Comments on Del Webb Fox Hills

This morning, unsurprisingly, the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved a Del Webb/Pulte Homes new town nestled between I-5 and the San Luis Canal near Los Banos. The project required an amendment of the county's outdated General Plan and, according to testimony, the first cancellation of a Williamson Act contract since 2000, when the board enacted the act.

Fox Hills will make a perfect upscale yuppie labor camp for "active seniors" our canny developers know will not be retiring any sooner than they will be retiring. The Merced public was invited to imagine the scene of active seniors wheeling off to the executive 9-hole golf course in electric golf carts, and in the magic moment of an entirely separate project description offered by its proponents during the public comment period, we were invited to believe in blue, unpolluted skies, happy seniors all wired fiber-optically to stay at home rather than commute, protected by berms from the deafening noise of the freeway, and to imagine the gentle, extremely endangered San Joaquin Valley Kit Fox ambling along the canal in a narrow "corridor" unmolested by the residents' dogs, walked along the corridor's intertwined "nature trails." It's all the latest "new" California style. Our landscapes will be watered by reconditioned sewage and our endangered species wildlife corridors will be "mixed use" and if some actively senior resident's German Shepherd bags a kit fox -- why, that's great sport! Perhaps Fox Hills of Merced County residents will form a fox club and pursue kit foxes on mountain bikes behind a baying pack of pedigreed poodles.

Faced with the high-powered consultants from the coast and the executive crew from Del Webb/Pulte Homes, who presented a final environmental impact review that was little more than a set of plans to make plans, and whose answer to every query was a smooth reply that they were in constant contact with the relevant state and federal resource regulatory agencies (safely out of public view), the supervisors were made just giddy with fabulous misstatement and joined in the fun themselves, denying that the enactment of the Williamson Act in Merced County had anything to do with mitigating the impact of UC Merced.

In fact, the Merced County General Plan is like an aging extra waitress at a Los Banos duck club. She still looks good in the right shadow, she still knows her business, and she's on the house to out-of-state developers. In the pleasant world of big money, land and extra waitresses, it is considered impolite to name the pimp. So call us impolite if we name the pimp as the Merced County Board of Supervisors.

Recently, a mysterious group called the General Plan Review Steering Committee, who claims its authority to guide a process of updating the General Plan from some board resolution in the late 1980s, made several proposals to curtail to some extent the pace of development in Merced County while the extra waitress got some medical attention. Planning consultants are now hovered over the old girl trying to figure out how to rehabilitate a working girl that has been "amended" too fast, too much, for too long. The University of California, the brute, knocked all her teeth out. Her pimp pulled all her hair out. So the consultants are working on her legs, still in good condition.

"She's still got legs!" they report ecstatically. "It's amazing considering the life she's led."

Learned and tax-paid surgeons have been summoned at the direction of the supervisors, her collective pimp, to do the nip-and-tuck magic of their plastic art. She'll soon look like a recent high school grad.

The great debate going on among consultants and the pimp is whether the hair implants should be brunette or blond. Which do nationwide developers want the most: brunette or blond extra waitresses? Perhaps this is the most important question in county economic development theory at the moment.

The old girl herself lies comatose on the table, suicidally stoned on a concoction of mind-altering substances and lies known only to duck club extra waitresses. To her, the Merced County General Plan Update Process is just another emergency ward.

Bill Hatch


Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced CA 95341
(209) 723-9283, ph. & fax

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto, CA 95350


Merced County Board of Supervisors Sent via email

Dee Tatum Sent via email
Chief Administrative Officer

Robert Lewis Sent via email
Director of Planning and Economic Development

Ruben Castillo Sent via email
County Counsel
Merced County 2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

June 27, 2006

Re: General Plan Amendment No. 05005, Zone Change Application No. 05006, Major Subdivision Application Nos. 06002, 06003 and 06004, and Administrative Permit Application No. 06040 - To amend the General Plan and the Zoning Code by adopting an updated Fox Hills Community Specific Plan and expanding the boundaries by 850 acres, approval of three major subdivision application proposing the creation of 2,600 residential building lots and approval of an administrative permit application for community-supporting commercial development; action related to the Williamson Act are also necessary including removal from the Agricultural Preserve and a tentative contract cancellation
Proposed Ordinance: An Ordinance of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Merced amending the Merced County Code Title 18, Zoning to include Section 18.57.01, Fox Hills Specific Plan District, per Zone Change Application No. 05006

Members of the Board of Supervisors,

We oppose this project because:

1) The General Plan is so out of date and out of shape that to amend it again is irresponsible. To continue to approve projects of this size that require amendments, while the General Plan update process is on-going, undermines that process and adds to the general public distrust and cynicism toward this county administration and board of supervisors.

2) The environmental review documents on this project fail to analyze its growth inducing and cumulative impacts. The County must consider each of the proposed subdivisions in the context of all the other proposed subdivisions and face the entire effect on the environment, agriculture, air quality, traffic, water supply, public health and safety and quality of life for the Merced public and the natural resources.

3) Beyond stating there will be losses of natural resources, wildlife and agriculture, there is no quantitative analysis of the magnitude of these losses in the environmental review documents.

4) At this point in the growth of Merced County and the deteriorization of the San Joaquin Valley air basin, it is absolutely irresponsible not to carefully consider the cumulative impacts of projects to the air quality of the county.

5) Failing a county water supply plan, therefore there is no assurance that the water plan for this project will not have serious impacts on existing water supplies.

6) This project overlaps state and federal resource-agency jurisdictions and requires a National Environmental Protection Act environmental impact statement.

7) The County is deferring regulatory compliance to a later date, against the intent of the California Environmental Quality Act. Plans to make plans to have consultations with state and federal resource agencies about regulatory compliance at some point in the future, risks several possible bad outcomes: 1) the consultation doesn't take place; 2) the impacts become more narrowly defined and the mitigation diminishes. The place to address the environmental impacts and to produce the plan is in the environmental review process.

8) This project will impact the Diablo Ridgelands protection plan.

9) The Fox Hills Community Specific Plan Update (or Plan) cannot provide its promised planning guidance without an updated county General Plan or Community Plans. This document cannot be used for regulatory guidance for the prior Fox Hills project or its current expanded version. The point is that there is no planning guidance in Merced County guidance packages. We refer you back to our request for information about what Merced County means by a "guidance package." We will resubmit our request because to date, we've received no answer from the county Planning Department.

10) The land-use goals of the plan update are unrealistic and flawed because a land-use authority cannot claim these goals, policies and implementation without analysis of cumulative impacts and piecemealing, and with the routine practice of deference of mitigation -- at least under the California Environmental Quality Act.

11) There are no provisions for state mandated 10-percent affordable and low-income housing. There are no provisions for migrant farmworker housing in this project.

12) A will-serve letter from a water district receiving a federal water allotment on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is no guarantee of a full water supply. However, it should trigger automatic federal resource agency review, both as to supply and to the potential contaminating effects of this project on the vast irrigation and drinking water conveyance system (Delta Mendota/San Luis Canal Water Authority) that flows adjacent to this project.

13) The project is employing as aesthetic amenities energy-saving technologies that ought to be mandatory, such as the subsidized California "Million solar roofs" plan.

14) The biological resource inventory project consultants totally relied on, CDFG Natural Diversity Data Bank, is a flawed research resource because it is not comprehensive. The data from this bank focuses solely on endangered species, without reference to other indigenous species in the same ecosystem. These consultants did no ground-truthing.

15) This project proves the point that the tardy adoption of the Williamson Act in Merced County was a cynical property-tax dodge by developers and a perversion of the intent of both the act and its underlying agricultural preserve.

16) The Draft Community Plan Update, the Draft Environmental Impact Report appendices, the DEIR, the Final Environmental Impact Report, the project findings and conditions, the May 24 staff recommendations to the county Planning Commission, and the June 14 addendum, taken together, present significant changes that warrant recirculation.

17) The "hold harmless agreement" shows once again provides the county board of supervisors license to behave recklessly, giving the public the perception that county government is corrupt.

18) Without Measure A funds, this project cannot guarantee the necessary transportation infrastructure to support the project.

19) The San Joaquin Partnership and the Regional Blueprint are merely more demonstrations of orchestration and fast-track streamlining -- in which Merced County Board of Supervisors, also sitting as the dominant clique on the board of Merced County Association of Governments -- is taking the lead in mass residential development in the Valley, proceeding in total denial of the environmental and agricultural devastation it is creating. This project, with significant backing from Pulte/Del Webb, is classic example of the sort of exploitive "growth" the county is approving: outside developers, outside financing, and profits flowing outside the county. There is no assurance than any local interests, beyond a few realtors and landowners, will realize any gain from this project. And there is every assurance that the public at large will be stuck for the bill on the infrastructure, will receive no mitigation for the impact on the resources, and will experience an obvious, demonstrable reduction of their quality of life as a direct result of this project.

20) Once again, the county Board of Supervisors is pandering to developers, aided every step of the way by indemnification. This county cannot enforce aggregate compliance, dairy and agricultural compliance, and has the vapors when confronted by the local bad boy developer. Nor will this county enforce any of its codes.

Therefore, this project should be denied because this county has neither the will nor the capacity to enforce government regulations nor -- being continuously held harmless through legal indemnification -- does it have any incentive to enforce any regulations.


Lydia M Miller Steve Burke



Letter from CVSEN

David Butcher study on Williamson Act, UC Davis, 2005.

Anti-Measure A fliers, June, 2006.

VOTE NO on Measure A Tax

Here is a partial list of residential developments ALREADY planned for Merced County
Atwater - 1,584 units, Atwater Ranch, Florsheim Homes 21 Units, John Gallagher, 25.2 acres.
Delhi - 1,100 units, Matthews Homes, 2,000 acres.
Fox Hills - 907 units, Fox Hills Estates north 337 units, Fox Hills Estates, central- 1,356 units.
Hilmar-JKB Homes, over 3,000 units.
Livingston - 1,200 units, Ranchwood Homes 420 acres. Del Valle, Gallo Ranchwood, 1,000acres,
Los Banos -, Ranchwood, 932 acres 323 units, Pinn Brothers, 34 units, Court of Fountains, 2.7 acres 95 units, Woodside Homes,
City of Merced - 11,616 units, UC Merced Community Plan 1,560 acres; 7,800 units,
Ranchwood Homes, 2,355 acres, 7,000 units, Bellevue Ranch, 1,400 acres,
Vista Del Lago, 442 units, Weaver Development, 920 units, Fahrens Creek II, -1,282 units,
Fahrens Creek North, 1,093 units, Hunt Family Annexation,
Planada - 4,400 units, Village of Geneva at Planada, Hostetler 1,390 acres.
Felix Torres Migrant Megaplex 127 units, Park Street Estates, 31.8 acres, 200 units.
San Luis Creek 629 units, F & S Investments, 180 acres.
San Luis Ranch - 544 units, 237 acres.
Santa Nella - 8,250 units - Santa Nella Village west 881 units, 350 acres,
The Parkway, phase III, 146 acres - 138 units, Santa Nella Village, 40.7 acres - 544 units,
San Luis Ranch, phase II - 232 units, 312 acres - 182 acres, Arnaudo 1 &2
Stevinson - 3,500 units, Stevinson Ranch/Gallo Lakes Development - 1,700 units, 3,740 acres.
Winton - 50 units, 17 acres- Gertrude Estates, Mike Raymond, 18 acres - 142 units, Winn Ranch
Commercial Development
WalMart Distribution Center, Riverside Motorsports Park and a growing number of Strip Malls ….and the list goes on!


"Del Webb Brand Sweeping Across America" -- p=irol-newsArticle&ID=823998&highlight'Fox%20Hills%20Los%20Banos'

Diablo Ridge Conservation Plan -- landscape/baosc_drwg_2002.07.16_conservation_plan.pdf

Coalition Statement on the 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 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
California Native Plant Society
Stevinson Citizen’s Group
San Bruno Mountain Watch
San Joaquin Valley Chapter of Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Houses sit on market longer than last year...J.N. Sbranti
Homes are taking longer to sell, but sales prices held fairly steady in May in most parts of the Northern San Joaquin Valley... Price drop in Merced County but rise in surrounding areas. In Merced County, median-priced homes sold for $364,500 in May, which was $13,500 less than April but 16.1 percent more than last year. The record of $380,750 was set in January.

If built, Villages of Laguna San Luis homes could generate more students than already in district

By Minerva Perez
Los Banos Enterprise -- June 23, 2006

A proposed development on the outskirts of Los Baños is more than just a few homes.
It is a large-scale community project that could generate more students than the school district currently has enrolled.

Trustees from the Los Baños Unified School District got a first-hand look at the actual scope and size of the proposed Villages of Laguna San Luis during a tour of the site on Wednesday.

"I've looked at the maps of the plan but when you see it and how big it actually is... we want to make sure that schools will be available," said school district Superintendent Paul Alderete.

The proposed community located west of Interstate 5 near Highway 152 and Highway 33 has about 3,600 acres of development that will include houses and neighborhood retail stores. The entire project is within the boundaries of the Los Baños school district.

"We are envisioning a rural residential community. We want to have it (an elementary school) as a focus of the community." said Brian Vail of River West Investments, the Sacramento-based real estate management and investment company preparing the project.

Alderete said he and Vail have been in contact for the past few months and are eager to mitigate the full impact of the project on school facilities.

Since the development is still in the planning stages, Vail couldn't say exactly how many homes will be in the community but he said the environmental impact report being prepared for the project doesn't allow more than 15,000.

Alderete said that many homes could generate about 12,000 students.

The proposed community will also include plenty of open space and scenic highway setbacks.

Currently, part of the project site is sprinkled with a handful of homes, truck stops and power lines, but Vail envisions a diverse community that will attainable to all socio-economic backgrounds.

He estimated home prices would range from $250,000 to $1 million.

"We pride ourselves on the diversity we offer. Our goal is not to create an exclusive gated community, so a lower priced home will be next to a more expensive one," he said.

School district trustee Colleen Menefee said she believed people would flock to the Villages because of the project's competitive home prices and given the average price of a new home in Los Baños.

"At first I was surprised that houses were built next to power lines," she said as they drove around the handful of development near power lines. "But they [sold] like crazy - people were here overnight."

She and trustee Mario Gonzalez said they were concerned the proposed development would cement Los Baños as a bedroom community for the Bay Area.

Gonzalez said although job creation is always welcomed, the (retail) jobs the proposed community will generate is not the type of employment needed in Los Baños.

"If we are going to change from an agricultural community to a more urban one we have to have jobs that are compatible with what is over the hill," he said.