10-4-08Merced Sun-StarHow valley home data compares nationallyNearly 1 in 5 Merced County homes were built after 2000...J.N. SBRANTI, The Modesto Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/482023.htmlForget falling home values for a moment and let's look instead at housing from a different perspective.That's what the U.S. Census Bureau does when it gathers data, and its findings show distinct differences between Northern San Joaquin Valley homes compared with those nationwide.Homes here, for example, are significantly newer than those elsewhere in America.The recently released 2007 American Community Survey quantifies how the recent building boom modernized the valley's housing stock.Nearly 17 percent of Merced County's homes now are relatively new, having been built since 2000. In Stanislaus County, nearly 15 percent are new, as are nearly 18 percent in San Joaquin County...Nationwide, more than 67 percent of homes were occupied by their owners in 2007. Ownership rates were much lower around here.In the city of Merced, for instance, fewer than 39 percent of homes were lived in by owners in 2007. The rest were filled by renters. That was a major change since 2000, when the census determined nearly 47 percent of Merced's homes were owner-occupied...The impact of the current foreclosure crisis on homeownership rates probably will be apparent in the 2008 American Community Survey, which will be released next fall.The slump in housing construction also should be evident in that data. In a different set of Census Bureau statistics released last month, the building downturn was evident......Permit declines were also dramatic in Merced and San Joaquin counties. Statewide, there have been about 45 percent fewer building permits issued this year compared to last.About 70,000 housing units are expected to be built in California this year, which is the fewest since the construction industry started keeping records in 1954. Modesto BeeValley politicos stick to positions on bailout...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureauhttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/451840.htmlWASHINGTON -- San Joaquin Valley lawmakers Friday stuck to their previous positions on a financial bailout package whose specific benefits to California residents still are being tallied.The bill is a grab bag. Altamont Pass wind power operators will retain tax credits. University of California at Davis biofuel research gets an indirect boost. The state's rural counties secure more money for schools and roads."The secure rural schools funding is obviously important to us," noted Spencer Pederson, press secretary for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.Radanovich joined Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced and Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton in supporting the bailout bill. The supporters called the bill unpleasant but necessary to buck up the nation's reeling economy. Opponents called the legislation an ill-considered intervention in the free market and blamed congressional leaders for fomenting panic.The bill offers modest Treasury Department assistance to the valley's financially distressed homeowners. This could aid some of the owners of 35,252 homes and condos between Stockton and Bakersfield who received mortgage default notices between January and June, according to DataQuick figures.The Treasury Department can use "loan guarantees and credit enhancements" that might ease mortgage burdens and prevent foreclosures. Treasury officials are also directed to accept "reasonable requests" for mortgage modifications, including extending terms and lowering rates.The underlying $700 billion financial bailout package itself will ripple through the valley, which by some counts has led the nation in home foreclosures. The Treasury Department will use the money to buy up bundles of bad mortgages, the kind that contributed to more than 110,000 California homes being lost to foreclosure this year.On top of the financial bailout, the Senate added hundreds of pages of unrelated provisions designed, in part, to secure additional votes. Some hit home directly.The Turlock-based JKB Solar, for instance, is among those foreseeing benefits from a solar energy tax extension. A company official was among those contacting Radanovich's office in support of the bill, Pederson said.The rural county funding measure provides $1.1 billion over four years to counties that contain national forest land. The funding, totaling some $69 million annually for California, props up counties that can no longer rely on their share of timber harvests.Last year, the program provided about $1.1 million to Tuolumne County. The bill continues federal funding, though at a slowly declining rate.Cheney praises hunters as wildlife habitat champs...SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/state_wire/v-print/story/451450.htmlVice President Dick Cheney praised several of the nation's largest hunting groups at a conference Friday for being the true champions of wildlife conservation, not elitists in Washington D.C."The men and women in this room understand what conservation is all about," Cheney told about 500 people in a speech to the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy in Reno."You've proven that the people who are closest to the land are usually the ones who do the most for the land," he said.The two-day conference was sponsored by American Wildlife Conservation Partners, a coalition of about 50 organizations that includes the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.It was called to enhance hunting opportunities and wildlife habitat for game species, although some critics said it was more about politics."We must never lose sight of the basic truth: when it comes to wildlife and natural resources, the sum total of wisdom and concern is not contained in the office buildings of Washington D.C.," Cheney said."As President Reagan once said, 'The American people have as much concern for the preservation of the beauty and the open spaces in their states as does the federal government. I just cannot believe that the liberal elite group in Washington has a conscience and the people themselves do not.'"The vice president stood in for President Bush, who had been scheduled to address the group but canceled earlier in the week to deal with the nation's financial crisis.Bush said in a videotaped message to the audience he was sending his "favorite hunter" to represent him."No one is as confident with a shotgun in his hands as Dick Cheney," Bush said, drawing chuckles from some who recalled a hunting accident in Texas in 2006 in which the vice president shot lawyer Harry Whittington in the torso, neck and face.Cheney said he has "taken a lot of grief over the years, obviously, for that hunting accident in Texas - most of it from the president.""I'll never forget walking into the Oval Office after that happened ... and the president said, 'Dick, here I am at 30 percent in the polls and you shot the only trial lawyer in Texas who supports me,'" Cheney said.The conference stemmed from an executive order Bush signed in 2007 establishing a bipartisan coalition - the AWCP, Sporting Conservation Council and others - to map a 10-year strategy for "guiding the future of wildlife conservation and our hunting heritage."Absent from the coalition were national environmental groups, such as The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.Critics of the gathering included the leader of a group working to save the sage grouse - a chicken-sized game bird being considered for federal protection due to the loss of sage grouse habitat across much of the West.The conference "is a weak attempt to paper over extraordinary habitat destruction that has occurred under the current administration and avoid the need to protect species such as sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act," said Mark Salvo, director of WildEarth Guardians' Sagebrush Sea Campaign based in Phoenix, Ariz."Every Bush administration wildlife initiative in the West has failed to meet its stated purposes. How will the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy be any different?"But Bart Semcer, a Washington D.C.-based representative of the Sierra Club who attended the conference on Thursday, said it was a legitimate attempt to "bring mainstream conservation groups together to begin to develop a consensus plan to chart the future of wildlife in the future.""I think if you look at most of the hunting groups, they are conservation groups," Semcer said."My sense is that what is occurring inside this meeting are some very substantive policy discussions. We think it is a really good start," he said.Semcer said his only complaint was "it should have happened seven years ago.""In the seven years that have passed under this administration, we've lost a heck of a lot of habitat," he said.About a half-dozen people protesting Cheney's visit rallied outside the event hall in downtown Reno with signs that read, "Liar and Thief," and "Got Torture? Got Treason? Got Cheney?"Sage grouse numbers down in Nevada...KEITH ROGERS, Las Vegas Review-Journalhttp://www.modbee.com/state_wire/v-print/story/451772.htmlWith 70,000 to 80,000 sage grouse scampering through thickets of high desert shrubs in Nevada, a casual observer might think the chicken-like bird is hardly a candidate for listing as a threatened or endangered species.The Nevada Department of Wildlife estimates, however, are down this year from 100,000 grouse in 2005, and the ratio of chicks to hens is the lowest recorded since the early 1980s."The reality is that Nevada already has overlay of the transmission areas and habitat of the birds," Bob Williams, the service's field supervisor for Nevada, said this month."It would be no different than the desert tortoise being listed," Williams said.As in the case of the tortoise, he said, federal biologists would have to consult with public land administrators and developers of private projects to ensure enough grouse remain and habitat is protected for the bird's continued existence.The ongoing review and data collection by wildlife officials in states where sage grouse live was spurred by the Western Watersheds Project. The conservation group in Idaho sued the wildlife service over its decision not to list greater sage grouse in 2005.Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, a public interest law firm representing the watersheds project, said the government's lead scientists must prepare a comprehensive update on the status of the sage grouse by November with a deadline of May 2009 to decide whether listing the sage grouse as threatened or endangered is warranted.If warranted, a year of public hearings would follow with a final listing rule in May 2010.The project's biodiversity director, Katie Fite, said sage grouse population estimates by wildlife agencies might be inflated and are guesswork at best. They're based on surveys of "leks," or "drumming grounds" where males strut with fanned tails and puffed chests to attract females during mating season.Fite, a biologist, said declining numbers of sage grouse are linked to wildfires that have destroyed dozens of leks in Northern Nevada and Idaho.In Nevada alone, 3 million acres of sage grouse habitat has burned since 1999...Disruption of those habitats from building large wind farms, transmission lines and exploring for natural gas and oil would accelerate the grouse's downward spiral, Fite said."What happened is that sage grouse numbers are going down, down, down," Fite said. "They're disappearing or diminishing or will disappear over much of their range."She said oil and gas exploration in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana has "ripped apart habitat that was intact a decade ago."In Nevada, the two-year decline in grouse numbers is attributable not only to wildfires but irregular precipitation patterns, said Shawn Espinosa, upland game specialist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife."We were seeing increases in the population up until 2005 to 2006. Then, over the last couple years, the population has seen decreases. In some cases, the decreases have been pretty sharp," he said."I think overall, the biggest reason is we've had a couple poor springs in a row where we haven't had the right precipitation pattern," he said...Fite said she understands efforts to wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil, but she prefers small renewable energy projects close to communities over big centralized facilities that require extensive transmission systems.She fears the sage grouse's fate will fall into the hands of human encroachment from energy development."If we don't have run-amok oil and gas development, we have wind farms being built in sage grouse habitat," she said."What's going on right now is a scramble to get approval for projects and right-of-ways before sage grouse do get listed because these power lines are not compatible with sage grouse," Fite said.Charles Benjamin, director of the Nevada office of Western Resource Advocates and president of a coalition, Nevadans for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy, believes sage grouse and clean energy projects can coexist with proper planning."We're confident in the environmental community that this can be done right," he said Friday.Benjamin noted that the Western Governors Association has an initiative to identify renewable energy zones that are best for wind, solar, geothermal and biomass projects as well as identify endangered species habitats and the best sites for transmission systems."We call them smart transmission," he said.Though he said he's not an expert on endangered species laws, Benjamin said there's "no question" that listing sage grouse would restrict activities in habitat areas "or may eliminate them altogether.""And that would affect wind turbines or transmission lines that are bringing energy from a more distant project," Benjamin said."We think there is enough open land out there, which is not habitat for threatened and endangered species."Fresno BeeRescue bill may not be enough to halt Valley foreclosuresExperts say government won't be able to alter loans...Jim Wasserman and Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Beehttp://www.fresnobee.com/business/story/913619.htmlThe provisions for struggling homeowners in the Wall Street rescue bill signed into law Friday are largely voluntary and not enough to curb foreclosures in regions like the Central Valley, some analysts say. The bill authorizes the government to buy $700 billion in mortgage-backed securities tied to poorly performing home loans. But it has a secondary aim: to keep people in their homes. The legislation requires Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to "implement a plan to mitigate foreclosures" and "identify opportunities to modify loans." It also requires the government to work with lenders "to encourage loan modifications." That's not forceful enough, advocates say. "The government buying these securities does not allow them to substantially expand loan modifications," said Paul Leonard, California director of the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group. Leonard and others say the government won't be able to alter loans on its own because of the way the mortgage-backed securities it is buying are structured. Without unilateral authority to modify loans, they say, the rising tide of foreclosures won't soon subside. More bank-owned homes on the market mean home values will continue to fall."If you don't firm up the bottom of the housing market, the bottom of the pyramid will be like quicksand that will keep pulling down the structure," said Timothy Canova, economics professor at Chapman University School of Law in Southern California. "I think in six months to a year they will be back asking for another enormous bailout because it didn't deal with the root causes of the problem."...A key part of the bill signed Friday encourages loan servicers to modify mortgages through the government's new $300 billion Hope for Homeowners program. Launched Wednesday, it aims to refinance 400,000 borrowers with risky adjustable-rate mortgages into fixed-rate 30-year loans. But there's a catch: Loan servicers must "write down" the new loan amount to the home's present value. That means investors must accept losses. Sacramento BeeCalifornia led nation in jobs lost in 2007, study finds...Mark Gloverhttp://www.sacbee.com/103/v-print/story/1287843.html California topped the nation with 696,300 jobs lost in 2007, according to a new report by the nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute.The Golden State's losses far outpaced No. 2 Texas, which lost 405,300 jobs. Sparsely populated Wyoming lost the fewest jobs, with 3,000.Things have not improved much in California in 2008.Statewide unemployment rose to 7.7 percent in August, up from 7.4 percent the month before, according to California's Employment Development Department. Sacramento-area unemployment rose to 7.4 percent, up from 7.2 percent in July. Both jobless rates were the highest they've been since 1996.In California, the construction industry has been particularly impacted, losing about 130,000 jobs in the past two years. Some analysts are forecasting the loss of another 50,000 industrywide in 2009.Nationwide, the EPI report said 5,645,900 workers were displaced in 2007.EPI blamed a sizable U.S. trade deficit and a weak manufacturing sector, which the report said accounted for 70 percent of job losses in the United States last year."The turmoil on Wall Street can only compound the problems of an already weakening job market," said Robert E. Scott, EPI's director of international programs and the author of the jobs report. "Our research shows no state or sector is exempt from the impact of non-oil U.S. trade deficits."The report also noted that Americans who lost their jobs and then regained employment in 2007 earned wages that were 11 percent to 13 percent lower than what they received in their previous jobs.Stockton Record$49M for college site consideredDelta officials target Mountain House campus...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081004/A_NEWS/810040324/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Most of the 2004 bond money that's still available for San Joaquin Delta College should be pumped into a Mountain House campus, administrators recommended late Friday.They endorsed a $49.3 million infusion for that project, leaving less than $20 million left over - including $2.8 million to buy land for a future Lodi campus.The recommendations by the college's bond team will be discussed by the Board of Trustees at a special meeting Monday; trustees will then have the final say Tuesday night. That meeting will mark the latest in a series of tough decisions by the board, which formally agreed this summer with a grand jury report that millions of dollars of bond money were lost by their decision to build a south-county campus in Mountain House rather than Tracy.Today, most of the $250 million voter-approved Measure L bond has been spent or allocated to other projects, leaving a small portion - about $68 million - to be divided between three satellite campuses: Mountain House, Lodi and Manteca.As originally envisioned, Mountain House alone would cost $90 million. The plan unveiled Friday calls for a main building about two-thirds of the original size, as well as a dozen portables...The report released Friday recommends spending $2.8 million to buy 10 acres or more of land for a future Lodi campus, rather than the more immediately expensive option of buying an existing building...Most of the controversy over the bond has swirled over the board's decision to build in Mountain House rather than Tracy. Two candidates running for the Board of Trustees in November have publicly said they believe the board should reconsider Tracy."We'll see if they took anything to heart that we had to say," said Mary Ann Cox, a retired Delta administrator.College officials say it is simply too late. Crews in recent weeks began building the infrastructure at the Mountain House site, after years of delays and a huge spike in the cost.Local delegation again backs $700B proposalhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081004/A_NEWS/810040327/-1/A_NEWSThe three members of the local delegation to the House of Representatives all voted for the economic rescue plan passed Friday, four days after they all voted for the losing side in the House's first failed bid to pass a $700 billion bailout."I am just as angry and frustrated as many of those who have called my office that we had to consider this recovery package," Pleasanton Democrat Jerry McNerney said in a statement. "But I voted for it because my constituents' 401Ks, their life savings, and the ability to take out car, home and student loans hang in the balance."Before Friday's vote, Gold River Republican Dan Lungren said, "This is not a perfect bill, certainly. I wouldn't ever argue that this is a perfect bill, but this is the best we have right now."The measure passed by a 263-171 margin. Atwater Democrat Dennis Cardoza also voted for the bill, which was quickly signed into law by President Bush."I felt it was essential. I feel like the economy is burning. We have to do everything we can to put out the flames," Cardoza said."If we didn't do this, we were going to have really severe problems. We still may have very severe problems. I don't want anyone to think just because we passed this bill, we're out of the woods."After the House voted against a $700 billion bailout in its first attempt Monday, the Senate attached $150.5 billion in sweeteners, including renewable energy tax breaks and changes protecting millions of Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax...Tracy PressLodi seeks $680,000...Lodi News-Sentinel http://tracypress.com/content/view/15975/2268/Developers of Lodi's massive Wal-Mart Supercenter project will be asked to pump more than $680,000 into the city's Downtown, or funnel roughly the same amount to city coffers, according to a city report made available Thursday afternoon.City leaders have indicated for more than 18 months that such a condition would be placed on the project.Thursday's report was the first to publicly detail the city's requirements.The "Downtown investment," as it's been called, must be made no later than five years from the issuance of the project's first building permit, wrote Rad Bartlam, Lodi's interim community development director.An investment would be defined as construction, rehabilitation, acquisition or tenant improvements to properties in the Downtown. The total improvements must exceed $680,000.Another option is for the developer, Darrl Browman, to pay the city $2 per square foot of commercial space built at the site. Project plans call for a 13-building, 340,000 square-foot center, with the Supercenter anchoring the development.It would be built on the southwest corner of Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road.The Lodi Planning Commission will review Bartlam's report Oct. 8. It's expected to make a recommendation on the many project conditions either at that meeting or a later one.The City Council will have a final say on the project later this year.Other conditions placed on the project's developer include:• Signing a lease with a "bona-fide" tenant for at least 50 percent of the existing Wal-Mart building or selling the building prior to the issuing of the building permit for the Supercenter. The developer could also pay for the demolition of the existing building. Either way, the city will mandate the demolition of the building if it is not adequately leased or sold within 90 days of the Supercenter's opening.• Obtain a permanent agricultural conservation easement over 40 acres of prime farmland within 15 miles of the project. It must be a single 40-acre parcel and in San Joaquin County, excluding the Delta Primary Zone. It must be in agricultural use or as a result of purchase be put into agricultural use.Numerous other conditions will be placed on the project, from controls for construction noise and dust to road, intersection, sidewalk and drainage improvements in the area.Bartlam, the city's development chief, said earlier this week he's never seen so many conditions placed on a project in his 28 years in municipal planning.Messages left for Browman, the developer, and a Central Valley Wal-Mart spokesman were not returned Thursday afternoon.San Francisco ChronicleSaving Frogs and Preserving lawns...Peter Fimrite, Village Greenhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=50&entry_id=31091Red-legged frogs and other wildlife, including the strange two-legged pack animals known as humans, will benefit from a recent $515,000 grant to restore the 702-acre Fernandez Ranch, in Contra Costa County.The California Coastal Conservancy will give the money to the Muir Heritage Land Trust. The conservation group plans to restore creeks and ponds used by the threatened California red-legged frog, including Rodeo Creek, which was altered years ago by railroad construction and subsequent landslides.Three-and-a-half miles of trails used by hikers, bikers and horse-back riders will also be improved, said Linus Eukel, executive director of the trust. Fernandez Ranch, which is between Hercules and Martinez, was purchased by the trust in 2005. It is adjacent to hundreds of acres of rolling hills known as Franklin Canyon, which the trust is also in negotiations to purchase. The two properties together would create 1,100 acres of open space in the hills next to Highway 4, where enormous, controversial developments were once planned.Nobody would argue that open space is nice to have, but, as draught plagues California, a lot of homeowners are more concerned about their own yards. A Canadian company known as Wildflower Farm has developed a new lawn that executives insist is drought tolerant. The so-called Eco-Lawn needs minimal watering to stay green, according to the Ontario-based horticulture company. The lawn also purportedly attracts fewer bugs and is less susceptible to weeds, so fertilizers and herbecides are rarely needed. Flaks for the farm claim the lawn doesn't need much mowing either.Wildflower big wigs say the H2O that homeowners save by not watering the Eco-Lawn can be used for more pressing matters, like drinking water. The saved water could presumably even be used to wet down roofs or knock down flames as drought-fueled wildfires race over the bone-dry hills toward the thousands of manicured homes built on fire-prone ridges and next to open space.No word on whether the Eco-Lawn is flame resistent.Official's suit blames job loss on retaliation...Jim Doyle...10-3-08 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/03/BAEH13AIB5.DTL&type=printableA former administrator with the California State University system has filed a $7.7 million lawsuit accusing Chancellor Charles Reed of retaliating against him for questioning the chancellor's award of a no-bid contract to a labor consultant.Paul Verellen, a labor attorney who served as the CSU's manager for campus relations and dispute resolution, says in his suit that he was fired in March not long after he filed a whistle-blower complaint regarding the chancellor's alleged misuse of public funds.At the center of the dispute is the contract awarded to a consulting firm based in Georgia. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that Verellen's employment "was terminated in retaliation for disclosing information regarding improper procurement activities ... where he had reasonable cause to believe that such information disclosed a violation of a state law."The lawsuit follows a Chronicle report in August that detailed how three senior employees in the CSU labor relations office, including Verellen, were allegedly forced out of their jobs at the CSU headquarters in Long Beach after questioning the way Reed awarded a contact totaling $2.45 million to C. Richard Barnes & Associates, LLC, of Lawrenceville, Ga., without going to competitive bids. CSU officials have said their action was appropriate and legal even though they waited for two years to produce a legally required written justification of the no-bid award. The chancellor has defended the no-bid contract in part because of Barnes' credentials as a former director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Barnes, who receives consulting fees of $4,000 per day, was hired to represent the university in negotiations with its labor unions and to provide oversight in CSU arbitration cases with faculty.Also named as defendants is the CSU Board of Trustees and two of Reed's deputies: Gail Brooks, the interim vice chancellor of human resources; and Maria Santos, director of campus relations and dispute resolution. "We don't litigate matters in the press, so we're not commenting on any lawsuit related to personnel," Claudia Keith, the CSU assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, said Thursday.The lawsuit says that Verellen received positive job performance ratings from 2003 to 2006. Then, it alleges, four days after Verellen filed a complaint under the California Whistleblower Protection Act last September his supervisor told him that he had "numerous performance problems." Six months later, following more criticisms of his job performance, Verellen was fired, the suit claims. Los Angeles TimesSchwarzenegger punishes Southern CaliforniaThe governor dealt the region a triple whammy by rejecting a fee on cargo containers...Editorialhttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-ports4-2008oct04,0,5190216,print.storyOf all the bills passed in 2008 by the Legislature, the one that might have had the biggest positive effect on the lives of Southern Californians was vetoed this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. With a slash of his pen, the governor simultaneously damaged the region's economy, choked its roadways and ensured that thousands more people will die annually because of the pollution associated with moving goods to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.The bill was SB 974, which would have imposed a $60 fee on each cargo container passing through the ports and spent the money on clean-air measures and infrastructure to help goods move faster and more efficiently -- for example, grade separations to prevent freight trains from blocking traffic at intersections where roads meet rails. Schwarzenegger had vetoed a similar bill from Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) in 2006, but Lowenthal retooled it to overcome objections from Southern California lawmakers and the governor. That still wasn't enough for Schwarzenegger.The governor's reasons for his veto were at best naive and at worst intentionally deceptive. He complained that the bill wouldn't have provided any money to clean the San Joaquin Valley's filthy air (it would have, by helping replace dirty trucks that pass through the valley with cleaner ones); that it didn't dedicate any money to improve roadways (which would have changed the nature of the container fee from a user fee to an illegal tax); and that projects like grade separations don't do anything to speed cargo and thus don't benefit the railroads and shippers that have to foot the bill (which is simply false).A frustrated Lowenthal says he won't submit another container-fee bill next year. That means if the local ports want to improve their infrastructure, they're going to have to do it themselves.The ports have already approved two separate container fees: a $70-per-container charge to replace pollution-spewing diesel trucks serving the ports with newer, cleaner models, and a $30-per-container fee to pay for infrastructure on port property. With the failure of Lowenthal's bill, that second fee should be doubled, with the money dedicated to improvements for off-port rail bottlenecks as far away as Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Such a fee would face legal challenges and would require cooperation among officeholders throughout the region. They should get busy: Efficient cargo networks are too important to this state's economy to be left to the whim of a misguided governor.'Dirty fuels' profit by bailout bill's tax breaks for renewable energyIncentives mean billions for coal and oil projects that increase emissions...Julie Carthttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-energy4-2008oct04,0,4249641,print.storyThe renewable-energy tax incentives tucked into the financial bailout package passed by the House on Friday include billions of dollars in breaks for old-fashioned fossil-fuel processes such as liquefying coal and squeezing petroleum out of sand and rock.These "dirty fuels" are making a tentative comeback among policymakers. Such ventures are aimed at "unconventional" deposits once deemed too expensive or technologically difficult to tap. Backers of the tax breaks believe the substantial incentives might boost these technologies and spur invention of new ones."We feel good about the outcome here, in terms of the government supporting our requirements," said Larry Winter, vice president of Oil Shale Producing Exploration Co., which operates an experimental project in Utah's Uintah Basin. "As we start to expand our project, we will be looking to build our own refinery. That requires a very large capital investment that requires long-term paybacks. Without government support, they are potentially a nonstarter."Critics of the measures note that the breaks run counter to the carbon-reduction message Congress intended when it vowed to bankroll clean, renewable technology. And a substantial portion of the tax breaks go to energy companies already flush with record oil profits."This is deeply offensive that they would attach this massive lobby goodie bag to a bill," said Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen, a Washington-based public interest organization. "This is a gravy train. The American people are suffering here, and oil companies are getting a tax break. Not even clean energy. This is not a way to make laws. This is not even a way to make sausage."The provisions are found in the complicated tax-extenders legislation tacked on by the Senate after the House rejected the original bailout package. Although House members were adamant that the overall tax provisions remain revenue-neutral, the add-ons will cost taxpayers more than $100 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.Managers in the Senate said the energy provisions were needed to make the bailout more palatable to some Western members.Energy companies say oil prices that exceed $100 a barrel make extracting some of these nonconventional fossil fuels profitable.A recent report by the Air Force put the cost of building a coal gasification plant at $6 billion or more."They are not going to build those because of the massive capital costs," Slocum said. "This will encourage an industry where no one wants to invest -- for a reason. The question is, should taxpayers' money be used to shovel subsidies for coal?"Converting solid coal into a liquid transportation fuel, an industry that does not exist in the United States, could nearly double the global warming effects of the fuel and increase air and water pollution associated with coal mining, according to some scientific estimates. The bill extends production credits for coal gasification plants and includes the end product, aviation fuel, in the alternative fuel category.The coal investment credit will cost $389 million next year, the CBO said.Oil shale and tar sands processing are decades-old technologies that have endured drastic boom and bust cycles. Both involve heating sand and hard rock to draw out fossil fuels. Neither has reached commercial production in the United States. Processing oil shale, which is abundant in parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, requires large amounts of water and energy to create a product that must then be refined.The bailout package includes a 50% tax write-off on refinery construction, which would assist the oil shale and tar sands industries. The next refinery expected to come on line is the Hyperion Resources Inc. plant in Elk Point, S.D., which would be the first built in the Untied States since 1976, excluding expansions. The facility, which could cost $10 billion, is intended to refine crude oil extracted from tar sands pits in Canada's Alberta province.The breaks for refineries are expected to cost $72 million, but, said Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "they are the best guesses from the Congressional Budget Office. There are no industries to use as an economic model." $10.1-trillion national debt? Let's cut taxes!Even when trying to save the economy, Congress can't resist its pork addiction...David Lazarus, Consumer Confidentialhttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus5-2008oct05,0,3017147,print.columnEven before the current financial crisis, a federal budget deficit of nearly $500 billion was projected for next year. Now an additional $700 billion has been committed to bailing out Wall Street, not to mention as much as $200 billion for mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.So what do our friends in Washington do? They cut taxes to the tune of about $110 billion for everyone from companies that make wooden arrows for kids to Caribbean rum distillers.Yeah, I get it: Those profiles in courage running Congress couldn't find the political backbone to do the right thing for the country unless they sweetened the deal with a bunch of pork-barrel gimmes for their constituents.But these bozos took a lousy situation and made it exponentially worse by running up the nation's credit card bill at a time when fiscal prudence is the order of the day.Not only have taxpayers been made responsible for the excesses of big banks. Our kids and grandkids will now be on the hook for trillions of dollars in debt that we owe the Japanese, the Chinese and a number of less savory lenders."The national debt is like a fat guy in a small boat," said Robert E. Wright, an economics professor at New York University and author of "One Nation Under Debt: Hamilton, Jefferson and the History of What We Owe.""The more debt you load on, the closer to the water line you get. Pretty soon, it takes only a small wave to sink you."Thanks to the bailout bill approved by the House and Senate last week, the nation's borrowing limit has been raised to $11.3 trillion from $10.6 trillion. As of Friday, the national debt stood at $10.1 trillion -- about $33,500 owed by every man, woman and child.To put some perspective on how out of control our borrowing has become, it took the country about 200 years to run up its first trillion dollars in debt. Then President Reagan took office in 1981 and the national debt started to soar, quadrupling to $4 trillion by the time the first President Bush exited the White House.Under President Clinton, the national debt grew to $5.7 trillion, and has since nearly doubled on Bush Jr.'s watch.Put another way, the country's debt load represented just a third of gross domestic product when Reagan arrived in Washington. By the time Bush gallops back to Texas in January, our debt will represent about 70% of the overall economy.What does that mean for you? It means the prospect of higher taxes, higher interest rates, a weaker dollar and commensurate difficulties for employers -- i.e. fewer jobs -- as future generations of Americans wrestle with paying the debt down."The termites are already in the woodwork," said Andrew Yarrow, vice president of the think tank Public Agenda and author of "Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility.""The sky isn't falling yet," he said. "But the growth of debt is eroding our economic well-being."About a quarter of our debt is owed to foreign countries, with Japan and China topping the list at $593 billion and $519 billion, respectively, according to the latest U.S. Treasury figures.Other creditors include Russia, Venezuela, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Nigeria.With our borrowing at such an extreme level, the tax cuts accompanying the bailout package appear all the more reckless.Many people may look at tax credits for alternative energy and commuting by bicycle as an investment in energy independence.But a tax credit for American Samoan businesses? A tax credit for employing people from Indian reservations? A tax credit for racetrack owners? A tax credit for shooting movies in the United States? These were all included in the bill.About half the $110 billion in tax cuts will go toward shielding millions of middle-class families from the alternative minimum tax, a levy intended for rich people but now reaching lower on the economic food chain because it's not adjusted for inflation.Congress has been "patching" the AMT for years but has been reluctant to do away with the dysfunctional tax. Why? Because getting rid of it would increase the government's projected budget shortfall by about $1 trillion over the next decade, and nobody wants to think about what that would do to the nation's books.Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri and president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends, said the government's commitment to big spending and low taxes has placed us on the road to ruin."No government in history has operated this way," he said. "Every government that's tried this has gone bankrupt."We aren't there yet -- not even close. But the trend is clear, and the fix will grow increasingly expensive with each passing year. Imagine if you kept running up your credit card bill with no plan for paying it down.At some point, you'd be in a heap of trouble.President Herbert Hoover famously quipped about 80 years ago: "Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt."It wasn't funny then. It's downright scary now.Washington PostEPA Makes No Rule On Chemical in WaterPerchlorate Levels Deemed Acceptable...Juliet Eilperinhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/03/AR2008100303280_pf.html The Environmental Protection Agency formally refused yesterday to set a drinking-water safety standard for perchlorate, a chemical in rocket fuel that has been linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women, newborns and young children.With little fanfare, the agency issued a news release yesterday afternoon saying that it had "conducted extensive review of scientific data related to the health effects of exposure to perchlorate from drinking water and other sources and found that in more than 99 percent of public drinking water systems, perchlorate was not at levels of public health concern. Therefore, based on the Safe Water Drinking Act criteria, the agency determined there is not a 'meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction' through a national drinking water regulation."Last month, The Washington Post reported that White House officials had extensively edited the EPA's perchlorate rule-making documentation to remove scientific data highlighting some of the risks associated with the chemical, which has been found in water in 35 states. The Defense Department and Pentagon contractors who face legal liability stemming from rocket fuel contamination have lobbied for six years to avoid a federal drinking-water standard for perchlorate.In the document released yesterday, the EPA assumes that the maximum safe perchlorate contamination level is 15 times higher than what the agency suggested in 2002.By that standard, the EPA estimates that more than 16 million Americans are exposed to the chemical at a level that is unsafe.Congressional Democrats and environmentalists blasted the administration's decision."Once again on a Friday, when nobody is paying attention, the Bush administration announces a policy that will harm the American people," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement."The Bush EPA's failure to set a standard for perchlorate, a dangerous contaminant found in drinking water, is outrageous, and I will do everything in my power to reverse it. Perchlorate contamination endangers the health of our families, especially pregnant women and children, and to simply allow it to remain in our drinking water is immoral," Boxer said.The EPA statement said that its regulatory determination will be open for public comment for 30 days and that once the rule is final, the agency will issue a health advisory to guide state and local officials.Only two states -- Massachusetts and California -- set limits on the allowable amount of perchlorate in drinking water, both at levels far below what the EPA deemed permissible."States have the right to establish and enforce drinking water standards, and EPA encourages state-specific situations to be addressed at the local level," the agency document read.The environmental law firm Earthjustice said it will file suit in federal court on behalf of several environmental organizations to try to overturn the decision."EPA's decision has industry's fingerprints all over it," said Earthjustice attorney George Torgun. "Weapons makers will benefit at the expense of millions of Americans drinking water spiked with rocket fuel."Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin did not comment on the ruling's substance but wrote in an e-mail: "This decision is not needed by DoD to undertake a cleanup, as we use EPA's established health risk assessment to conduct our clean-up decisions. DoD has, in fact, been cleaning up perchlorate from military facilities for ten years now."CNN MoneyWells Fargo Swoops In...ERIC DASH and BEN WHITEhttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/business/04bank.html?ref=businessThe bold gambit that could reorder American banking began with the chirp of a cellphone in Charlotte, N.C. It was just after 9 p.m. on Thursday, and Robert K. Steel, the chief executive of the Wachovia Corporation, listened to startling news on his phone as he stepped off a plane from New York: Wells Fargo & Company was plotting to wrest his stricken bank from Citigroup. Only four days earlier, assisted by federal regulators, Mr. Steel had agreed to sell Wachovia to Citigroup for a fire-sale $1 a share. Wells Fargo had walked away, and Richard M. Kovacevich, its chairman, had called to wish Mr. Steel good luck.But now Mr. Kovacevich was on the line with a far sweeter deal, one worth about $15 billion — seven times what Citigroup was offering. The call set in motion another game of brinkmanship in a year of extraordinary Wall Street showdowns. At stake is the control of one of the nation’s largest retail banking businesses — a prize that will transform the winner into one of the few giants to emerge from the wreckage of the industry. For Wells Fargo, which is based in San Francisco, Wachovia would expand its reach across the nation. Citigroup, which is based in New York, wants the bank for its large retail operations. The battle has also drawn in federal regulators, who had pushed the teetering Wachovia into the arms of Citigroup but are now seeking to limit taxpayer exposure. The reversal might make it more difficult for the government to broker future rescues. Citigroup is weighing a lawsuit that would claim a breach of contract. The cast of characters include some of the most powerful executives in the industry: Vikram S. Pandit at Citigroup; Mr. Steel, a former confidant of Henry M. Paulson Jr. at both the Treasury and Goldman Sachs; and Mr. Kovacevich, a legendary banker and former Citigroup executive who, until now, has largely shunned the empire-building practiced by his rivals. In the wings is Warren E. Buffett, the largest shareholder of Wells Fargo, who has emerged as the go-to financier for several prominent companies that have come under siege during the credit crisis. For Mr. Steel, the latest chapter began on Thursday night with the call from Mr. Kovacevich, who told him to consider the new offer or he would go public with it on Friday morning. About 10 minutes later, Mr. Steel’s BlackBerry buzzed. It was a merger proposal from Wells Fargo, bearing the approval of that bank’s board.Wachovia executives were stunned. They had not heard from Wells for days, and had been working nonstop alongside Citigroup bankers to close the deal and discuss operational details. Mr. Steel called one of his Wall Street advisers, who was at home watching the vice presidential debate. “Fasten your seat belt,” Mr. Steel told him.At about 11:30 p.m., Mr. Steel convened an emergency meeting of Wachovia’s board, where he described the new offer and a serious potential roadblock. Accepting might involve breaking an agreement with Citigroup that appeared to block a rival bid. After two hours of debate, the board concluded that Wells Fargo’s offer was too good to pass up. Wells Fargo was offering to buy all of Wachovia, whereas Citigroup had proposed buying only part of it. Also, Wells, unlike Citigroup, was not seeking government support. And then there was the money. The board voted in favor of the offer, and, at approximately 2:15 a.m., Mr. Steel placed an awkward call to Mr. Pandit at Citigroup. The deal, he told him, was off.Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Pandit alerted his lawyers and top lieutenants and summoned them to prepare for battle. They met at the law offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell. Groggy, one Citigroup executive forgot his corporate ID card. In the early hours of Friday morning, Wachovia executives learned that Sheila C. Bair, the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had pressed for the Citigroup deal, would not stand in the way of the new agreement with Wells Fargo, as it would involve no risk to taxpayers. “Neither Chairman Bair nor any person at the F.D.I.C. in any way initiated or solicited this bid from Wells Fargo,” an F.D.I.C. spokesman said on Friday. “When asked for our views, we said that we would not object” because the agency does not have the authority. Other federal regulators said that they would not block Well Fargo’s offer while they reviewed the proposal. By Friday morning the F.D.I.C. said it stood behind the original deal with Citigroup. Bankers working on the deal were mystified by the statement, and said they had assumed the government would ultimately back a deal that did not involve public money. News of the deal reached Wall Street trading desks at 7 a.m. A few hours later, Wells Fargo went public with its offer. Citigroup, its stock sinking, quickly fired back. The Wells-Wachovia deal is “in clear breach” of an exclusivity agreement between Citigroup and Wachovia, Citigroup said. Citigroup claimed it had been irreparably harmed and demanded that Wachovia and Wells Fargo halt their proposed transaction. Mr. Kovacevich told investors in a conference call Friday morning that he was confident the deal would go through. “We think this deal is solid,” he said. When an analyst asked Mr. Steel if he could discuss whether Wachovia had a binding agreement with Citigroup, he replied with one word: No. But Mr. Buffett, in an interview on CNBC, endorsed the Wells Fargo bid on Friday afternoon, calling it superior to Citigroup’s offer. Well Fargo’s reversal came after a little-noticed move on Tuesday by the Internal Revenue Service, which restored tax breaks for banks that take big losses on bad loans inherited through acquisitions. The rule had been viewed as a impediment to bank consolidation. With Wachovia, Wells Fargo estimates that it will absorb about $74 billion in losses. The marketplace passed swift judgment on Friday. As its hold on Wachovia appeared to slip away, Citigroup stumbled in the stock market. Its shares fell nearly 18.5 percent, while shares of Wells Fargo slipped just 1.7 percent. Wachovia was the big winner. Its shares soared nearly 59 percent. Citi plays the heavyThe bank wants to scotch the investor-funded Wells-Wachovia deal that aims to supplant its own version, backed by taxpayers. Good luck with that...Colin Barrhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/03/news/citi.bailout.heavy.fortune/index.htmNEW YORK (Fortune) -- Leave it to Citi to play the heavy in the bailout drama. Just five days after agreeing to buy faltering Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) in a deal featuring government backing, Citi (C, Fortune 500) is now threatening to derail a rival deal - one that promises not to cost taxpayers a dime. In a week that has been consumed by the debate over how badly taxpayers will get soaked by a $700 billion plan to support the financial system, good luck to Citi in selling that argument on Main Street. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) stunned investors Friday by announcing a plan to buy Wachovia for $7 a share in stock, or $15 billion. The deal will give Wells a national banking franchise and more than double its U.S. deposit base - a key consideration at a time when the cost of getting funds in the market has grown exorbitant. Assuming the deal goes through, Wells will find itself the second-biggest U.S. bank by deposits. "Government actions have impaired markets from short-term interbank debt to long-term bank debt to preferred stock," analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote Friday. "This has sparked a new risk for banks: liquidity. With debt markets largely closed, a war for deposits is underway." Who pays the tab?But with Washington all aflutter over the Troubled Asset Recovery Program, the Wells-Wachovia proposal stands out less for changing the dynamics of the deposit war than for its favorable profile for taxpayers. "This deal enables us to keep Wachovia intact and preserve the value of an integrated company, without government support," Wachovia chief Robert Steel said in a press release Friday. The deal Citi announced Monday, by contrast, could have ended with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. backing as much as $270 billion worth of Wachovia deposits. It was unlikely that taxpayers would have footed a big tab in a Citi-Wachovia deal, because Citi had agreed to take $30 billion of losses on Wachovia's troubled mortgage portfolios when the deal closed later this year, and to take as much as $4 billion in additional Wachovia portfolio losses annually for each of the next three years. What's more, Citi had agreed to issue $12 billion in preferred shares to compensate the FDIC for the risk of losses on the Wachovia portfolios. So taxpayers would have ended up on the hook only if the losses tied to Wachovia's bubble-era lending excesses - the lion's share of which were brought aboard in the bank's 2006 acquisition of California's Golden West Financial, the adjustable-rate mortgage lender - surpassed $42 billion. Still, with legislators having spent the week talking till they were blue in the face about the possible costs of the TARP, the prospect of a deal in which there will be no government subsidy will surely appeal to taxpayers. It's not clear that this point of view resonates with Citi, which was busy Friday defending its legal rights. "Citi has demanded that Wachovia and Wells Fargo terminate and not proceed with any proposed transaction, any conduct in furtherance thereof, or any other act in violation of the Exclusivity Agreement," Citi said in a statement Friday morning. "Citi has substantial legal rights regarding Wachovia and this transaction." Wells said in its conference call on Friday that it wasn't aware of any agreement that would give Citi such rights. A Citi representative didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Friday. Meanwhile, the FDIC said it stood behind the Citi-Wachovia deal but added it would "pursue a resolution that serves the public interest." Citi's next moveIn the event the Citi-Wachovia deal does collapse - Wachovia said the transaction was still in a state of negotiation as of Thursday night - analysts expect that Citi will have other opportunities to expand its deposit base. That's a key consideration: Citi shares dropped 9% in midday action Friday, wiping out the gains the stock had made earlier this week as investors applauded the bank's apparent success in expanding its deposit base on the cheap. But let's not forget why Congress has spent the past week trying to pass a bill to provide relief to the financial sector. "I think there will be other FDIC-assisted opportunities for Citi going forward," says Frank Barkocy, director of research with Mendon Capital Advisors, a money management firm that specializes in financial stocks and owns shares in both Citi and Wells Fargo. "Citi is not going to run away and hide. They will look opportunistically for a situation that is priced correctly and gives them expansion opportunities similar to what they would have had with Wachovia."