DeeDee One-Tune whines on

 Merced County Supervisor Deidre "DeeDee One-Tune" Kelsey is once again leading a chorus of impotent whining, hardly a new song in this Drought-of-Droughts year. She has again mobilized her district klatches against a menace: in 2006, it was the menace of traffic that would be caused by the Riverside Motorsports Park racetrack; today, it is a the menace that would be caused to the groundwater by the Sloan/Smith deal with Del Puerto Water District, which could result in groundwater pumping from the valley floor a few miles northwest of Atwater of up to 23,000 acre feet/day, eight months a year for four years.
In 2006, DeeDee One-Tune held three townhall meetings "to gather public comments" in her district a week after the supervisors had closed their public hearing on the RMP project -- so the comments had no legal importance. 
This year, Ms. One-Tune whined piteously that she didn't know about the groundwater-pumping deal until the Thursday before the supervisors' Tuesday meeting and was therefore had no time to rally her followers and study the proposal. It was the same sort of whine One-Tune uses when members of the public, confronted after 4 p.m. on Friday before a supervisors' meeting submit a letter at the Tuesday meeting (inevitably called "a late letter" by county staff and supervisors). What made the whine even less effectual than usual was that Merced County possesses no jurisdiction whatsoever over this water deal, County Counsel James Fincher explained to One-Tune and her colleagues on the board at last Tuesday's meeting.
One thing DeeDee didn't whine about was Steve Sloan's interesting comment that UC Merced's Founding Professor of Engineering Roger Bales has tested Sloan's well water and declared that it is better than the standards for drinking water and comes from an underground river from the Sierra. We imagine that it must simply have been forbidden to speak of a betrayal of this magnitude by the Sacred Fount of All Increased Property Values in the District of DeeDee One-Tune.
Here a week later, she is still whining and praising other whiners for their efforts. It's positively plaintive. -- blj
Merced Sun-Star
Deidre Kelsey: Two individuals sounded alarm over groundwater...DEIDRE KELSEY, Snelling
Merced County is fortunate to have committed individuals willing to come forward with their concerns regarding issues that affect our region. Water and its use has always been a lightning rod of politics, economics and necessity, never more so than now. Amanda Carvajal of the Merced County Farm Bureau is to be commended for her ability to grasp situations that could negatively impact the county. She represents her members well.
Daron McDaniel is another of these committed individuals. We all benefit when those with technical knowledge share their insight into complex problems. Groundwater transfers are complex and until now have not been a part of county policy. The attempt to transfer 23,000 acre-feet of groundwater out of Merced County for two years, and possibly for four, came to my attention when most government offices were closed. Thankfully, McDaniel, a member of Rep. Jeff Denham’s staff, was available to provide several important documents that helped me better understand this complex issue.
With Carvajal’s and McDaniel’s assistance, we sent a strongly worded letter from Merced County to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, expressing concerns regarding transfers without adequate environmental review.
These individuals, along with many others, demonstrate leadership and a continued commitment to a well-planned future for Merced County. I thank them for their dedication.
Badlands Journal                                                                                                        12-3-06
Political storm brewing over racetrack traffic
Bill Hatch
We need to step back from the chicanery of the County and Riverside Motorsports Park with regard to environmental law and regulation to understand what happened in the past week on three evenings – in Ballico, Delhi and on the Merced River. County Supervisor Diedre Kelsey, whose district encompasses the three venues, called meetings to “discuss” the racetrack. She brought along staff: Planning Director Robert Lewis; Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson; the RMP Project Planner, James Holland; county Public Works Official Steve Raugh; and, at the Delhi meeting, Planner Bob King, in charge of the Delhi Community Plan.
However, we need not stand back from the legal process of the California Environmental Quality Act so far that we fail to note that the county Board of Supervisors closed the public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Report on RMP after the marathon 12-hour public comment period two weeks ago. When queried in Delhi what force the comments at Kelsey’s town-hall meetings would have on that process, the supervisor responded haughtily that she was gathering new information that she would present to the supervisors in their deliberations before voting to approve the project.
However, the real, new information presented at the meetings came from county staff, not from the public. To weigh the importance of this new information, it should be noted that the traffic consultant for RMP said at the marathon public comment session on the FEIR that the traffic studies weren’t finished. Two weeks later, unincorporated Delhi was surprised and outraged to learn from maps that made their maiden public appearance in these town hall meetings, that project and county planners had decided that about half the traffic, at least from the west, coming to the racetrack, would have to pass along several orchard-lined country roads on the north side of Highway 99. Furthermore, Raugh informed them, since the roads are substandard, RMP would be asked to negotiate purchases of 10-foot strips of property on either side of them and, failing amicable agreement, the County would take the property by eminent domain.
These are roads that are used heavily by farm equipment throughout the growing and harvest seasons, which correspond almost exactly with the proposed racetrack season.
This was – indeed – new information, but it didn’t come from the public; it came from the county staff and RMP consultants, after the public hearing on the FEIR was closed.
Despite the “rules” established by the supervisor for the meetings, there were eloquent outbursts of blunt political utterance. The “rules” were that questions had to be written and submitted on cards to be distributed to relevant staffers for reply. Supervisors and staff are clearly uncomfortable with anything but power point presentations at this time, even if these are “interactive.” The normal intimidation caused the ordinary citizen by a blank 5X8 index card is usually a reliable method for avoiding embarrassment to public officials performing dog-and-pony shows. Speaking as a veteran newsman – a professional question asker, I confess that any self-respecting fifth grade teacher viewing my penmanship would send me back to the third grade for retraining.
However, people were not intimidated by the cards and oral questions, delivered with some political heat, regularly broke out. There were several notable rants, long, articulate and spoken with compelling passion. In short, there was fear and anger. The people who live and work on these country roads don’t want masses of bumper-to-bumper traffic on them. They are fearful for the safety of their children walking home from schools on those roads; they are fearful they will not be able to get their farm equipment to their fields and orchards; they are fearful their roads will be widened to their doorsteps; they are fearful of the effects of auto exhaust on their health and their children’s health; they are fearful of the noise – and they are angry at local government for even considering this project and for concealing information vital to the public process of making this decision.
Although the rants were eloquent, one short question stands out in my memory, from a local Delhi citizen: “How could you do this to Delhi, Diedre?” Kelsey did not reply. In fact, that was her style of conducting the town hall meetings, at least in the last two (I did not attend the first one in Ballico). When public utterance became too blunt, she scolded us about being impolite and passionate and angry. In fact, considering the consequences of the racetrack to these rural regions, the several hundred people who attended these town hall meetings were quite civil – in fact more civil to county staff and officials than some of the staff and officials were to them.
Planning Director Robert Lewis explained to the Delhi audience that the county General Plan was not outdated because the County uses it. This pivotal act of violence to logic and law was tolerated by the crowd with scarcely a grumble. The man he replaced, now Assistant Planning Director Bill Nicholson delivered his patented “expert explanations,” firing rapidly over the heads of the crowd while juggling air balls with his hands to emphasize his points. Public Works Official Raugh explained in a prickly but kindly way how eminent domain would work to upgrade the peoples’ county roads (bringing the roads to their doorsteps). Then, a mother living on Palm Ave., for example, standing behind the seated crowd, would cut loose. Braving the cowardice of her board, some of the most eloquent rants were delivered by Merced County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo (“and that includes the supervisor I’m related to!” she concluded, in her final speech at Washington School near the Merced River). Another particularly angry outburst came from a country resident who targeted John Condren, RMP chief (seated in the audience at Washington School), and flat vilified him to his face. Angry faces were staring directly at him as she gave him the what-for.
For those of us who have asked questions in RMP public information meetings in the past and have faced hostile, threatening stares from proponents of the track (clad in identical black baseball hats with the RMP logo), this was a sweet, if not a friendly, dialogical moment. I thought particularly of a night at Sierra Presbyterian Church, when a gathering of opponents of the track was crashed by a large group of black-hats. Judy Ducette, one of the leaders of the opposition to the track, a wife of a retired US Air Force officer in her 70s, was heckled to the point of leaving the podium by a group of young black-hat thugs, urged on by their elders (local business leaders like Don Bergman).
Political rumors abound and people are organizing. Despite the informal nature of the meetings, Kelsey provided a forum and county staff provided new information on the project. In fact, traffic flows will drastically affect her supervisorial district. However, they will also affect the district of board Chairman Mike Nelson, who did not hold any town hall meetings in and around Atwater, closest to the proposed racetrack. From a CEQA procedural viewpoint, Nelson was correct and Kelsey was not. Her town hall meetings have no legal force on the CEQA process, particularly in view of the fact that the “new information” appearing at the meetings was coming from county staff, not the public. But her town hall meetings may have surprising political force on the board of supervisors and perhaps later, in court (also subject to political pressure). One citizen active in the opposition told me recently that the RMP project would be Nelson’s political gravestone.
The main obstacle to political pressure on the board of supervisors is the practice of legal indemnification agreements between the County and developers. When the public sues the board of supervisors for approving a bad project – however grossly inadequate the project EIR is – the supervisors thumb their noses at the public because the developer has agreed to pay all legal costs arising from the board’s approval of the project. In the case of UC Merced, state taxpayers paid to indemnify Merced County. It is only when the public sues the County for an inadequate EIR that cannot be indemnified that county counsel produces legal briefs accusing the public of “Soviet-style tactics.”
The town hall meetings were not “dialogues,” or even discussions in the normal meanings of those terms. County staff, who have worked diligently planning for the RMP, couldn’t conceal a certain sense of pride in the project, so much of their own work having gone into it. So, despite efforts to appear neutral, they couldn’t help, however subtly, but do a little selling in their explanations. When, as in the case of the explanation of how eminent domain works, the crowd began to grumble and snarl, staff retreated behind County authority. Nor did Kelsey’s repeated statements that she hadn’t made her mind up how she was going to vote help facilitate friendly, reasonable chitchat.
I left the last meeting with the impression that the RMP project threatens not just the “quality of life” of residents on a few country roads behind Delhi and Livingston, but that a number of people living in that region believe the RMP project will threaten their whole agricultural way of life.
Why is this opposition, which for the past two years has been limited mainly to a handful of urban residents, breaking out now? The Merced County Board of Supervisors, state and federal officials, represent developers, not their own public. The first step in that process is to collude with developers to conceal information about the consequences of development vital to the public interest and the common good. It is one thing for staff to state that the project has no traffic plan. But it is quite another – after the public hearing has been closed – to start talking about eminent domain land taking to “upgrade” country roads at the developer’s expense backed by County authority.
Evidently, good, ordinary people don’t have enough money to politely buy the votes of the legislators they elect. It remains to be seen if this segment of the public has the rude political muscle to threaten the supervisors into voting down the project to save their political careers long enough for them to benefit from the next group of speculators to hit town.