8-26-08Merced Sun-StarGovernor says he will sign high-speed rail bill...E.J. Schultz / Bee Capitol Bureauhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/419539.htmlSACRAMENTO — Backing off his pledge to ignore legislation until there is a state budget, Gov. Schwarzenegger says he will sign a bill aimed at improving the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.“Any measures that must be placed on the November ballot must be acted upon quickly,” the governor said in a letter dated Monday to legislative leaders. “I urge you to send me these measures that must be placed on the November ballot immediately.”The governor specifically references four measures, but only one of them — the high-speed rail bill — has been agreed upon by lawmakers...Both the Assembly and Senate have passed the rail bill, but the Assembly has been holdling onto the bill until the governor made a signal he would sign it.The governor’s office expects the legislation, AB 3034, will be sent to Schwarzenegger today. Many in the Capitol beleieved the deadline to change the rail bond measure passed on Sunday. But the governor’s office thinks there are a few days left.The current language in the rail bond measure, known as Proposition 1, prioritizes the route running from Los Angeles to San Francisco, through the Valley.AB 3034, by Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, replaces Prop. 1 with Prop. 1a, which opens up other segments for first-round funding — such as to Sacramento and San Diego — so long as the spending does not have an “adverse impact” on the main route. Such flexibility could give the “yes” campaign a wider voter audience, presumably making it easier to pass.Prop. 1a also includes more fiscal oversight. Merced's foreclosure crisis explored in New York Times story; as story breaks, numbers worsenReversing the trend of May and June, more homes were foreclosed in July than sold...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/418828.htmlThe New York Times, in recapping Merced's housing market climb and crash, drew an obvious conclusion: No one planned ahead.And numbers from July -- showing more foreclosures than sales -- demonstrated the continuing toll from that lack of foresight.A 3,000-word piece in Sunday's edition, with the headline "In the Central Valley, the Ruins of the Housing Bust," zooms in on the greedy spirit that led to the glut of foreclosed homes and neighborhoods abandoned mid-construction.The city approved subdivision after subdivision, developers took out building permits by the fistful and Bay Area and other speculators thought they could get rich by signing the mortgage on an investment home.Then, beginning a year ago, it all fell apart. Now there are concrete pads ready for walls that may never be built, bike paths that end nowhere and a foreclosure rate that continues to climb... Merced's appearance in The New York Times marks the second major news organization to highlight the city's housing meltdown. Two weeks ago, the London-based Financial Times pegged Merced as one of America's foreclosure capitals, bringing international attention to the situation...The New York Times story was the 10th most-read article on the newspaper's Web site during the weekend and ranked third in the business section. The Sunday print edition has a circulation of about 1.4 million. Merced Mayor Ellie Wooten, also a real estate agent, was featured prominently in the article and spent a day with the reporter showing him the city. Though the story blasts the community for not planning ahead, she pointed out that the problem exists across the country. "It's not just Merced," she said. "Look at the other cities -- they're not having a picnic."The article and its stunning figures -- 4,397 new homes, some costing close to $500,000 for a poor city of 80,000 -- were accurate and still upsetting, she said.Assistant City Manager Bill Cahill said a story putting Merced's housing meltdown in the national spotlight hurts its image."The city of Merced doesn't want to be a poster child for the national foreclosure problem," Cahill said. "We're not happy that this kind of publicity is brought to the community, and I think that speaks for itself."How fast a city grows is a policy decision left to the City Council. As long as a developer shows financial security, such as a bond, they've been allowed to develop in Merced, which has let demand drive the market...July's figures for Merced County show that lenders foreclosed on more homes than real estate agents sold. It's a turnaround from May and June, when there were more sales than repossessions...Real estate agent Andy Krotik said the increase in foreclosures is unfolding because subprime loans made during the market's peak -- three years ago this summer -- are now resetting with higher mortgage payments...He suspects the number of foreclosures will peak in the coming months and that it will be one to two years before the market stabilizes. Krotik said the Times story reinforces what many people already know: "Merced County and the Central Valley are ground zero in the foreclosure tsunami."The nationwide coverage could also spur more home speculation, which caused this last bubble to grow and burst. ..The article notes that the county is trying to build itself out of the market's collapse by adding thousands more homes. After all, the state is growing and more homes will be needed at some point.Villages of Laguna San Luis, a planned community west of Los Banos and south of Santa Nella, will add 16,000 homes during the next 30 years to the area. The Merced County Board of Supervisors will vote on it Sept. 2.Merced's housing disaster in The New York Times...Scott Jason, Reporters' Notebookhttp://notebook.mercedsunstar.com/merceds_housing_disaster_in_the_new_york_timesThe New York Times sent a reporter last week to Merced to look at the city's foreclosure mess. This is what the reporter found.What do you think?Why are you blaming???...rgentltd Q: Why are we constantly blaming our city leaders. No one could predict what was coming. We need to move forward.A: Much like a doctor must identify (blame) what is ailing you, a city must identify what ails it. Having a city/county government whose greedy hands readily accept phone calls from "constituents" to fix their personal mortgage issues (Beverly Red) shows to the outside world that Merced's govt. is way out of touch.The problem, having too many Realtors and Financial people making the rules, approving the building and continuing to blame you and I. Become the doctor and identify what ails us. Schedule the surgery accordingly (recall, impeachment) and remove the entire problem. Not just a part such as Gordon Spencer, but the entire disease. Then and only then will we put this behind us and move forward from the dire straights we are al in.Read the real story at myspace.com/ejfa send your corruption stories to ejfanetwork@gmail.compeace...forclosures... MarwoodI think how sad that acres of productive farmland were paved over and is gone forever. That farmland would still be producing, adding dollars to the economy instead of the drain empty houses are. It would be nice if our city leaders learned from this fiasco, but they are still on the growth train.An excellant story If the SS...DaTRUTHAn excellant storyIf the SS was not busy catering to the REbrokers for their advertizing dollars thay might let you or Leslie do a similar story -- about 2 years ago.Teen who fell at UC dorms doing betterInvestigation started to find out who supplied the booze to student...VICTOR A. PATTONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/418831.htmlA UC Merced student injured in a fall from a dormitory bannister Sunday is recuperating and is expected to return to school this week, university officials said.The student, 18-year-old Sydney Hickman of Fresno, fell 10 to 12 feet from a banister in Stanislaus Hall on campus around 9:45 p.m., according to Patti Waid Istas, UC Merced spokeswoman...Waid Istas said Hickman had been outside one of the dorms on second floor of the building and had tried to slide down the banister. Waid Istas said UC Merced police believe Hickman was drinking before the accident...Waid Istas said while the administrators take the incident seriously, in an environment such as a campus university with thousands of students, it can happen.Still, Waid Istas said the students should take note of the incident as an example of the dangers of underage drinking. "This provides us with an example of how choices made will have an impact on their lives -- and potentially the lives of others," Waid Istas said. "We'll continue to keep a careful watch on our students and do the best we can to ensure their safety."Waid Istas said the university isn't planning any special actions in light of the latest incident. She also pointed out, however, that the university does take measures to educate both parents and students about the dangers of alcohol use. For example, the UC Merced Police Department informs students and parents during orientation about the consequences of alcohol use.The UC Merced Police Department and the Office of Student Affairs also devote an entire week in October to alcohol awareness programs...The girl's injury at the school comes in the wake of last year's alcohol-related death of a UC Merced student who was killed after falling and hitting his head.Hector Hugo Barrera-Barraza, 18, died March 17 last year after falling and hitting his head on a concrete slab outside of a dorm building on the campus, after a night of partying, according to UC Merced police investigators.His blood alcohol content was 0.20 percent. UC students aim for new academic conquests...DANIELLE GAINEShttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/418846.htmlThe next four years will be a challenging yet thrilling hike for the new students at UC Merced, Chancellor Steve Kang said at a convocation ceremony Monday afternoon. "We are to build the other Half Dome of academic excellence," he said. "We will not be afraid to forge new trails. We will set our sights on the very top and continue the ascent."After referring to the Yosemite National Park landmark, Kang stressed the university's growth in student enrollment, faculty hiring and building projects during his short speech. Enrollment this fall is at a new high, with estimates of more than 2,700 students, up from 1,871 a year ago. The college also welcomed 19 new faculty members, bringing the total to 117. Another four professors have committed to join the faculty in the next year. "We are becoming a big family," Kang said. The college is also expanding structurally. A new early childhood education center will be built by early next year, and a social sciences building is scheduled for completion by 2010. There are also plans to break ground for a student housing building to add 300 beds on campus. About 1,000 students now live on the campus. Kang said the university will also expand programs at the Castle site in Atwater and increase transportation there from the main campus...Our View: Farms thrive in crazy timesIt's easy to see why when residential real estate is crumbling, the Valley's agriculture continues to grow.http://www.mercedsunstar.com/181/story/418834.htmlPrices for farmland have been holding steady as other real estate sectors see their prices crumble.Amid all the doom and gloom about real estate it might be a little confusing to understand why agriculture land is holding its value. With a closer look, it's easy to see. Agriculture is the lifeblood of Merced County, and the Valley, too.Prices for the things grown on land in the county are in record high territory or are well above historic averages...All told, the stuff grown and sold here is worth billions of dollars and the dirt in which it's grown is worth more because of that. Farmland, especially in the outlying areas, didn't get caught up in the fever-pitch real estate speculation earlier this decade. Even as our economy slowly diversifies, agriculture remains its cornerstone. It's clear why prices for these parcels of dirt are still commanding good prices.Agriculture is still king in Merced County.Until our economy matures we need to make sure agriculture is on top or very near the top of our collective priority list, including the availability of plenty of water, which makes it all happen.It's important that farms have not just plenty of water, but water that's high quality.Farmland prices, and commodities grown on the land, are holding up well. It's a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy atmosphere. CommentsGreat article! Contrast that with the City of Livingston's #1 goal in their General Plan - to expand to Westside, Sultana, Cressey, Washington. Not to protect farmland, but to expand. I hope the city leaders read this editorial. :: 08/26/08 7:41am - Marwood Letter: Unrestrained growth...GERRI MARTIN, Livingstonhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/180/story/418833.htmlEditor: The proposed 2025 general plan of the city of Livingston is the same old rehash of low-density housing and urban sprawl that the Valley has seen for decades. There is nothing new or innovative about it.In fact, the 2025 draft actually lowered the threshold for contiguous growth, virtually guaranteeing leapfrog development.The city of Livingston has not met the population projections of its current general plan. In light of the current foreclosure crisis, there is no pressing need to adopt a new general plan.Livingston city officials should answer the following questions:·         How will the growth of Livingston benefit current residents economically more than outside investors/developers?·         More than 70 percent of Livingston households earn less than $50,000 per year. Why is the majority of planned development low density? ·         Why continue the urban growth of Livingston at the expense of our quality of living? Traffic and air quality will be worse. Increased population, increased crime·         With the exception of developers, where is the demand for a large city coming from?·         Why continue the growth of Livingston at the expense of the most productive and valuable farmland in the world? If the Valley was its own state, it would lead the nation in the value of its agricultural production. ·         How will the proposed growth affect current residents' cost of living? As most cities have learned, development does not pay its way over time.·         Why was the general plan not made available in Spanish, the predominant language of the city?·         Why were no public hearings scheduled before the comment period ended on the draft environmental impact report?It is time to hold our elected officials accountable for permitting unrestrained growth and development at the expense of our health and welfare.November is not too far away. Modesto BeeWater atlas provides county with a starting pointData put all parties on same page in state's most argued problem...TIM MORANhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/406769.html...The county's Department of Public Works has developed a water atlas, which collects studies, reports and compiles general information about water in the county and puts it in one place. It's full of interesting facts about the county's water use.For instance, do you know how much water is used each year in Stanislaus County? The water atlas says 1,944,400 acre-feet. That's enough water to cover the county with 2 feet of water, give or take a gallon or two.Farm irrigation uses most of that water, 1.7 million acre-feet. Urban uses, such as taking showers, watering lawns and flushing toilets, account for 210,100 acre-feet. Cities and farmlands use about the same amount of water per acre, said county Public Works Director Matt Machado, so residential growth doesn't change the water demand.Most of the county's water use, about 1.4 million acre-feet, comes from surface water -- the system of rivers, canals and reservoirs that supplies irrigated farmland and, increasingly, urban residents.The rest is pumped from the ground, which leads to another interesting part of the water atlas: groundwater contour maps that show what's happening to the water underground over time.The maps date back 50 years and show groundwater overdrafts under Modesto and east of Turlock developing over several decades.The Modesto overdraft, Machado said, was from city wells pumping more water than nature could percolate back into the ground. The overdraft had begun to correct itself by 2005, after the city shifted to a combination of wells and surface water supplied by the Modesto Irrigation District.The overdraft east of Turlock, however, is caused by agricultural pumping, Machado said, and it continues to get worse. The water atlas recommends that localized groundwater quality and elevation be watched and addressed.While surface water is closely monitored and managed by irrigation districts in the county, groundwater in the north portion of the county and the West Side lacks organized oversight, the atlas concludes.The idea for the water atlas sprang from the countywide water summits that began a few years ago, Machado said."It's a tool to bring people together to talk about water," he said. "It shows we all have similar issues. Communities can see what others have done, and it saves time looking for information."Bill Harrison, general manager of Del Puerto Water District, said the atlas is a valuable resource."Water has become very critical to the planning process," he said, noting that new development is required to identify a long-term water source. "There's been difficulty in getting information together in a consistent way, an interpretable way," Harrison said.His West Side district is far more vulnerable to water shortages than irrigation districts such as those in Modesto and Turlock...The water atlas maps the territory of all the water providers in the county, and all the rivers, canals and reservoirs.Walter Ward, MID's assistant general manager of water operations, said he has been pushing for a central repository of water information for a long time. "I'm glad to see it happen," he said. "It's an information-gathering effort that gets everyone on the same page."...The water atlas isn't meant to be a static document, Machado said. As more information and studies come out, they will be added...The water atlas can be seen on the Stanislaus County Public Works Web site, at www.stanco-pworks.org/wateratlas. Gov't home price index posts largest-ever drop...ALAN ZIBEL , AP Business Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/reports/realestate/story/407034.htmlWASHINGTON — U.S. home prices fell 4.8 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, a new record low, according to a government report.The government index for the April-June period, released Tuesday by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight focuses on less expensive properties and includes fewer houses bought with risky home loans that have gone sour over the past year.The previous record annual drop in the index's 17-year history was 3 percent and was set from January through march of this year.The government index also fell 1.4 percent from the first quarter to the second quarter. That was a smaller drop than the record quarterly decline of 1.7 percent set in the first quarter.As the housing market has turned into a bust over the past year, the most severe price declines have been seen in Western states. California's prices fell by nearly 16 percent, while Nevada's prices fell by 14 percent..."The most overbuilt areas of the country - including California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida - contrast greatly with most other states, where prices are declining more moderately or even increasing," OFHEO Chief Economist Patrick Lawler said in a statement. Prices in the weakest markets, he said, have receded to late-2005 levels...Also Tuesday, a widely watched index released Tuesday showed home prices dropping by the sharpest rate ever in the second quarter. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller national home price index tumbled a record 15.4 percent during the quarter from the same period a year ago.New-home sales rose slightly in July, prices fell...By JEANNINE AVERSA , AP Economics Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/business/story/407002.htmlWASHINGTON — Sales of new homes rose in July, but still fell short of economists' expectations, and home prices continued to sink.The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that new-home sales rose by 2.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 515,000 units, the most since April. But sales in June had plummeted to a pace of just 503,000 - down from previous estimates of 530,000 - to mark the worst showing since September 1991...Even with the over-the-month increase, new-home sales are down a whopping 35.3 percent from last July, underscoring just how much the housing market has eroded. However, David Seiders, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, is looking for the pace of new-home sales to stabilize in the second half of this year.Home prices also continued to sag.The average price of a new-home sold in July was $294,600, down 4.1 percent from a year ago. The median home price - where half sell for more and half for less - was $230,700, down 6.3 percent from last year...A separate report, released Tuesday, showed that home prices dropped by the sharpest rate ever in the second quarter. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index tumbled a record 15.4 percent during the April-June period.The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that sales of previously-owned homes rose in July as discounts lured buyers. However, the number of unsold properties hit an all-time high, an indication that the worst housing slump in decades is far from over...Even with the government's housing-rescue package signed into law by President Bush last month, foreclosures are expected to keep rising into next year.Meanwhile, there's questions about the future ability of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to supply money for home loans. The two companies have cut back the availability of mortgages as they cope with growing losses from foreclosures. The companies' stocks have been hammered recently as investors become increasingly convinced that a government bailout will be needed.Sacramento BeeSchwarzenegger reverses course; will sign high-speed rail bill...Kevin Yamamurahttp://www.sacbee.com/749/v-print/story/1186980.htmlNearly three weeks after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he would block any bill that reached his desk until the Legislature approves a budget, he sent a letter late Monday to legislative leaders saying he will make an exception for a high-speed rail clean-up measure and a water bond.Schwarzenegger indicated that in at least those cases, he is willing to renege on his Aug. 6 vow that "some good bills will fail."The Assembly is expected to send the governor a bill today that will revise the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure, which is already on the November ballot but is widely agreed to contain flaws in its current form.Schwarzenegger plans to sign the bill when it reaches his desk, according to his press secretary, Aaron McLear. The Assembly passed it earlier this month but withheld it due to the governor's threat.In the letter, Schwarzenegger asked leaders to send him four proposals immediately so they can be placed on the November ballot. Besides high-speed rail, they include a water bond, a plan to expand the California Lottery, and a budget reform plan to strengthen the state's rainy-day fund. The latter two proposals are part of budget negotiations that remain unresolved 57 days into the current fiscal year...Nobody knows for certain when the deadline is for placing new measures on the November ballot. McLear last week said his office believed it was this past Sunday, but Secretary of State Debra Bowen says only that the Legislature can change election laws and decide for itself when the absolute deadline is.If lawmakers do not place the proposals on the November ballot, they would likely consider a special election after November or the regularly scheduled June 2010 election.Stockton RecordDelta sides with juryCollege agrees decisions wasted millions of dollars...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080826/A_NEWS/808260327/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - San Joaquin Delta College trustees in effect admitted Monday to wasting millions of dollars of voter-approved bond money.They voted 6-0 to accept a San Joaquin County civil grand jury finding that they "made decisions which have caused serious problems and wasted millions of dollars in Measure L funds."The finding continues: "The district needs capable trustees who are able to meet the task of bringing Delta College into the 21st century."Not only did the board agree with the finding, but it removed the word "partially" from a draft response written by Delta administrators...Ultimately the board agreed with nine of the findings and disagreed with five, with some stipulations...Administrators were rewriting some of the response based on the board's actions Monday and expected to have a final report today. That report will be filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court...Chiefly, the grand jury said the board lost millions by picking Mountain House over Tracy for its south-county campus...The college in its draft grand jury response said it's investigating whether consultants that were previously overseeing bond expenditures may have "wasted funds and delayed projects," and if so, whether Delta has any legal recourse.READ THE REPORTTo read the San Joaquin County civil grand jury report on San Joaquin Delta College, visit www.stockton      court.org/grandjury/.He lives where?...Alex Breitler's bloghttp://blogs.recordnet.com/sr-abreitlerThe Department of Water Resources has named Bob Yeadon as its "Delta Regional Coordinator." This is a new position which Yeadon says will involve being a point of contact for Delta stakeholders (i.e., farmers, fishermen, boaters, landowners, water users) and helping them follow the confusing Delta Vision process."There's so much going on in the Delta right now, and I hope to help people understand it all," he said in a news release.He lives in El Dorado Hills.Last time I checked, El Dorado Hills was not in the Delta. Some in-Delta advocates are a little concerned about this."People in the Delta have been asking for true representation from among our peers, not a governt over-seer," said the Rev. Larry Emery, a pastor in Walnut Grove.San Francisco ChronicleBorder fence design blasted as causing flooding...ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN, Associated Press Writer...8-25-08http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/08/25/national/a005857D30.DTL&hw=environment&sn=009&sc=739Tucson, Ariz. (AP) -- Flooding caused by a border security fence in southwestern Arizona shows the structure is being built too quickly and without regard for the environment, critics say.Debris and water backed up at the fence during a storm July 12, leading to flooding at the port of entry at Lukeville and Sonoyta, Mexico, and at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument."One of the reasons for it was the debris that accumulated on the fence itself," said Lee Baiza, superintendent of the monument, a lush desert tract overseen by the National Park Service.Environmental groups have criticized how the Army Corps of Engineers and federal contractors have designed and built a range of fencing and vehicle barriers along the Arizona-Mexico border.In particular, they've denounced Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff's waiver of environmental laws to hasten construction of the 670 miles of fences and other barriers planned by year's end along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.Much of the pedestrian fencing on the Arizona border consists of 10-foot-wide and 15-foot-tall steel-mesh panels, some featuring wide horizontal grates at the bottom to let water and sediment flow through."While the Bush administration may claim it's taking environmental impacts of the border wall into consideration, building wire mesh fences across washes prone to debris-laden floods is fundamentally flawed," Robin Silver, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Matt Clark said what happened at Organ Pipe validates the warnings voiced to Homeland Security before construction started."It doesn't take an expert hydrologist to anticipate the potential for these walls to become like dams," Clark said...Chertoff has invoked his waiver authority three times in Arizona, but federal officials maintain he has ordered Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officials to adhere to environmental requirements.A recent report produced by the Organ Pipe monument's staff concluded that the pedestrian fence failed to meet water-runoff standards set by the Army Corps or the Border Patrol's final environmental assessment...Inside Bay AreaJudge denies motion to throw out Bay Meadows suit...Kyveli Diener, San Mateo County Timeshttp://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_10301429REDWOOD CITY — A motion by the owner of the Bay Meadows race track to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to block the track's redevelopment was denied Monday by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge.The suit, filed in May by Friends of Bay Meadows, a local citizens' group, challenges the environmental impact report supporting Bay Meadows Phase II, the massive development project that will replace the aging San Mateo racecourse with 83.5 acres of shops, parks, office space and residential units.Judge George Miram also agreed to push back a hearing on the merits of the suit until Dec. 5, giving Friends of Bay Meadows more time to prepare their case. But the owner of the track, Bay Meadows Land Co., reaffirmed its commitment Monday to begin construction on Phase II next month, well before the December hearing."It will not impact our construction schedule at all," Bay Meadows spokesman Adam Alberti said. "We are confident that this lawsuit is without legal merit, and we are moving forward with our project as anticipated and look forward to delivering all the things that we've promised to the community in the coming months and years."Alberti noted that Miram on Friday denied the Friends of Bay Meadows' motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent Bay Meadows from auctioning off memorabilia and equipment this weekend...The lawsuit challenges several aspects of the environment impact report for Bay Meadows Phase II, which was originally approved in 2005 and amended earlier this year. The suit argues that the report does not adequately assess the track's historical value, does not account for changes to the development project that may have a significant effect on traffic patterns, and fails to consider new state standards for addressing future drought conditions.Contra Costa TimesAfter court ruling, UC employees question whistle-blowing...Matt Krupnickhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/search/ci_10302063?IADID=Search-www.contracostatimes.com-www.contracostatimes.comLawmakers and University of California employees are pushing to overturn a court ruling that essentially declared UC exempt from most whistle-blower lawsuits.The California Supreme Court ruled last month that UC employees cannot seek damages in court if the university properly investigated their whistle-blower claims. That exemption does not apply to other state agencies, including the California State University system.Critics have called UC "the fox guarding the henhouse," and even some Supreme Court justices suggested that the Legislature amend whistle-blower laws to better protect university employees.The court's ruling "will act powerfully to defeat the purposes of the Whistleblower Protection Act," three justices wrote in a separate opinion that nonetheless upheld the university's exemption. The case involved employees at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.UC administrators were unable to say how many whistle-blower complaints are filed by university employees, or how many are found to have merit. Richard Blum, chairman of the UC Board of Regents, declined to comment...Employees should not be afraid to bring forward improper behavior or situations, UC attorney Eric Behrens said. "If we find that there was retaliation, we do something about it," he said. "This decision shouldn't deter people from filing whistle-blower complaints, because they will be investigated by the university."Word of the July 31 Supreme Court ruling is still filtering down to employees, said Marjorie Wallace, a Walnut Creek attorney who, along with colleague Nancy Balles, has represented UC whistle-blowers. Once the word is out, the ruling could have a chilling effect on complaints, Wallace said."It just seems like such an inherent conflict of interest," she said. "What possible rationale is there for exempting the University of California from whistle-blower (suits)? "Two legislators immediately introduced bills attempting to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Despite UC's unique constitutional independence, it should still be subject to the same whistle-blower laws as other state agencies, said the sponsor of one, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco."One of the fundamental rights of anyone is to be able to speak freely," he said. "We ought not to put these workers in the untenable position of having UC be their judge and jury."Some employees said they have seen no evidence that the university takes their complaints seriously. One worker said she has filed three complaints over what she sees as major safety deficiencies, only to watch the university dismiss her grievances."They are judge and jury. I found that out," said the UC Berkeley employee, who asked to remain anonymous because of the threat of retaliation. "It's really stacked against you. It really turns off people from coming forward."Another UC Berkeley worker said he expects to be fired when he files his latest whistle-blower complaint in the coming weeks; a retaliatory firing would be against the law. Employees are punished for caring about the university, he said."I am loyal to the university," said the man, who also requested anonymity because of a fear of retaliation. "I am paying the price for my loyalty."UC Berkeley to delay construction of sports center pending court appeal...Doug Oakleyhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_10301723BERKELEY — UC Berkeley will voluntarily delay construction of a $125 million athletic training center at Memorial Stadium until a state appeals court considers a lawsuit opposing the project, university officials said Monday.The project, which is increasing in cost by $750,000 a month due to delays from the lawsuit, could now be stalled until at least the end of September, said Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof.The project has been held up in court since December 2006. Any further delay would be up to the appeals court, Mogulof said.In July, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller ruled in favor of the university and against three groups who sued over the project on environmental and public safety grounds. Two of the groups appealed the decision, but the case was kicked back to Miller because she had not yet considered a request for a new trial by one of the plaintiffs. Miller is now set to reissue her ruling, one in which both sides believe will favor Cal but send the case back to the appeals court.The California Oaks Foundation, the Panoramic Hill Association and the city of Berkeley all sued UC Berkeley in 2006. After the defeat in Miller's courtroom in July, the city of Berkeley decided to throw in the towel while the other two groups decided to ride out an appeal. Those who oppose the project say the university should not cut down trees to build a project that can be built elsewhere on campus and that the project will add too much traffic to the area, raising safety concerns in the event of a large-scale disaster...Richmond's deal with tribe on casino invalid, judge rules...John Simermanhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_10303394Richmond violated state environmental laws when it agreed to a 20-year, $335 million pact with an American Indian tribe to provide emergency services, roadwork and political support for a casino just outside city limits, a Contra Costa County judge has found. In a tentative ruling last week, Judge Barbara Zuniga said the city needed to complete an environmental review before it could commit to several projects in its 2006 deal with the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians. Zuniga is expected to issue her final ruling this week.The 220-member tribe, needing local support, turned to Richmond after county supervisors opposed its federal application for a Las Vegas-style casino on 30 acres at Parr Boulevard and Richmond Parkway in unincorporated North Richmond. Richmond's City Council obliged, pledging traffic improvements and a new, upgraded or relocated fire station, along with police and fire service. The city would get jobs related to the casino project, along with big money if the casino were built. Last year, the Parchester Village Neighborhood Council and a group of local environmental groups sued. Zuniga ruled that a mention of future compliance with state environmental laws was not enough. If it stands, the ruling could hamper the tribe's chances for approval, since federal policy calls for local support and mitigation measures for "off-reservation" casino proposals. And it comes at a key moment. A federal ruling is expected soon on whether the land meets stringent qualifications that would allow the tribe to run a casino on it. City Council members said they will wait for Zuniga's final opinion before deciding whether to appeal it or perhaps complete an environmental report."The city of Richmond has a long history of flouting (state environmental) law, and I think we repeatedly get bad advice from our attorneys. We get beaten in the courts on it and keep going back and doing the same thing," said Councilman Tom Butt. He had urged the council to negotiate for upfront money from the tribe and voted against the deal. Butt said he did not think the council could support the tribe without a valid agreement."Our commitment to give them a municipal services agreement is critical to their ability to get that casino in there," he said.The tribe is paying the city's legal costs. Councilman Jim Rogers, who favored the deal, said he would wait for a legal analysis of the ruling... 8-26-08Department of Water ResourcesCalifornia Water NewsA daily compilation for DWR personnel of significant news articles and comment…August 26, 2008 1.  Top Item - Krill rebound - key link in ocean food chainSan Francisco Chronicle – 8/26/08…David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor After three lean years, the ocean off California's coast this summer is suddenly rich in nutrients, and creatures - from microscopic krill to humpback whales - are thriving anew. But whether this abundance will continue in coming seasons or is merely a bright blip in an otherwise discouraging picture year-after-year can't be predicted, say scientists monitoring the sea's productivity. The cycles of life in the Earth's warming climate are changing. For the time being, many species of sea birds, fish and marine mammals are flourishing, and the reason lies largely in an unexpected change in two features of the ocean: The California current, flowing down the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico, is colder than it has been in years, and strong northwest winds have increased the upwelling of cold water from just above the sea floor to the surface. "Cold is good, and when it comes to the ocean ecosystem, the colder that upwelling gets, the better it is for all the animals in the food chain," said Steven Ramp, an oceanographer at the Monterey Aquarium Research Institute at Moss Landing. Others agree.  "This year there's been a striking resurgence of krill in the waters off Monterey Bay, particularly for one species that has really made a comeback from the past three years," said Baldo Marinovic, a research biologist at UC Santa Cruz who specializes in the life cycles and abundance of krill, a major food source for whales, some seabirds and many species of seals. "Sea surface temperatures that we monitor have been the coldest since the late 1980s, and that translates all the way up the food chain," he said. The upwelling of cold water began in March all along the coast, said Bill Peterson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Ore., a science agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's bringing more and more food up into levels of the ocean where fish can feed better than they have in years," Peterson said.  For example, copepods, tiny crustaceans that live on the ocean floor, are prime nutrients for upper levels of the food chain in California's ocean waters. Their upwelling is unbelievable, Peterson said. Russell Bradley, a biologist with the Point Reyes Bird Observatory who has monitored bird life on the Farallon Islands for 20 years, said the abundance of krill has meant a big difference in the productivity of many birds.  Cassin's auklets, small gray residents of the craggy rocks on the Farallones, failed to breed during the past three summers ago for the first time in 35 years, Bradley said, and failed again the past two years because of "a major disruption of the normal upwelling pattern."  "But this year is very different," he said. Because of the plentiful krill, the juvenile rockfish that seabirds eat are more abundant. The auklets are having their best reproductive year in a long time - much more in the normal range. The number of brown pelicans has also increased. The population had crashed due to eggshell thinning before the pesticide DDT was banned in America in 1972, but has been recovering ever since, and this year the number of brown pelicans has reached a new peak, Bradley reported. His census on South Farallon Island alone last month counted 5,856 pelicans roosting there, a new high, he said. "Still, there are anomalies we can't explain," Bradley said. "The numbers of Brandt's cormorants, for example, which should normally be chowing down on this year's abundant anchovies, haven't recovered. It's really a mystery, and we don't have an answer for it." From his perch on the Farallones, Bradley can survey the ocean as far as the horizon, and this year, he said, he is seeing far more humpback whales than he has in many years. "They're going where the krill is," he said, "and there's plenty of that this year."#http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/26/BAQM12F24T.DTL 2. Supply – LADWP floats hydro-electric plant ideaThe Inyo register - 8/26/08…By Mike Gervais, staff writer“Going green” seems to be a way of life for many, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has jumped on the band wagon, hoping to use its water resources here in the Owens Valley to begin producing cleaner, renewable energy.The LADWP is taking the first steps towards a greener future by considering construction of a new hydro-electric plant on Tinnemaha Reservoir. Though these first steps are small ones, and the end result is more than a few years off, the Southern California utility is hoping to rely more on renewable energy in coming years.According to a federal notice seeking comment on the proposed project, the new renewable energy facility will include a 215-foot-long, eight-footwide steel penstock, a powerhouse containing one 1.2 megawatt generating unit, a one-mile long transmission line connecting to an existing power line and four related facilities.If the hydro-electric plant is constructed as proposed, it will generate approximately five GWh of energy. The daily output of 1.2 megawatts is enough energy to power approximately 212 average homes.That power would be sold to local utility companies.“This is not like anything imminent,” said LADWP Public Information Officer Chris Plakos. “There has been a filing to get the project on record, but it will be maybe 10 years before anything physical gets moving out there.”The LADWP filed a preliminary federal application to study the feasibility of constructing the Tinnemaha hydro-electric plant on June 27. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission filed a public notice seeking comments on the proposed studies and projects on July 21, giving the public 60 days to weigh in on the project. “There haven’t really been any real studies done on this,” and that is where the City of Los Angeles is now, said Plakos. “They just filed this application to get in the loop and to get the ball rolling and start studying the feasibility.”With the proper paperwork filed with the feds, the LADWP can begin looking at the benefits and drawbacks to constructing a hydro-electric plant on the 2,098-acre reservoir.“I think in the next couple years they’ll start looking at the flows out of there, the costs of construction and how much energy can be produced. It’ll be quite an extensive project,” Plakos said.The hydro-electric plant is just one way the LADWP is looking to in order to “go green” and conserve resources.With the water demand of Los Angeles expected to increase by 100 percent in the next 28 years, the LADWP released a water conservation and management plan earlier this summer that includes ideas for seeking efficiency in all of its operations.Previous “aggressive conservation efforts,” LADWP Chief Executive Officer and General Manager David  Nahai said in an earlier interview, have allowed L.A. to experience huge population growth without per capita usage keeping pace. Now the city needs to keep pace with its growth, and is looking to the future.“I think everybody is looking at better and cleaner ways of doing things, and this is one way,” said Plakos, noting that waterways throughout the Owens Valley have hydro-electric plants already in operation. Those plants are owned by various utilities, including Southern California Edison and the LADWP.“This is going to be an extensive process,” Plakos said. “But if anything begins to happen, it will all be a public process.”Anyone who is interested in commenting on the LADWP permit application to study the feasibility of the hydro-electric plant may send comments to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20426. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would like an original comment with eight copies.#http://www.inyoregister.com/content/view/113881/1/ 3. Watersheds –Nothing Significant 4. Water Quality –Nothing Significant 5. Agencies, Programs, People –State officials planning to harvest ocean's fishing litter300 pounds of discards snared near 3 county piers - San Diego Union Tribune Local water leaders get look at DeltaVision - Chico Enterprise Record State officials planning to harvest ocean's fishing litter300 pounds of discards snared near 3 county piers San Diego Union Tribune – 8/26/08…By Michael Gardner SACRAMENTO – The state is preparing to launch a fishing expedition, but it's not angling for tuna, squid or flounder.  In this case, the catch is tons of fishing equipment lost or discarded in the ocean every season, posing serious danger to marine life.  “I know what we have out there. I cannot dive without seeing abandoned gear. It's everywhere,” said Richard Rogers, president of the California Fish and Game Commission.  The fishing lines, hooks, nets, crab pots and lobster traps are blamed for killing or maiming whales, dolphins, otters, pelicans and other wildlife. Limited pilot programs in the last few years netted 11 tons of fishing equipment from around the Channel Islands and a combined 300 pounds off the Oceanside, Ocean Beach and Imperial Beach piers.  Those numbers convinced the state that more aggressive action is needed, starting with a $400,000 collection program off the coast from Point Conception near Santa Barbara to Pigeon Point south of Half Moon Bay.  State officials hope to broaden the recovery program to take in the entire coast, target more piers and move inland to retrieve equipment from recreational fishing lakes.  In a demonstration of the danger posed by the gear, officials this month were forced to temporarily ban fishing from piers in the Capitola area when 90 endangered brown pelicans suffered injuries after becoming entangled in fishing lines while feasting on anchovies.  The Wildlife Conservation Board, a project-financing arm of the state Department of Fish and Game, is set to award funding for the fishing gear retrieval program today. If approved as expected, it will mark the first time in at least a half-century that the board has extended its reach into ocean waters, said Dave Means, assistant executive director of the board.  “We're just dipping our toes in,” Means said.  The SeaDoc Society, which is affiliated with the University of California Davis, will take the lead as part of its program to protect marine life in the Pacific Northwest. The SeaDoc Society conducted a smaller project off the Channel Islands in 2006 and 2007, using volunteer divers to retrieve 552 pieces of gear, including 248 commercial lobster traps and three purse seine nets – large walls of netting that encircle schools of fish.  Commercial gear is not the only threat. Over those two years, SeaDoc divers salvaged 1,400 pounds of recreational fishing equipment, including more than 1 million feet of line off 15 public piers statewide. At San Diego County piers, the catch of discarded equipment yielded 131 pounds at Oceanside, 112 pounds at Imperial Beach and 60 pounds at Ocean Beach.  “It's like a jungle of fishing line around those piers,” Means said.  To encourage proper disposal, the SeaDoc Society is planning to install recycling bins on selected wharves so anglers have a convenient place to discard tangled line. The dangers posed by lost or dumped equipment are well-documented, according to Kirsten Gilardi, executive director of the SeaDoc Society and a UC Davis veterinarian.  On average, she said, one in 10 of the pelicans and shorebirds brought into wildlife rehabilitation centers are treated after becoming entangled in lines, swallowing hooks or otherwise being injured by fishing gear. Last year, there were several confirmed cases of humpback and gray whales tangled in lines or nets. From 2001 to 2006, more than 250 endangered brown pelicans were admitted to San Diego-area rehabilitation centers with fishing gear-related injuries, Gilardi said. In her annual report and in an interview, Gilardi detailed the threats.  “Abandoned nets drown marine mammals. Hundreds of coastal birds suffer injury when they become entangled in fishing line or when they ingest hooks,” she said in the report. “Marine mammals, including the federally threatened southern sea otter, (are injured or killed) with wounds from entanglement, or with obstructed or perforated intestines from swallowed hooks and line.”  Additionally, many abandoned lobster traps contain bait, luring animals to their deaths, she said.  Wildlife species are not the only victims; boaters, surfers and anglers are also at risk, Gilardi said.  “Boaters catch ropes attached to lost traps and pots or discarded monofilament line around their propellers; surfers are injured running into lost gear underwater that 'reefs' up in breaking waves. As well, lost gear clutters legal fishing grounds, affecting fishermen's ability to safely and efficiently deploy their own gear, and in some cases damaging their nets,” she said.  After using divers at depths to 105 feet, SeaDoc is looking to deploy remote-operated vehicles in deep waters, Gilardi said. The specially designed craft would be outfitted with cutting instruments to remove lines and nets from the seabed.  Rogers, the fish and game commissioner, said abandoned traps, lines and hooks in ocean waters or on the seabed remain a long-term threat until they become encrusted.  “Until then,” he said, “the gear will continue fishing and the fish will continue to die needlessly.” #http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080826/news_1n26fishgear.html Local water leaders get look at DeltaVisionChico Enterprise Record – 8/26/08…By HEATHER HACKING - Staff Writer CHICO -- The Delta Vision made its way to Northern California Monday, a plan that will tackle the weighty issue of the state's water supply. One of the four main themes of the plan presented Monday is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a "unique" place with an agricultural and tourist economic base. Local speakers said clearly they view the Northern Sacramento Valley as a unique place as well, and qualities locals appreciate should not be sacrificed for a new statewide water plan.  Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force members were chosen by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger 18 months ago and are on the third draft of a plan to make some tough decisions about how water flows.  About 30 local residents and local water leaders attended a public meeting at the Chico Masonic Family Center to give public comments about the plan before a final draft is considered in October.  The conclusion of Delta Vision is the status quo is not sustainable, and the water delivery system and the environment are in need of dramatic repair.  Add in issues beyond government's control, such as global warming, earthquakes and population increases, and things look even more precarious.  The key themes of the plan, as highlighted Monday, include adopting a strategy that will take into consideration diverse species, widespread water use efficiency, and a new state water government agency.  Factors on the table include creation of a waterway that bypasses the delta, a finance plan that includes water-user fees and other "effective and transparent financing tools" and stricter water-use compliance laws.  Other issues, no less significant, include increasing regional self-sufficiency, more surface and groundwater storage, improved predictability of water delivery and better water quality.  Meanwhile, water leaders in Northern California have been working on regional water planning, most locally with the Four County Memorandum of Understanding signed by Butte, Colusa, Glenn and Tehama counties. Shasta and Sutter counties have also been participating.  On Aug. 19, the Butte County Board of Supervisors approved four pages of comments on the Delta Vision plan. These were presented by county water chief Paul Gosselin at Monday's meeting.  While many parts of the overall concept were deemed positive, the supervisors said parts of the plan propose a "direct assault on area of origin water rights," and could supersede local government control.  One main area of disapproval by the county is statements in the Delta Vision that "the water required to support and revitalize the delta would not be purchased but will be provided within California's system of water rights and constitutional principles of reasonable use and public trust" — in essence, the Public Trust Doctrine. In their comments to the state, the supervisors wrote "this approach not only ignores area of origin water rights, but does so without making any provisions for regional representation in the proposed governance structures."  The letter also calls for more cooperation with Northern California, recognition of current water rights and assurances that more water to the delta won't mean less water in Northern California.  While on those subjects, the letter from the county states that Butte County supports the ideas in the plan that call for regional water self-sufficiency, management of invasive species and incentives for water use efficiency.  Public comments were taken after the presentation.  Ernie Ohlin, of the Tehama County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, said he and other Northern California water leaders have been working on regional planning. The Delta Vision is "the opposite," he said. "This is top down."  "We want to manage water and provide help where we can" Ohlin said, but Northern California should not be viewed as a fix to the state's water woes. Other comments were similar, including highlighting the way Northern California has worked to improve water conditions, such as building fish screens, managing water and limiting groundwater exports.  Linda Cole, who has been highly involved with local water issues, summed up many of the thoughts in the room. "It's not that we don't want to be part of the solution. We just don't want to be the sacrifice," Cole said. #http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_10305121  ------------------------------------------------------------- DWR's California Water News is distributed to California Department of Water Resources management and staff, for information purposes, by the DWR Public Affairs Office. For reader's services, including new subscriptions, temporary cancellations and address changes, please use the online page: http://listhost2.water.ca.gov/mailman/listinfo/water_news. DWR operates and maintains the State Water Project, provides dam safety and flood control and inspection services, assists local water districts in water management and water conservation planning, and plans for future statewide water needs. Inclusion of materials is not to be construed as an endorsement of any programs, projects, or viewpoints by the Department or the State of California. -------------------------------------------------------------CENTRAL VALLEY SAFE ENVIRONMENT NETWORKMISSION STATEMENTCentral Valley Safe Environment Network is a coalition of organizations and individuals throughout the San Joaquin Valley that is committed to the concept of "Eco-Justice" -- the ecological defense of the natural resources and the people. To that end it is committed to the stewardship, and protection of the resources of the greater San Joaquin Valley, including air and water quality, the preservation of agricultural land, and the protection of wildlife and its habitat. In serving as a community resource and being action-oriented, CVSEN desires to continue to assure there will be a safe food chain, efficient use of natural resources and a healthy environment. CVSEN is also committed to public education regarding these various issues and it is committed to ensuring governmental compliance with federal and state law. CVSEN is composed of farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, environmentalists, ethnic, political,and religious groups, and other stakeholders.