount of chlorine that Sonora and Jamestown government agencies were allowed to discharge into the creek.
The proposed order the state board issued this week would require the regional board to revise its pollution permit for the treatment plant that serves the two cities to bring chlorine discharges within legal limits.
Woods Creek flows into Don Pedro Reservoir, a popular fishing area and a tributary to the Tuolumne River. The order points out that even extremely low concentrations of chlorine are damaging to fish populations.
The state board's proposed order is in response to a petition filed by the California Sport Fishing Protection Alliance, a Stockton-based organization that advocates to protect fish populations and water quality. The state board will hold a hearing on the proposed order at 9 a.m. Sept. 15 in the Coastal hearing room of the Cal/EPA building, 1001 I St., Sacramento. Information: www.waterboards.ca.gov/board_decisions/tentative_orders
San Francisco Chronicle
Court blocks road construction in national forests...MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer
A federal appeals court Wednesday blocked road construction in at least 40 million acres of pristine national forests.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates most of a 2001 rule put in place by President Bill Clinton just before he left office that prohibited commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of national forest in 38 states and Puerto Rico. A subsequent Bush administration rule had cleared the way for more commercial activity there.
The latest ruling, issued in San Francisco, sides with several Western states and environmental groups that sued the Forest Service after it reversed the so-called "Roadless Rule" in 2005.
But it is not the final word on roadless forests.
A separate case is pending in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where environmental groups are appealing a Wyoming district court decision repealing the Clinton roadless rule.
"It's up and down like a yo-yo," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group. "It seems to be bouncing from one court to the other."
The Obama administration cited that legal uncertainty this spring in ordering a one-year moratorium on most road-building in national forests.
A May 28 directive by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gives him sole decision-making authority over all proposed forest management or road construction projects in designated roadless areas in all states except Idaho. Idaho was one of two states that developed its own roadless rule under the 2005 Bush policy, which gave states more control over whether and how to block road-building in remote forests.
Lawyers involved in the case said the 9th Circuit ruling reinstated the Clinton era rule everywhere except Idaho and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Idaho created its own plan for roadless forests and the Tongass was exempted from roadless protection in a separate 2003 decision.
Vilsack said in May that his directive should ensure that oversight of activities in the affected areas can continue while long-term roadless policy is developed and court cases proceed.
Justin DeJong, a spokesman for Vilsack, said Wednesday that "the Obama administration supports conservation of roadless areas in our national forests, and this decision today reaffirms the protection of these resources."
The Obama administration has not said whether it will defend the Clinton rule in the Wyoming court battle, but environmentalists say the administration should step in to protect roadless areas.
"We're not out of the woods yet," said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst with The Wilderness Society in Seattle.
The 9th Circuit decision "halts the Bush administration assault on roadless areas, but the Obama administration must now take the next steps necessary to make protection permanent and nationwide," he said.
Even without that step, environmental advocates hailed the ruling, calling it the end of the Bush-era rule on roadless forests.
"This is a huge step. It puts the roadless rule back in place," said Kristen Boyles, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, which represented a coalition of environmental groups in the case.
Boyles, who has fought for nearly eight years to uphold the 2001 roadless rule, said the 9th Circuit ruling "is what we need to be able to have the protection on the ground for the last wild places and for hikers and campers."
In its 38-page decision, the appeals court said the 2005 Bush rule "had the effect of permanently repealing uniform, nationwide, substantive protections that were afforded to inventoried roadless areas" in national forests, replacing them with a system the Forest Service "had rejected as inadequate a few years earlier."
The court said the 2001 rule offered greater protection to remote forests than the 2005 rule, adding that the 2001 rule has "immeasurable benefits from a conservationist standpoint."
Meanwhile, developments continue on the ground.
Last month, Vilsack approved a timber sale in a roadless area of Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The sale allows Pacific Log and Lumber to clear-cut about 380 acres in the Tongass, the largest federal forest. About nine miles of roads will be constructed to allow the logging.
Timber sales in other roadless areas are pending, including a forest thinning project in Oregon that would allow logging of about 900 acres in the Umpqua National Forest near Diamond Lake. About 25 miles of roads would be built.
"What the Forest Service is proposing on the doorstep of Crater Lake National Park is harmful, unnecessary and illegal," said Doug Heiken of the environmental group Oregon Wild.
Partin, of the timber industry group, countered that the project would reduce the risk of wildfire and insect infestation.
"If we don't treat them before they die (of insect infestation) we will have massive wildfires," Partin said.
The case is state of California et al. v. USDA, 07-15613.
On the Net:
9th Circuit: www.ca9.uscourts.gov/opinions/
Forest Service: www.fs.fed.us
Earthjustice: www.earthjustice.org
Judge approves Smoky Canyon Mine expansion...REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press Writer
Boise, Idaho (AP) -- An environmental group promises to appeal a federal ruling that on Tuesday approved the expansion of a phosphate mine into a roadless area near Yellowstone National Park.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams said the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management followed the necessary steps when considering the J.R. Simplot Company's request to expand its Smoky Canyon Mine.
"We already know we're going to appeal," said Marv Hoyt, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which sued to stop the expansion. "We basically believe the judge erred in virtually every one of the claims we brought forward."
The J.R. Simplot Co. has mined phosphate rock from leased land in the Caribou National Forest since 1983, supplying about 1.5 million tons of phosphate ore a year to the company's Don fertilizer plant in Pocatello. But the Smoky Canyon Mine's phosphate reserves were expected to be completely played out by the summer of 2010, and last June the Bush administration approved a plan to allow the mine to expand into roadless areas of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
The company said the expansion into land about 100 miles south of Yellowstone National Park would provide enough phosphate to keep the Don plant running for another 15 years.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition sued, contending the expansion would further harm a region already polluted with selenium from past phosphate mining. Pollution from other mines in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of horses and hundreds of sheep grazing in areas tainted by selenium.
In its lawsuit, the coalition said the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management violated several federal rules, including the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Act.
Several entities intervened in the case to throw their support behind the mine, including the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck, Idaho and Afton, Wyo., counties on both sides of the state line, United Steel Workers Local 632 and the Idaho Farm Bureau. All said they would be hurt by disruptions to Simplot's phosphate supply.
In his ruling, Williams wrote that the case had been one of the more difficult issues for the court to decide and said that the Greater Yellowstone Coalition made some very good arguments on how the ground and surface water could be affected.
But ultimately, Williams said, the environmental group was making its claim based on a hypothetical future violation of federal clean water rules.
It's not the job of the court to judge the wisdom of government decisions, but only to make sure the agencies took a hard look at a proposed action, Williams said.
"The NEPA process worked here as it was designed to work," Williams wrote, noting that there was opportunity for the public, environmental groups and government agencies to comment on the expansion. "As a result of those comments and the Agencies' response, the ultimate action is more protective of the environment than it would have been without the process."
The expansion appears to strike a reasonable balance between the need of Simplot and its employees, farmers and stakeholders, the judge said.
"We're delighted by the decision and looking forward to continuing to mine phosphate rock in an environmentally responsible manner as we have done for many years," Simplot Company spokesman David Cuoio said in a prepared statement.
"We're also happy that the communities that are affected by this decision will continue to benefit economically from our phosphate-related operations."
UC to lend state millions to kick-start plans...Nanette Asimov
The cash-strapped University of California - forced to lay off employees, cut pay and offer fewer classes because of deep cuts in state funding - has now agreed to lend the state nearly $200 million.
In turn, the state will pay UC back over three years with 3.2 percent interest and will use the money specifically to help UC get its bulldozers moving again on several stalled capital projects at eight of its 10 campuses across the state.
Expanded medical classrooms at UCSF, a new Telemedicine Resource Center at UC Davis, and a Biomedical Sciences Facility at UC Santa Cruz are just some of the ventures that will move forward under the new agreement between UC and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.
"It's incredibly good news," said David Irby, vice dean for medical education at UCSF, which was cited six years ago by an accrediting agency for inadequate classroom space.
Typically, capital projects at UC are funded when the state sells bonds to pay for them. But since last December, California's chronic budget problems have hindered the state's ability to borrow money by selling bonds. So the state quit loaning money for infrastructure projects.
To get around the problem, UC took cues from other agencies such as Bay Area Toll Authority and Solano County. With better credit ratings than the state, the agencies borrowed money themselves in the public markets. They loaned the money to the state, which gave the money right back to them to pay for voter-approved infrastructure projects.
The state, which is cutting $813 million from the university's budget, will pay UC a higher rate of interest than UC paid to borrow the money.
"In the end, they'll make some money," said Lockyer's spokesman Tom Dresslar. "And they'll get work on some projects."
But UC spokesman Steve Montiel said profit was not the university's motive for approaching the state.
"We're doing it because we're presented with a situation that called for some creative thinking," he said.
Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, associate medical director at the Center for Health and Technology at UC Davis, is glad it did. For a decade, Davis has been a national leader in telemedicine - the use of video technology to bring specialists into rural doctors' offices to help treat patients with diabetes, HIV and other difficult conditions.
Since 2006, when voters approved Proposition 1D, a bond measure that gives $200 million to UC, Siddiqui and others at UC Davis have been waiting for the construction of a $35 million resource center that would transform the campus into a statewide training center for telemedicine.
"This agreement really does move this forward," Siddiqui said. "We're very excited about it."
Building plans
UC will lend $199.8 million to the state, which in turn will use the money to pay for voter-approved construction projects at UC campuses. In brief, here is how UC will spend the money:
UCSF: New classrooms and expansion of telemedicine services at the Parnassus campus and at San Francisco General Hospital. $32.4 million.
UC Davis: New four-story Telemedicine Resource Center. $35.1 million.
UC Santa Cruz: New five-story Biomedical Sciences Facility - $64.4 million - and a new Digital Arts Facility - $1 million.
UCLA: Expanded telemedicine services and medical facilities. $19.2 million.
UC Irvine: New biology, engineering and computer science equipment. $6.2 million.
UC Riverside: Equipment for a new science and technology building. $4.6 million.
UC San Diego: New medical training center - $32.7 million - plus expanded telemedicine services and new equipment for a music center. $1.6 million.
UC Santa Barbara: Education and social sciences equipment. $2.6 million.
Delta group details irk community...Alex Breitler
Schwarzenegger's administration supports a canal, or "isolated conveyance," to skirt water around the Delta to farms and cities as far south as San Diego.
SACRAMENTO - Four of the seven members of a proposed Delta Stewardship Council would be appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger under legislation unveiled Tuesday, advancing fears that such a council, if formed, would endorse a peripheral canal by the end of next year.
Two more members of the council would be appointed by legislative leaders; only one spot would be certain to represent Delta interests.
To peruse the legislation, visit http://www.assembly.ca.gov, click on "Committee Directory" and then "Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife." You'll see a link to "2009 Proposed Delta/Water Legislation."
"This shortchanges the Delta community," said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, head of Stockton-based Restore the Delta. "We've been left out of the process. It's another area where we can't express our needs as a community in an adequate manner."
Those details emerged Tuesday as legislative leaders unveiled long-awaited language of a package of five water bills expected to take high priority in Sacramento now that a state budget has been achieved.
Delta interests have long called for the language in these water bills to be made public, and they were critical that many of the details were hammered out in private negotiations rather than in public hearings.
While none of the bills explicitly calls for a peripheral canal to be built, the proposed council would develop by January 2011 a Delta plan that would include strategies approved by the Delta Vision Task Force. That body has recommended a canal be built while still allowing some fresh water to flow through the estuary.
The new council also would endorse an effort known as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, in which water users seek to build a canal and restore Delta habitat. There are conditions to this endorsement, including identifying how much water is needed to keep the Delta healthy, an analysis of all of the water-conveyance options and an assessment on how migratory fish would be affected.
In a statement, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, promised a "thorough and open process to review all the issues involved in protecting the Delta and the water it provides." That process begins with a public hearing Aug. 18 at the state Capitol.
Delta farmers could be affected by a provision in one of the bills, which would impose an annual fee on anyone who diverts water within the Central Valley watershed. These fees would pay for formation of the council's Delta plan. The council would include the hiring of an unknown number of state employees.
There are aspects of the legislation that Delta stakeholders may like. The bills mandate that if a multibillion-dollar canal is built, the water users must pay for it. And it calls for improved public access to the estuary as well as state and federal recognition of the Delta as a "place of special significance."
And there are no proposed dams, which appeals to environmental groups.
This is not be the first time Delta interests felt as though they were outside looking in.
Schwarzenegger's Delta Vision Task Force had no representatives from San Joaquin County, which accounts for the largest portion of the estuary.
"It doesn't seem to us like adequate representation," Barrigan-Parrilla said.
State officials already are studying potential locations for a canal, which supporters say would take pressure off Delta levees and prevent endangered fish from getting sucked into the export pumps near Tracy.
Critics call the canal a water grab that could turn the Delta into a stagnant swamp, destroying agriculture and forever changing recreational fishing and boating.
Vallejo Times-Herald
Solano seeks more clout on Delta council...Tony Burchyns
Solano County leaders voiced mixed feelings Wednesday about proposed state legislation meant to fix the Delta and address California's water supply issues. Local representation on a proposed Delta stewardship council, and the possibility of higher water rates, are expected to become key issues. Lawmakers in Sacramento on Tuesday announced a series of public hearings to review a package of bills. And local officials are expected to join the proceedings. "Whatever solution is found, we have to respect the Delta as a natural resource," Solano County Supervisor Linda Seifert said. Some 25 million Californians -- two-thirds of the state's population -- rely on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for their water. Local cities, including Vallejo and Benicia, rely on Delta water, as does agriculture, Solano County's largest industry. The bills address issues involved in restoring the Delta's threatened natural habitat and managing its water supply. The legislation follows up on the recommendations of the governor's Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force. The legislation would create a Delta stewardship council to manage the estuary's water supply. It also lays out a plan for protecting the Delta that the council would implement. Seifert said the Solano County Board of Supervisors supports a proposal to set up a conservancy to buy land around the Delta to restore the estuary's natural habitat. Other proposals, however, are still being considered by officials in Delta-bordering counties. A big question will be representation on the proposed Delta council, which would have the power to set fees on water-rights holders, among other things. "There will be a big discussion," Solano County Water Agency director David Okita said. "Right now, there would only be one local person out of seven members. "We'd like to have another person," Okita said, referring to the agency's position. Another issue could be whether water rates could rise because of fees established by the proposed council, Okita said. "Those costs could be passed to rate payers," he said. "We could have fees assessed to us that get passed on." Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who sits on the water agency's board of directors, said she views the issues as a matter of values, in this case, the environment versus the potential of higher rates. "If we value water running free, if we value fish, if we value clean healthy water, then maybe a dollar month would be OK," Patterson said, speaking hypothetically. Earlier this year, legislative leaders in the state Senate and Assembly directed committees on water and natural resources to hold hearings on the recommendations of the governor's task force. More recently, lawmakers voted to put five bills into the water conference committee. Both the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee will hold a series of joint, public hearings. The first is Aug. 18 at the State Capitol.
Los Angeles Times
Pesticides in well water linked to Parkinson's disease...Amy Littlefield, Greenspace
Farmworkers and their families pay for the cheap cost of California produce in more ways than one. Not only do they face low wages and harsh working conditions, but they also endure health effects from the hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides and fumigantsdumped onto fields near their homes annually. 
Now pesticides in private well water have been linked to Parkinson's disease, adding to the list of long-term health risks for people in agricultural areas.
Rural residents who drink from private wells are up to twice as likely to develop Parkinson's from certain pesticides, including methomyl, chlorpyrifos and propargite, a UCLA study has found. People with Parkinson's were more likely to have consumed water from private wells, and had done so for 4.3 years longer on average than people who did not have the disease.
Parkinson's is a disease of the central nervous system that can render patients unable to walk or speak. Complications from the disease are often fatal. Because Parkinson's develops over many years, researchers looked at pesticide data from 1974 to 1999.
Private wells could have higher levels of some chemicals, because they are not regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.
The study's lead author, Nicole Gatto, said she hoped the results of the study could be used to change the methods of pesticide application by increasing "awareness of how pesticides applied in the environment can affect people's health."
The groundbreaking study from UCLA researchers focused on residents of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties and used geographic information system mapping and pesticide use data, instead of relying on people's memories. The study is part of a larger project led by Dr. Beate Ritz at UCLA to measure the relationship between Parkinson's and pesticides. 
CNN Money
Half of mortgage borrowers will be 'underwater'
An estimated 25 million borrowers will owe more than their house is worth by 2011...Les Christie
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Nearly half the nation's mortgage borrowers will soon owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to a new report.
A Deutsche Bank analysis of the battered housing and mortgage markets estimated that 25 million borrowers, representing 48% of all Americans with mortgage loans, will plunge underwater before home prices are expected to stabilize in the beginning of 2011.
"If our home-price forecast is correct, roughly one in two mortgage borrowers and one in three homeowners will owe more than their home is worth," said Karen Weaver, one of the researchers who authored the report. "That's a dramatic shift from the past several decades when housing was the foundation of middle class wealth."
This estimate is even steeper than what many other experts have previously reported or predicted. First American CoreLogic estimated 11 million homeowners -- and rising -- were underwater by the end of 2008. Moody's Economy.com estimated 15 million at the end of March and projected 17.5 million by early 2010. Zillow.com reported that 20 million were already underwater at the end of the first quarter 2009.
This level of negative equity could compel more borrowers to "strategically" default -- or walk away -- particularly those who are so far underwater that they fear they'll never break even.
"Severely underwater borrowers may conclude that their property value will never recover and they may 'walk away' even if they are able to make mortgage payments," said Weaver.
Currently, 26%, of defaults are classified as strategic, according to a recently published paper by Paola Sapienza, a finance professor with Northwestern University, and Luigi Zingales, a finance professor at the University of Chicago.
They found little evidence that homeowners voluntarily default unless their equity shortfall exceeds 10%.
The Deutsche Bank paper forecasts that the percentage of borrowers who are severely underwater (25% or more) will more than double to 28%. So it's likely that the number of people voluntarily defaulting will grow quickly.
The most likely to pack it in are those borrowers who know someone else who walked away. "People who know someone who defaulted strategically are 82% more likely to declare their [own] intention to do so," claimed Sapienza and Zingales in their paper.
The twin centers of underwater world are the "sand states" and the rust belt. The worst hit metro areas are Merced and El Centro, Calif., where 85% of mortgage borrowers are underwater.
Others hard hit areas include: Modesto, Calif. (84%), Las Vegas (81%) and Stockton, Calif. (81%). The leading Florida cities are Cape Coral (76%) and Orlando (71%). Mansfield and Cleveland, Ohio, (54%) had the highest rates in the industrial Midwest.
Loan type
The type of mortgage loan had a big impact on whether borrowers are underwater. For each type of loan, Deutsche Bank estimated, as of March, what proportion of mortgage holders had negative equity.
Basic conforming loans: 16%. These loans, which limit themortgage balance to home value, were the best performing, according to Deutsche Bank.
Prime jumbos: 26%. These mortgages are of such high value that they extend beyond the cap limits for loans bought or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Alt-A loans: 49%. These notes were usually issued to borrowers with good credit scores who could not or would not provide full documentation of their incomes or assets.
Subprime loans: 50%. This is what many borrowers with poor credit history were forced to rely on.
Option-ARMs: 77%. AKA negative amortization loans are the worst performing loan product of all. Under the terms of these mortgages, borrowers could make minimum payments every month -- payments that did not even cover the interest of the loans. Instead of balances shrinking over time, the amount owed grew.
This was lethal when combined with falling home prices. By 2011, Deutsche Bank predicts 89% of these borrowers will be underwater.
8-12-09 Merced County Planning Commission agenda...9:00 a.m.
8-12-09 MCAG Technical Review Board meeting...12:00 p.m.