What were they thinking?

Reading this morning’s Merced Sun-Star article, “Freeway work has chopped up roads,” we couldn’t help asking the obvious question: What were our leaders – local, state and federal elected officials, their staffs, the staffs of the city and county of Merced, business and financial leaders, large land owners and the newspaper – thinking?

So, we return to the elemental parental question, when the child returns injured or having damaged his family’s or someone else’s property: “What were you thinking?”

What were the UC Regents thinking in 1995 when they certified the UC Merced environmental impact report and conceptual plan so vague it was meaningless?

What were the members of the board of the Virginia and Cyril Smith trusts thinking when they donated land full of highly environmentally protected wildlife habitat and endangered species for the campus?

What were they thinking when local, state and federal politicians began the backroom process in Sacramento, called the” Red and Green teams,” in 1998, to “fast-track” the environmental permitting process to get the UC Merced campus located on highly environmentally protected land?

What were the UC Regents and administration thinking when they ignored the opinions of the best biological experts on the ecology of that land, its own faculty?

What were Valley legislators and UC administrators thinking when they condemned the sound research in the Legislative Analyst’s Office report questioning the demographic and economic assumptions behind “Tidal Wave II,” that a tsunami of college students existed that would a new UC campus?

What were they thinking when they bussed to Sacramento enough grammar school pupils from Merced in brand new little UC Merced T-shirts, to fill the first-floor corridors of the state Capitol, cute little lobbyists for what the Senate President Pro Tem, John Burton, D-SF was calling a “boondoggle”?

What were they thinking at the county when they split the UC Merced planning process away from the county Planning Department, establishing a separate planning agency to focus on the project without any guidance from a functional General Plan?

What were they thinking when the county enthusiastically embraced UC Merced and the great growth it would induce when its General Plan did not even contemplate a UC campus? What were they thing when they kept amending it until it became an absurd document offering no planning guidance?

What have they been thinking at the Sun-Star all these years? They started off at least making good advertising dollars on months of UC Merced Supplements, written by UC bobcatflaksters, paid for by the public. Now, they regurgitate everything a new generation of bobcatflaksters utter, and call it news.

What were UC, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Wildlife Conservation Board thinking when they spent millions of public funds on easements to mitigate the impacts of the campus, a number of which have now been judged by resource agencies to be useless – not mitigating the takes of endangered species and lacking funds to monitor the easements?

What were UC Merced administrators thinking when they obliterated a municipal golf course to build the first phase of the campus without having applied for their Clean Water Act permit to build the next phases?

What were they thinking when UC proposed and the board of supervisors approved a plan to build a whole new town, the University Community, beside the campus but outside the city limits of Merced?

What was the City of Merced thinking when it violated its own ordinance against providing sewer and water facilities outside its corporate city limits, when it provided sewer and water facilities to the first phase of the campus? What is the City of Merced thinking by not annexing the campus and the area of the proposed new town? What are they thinking now about UC’s “sovereign” land-use authority?

What were the supervisors and local farm groups thinking when – after eight years of UC planning and building and many subdivisions besides with more to come – they still will not establish a ratio of acreage to mitigate for the last of farm land?

What were they thinking when they planned the UC Merced loop road, linking an interchange at Atwater with UC Merced and an interchange at Mission Ave, south of Merced?

What are the opponents of the WalMart distribution center and the Riverside Motorsports Park thinking: that local government would not attract these projects to help pay for these interchanges for this UC loop road?

What was the City of Merced leadership thinking when it refused join the League of California Cities, Berkeley, Davis, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center, Protect Our Water, and other groups in support of the City of Marina, et al against CSU Monterey Bay in the state Supreme Court? In that case, which CSU lost, CSU argued that state agencies should not be required to pay for any impacts from their projects that occur off the site of the project. In UC’s letter of support for CSU, it argued it would have to pay $200 million in off-site mitigations in Merced if CSU lost the case.

What was the entire leadership class of Merced thinking when not one of them even questioned, let alone opposed UC Merced’s memorandum of understanding with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory? It was as if all the little Mr. and Ms. UC Merceds in the circle haven’t a clue what kind of science and technology UC does in Livermore and, perhaps, how quickly it could come to Merced. LLNL is already trying to site the most toxic level of biodefense labs just outside Tracy. A whole new generation of nuclear weapons are currently being designed at both Livermore and UC’s other national lab, Los Alamos.

What were they thinking when they unleashed rapid urban development without a ground water plan?

What where they thinking when Applegate Zoo received an orphaned baby bobcat and UC Merced adopted it as their mascot?

What were they thinking when they adopted a Williamson Act area that included virtually all of unincorporated Merced County? Did it have anything to do with farming or was it just a gift to developers buying rural land? We think the chances are that if it had genuinely had anything to do with farming, it would have passed 30 years earlier.

What are the City of Merced planners and council members thinking about siting a project in an enterprise zone that will bring in nearly a thousand diesel trucks a day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, into one of the nation’s top two worst air quality regions?

What were they really thinking about when they turned in their resignations -- Publicist James Grant, Vice Chancellor Lindsay DesRochers, founding Dean of Social Sciences Kenji Hakuta, Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Vice Chancellor and Provost David Ashley, and Environmental Compliance Director Rick Notini? Did they think the permitting process a done deal?

What are UC Merced administrators thinking -- if there are any UC Merced administrators at the moment – about having to move the next phase of the campus down onto the land planned for their University Community if they cannot get a Clean Water Act permit through normal channels and may not have the clout to get it through those other channels?

What were they thinking when UC Merced unveiled Cat Spots asking businesses to create a discount program or other incentives that will benefit student pocketbooks? The city-funded California Welcome Center will print another 1,000 window decals incorporating its logo with UC Merced's. What about students of Merced College?

What were they thinking when UC Merced partnered with the Great Valley Center? Grants, grants and more grants? For what? Well you might ask!

And while we are at it, what were the UC Regents thinking – as some were speculating on Merced land for development -- when they approved a campus in an already imperiled air quality region, heading the wrong way fast? A research medical facility to specialize in respiratory diseases?

What was Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, thinking when he introduced two bills to gut the critical habitat designation of the Endangered Species Act before teaming up with Rep. Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy, to gut the whole ESA?

What was the county thinking when it did not notify resource agencies about the deep-ripping or disking of – at a minimum – 6,000 acres of land in the federal critical habitat designation area for 15 endangered species?

What have they been thinking all these years as they have been breaking every environmental law and regulation and putting political pressure on every resource agency not to enforce environmental law and regulation?

What were they thinking when, having lost their sales tax increase/ transportation fund initiative in the primary, they decided to try it again in November?

What were the governor and some of his cabinet thinking when they made the Merced County Association of Governments the point agency in a San Joaquin Valley-wide regional planning “partnership” effort?

What are they thinking now that the arrogance and corruption of government in Merced, among its local, state and federal representatives and their staffs, are beginning to stink beyond the county line? Consider, for example, the federal case concerning the former DA, the Sheriff, the worst scofflaw developer in the county, other prominent investors, a prominent real estate agency and the indicted, incarcerated perp who owned land on the proposed UC Merced loop road.

Badlands editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
UC Merced expansion may hit a roadblock...Corinne Reilly
After more than $500 million in building, development costs and more than a decade of planning...vision for the expansion of UC Merced beyond its first 100 acres could be forced to change... permit the university needs to build on federally protected wetlands will likely not be granted to allow the university to move forward with its current 900-acre expansion plan, according to a senior manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We feel that the project they have proposed, at this point, isn't permittable," Kevin Roukey, the Corps' senior project manager in charge of UC Merced permitting. Failure to secure the federal permit -- or a move to an alternate location to secure it -- would mean the most significant setback to date for the university, and would force Merced city and county planners to redraw current plans for the 2,000-acre University Community... A corps of engineers analysis of UC Merced's plan - one of the earliest steps in the wetlands permitting process - revealed vernal pools of extremely rare density and quality at the site,..."Unfortunately for the UC, vernal pools at the site they've picked have basically been determined to be the best in the state, and maybe even the country," Roukey said. Officials at UC Merced say they've proposed mitigation measures far beyond the norm, and have purchased more than 25,000 acres of land for preservation. But Roukey said university planners failed to consider the quality of the land they've offered for mitigation. Roukey... "The land they've purchased to preserve is different from what would be destroyed. Basically they went out and bought a ton of property without knowing what was on it"...mostly grassland that contains vernal pools inferior in quality and quantity to those that would be destroyed...UC Merced spent more than $15 million in state grants and private donations. Roukey said...still possible UC officials could propose new mitigation measures to save their current plans. "But he said to date, they have not presented anything that would meet permittable standards." "Of the alternatives laid out, there are three that would be far less environmentally damaging than theirs," said Alexis Strauss, director of the EPA's Water Division in San Francisco. "And building asphalt parking lots on vernal pools isn't really a good show of damage avoidance." "Where we are in the process is not a place where anyone can make that kind of comment," UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey said. Tomlinson-Keasey, who plans to step down from the university's top post at the end of August, said in March when she announced her decision to leave that she would see the campus through its next phase of environmental review; that no longer appears feasible. It could take the agency more than a year to make its final determination. Livingston - more than 20 miles away - won't be considered a practical option...remaining two alternatives would place the rest of UC Merced just south of the university's preferred site, along Lake Road...would place the rest of the university closer to its first phase, but wouldn't allow for the contiguous campus UC Merced proposes. And UC and county officials say both options would devastate plans for the University Community, a massive development... About $4 million in state grants were spent by the county to develop the community plan that could now be rendered largely useless...many fear UC Merced could develop into a second-class citizen among its prestigious sister campuses. The city of Merced, which has expressed interest in annexing the community, could step up to fund a new plan;... Alternative options could draw heavy opposition from the local farming community. But some say university officials have ignored signals that came as early as 2002 indicating their plans would likely have to change, and moved forward with their first phase of development despite the warnings. The EPA registered a formal objection to the proposal in April of 2002, suggesting UC planners consider moving south. "We've been urging them for years to consider decreasing the footprint of the campus," said Strauss of the EPA. "You can't just mitigate your way around the law to get a permit for the most damaging alternative." Istas said the choice to move forward with the university's first phase, even without a permit for the rest of the campus, was the best one for the Valley. Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, reaffirmed his support for UC Merced's proposal this week. "The campus is absolutely in the right location," said Cardoza. "One way or another, it's going to turn out OK."

Merced Sun-Star
Freeway work has chopped up roads...Chris Collins
Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo...five trucks filled with dirt did the unthinkable -- they pulled a U-turn on the freeway. That little stunt is one of the many inconveniences and dangerous maneuvers that have county and Merced city officials frustrated with the way trucks working on the Mission Avenue interchange have damaged roads and clogged up local traffic. The dirt-hauling phase of the $68 million project ended Tuesday. The bad news is that for the past few months more than 1,000 trucks a day moved in and out of the construction zone with loads of dirt... truck traffic resulted in more than $1 million of damage to local roads, said county Public Works Director Paul Fillebrown... scheduled to open September 2007.

Sacramento Bee
From tiny acorns... UC officials hope the new Merced campus someday grows to a mighty oak, but for now it's struggling to meet enrollment goals...Eric Stern
With the political power and money already behind it, it's easy to imagine the University of California's newest campus in Merced - in the middle of Central Valley pastureland, miles from a stoplight - as a major research institution with 25,000 students. UC Merced still has a long way to go...about to start its second year, is struggling to get students there - and to get them to stay. If history repeats itself, UC Merced could follow the erratic - even negative - growth patterns the UC system saw when it added campuses in Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz in the 1960s. UC Merced isn't exactly close to the beach...is likely to fall short of its target of 5,200 students by the 2010-11 school year. UC Merced offers a chance to get a University of California diploma that might not otherwise be available...eligibility requirements for UC Merced are equally as demanding as the other UC schools, but the incoming freshman at UC Merced have the lowest average grade-point average and SAT scores in the UC system. "If you build a campus basically in the middle of nowhere, it's not surprising that this is not going to be the first choice for many students," said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "There was a certain amount of gamble (from the UC)…that they could basically hang their shingle out anywhere and be overrun by applications." He fears the $500 million campus could drain resources from the other UC schools until Merced gets its footing. "It took a long time for Davis to become Davis."

Santa Cruz Sentinel
Ruling favors town over gown...Roger Sideman
Santa Cruz city...this week's state Supreme Court decision further obligates universities to pay for costs incurred by campus expansion... local governments now have a legal precedent to push the university to cover more of the cost...court ruling resolved a 10-year legal battle between Cal State Monterey Bay and several cities near its growing campus at the former Fort Ord. The university's board of trustees maintained it didn't have to pay for fire prevention and traffic, sewage and drainage improvements off the campus. UCSC's commitment has been disputed by local government leaders who charge the university understates off-campus impacts and that it won't fully reimburse government coffers. Contributions by UCSC are presently made on a project by project basis. Government leaders want UCSC to make a total contribution rather than having dollars come in piecemeal fashion. Wormhoudt... the court's decision also lessens the chance UCSC would sue the city over this November's ballot measure...voters will decide whether to force the school to address concerns over campus growth by withholding the city's water supply. Moose, Santa Cruz's attorney...there's a chance UCSC would come back to the table and offer a better approach to traffic mitigation. One sticking point - who will pay for increased water use - was not addressed in the CSU decision...

Modesto Bee
Wal-Mart foes show up in red...Leslie Albrecht
Residents who don't want Wal-Mart to build a 1.2 millionsquare-foot warehouse in southeast Merced wore red shirts to a public meeting last week about which issues should be studied in the environmental impact report on the project...meeting was meant to solicit input about which issues - such as air quality, traffic and noise - should be studied when city-hired consultants write the EIR about the proposed distribution center...how would 450 trucks driving in and out of the center daily affect Merced's already poor air quality, said Randy Chafin of EDAW Inc., the Sacramento consulting group that's writing the report...Marilynne Parreira asked that the impact report examine specifically how the center would affect Golden Valley students...Susan Boykin said a climatologist should contribute to the impact report..."When
we take acres and acres of trees and pave it with acres and acres of asphalt, we are creating heat islands," Boykin said. The city will solicit comments on what should be studied in the impact report until Aug. 11. SEND TO: Kim Espinosa, Planning Manager, City of Merced, Planning and Permitting, 678 W. 18th St., Merced 95340, PHONE: 385-6858, FAX: 725-8775 E-MAIL: planningweb@cityofmerced.org

Free the UC bobcat; protesters urge...http://www.modbee.com/local/story/10649708p-11435262c.html

Businesses put out invitation to Bobcats...http://www.mercedsunstar.com/local/story/12053415p-12809017c.html

Spencer purchased land from jailed man…Chris Collins
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has launched a third investigation into Merced County District Attorney Gordon Spencer, this time examining whether Spencer committed a crime when he and a group of local investors bought a piece of property from a man who was sitting behind bars and facing charges from the District Attorney’s Office. The latest investigation comes on top of an ongoing criminal probe into Spencer’s potential embezzlement of public funds and an inquiry last December that found Spencer had impersonated an investigator. The attorney general is now looking into a 21-acre lot on Bellevue Road that Spencer, Sheriff Mark Pazin, Ranchwood Homes owner Greg Hostetler, and five other prominent locals purchased in 2004. The intersection of the two events created a clash that was “absolutely impermissible” by attorney ethics standards, said Weisberg, the Stanford law professor. “There was a conflict of interest. ” Dougherty, the county’s presiding judge, said Spencer never told Byrd’s attorney about his involvement in buying Byrd’s land. Kelsey said she always has been troubled that the sheriff and district attorney joined one of the county’s biggest developers to buy the land.