Wal-Mart center process starts Wednesday
Planners get the proposal first and then will make a recommendation to the City Council...SCOTT JASON
Wal-Mart's proposed distribution center will have its first round of public debate Wednesday.
The project, four years in the making, will be held before the Merced Planning Commission at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 678 W. 18th St. Presentations will be made by city staff, Wal-Mart officials and project opponents. Each member of the public will have three minutes to offer thoughts on the complex.
The hearing marks the beginning of the approval process for the biggest project on the city's horizon. The 230-acre center in southeast Merced will employ 1,200 people by the time it's fully built, according to Wal-Mart officials. Of those jobs, 900 will be full time.
The Planning Commission's meeting will likely be continued to Aug. 24 and Aug. 26 to give everyone a chance to speak. The seven-member commission will offer its recommendation to the City Council, which will begin its public hearings Sept. 21.
The council will vote on whether it should amend the general plan to abandon a section of land that would extend Kibby Road and to approve the environmental report, which outlines how the project will affect Merced and what can be done to minimize it.
Merced business associations have been busy drumming up support, while opponents have been going door-to-door to connect with people who are against the project.
People who favor the distribution center point to the added jobs, the tax revenue and the badge of having the nation's largest retailer build a $60 million complex in Merced. They also fear shooting down the project would brand the city as unfriendly to business.
Opponents argue that the trucks -- up to 450 coming and going each day -- would pollute the air and clog Highway 99. Merced should be focusing on landing jobs related to green technology, they say.
Off The 99
Welcome to "Off the 99," a weekly radio show about news, politics and all issues concerning Merced County.
Every week the show's two hosts, Sun-Star reporters Scott Jason and Jonah Owen Lamb, bring together a variety of guests to discuss the major topics affecting Merced County.
From gangs to unions, "Off the 99" aims to push past the surface to the roots of the county's most important issues. Join us on 94.1 FM Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 7 a.m. and all the time online.
Walmart: A good idea?
When Walmart came to the City of Merced with idea of opening a distribution center it seemed like a good idea. It would bring jobs to an area with one of the state's highest unemployment rates. But a group of local residents say that Walmart's benefits to Merced will be mixed at best.
Hundreds of trucks spewing diesel fumes, say Wal Mart opponents, will not better Merced's already damaged air quality.
This week "Off The 99" brought both sides of the debate to our studio in the Merced Sun-Star to discuss this contentious issue.
Download the audio file.
Letter: Time for reform...SANJAY KRIS, Merced
Editor: Whether it's creating competition against corporate insurance bureaucracies who ignore their clients due to their "pre-existing conditions" or that 14,000 people in the United States lose their health care coverage daily, the time for reform has come.
Republicans, like former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, fight the bill the only way they know how: by lying. She claims that President Obama will install a "death panel" to determine who deserves health care.
Others, like Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, furthered the madness by claiming that Obama will "pull the plug on grandma."
In a letter to the editor Tuesday, Jack Mobley preposterously claimed the legislation faces "grass-roots opposition."
In fact, it is quite the opposite, seeing as the insurance companies and other lobbies are misinforming people and then sending them to town meetings to stifle debate.
Mobley also says that Rep. Dennis Cardoza is avoiding a town hall meeting. If anyone wants to know Cardoza's stance on health care reform, it is easily available on his government Web site.
Letter: Lost our voice...WARREN BROWN, Merced
Editor: I saw many political signs along the road last November.
One in particular caught my eye. It read, "OUR ISSUES, OUR VOICE." I kept that in mind thinking I could put it to use sometime. Well, now is the time.
I would like to know about all this fuss regarding health care. I wanted our congressman to come home and talk to us, town-hall style, and let us know where he stands on "our issues". But Rep. Dennis Cardoza has moved to his new home in Maryland.
I guess you could say we've lost our voice, and he has left us speechless.
I hear that he was considering trading in his constituents for a dummy and taking ventriloquism lessons, that way he can throw his voice from Maryland to Merced, without moving his lips.
I thought if he won't come to me, then I'll go to him, so I went by his office and do you know what I found? I found that the lights were on, but nobody was home.
Health care rallies draw 200 people, shouts in Modesto...Michelle Hatfield
Nearly 200 people gathered in downtown Modesto during lunch time today to rally in support of or against the national debate over changes to health care.
The rally took place in Tenth Street Plaza, in front of the office of U.S. Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. Cardoza isn't holding town hall meetings to discuss reforms, unlike many of his colleagues.
More than 150 were there to protest President Obama's reform proposals and call out Cardoza for not holding town hall meetings. They stood on the east side of 10th Street.
On the west side near Brenden Theatres, about 30 people supported reform that would provide health care to all, especially those who don't have coverage under the current system.
The hour-long, side-by-side rallies inspired much of the same emotion on display at town halls across the country in recent days. Though some from each side were able to discuss their points of view, others simply shouted at each other, trying to agitate the other side.
Boaters to rally against canal...Alex Breitler
THE DELTA - You'd expect a few boats on a sunny Sunday in mid-August. But a flotilla?
That's what some are hoping for this weekend as the Million Boat Float motors (or sails) up the Sacramento River in protest of a peripheral canal. The "million" moniker, of course, is a stretch. There were only 964,881 recreational boats registered in the entire state as of 2007.
The point, organizer Bruce Connelley said, is to launch a large enough protest that legislators and the governor will take notice. "Hopefully, with that pressure, they might rethink what they're trying to do," said Connelley, former mayor of Oakley.
Some Stockton-area boaters are either unaware of the protest or were foggy on the details.
The logistics are complicated. Some boats move faster and farther than others - how to keep the group together? And the boats will be converging from all over the Delta, a web of water and land six times larger than Lake Tahoe.
For sanity's sake, organizers decided to start the float in Antioch but invite boaters to join at various points between there and Sacramento. All told, the float - which begins Sunday morning - will take most of the day.
The boaters also plan to rally at the Capitol on Monday, one day before legislators begin consideration of a package of key water bills.
"It's important to let the people in Sacramento know there are people out here who care about the Delta," said boater Blair Hake of Stockton, who plans to attend. "I don't think they realize the hundreds of thousands of people that are using the Delta, farming or fishing it, or have a business there that depends on it."
Fishermen and Labor Leaders Confront Fresno Right Wingers in Concord..Dan Bacher
The rally in support of Congressman George Miller's environmental and water policies became heated with some toe to toe shouting as approximately 80 fishermen, conservationists and labor leaders held off a crowd of about a thousand demonstrators from crashing Miller's Concord office. The "farm demonstration" group was led by about three or four professional right wing operatives and 60 vocal farmers with the majority of the farm workers silent except when led in chants by their organizers.
Here is the article on the event from Jerry Neuburger of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance: http://www.calsport.org/8-14-09.htm.
Direct from the Congressman Miller Rally, "Fair and Balanced!"
Robert Johnson to Sean Hannity: "Man Up!"
CSPA was a co-sponsor of this event however, except for myself, our people were in Sacramento, speaking to various members of the legislature about the Delta Bill package. The water wars have many fronts...Jerry Neuburger
August 14, 2009 -- The rally for George Miller became heated with some toe to toe shouting as approximately 80 fishermen, conservationists and labor leaders held off a crowd of about a thousand demonstrators from crashing Miller's Concord office. The "farm demonstration" group was led by about three or four professional right wing operatives and 60 vocal farmers with the majority of the farm workers silent except when led in chants by their organizers.
The Miller support rally was organized when the Miller people learned that farm labor contractor Piedad Ayala, the Central Valley Tea Party, Families Protecting the Valley, and the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta were renting busses and hiring farm workers to demonstrate in front of Miller's office. The group targeted Miller because he has championed sustainable food production, including the protection of the nation’s fish and the jobs, along with fair wages for labor working in fish processing plants in the U.S. and its territories.
Congressman Miller has been stalwart standing up for the nation’s environmental laws that are essential to the protection of the nation’s waters, its fish and farmlands, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act. Those natural resource laws in turn protect fishing and farming jobs and the food production, economies and enjoyment they represent.
Robert Johnson Jr., the webmaster for Californians Against the Canal and a CSPA member, did most of the organizing for the rally including securing a brand new bass boat to be used as a speaker's platform. The boat, supplied by Inland Marine of Antioch (925-757-1714) was parked in the parking area in front of Miller's office complex, a location that was soon to be the focus of the confrontation between the two groups.
Johnson, a tireless worker for the health of the delta and its fisheries, had assembled a series of speakers including Mark Ross of the Martinez City Council; Roger Mammon of Restore the Delta; Gary Adams of the California Striped Bass Association; Dick Poole, Water4Fish; Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Mike Hudson, President of the Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen's Association.
Just as the Miller support rally was getting underway, a line of farmers and farm workers could be seen approaching the block where Miller's office is located. Those attending the Miller rally went to the curb and faced off with the marchers. The Miller supporters held up their hand made signs and the farm workers waved a variety of preprinted signs as they marched along the sidewalk across the street from the Miller people, with three or four Concord PD officers in the center on motorcycles making sure the groups stayed apart.
Once the farm demonstrators had turned back, the Miller people returned to hear presentations by Johnson and other speakers. However, just as the rally was starting, the farm group reappeared, this time coming into the lot and surrounding the Miller group. While the majority of the farm crowd appeared to be farm workers, those facing and attempting to engage the Miller people were farmers and a few professional agitators with megaphones challenging the Miller speakers to allow them to speak as well.
Johnson, unflapped by the commotion, rose to the occasion and delivered an inspiring speech, defending Miller, the Obama administration's support of the Endangered Species Act and the communities of the delta and challenged Sean Hannity and Paul Rodriguez to "Man Up" and come to the bay area to learn the truth.
Following Johnson, Mike Hudson spoke briefly about the need for water for both farms and fish but the farm crowd attempted to shout down anything said.
The police were informed that the property owner had not given the farm group permission to be on his property and that they had no assembly permit and asked that they be escorted off the property. While the five officers present made an effort, their main concern was keeping the peace since demonstrators from both sides were in each other's face, some of the conversations loud and others more controlled.
The confrontations lasted for over an hour with Martinez city councilman Mark Ross moving deep into the farmer crowd and engaging a large number of people. Finally police on scene asked that Miller people have their supporters disengage speaking with the agribusiness operatives. Those carrying on the conversations were asked to move to the rear of the bass boat and several policemen inserted themselves between the farm crowd and the boat, asking repeatedly for the group to move on their way.
A small cadre of farmers remained and wanted to deliver a petition and some produce to Congressman Miller's office. The Miller supporters cleared the way, allowing the farmers to carry out their wishes.
The event ended at about 2:30 with the Miller group cleaning up the parking lot from the day's activities.
When Congressman Miller, who was in Southern California heard about the demonstrations, he issued a statement saying, "Special interests are trying to use stunts like this to restart the state's water wars for political and financial gain, but solving California's water problems will take more than talk radio slogans and name-calling."
It's estimated that the Ayala group, the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, and The Central Valley TeaParty groups spent almost $50,000 in bus rental, professionally made signs and cash handouts to the roughly 900 farm workers. In contrast the Miller organizers and all volunteer personnel spent almost nothing.
Of course, when taken in context, the $50,000 is nothing when Westlands alone still owes half a billion dollars for the canal's construction, a debt that has been on the books for forty years. In addition, should the farmers succeed in pressuring the feds into a 50 year guaranteed water contract they will have successfully moved their position of the most junior water rights holders in the state to the most senior, and all the while receiving heavily subsidized water to reap huge private profits on the taxpayer's back.
Gary Adams, Vice President of the California Striped Bass Association State Board, summed up much of the Miller group's feeling when he said, “How soon we forget the true meaning of Public Trust doctrine found in our constitution. It is George Miller that has epitomized the very essence that all of our fisheries and citizens must have adequate clean water to survive and thrive. It is he that understands that when a fishermen fishes for fish, that it is much more than the fish he seeks. It is a piece of heritage that extends beyond the first time that man broke the soil with a plough.”
Contra Costa Times
'Million Boat Float' to protest Delta canal plan...Dana Sherne and Rowena Coetsee
Someone forgot to tell Bruce Connelley not to rock the boat.
The Oakley councilman is organizing a flotilla of yachts, fishing vessels and other boats that will head up the Delta on Sunday so their owners can register their concerns about California's proposed peripheral canal.
The "Million Boat Float" will protest over two days the lack of local voices in water-related legislation affecting Delta residents, Connelley said.
Specifically, he opposes the plan to build a conduit that would siphon fresh water from the Delta.
"If one was to divert the freshwater flows ... as they are planning on doing, that would destroy the Delta," Connelley said. "They have not made us part of the process, and that again is part of the reason for the protest."
Connelley hopes thousands of boats will join him to stage what may be the biggest rally ever seen on water.
Vessels will leave Antioch Yacht Club for Sacramento at 8 a.m. Sunday. Boaters, farmers, fishermen and other concerned Delta residents will rally in front of the Capitol on Monday.
Roger Mannon, Oakley's representative for Delta affairs, said that everyone who lives along the Delta should care because the peripheral canal could threaten businesses, jobs and property values.
"Communities are realizing that what is going on in the Legislature right now could very well change their way of life," he said.
The proposal is to build a canal starting at a point just south of Sacramento, where pumps would fill it with fresh water siphoned from the Sacramento River. The canal would bypass the levees that serve as channels — earthen berms that might not withstand earthquakes and rising sea levels — and transport the water to existing conduits near Tracy.
In addition to creating a more reliable conveyance system and one that's not distributing the salt-laden water of the southern Delta, proponents say the peripheral canal would save fish.
Millions of fish — primarily smelt and salmon — are killed every year as they're sucked into the Central Valley's giant pumps.
But the current is stronger in the area where the new canal would start, making it easier for fish to stay on course, said Jonas Minton, a water policy adviser to the Planning and Conservation League.
Critics of the canal say there are still too many unknowns to be sure how it would affect the environment.
Until it's known how much fresh water the Delta needs for fish populations to recover, it's foolish to talk about pumping even more out, said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla of Restore the Delta, a nonprofit and partner of the Million Boat Float.
Connelley and the other East County residents also plan to listen to the authors of five water-related bills discuss the proposed laws Tuesday as well as hear from constituents.
Groups worry that lawmakers will rush to approve the bills before the legislative session ends Sept. 11 instead of taking the time to research.
Specifically, protesters fear that they won't be represented on the seven-person commission that one bill would establish, a body that would have sole authority to decide whether the canal is built and where the money would come to pay for it.
IF You're Going
· WHAT: Million Boat Float protest
· WHO: Anyone concerned about the proposed peripheral canal
· WHEN: 8 a.m. Sunday
· WHERE: Antioch Sportsmen Yacht Club, 3301 Wilbur Ave., Antioch
· WEB: Visit millionboatfloat.org
Obama Aims Axe At Pro-Business Regulations on Conservation...Andrew C. Schneider, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
The Obama administration is reviewing habitat protective decisions set under President George W. Bush, alleging political interference that favored economic development over conservation. It has already revoked a plan to quadruple federal public forest open to logging in western Oregon, citing danger to the northern spotted owl and salmon populations.
Home builders and farmers will face longer, costlier delays to get permits as Washington reworks the boundaries of contested areas. Local governments and power companies will see federal funding for infrastructure projects held up.
Many of the reviews will focus on the Pacific Coast and the desert Southwest. California, with 40 percent of its territory designated as "critical habitat," is likely to have additional land and water set aside to protect such species as the Buena Vista Lake shrew and the California tiger salamander.
Critical habitat is defined under the Endangered Species Act as the geographic area necessary not just for the survival of an endangered or threatened species but also for its recovery. The law requires an economic analysis before a designation is set, but it doesn't prohibit development on areas designated as critical habitats. However, it requires developers to conduct environmental impact reviews and obtain permits from a range of federal agencies, a time-consuming and costly process.
In its closing weeks, the Bush administration sought to provide businesses with some relief, allowing other federal agencies to give the go-ahead to development without first getting approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service, the two entities that administer the Endangered Species Act. The new administration froze the rule, then repealed it in late April.
BB&T buys Colonial bank; 4 other banks fail
Southern regional bank Colonial BancGroup sees rival grab its branches and deposits...Chris Isidore and Julianne Pepitone
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Troubled Colonial BancGroup will be bought by rival BB&T Friday, the government said after state regulators closed the bank whose assets had been frozen by a federal judge.
The Montgomery, Ala., bank, which has 346 branches spread across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas,is the sixth largest bank failure in U.S. history and by far the largest failure of 2009.
With $25 billion in assets and $20 billion in deposits, Colonial is 100 times larger than the typical bank to have failed this year.
BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500) will buy $22 billion of Colonial's assets, as well as its deposits and branches, leaving the remaining assets in the hands of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
BB&T, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., is also a regional banking power, with 1,500 branches across the Southeast. It is also a major mortgage lender.
Most customers of Colonial should not be affected by the closing. The FDIC, the federal agency that has protected bank deposits since the Great Depression, will guarantee account balances up to $250,000.
But home buyers and those who want to refinance their mortgages could end up paying somewhat higher rates, even if they have never heard of Colonial, said Guy Cecala, publisher of trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance.
Cecala said Colonial was a significant player in the sector of the business known as "mortgage warehouse" lending, which provides financing needed by mortgage brokers and non-bank lenders to make home loans.
"The more firms like this that get out, the more dependent we get on large banks, and less competition there is. That's never a good thing," he said. Warehouse lending used to be a huge source of funds for home loans, according to Cecala, but the mortgage defaults and declining home prices of recent years has decimated the business.
"The warehouse lending market is now so fragile and so small, it doesn't help when we lose anybody," he said. "We have only a cup of water where we used to have a bucket of water."
Trust fund hit: The failure of Colonial is another blow to the FDIC trust fund, which has had to cover 77 bank failures so far in 2009 -- including four more late Friday (see below).
The fund took a $35.1 billion hit in 2008, and an additional $4.3 billion decline in the first quarter of this year, leaving it with assets of only $13 billion as of March 31. But most of last year's decline was due to $25 billion the agency set aside to cover future losses.
"The past 18 months have been a very trying period in the financial services arena," said FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, in the Colonial failure release. "Our industry funded reserves have covered all losses to date. In fact, losses from today's failures are lower than had been projected.
Little more than a year ago, bank failures were relatively rare, with only four occurring in the first six months of last year. The collapse of IndyMac, a major mortgage lender, in July 2008, signaled a rash of failures to follow. IndyMac cost the FDIC about $10.7 billion by itself, and is the most expensive failure in history.
Colonial will likely be one of the most expensive bank failures, according to Chip MacDonald, a banking lawyer at Jones Day, given its active position in mortgage warehouse lending across the Southeast.
The FDIC said Colonial's closing will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund $2.8 billion. "That's a significant share of the FDIC fund," he said.
It is now a rare Friday night that the agency does not seize the assets of a newly failed bank. And the number of banks judged as troubled has soared to 305 as of March 31, up from only 90 a year earlier. Those 305 problem banks on the FDIC's confidential list have combined assets of $220 billion.
The trust fund that covers the deposits is paid by banks, and the weaker banks have seen those premiums rise about 14% in the last year. The agency has also announced a special one-time assessment on bank assets that will raise $5.6 billion for the fund this September. But those funds will come from money that the banks will not lend out to businesses and consumers in hopes of reviving the economy.
Legal problems: MacDonald said that Colonial is also unusual because of the allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the bank.
Colonial disclosed on Aug. 4 that federal agents had executed a search warrant at its mortgage warehouse lending offices in Orlando, Fla. It also had been forced to sign a cease and desist order with the Federal Reserve and regulators at the end of last month related to its accounting practices and recognition of losses, which limited its abilities to make dividends or other payments to investors.
The agents who searched its offices came from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, even though Colonial never received TARP funds.
Colonial applied for TARP assistance but had been told it needed to be able raise an additional $300 million in private capital to be eligible for the federal assistance. On March 31 Colonial announced it had found such an investor in Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Co., a major non-bank mortgage lender based in Florida. But that deal collapsed, and TBW halted operations on Aug. 5 as its offices were also searched by federal agents.
The bank had issued a statement to investors in November saying it had applied for TARP and had no reason to believe its application was being processed through the normal channels. After it later disclosed the need to raise the additional $300 million in capital to get TARP, it was hit by a shareholder suit.
Colonial could end up as the second-most expensive bank failure, according to Chip MacDonald, a banking lawyer at Jones Day, given its active position in mortgage warehouse lending across the Southeast.
"It's probably going to be cheaper than IndyMac, but my guess is it could be $5 billion to $7 billion," he said. "That's a significant share of the FDIC fund."
The sale of Colonial to BB&T also comes a day after U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled in favor of Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), which had requested a temporary restraining order to keep Colonial from liquidating or transferring assets worth $1 billion.
"Viewing Colonial's contractual breach in conjunction with the fact that Colonial is on the brink of collapse and is suspected of criminal accounting irregularities, the potential for immediate substantial injury to Bank of America is clear," the judge said in his order.
The lawsuit that prompted the order was filed by Bank of America. It involved more than 6,000 mortgages issued by its subsidiary and held in trust by Colonial. According to the motion, Bank of America is owed more than $1 billion in assets, but Colonial had failed to pay the amount owed.
Last month, the bank said in a statement that it had "substantial doubt about Colonial's ability to continue" due to uncertainties about its ability to increase its capital levels.
Shares of Colonial (CNB), which fell 80% in 2009, were not trading Friday. But shares of BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500) gained nearly 9% on the report of the acquisition.
Four other banks fail: Late Friday, the FDIC also said that four other banks had failed. Outside of Colonial, the largest collapse of the day was Community Bank of Nevada in Las Vegas, which went under with assets of $1.52 billion and total deposits of about $1.38 billion. Its failure will cost the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund an estimated $781.5 million
The Nevada bank did not find a buyer, leaving the FDIC in control of its assets. The agency immediately created a new institution, the Deposit Insurance National Bank of Las Vegas, which will remain open for approximately 30 days to allow depositors access to their insured deposits and give them time to open accounts at other insured institutions. Banking activities, such as direct deposit, writing checks, and using ATM and debit cards, will continue normally through the transition.
Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association in Pittsburgh closed its door for the last time Friday. The FDIC said PNC Bank will assume control of its assets. It was the first Pennsylvania bank to fail this year.
As of March 31, Dwelling House held assets worth $13.4 million and total deposits of $13.8 million. The FDIC estimates that this closure will cost the its insurance fund $6.8 million.
MidFirst Bank of Oklahoma City assumed all deposits of two failed Arizona banks, Union Bank in Gilbert and Community Bank of Arizona in Phoenix. Community Bank of Arizona had assets of $158.5 million and total deposits of approximately $143.8 million. Union Bank had assets of $124 million and total deposits of approximately $112 million.
The two failures, the first in Arizona this year, will together cost the FDIC's insurance fund around $86.5 million.
The 77 bank failures so far in 2009 has more than tripled last year's total of 25