New Merced County Planning Commissioner: fast and loose with public processes, public funds
The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition recently sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to terminate his opposition to the Williamson Act. The text of the letter appears below. http://www.calcattlemen.org/index.htm (click on the California Rangeland Resolution) will give the text of the historical coalition resolution developed by cattlemen, government agencies and environmental groups for the conservation of rangeland/seasonal pasturelands, vernal pools, the 15 endangered species associated with them, which also protects Central Valley watersheds. The link will also supply readers with a list of the Coalition's founders and members.
Two Coalition founders from Merced County, the San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and the San Joaquin Valley Conservancy, signed the Rangeland Coalition letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to terminate the Williamson Act, one of the most valuable land-use tools in California for the preservation of rangeland on the borders of the Central Valley, including a great many acres in Merced County.
Reading the final text of the letter to the governor, the Raptor Center and the
Conservancy were perplexed to find the name of recently appointed Merced County Planning Commissioner Cynthia Lashbrook, signing on behalf of
the Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth (MARG).
Among the numerous environmental organizations that Lashbrook belongs to, MARG is an inappropriate vehicle. It appeared Lashbrook simply grabbed the most convenient organization at her disposal at the time to get her name on the letter signed by a number of prestigious people and organizations with a proven record of commitment to the defense of rangeland. A far more appropriate group would have been the East Merced Resource Conservation District. However, Lashbrook was unable to convince the district board to blindly sign the letter during a teleconference special meeting on June 14.
As founders of the Coalition, the Raptor Center and the Conservancy said that it is a movement and far more than one letter to one governor. In the list of 24 organizations and/or businesses Commissioner Lashbrook is involved with as staff, grant-writer, director, owner or member, we see no real connection to the goals of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition. The two local Coalition founders said their impression that Lashbrook was indulging in mere self-promotion was deepened by rumors that the commissioner’s opinion is that rangeland should be the site of urban sprawl in preference to Valley farmland. The Coalition founders doubt MARG ever heard of the work and resolution of the Coalition before Lashbrook presented its leadership with a last-minute opportunity to get its name in front of the governor’s staff.
Valley environmental activists are quite familiar with this kind of hustle. We remember a once-prominent environmental attorney whose desks and wallets were stuffed with business cards announcing himself as counsel to organizations that had no clue that he was their counsel. Another shining example was a prominent local rancher/developer and former secretary of state Department of Food and Agriculture who was the president of every USDA-spawned organization in the north San Joaquin Valley and beyond, in a career of prominence in paper groups that started before puberty. A rich man, he bought his state office fair and square from Gov. Gray Davis, along with more than 500 acres, annexed to the City of Merced, in the path of growth to UC Merced.
When Lashbrook, an associate director of the East Merced Resource Conservation District, presented this letter to the district board at its Special Meeting on June 14, the board wisely deferred this matter, appearing not to have read the letter. Nor was it on the meeting agenda.
When she signed this letter on behalf of MARG, which has about as much knowledge of the Coalition as it does about Uruguayan foreign policy, they compromised the integrity of founders and members of the Coalition and weakened the force of the letter. If Lashbrook and MARG has dared to write their own letter, this unpleasantness would have been avoided. We find no evidence on the MARG website, apparently taken over entirely by the Wal-Mart Action Team, that they did write their own letter.
Commissioner Lashbrook habitually promotes herself on other peoples’ work and integrity without consultation but for compensation.
She and the East Merced Resource Conservation District staff and directors castigated the Merced River Stakeholders group a month earlier for not enthusiastically endorsing a half-million-dollar grant proposal sponsored by the district, which claimed stakeholders’ support, without distributing a copy of the final proposal before submitting it to the state Department of Water Resources. Lashbrook, in one or more of her staff capacities, will financially benefit if the DWR approves the grant. There were only two stakeholders who even read the draft proposal.
Lashbrook is playing fast and loose with public processes and public funds. But, in Merced County, this is as good as it gets for appointees and potential appointees to committees, focus groups, boards and commissions, among them the East Merced Resource Conservation District.
If members of the Merced County public do not accept the policy of uncontrolled growth and finance, insurance and real estate propaganda, they can expect to be insulted, intimidated and red-baited by elected and appointed officials and staff.
Badlands editorial board
CALIFORNIA RANGELAND CONSERVATION COALITION: Ranchers, Conservationists and Government Working Together for the Benefit of All
June 19, 2007
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor
State of California
State Capitol, First Floor
Sacramento, CA 95812
RE: May Revise – Williamson Act
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:
Partners to the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are alarmed by the May revise to your fiscal year 07-08 budget which proposes the elimination of subvention funding to California counties for the Williamson Act.
This proposed elimination is contrary to the underlying goals of our partnership, to protect California’s rangeland landscape.
The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is an unprecedented group of California ranchers, environmentalists and agencies. Together, we want to preserve private working landscapes, support the long-term viability of the ranching industry, and protect and enhance California rangeland for protected and common species.
We recognize the Williamson Act is intrinsically linked to our Coalition’s ability to fulfill the guiding principles outlined within the enclosed California Rangeland Resolution, the foundation of the Rangeland Coalition.
Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition are strong supporters of the Williamson Act and we truly recognize the role it plays in preserving rangeland. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire and Resource Assessment Program California is losing tens of thousands of acres of rangeland annually. This significant conversion of rangeland contributes to the loss of open space, groundwater recharge, homes of common and threatened species, and family ranchers.
Research on these rangelands finds that nearly all of the species of grassland birds, most native plants and the threatened vernal pool ecosystem actually benefit from responsible grazing practices. The Williamson Act plays an important role in preserving California’s rangelands which are a critical foundation of the economic and social fabric of California’s ranching industry and rural communities, and will only continue to provide habitat for plants, fish and wildlife if the Williamson Act remains a viable tool for landowners.
The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition strongly supports subvention funding to California’s counties for the Williamson Act. Should you have any questions regarding our support please contact Tracy Schohr, Director of Rangeland Conservation, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition at (916) 444-0845 or
Partners of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
California Rangeland Conservation Coalition
May Revise – Williamson Act
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Program Director
Defenders of Wildlife
Director, Federal Government Relations
California Chapter, The Nature Conservancy
California Farm Bureau Federation
American Farmland Trust
American Land Conservancy
Sacramento Valley Conservancy
California Rangeland Trust
Robert J. Stack, Ph.D.
Jumping Frog Research Institute
Butte County Resource Conservation District
Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth
William M. Hatch
San Joaquin Valley Conservancy
California Invasive Plant Council
Bear River Watershed - Coordinator
Nevada County Resource Conservation District - Manager
Lydia M. Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
California-Pacific Section of the Society for Range Management
Alameda County Resource Conservation District
Institute for Ecological Health
Glenn County Resource Conservation District
Director of Landowner Stewardship Program
Charles (Toby) Horst
Sierra Resource Conservation District
Carol W. Witham
California Native Plant Society
California Wool Growers Association
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
Colusa County Resource Conservation District
California Wildlife Foundation
California Oak Foundation
Francis I. Hodgkins
Board of Trustees Chair
Sacramento River Watershed Program
Northern California Regional Land Trust
California CattleWomen’s Association
Chair, Board of Directors
Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District
Western Shasta RCD
Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Enclosure: California Rangeland Resolution
Ever thought of serving on one of the city's commissions? Now's your chance to volunteer...Leslie Albrecht...6-27-07
The city is looking to fill vacancies on seven commissions that advise the City Council on everything from parks to the airport to bringing new business to Merced. Serving on a commission gives citizens an up-close look at how local government works, said city spokesman Mike Conway, but it also helps residents play a direct role in shaping their community. "(Commissioners) get to be part of the solution and they get the satisfaction of knowing that they're helping to build a better Merced," said Conway. To serve on most commissions, you must be at least 18 years old and a registered voter. Here's a quick look at commissions currently looking for warm bodies...
Loose Lips: Last Updated: June 29, 2007, 03:17:33 AM PDT
Red scare at the county building?...The Cold War is over... But this week that old familiar chill was back in the air — at the Merced County Administration Building, of all places. Maureen McCorry of Valley Land Alliance urged the county to look at environmental impacts before letting farmers subdivide their property. Supervisor Mike Nelson greeted McCorry's comment with this zinger: "It's nice to see that socialists are alive and well here." ...communist hordes...could some of them be living here in Merced? Nelson isn't worried about Reds in our midst, he told Lips, but he was serious when he made that remark. "I feel that (McCorry's) comment strikes at the heart of private property rights and is by its very nature socialist,"..."What it ends up being is people who think they can tell other people how to live their lives." That rubs Nelson the wrong way, to say the least. The right to private property, he told Lips, was first and foremost in our forefathers' minds when they founded these United States. Are those rights under attack in Merced County? "No, I'm not worried about the Communist Party taking over Merced County," said Nelson. "But I am concerned about those kind of attitudes and that those seem to be the people that we hear from the most." For McCorry's part, she would like to state for the record that she is not a card-carrying socialist. "I believe I'm functioning in a capitalist society that promotes freedom of speech,"..."We're just saying that we need to have parcels large enough to grow food — if it's socialist to say we have a societal interest in growing food, then I guess we're socialists."
Real estate broker newest planner...Leslie Albrecht
Carole McCoy...Merced's newest Planning Commissioner, she'll sit on the board that advises the City Council on land use and development decisions.
Q: What's your opinion on the development boom Merced has seen in recent years?
A: I think it moved a little bit too fast without a lot of thought to the community this development was serving. They built a lot of new homes specifically for higher-end families. Merced is not a higher-end family city at this time. We're looking for that to come and the university (will contribute to) that.
But they built too many high-end homes with not enough families to support it who were living here and staying here. We had a lot of investors buy and take the money out of our area so it didn't do anything to help our community grow in a progressive manner.
So we need to give more thought to bringing businesses in to help the people that are living here.
Q: You'll be voting on the Wal-Mart distribution center, a controversial project that's drawn ire from local activists. How do you plan to handle that decision?
A: I plan to listen to all of the opinions given. Right now I'm definitely leaning toward the Wal-Mart distribution center because we've heard these same (arguments) before against the university and many other things that have come into our community and have been very successful. But I will definitely keep an open mind.
Q: With five out of the seven City Council members directly involved in the real estate industry, some people feel real estate interests have too much influence in city governance. What do you think?
A: Absolutely not. (Realtors) listen to everyone, that's what our life is all about...
Red Menace over Merced...Badlands editorial staff
A rouge pall, like the Delta peat fires of old at twilight, hangs over Merced County. According to Supervisor Mike Nelson, the “socialists” were out this morning at the supervisors’ meeting. A group advocating agricultural preservation was arguing against parcel splits for ranchettes between Gustine and Santa Nella. By contrast, Nelson was a union Atwater City fireman for nine years and now draws a public salary from Merced County of over $65,000 a year plus thousands a month in perks, benefits and retirement, beside what the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board pays him to defend special interests from the peril of regulating the worst air pollution in the US. Nelson’s wife is a union public school teacher, drawing a public salary, health and retirement benefits. We suggest Nelson look again at the red menace hanging over the county. If he can see through the merciless rightwing hypocrisy, he will find it is red ink caused by the reckless, uncontrolled growth approved by majorities of the indemnified supervisors and city councils beholden and in some cases directly benefiting from their ties to finance, insurance and real estate special interests that now control local government in Merced lock, stock and barrel.