Badlands Journal
Frago, round two...
On August 12, the Atwater City Council held its second meeting on how to avoid dealing with the rampant racism within its city hall and within the town. The two agenda items that were supposed to smooth this over were:
3.1 Consideration of a Letter Expressing the City Council’s Disapproval of Former Mayor Pro Tempore Frago’s Actions in Forwarding Inappropriate Emails to City Staff
   4.1 Selection of a City Council Member to serve as Mayor 
   Pro Tempore (i.e. instead of Frago, the present mayor pro 
The council and particularly Special Council Adam Lingren were terribly serious. Lindgren is not even listed on the city’s website. The City Attorney is Dennis Myers, who went to Atwater from his position as Merced County Counsel about the time former Merced County CEO Greg Wellman because Atwater City Manager. The attorney was there to reassure about a hundred people at the community hall that absolutely everything legally possible was being done about this city’s sickness. He announced the Letter of Disapproval (called in the first meeting a Letter of Reprimant) had been drafted and then he read the Letter. After reading the letter, he informed the citizens that every darned one of the council members could vote on it but Frago.  
The Letter said that Atwater City Council had a commitment to ethical conduct of its members, and disapproves of Frago channeling racist emails on city equipment. The council said they thought it was “ inappropriate to send racially derogatory, sexist and sexually explicit e-mails and jokes to City employees.” The council said they didn’t “condone it.” 
Real tough stuff. The Letter informed us that Frago resigned as major pro tempore two on August 10 and “appreciates your willingness to participate in training.” Then the council commits itself to also participate in “training” and the local chapter of the NAACP will be invited to help select the trainer and design the training and “will be highly transparent” about the training and even the training materials. The council finishes by affirming “our singular will to embrace and respect difference.”
Because, in our society, therapy can solve everything, right? All you gotta do is get your clichés down.
Gary Frago, who sent out at least 200 racist and pornographic emails, some even alluding to the assassination of the president, as reported in the Merced Sun-Star on Aug. 12, using the city computer server over the last year, most of them received by Wellman and other city staff along with a larger group of the city’s depraved citizens including county Supervisor Mike Nelson, again said he was sorry, announcing that he had begun “sensitivity training,” his apparently voluntary “therapy,” in Oakland. “I can’t expect people to forgive my behavior, but I hope they’ll forgive me. I’ll never do it again…”
Mayor Joan Faul then laid down the rules for public comment on the Letter, concluding, “We’re going to do this in a democratic way – everyone will be permitted to speak, but in a respectful manner.” The rules were: all speakers were required to get numbered “speakers’ cards,” there would be not threats or profanity tolerated; speakers must be respectful; speakers could only speak for a maximum of three minutes and only speak once. I counted four armed policemen in the room.
OK, children, line up and speak respectfully about a man who spoke with extreme disrespect of an entire race and about a city hall that let him get away with it using public computers for months.
No. 56, John Mims, asked whatever happened to the letter of reprimand. Mims found the Letter “very weak.” He told Frago he needed to do his “training” in Atwater, not in Oakland. Frago needed to be with the people who voted for him to learn how much he had hurt them and find out why those emails hurt so much.
No. 57, Alvin Mayfield told Frago to resign. If Frago hadn’t already learned in 60 years, no training would help. “You say you aren’t a racist,” Mayfield went on, “and you mention you’d been to New Orleans.” Mayfield, born in New Orleans, suggested that if Frago couldn’t see the racism in New Orleans, no training would help. He said he forgave Frago as a Christian but that Frago, like Frago’s good friend, Supervisor Nelson, had “tuned out the people and that Frago was still in an “I want” mode of religion. “You can’t go forward. You need to resign. This letter is nothing but eyewash.”
No. 58, a youngster arrived at the microphone wearing a hat. Mayor Faul made him take it off. The young fellow lectured the council on something he’d read or heard about “democratic deficit.”
No. 59, Erma Smith, a member of the NAACP, began by blasting a memo that Supervisor Mike Nelson had written apparently accusing Smith of “hate speech.” Her theory of the Oakland “training” was that it was a great way to avoid the media and, by the way, who was paying for it? She asked what consequences there would be if this kind of behavior happened again. Frago has to resign, she concluded.
No. 60, Dr. Napoleon Washington, president of the Merced County Chapter 1047 of the NAACP said that Atwater members of the NAACP “are discontented” with this letter. “There have been other letters, other ordinances, but the behavior continues. It is a continued pattern among city employees and citizens.” Public officials have been silent on this issue until Nelson sent a letter in defense of Frago, saying there was “a hate-filled vendetta out to get Mr. Frago.” Washington said, “This is far from the truth.” The NAACP is deeply concerned by this pattern of behavior. “We have grandparents and family who were lynched, beaten and burned out of their places in the South because of racism.” If Frago were truly changed by his one training session, he’d show it by resigning.
Although in possession of Nelson’s memo, a typical example of his rightwing views, Badlands decided not to publish it lest it fall into a political hissy fit currently benefitting Nelson among his more paranoid constituents. His “opponents” can’t help themselves or anyone else.
No. 61, Antoine, was an organizer for a group called Soul. He said Frago should send an email to the Obamas apologizing for the emails he’d sent through city computers. “UC Merced students are very hurt behind this,” Antoine asserted. “You don’t represent all the Portuguese,” he told him (and here we thought Frago was an Italian name), then Antoine claimed to have registered 20,000 voters for Dennis Cardoza (presumably a “good Portuguese”). Antoine promised “to continue this nightmare” until Frago resigned.
No. 62, a woman who lives in Atwater, thought the issues were extremely serious but that “the majority of people in Atwater would not have been involved in these emails…The criticism should be about what a person says and does, not what he is.
“There are consequences for mistakes,” she continued. “He can change as a private citizen. He has offended us. We don’t trust him to make decisions for the community. He should step down so the community can be spared.”
She ended by noting that there was inadequate notice of the meeting and where it was being held and this was the reason there were so few people attending it (about 70 rather than more than 200 at the first meeting on this case).
No. 64, Maureen McCorry, said that many at the last meeting had expressed their outrage with great eloquence. She called the Frago case “a real American history lesson, not just an Atwater issue, and a tragedy that it’s focused just on one person. The consequences are appalling if you’re trying to educate the next generation about what’s right and what’s wrong. You are falling very short.”
McCorry argued that the focus shouldn’t be just on Frago because we all get emails. Referring to the universal dodge of public officials who received these emails for months, that they get lots of emails every day and just delete them, she said, “I can’t believe deletion was honorable.”
No. 65 said her child had recently been called the ‘N-word” in school and had asked her what it meant. “Racism is taught,” she said, “and it affects children. You ought to resign.”
No. 66, an Hispanic woman born in South Merced and claimed credentials in this argument because she had received hate mail for marrying a white man, said Frago ws not a racist and that no one was thinking about what his family was enduring through this. Frago “is a good, god-fearing man being taken in by people with agendas. “What would Jesus do?” she cried. “For the love of God, accept his apology!”
No. 67, said she was ashamed of what Frago did but “terrified of Change Merced.” One Rocky Balboa hat and a little chat about “systemic democracy deficit” has apparently gotten the local FoxNews addicts upset to they point they are shivering about “What’s happening in national government is coming down to us…Don’t let political activists negate the ballot box.” They speak in tongues.
No. 68 is a fellow from Los Banos who has a beef with Tommy Jones, the black mayor of Los Banos and claims Jones said he was a member of the KKK but that NAACP had refused to “publicly declare me a racist or not.” He said his sin had been to expose loans Jones had allegedly received from Greg Hostetler and an alleged arrest for cocaine. Nullball No. 3
No. 68, a citizen of Atwater demanded to know who was paying for Frago’s “sensitivity training and alluded to the expense of a recall campaign and another election if it was successful.
No. 69, another Atwater citizen, arose to support Frago and asked him not to resign, saying that “they” were violating Frago’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Nutball No.. 4.
No. 70, Sandy Cane, a long-time educator, said she was concerned with the impact of Frago’s :message” on students. She said she knows she’s a role model for children, and so are politicians like Frago.
I reject this appalling idea in general, granting that Obama is a role model for some. In general, like any other profession in the culture, few American young people aspire to be politicians and right now the number dwindles as the field grows more unpopular. Youth is reaching for something – every generation reaches for something and defines its goals even if they never get beyond rejection of the values of the last generation.
Cane went on to say that, ”All I could think about was all those UC Merced students who got Michelle here. I was proud of that. We were tearful.”
It is interesting to note that Atwater has been a counterpoise to the rabid UC Merced boosterism in Merced. No direct relationship between Michelle Obama’s visit to the campus and Frago’s emails has been established, although the president’s wife figures in several racist and pornographic emails, but one of the rallying cries for the Riverside Motorsports Park on the outskirts of Atwater was that Merced got the campus so we should get the “NASCAR” track. Supervisor Nelson led that fight and prevailed in the board on the approval process. We don’t recall many minority-group faces in the little black-hatted mobs RMP organized for various hearings.
Cane said she knew Frago was not the only one involved in this scandal. “We have Zero Tolerance in schools and it means that it just can’t happen; it is totally unacceptable. We cannot do what we won’t let our children do.” Speaking to Frago, she said, “It might just be time to do something else. The media is involving young people in this.
No. 71, Judy Bowling of Atwater said she was now ashamed to say that she comes from Atwater because of Frago’s actions and that a couple of weeks of sensitivity training would not do the trick. She urged him to resign if he cared “about Atwater and about our children;” otherwise “we will recall you … You are pathetic!”
No. 74, from Atwater, said she’d brought her family to “experience this.” She said she heard a lot of racist language in a Danny Glover movie and asked how this could be done in Hollywood and not here.
“I know Frago isn’t white – he’s Portuguese,” she said. “Don’t resign.”
She said that the meeting was showing a double standard and setting a dangerous precedent. Where might it stop? She said she knew people here (presumably right in the community hall) who had heard racist remarks and received racist emails.
No. 75, Louis Braxton’s blend of theology and politics was kind of hard to follow. His political point seemed to be that if the people didn’t accept Frago, he could not represent them. The theology was beyond us.
No. 76 said Frago had apologized and said it was wrong and that the city needs to move on. He seemed to suggest that if Frago wanted to help, he should volunteer at the Police Athletic League. He ended asking “Who is to cast the first stone?” This ended the public comment.
The council began to deliberate.
Frago said he’d chosen the racial sensitivity therapist in Oakland because, after research, “they’d” decided this therapist was one of the best. He said he was paying for it.
Regarding the Letter, Mayor Faul said, “We felt the Letter expressed our feelings and it was a way to start.”
Councilman Nelson Crabb asked who would be paying for the training for the entire council and why was the entire council being punished for the actions of one members. He added that he’d heard the training for the entire council would cost $100,000.
Special Attorney Lindgren ducked the question, saying the money would come from the city’s general fund. Crabb asked him how many names were on the Letter?
Lindgren replied that it was “a very time-consuming process” for City Attorney Myers (Myers the Absent), City Manager Greg Wellman (present) and the Police Department (present in force). But, he wouldn’t answer Crabb’s questions.
The mayor said that council members were not required to go to the sensitivity therapy trainings. Crabb replied, “We’re shotgunning when we should be specific.”  
Lindgren then launched into a passage of pure, very high-priced, meaningless obfuscation. When he had run out of hot air, Crabb asked if Frago would be required to take the training in Atwater. Lindgren replied that it was Frago’s choice. Crabb asked if then Frago’s Oakland training would be “sufficient.” Lindgren said that was up to the council, adding that the language in the Draft Letter “does not imply that the council shares the blame.”
Crabb said that he still wanted an accounting “on the expenditures on this email situation.”
Councilman Joe Rivero said that Frago was not excluded from the Atwater race sensitivity therapy training sessions. Lindgren supported that statement, saying it “is the will of the council. It was not my intention to bar him from it.”
Joe Rivero said he thought everybody should participate in the racial sensitivity therapy sessions.
We wondered if these sessions would be open to the public.
The mayor moved the motion to accept the Letter. Joe Rivero seconded it.  
Crabb said he agreed with some of the strong statements made in the letter but did not believe that the council as a whole should attend the sensitivity sessions. “I am being asked to take responsibility for someone else’s mistakes.” Crabb said he was distributing his own press release and handing over his amended version of the Letter to the special attorney. “I have my own letter. I don’t approve of yours,” he told Lingren.  
From the audience, Mims asked that, since the city manager was on most of the email address lists, why isn’t he included in the sensitivity training. City Manager Wellman said he would be “more than pleased to attend any meeting that would help. Yes, absolutely.”
The motion passed 3-1 (Crabb).
Joe Rivero moves to include Wellman in the sessions. It passes 3-1 (Crabb). Frago abstains.
Then followed the biggest surprise of the evening – Faul nominated Joe Rivero to be mayor pro tem. Frago seconds the motion after the special attorney explains that Frago is eligible to vote on this issue. It passes, 4-1 (Crabb).
The Merced NAACP chapter has participated in three demonstrations so far on this incident: two prior to the two council meetings and one at Supervisor Nelson’s fundraising barbecue last week.
Dr. Washington informed Badlands that the NAACP continues “to negotiate with rational minds at the Atwater City Hall” and is getting strong support across the board from members of the community of all races. He said the state NAACP has been looking into the issue and that it is already a national story and the City of Atwater is being embarrassed nationally. However, at this point, the Merced NAACP has not filed any formal complaints with either local or state agencies, Washington said, adding, “this is not over
Merced Sun-Star
Planning Commission takes up Wal-Mart...Scott Jason
Residents will have a chance Wednesday to offer their thoughts on the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center.
The Merced Planning Commission will hold its first meeting about the project at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 678 West 18th St.
The commission will make a recommendation on whether to approve the project to the City Council.
Officials with Wal-Mart will spend 15 minutes talking about the project.
Opponents will have the same amount of time to argue against it.
Each member of the public will have three minutes to speak.
Lawmakers say they are going to work on state water problems…E.J. SCHULTZ, The Fresno Bee
SACRAMENTO -- Lawmakers say they are determined to start solving the state's water problems this week.
"I think we have to get something done on water, period. Expect major action," predicted Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.
But with only four weeks left in the legislative session, groups on all sides of the debate are skeptical that Democrats and Republicans can strike a deal to increase flows to cities and farms and improve the health of the beleaguered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Informational hearings on legislation will start today and continue for two weeks. At that point, a special joint committee of the Senate and Assembly is scheduled to convene, leaving only two weeks for compromise.
"We don't have a lot of time left," said Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, a lead water negotiator. But he said he is confident that "if we don't get it done by the regular session, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call a special session on water and keep after it." Even then, the odds could be against compromise because the conflicts on water policy are as sharp as ever.
Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms are pushing for a canal to send water around the delta and bring more certainty to their supplies. Environmental opposition to the decades-old proposal has softened some, but delta residents and farmers remain steadfastly opposed because they fear a water grab.
On the east side of the Valley, agricultural groups continue to push for new dams -- and they have the backing of Republicans. But environmentalists favor other alternatives, such as groundwater storage and recycling.
Farmers may lose tax break
Governor decides to eliminate conservation program…BRAD BRANAN, The Fresno Bee…8-17-09
FRESNO -- Farmers could face higher property taxes as a result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to eliminate funding for a popular farmland conservation program, officials say.
The program -- known as the Williamson Act -- gives farmers a tax break as long as they don't sell their land to developers. But now Fresno County officials say they might not be able to afford to participate any more.
The county will lose almost $5 million in Williamson Act money this year, more than any other county in California. As a result, the county expects to make cuts, including to law-enforcement departments that already have seen reductions this year.
Some county supervisors doubt the funding will return, considering the state's deep financial problems. Given the county's own financial troubles, they say the county needs to consider not renewing Williamson Act contracts with property owners -- and start collecting lost tax revenue.
But agriculture leaders say farmers are suffering, too, and higher property taxes would put some of them out of business.
Under the Williamson Act, property is not assessed at market value, saving farmers and ranchers 20 percent to 70 percent in tax liability, according to the state.
The state is supposed to reimburse counties and cities for a portion of the tax revenue they lose. But to help close the state budget gap this year, Schwarzenegger cut that funding.
"That's just another nail in the coffin for agriculture," county administrator John Navarrette said.
UC Merced visitors taking a look at surrounding area...DANIELLE GAINES
Vidhi Karanath, a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, arrived in Merced with her father bright and early Monday morning on the last leg of a weeklong tour of college campuses.
Vidhi picked the campuses she wanted to visit. Her father, Arvind, drove her to each one. Merced made the travel itinerary because it was handy, they said.
"I just like the UC system and this is close to home," Vidhi said, before embarking on an hourlong tour of the campus.
The Karanaths represent one small portion of visitors to UC Merced since Sept. 1.
More than 20,000 people came to UC Merced last year as part of tour groups or special recruitment and open house events, college officials said.
Just over 12,000 visitors scheduled tours at the campus visitor's center, and another 2,700 attend special events, such as Bobcat Day, an open house for admitted students in April, and Preview Day, an open house for the general public in October. Special tours by school and community groups, and visitors on Parents' Weekend make up the difference.
"We're getting lots of interest. And we're actually drawing a fair number of prospective students through the county and the city," Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management Kevin Browne said. "The number has been going up ever since the campus opened."
The total number of visitors -- more 22,000, Browne said -- rounds out to eight per student enrolled last academic year. That doesn't include an influx of 12,000 visitors for first lady Michelle Obama's commencement address in May.
Fast-forward, and if education excursionists continue to turn out in the same numbers over time (8.09 visitors for each student), Merced could play host to more than 202,000 visitors each year when the campus reaches its capacity of 25,000 students.
Browne said the numbers are an economic boon to the area, with prospective students and parents asking about restaurants, hotels for visits and places to live during their visits to campus.
"They're at least getting food and gas," he said. "And I would say about 25 to 30 percent of them ask about hotels to stay the night."
Karen Baker, director of city of Merced Visitors Services, said her office has also seen a lot of interest from visitors to UC Merced.
"We've had quite a few people come through," Baker said. "When they are interested in UC Merced, we encourage them to visit all of our area attractions, to look at our whole area, see what we have to offer and fall in love with the community."
And while the city encourages visitors to head out to the campus, UC Merced reciprocates.
"We're trying to tell folks what else there is to do in Merced that day," Browne said. "Our goal is for students to figure out whether they will be happy in Merced. It is an important decision."
In February 2008, the campus opened a visitors center near Lake Road to accommodate the growing number of tour reservations. Browne estimated that the number of people touring campus increased by 4,000 due to the increased capacity and new outreach programs.
While Browne is happy with the growth of visitors to campus, he said there was no way to predict whether growth would continue.
"It's an inelegant science (to calculate campus visitors)," Browne said. He worries that large tours organized by schools or parent groups will decrease because of the state budget crisis.
Vidhi, for one, said the tour encouraged her to apply to UC Merced.
"When we first arrived I thought, 'This is in the middle of nowhere,'" she said. "But now I like the campus. It is very nice, new."
UC Merced junior Maira Pulido led the Karanaths tour on Monday.
"We give the same tour every time," Pulido, a LeGrand native, said. "But you get to meet different people, so it is a very different experience for each one."
Still, one thing stays the same, she noted: "A lot of people ask where they should go eat."
Letter: Merced needs better representation...DEAN WAY, Atwater
Editor: I feel much better now knowing that Rep. Dennis Cardoza will answer any questions I may have about the health care bill -- if I happen to run into him.
He also made himself available to his constituents (if they ran into him) when they had questions concerning cap and trade, the budget and "Cash for Clunkers."
Who could ask for better representation?
Letter: Abhorrent health care bill...CARL GREGORY, Merced
Editor: Rep. Dennis Cardoza is hiding, not only from me, but from all his constituents in his district.
If he met with us, he would have to defend, or at least explain, President Obama's health care plan. The plan is simply indefensible and unexplainable.
Many features of the plan are abhorrent to me. The main one being that it will require me to finance abortions for anyone who asks for one. That will be denied. But every effort in Congress to exclude abortion coverage from the bill has been rejected.
President Obama has an agenda, and people in Congress have their agendas. What is or isn't in the bill this year can be worked in or out next year or in years to come. The bill is an opening to special interest manipulation, and it is the tax-paying public getting manipulated.
A good reason for Cardoza to hide from his constituents is that one of them might have the gall to ask him why the health care bill is mandatory for all of us but doesn't apply to members of Congress.
Letter: What's the rush on health care reform?...DARALENE SILVEIRA, Merced
Editor: Where is the transparency?
President Obama has been telling the American people his administration will have transparency. With regard to HR 3200 the health reform bill, he wanted it signed and passed before the congressional recess. Why the rush?
The American people are just now finding out what this bill contains. They are trying to understand just how this bill will affect their lives and future generations of Americans. I do not call that transparency, I call it sneaky.
Now we have Rep. Dennis Cardoza, refusing town hall meetings to address questions and concerns we may have. Speaking for myself, this is scary. I am getting the message to sit down, shut up and we know what is best for you.
That is not the America I want.
Our View: Where's Cardoza's backbone?...ALLEN R. SCHELL, Merced
Editor: Normally, I don't much appreciate the "Another View" column carried in the Sun-Star. But, the editorial from the Monterey County Herald on Thursday, commenting on the health imbroglio, had a great and simple "summary" sentence.
In describing the opponents of the so-called health care plan, the article concluded:
"They worry most about the long-term implications, about the unintended consequences that could grow out of a system run by people they do not trust."
I say "amen" to that.
As for the observation that we opponents do not cite specific concerns in HR 3200, I would refer you to a nine-page listing of over 70 issues that need to be addressed. You can get a copy of these by calling Liberty Counsel (800) 671-1776 or hitting www.LC.org.
Our Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza and his Blue Dog fellows will be under tremendous political pressure by Democratic leaders from the president on down. They control the money spigots and committee assignments.
The only remaining question is whether Cardoza and the others have the backbone to do what is right for the nation and us citizens.
Letter: Big government needs to stop squandering...GARY BOSTROM, Merced
Editor: Big government has become the champion of squandering our money and the result is mediocrity.
Now big government wants us to fund a national health care system. Are these people nuts? Do they have any clue how much they have embezzled from us already?
Personally, I don't believe a word that comes from Washington, D.C. If their lips are moving, they're lying. Big government has proven over the years it's capable of one thing: embezzling your money and squandering your kid's future.
Stockton Record
Boating event sees low turnout...The Record
SACRAMENTO - About 40 boats hit the water for Sunday's so-called "Million Boat Float," well short of the several hundred boats for which organizers had hoped.
Nonetheless, they called the event - to protest a peripheral canal - a success due to extensive media coverage.
The float had been hastily organized to precede today's opening hearing on a set of water bills that opponents fear could lead to construction of a canal. The lack of time to organize, and the cost of gas for each boat, may have contributed to the lower turnout, said boater Bruce Connelley.
Sunday, the boaters traveled from Antioch to Sacramento. Monday, they held a rally at the state Capitol, drawing a crowd of about 300 people, he said.
All told, about 500 people participated for at least part of the two-day event, he said.
San Francisco Chronicle
An international water perspective: Water in crisis...Dr. Peter Gleick
I'm spending the week at the Stockholm Water Symposium, an international meeting involving over 2,000 people from over 130 countries. The annual Stockholm symposium is 19 years old and is one of the best international water meetings around. I love going -- though I haven't been for many years -- because it helps me recharge and refocus away from the narrow and local controversies around water in the western United States to a more global perspective. This year, more than most, I have been struck by the remarkable progress in thinking about water made globally, especially compared with the slow progress made in California over the past decade.
Viewed from the outside (and perhaps from the inside), California is no longer a world leader on water. While remarkable and innovate efforts at sustainable water management are still being pursued here and there in California and the United States, these efforts are no longer either unusual or groundbreaking. And for some issues, such as improving water efficiency, developing and applying new water treatment technology, addressing water poverty, reducing the impacts of overuse and water pollution, and using smart economics, efforts outside of the U.S. are often far more advanced. In many ways, we've fallen a decade behind -- well, maybe eight years behind. Here are a few quick vignettes from my discussions over the past few days:
There is growing concern about unregulated pollutants in our drinking water, such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors. U.S. laws on water quality, especially the Safe Drinking Water Act, do not address these contaminants. Neither do most other national water quality laws. But in parts of Europe and Asia, there are active efforts by water utilities to work to most effectively remove these pollutants with existing and new treatment technologies, even before governments require them to be removed. In the absence of leadership at the federal level, our local water utilities should be doing more of this. We must do more, faster, to protect our high-quality drinking water.
Two separate companies that manufacture state-of-the-art irrigation efficiency technology have approached me and lamented the difficulty of working in California, where they feel irrigation districts and farm lobbyists work to hinder efforts to improve efficiency, rather than help farmers seeking to improve water use. Outside of the U.S. doing more with the water we have is considered key: the big question about water efficiency is "how," not "whether," to improve efficiency.
Ecosystem restoration is being embraced widely in more and more places, at a time when early efforts in the U.S., like projects in the Everglades, Colorado River delta, Salton Sea, and even the Endangered Species Act are being challenged and reversed. You can literally scoop the water out of the local waterways here in Stockholm and drink it safely.
I'm regularly approached by scientists and policymakers here asking me if it is could really be true that we do not measure and manage all groundwater in California. It is. We don't. And outside of California it is well understood that this means it is simply impossible to have a truly sustainable water system. It's like having a bank account without know who is taking money out or how much they are taking.
Finally, the results of a new international questionnaire were released today. The survey was conducted by the company Globescan of around 1,000 people in each of 15 countries (Canada, US, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, India, China, Russia, and the Philippines). It reveals a very serious and growing concern about water. Circle of Blue, affiliated with the Pacific Institute, presented the results at a seminar this morning.
When individuals were asked "are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not very concerned, or not at all concerned" about seven different environmental challenges (water pollution, water scarcity, automobile pollution, climate change, depletion of natural resources, air pollution, or loss of animal/plant species), the overwhelming response was concern about water -- both pollution and scarcity.
Water Number: 70%. More than 70% were very concerned about water and another 20% were somewhat concerned -- a higher percentages than for any of the other issues. Moreover, these numbers have been growing over time (the same questions have been asked since the late 1990s).
But while a majority of Americans are also concerned about the future of water, it is less of a concern in the U.S. than in many other countries -- even countries with reliable water supplies and effective water systems. It is time we stopped taking our water for granted.
Coalition Unveils California Water Solutions Report at Million Boat Float...Dan Bacher
A broad coalition of 23 fishing, public health, conservation, environmental justice and tribal organizations today unveiled a ground breaking report, "California Water Solutions Now," at a rally against the peripheral canal at the State Capitol, the final event of the Million Boat Float from Antioch to Sacramento.
"California Water Solutions Now is presented to show that, with real reforms, California can have a sustainable water future," said Nick Di Croce, Lead Author. "It's a game-changing report. The report is unique in that it marries reduction in water usage to the ability to reduce water exports."
Based on multiple scientific and engineering studies, it demonstrates how sustainable water management, including groundwater cleanup, water recycling, local storm water capture and cost-effective water conservation can provide the water needed to serve California’s projected population, economy and environment through 2050, according to Di Croce.
The cost of the actions detailed in the report by the Environmental Water Caucus (EWC) will provide water to people and the environment "almost immediately," at far lower costs and with significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than new dams and their associated infrastructure, said Di Croce. The report also expresses strong concerns about the proposed Peripheral Canal, which could route even higher levels of water away from the Delta than the already-harmful export levels of recent years.
The groups have produced this report as the legislature is rushing to consider a package of bills that fails to include fundamental improvements in how we manage our water supplies. Canal opponents fear that the bill package, developed with little input from the people of the Delta, will serve as a road map to the building of a peripheral canal that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his allies in the Legislature are promoting as the "solution" to California's water supply problems.
The report contends that savings in urban water conservation alone will carry California through the expected population increases through 2050. "It calls for Delta exports to be reduced by half from the recent levels in order to save, protect and restore the Delta," said Di Croce. "The report is based on existing, authenticated studies and data produced by the Department of Water Resources, the Pacific Institute and Planning and Conservation League and is assembled in a way that tells the game charging story."
The report also recommends fish passage over major dams, improved instream flows, and cold water releases for fish. All of these measures have been reinforced and supported by the last two biological opinions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service regarding Delta smelt and Sacramento River Chinook salmon.
The report was released as Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon, Sacramento splittail and other species are in an unprecedented state of collapse, due to increased water exports to San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness and southern California, poor management of Central Valley dam operations and declining water quality.
The 42-page report highlights 10 Strategic Goals and 65 specific Recommendations that can carry California into the future, and in particular describes how the state can use current supplies and existing sustainable strategies more efficiently and cost-effectively. The report also shows how we can improve our valuable river habitats, eliminate discharges from contaminated agricultural lands, and improve other water quality problems, increase regional water self-sufficiency, and provide funding for environmental agencies.
Croce was one of a group of speakers who condemned the mad rush of the legislature to build a peripheral canal when many other solutions to solving California's environmental and water supply needs are available. The other speakers included Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Assemblymember Alyson Huber, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Alliance, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta, Debbie Davis, Environmental Justice Coalition, Jonas Minton, Planning and Conservation League, Larry Collins, salmon fisherman and President of the SF Crab Boat Association; Mike Hudson, President, Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association; Robert Johnson, Jr., Californians against the Canal, and Bruce Connelley, Chairman of the Million Boat Float.
Over 200 people including recreational anglers, Delta farmers, commercial fishermen, recreational boaters, environmental activists and Delta residents attended today's rally. Today's event was preceded by a rally on Sacramento River at the Delta King last night after a flotilla of canal opponents converged on Sacramento.
"We are here today to convey the story of the people of the Delta, who are being excluded from input into this legislature process," said Barbara Daly, who owns farmland in the Clarksburg and Rio Vista areas. "They are not hearing or considering better alternatives to a peripheral canal or tunnel in the Delta to address California water problems."
Bruce Connelley, an Oakley City Councilman, organized the two-day flotilla to show that boaters, fishermen and Delta residents are united in the defense of the Delta against plans by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Legislators to build the peripheral canal.
“We organized this flotilla because we felt it was time for the people to speak and have their voices heard,” said Connelley. “Legislators here in Sacramento seem determined to push through this legislation that will destroy the greatest estuary in the western hemisphere.”
The California Legislature will be holding a joint hearing of the Assembly Parks and Wildlife and Senate Resources and Water Committees to review the controversial package of water bills on Tuesday, August 18 at the State Capitol, Room 4202, at 9 a.m.
The document is available online on the EWC website: http://www.ewccalifornia.org/reports/. For hard copies, please contact Nick Di Croce (Troutnk [at] aol.com) and note the number of copies needed.
CNN Money
Bad banks -- They're baaack!
Seeking to lure more buyers at a time of intense distress, the FDIC has dusted off the oft-touted, but rarely used, plan of setting up bad banks. Will it work this time?...Colin Barr
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Facing mounting bank failures, regulators are putting a new twist on a familiar idea: splitting a bank's good assets from the bad ones.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said last month it would consider splitting the toxic assets of a failed bank from its more valuable parts, such as deposits and loans that aren't going sour.
The goal is to help the FDIC, facing the biggest wave of bank failures in almost two decades, find new buyers for the remains of failed banks while limiting losses on its depleted insurance fund.
"This helps us widen the net in marketing bank assets," said FDIC spokesman David Barr. "When you have the inventory we have, you look for different ways to try to sell it."
Thanks to the ill effects of the housing bubble, the FDIC certainly has the inventory. Barr said the FDIC had $26.5 billion in assets in liquidation at the end of July, with two-thirds of that in mortgages and real estate-backed securities.
Though the FDIC says it's having success in finding buyers for much of these assets, it is also trying to find ways to move inventory at better prices. In one program, the agency will provide financing to acquirers of troubled loans.
"There has been little activity in sales of whole loans," said Hal Reichwald, a lawyer at Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles who represents investors. "The danger is you could end up with a bottleneck in the distressed asset markets."
Wave of failures
When a bank is on the verge of collapse, the FDIC typically tries to find buyers for the entire bank at once, often with the help of deals in which the agency shares losses on the failed bank's bad loans.
Friday's failure of Alabama's Colonial BancGroup is one such deal: buyer BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500) took on most of Colonial's $25 billion in assets, with it and the FDIC sharing losses on two-thirds of that pool. Some $3 billion of assets will remain with the FDIC for later disposition, the agency said in a statement Friday.
But with banks failing at a clip not seen since the late stages of the savings and loan crisis in the early 1990s, finding a buyer for the whole bank isn't always possible.
So far in 2009, 77 banks have failed -- more than triple the 2008 toll. The FDIC has taken on some assets in many of those deals, and it has failed to find takers of any kind for six banks -- including the giant correspondent bank Silverton, which went under in April with $4.1 billion in assets.
In a more recent case, the FDIC couldn't find a buyer for a small bank in Georgia, even after contacting 300 potential buyers.
The wave of failures and resulting soft demand have left the FDIC weighing the benefits of attracting new capital to shore up failed banks against the risks of allowing private equity investors, which typically use a lot of debt to finance deals, to become more active buyers.
Last November, the FDIC issued rules expanding the field of bidders for troubled bank assets. But last month it proposed holding private investors to higher capital standards and imposing a waiting period that would keep buyout firms from "flipping" banks.
"The question is real equity vs. borrowed equity," said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University. "The temptation is to lever yourself up to your eyeballs, and that's something the FDIC has to be on guard against."
How the agency decides to treat private equity buyers could go a long way toward deciding whether the bad-bank plan succeeds.
That said, the FDIC's approach marks the first time during the financial crisis that the bad-bank concept has been considered as something other than a Hail Mary pass.
Lehman Brothers proposed a split last September to rid itself of its troubled commercial real estate assets, in a desperate bid to restore market confidence. Investors rejected the plan as unworkable and the firm filed for bankruptcy just days later.
Since then, the government has toyed with variations on good-bank/bad-bank plans for healthy institutions at least twice. The first was former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's original plan for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Then there was discussion of a so-called aggregator bank by the Obama administration.
But those plans foundered due to questions of how the bad assets would be valued and how the already capital-constrained banks getting rid of those assets would make up for the resulting losses.
That isn't a problem for the FDIC. As the receiver of failed banks, it takes possession of the assets itself.
Still, bankers expect to continue struggling with the issue of how much to pay for bad assets for some time -- even though a robust bank stock rally over the past five months suggests investors are less worried about toxic assets than they once were.
"There are a ton of toxic assets out there right now," said Norman Skalicky, CEO of Stearns Bank, a St. Cloud, Minn.-based lender that has bought several banks and a $730 million loan portfolio from the FDIC over the past year. "But then, they say there are no toxic assets -- just toxic prices."