Loose Cheeks, May 17, 2008
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By Lucas Smithereen
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Loose Cheeks’ intrepid reporter A.J. Gangle opened his copy of the McClatchy Chain's Modesto outlet this morning, hoping for some suave and sophisticated reportage to cut the flavor of local idiocy. Modesto, overjoyed to have escaped the #1 slot in the nation for foreclosure rates, delighted in Merced's surge to the front once again, leaving Stockton at #2 and virtuous Modesto in the third position for top foreclosure rates in the nation. Gangle, an astute observer of Merced County leadership because he likes a good laugh in hard times as much as the next person, has noted signs among elected and appointed officials of collective dementia. Like their colleagues in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, Merced's leaders were the only defense the public had against the present bizarre situation -- a city surrounded by half-built subdivisions full of empty homes.
Gangle is completely fascinated by the leaders' inability to admit any of it was the result of decisions they made.
Perhaps, part of the problem is because, although he religiously read the McClatchy Chain's local outlet all week, he found not one mention of Merced's top ranking in foreclosure rates.
Last week, at a genteel meeting of candidates for supervisor, five of the six candidates, including three incumbents during the real estate boom, blamed everyone but government for Merced's Dubious Distinction after months of being in the top five places in the nation for foreclosure rate. Gangle has long enjoyed the seemless web of corruption and stupidity that has animated these leaders' so-called "decision-making process," but he noted a new element has begun to surface as the real estate market has collapsed:
Due to the advanced state of this group neurosis of "leadership," it can't conceive of anything else but more growth, so yet more subdivisions are being approved even as those that have been approved are going for their first, second and third extensions. As the Prince o' Plainsburg inquired of the county Planning Commission this week about a project proposal: how many of those alleged 10,000 jobs are temporary construction jobs? Maureen McCorry, representing Valley Land Alliance, asked how many people in the audience actually lived in Merced (none raised their hands), and she asked where the water would come from, exactly? Mrs. Wright, who lives at the end of Billy Wright Road, said there was only one place it could come from -- irrigation water. Gangle wondered if that would be federally subsidized irrigation water or the doubly subsidized, guaranteed full allotment "riparian rights" water of the Central California Irrigation District, and what new westside municipal water agencies would spring up to launder subsidized irrigation water into speculative subdivision water. But, where there's a will there is a way, and the ingenious westside Hydraulic Brotherhood will find that way because large landowners do not care at all what happens to land after they sell it to developers.
Only candidate for the 4th District County Supervisor position, Claudine Sherron, has called this “leadership” process by its name: "a broken planning process." But Sherron is not an incumbent. She's just representing the rest of us, who are suffering the corruption, stupidity and now the hysteria of our bonkers leadership. It's dark and cramped in the pockets of developers with nothing but bills to pay and an angry public that isn't growing more prosperous.
This is the source of the present hysteria in local political quarters.
Merced tops in foreclosures for April
Filings continue to climb as homeowners struggle...CHRISTINA SALERNO
UC Merced recently held a meeting in the Edward Joseph Gallo Recreation Center/Hostetler Court, to announce that it has finally made the first step to apply for its federal Clean Water Act permit, having built the first phase of the campus "at its own risk" because it did not have that permit.
This dull event was enlivened by the debut, at least as far as Loose Cheeks is aware, of UC Merced Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff Janet Young's career as a script writer. Young the Script Writer wrote this cover letter to the right flak for the occasion. It fell into the hands of Loose Cheeks:
Attached please find a collection of points from which you may wish to draw as you consider composing a letter of the type we discussed last week regarding the UC Merced project. As I mentioned, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold a scoping session to receive comments on
the scope of the EIS for the project on April 23, 2008, from 5pm - 7pm on the UC Merced campus. I have attached a copy of the notice as well as the set of graphics that will help indicate the amended location for
the campus and University Community areas.
We very much appreciate your willingness to consider providing a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding the UC Merced project.
Please do not hesitate to call if you have questions. I apologize for the late arrival of this material. We very much appreciate your support for the project.
With best regards,
Janet E. Young
Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff
University of California, Merced
Loose Cheeks would not have noticed Young's debut as a script writer if it had not been for the uncanny similarity of the adoring statements made by representatives of apparently disparate interests. Every One Voice performance needs such a script.
We believe that the proposed location is the only one that will allow the campus to grow
to its full potential as a major research university that will ultimately support 25,000
full-time equivalent students with an associated community needed to support the campus.
We want to stress that development of the proposed project on the proposed site is of great importance to the public benefit. The campus and community will serve as a tremendous economic engine for the City and County of Merced in terms of attracting employers and creating jobs in this economically challenged region. It is critical to the economy and to the welfare of the citizens of the City, County, and region that such economic growth occurs as soon as possible.
The proposed project also will increase access to a research university education for thousands of students in this region. Education is key to the betterment of the region and, particularly, to the enhanced economic vitality of the Valley. Furthermore, the region badly needs greater access to medical professionals. UC Merced is engaged in a planning process for a proposed School of Medicine, the development of which is of tremendous importance to the public benefit.
The Central Valley region strongly needs a full-scope and highest quality University of California campus. Anything less will present an inequitable situation for the Valley, which historically has had the lowest UC enrollment rates in the state and now is the fastest growing region with the most youthful population in California. The region also has a higher rate of poverty than other sectors of the state and a higher percentage of ethnic minority population. We suggest that the EIS also recognize this significant
public benefit issue.
We also support the “smart growth” principles articulated for the University Community. The Community will absorb the direct growth impacts associated with the campus and will serve as a model community for development that is of higher than typical density and will incorporate energy efficient and sustainable technologies. The proposed location and size of the University Community is of great importance in minimizing urban sprawl.
(Loose Cheeks wants to take this opportunity to remind Young the Script Writer that the Central Valley already has a medical school at UC Davis. The last thing Merced now needs is yet another new town. The allegedly incoming faculty will find abundant housing in town getting cheaper by the day.)
Word-for-word, these Bobcatflak confections rolled from the tongues of people like insurance salesman Bob "Mr. UC Merced" Carpenter, Modesto lawyer Tim Bird, representing Central Valley Land Trust, Lee Anderson, county schools superintendent, and on and on and on -- the same phrases repeated in case reporters didn't get it the first, second or third times.
Bird, a particularly able parrot of Young's script, had his hand out for his land trust, hoping UC would cross it with a little gold in in-lieu fees for mitigation. This could be an attractive deal to UC Merced because it has already involved the state in crossing the hands of several nearby ranchers with gold for easements the terms of which violate public law and public trust. If there is a crooked way to do it, UC will find it. UC's attitude toward the law is summed up by its employment as a law professor of John "Torture Memo" Yoo at Boalt Hall.
Loose Cheeks also recently learned that the East Merced Resource Conservation District was unsuccessful for the second time in winning a grant from the state to continue to pay its staff at the level to which they have become accustomed until lately. The proposal contained the interesting information that Supervisor Kelsey had pledged $20,000 over the 3-year length of the unsuccessful proposal. Members of the Merced River Stakeholders, a group the RCD attempted to terminate in the last couple of years, were wondering that, if Kelsey doesn't not find MRS too, too "defunct," she would mind contributing the $20,000 to its work on the river. MRS has no staff, is operated by volunteers most of whom live on the river, and might be able to find some way to put Kelsey's pledged money to work for the river rather than for another RCD featherbed. Meanwhile, however, Kelsey did get a $35,000 appropriation out of the county for the RCD. Billed as a "loan," Loose Cheeks is curious if and how it will ever be repaid. Kelsey is running the 4th supervisor district like a district under the jurisdiction of the Mexican Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).
Speaking of Supervisor Kelsey, Loose Cheeks was wondering about her total opposition to the establishment of municipal advisory councils in Stevinson and the Hopeton/Amsterdam/4 Corners area on the river. At the moment, citizens from these areas enjoy minimal representation and less interest from MACs in Snelling and Hilmar.
At a recent EMRCD meeting Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook, a Kelsey-Lite political appointee, lectured Claudine Sherron, Kelsey's opponent in this election, on the foolishness of this public request for MACs in Stevinson and Hopeton, saying that in her dictionary, "municipal" meant "city," and therefore ... (Lashbrook is a politician who pretends to be above finishing her sentences, but that's just because she can't finish any thought.)
MACs are, in fact, appointed councils for unincorporated areas.
Could it be that, since she would have to appoint the members of the new MACs, Kelsey realizes that she could not find a suitable number of PRI-style political hacks loyal to her and her alone to stack the two councils and keep the Hopeton MAC out of the hands of political critics and the Stevinson MAC adequately controlled by her friends, Stevinson and Hilmar new town developers? Some "champion of agriculture." To Kelsey and her crew, "agriculture" means the wealthiest landowner families in her district, period.
Loose Cheeks also wondered how many political hats simple farmer Cindy Lashbrook can wear at the same time. She is forever appearing in public wearing a different chapeau: planning commissioner, staff for Merced River Alliance, staff for EMRCD, a humble blueberry grower before Congress looking for a niche, a simple river landowner of Riverdance Farm, who happens to throw an annual Riverdance Fair on her place, an agricultural consultant dba Four Seasons, a representative of Merced Alliance for Responsible Growth, a board member of the state Community Alliance with Family Farmers, state board member of California Certified Organic Farmers, advisor to the county Farm Bureau, and even represents the Asthma Coalition. There are probably more hats, but this is all of them that Loose Cheeks knows about.
The obvious result of these commitments to a plethora of contradictory elites is that Lashbrook has become the county's top Henchwoman for Confusion.
How about that county Farm Bureau endorsement for Deidre Kelsey, "champion of agriculture"? We put the intrepid A.J. Gangle on the story and this is his report. Gangle is annoyed at the Farm Bureau for quitting posting its newsletter on its website after February because he thought it was just about the funniest collection of articles he's seen in many years in the county. So, he was motivated to dig.
At the candidate interviews two weeks ago, there were only a handful of members of the Farm Bureau present, some not even board members. After her interview Peter Koch, Farm Bureau president, told Claudine Sherron, running against the ag champeen, that the Farm Bureau was going to endorse Kelsey.
There were enough questions about the protocol of the endorsement to prompt several prominent, long-standing members of the Merced County Farm Bureau to lodge a complaint with the state Farm Bureau legal office about its legality. Should Kelsey's husband have been allowed to cast a vote in a group so small that, had he abstained, might not have been a quorum? Should Bill Thompson, Kelsey-appointee Lashbrook's husband, have abstained also for conflict-of-interest reasons? (How much of the $35,000 “loan” to RCD will go into Lashbrook’s pocket?) Should Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the county Farm Bureau and long-time henchwoman for Kelsey, have been permitted in the discussion?
One disgruntled Farm Bureau member wondered how any organization whose executive director is Kelsey's best friend, whose board contains Kelsey’s husband, could possibly allow Kelsey's daughter to be the editor of its newsletter.
"...that was the stupidest thing they could have done," the disgruntled member said.
About a hundred people, many of them from Merced, got an education in UC intellectual bankruptcy this week at the old Merced Theatre during a forum on "Green Jobs." The event was organized by Kenny, the Monster UC Merced Faculty Spouse, and it featured a trio of top Bay Area speakers on everything green. After the Monster got the computers started (computer inadequacy is a hallmark of Monster Shows), we entered the world of "Framing and Reframing," a rhetorical confection created by UC Berkeley's Chomsky-Lite, Prof. George Lakoff.
The Monster framed it like this: the environmental debate is always framed as an environmental protection argument, yet we need thousands of new jobs but if the environment collapses, human health and safety also collapses; ergo, we need "green jobs." QED, it's a "no brainer" for Merced to seek these "green" industries and jobs.
This "framing" of the question unleashed the speakers to bay after the elusive "green job"…Thoroughly engrossed in the process of allowing UC to completely “reframe” their reality, Kenny the Monster and his sponsors never thought to include anyone on the panel who actually knew anything about the San Joaquin Valley environment or its labor history. For this act of appeasement, they were rewarded: the Sun-Star didn’t even send a reporter to cover the event… As for the Walmart "opponents (and their knucklehead Florida-based, union paymasters), the Asthma Coalition and the local Sierra Clubbers, who sponsored the event, Loose Cheeks wanted to remind them that you don't stop environmentally destructive development by sucking up to the land-use officials that approve the projects, and the job of opponents of environmental destruction does not include providing "positive" solutions. That’s the business of the government and its good friends in private enterprise.
(Complete coverage of this event, under the title, “Green Frame,” will be posted in a few days.)
Re-martyred by mixed metaphor!
Saints Peter and Paul ended up roadkill in Merced City Manager Jim Marshall's description of the current state budget crisis: "It makes no sense to rob from where the rubber hits the road," he noted. --Merced Sun-Star, "City halls hit hard by proposed budget cuts," Scott Jason, May 16, 2008
Mussolini alive and well in Merced?
Just under the announcement of the "green job forum" on the Merced Theatre's marquee is an announcement for the movie, "Tea with Mussolini," a star-studded art film about Fascist Italy. We would not have noticed it if Merced City Councilman Jim Sanders, running for supervisor, had not brought up Il Duce's theory of building towns in the hills rather than on good farmland in a recent political debate. Perhaps the theory is common among Sanders' real estate backers, planning for new towns on the county periphery when the minor problem of the current foreclosure debacle has run its course.
Mussolini, it should be noted, was highly admired by the various "farmers associations" operating along with local cops with bats and guns in the San Joaquin Valley in 1934, invading the camps of striking farmworkers. These farmworkers did "green" work, too, but they weren't "quality jobs" so they struck and were beaten and shot, along with their wives and children, by the Mussolini admirers.
Sanders should read Fontamara by Ignacio Silone on how Mussolini treated the hill towns of Italy. As this economic crisis deepens and the "green jobs" remain fantasies of the UC liberal imagination, we will have quite enough fascism again without Sanders invoking it. Not to mention the last eight years of corporatism.
Meanwhile, in the campaign for the City of Merced seat on the Board of Supervisors, lawn signs for three candidates, viewed from a passing car, occur so close together with the more numerous "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs that a voter could get the wrong idea on a hot evening at the end of a long day.
Loose Cheeks wants to express its gratitude to UC Merced per the old Swiss proverb: The City doesn't have to understand the Country, but the Country has to understand both the Country and the City. It seems like every week of exposure to UC Merced professors and administrators brings new revelations about how ignorant they are of the Valley and how unlikely, given their credentialed "methodology," they are ever likely to learn a thing about it or us. Instead of grumbling about the discontinuation of rural sociology at UC in 1948, observing UC Merced professors at work, Loose Cheeks now rejoices that at least we were spared that for 60 years. This is not an institution that studies; it conquers and absorbs, mainly through the extensive use of propaganda masked as "education." The sickness of this institution is one of California's best kept secrets. The press exposes symptom after symptom of corruption, dishonesty, greed and incompetence at UC, but no one seems to know how to describe the rot that must be at the core of the institution that created nuclear weapons, beyond the felicitous phrase, "edifice complex."
Loose Cheeks heard Supervisor Kelsey promoting riding bicycles the other day at the joint session of the supervisors and the county Planning Commission on the General Plan Update. We hoped we would soon be seeing the supervisor peddling in from Snelling on G Grade, with her two Henchettes, Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo and Cindy Lashbrook, trailing on behind. We thought of a great bike race, along the river Kelsey could sponsor: The River Dimwitz 500, that would end, of course, at the Kelsey Bass Pond, for a Fairy Shrimp BBQ.
Loose Cheeks interviewed county Assistant Planning Director Billy "The Nickel" Nicholson last week on the subject of why members of the public could not get hard copies of staff reports and EIRs from the planning department anymore. Those of you who have had the Nickel Experience will forgive the shambles of our notes on the meeting, but the answer boiled down to this: because so many members of the public are requesting hard copies of documents from the planning department, the planning department has ceased to make them available. Nevertheless, The Nickel graciously dug up a few documents, just to show the public he had them..
In other evidence of the local hysterical trance, Loose Cheeks noticed that the "Wake Up Merced Committee" recently inducted into membership three more firms with Merced's interests at heart: Texas-based Pasadena Mall Investments, Ltd and Reunion Development Group Ltd, and Bentonville AR-based Charlton Development. "Wake Up's" board consists of representatives from: MID Electrical Services; San Joaquin Glass; Merced County BloodSource; county Office of Education, County Bank, Costco; Merced Sun-Star; PG&E and MERCO Credit Union.
If growth is a disaster, plan for more!
West Park proposal up for vote
Supervisors to decide Tuesday if project will move to next step...TIM MORAN