10-8-08Merced Sun-StarCourt to make public-land decisionEnvironmental groups want more freedom to challenge management...MICHAEL DOYLE, Sun-Star Washington Bureauhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/488254.htmlWASHINGTON -- A well-seasoned Sequoia National Forest logging dispute comes to a boil Wednesday, as the Supreme Court considers when activists can challenge the management of federal lands.In one of the year's most anticipated environmental cases, the court could either narrow or expand the public's power over the Forest Service. Consequently, everyone from homebuilders to California Attorney General Jerry Brown is weighing in."This case is about the most significant environmental policy issue to be heard by the Supreme Court in a long time," Kernville resident Ara Marderosian declared Tuesday.Marderosian is executive director of Sequoia ForestKeeper, one of several environmental groups clashing with the Forest Service over Sierra Nevada land management.The environmentalists, joined by the state of California, complain that the Bush administration shields public land decisions from oversight. Through the case called Summers v. Earth Island Institute, they are challenging rules that exempt certain Forest Service decisions from standard public comment and administrative appeal procedures."These (Forest Service) rules ... have worked to foreclose all public review, comment and appeal of certain timber sales and logging projects," Brown declared in a legal brief.But while Brown denounced the Bush administration for trying to "radically alter" legal rules, farmers, loggers and homebuilders are urging the high court to insulate some public land decisions from broad attack."Our members invest substantial resources to plan for, and comply with, a known set of regulations," the California Forestry Association noted. "When non-regulated third parties challenge those regulations ... (and) prevail, district courts too frequently issue nationwide injunctions against the rule."The Sacramento-based forestry group joined the National Association of Home Builders, the American Farm Bureau Federation and others in a friend-of-the-court brief, one of five filed in Summers v. Earth Island Institute.Livingston council delays plan voteResidents and representatives clash over how to allow for town's growth...JONAH OWEN LAMBhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/488257.htmlLIVINGSTON -- In what has become a planning saga, Livingston's City Council unanimously postponed voting on aspects of a controversial master plan that projects the city's population will grow by more than 100,000 in the next 20 years. The council extended any decision on the matter until its next meeting on Oct. 21.More than 40 people filled the council chambers on Tuesday night to hear a presentation on a revised environmental impact report for its draft master plan. If passed, the plan will act as the city's guide for future development over the coming decades.The rowdy meeting included two letter-wielding lawyers representing local landowners, a representative of the county and even a local resident reading a poem. Nine people spoke to the council during the period for comment and all either opposed the city's draft master plan and its revised EIR or were skeptical.Gerry Martin, who owns land outside Livingston, seemed to encapsulate much of the speakers' opposition. She said the plan has "unrealistic goals and flawed conception."Frank Borges, who spoke on behalf of Michael Gallo, said the plan was overly optimistic concerning future growth."We obviously do not concur with the population projection," said Borges.Merced County's representative at the meeting, Robert E. Smith of the Department of Public Works, said the city's revised EIR was at odds with the county on agriculture land use as well as local road plans."The current city plan is not consistent with objectives of the county's plan," he said.Attorney Richard Harriman who represents the Arakelian family, local land owners, said it was the city manager, Richard Warne, and his intransigent attitude that lay at the root of the acrimony. At least two city council members refused to see the situation as black or white.Councilman Roy Soria said that the master plan can always be changed. "It's just a plan; it's not set in stone," he said. Councilman Rodrigo Espinoza agreed. Mayor Pro Tem William Ingram and councilman Frank Vierra said they thought the matter should be further investigated before any decisions are made.Before the council's unanimous vote on the matter, Mayor Gurpal Samra directed city manager Warne to confer with the county about its concerns with the plan by the next council meeting.The saga continues.He builds his own feedbackJohn Price switched from dairy to owning contracting business...JONAH OWEN LAMBhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/488250.htmlJohn Price is a big man who looks as if he belongs outside, swinging a hammer or milking a cow. And for most of his 53 years he has been outdoors, first as a dairyman in Le Grand, then as a contractor. Though his large hands are still callused, most of his days now are spent in front of a computer in his Merced office beside his wife, Ellen.Since 1991 he has been raising houses, remodeling kitchens and building banks and commercial space across the county.But like any businessman this dairyman-turned-contractor has to nimbly maneuver his company, Artisan Construction & Design, through the good times and the bad. As one of Merced County's 451 general contractors, Price must balance both small residential projects and larger commercial jobs to stay afloat... Since incorporating in 1999, Price has ratcheted up the kinds of jobs his company works on. For example, Artisan is now working on a contract for UC Merced on its new Social Science and Management Building, a project which will last until 2010. With his move to larger and more sophisticated projects, Artisan has been recognized with a shelf full of awards for its craftsmanship. The 2002 Chrysalis Award for the State of California Remodeler of the year in just one in a long list of honors given Price's company.But awards or no, Artisan hasn't been immune to recent economic forces. In September alone, according to California Builder and Engineer, an industry magazine, residential building permits were down more than 4 percent in California since the same period in 2007. As for Artisan, it did $1.9 million worth of business last year, far from small change, but Price had to reduce his work force from 10 in 2007 to half that today.While he still has work, business has slowed. "You've got to react to what the market is doing," he said. Price had previously done a lot of work for local credit unions and County Bank, but now that part of his business is, because of the credit crunch and foreclosures, slowing down. "We've scaled back like everybody else."An unseen part of the slowdown, said Price, has been increased competition. The builders who used to only work new houses are moving into the remodeling business. "Competition tripled," said Price after the building industry slowed. Price says for a business like his with a lot of overhead and full-time employees, it's hard to compete against smaller operations. When smaller companies bid for work they have less to deal with. And then there are all the guys who work without a license.Maybe those cows so many years back don't look quite so bad today.Modesto BeeStanislaus' growth pact leaves some chagrined...Garth Stapleyhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/455815.htmlMost leaders in the San Joaquin Valley have approved regional planning cooperation pacts, pledging more compact growth with less pollution.But reluctant officials throughout Stanislaus County have equated the regional blueprint process with bullying by state government. Their draft pact up for a vote tonight, already several months late, essentially represents the status quo.Stanislaus' foot-dragging ultimately could harm the valley's seven other counties, some officials say."Overall, on a valleywide basis, we're making great strides," said Marjie Kirn, who coordinates the eight-county effort from the Merced County Association of Governments. "But if Stanislaus doesn't step up, it may hurt that effort."The watered-down scenario going before the Stanislaus Council of Governments tonight would "fall far short of standards called for" by state law, said David Hosley, president of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center."There seems to be a tremendous amount of distrust (in Stanislaus County) of motives of the state in wanting a regional vision for land use," Hosley said.Six counties -- Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Kern and Tulare -- this year overcame differences among their cities to produce countywide growth scenarios. All call for higher living density, a change from the valley's historic pattern of about 91 percent single-family houses.Fresno County's scenario sees three of every four new units in higher-density duplexes and apartments along transportation routes. Fewer reasons to drive should translate into less pollution and climate change, the theory goes.That's what state officials want, reflected in a law recently signed by Gov. Schwarzen- egger, a landmark attempt at addressing climate change with new rules for development. Senate Bill 375 would direct transportation money to sprawl-curbing projects.Not eager, but compliantOther valley counties were less enthusiastic, but still compliant. Madera County, for example, approved a scenario with duplexes and apartments representing only one in five new units. That's far less than Fresno County, but more than the historic pattern of less than one in 10.Officials with StanCOG, however, balked at a draft plan calling for 27 percent medium- and high-density units, a "moderate growth scenario" preferred by a majority of people attending 14 community meetings over the summer. StanCOG is a policy board made up of representatives from the Board of Supervisors and the county's nine cities.In the past month, leaders from the county and its nine cities met individually on the matter. City councils in Newman, Riverbank and Waterford affirmed the moderate-growth plan, but those in Modesto, Turlock, Oakdale, Patterson and Hughson deferred acting until after tonight's StanCOG vote.Ceres officials rejected the moderate-growth scenario, saying their general plan provisions should suffice. What started as talk of a concep- tual plan has morphed into unreasonable demands to satisfy the state's climate-change legislation, Mayor Anthony Cannella said."Frankly, I find that offensive," he said. "What was supposed to be a carrot has now become a stick."County supervisors last week said they will come up with another proposal based less on housing options and more on other contributors to greenhouse gas emissions."The blueprint thing is the biggest bunch of nonsense I've seen," Supervisor Jim DeMartini said last week. "It's nothing more than a state takeover of local (planning authority)."Adding more spice to tonight's meeting is a scheduled presentation on SB 375 by its chief consultant, Bill Craven. Supervisor Jeff Grover, at a meeting Tuesday, said Craven is coming to "school us." Scoffed DeMartini, "Spin us might be a better term."With no consensus among agencies throughout Stanislaus County, StanCOG senior planner Lark Downs cobbled a draft pact for tonight's meeting, relying on individual general plans.But a study unveiled last week says the valley would not meet new state standards if left to existing general plan policies, a University of California at Davis expert concluded.Also late to the regional- cooperation party is San Joaquin County, where planning leaders reviewed but did not approve an incre- mental-change scenario in September. They, too, "expressed concern with respect to the state's intent," said Dana Cowell, deputy director of the San Joaquin Council of Governments. It's too early to say whether the item will be treated this month or next, he said.Kirn, who is spearheading the valley's blueprint, said some officials may balk at regional planning for fear of losing power over decisions such as approving stores, the sales tax of which brings money to local coffers. That means a lot at a time when agencies are struggling to balance budgets, to keep parks open and keep public safety officers on the street."Unfortunately, they're making poor decisions based on short-term financial benefits," Kirn said.StanCOG's policy board will meet today at 6 p.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.Theft, costs, water, regulations all squeezing farmers...MARCIA BOERhttp://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/story/455807.htmlAnother farming squeeze is under way. Farmers are bombarded on all sides by regulations, water issues, vandalism, theft, decreased income and increased costs of production. The cry still is heard to "save the family farm," but realistically, is this an option?Some farmers will be able to take advantage of the growing "eat locally" movement. But in reality, when a person relies completely on farm income to survive, this "eat local," or "localvore" alternative doesn't use enough of the production to count.A farmer must have a market for his crop and have a reasonable expectation of receiving a price high enough to meet expenses and possibly make a profit. Some years this is possible, and some years farmers must just look ahead and hope for a better season next year.Theft and vandalism have been increasing dramatically with the downswing in the economy. Our law enforcement personnel have been overrun with cases. We need more officers and patrol units to try to keep some of this under control.In some locations, vandalism is a daily occurrence. Sprinkler systems in orchards are a prime target for brass thefts. Sprinkler heads and flush-out valves often disappear overnight, even several times a month. Wiring is stolen from pump stations. You would think the recycling centers would be suspicious of some of the items that are brought in, but this doesn't seem to be the case.Even with increased patrols, the methamphetamine epidemic will keep theft and vandalism on the upswing. Farms are easy targets because of the nature of the business. We have large parcels of land that are most often not fenced, and are easy to access for criminal types. Some farmers have fenced their properties, only to have the fencing material stolen. Often, no one is on a property for several days at a time.It seems like we have been watched and our habits are known to these people so they can time their destruction.I don't want to sound like I do not like my farming lifestyle. I actually love it. It is just getting harder and harder to keep a positive outlook when there are so many obstacles put in our way.A lot of older farmers have decided to sell their property based on the increased aggravation. If we are to save the "family farm," we should look at all of the issues and not let the environmentalists have a greater influence than the farmers. There has to be a balancing act between what is mandated by new regulations and what is actually doable in the field.Just some more "food for thought."Fresno BeeArizona Developer Agrees to Settle Clean Water Act Violations Along the Santa Cruz River...U.S. Department of Justicehttp://www.fresnobee.com/556/story/919592.htmlAn Arizona land developer and a contractor have agreed to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act for bulldozing, filling, and diverting approximately five miles of the Santa Cruz River, a major waterway in Arizona, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today. According to the settlement, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based developer George H. Johnson, his companies Johnson International, Inc.; and General Hunt Properties, Inc.; and land-clearing contractor, 3-F Contracting, Inc. will pay a combined $1.25 million civil penalty. The penalty is the largest obtained in the history of EPA's Pacific Southwest Region, and one of the largest in EPA's history, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which protects against the unauthorized filling of federally protected waterways through a permit program administered jointly by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The settlement resolves a Clean Water Act complaint filed in 2005 by the Justice Department and EPA against Johnson and his companies for clearing and filling an extensive stretch of the lower Santa Cruz River and a major tributary, the Los Robles Wash, without a permit from the Corps of Engineers. "A seven-figure penalty in this type of enforcement case is virtually unprecedented," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "It underscores the Justice Department's commitment to enforce the nation's laws that protect valuable water resources in Arizona and other arid western states, and to hold violators of those laws accountable." "The Santa Cruz River is a gem in Arizona's crown, as it flows from Arizona to Mexico back into Arizona, sustaining life, habitat for animals and plants, and providing so many benefits for residents of southern Arizona," said Alexis Strauss, director of EPA's Water Division for the Pacific Southwest Region. "This settlement reflects both the strong emphasis EPA places on protecting this important watershed and the seriousness of the alleged violations.""Today's action contributes to EPA's record-shattering enforcement results," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "To date, EPA has concluded enforcement actions requiring polluters to spend an estimated $11 billion on pollution controls, clean-up and environmental projects, an all time record for EPA. After these activities are completed, EPA expects annual pollution reductions of more than three billion pounds." The alleged violations occurred in 2003 and early 2004, when defendants bulldozed 2000 acres of the historic King Ranch and La Osa Ranch in Pinal County, Ariz. The bulldozed areas lie within the largest active floodplain of the lower Santa Cruz River, which meanders through the two ranches in natural braids, a rarity for this heavily channelized waterway. Prior to defendants' land-clearing activities, this stretch of the Santa Cruz River supported a rich variety of vegetation, including one of the few extensive mesquite forests remaining in Arizona's Sonoran Desert region. These areas form a critical corridor for wildlife to move along the Santa Cruz River and from Picacho Peak State Park to the Ironwood Forest National Monument. The case was referred to EPA by the Corps of Engineers after concerned citizens, tribes, and local, state and federal agencies complained about the serious flooding dangers and ecological impacts in connection with defendants' land-clearing activities. The Johnson defendants sold the ranches in 2004. The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval. A copy of the proposed consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. ALAN AUTRY: Governor's veto was right move for Valley...Alan Autry, mayor of Fresno.http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/wo/story/920401.htmlI have great appreciation for the air quality issues in California's port areas and great sympathy for the plight of residents who live near the ports. I am equally concerned about the plight of residents of the San Joaquin Valley who share with the South Coast the dubious distinction of having the worst air quality in the nation. We should really be working together to mitigate the impacts in both areas. That is precisely what we attempted to do in the case of SB 974.When representatives of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley met with Sen. Alan Lowenthal in June of 2007, his observation was that "SB 974 must address the plight of residents in the two most polluted air basins in the nation: the San Joaquin Valley and the south coast." That sentiment, however, was not matched with action. Representatives of the Valley met numerous times with members of Sen. Lowenthal's staff to offer suggestions of how this might be accomplished.While the meetings were always cordial, his staff consistently rebuffed suggestions that would result in tangible benefits for the Valley. Not a single suggestion was made by the senator's staff that would have resulted in benefits for the Valley. The movement of goods in California has a huge impact on air quality in the San Joaquin Valley. The simple fact is that imported cargo does not stay at the ports, and the San Joaquin Valley is the principal north-south corridor for moving these goods. Exports from the Valley make a major contribution to California's economy.SB 974 proposed to extract a $30 fee per 20-foot container from Valley exporters without any benefit to those exporters or to the Valley. It would simply have taken valuable resources away from the San Joaquin Valley to address our own air quality issues. The impact on Valley exporters is exacerbated by the fact that agriculture is the principal source of exports for the Valley and agricultural exports have lower value per container than most other exports.For example, a container of cotton has much lower market value than a container of iPods. A $60 fee on a 40-foot container of cotton can make the difference between winning a foreign sale and losing it to a competitor located in another country. With exports of cotton totaling approximately 150,000 containers per year, the fiscal impact of the proposed container fee on Valley cotton exporters would have been approximately $9 million annually. The Valley has very limited options for funding its urgent need for air quality mitigation. While the ports already collect fees that can be applied to air quality mitigation, the San Joaquin Valley has no such opportunity to collect fees.The Valley received less than half of what the South Coast received from the Proposition 1B Incentive Fund Program for air quality mitigation. Knowing that there is little likelihood that significant additional funding for air quality mitigation will become available from the state general fund, it is incumbent on all of us in elected positions in the Valley to continue to make the case that any new sources of revenue must include a fair share allocation for the Valley. For these reasons, I requested the governor veto SB 974.Sen. Lowenthal was quoted in a Long Beach newspaper as being "shocked" and stating "The governor is just wrong. He doesn't mention the thousands and thousands of people who are dying prematurely in Southern California." Well, I for one am not "shocked" and I believe the governor got it right. His veto is a statement that the health and lives of the Valley's residents are just as precious as Southern California's. The governor's decision was not about denying Southern Californians better air to breathe. It was about adhering to the principle that every child's lungs are important regardless of where they reside. He has shown extraordinary leadership by sticking to the belief that you can't move our state forward if you forsake the health needs of some of the poorest people in this nation, residents of the San Joaquin Valley. For the first time in decades, we have a governor who is willing to walk the walk when it comes to the Valley getting its fair share. His veto of SB 974 is a statement that the Valley deserves a seat at the table when millions of dollars of taxpayer money is being divvied up statewide.I would suggest that there is common ground to be found here. Representatives from the ports and the Valley should work to put forward a new bill that recognizes everyone's needs to reduce the health impacts of poor air quality on so many of our residents near the ports and in the San Joaquin Valley. Next up for Valley med schoolMedical students who train here will be more likely to practice here when they finish their schooling...Editorialhttp://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/920406.htmlPlanning for a new medical school based at UC Merced is entering a new phase, and this critical effort needs the support of the entire region, from elected officials to local hospitals to citizens of every sort. The Valley already faces a severe shortage of trained physicians, and a new medical school here would do wonders to help alleviate that shortfall. The University of California Board of Regents gave the go-ahead to continued planning back in May. Now a more intensive effort will commence, beginning with the appointment of Dr. Frederick A. Meyers of UC Davis, a distinguished cancer specialist and medical educator, to be the executive director of the planning effort.The university has also engaged a team of consultants, the Washington Advisory Group, to begin the process of identifying partners among the various medical organizations already here in the Valley. That's essential, because the new medical school will need resources from existing hospitals and other organizations -- including the UC San Francisco medical education program in Fresno -- to fill its faculty and offer opportunities for medical education programs. UC Merced is following a different model than traditional medical schools of the past. Instead of building one huge collection of classrooms, laboratories and lecture halls on the Merced campus, the school will bring students to UC Merced for the first two years of classes, then farm them out to hospitals around the Valley for their clinical training.In that fashion, students would have the benefits of working with many of the Valley's finest physicians, in person or by using teleconferencing and other technology. This will be a Valleywide effort, including hospitals and other agencies from Bakersfield to Stockton. The shortage of doctors in the Valley is growing acute. The shortage of specialists is an even greater concern: We have only 43 specialists for every 100,000 Valley residents, against a statewide average of 87. There are also far too few African-American, Latino, Asian and Native-American doctors. A Valley medical school must have a steady flow of trained and dedicated young people -- especially from this region -- to redress the shortages we face in cities and rural areas alike. Studies have shown that a very high percentage of medical students stay to practice in the areas where they got their education, and we sure need more of that around here.The idea of a medical school in the Valley has already won immense support from the communities up and down the region. As this process moves into a new stage, it's important not just to maintain that level of support, but to push it higher. We all stand to benefit from such an effort, for generations to come.Stockton RecordWal-Mart tries again in Lodi...Daniel Thigpenhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/A_NEWS/810080329/-1/A_NEWSLODI - It's not déjà vu.After a protracted legal battle and months of speculation, studies and relative quiet, Wal-Mart representatives today will be back in familiar and not always friendly territory: making a case for a bigger retail center in Lodi before city planners and protesters.The Supercenter project, approved three years ago but later shot down in court, calls for a 226,441-square-foot retail and grocery store at the southwest corner of Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane.A revived project has been on hold since the spring. As the retail giant slowed growth of its Supercenters across the country, Wal-Mart representatives said the worsening economy forced executives to evaluate whether to continue pursuing the Lodi project. The discount chain announced in August that it would proceed.Tonight, the Planning Commission will get a new look at the proposal. To gain approval, Wal-Mart and developer Darryl Browman must agree to dozens of conditions, among the most of any project to cross Lodi planners' desks, including:» Obtain conservation easements on 40 acres of farmland within 15 miles of the project.» Before a building permit is issued, do one of three things to make sure the nearby Kettleman Lane building that houses an existing Wal-Mart does not sit vacant indefinitely: Sign contracts with tenants for at least 50 percent of the building; sign a purchase agreement for the building with a retailer; or put money into escrow to pay for its demolition.» Within five years of obtaining a building permit, the developer must invest in Lodi's downtown. That can mean fixing up old buildings or paying a $680,000 fee the city can use to make upgrades or offer loans.Wal-Mart does not plan to contest any of those conditions, said Aaron Rios, a spokesman for the retailer. "At this point, we're just pleased to be in the public hearing," he said. "It is an extensive list, it has been a challenging process, but we're excited."Calaveras chips in funds for water...Dana M. Nicholshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/A_NEWS/810080317/-1/A_NEWSSAN ANDREAS - Among Modesto, Stockton, various irrigation districts and federally mandated programs to protect fish, users already try to consume more water than actually flows in the Stanislaus River.But representatives in the upstream counties of Tuolumne and Calaveras still worry they may lose water rights to thirsty downstreamers if they can't find a way to use more water. And they want to be eligible to get state funding, where possible, for water projects. So they will soon start work on a regional plan to use more Stanislaus water as well as water from the Tuolumne River.The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 Tuesday, with Supervisors Tom Tryon and Bill Claudino absent, to chip in $13,500 and participate in the Tuolumne-Stanislaus Integrated Resources Water Management Planning process. Calaveras County already is part of a similar planning process on the Mokelumne River.Edwin Pattison, water resources manager for the Calaveras County Water District, said state water regulators encourage local agencies to cooperate to make such regional water plans, and the state offers plenty of money to local governments that do so.Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water Bond Act approved by California voters in 2006, allocates $57million in such funding for the San Joaquin region, which includes Calaveras County. Local entities statewide can compete for an additional $100million pot of Proposition 84 funding, Pattison said in a written report to the Board of Supervisors.The money could be used for a wide variety of purposes, with state guidelines giving priority to those that improve water supply reliability, reduce pollution, help disadvantaged communities to have safe drinking water, and recharge depleted groundwater basins.State officials hope the creation of such regional plans will ease conflicts among various state, local and federal agencies.Still, at least one Calaveras official isn't entirely happy with the state pressuring local entities to create - and fund the creation of - such regional plans."It is another way for the state to put the cost on local governments," Supervisor Merita Callaway said of the $13,500 expenditure the board approved Tuesday.Pattison said CCWD and Tuolumne County also are chipping in $13,500 each toward the cost of creating the plan.Spanos drops council battleGeneral Plan campaign halted after letter issued...David Sidershttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/A_NEWS/810080333/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Developer A.G. Spanos Cos. abandoned its campaign Tuesday to block the City Council's deal with state Attorney General Jerry Brown and the Sierra Club over Stockton's General Plan, dropping its referendum bid in exchange for a written promise that the application of green building standards and other deal points would be as flexible as the city, Brown's office and environmentalists said it would be when they signed the deal last month.The clarification - contained in a letter from City Manager Gordon Palmer and reviewed by the council in a closed session Tuesday - reiterated that the crafting of environmental provisions called for in the General Plan settlement would involve public input and require only council consideration, not adoption, among other clarifying language.The letter's issuance followed private negotiations between the city and the Spanos-backed Alliance for Responsible Planning, the group formed to attempt the referendum. The alliance announced last week that it had collected 25,000 signatures in its bid to force a public vote on the deal, objecting in advertisements and mailers to what it claimed was a "secret deal" negotiated without public input.After two public hearings, the council voted Sept. 9 to settle its dispute with the Sierra Club and Brown over Stockton's growth-governing General Plan, agreeing to consider measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of new development on the environment. The Sierra Club had sued the city, claiming the General Plan's call for Stockton's population approximately to double by 2035 - with much of that growth in planned subdivisions at the city limits - would harm the environment, and Brown had threatened to join the club in court.Spanos' withdrawal of its opposition to the settlement ended the threat of a public vote on the matter and also a brief but bitter row between Spanos and City Hall.Councilman Clem Lee called Spanos' withdrawal of its referendum bid a "responsible and appropriate conciliation."And Councilwoman Susan Eggman said, "I'm glad this is done, and I think the public is glad this is done."Representatives of Brown and the Sierra Club concurred Tuesday with the clarifying letter. It made no substantive change to the deal, they said.David Nelson, an alliance spokesman and senior vice president of land development for Spanos, said Palmer's letter adequately addressed "our concern that the public had not had an opportunity to participate." He said, "I'm happy we were able to reach an accord."In a letter to the city Tuesday, Spanos reserved its right to challenge the implementation of measures called for in the deal.Councilman Steve Bestolarides, one of three council members to oppose the deal's adoption Sept. 9 - Bestolarides, Dan Chapman and Rebecca Nabors said at the time that the matter ought to have been deferred for additional review - said the council's vote that evening likely would have been unanimous had the clarifying language presented Tuesday been attached to it.Nabors said the clarification addressed community members who were concerned about the deal's interpretation.Still, she said of the letter's impact on the settlement, "I don't think we changed anything."Mountain House earns Delta vote$49.3 million will be spent on south campus...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/A_NEWS/810080324/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - The money goes to Mountain House.San Joaquin Delta College trustees agreed Tuesday to shovel $49.3million into the delayed and costly south county campus. That sum accounts for most of what's left of the Measure L bond approved by voters in 2004.Before Tuesday's meeting, $68.8million of the original $250million was still available. Trustees agreed to fund nine projects, including Mountain House, that will eat up that remaining money.However, they put a priority on Mountain House and the college's $13.3million proposal to expand the Shima building to accommodate its heavy-equipment programs.Other projects, such as $2.8million to buy land in Lodi, won't happen until officials are certain there's enough money left.College officials will look for land in Lodi even though the Mountain House and Shima projects take priority, Delta President Raul Rodriguez said.He said he's confident there will be enough money to fund all the projects approved by trustees Tuesday night.Still dissatisfied was Trustee Dan Parises, who represents the college's northern district. "I think you'll look back in history, and people will still be appalled that this board threw away $4million" that had been spent on a previous Lodi campus once proposed on Highway 12, he said."What the grand jury said was absolutely right, and after what they said, we went ahead and did it" again, he said.Parises was referring to a San Joaquin County grand jury report claiming trustees have wasted millions of dollars from the Measure L bond.Tuesday's vote was the last in a series of difficult choices for the board, which has seen the buying power of the bond dwindle due to inflation. Trustees were told earlier this year that most bond projects would cost more than originally estimated.The Mountain House campus approved by the board will be scaled down, with a permanent building of 55,000 square feet rather than the 89,000 square feet first proposed, as well as a dozen permanent portables. It would be finished sometime in 2012. In the meantime, classes will be held in portables.While some trustees say they now lament the choice to build in Mountain House instead of Tracy, Tuesday's vote was unanimous.Did Andal compromise principles?...Michael Fitzgeraldhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/A_NEWS0803/810080323/-1/A_NEWSDean Andal, a fiscal conservative running against 11th District Rep. Jerry McNerney, is airing TV ads denouncing unwise government spending.Save tax dollars: That is his mantra.His Web site boasts he saved California taxpayers more than $40million during his tenure on the Board of Equalization.Forty million dollars - coincidentally, that is roughly the amount of cost overruns of San Joaquin Delta College's Mountain House satellite campus, a financial boondoggle.Andal is project director for the Mountain House campus. He works for Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos.In July, smaller county papers linked Andal to alleged unethical conduct by Delta's board that supposedly cost Delta and taxpayers dearly. The story went national.That allegation is unproved, and the conclusions people drew are shaky at best. But then, it is not necessary to know the truth about that saga.It is enough to know that years of delays shrank the value of $250million in Delta's 2004 bond money until it will no longer pay for Delta's future.Delta's Mountain House campus is being scaled back. Other projects are kaput. It's a sorry outcome not only for Delta but for all locals who better their lives through education.Those responsible need not be guilty of shady conduct. They need only have caused delays during a time of sky-high inflation in the construction industry.Those who dragged out the Mountain House campus project, in other words, wreaked the exact opposite of fiscal responsibility. They wasted a ton of money.Some of the players:Delta President Raul Rodriguez: appears to have distrusted public/private partnerships and wanted to safeguard Delta legally every step of the way. The legal hoops he made Kamilos jump through, while understandable, caused costly delays.Delta's project consultants: made big errors. One failed to alert Delta it would have to pay Trimark, Mountain House's owner, $14.5million in traffic and utility fees. That obstacle halted Delta for a year.Delta's full board: waffled between offers from Kamilos and Tracy. This after voting 7-0 to buy the Mountain House site.The board's pro-Tracy minority: never accepted the will of the majority. They slowed progress any way they could to achieve a reconsideration of the Tracy site.Trimark: The mercenary owners ruthlessly forced Delta, a public institution, to pay developer fees as if Delta were a private company.Pro-Trimark supervisors: Delta could not afford those fees. Its leaders beseeched the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors for help. The supervisors did nothing.Andal and Kamilos: On the one hand, Kamilos bailed Delta out by offering to pay the developer fees. This generous gift was also in his interest, as the college added value to his Mountain House development.On the other hand, "Many months and possibly years were spent in protracted and difficult negotiations with the developer," Delta's full board wrote to the county grand jury."The delays certainly contributed to the loss of money, credibility and community support," the board lamented.Most of 2006, for instance, was spent waiting for Kamilos to produce a satisfactory letter of credit, the board wrote.That year alone probably saw $10million inflation in construction costs.Andal responded."I don't think I've been a party to any delay," he said. "My whole mission has been to speed that thing up. If they had moved faster, it would have been cheaper, and they would have had more. ... Unfortunately, not all my advice was accepted."A standard 50-acre high school costs $120million, Andal said. Delta promised to deliver a 108-acre college for half that."Now the fact that they misled the voters by telling them it was cheap has set up this problem."San Francisco ChroncileS.F. traffic noise risks health of 1 in 6...Rachel Gordonhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/08/MN4913D4MI.DTL&type=printable Noise from traffic is putting nearly 1 in 6 San Francisco residents at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses, city public health officials have found. The San Francisco Department of Public Health has ranked "highly annoyed" areas of the city - neighborhoods it says have noise so loud and so constant it could cause psychological and physical harm. "There are real health impacts," Tom Rivard, senior environmental health specialist for the Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.The assessment by the city and UC Berkeley researchers was based on population, traffic congestion, topography and decibel readings. Sophisticated three-dimensional maps pinpoint the noisiest areas of San Francisco, building by building, hour by hour. Traffic noise is loudest in the South of Market area but affects the most people in the densely populated Chinatown, Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhoods."Traffic," Rivard noted, "is the No. 1 contributor to the ambient noise level" in San Francisco.But the constant hum from congestion is just one of many sounds that environmental health researchers find troubling. They're also concerned about racket from such sources as sirens, trains and exhaust fans. Eventually, Rivard hopes to expand the department's model to include those noises to further highlight the problem and help shape building codes, land-use regulations and transportation policy. Noise - especially at night - can keep people awake, adding to their stress level. And that, in turn, can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and digestive problems, said Rivard, pointing to findings by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Sirens in the night...60-65 decibels is normal..The noise level of someone speaking in a normal voice measures between 60 and 65 decibels, Rivard said. Anything above that, he said, puts people at risk of noise-related health problems. Researchers found that a siren from a passing fire engine in San Francisco emits 106 decibels. An increase of just 3 decibels doubles the acoustical energy emitted, meaning that the noise difference between a siren and a normal conversation is immense.Rivard predicts that noise pollution will continue to affect more and more people, in part due to refashioned building codes...A new noise ordinance for San Francisco, sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano and winding its way through the approval process, calls for tighter noise controls and would make it easier for city officials to enforce the regulations. It also sets new standards for allowable noise levels.Hopes for ordinanceRivard hopes the ordinance, coupled with the new mapping system, will give officials the tools they need to creatively tackle the problem. That could mean the construction of sound walls, curtailed operating hours for noisy businesses, such as night clubs and restaurants, or requiring them to better muffle the noise they generate. It also could lead to measures to reduce traffic. Among the ideas: convert some one-way streets into two-way streets, improve transit to lure drivers out of their cars and restrict trucks on largely residential streets.High-speed rail bond financing is off track - Vote no on Prop. 1A...James R. Mills,Richard F. TolmachFormer Sen. James R. Mills was served on the Amtrak Board of Directors and the High Speed Rail Authority board. He is secretary of the California Rail Foundation, public benefit corporation that promotes increasing California's mobility by rail. Richard F. Tolmach is the president of CRF.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/08/EDB913D4MU.DTL&type=printable We all believe in attractive alternatives to driving, especially sleek electric trains designed in Europe, but the promises in Proposition 1A on the Nov. 4 ballot are simply too good to be true. Voters are being asked to approve nearly $10 billion in bonds (costing taxpayers about $20 billion when debt service is included) for a San Francisco to Anaheim project. The total cost is probably five to 10 times that amount, and the financial structure of the project remains a mystery even to Sacramento insiders.The California Rail Foundation has been a vocal advocate for high-speed rail, but this project frankly doesn't pass the smell test. In this year of global market meltdowns, voters should be cautious about a financially-leveraged proposal like Prop. 1A. The numbers don't add up and the High-speed Rail Authority refuses to explain how the system it proposes can be financed. The California Legislature, wanting answers to its financial questions, demanded that the rail authority present a business plan by Sept. 1, and wrote that mandate into the initiative. At its Oct. 1 meeting, rail authority staff complained about legislative pressure and indicated it would not comply. Lehman Bros., the rail authority's financial adviser, is apparently out of business and unavailable to write the business plan. How can taxpayers trust the rail authority with $20 billion, given this record?To promote the project, the rail authority made wild claims about ridership, energy and pollution benefits. It based its claims on a prediction that 117 million passengers will use this service annually, dwarfing the 29 million using Amtrak nationwide today. Amtrak's high-speed train, Acela, carries only 3 million annually.No European high-speed train comes close to the rail authority's claimed performance. France's best route, the TGV-Southeast had 17.5 million passengers in its 10th year of operation, and 12 million of those passengers used trains before high-speed service started. How could California trains instantly outperform European trains that link larger populations and benefit from superb transit connections? The rail authority claims that the project will have no operating deficit, but the legislative analyst says the operating cost would be about $1 billion annually, and suggests a portion of this cost would have to be subsidized. Where would the money for this subsidy come from? The danger is that it will come from draining state public transit funds that support existing bus and train networks.Millions of Californians, ourselves included, sincerely want high-speed rail. The problem is that a vote for Prop. 1A only guarantees billions of dollars will be spent. High-speed trains may never run, as the revenue bond is only a small fraction of the total amount required. The rail authority's idea is apparently to start a very big hole in the ground, then come back and ask for $30 billion to $70 billion more from taxpayers. Federal funding, following the Wall Street bailout, is as unlikely as private investment.Rather than digging California deeper into high-interest bond debt, we favor improving rail using the federal railroad infrastructure loan fund. It has $34 billion available, but does require project advocates to demonstrate that they can repay the loans from revenues. Prop. 1A has no such guarantees.Energy costs are causing us all to think more locally, and that is good. Few Californians have trouble getting from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Many have trouble getting from home to work. First priority for public spending should be to improve existing rail routes and highways, and help ease the chronic congestion that plagues commuters each day.Let's not get taken for a high-speed ride by the California High-Speed Rail Authority and its slick promoters. In today's tough economic times, the last thing we need is more debt for yet another badly conceived project. Join many rail supporters and vote no on Prop. 1A. Inside Bay AreaThousands of fish die in Alameda Creek...Matthew Artz, The Argushttp://www.insidebayarea.com/argus/localnews/ci_10663208FREMONT — Investigators on Tuesday were working to determine whether a leak from a sewage facility in Pleasanton might have caused a major fish kill in Alameda Creek.About 5,000 fish, primarily carp, sucker and sculpin, were found belly up Monday morning in a 150-acre-foot section of the creek spanning from just east of Mission Boulevard to a rubber dam about 1,200 feet to the west.Whatever killed the fish won't impact the local residents, who rely on the creek for some of their drinking water, said Steve Dennis, emergency services supervisor for he Alameda County Water District.The district sent crews farther upstream Tuesday to look for more pools of dead fish, but found none, Dennis added.Preliminary studies determined that the fish died from a lack of oxygen in the water, officials said. Tests results of water samples and dead fish to determine why oxygen levels were depleted are expected Friday from the state Department of Fish and Game.The water district has identified two potential causes for oxygen being stripped from the water.Runoff from the season's first storm Friday night could have included organic materials, such as animal waste, which suck up oxygen.Also, early Monday morning, a pipeline leak at a wastewater treatment plant in Pleasanton led to more than 100,000 gallons of treated sewer water getting released into waterways that flow into Alameda Creek, said Paul Piraino, the water district's general manager. The wastewater contained both high levels of chlorine and ammonia, as well as bacteria that could pull oxygen from the water, Dennis said.It is still unclear if the wastewater made it to Alameda Creek, and whether it could have caused the kill, Piraino said. The pool in which the fish died contains more than 48 million gallons of water.showed that oxygen levels have increased since Monday, but remain low, Dennis said.The kill is the area's largest in recent memory, water officials said... Mercury NewsReport: Delta policies should be revamped...Samantha Young, Associated Presshttp://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_5182584SACRAMENTO - Spending billions of dollars to shore up California's levee system will do little to safeguard the state's water supply and protect homes from flooding if the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is threatened by a huge earthquake, flooding or rising sea levels, according to a report released Wednesday. The study by the Public Policy Institute of California recommends that state water officials rethink how they manage the delta, a resource that provides drinking water to more than 25 million residents. Those management changes could include building a canal to divert fresh water around the delta or restricting water exports, the report said. "The current delta and the way we're managing the delta now is really unsustainable for almost all stakeholders," said Ellen Hanak, an economist at the institute. "Our levees are going to be increasingly unreliable. And it's our sense that even with the massive investments, that's not likely to change the sustainability of the system." Stretching from Sacramento to Antioch, the delta is the hub of the state's water system. But it also is home to threatened native species, farmland and a growing population. For the past 70 years, the state has regulated water flow in the delta through a system of fragile earthen levees, dams and pumps - one that is extremely vulnerable to collapse and carries a $40 billion price tag should it fail. "Something is going to happen in the delta whether we do something or not," said Jay Lund, a study co-author and a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of California-Davis. "We're looking for a way where we're not so vulnerable." The report comes after voters in November approved a $4.1 billion bond to strengthen levees and improve flood control. The amount is just a fraction of the money state officials have said is needed to adequately repair the region's levees. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall issued an executive order creating a task force to study the delta's myriad problems. Spokesman Bill Maile said the panel would review ideas such as the peripheral canal, which would route fresh water around the delta and into the aqueducts that send it south. "There is no question that much of what is identified by this study will help guide us in this process," Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman said. Co-author Richard Howitt, an economist at UC-Davis, said implementing the report's proposals could cost between $5 billion and $10 billion over the next 15 yearsSanta Cruz SentinelCounty says it will eliminate risk of cancer-causing chromium 6 in Davenport...Jennifer Squires http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10666226DAVENPORT -- Pacific Elementary School will be safe, county health officials told parents and other community members at a Tuesday night community meeting about chromium 6, a carcinogenic chemical agent believed to have come from the Cemex plant."That level of exposure is going to be eliminated. The air board and the county Health Department commit to that," said Poki Namkung of the county Public Health Department. "No one should be exposed to a carcinogen. We know that."High levels of the cancer-causing element were detected in the air at the school and the fire department this summer. The Cemex plant has since slowed operations and is conducting additional testing, including inside the school.County health officials, the head of Cemex, county Supervisor Neal Coonerty, a representative from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District and Dr. Bob Blaisdell, an expert in chromium 6 from the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, addressed questions from about 70 residents gathered at the meeting. Earlier in the day, county health officials, air-quality experts and Cemex representatives appeared before the county Board of Supervisors. About 20 residents attended that meeting.Asked about the chance of getting cancer, Blaisdell said exposure to Davenport's levels of chromium 6 for a lifetime leaves a chance of contracting cancer at 2 per 10,000 people. The most typical type of cancer caused by chromium 6 is lung cancer, which often takes a significant period of time to development, health officials said. Local officials are not planning to provide testing for the 400 residents of Davenport to determine if they have ingested chromium 6, not because of the cost, officials said, but because it's too early in the process to take that step. Although officials tried to assure residents that the cancer risk has not been significantly increased, concern remained. "I do feel like some of my questions were answered," said Holiday Smith, a North Coast resident who attended Pacific School as a child. But she said she thought some of the answers about the time line to resolve the issue were too vague."They are giving themselves an incredible amount of wiggle room," said Smith, whose mother, Sharon Smith, is the school principal.Will Forest, an epidemiologist with the county Health Department, told parents he wouldn't remove his children from Pacific School because of the air quality.Officials also said there were few things people could do to reduce their exposure. Blaisdell said kids should wash their hands after playing outside because chromium 6 bonds to particles and is more present on dusty days. Parents were told to keep their kids inside on those days, a notion the audience scoffed at."We live at the coast," one woman yelled.People were told there is little concern about chromium 6 contaminating the water or soil.Officials are awaiting the results of new air quality testing to determine if efforts by the cement plant, including reduced operations and eliminating the use of two materials with high levels of chromium 6, will have an effect on air quality.No decision has been made about what will be done if the levels of cancer-causing agents don't decline or stay the same, public officials said. "It's a hypothetical question," said Satish Sheth, head of Cemex manufacturing on the West Coast. "We are not saying that we're going to pull the plug on the very first day but we're also saying we're not going to go on." Residents wanted to know if the plant would be forced to close."We haven't not set a threshold a number where if they trip it, it's over," said Ed Kendig, with the Air Board. "I don't know what to say... the principle is it can't go on."Sheth said it will take the plant at least three weeks and possibly a few months to sell and move all of the contaminated product out of the company's silos, but said the company has employed more safety measures to reduce the amount of dust the operation produces. We all have the same goal here in reducing the risk," Cemex spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen said after the meeting. "I don't think there's anything surprising tonight. Parents have a right to be concerned. We're concerned, too." However, some Davenport residents thought Cemex officials were disingenuous. Brian McElroy, who's lived in town for 14 years and has children who've attended the school, said a decade ago the cement plant told residents the dust was safe. He wasn't surprised to hear last week that the dust could cause cancer."We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop for a long time," McElroy said.Cemex promises swift action to fix chromium problem, residents want medical tests...Shanna McCordhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10666207SANTA CRUZ -- County leaders want to make sure cement dust laced with chromium 6 doesn't leak from the Davenport Cemex factory, even if that means temporarily halting the loading of delivery trucks."We need to know at the highest levels of certainty that fugitive dust is not coming out of the plant," Supervisor Neal Coonerty, whose district includes the North Coast, said at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. "If moving product adds to the emissions, we need to stop the actions."Last week, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District reported that chromium 6 levels up to 10 times higher than allowed were detected in Davenport from June to August. They believe the cancer-causing chemical came from Cemex.Cemex officials, addressing the supervisors, outlined numerous steps they've identified to button up the cement-making process and eliminate further chromium emissions into the community, but stopped short of promising to stop truck deliveries.In the meantime, several Davenport residents called for the supervisors to swiftly solve the chromium problem by performing medical tests on residents and school children, and continuing to monitor the area's air, water and soil.Cemex officials, addressing the supervisors, outlined numerous steps they've identified to button up the cement-making process and eliminate further chromium emissions into the community, but stopped short of promising to stop truck deliveries.In the meantime, several Davenport residents called for the supervisors to swiftly solve the chromium problem by performing medical tests on residents and school children, and continuing to monitor the area's air, water and soil.The chromium 6 levels detected at the community's elementary school and fire department, both less than a half-mile south of the plant, are considered a risk to public health, Ed Kendig of the air district said. The risk of getting cancer is 102 cases in a million people based on continual exposure to the carcinogen for 70 years, Kendig said.Supervisors asked the air district, Cemex and county health officials to return in two weeks with detailed reports on actions they intend to use to correct the chromium 6 problem.Satish Sheth, head of Cemex manufacturing on the West Coast, has lived in Santa Cruz County and worked at the plant since the 1970s.In detailing the factory's action plan to control and eliminate chromium 6, Sheth said they want to be "a good neighbor and corporate citizen." Sheth said the plant will suspend the use of mill scale and steel slag -- the likely culprits contributing to the creation of chromium 6 -- when making cement in the future.Cemex will not use the mill scale and steel slag currently in inventory. They will try to send it back to vendors or possibly dispose of it in a certified landfill.We haven't decided what exactly we are going to do but we will not use it," Satish said.The cement plant has been operating on a limited basis -- it is not closed, as had been reported -- for more than a month because of lagging demand. When it starts again, Cemex will substitute mill scale and steel slag with nonchromium products such as iron, Sheth said.Cemex stores all of its cement in silos or other indoor storage, so the company believes the cement dust probably gets blown from delivery trucks, open doors and windows.Sheth said the company will inspect all buildings for leaks, double the size of its dust-cleaning crew, evaluate and repair all equipment as necessary, slow the pace of loading trucks with cement and ensure the product is sealed tightly in the trucks before leaving the facility."We take these safety precautions very seriously," Sheth said. "We hope to be part of this community for many more years."Davenport residents like Mary McCarthy asked supervisors to perform medical tests on the town's 400 residents and school children.McCarthy, who moved to the North Coast in 1999, said Cemex blows "white caps" of cement dust toward her house nearly every day, which now causes her great concern."The chromium 6 situation is so unbelievably horrible," she said. "We have children living right there. Are there going to be building restrictions? Are we going to be medically tested?"Pacific Elementary School Principal Sharon Smith said at least six children have stayed home since the chromium was detected and one child transferred out of thedistrict."We need to act as quickly as possible," Smith said. "We need to know if the soil is contaminated. We need to know if the water is contaminated."Steve Schneider of the county Environmental Health Agency said San Vicente and Mill creeks, the two waterways that provide drinking water to Davenport, were tested for chromium in August 2007, and both produced "nondetect" levels. More testing is under way, he said.Kendig of the air district said his agency, charged with overseeing air quality in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties, has never dealt with chromium 6 before the detection in Davenport.The district, he said, is looking to develop new permit rules and operating mandates for cement manufacturers.Bob Bowcock of Erin Brockovich's Los Angeles office attended Tuesday's supervisors meeting and spoke with several concerned residents.Bowcock, who also planned to visit Davenport, said he flew up for the day to learn more about the Cemex situation and provide information for residents. He said Brockovich, who inspired a hit movie in 2000 based on her work investigating chromium 6 in the water of Hinkley, hopes to host a community meeting in Davenport within the next couple of weeks.Monterey Herald5% of sage grouse habitat protected on US land...SCOTT SONNER Associated Press Writerhttp://www.montereyherald.com/state/ci_10668608?nclick_check=1RENO, Nev.—A new study by an environmental group that wants the sage grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species shows less than 5 percent of what's left of its dwindling habitat across the West is currently federally protected. The new assessment found four-fifths of the chicken-sized game bird's habitat is adversely affected by either livestock grazing, natural gas and oil development or invasive weeds. "Existing threats to sage grouse and their habitat are enormous," said a copy of the report by WildEarth Guardians obtained by The Associated Press. "Livestock grazing, natural gas and oil development, agricultural conversion, roads, fences, power lines and pipelines, off-road vehicle use, urban sprawl, mining, unnatural fire and invasive weeds are destroying or degrading much of what remains," the group said in the report being made public on Thursday. It singled out livestock grazing—permitted on 91 percent of the bird's range—as "the most ubiquitous use of sage grouse habitat on federal public land." Critics of the report, including the head of the Nevada Department of Wildlife and others who oppose federal listing of the bird, said the study places too much emphasis on grazing and drilling while ignoring other threats to the species such as drought and West Nile virus. "Some of the things they are saying are true, but it is an anti-grazing bent. The situation is way more complicated than what they are talking about here," NDOW Director Kenneth Mayer said. "West Nile and wildfires are the issue, not livestock grazing in my mind." The sage grouse is found in 11 Western states on sagebrush plains and high desert from Colorado to California and north to the Canadian border. Its population has been declining for decades and it now occupies about half of its original, year-round habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 2005 there were 100,000 to 500,000 sage grouse. Federal officials and private researchers have estimated that an ecosystem described as the sagebrush "steppe" covered anywhere from 150 million acres to 300 million acres of North America prior to white settlement. Of the 80.1 million acres remaining that have been identified as most important to the sage grouse, only 4.35 percent is currently reserved for conservation or related purposes, according to the new report by the conservation group that formed earlier this year with the merger of the Arizona-based Forest Guardians, the Colorado-based Sinapu and the Sagebrush Sea Campaign. "This illustrates and quantifies, we believe for the first time, that the sagebrush steppe is one of the least—if not the least—protected landscapes in the United States," said Mark Salvo, the group's director based in Chandler, Ariz. "And yet it is rapidly becoming one of the most industrialized of all the ecosystems in the U.S. That is why sage grouse, and frankly dozens if not hundreds of other fish and wildlife and plants in that ecosystem, are showing declining numbers," he said. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a petition in 2005 to add the bird to the list of threatened or endangered species. But a judge in Idaho overturned the decision last December amid allegations Interior Department managers interfered with the science used in assessing the sage grouse and dozens of other endangered species. State and federal wildlife officials have been assessing the status of the bird the past six months and USFWS is scheduled to issue a new listing decision in December. Assistant Interior Secretary Stephen Allred said earlier this year that more than 16 million acres has burned in the Great Basin since 1990, much of it sage grouse habitat. Of the 22 million acres of sage grouse habitat that existed in Nevada in 1999, nearly 3 million acres has burned. Cheatgrass, an invasive weed, overwhelms native sagebrush in the aftermath of wildfires. The numbers of chicks per hen in Nevada hit a historic low of 0.58 last fall compared to a more typical figure of 1.8 to 2.0, but biologists are quick to remind that grouse populations operate in cycles. "Populations have improved overall the last five or six years. In the last couple years, the numbers are down because we are suffering through drought," Mayer said. "We need to look at the long-term trend." In Nevada, like most other states, the vast majority of the birds live on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service. "We continue to work with our local, state, and federal partners to ensure the sustainability of our sagebrush habitats," said Christie Kalkowski, spokesperson for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest spokesperson. "We do, however, recognize that there a variety of threats to these sagebrush ecosystems, and actively implement habitat improvement projects that will directly benefit these fragile ecosystems every year," she added. She said the Forest Service conducted two prescribed burns last spring on roughly 6,000 acres of sagebrush-and-pinyon landscapes, which she said will promote the new growth of sagebrush.Los Angeles TimesA heartfelt plea for a sensible water policyHeal the Bay's founder lays out her vision for a clean and sustainable state supply...Dorothy Green, founding president of Heal the Bay, the Los Angeles/San Gabriel River Watershed Council and a founder of the California Water Impact Network.http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-green8-2008oct08,0,3613978,print.storyTo everything there is a season; but water is eternal. Or it was, until we started disturbing its natural rhythms. We penned it behind dams and diverted it to aqueducts, starving the life out of rivers and creating an unsupportable addiction to using more water than we need to live. Despite the looming crisis in water, we have enough to live on, but not enough to waste. And waste it we have, with great enthusiasm for lush green lawns in a desert and a penchant for backroom deals with agribusiness. These deals end up as sweetheart ones for the moneyed corporate farmers, providing them with essentially a bountiful private water supply, which they sell off at a profit, while the rest of us are carefully metered and potentially rationed.I have spent more than 30 years fighting for clean water and a sustainable supply for California. As this is being written, I am bedridden, under hospice care. I am making one last plea for common-sense management of our water supply in a manner that protects public health and the environment while sustaining business and agriculture.How? The state Water Resources Control Board already has the authority -- legal and regulatory -- to manage the state's water resources. But it hasn't been doing so. For example, it has issued from five to seven times the amount of water rights than there is available water. It is also responsible for water rights and quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, yet 10 sewage treatment plants in the delta area discharge treated wastewater that contains large amounts of pollutants into the water supply. The board should be depoliticized and sufficiently funded so that it can do its duty effectively. It should create a sustainable water plan that has teeth, with bipartisan support from the governor and the Legislature. This is how to make this happen:* Create an independent structure for water rights: a water court comprising three appointed administrative law judges who specialize in water rights to handle those disputes before the board. Their decision-making must be consistent with applicable law, but there should be a mandate that they allocate water according to the actual availability of supply in the state. They also should review past water-rights decisions to bring them in line with existing supplies.* The board should develop a sustainable water plan with accountability. Enforcement mechanisms would include financial penalties and operating restrictions for wayward agencies. There also should be an independent and public biennial assessment of the plan's implementation. * The sustainable water plan should include an allocation of water rights based on available supply; a ban on discharging wastewater into our drinking water supplies unless it meets Title 22 public health standards for water recycling (similar to drinking water standards); meter every water use, including agriculture, not just those of urban dwellers; mandate use of recycled water throughout the state; mandate low-impact development for all projects, including transportation, in order to capture storm water on-site to replenish local groundwater aquifers; and fast-track a groundwater cleanup program.* Develop a steady revenue stream to support the water-rights court and the board. The funding must not be dependent on the general fund budget. There are a number of fees that support the board, but they are not enough. Additional funds should come from water supply agencies based on their water usage.* Do not approve a deal for a new water bond until these changes have been put in place. Although past bonds have done some good, they haven't helped us face the increasing water scarcity caused by climate change and increasing population.The time for consensus and compromise has long passed. If there is one thing I've learned in my lifetime of activism, change doesn't come easily, but without it, the environment will continue to degrade along with our quality of life. Don't allow our water future to be decided by special interests. Anne Frank said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." I agree. Let's start now. Supreme Court hears case on Navy sonar, whalesThe justices appear divided on whether environmental laws can protect the marine mammals during military exercises. A ruling is not expected for several months...David G. Savagehttp://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-na-scotus9-2008oct09,0,612002,print.storyWASHINGTON — The Supreme Court justices sounded closely split today on whether environmental laws can be used to protect whales and other marine mammals from the Navy's use of sonar off the coast of Southern California.A Bush administration lawyer urged the high court to throw out a Los Angeles judge's order that requires the Navy to turn off its high intensity sonar whenever a whale or dolphin is spotted within 1.2 miles of a ship.This order disrupts the Navy's war-game exercises, which are "critical to the nation's security," said U.S. Solicitor Gen. Gregory Garre. He also disputed claims that the piercing sound of the sonar causes severe harm to the whales.But Los Angeles lawyer Richard B. Kendall described the sonar as like the sound of "a jet engine in this room multiplied by 2,000 times." He said beaked whales, in panic, dive deeply to escape the sound, and they sometimes suffer bleeding and even death when they try to resurface.Kendall also said the judge's order has had a minimal impact on the Navy. It has conducted 13 extended training exercises off California in which Navy officers practice detecting enemy submarines. Only on a few occasions have ships been forced to turn off their sonar, he said.But the case has turned into a major dispute over whether judges, acting on a suit brought by environmentalists, have the power to stop the government from conducting a crucial exercise because it had not carried out an environmental impact statement.In this case, the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica sued the Navy, and asserted it had failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment to see whether its use of high-intensity, mid-frequency sonar would harm marine mammals. U.S. District Judge Florence Marie Cooper in Los Angeles agreed with the NRDC, but she did not order the Navy to halt its training exercises. Instead, she ordered the Navy to take steps to protect these mammals, including by turning off the sonar when they were spotted nearby.Justice Antonin Scalia suggested the judge had exceeded her power. He said the law was merely "procedural" and did not give environmentalists or judges the authority to halt a government operation.Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. appeared to agree. Is Judge Cooper an expert on the Navy? he asked, adding that the judge should have deferred to the Navy's view that its exercises would not hurt the whales.But Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter wondered how the Navy could know its sonar would not harm the whales until it had studied the matter. "The whole point of doing an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] is we don't know what the harm will be," Stevens said.Sounding frustrated, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wondered how the court is supposed to resolve the conflicting evidence on whether the sonar will or will not harm marine mammals. "Why couldn't you work this out?" he asked Kendall, rather than having a court resolve the dispute."The Navy is focused on having it its own way," Kendall replied."That's not fair," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. interjected. The Navy had taken steps to protect the marine mammals, he said, and the judge gave it little credit for doing so. "No good deed goes unpunished," he added.The justices are likely to hand down a ruling in the case, Winter vs. NRDC, in several months.Southern California's toll road to nowhereThe Foothill South project serves neither the state nor the nation and should be rejected by Washington...Editorialhttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-foothill8-2008oct08,0,3663438,print.storyThe U.S. Commerce Department came, it saw (or at least heard), and now it gets to decide whether to allow the Foothill South toll road to be built even though the project was rejected by the state.The Bush administration has displayed a generally hostile attitude toward public parks and environmental protection. So let this serve as a reminder that federal officials are not supposed to act as a second Coastal Commission in deciding the merits or demerits of the Foothill South. Their role is to determine solely whether the road is in the national interest.This one's easy. The Foothill South is a toll road to nowhere through San Onofre State Beach in northern San Diego County, a particularly popular state park that despite its name also includes a large portion of undeveloped inland canyon. The road would traverse the length of this rustic canyon and cut through a private nature preserve in south Orange County and an ancient Native American village that is still used for ceremonies. Because the toll would be costly and the road would divert commuters away from the employment centers to which they most commonly drive, its ability to substantially reduce traffic on a chronically congested section of Interstate 5 is questionable; on the toll road most similar to this project, the San Joaquin Hills, ridership remains low. What about this is in the national interest?True, Interstate 5 is a key north-south artery for commuter and international freight traffic. But drivers would be better served by a direct route, widening the I-5 through San Clemente with toll lanes. Residents of the city understandably deplore the idea, but this freeway already has been successfully widened through most of the rest of Orange County.Despite arguments by the Transportation Corridor Agencies, the toll road would serve no significant purpose for Camp Pendleton, nor is it likely to provide a life-saving escape in case of an accident at the San Onofre nuclear plant. The plant has operated for decades and is scheduled to go out of service in 2022, just nine years after the earliest anticipated opening date for the toll road. Besides, why would San Clemente residents drive south toward San Onofre in order to pick up a road to get away from it?The proposed Foothill South toll road is a throwback to outdated models of growth that have locked this region into a pattern of killer commutes, reliance on foreign oil and the production of pollutants that foul air quality and contribute to global warming, at the expense of precious open spaces and endangered species. It serves neither the state nor the nation well.New York TimesCentral Banks Coordinate Global Cut in Interest Rates...KEITH BRADSHER, DAVID JOLLY and EDMUND L. ANDREWShttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/09/business/09fed.html?emCentral banks around the world cut short-term interest rates by up to half a percent on Wednesday after investors across Asia and Europe unleashed waves of sell orders onto already depressed stock exchanges.The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other central banks from Britain and Switzerland to Canada and China announced rate reductions within seconds of one another. The British government separately announced a plan to pump billions of pounds into the country’s leading banks as part of a plan that would result in considerably greater government influence over the financial sector there.The Fed said in a statement that, because of weakening economic activity, it had cut the Federal funds target rate by half a percentage point, to 1.5 percent. It also cut its discount rate by the same amount. The vote was unanimous. The European Central Bank cuts its benchmark rate to 3.75 percent, from 4.25 percent.The action failed to calm gyrating markets, however, amid the growing realization that a serious and prolonged recession may be difficult to avoid. Markets in Europe closed lower while the Dow Jones industrial average was struggling to maintain its gains in New York.Federal Reserve officials said Wednesday’s action was the first time ever that the Fed had coordinated a reduction in interest rates with other central banks, though the United States has periodically joined with other countries to intervene in currency markets to stabilize foreign exchange rates... CNN MoneyEmergency rate cut: 'This better work' Will the rate cuts by global central banks eventually calm the markets down?...Paul R. La Monicahttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/08/markets/thebuzz/index.htm?postversion=2008100812NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Investors around the world have been crying loudly for the past few days. On Wednesday morning, global central banks finally gave in.But will the coordinated interest rate cuts by global central banks finally calm the markets down? It was clear that central banks had to do something. The Dow has plunged more than 1,400 points in just the past five days and is nearly 2,000 points lower than where it was before the record one-day point drop on Sept. 29. That's a 17.6% drop. However, it appears investors weren't sure what to think about the rate cuts just yet. European stock markets, which had been plunging before the rate cut, initially bounced back but then resumed their slide. The Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 opened sharply lower at the opening bell, moved dramatically higher and then turned lower again. That was all in the first two hours of trading. One market strategist said the selloff is a bad sign because the Fed and other central banks are running out of ways to effectively deal with the credit crisis."This better work. This is the last chance," said Jeffrey Saut, chief market strategist with Raymond James Financial.Talkback: Can anything stop the global stock selloff?What gives? Well, the rate cuts may be what many investors were waiting for, but that doesn't mean they will work immediately.There will probably be more bad economic reports and corporate news in the coming days and weeks. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke issued an extremely dour economic outlook in a speech yesterday.Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) reported a 68% drop in quarterly profits Monday and cut its dividend, news that confirmed to many that the banking crisis is far from over. And several retailers on Wednesday posted dismal sales results, including Target (TGT, Fortune 500), J.C. Penney (JCP, Fortune 500) and Saks (SKS). So expect more volatility."At the end of the day, what's going on right now is pure fear," said Ted Parrish, co-manager of the Henssler Equity fund.Investors seem to want solutions that show instant results. Just add water and watch the credit markets heal. But guess what? That's not how things work. You can't turn around the global economy on a dime."The market expected a quick fix when Congress passed the bailout plan but the Treasury hasn't even started to implement it yet. It will take time to get the credit markets back on track," said Parrish. "There is some impatience here."Even one of the Fed's own policy makers tackled this issue in a speech Wednesday morning.Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, stressed that many of the Fed's recent actions are meant to bolster the health of the economy for the long-term. But the Fed cannot simply wave a magic wand and cure the economy in a nanosecond.Plosser said that people fail "to recognize the difference between what the Fed can do in the long run and what it might be able to do in the short run.""Just as we should avoid setting unrealistic expectations for monetary policy, we should also avoid encouraging unrealistic expectations about what the Fed can do to combat financial instability," he said.Another market strategist said that since interest rates were already relatively low - the Fed cut its overnight bank lending rate from 2% to 1.5% - the effect on the markets and economy from this rate cut may be only psychological."The rate cut is more symbolic than anything else," said Saut. "I applaud Bernanke for being very creative and innovative. But the Fed could have done this sooner. They have been reactive instead of thoughtfully proactive." Still, another market strategist said the rate cuts were a good sign, especially since the European Central Bank, which raised rates as recently as July, finally acknowledged the risks of a slowdown. "The fact that the ECB was on board with the rate cuts is a big deal. They kind have been like an ostrich with their head in the sand," said John Derrick, director of research with U.S. Global Investors Inc, a money management firm based in San Antonio. Parrish is optimistic about the many steps the Fed has taken in addition to the rate cut - such as yesterday's decision to start buying short-term business loans as well as a series of capital injections to troubled banks. "There has been a lot of stimulus by the Fed. Once sellers clear out of the way, it will be very dangerous to short this market," he said. But Derrick said that if the markets don't respond well to the rate cuts, it may prove that the only solution for the crisis is the elapsing of time...a truly scary thought."There is fear of the unknown. Earnings are not going to be good. It's hard to see another positive catalyst in the short-term," he said.Wells, Citi extend Wachovia standstillThe rivals agree to hold off on litigation until Friday in their conflict to purchase the ailing bank...Kenneth Musantehttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/08/news/companies/wachovia_citi_wfc/index.htm?postversion=2008100813NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Citigroup and Wells Fargo, the two banks fighting to buy Wachovia, agreed on Wednesday to extend a standstill on legal wrangling over the deal until Friday.The banks originally announced Monday afternoon that they would halt all legal activities until today. The new agreement expires on Friday at 8 a.m. ET. Associated PressDollar falls as central banks cut interest rateshttp://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hiVtV2zuQIAFn_h-JnQjvVSfPTRgD93MABK80NEW YORK (AP) — The dollar fell against the other major currencies as the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world cut interest rates in an effort to counteract a global financial meltdown.The Fed cut its key rate to 1.5 percent from 2 percent. The Bank of England and the European Central Bank also sliced their rates by half a point, to 4.5 percent and 3.75 percent, respectively.The central banks of China, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland also lowered their key rates.On Wednesday, the 15-nation euro rose to $1.3695 early in New York from $1.3645 late Tuesday. The British pound edged up $1.7536 from $1.7510.The dollar dropped to 100.86 Japanese yen from 101.71.Cutting interest rates can stimulate economic growth and help restore confidence to markets. But doing so may undermine a currency as investors look for better returns elsewhere. The U.S. rate is now the second-lowest among the majors, higher only than Japan.In other New York trading, the dollar fell to 1.1041 Canadian dollars from 1.1058, and slipped to 1.1340 Swiss francs from 1.1378.