Deja vu at the Sam Pipes Room, Merced City Hall

The California High Speed Rail Authority held a technical advisory council meeting on Monday, Dec. 7, at a public meeting hall called the Sam Pipes Room, in the Merced City Hall. Two members of the Merced public, representing the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (POW), wished to attend. The regional director of the San Joaquin Valley unit of the rail authority had told the members of the public that a meeting would take place on Monday at a different location. The members of the public wrote to the regional director twice last week inquiring if they would be permitted to attend the meeting and asked her by phone. She replied that she had received the request and would talk to rail authority legal counsel. The members of the public requested that if they were not permitted to attend, that rail authority counsel provide written legal justification, considering that the authority was consulting with special interests like water districts, the farm bureau, insurance companies, etc. Not hearing back from the regional director at the end of last week or Monday morning, the members of the public called the rail authority headquarters in Sacramento and were informed of the time and different location of the meeting and that there should be no problem with public attendance of the meeting.
Merced County will be quartered by high-speed rail routes, one running north and south, the other running east and west through Pacheco Pass. In return for its "crossroads" status, at the moment Merced had been promised one of the highly prized stations on the route. The additional carrot of a maintenance yard, possibly at the former Castle Air Force Base, has been offered to the ancient nags that pass for political leaders in our county in return for their support of cutting up the county with high-speed rail tracks crossing the native grasslands, wetlands and prime farmland on one or both sides of the county, depending on the routes chosen by the rail authority directors.
The members of the public entered the meeting. They estimated about 75 people were there, seated in a large horseshoe arrangement of tables and against the walls. Many of the people were as familiar to them as the meeting room, because they had met with many of the same local leaders in meetings ranging over the last decade.
Rail Authority staff approached the two members of the public with grinning anxiety. The first staffer to arrive asked them to sign in. As the public began to sign in. The regional director arrived, demanding to know who had invited them. They told her that they had been told by the rail authority headquarters in Sacramento where and when the meeting was held. The regional director demanded to know who -- by name -- in Sacramento had invited them to this meeting. The members of the public did not give her a name. The director informed the members of the public that the reason she had not replied to them was because of state furloughs.
She was followed by the senior San Joaquin Valley staffer for the rail authority who informed the members of the public that they were definitely not invited and could not attend the meeting and were, in fact, to leave immediately.
Meanwhile, the members of the public, looking over the shoulders of the Rail Authority staffers, observed the local Merced leaders and public officials, whose expressions ranged from a certain political anxiety to giggles to sneers. The members of the public, in the process of being ejected from a public meeting room in the City Hall of the town in which they live, were reminded of other meetings with many of the same same sorry lot of local leaders, the same people responsible for Merced, after a few months only in the top five national foreclosure-rate rankings, regaining the lead again as we go into the holiday season with official unemployment around 20 percent and real unemployment at least 10 points higher.
One legislative aide in the room appeared to giggle as the members of the public were ejected.
They thought about the meetings they had attended with city officials at the Sam Pipes Room concerning a plan in 1999 to drive turkey vultures out of the eucalyptus trees on M Street by harassing them with cherry bombs. They were reminded of the UC Merced Long-Range Deveolopment Plan meetings there, in which plans to make plans were unveiled and lies were told by all the right people. They recalled the meetings of the Community Plan Advisory Committee also held at the Sam Pipes Room in which the plan to build a new town adjoining the new UC campus north of town were unveiled and discussed.
Although the impression was brief, given the agitation of the staffers intent on ejecting them from their town's public-meeting hall, the members of the public left the meeting with the idea that they had caught the decrepit, failed leadership of their city and county selling out the public again. The leader wearing the widest grin watching them get ejected was Kole Upton, a pseudo-Joe Public who has made a career out of betraying the interests whose hats he has worn.
While the members of the public were talking on the phone with rail authority headquarters in Sacramento, they observed Mike Lynch, the region's preeminent political fixer, conferring with the staffers concerning the incident.