High Praise for Commissioner Lashbrook

A letter to the editor of Loose Cheeks

Chairman of the Merced County Planning Commission Steve Sloan, at the last Commission meeting on May 28, took time to commend his fellow commissioners on their teamwork in approving four land-use projects. Surprising? It shouldn’t be.

As many of you are aware, Commissioner Sloan is very clear on where his interests lie – his votes have been consistently at odds with organizations committed to protecting the environment – whether air, land, habitat/species, or water. This consistency has also made an enemy of our local Farm Bureau, which doesn’t view the Chair as a friend of agriculture. So, one might wonder, how did Commissioner Lashbrook drift so far afield from her role as sage of the watershed, sage of the river, and sage of all things organic, green and agricultural?

As some of you may be aware, Commissioner Lashbrook often complains that one vote lacks power. With two commissioners absent on May 28th, the stars were in alignment: one vote could wield real power. In essence, a unanimous vote was required to take action on any item on the agenda. If any one of the three commissioners present had voted against any one of these projects, that project would have been denied.

Accordingly, students of the ways and means of the Merced County Planning Commission hearings can certainly appreciate Mr. Sloan’s need to shower Ms. Lashbrook with praise for how she handled herself throughout this hearing (in stark contrast to her role on May 14, 2008 – see in particular minutes 30:00-37:00 from the audio/video tape).

On May 28th, Commissioner Lashbrook’s performance was bold and decisive. In considering the Jaxon Enterprise Mining project in eastern Merced County, she declared in a loud and confident voice, “I like this project.” According to Ms. Lashbrook: “This was in the right place for a mine.” Seemingly, for Lashbrook, this was “somewhere out there.”

Her reasoning seemed to go something like this:

This was not on the river, ergo, this was not a pristine location, ergo, this is grazing land, ergo – this is perfect for a mining project. According to Commissioner Lashbrook’s logic, this was certainly not in an area that supported habitat –“like the [Merced] river bed.”

Evidently, to Ms. Lashbrook’s thinking, Eastern Merced County is a barren, worthless landscape. As members of Et Al, listened, they were astounded. Was this dismissal all they could count on from a self –professed agrarian progressive? The answer was becoming painfully obvious: Yes, this was all. With the public hearing safely over, the public simply had to endure the insult embedded in the assumptions Ms. Lashbrook eschewed and the ultimate hypocrisy being practiced in her other life – “outreach and education” in the name of our watershed.

Had Commissioner Lashbrook forgotten her fellow Mariposans and fellow Merced River Allies – some of whom are within just a few miles of this “great project” – or simply sold them down the river? One might have thought that she did not understand the “Watershed model” and “Groundwater model” she fashioned out of a munificent public grant to educate 5th graders.

Yet, Ms. Lashbrook, in her capacity as staff for the EMRCD, was all too willing to take credit for the event by piling brochures on a table at the Cattlemen’s Spring Tour in April, 2008. This event featured experts on the value of grazing land – just minutes away from the Jaxon site. In her rush to judge those in attendance, she may have forgotten to listen to the ranchers and members of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, who succinctly explained why this very same (pristine) land is valuable for livestock, habitat, and as recharge for our water supply. Some locals had even advised Merced County elected officials to drive out on White Rock Road so that they could truly appreciate the impacts of the mine.

Or, maybe she simply forgot what MID staff, hydrologist consultants, and local farmers on the east side of the county have been stating emphatically in front of Lashbrook at every recent MAGPI meeting -- the aquifer in this region of the county was/is in overdraft. However, there was nary a representative from Farm Bureau, Sierra Club, MARG, CWA, or Valley Land Alliance to jog Ms. Lashbrook’s memory on the lack of water in this region – just Et Al and one local farming family.

But fear not, this was not the only contradiction in this “affairs of the mine.”
May 14th, 2008, provided a substantial audience for Ms. Lashbrook’s fishing for a position to take. In front of a full house of investors, all in town to advance their project, Ms. Lashbrook showed her stuff.

She began with a correction to a letter she had not read. She was wrong.
She asked great questions; then retreated. Ms. Lashbook then came up with a new possibility. Then she retreated again. Then after all of this time, she went ahead and voted for this mining project – on the river.

“I do live down river of this and have not noticed any effect of it – even in its illegal state – and I CARE A LOT ABOUT HABITAT. I am not sure what is happening here, but I certainly have not noticed any changes over the last few years”…. and then… moments later.

“Would it be possible to continue this? --to get a site visit?”

“The Taco Truck” precedent was raised as a model by Deputy County Counsel Robert Gabriele. Out-of-town investors snickered, wondering if this suggestion was for real. It was: The Taco Truck merited enough concern to be continued at the November 5, 2007, hearing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Thoreson mining operation should be continued. Commissioner Sloan asked her directly if she wished to make a motion to continue. Commissioner Lashbrook, demurred or perhaps, deferred – one can never quite tell.

Commissioner Sloan asked again. Would you like to make a motion? Lashbrook came up with new idea. Could we hold a public hearing on the site?

To the Rescue: Deputy Counsel – more legal advice… and “help” offered by the Applicant.

Ms. Lashbrook deftly deflected attention away from Mr. Sloan’s question and encouraged Des Johnston to approach the podium – ostensibly to advise if the applicants would permit a site visit.

Consultant and a former member of both the Merced County and City of Gustine planning staff, Des Johnston changed the subject: This is not a CVC issue…. We have a good negative dec here…. And then …

A motion was made – not from Ms. Lashbrook, but Commissioner Tanner -- to approve the project. Head down, muffled voice, Ms. Lashbrook allowed an almost inaudible “ohhhhh kay.” The audience let out a collective gasp of stale air. Someone asked: Did she just vote to approve? Yes. UHHHHG. The audience was rendered speechless in pondering the affairs of the mine.

Postscript: This was a River Project and this was a “yes” vote by Ms. Lashbrook. Along with the Schmidt Mining Project this made the third yes vote for aggregate by Ms. Lashbrook – with two of these three projects on the Merced River. Ms. Lashbrook may want to study the audio tapes of previous hearings before proceeding to her next vote.

Finally, don’t take our word, we encourage you to enjoy the show(s) – tune in and watch the Planning Commission video or listen to the audio – at press time it was not yet posted on the County website, but stay tuned.

Suzzy Q. Buckheart