Reform mood hits Valley
Appropriate for the worst air quality basin in the nation, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District last week decided the Valley would be the first region in the nation where developers must pay an air pollution fee for the new homes they build. While the amount of the fee, less than $800, which can be reduced by various mitigating factors, is a token that will be entirely passed on to home buyers, it establishes an important principle.
The Valley air pollution fee on new development acknowledges that the public has been subsidizing new development in the Valley as air pollution descended to Los Angeles standards and is now worse in some years. The Valley public has subsidized the new development with its own health, particularly the health of its most vulnerable citizens – children and the elderly. It has subsidized development with higher health care spending. The Valley public has subsidized growth in terms of deteriorating water quality and supply, sewer, water and road expansions. Valley children have subsidized growth by attending over-crowded, deteriorating public schools.
The Valley public has subsidized urban sprawl politically through the loss of representation of its elected officials, who for years have been distracted from their obligations to the general public by their obligations to developers, who make up the largest part of their campaign financing. The system whereby any developer, from the University of California to the national homebuilders to sand-and-gravel miners, automatically indemnifies the local land-use authority (city or county) from paying its own legal costs if the public sues the jurisdiction for violations of environmental law or public process has protected local land-use decision-makers from taking financial responsibility for decisions appellate court judges on occasion find absurd – unless the University of California is involved. How could UC say or do anything absurd?
Valley children are paying the highest price. Not permitted recess periods during the increasing number of bad air days; their asthma rate is a regional disgrace. What may be producing action on the air quality front is that childhood asthma has no decent respect for income levels, affecting the rich as well as the poor children of the Valley. But, due to developer political rigging in Sacramento, the children also pay because the developers do not pay an adequate amount of money for schools to keep up with growth.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board recently refused to be intimidated by a Hilmar Cheese legal/public-relations campaign to make it back off fining the “largest cheese factory in the world” $4 million for polluted ground water. The board will soon hold a scooping meeting and public workshop to examine agricultural pesticide discharges into the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
Tracy, hometown of Rep. RichPAC Pombo, under national attack for months,
authorized spending $60,000 to hire a consultant to write a plan that will identify potentially available land encircling the city's limits and address how the city can pay to keep that land pristine. If adopted, residents may continue to see acres of farmland and trees around town instead of unbridled roadways, rooftops and restaurants. (1)
It might be that the Pombo dynasty of real estate farmers is losing its grip on Tracy government. The leader of the local slow-growthers is Celeste Garamendi, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi’s sister.
The Stockton Record editorialized on Dec. 16 about preserving the Williamson Act to preserve agricultural land.
For 40 years, extraordinary measures have been taken to protect California farmland. This commitment is critically important now -- Since 1965, the Williamson Act has been the No. 1 device for conserving California's 30 million acres of agricultural land. More and more, its protections are under assault as homebuilders, developers and farmers seek ways to circumvent its restrictions. The Williamson Act is a relatively modest program that has been successful in protecting and preserving agricultural land in a state whose economy depends so heavily upon it. It's been especially important in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. There's no reason it shouldn't remain California's agricultural sentinel for 40 more years. (20)
Modesto Bee editor Marc Vashe wrote a tribute to Ralph Brown, former speaker of the state Assembly from Modesto, who wrote the Brown Act protecting the public’s right to access to governmental decisions. Brown retired after a successful legislative career of nearly 20 years, the last three as Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh succeeded him. John Williamson was elected to the state Assembly in the early 1960s from Bakersfield. He seemed only to have served long enough to get the agricultural conservation law passed, when only years later came to bear his name.
Little is heard from the other half of the bipartisan environmental law gutting team that farmers are calling O Pomboza, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced. A consortium of local, state and national groups filed suit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service yet again last week on its latest truncated, politically coerced, critical habitat designation for the 15 endangered and threatened species living in or close to the vernal pool wetlands. The largest fields of contiguous vernal pools in the nation lie in Cardoza’s district. So far, his several bills to damage or destroy the designation under the Endangered Species Act have failed but his finger prints are visible on the various slashed versions of the designation since Cardoza went to Congress in 2003.
Meanwhile, The Shrimp Slayer has a bit of a mess on his hands in his local office on the third floor of the Merced County Administration Building. A few weeks ago, the county announced Ruben Castillo, county counsel, would be leaving, after a lackluster defense of county policies in a number of lawsuits. Today, the rumor was that Planning Director Bill Nicholson has been demoted to assistant planning director. The new planning director, the story goes, comes from fast-growing Henderson, Nevada, where (s)he has doubtlessly burned the midnight oil studying the California Environmental Quality Act.
And UC Merced still does not have its Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand northward onto the Virginia Smith Trust land where its Long Range Development Plan said it would. This leaves the option of expanding onto the land presently designated for the University Community.
Cardoza, whose political mentors appear to be Tony “Honest Graft” Coelho and Pombo, has worked hard to corrupt both the Brown and the Williamson acts in Merced County on behalf of UC Merced and developers. That kind of reputation might be coming around to bite him if the reform mood surfacing in the Valley gathers any momentum.
(1) Tracy to plan for open spaces...Rick Brewer...12-18-05
(2) Keep saving the land...Editorial...12-16-05