Resistance to slurb grows in Merced County

At their June 13 meeting, supervisors will take a vote on one of five options for how to handle developer-driven growth. Those options range from leaving the system as it is to enforcing a moratorium on any growth that requires changing the general plan. – Chris Collins, Merced Sun-Star, April 12, 2006

Although the general reader of the Merced Sun-Star would not have been able to figure it out, the supervisors had a proposal to vote on Tuesday and they continued the hearing on the issue in the face of determined, well-organized resistance. Local resistance is mounting against incomprehensible and destructive planning idiocy brought about by the arrival of UC Merced and its induced speculative growth boom. The particular idiocy the supervisors were discussing Tuesday is a scheme to simultaneously hire consultants to update the county General Plan – the countywide planning guidance package – while continuing to approve amendments to the existing, out-dated general plan. The latter amendments are developer-written planning guidance packages. This creates a race between county land-use planners trying to create policies and rules for the development of unincorporated, largely agricultural land, and private developers breaking existing and yet unformulated policies and rules for private profit by slurbing farm and ranch land.

It must be added that California planning idiocy is not unique to Merced. The City of Oakley approved a 4,000-unit development six feet below sea level and under a Delta levee, recently. Oakley is being sued by environmentalists. However, the collectively destructive behavior of California local land-use authorities makes their decisions no less idiotic. From a public viewpoint, one could say there is danger in numbers in this planning insanity. The sytem is completely broken from a public health and safety perspective, but it will keep on going on until the public has the guts to stand up against the developer bullies.

Everyone has their favorite examples of this process. Our favorite is the 42-inch sewer trunk line emanating from Livingston, headed for Stevinson without a speck of environmental review to blemish its perfect sheen of greed and political corruption between the City of Livingston, its benighted sewer plant beside the Merced River, a large, terribly influential local landowner and the most gonzo developer in the county. Another is the deep ripping of thousands of acres of seasonal pasture land near Le Grand full of vernal pools and tributary streams to navigable waters of the US done without any permitting or notification of state and federal resource agencies, which it was the obligation of the county to do.

Below is a letter to the county Board of Supervisors from attorney Marsha Burch, who has tried several environmental cases in recent years in Merced County, on the plan proposed to the supervisors by the county General Plan Steering Committee. The public has so far been unable, through a state Public Records Act request, to view documents that would explain who are the members of this committee or the minutes to its meetings.

Below Burch’s letter, we have included the Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process, which calls for a moratorium on growth not already permitted until the county General Plan is updated, and an end to the corrupt practice of developers paying local land-use authorities legal bills when the public sues the land-use authorities for rubber-stamping slurb.

Bill Hatch

April 11, 2006

Via Email and Facsimile (209.726-7977):
Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: Proposed General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures During the General Plan Update Process – set for public hearing April 11, 2006, Item No. 53

Dear Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and other groups, and these comments supplement comments previously submitted regarding the above-referenced agenda item. Thank you for this opportunity to provide you with these comments. These comments are submitted just prior to the hearing in large part because our clients have been working to obtain documents relating to the above-referenced item, and have been entirely unsuccessful. The general plan steering committee is apparently meeting, having discussions and making recommendations, and our clients have been unable to obtain a single document regarding the dates or times of the meetings, nor have they been able to locate any minutes or written records of the meetings. The public has not had an opportunity to understand what choices are actually before the Board today. Additional information must be obtained in order to inform the public, and it would seem that the Board would also be interested in receiving all relevant information before making a decision on this important policy issue.

1. It is unclear what is before the Board

It is unclear whether the Board is being asked to select a policy from the four proposed by staff, or to approve the Guidance Packages that apparently triggered discussion of these policy issues. If the Board intends to approve any Guidance Package(s), the public has not received notice of that fact, and has not had an opportunity to comment. Further, if the Board intends to approve any application or request that would grant a right or entitlement, CEQA review has not been undertaken. It is difficult to comment on an agenda item so vague that it is impossible to determine exactly what is being proposed.

In addition to the confusion resulting from the agenda item itself, our clients have attempted to obtain documents relating to this item, including making Public Records Act Requests, and have not been able to get a single document. We do not have enough information at this time to make form an informed opinion on the subject, but it appears that the steering committee “meetings” may be in contravention of Brown Act requirements. This issue must be thoroughly considered in the light of day, and the public deserves the opportunity to understand, consider and comment upon the various options available to the County with respect to conducting a cost-effective and legally adequate update to the General Plan.

Finally, this item was continued from the February 14, 2006, meeting, and it would seem that additional information would have been gathered in order to inform your deliberations. There appears to be no staff report or additional information. We request that you continue this item in order to obtain the information you need to inform your decision, and to allow the public to receive information necessary to understand the issues.

2. Processing General Plan Amendments During the General Plan Update Process will Result in Staff and Consultants Working at Cross-Purposes

With respect to the substance of the policy issues, allowing privately funded general plan amendments to proceed during the time when County staff and consultants will be working on a comprehensive general plan update will result in the public purposes of the update process being contradicted by profit-driven efforts to amend the outdated General Plan before the update is completed. We urge you to fully support the General Plan update effort by protecting it from potentially contradictory plan amendment efforts.

At this time, we do not believe that the Board or the public has sufficient information to make a determination on this issue. In fact, this is one of the most complicated issues currently facing the County, and you have not even received a staff report. If the item before you today involves approval of specific applications, that has not been made clear, and necessary materials have not been available. If this truly is consideration of a policy to be adopted for use during the General Plan update process, adequate information regarding the number of projects in the pipeline that will be effected by this policy, and there has not been an honest evaluation of the negative impact the privately funded General Plan “update” will have on the County’s General Plan update. We urge you to continue this item, or adopt a policy that will protect the General Plan update process.

Very truly yours,

Marsha A. Burch
Attorney at Law
131 South Auburn Street
Grass Valley, CA 95945

cc: Clients

Coalition Statement on Merced County Planning Process

We call for a moratorium on County General Plan amendments, variances, minor sub-divisions changes to existing projects, zoning changes, and annexations of unincorporated county land by municipal jurisdictions, MOU’s and developments with private interests and state agencies, until a new County general Plan is formulated by a fully authorized public process – and approved locally and by the appropriate state and federal agencies.

The continual process of piecemealing development through amendments, willfully ignoring the cumulative impacts to infrastructure and resources, for the benefit of a small cabal of public and private special interests, is illegal and reprehensible conduct on the by elected and appointed officials of local land-use authorities.

We also call for a permanent moratorium on indemnification of all local land-use jurisdictions by private and public-funded developers.

Indemnification is the widespread, corrupt practice in which developers agree to pay for all legal costs arising from lawsuits that may be brought against their projects approved by the land-use authority — city or county. Without having to answer to the public for the financial consequences of decisions made on behalf of special interests, local land-use authorities can be counted on to continue unimpeded their real policy: unmitigated sprawl, agricultural land and natural resource destruction, constant increases in utility rates, layering of school and transportation bonds on top of property taxes, and the steady erosion of the county’s infrastructure.

Adopted 2006

San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
Protect Our Water
Central Valley Safe Environment Network
Merced River Valley Association
Planada Association
Le Grand Association
Communities for Land, Air & Water
Planada Community Development Co.
Central Valley Food & Farmland Coalition
Merced Group of Sierra Club
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge VernalPools.Org
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers


Central Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of “Eco-Justice” — the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political, and religious groups, and other stakeholders.

P.O. Box 64, Merced, CA 95341


Merced Sun-Star
Some call for moratorium until general plan is updated...Chris Collins
Merced County's comprehensive "general plan" approved in 1995 to guide the county's development is outdated and practically useless; it's irresponsible to continue to use it to direct new growth in the county. But large developments are moving forward and more are on the way. The county is in the beginning phase of a three-year process to form a new general plan that will reflect the current population and level of development in the area...supervisors are trying to figure out how to handle development under the wings of the 11-year-old plan. Deidre Kelsey..."I'm disappointed it's not already completed. We have a general plan that doesn't reflect the realities of our county." O'Banion said roadblocks to new development would hurt the county. Nelson said "We know we need to preserve our prime farmland, but we already have protections in the general plan." Representatives from the building industry and the Merced County Chamber of Commerce don't want the system to change and oppose a moratorium on growth. At their June 13 meeting, supervisors will take a vote on one of five options for how to handle developer-driven growth... options range from leaving the system as it is to enforcing a moratorium on any growth that requires changing the general plan.

Environmental group sues to block below-sea-level housing tract...Patrick Hoge
Oakley's plan to allow 4,000 new homes on land that is behind levees and 6 feet below sea level. In the suit filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, the Greenbelt Alliance said Oakley failed to adequately consider the potential for levee failures or to require mitigations for numerous likely impacts of urban development on the Hotchkiss Tract in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The suit also says that urban storm water, which under the development plan would be captured and treated in artificial lakes, could contaminate drinking water supplies used by millions of Californians. Critics, including state officials, environmentalists and academics, say that urbanizing such floodplains is unwise. Developers are nevertheless pushing to build in numerous flood-prone areas around the state, with nearly 40,000 homes planned behind levees in the cities of Lathrop (San Joaquin County), Oakley and Stockton alone.