10-9-08Merced Sun-StarCardoza takes HUD to task on lack of fundsMerced left out of early round of money for houses...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/490138.htmlStill shocked that Merced didn't receive any federal foreclosure aid, Rep. Dennis Cardoza demanded that the federal housing agency hold off on distributing the $3.9 billion until it revises its calculations.Cardoza, D-Merced, sent a second, more critical letter to Steve Preston, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on Tuesday to point out how the agency "bungled" its formula."Failing to correct these fundamental flaws to the methodology of allocation will only perpetuate the utter devastation of Merced wrought by the foreclosure crisis," the congressman wrote.Cardoza asked that the agency hold off on sending out the checks until it fixes what he sees as the errors that left Merced and other communities off the list.The money can be used by cities and counties to buy foreclosed homes, clean them up and sell them to low-income residents. As a result, neighborhoods won't become blighted, and the surplus of homes will decrease. For the first five years, any money made by the home's sale must be reinvested into buying more foreclosed properties. After that, the money goes back to the federal government.HUD, standing by its formula and decision, plans to hold a meeting today with California representatives to elaborate on how it decided where to distribute the money from the Housing and Economic Recovery Act.Cardoza said the agency hasn't returned his phone calls, and he still wants a written response. He's begun hearing conflicting accounts of why Merced didn't get help. "I think they're hunkering down on this," he said Wednesday. "They seem unwilling to correct their deficiencies."Two weeks ago, the agency released its list of which cities and counties would get the money, setting off an intense lobbying effort by local and federal leaders to increase California's share and put Merced on the list.Other members of Congress believe the agency shortchanged California by giving it $529 million overall, $12 million less than what Florida collected.Cardoza and local leaders are still reeling from the news that the city will be forced to get its foreclosure aid from the state, which is receiving $145 million from the federal government to distribute to smaller cities and counties.HUD's officials have pointed out that Merced could receive more money from the state than it would have from the federal government. Local leaders note, however, that it will take longer for the money to make its way to City Hall.HUD's explanation has been that the key factors -- the number of foreclosed homes, the number of risky loans and the vacancy rates in the neighborhoods where those loans were made -- ended up showing that Merced would get less than $2 million in help. As a result, the amount gets lumped in with the money funneled to the state.In comparison, Modesto will receive $8.1 million and Stockton will get $12.1 million.While Merced's foreclosure rate is high -- about 12 percent -- and risky loans were made, U.S. Postal Service data used by HUD showed that 0.12 percent of homes were vacant in neighborhoods where homes were sold through risky loans.Modesto's rate was 0.5 percent."Given (Merced's) absurdly low number, I am not convinced that the vacancy rate calculations were correct," Cardoza wrote. He noted that the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census recorded a 4 percent home vacancy rate -- the highest in any state county.Cardoza rejects how HUD came up with its formula because it left Merced off the list and wants the agency to reevaluate where the money will be spent.He said that HUD was given power to make sure the money was given to areas with the greatest need, even if the formula didn't include them. Los Banos Mayor Tommy Jones sent a letter Tuesday to HUD's secretary as well, echoing Cardoza's frustration. More than 1,200 of that city's 10,000 homes have fallen into foreclosure. He believes about another 1,000 will follow suit by the year's end."Our city was excited to hear that your office was planning to appropriate funds to those areas hardest hit by the housing bust," Jones wrote. "Imagine our dismay in discovering that not only did Los Banos get slighted, but all of Merced County."The feds say they bailed out Wall Street because it's too big to fail. Maybe Merced County is just small enough.Modesto BeeFresh start for Diablo GrandeOwners planning big changes, new name for property...Tim Moranhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/457083.htmlDiablo Grande has a new owner with ambitious plans, and will get a new name as well.World International LLC, a company formed to acquire and develop the 28,500-acre property in the hills west of Patterson, bought Diablo Grande from the bankrupt partnership headed by entrepreneur Donald Panoz. The $20 million deal closed Tuesday, several days after the planned closing on Oct. 2.A news release from Los Angeles-based Laurus Corp. said the partners behind World International are real estate developers who have been involved in the development of office buildings, shopping centers and residential projects.They will be working with Laurus Corp. to develop Diablo Grande, which will get a new name to give the property "a fresh start." The new name will reflect the surroundings and heritage, according to the news release.The new owners plan to continue residential building at Diablo Grande, and carry through many of the plans of the original owners. That includes a convention center, a "five-star amenity driven resort," and a low-rise shopping village with grocery store, dining, banking and office suites.Residential development will include Spanish-colonial villas, townhouses and single-family homes on large lots. Plans still call for 2,100 homes. About 400 have been built.Some elements have been added, including an equestrian center. A similar facility was included in the original plans in 1991, but later was removed, according to Stanislaus County planner Rachel Wyse.Wyse said some of the things described in the news release go beyond the specific plan approved by the county, and would need an amendment to the plan approved by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Wyse said agents for the new owners had contacted the Planning Commission before the sale became final.Moving forwardIn the news release announcing the sale, Panoz said, "I know the principals (of World International) will move forward to make the development a success and will follow through on the vision that started 20 years ago -- to make this the best development in California." "This is very good news for all the people who live there," said Michael Ahrens, an attorney representing the bankruptcy estate. "It will be business as usual. They will assume the water contract and the conservators contract."The conservators contract deals with environmental issues."This is a big deal, like the sale of a city," Ahrens said. "(World International) got themselves a good deal. The market really is awful."The bankruptcy proceedings will continue, with a reorganization plan to be filed so money can be distributed to unsecured creditors, Ahrens said. The Marshal-Davis parcel, a separate property, still must be sold, and a lot of loose ends with contracts have to be tied up, he said.But the sale of the main property was the key element, Ahrens said."If it had not sold, there would have been tremendous damage claims against the estate, and that's been avoided," he said.Gary DeSantis, a homeowner in Diablo Grande and the president of the Board of Golfers at the resort, said he was happy with the new ownership."This company seems like a top-notch company. Speaking for myself and my wife, this is the change we've been waiting for," DeSantis said. "We've been in limbo while the property was mismanaged. ... Now it's ready to move towards realizing some of the dreams of the residents and owners that purchased the property," he said.DeSantis blamed Panoz for many of the problems.Panoz and his partner, Morton Davis, invested more than $120 million in the property over two decades, fighting through several environmental lawsuits before finally starting home construction three years ago.The collapse of the housing market last year doomed the development, and the partnership filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March. The property initially was listed for sale at $150 million and put up for auction when no buyers could be found.Ahrens said the remainder of the bankruptcy should be wrapped up in two to three months.Growth plan to be delayed for review...Garth Stapleyhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/457074.htmlA first-of-its-kind growth scenario covering all of Stanislaus County will wait at least an additional month to become official, planning leaders agreed Wednesday.The delay will give officials with the county and its nine cities time to review the newly crafted, historic vision, watered down though it may be, before the Stanislaus Council of Governments meets again Nov. 12.Six counties to the south, joined in a San Joaquin Valley-wide partnership, have produced their own countywide growth scenarios, all calling for higher home densities in hopes of curbing climate-changing emissions. They've waited months for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to do likewise before creating a valleywide vision in the Blueprint process.Stanislaus leaders, some openly suspicious of state leadership and the idea that global warming can be slowed, previously frowned on a version featuring higher densities.The new scenario they'll take to their respective city councils abandons progressive change, calling simply for construction to adhere to densities already cited in general plans of the 10 agencies. They range from 4.5 units per acre to 30, StanCOG's Vince Harris said."I think we want to be on record that we are concerned about proper planning and we are concerned about regional planning," said county Supervisor Jeff Grover, asserting that leaders have not abandoned the Blueprint process. Several had snickered moments earlier at the suggestion that the other counties would have to wait longer still for Stanislaus to produce its growth scenario.The approved scenarios will satisfy one aspect of a new state law, Senate Bill 375, the only in the United States linking land-use decisions to climate change, California Senate consultant Bill Craven told Stanislaus leaders during a contentious discussion Wednesday.He said state transportation money should favor sprawl-curbing projects that bring homes and jobs closer to each other. But any county not meeting its emissions goal would be allowed to create an alternative growth scenario, keeping the money flowing, Craven said.Some Stanislaus leaders acknowledged skepticism about state officials."I appreciate your fear," Craven responded. "I'm painfully aware that the valley does get the short end of the stick on various things. I could eat my words, but I'm not thinking that's what we're going to see on this."Supervisor Jim DeMartini scoffed at the idea of climate change, as he has in previous meetings, saying two related state laws and the Blueprint process "use a series of scare tactics and junk science to promote a political agenda." DeMartini called Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an idiot.Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson noted that Stanislaus County voters already have assured more compact growth by recently approving Measure E, which directs subdivisions into cities instead of unincorporated areas.Ceres Mayor Anthony Cannella said many people will continue driving to Bay Area jobs regardless of lawmakers' good intentions."We all can wish for jobs, but all the wishing and all the state laws in the world are not going to make those companies come to Stanislaus County," Cannella said.English anthologies may jeopardize UC admissions for Modesto high school studentsCould risk students' college eligibility, trustees are warned...Michelle Hatfieldhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/457078.htmlDepending on how the wording is interpreted, a change in Modesto's high school English courses may make college-bound students ineligible for admission into California's public universities.Modesto City Schools officials have been using new anthology textbooks for several years. But English teachers fear emphasizing an anthology over full literary works will jeopardize college preparatory classes that earn students eligibility for admission to any of the 10 University of California campuses. The 23 California State University campuses also use standards, known as "A-G" requirements, as a guide when accepting applicants.About two dozen teachers and counselors attended Monday's board of trustees meeting, some voicing their concern. The teachers wore name tags that read "A-G."An anthology is a collection of literary pieces, such as poems, short stories and plays, often used in university English classes.It's not the anthology that concerns teachers -- it's their belief that the district soon will require that teachers use the anthology as the main text.Under the A-G course outline for English and reading: "Acceptable courses must require extensive reading of a variety of literary genres, including classical and-or contemporary works. Reading assignments must include full-length works. Excerpts from anthologies, articles, et cetera, can be supplemental but cannot constitute the main component of reading assignments."Plays such as "Romeo and Juliet," novels such as "Of Mice and Men," short stories and essays are full-length works, and also are used in high school English classes.To be considered for acceptance to a UC school, students must meet the A-G subject area requirements in math, English, history, science, foreign language, visual and performing arts, and electives. College prep classes at high schools must be approved by the UC system to earn A-G designation...Fresno BeeWill high-speed rail money stay on track?$9 billion is at stake for a plan some say will bring prosperity to the Valley...Russell Clemingshttp://www.fresnobee.com/263/v-printerfriendly/story/924740.htmlThe San Joaquin Valley may have more at stake than the rest of California when voters decide Nov. 4 whether to build a statewide high-speed rail system. Major Valley cities from Modesto to Bakersfield were bypassed a generation ago when the state built its main north-south highway, Interstate 5. But the rail system would have stations in most of those cities.Construction on the system also would begin in the Valley with a segment of about 160 miles from Merced to Bakersfield. It would be used for testing the 220 mph trains and getting them certified for their first use in the United States. An Oct. 1 consultant's report for the California High Speed Rail Authority predicted that the trains could help lift the Valley from its long economic malaise and produce billions of dollars worth of new business. A July poll suggested that voters are ready to endorse high-speed rail by a margin comfortably larger than the required majority. But Proposition 1A provides only $9 billion for a system estimated to cost $33 billion for the first phase alone, which will run from San Francisco to Southern California. It also includes $950 million for local transit connections to the high-speed tracks.The rest, the authority says, is expected to come from the federal government and private investors such as pension funds. None of that money is nailed down yet. A small but vocal group of critics, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is skeptical that the additional money ever will be found. The opponents also claim that the project is certain to suffer from cost overruns, is unlikely to carry as many riders as the authority projects, and may not even collect enough fares to cover its operating expenses. Only one political committee has filed campaign finance reports to date on Prop. 1A, and it supports passage. On Monday, Californians for High Speed Trains reported having raised $549,234 -- a small sum for a statewide campaign. Of that, $200,000 came from the California Alliance for Jobs, a coalition of heavy construction contractors and unions. Much of the rest was from engineering and high-tech companies...Its first line would run from Anaheim and Los Angeles to San Francisco via Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced and San Jose. That puts the Valley at the heart of the system. And unlike Interstate 5, the high-speed tracks would run directly through the region's cities, instead of dozens of miles west of them. Shawn Kantor, a University of California at Merced economist who was paid by the authority to assess the system's likely effects on the Central Valley, describes a future in which goods and people can move easily and cheaply from here to the bigger cities. "Transportation costs are very high in the Central Valley," he said. "If you start breaking that barrier down, it will help us."But opponents focus on construction costs, which they say are likely to rise, and on the authority's plans for future phases to the rest of the state's major cities, including Sacramento and San Diego, which they think are unrealistic. "If the governor put me in charge of that agency tomorrow, I would say start over," said Joseph Vranich, who co-authored a critique of the authority's plan for the Jarvis association, the libertarian Reason Foundation and Citizens Against Government Waste. Also opposing Prop. 1A is the California Chamber of Commerce. But many local chambers -- including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno -- support it. Environmental groups are generally in support or neutral. An investment or a waste?High-speed rail advocates base their support on the idea that California needs a third method of intercity transportation. Building enough new freeway lanes and airport runways to accommodate the state's travel needs in coming decades could cost $82 billion, the authority calculates. In contrast, it says, a high-speed rail system serving all of the state's major cities would cost around half as much...The Reason Foundation report argued that the authority is projecting higher ridership for California's high-speed rail system than for similar systems in countries, like those in Europe, that are better suited for rail travel because of denser populations and more expensive gasoline and other driving-related costs. Jarvis association President Jon Coupal says that spending billions on high-speed rail could also jeopardize the state's ability to borrow money for other needed projects, such as new dams. "The stark reality is that these projects are going to be competing for scarce bond dollars," he said.Although the bond measure does not raise taxes itself, the state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that California would spend $647 million annually for 30 years to pay off the resulting debt. Opponents also question whether fares could possibly be as low as the authority predicts -- Fresno to San Francisco for $32 one-way, or Fresno to Los Angeles for $38 at 2005 prices -- and still cover the system's operating costs, which the LAO estimated at more than $1 billion per year...Still, many critical details of the system's financing have not yet been worked out. The $9 billion from Prop. 1A may cover only a quarter of the cost. The authority predicts that the federal government will chip in at least that much more. Looking down the trackValley congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, shepherded an earlier incarnation of the high-speed rail ballot measure when he was in the state Legislature. He said he believes there is strong support in Washington for infrastructure projects that could boost the sour national economy. And when such projects are selected, he said, "states that have funding in place will be at the front of the line, clearly." For whatever additional money is needed, the authority is recruiting private investors, mainly pension funds sitting on large amounts of cash that won't be needed to pay benefits until their members retire...With $33 billion needed for the first phase and only $9 billion provided by Prop. 1A, if approved, another $24 billion will be needed even with no inflation. At least another $10 billion would be needed for a second phase extending the system to Sacramento, to San Diego via Riverside and Escondido, to Oakland from San Jose, and possibly through the Altamont pass west of Tracy. The authority predicts that profits from first-phase operations would help build the later phases. In any event, the very first part of the system to be built under the authority's current plan would be the Merced-to-Bakersfield test track. Until the rest of the first phase is finished, the test track would be used mostly for putting trains through a three-year series of performance checks required to get federal approval for their use in this country. The Merced-to-Bakersfield segment qualifies for testing use because of its length, flatness and relative lack of urbanization, which would permit trains to be tested at their top speeds. Morshed said there will be no high-speed passenger service on that segment until the entire first phase is ready. But he said the tracks could be made available to Amtrak in the meantime.Of course, neither the test track nor any other part of the system is likely to be built unless a majority of California voters say yes to Prop. 1A on Nov. 4. If they don't? Morshed said the authority has enough state funding to remain in business through the end of the current fiscal year next June 30. After that, high-speed rail may just be consigned to a list of big ideas that went nowhere fast. Supreme Court hears Sequoia caseEnvironmentalists could lose some challenge powers...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureauhttp://www.fresnobee.com/263/v-printerfriendly/story/924753.htmlWASHINGTON -- A Sequoia National Forest dispute reached the Supreme Court on Wednesday, giving conservative justices a chance to limit public challenges to federal land-management decisions. Born on Burnt Ridge in mountainous Tulare County, the dispute now reaches nationwide. During hour-long oral arguments, several justices seemed prepared to block activists from suing the Forest Service unless they could point to a specific forest-by-forest harm. "They are just people interested in forests throughout the United States," Justice Antonin Scalia said of activists. "That's quite different from saying, 'I am about to suffer harm, imminent harm, to me.' "The case, Summers v. Earth Island Institute, was one of two significant environmental cases considered Wednesday morning. The other case pitted whale safety against Navy training requirements, and it drew a larger crowd. Both cases, though, reached justices who sounded notably sympathetic to Bush administration arguments. The administration argues that activists should only be allowed to challenge specific forest-by-forest decisions, rather than overall Forest Service policies in the abstract. This would complicate business for environmentalists."The standing has to focus on the particular site-specific place where the individual has visited," Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler argued. Chief Justice John Roberts seemingly agreed that environmentalists faced a "high hurdle ... to surmount" because of prior Supreme Court decisions restricting lawsuits to federal agency decisions that have been "flushed out by some concrete action." Summers v. Earth Island Institute started with a 238-acre salvage-logging project planned after a devastating 2002 fire swept through the Sequoia National Forest. Using new rules imposed by the Bush administration, the Forest Service declared that no public-comment period or administrative-appeal process was needed for the Burnt Ridge project.The administration determined that timber projects under 250 acres, forest-thinning projects under 1,000 acres and controlled burns under 4,500 acres were all small enough to be exempt from the standard public-comment and appeal proceedings. Environmentalists sued, and the Forest Service agreed to withdraw the Burnt Ridge project. Even so, a federal judge imposed a nationwide injunction that blocks the Forest Service's exemptions for small projects.The Bush administration argues the judge's order should be dissolved and the legal challenge dismissed since the original Burnt Ridge dispute has been taken care of. While Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg raised objections, Kneedler argued that only "on-the-ground activity" and not mere "procedural regulation" could incite legal challenge. This means activists such as Kernville resident Ara Marderosian might challenge how the Burnt Ridge project was handled, but not how the Forest Service handled public comments and appeals more generally. Environmentalists say they need to be able to challenge the nationwide rules. "These are being applied on every forest on an ongoing basis," environmental attorney Matt Kenna told the court. A decision is expected later in the court's term. Fresno State student leaders resignASI president, vice president leave after alcohol controversy...Doug Hoaglandhttp://www.fresnobee.com/263/v-printerfriendly/story/924748.htmlFresno State student President Mackee Mason, who was embroiled in campus controversies this fall over alcohol and was cast as a troublemaker in a lawsuit against student government, has quit his elected job. Executive Vice President Sandra Flores -- who along with Mason had admitted some involvement in underage drinking by students at a retreat in July -- also resigned this week. Their resignations were effective Monday. Mason might be the first student president at California State University, Fresno, to resign, officials said.The student senate will pick replacements for Mason and Flores, and those choices could be made in the next month, said Tara Powers-Mead, a staff member with the student government. Mason said in his resignation letter that he could no longer be a productive president and that his "more important role as a student" also was damaged. He denied violating student government bylaws or policy, but admitted making mistakes. Mason could not be reached Wednesday to comment...Flores said Wednesday she wasn't bitter, but was disappointed that she wouldn't completed her term in Associated Students, Inc., an independent nonprofit organization that functions as student government at Fresno State. ASI is supported by a fee paid by all Fresno State students. Some underage students at the summer retreat drank in the presence of Mason and Flores, who later said they did nothing to stop them. Mason also was accused of paying for alcohol with ASI funds -- which is against ASI policy -- on two other trips over the summer. In September, both wrote public letters apologizing, but denied that alcohol at the retreat was purchased with ASI money. Providing alcohol to minors would violate ASI's code of conduct and state law. Mason also said in that letter that he was mistakenly charged for the booze on the two other trips but would repay the university...Mason was thrust back into the spotlight in late September when former ASI executive director Annie Tremp filed a lawsuit against ASI and the CSU Fresno Association. The association is a nonprofit corporation that runs commercial operations at the university and provides professional services to ASI. Tremp contends in the lawsuit that conflicts with Mason culminated in her being fired in August. Tremp alleges that she was fired after reporting to association officials that Mason bought alcohol for underage students at the retreat with ASI money. Deborah Adishian-Astone, association director, did not return a phone call Wednesday inquiring whether Tremp's termination would be reconsidered in light of Mason's resignation. Sacramento BeeState: Water from district well exceeds arsenic limit...Loretta Kalbhttp://www.sacbee.com/101/v-print/story/1300171.htmlWater from an Elk Grove Water District well has eclipsed federal limits for arsenic, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health said Wednesday.June Iljana, spokeswoman for the department, said the district will receive a formal notice of violation Friday.The notice is not considered an enforcement action, and there are no penalties, she said. It sets forth steps the district must take to come into compliance.General Manager Leo Havener said only one well was involved and it has been closed. His office has been working with the state, and a meeting is set for Friday.The district, with 12,000 ratepayers, serves a portion of east Elk Grove. About half its customers get well water. Water from the well in question had been used as backup during high demand.Samples showed the well's water exceeded the federal limit of 10 parts per billion for arsenic in the first nine months of this year.The data, reported in quarterly samples, show 10.7 ppb in the first quarter, 11.7 ppb in the second, and 10.6 ppb in the most recent quarter.The federal limit for arsenic was lowered in 2006 from 50 ppb to 10 ppb after studies indicated the element causes cancer, according to the state.Iljana said the notice of violation also will cite the district for failure late last year to test effluent from the small treatment plant that draws from the well at issue.Statewide, according to the state, about 159 of some 3,500 California public water systems in California exceed federal arsenic limits.California, nonprofits form coalition to protect Sierra...Tom Knudson http://www.sacbee.com/378/v-print/story/1299849.htmlTRUCKEE – From the shores of Donner Lake on Wednesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the creation of a private, non-profit coalition – the Northern Sierra Partnership – to work with government to protect open space, forests, watersheds and step up efforts to respond to climate change."While we are faced with great challenges today, economic challenges ... we should not lose sight of other important issues," Schwarzenegger told a group of regional environmental and business leaders. "We should go ahead and really do everything we can to protect the environment."The governor said $25 million has been raised for the partnership, including commitments of $10 million each from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation.The partnership is an alliance of five organizations – the Feather River Land Trust, Truckee Donner Land Trust, Sierra Business Council, The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land. Eventually, the group hopes to raise $100 million, which, combined with public funds, will protect more than 100,000 acres.Historically, the northern Sierra, from south of Lake Tahoe to Lassen Volcanic National Park, has not garnered as much conservation attention as other parts of the range. Yet rapid population growth and the spread of second homes, golf courses, resorts and other development are putting pressure on the area's wildlife, watersheds and working ranches.Besides trying to safeguard open space and ranch land from development, the partnership plans to devote more attention to climate change."The West, more so than any other region in the continent outside the Arctic, will face the most profound impacts from climate change – and we clearly have already seen them here in the high Sierra," Rhea Suh, conservation and science program officer for the Packard foundation, told the group.In the Sierra, researchers have tied climate change to a wide range of impacts, including a diminishing snowpack, catastrophic wildfire, receding glaciers and retreat of small mammals upslope.In August, Schwarzenegger unveiled a state effort called the Sierra Nevada Climate Change Initiative to develop ways to mitigate and adapt to global warming across the 25 million-acre mountain range. He put the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and California Tahoe Conservancy in charge of it.Supreme Court takes on Navy vs. whales...Michael Doylehttp://www.sacbee.com/111/v-print/story/1299851.htmlWASHINGTON – Whales may simply have to pay the price as the Navy prepares for war, Supreme Court justices suggested Wednesday.In a closely watched environmental case, justices on Wednesday repeatedly sounded sympathetic to Pentagon officials who want to run large-scale Navy exercises off the Southern California coast.While the resulting underwater sonar storm disturbs marine mammals, it also helps prepare sailors for combat."I thought the whole point of the armed forces was to hurt the environment," Justice Stephen Breyer said, half-jokingly. "Of course they're going to do harm."The Pentagon and environmentalists disagree over exactly how much midfrequency active sonar injures marine mammals, and justices Wednesday couldn't resolve the conflict. An apparent majority of justices, though, did appear ready to defer to military expertise in matters of national security.Chief Justice John Roberts raised the specter of an undetected "North Korean diesel submarine to get (closer) to Pearl Harbor" if sailors couldn't train with sonar, and Justice Samuel Alito asked pointedly if a judge could be considered "an expert on anti-submarine warfare." Alito added that there is "something incredibly odd" about a trial judge making a decision "contrary" to the Navy's requirements.Even Breyer, who at times has been skeptical about other claims of executive authority, suggested that "an admiral (who) comes along with an affidavit that seems plausible" might outrank a "district judge who just says" the training should stop."You're asking us (for a decision), who know little about whales and less about the Navy," Breyer told Los Angeles-based attorney Richard Kendall, who is representing environmental groups.The technical but crucial legal question in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council is when a federal agency can sidestep conventional environmental protections by declaring an emergency. A Pentagon victory could make such emergency declarations more common, and on more than military matters.Even before the hourlong oral arguments Wednesday, legal scholars were predicting that the conservative-led court was likely to defer to military necessity in time of war. The prediction is enhanced by the fact that Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council arises from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court reversed in eight out of 10 cases last year.It's the conflict between whales and sailors, though, that gives the case its sizzle.The Navy needs the Southern California Operating Area for training exercises, which prepare naval strike groups for deployment to the Pacific Ocean and Middle East. Sailors use midfrequency active sonar to detect otherwise hard-to-find submarines.The Southern California coastal waters are home to at least 37 species of marine mammals, including pygmy sperm whales, coastal bottlenose dolphins and endangered blue whales.A U.S. District Court imposed additional safety measures on the Navy, including stopping sonar use when marine mammals were spotted within 2,200 yards and powering down the sonar under certain other conditions."The Navy is perfectly able to train under these circumstances," Kendall said.The Bush administration's Council on Environmental Quality declared "emergency circumstances" existed, which the administration argues should dissolve the District Court's training limitations.Administration officials also dispute the extent of harm, noting that Navy exercises have been taking place off the Southern California coast for the past four decades."No marine mammals will be killed as a result of these exercises," Solicitor General Gregory Garre told the court. "They hear the (sonar) sound, and they go in the opposition direction. It also has some temporary effect on their feeding patterns."Justice David Souter pressed Garre vigorously, insisting that the Navy may have brought the emergency circumstances on itself, but Justice Anthony Kennedy added that a presidential declaration of military necessity "certainly must be given great weight."Kendall predicted the court should rule within two months, prior to the next – and final – training session planned for the Southern California Operating Area.Stockton RecordFierce debate over Wal-MartSupercenter proposal draws capacity crowd...The Recordhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081009/A_NEWS/810090321/-1/A_NEWSLODI - A long-proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday night was once again the center of a heated debate in Lodi.A capacity crowd filled Lodi's Carnegie Forum to argue whether the Planning Commission should approve a 226,441-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter at Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road.The debate lasted until late into the night. Commissioners did not consider resolutions that would approve a land-use permit, and design and energy specifications by press time.Proponents - who included Wal-Mart employees and the project's developer, Darryl Browman - touted Wal-Mart's ability to generate tax revenue, jobs and other forms of economic growth.Opponents argued that a Supercenter would hurt small businesses and grocers. One even threatened to move away if a Wal-Mart was approved...City officials said in order for a Supercenter to gain approval, Browman must comply with a lengthy list of conditions.The most notable conditions include purchasing 40 acres of farmland within 15 miles of the project and investing a minimum of $700,000 toward improving downtown Lodi.Browman also must ensure the current Kettleman Lane building is leased to at least 50 percent of its capacity, sell the building to another retailer or put cash toward demolition costs, according to a staff report.Browman told the commission he has already negotiated a lease for 90 percent of the building.Group may force vote on Lodi's zone planRedevelopment foes file petition...The Recordhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081009/A_NEWS/810090329/-1/A_NEWSLODI - Opponents to Lodi's redevelopment plans cleared another hurdle Wednesday, gaining enough valid signatures to hold a public vote on the city's controversial effort to finance the rehabilitation of blighted neighborhoods.The anti-redevelopment group Smart Lodi collected 4,290 valid signatures from registered voters in Lodi, city officials said. They needed only 2,615. Opponents filed their petition Sept. 26, four days before the legal deadline to challenge the city's July approval of redevelopment.The City Council on Wednesday will be asked to certify the results of the petition and discuss whether to call a special election, which could happen as early as March, or to rescind its plans, which is unlikely.With a new redevelopment zone, which encompasses most of the town's East Side, Lodi can keep a larger share of property tax money than normally would be funneled to other government agencies, such as the county and state. That money is used to finance the rehabilitation of deteriorating neighborhoods and businesses, or to pay back debt incurred to pay for projects.Lodi is not expected to generate any redevelopment funds until next summer.In June, city spokesman Jeff Hood told The Record that, if a petition was filed, "the redevelopment process will be suspended until it can go to a vote."On Wednesday, Hood backed off that statement. "Since we don't have any (redevelopment) money to spend and we're in the planning stages, we'll continue to plan for the redevelopment agency" until a vote is held, he said.San Francisco ChronicleHigh Speed Rail Authority hit with suit...Michael Cabanatuanhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/09/BAQC13DUBI.DTL&type=printableA group opposing Proposition 1A, the high-speed rail bond measure, filed suit against the California High Speed Rail Authority on Wednesday for failing to release an updated business plan by a Sept. 1 deadline."A more clear violation of law is hard to imagine," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said in a press release. His group filed the suit and is opposing the measure.The suit seeks a court order mandating the report be produced "as required by law."But authority officials say that's impossible - and that the association knows that.Legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Aug. 27 required the updated business plan but authority officials said they wouldn't have money to work on it until the state passed a budget, and estimated it would take 45 days to complete. The budget was signed on Sept. 23 - 85 days late."The purveyors of this last-minute lawsuit against the authority know full well that the nearly three-month delay of the state budget caused a similar delay in progress on this year's business plan," said Mehdi Morshed, authority executive director, in a prepared statement.Authority spokeswoman Kris Deutschmann said most of the contents of the plan have already been made public, but they need to be compiled and updated - a process that will be completed within weeks. That could be before or after the Nov. 4 election, she said.Wood as a power source may be making comeback...JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/10/08/national/a213147D37.DTL&type=printableThe push for more power from renewable fuels has renewed interest in one of the oldest energy sources: wood.While airwaves have been permeated by advertisements for solar and wind power, last year wood generated more net electricity in the U.S. than those two up-and-comers combined.New wood-burning electricity plants are again being proposed from Massachusetts to New Mexico as the nation finds itself in a third energy shock.Using wood for electric power generation grew rapidly during the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s, but fell away when the price of coal and fossil fuels dropped.Wood as a power source garnered renewed interest as commodity prices spiked.That developers are again looking to forests for fuel has many worried."We don't want to mine our forest for energy," said Bryan Bird, of WildEarth Guardians, a Santa Fe, N.M. environmental group.There were 196 wood burning electricity plants in the United States as of January 2007, including 72 with 40 megawatt capacity or larger, according to the Department of Energy. The bulk of today's wood power comes from plants that mainly serve the onsite lumber or paper mills that supply their fuel.Developers say they wouldn't need to cut down trees to power plants because there is a surplus of wood currently available.Many proposed plants plan to use wood left over by routine activities such utility line clearing or from existing timber companies. Wood is also found on forest floors."There is a tremendous resource," said Neil Rossmeissl, a technology manager at the Department of Energy.That there is no downside to the use of wood as fuel is disputed by Bird and other environmentalists."A forest doesn't waste anything," he said. "That's the next generation of soil and nutrients in a forest ecosystem."...Wood, however, has far less stored energy than fossil fuels and coal, so more must be gathered, trucked and burned to produce the same power. Higher transportation costs mean wood plants must gather their fuel nearby, limiting where plants can be located.The issue of carbon neutrality is also a point of contention. Opponents say the carbon given off when wood is burned isn't quickly offset by carbon absorbed when a tree grows. Susan Reid of the Conservation Law Foundation sees promise in wood, but warns increasing demand could push the limits of how much wood can be used before forests are damaged.And like any power plant, local opposition can be fierce...Contra Costa TimesNew Bay Area wetlands created with breach of bermOne of several projects around Bay to restore tidal lands...Mike Taugherhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_10672768HAYWARD — A backhoe clawed through a dirt berm Wednesday, creating a channel that Bay water poured through to former industrial salt ponds that had not tasted tidal waters for more than a century. With the dirt berm removed, the Mount Eden Creek will spill into the former salt ponds on high tides and returning life to one rich shoreline wetlands. Mudflats will form. Pickleweed should start growing and eventually birds, fish and mammals, including endangered clapper rail birds and salt marsh harvest mice, are expected to move in.Biologists said they expect to see results quickly. "Just add water," said Eric Larson, the state Fish and Game Department's deputy regional manager for the Bay and Delta. It was the latest in a steady stream of marsh rehabilitation projects around the Bay, where roughly 80 percent of tidal wetlands that existed at the time of the Gold Rush have disappeared.On Wednesday, it was 350 acres of former salt ponds that are now destined to become wildlife-rich marshes. Earlier in the week, another levee was breached to flood 30 acres in Marin County. In the coming days, 500 acres will be "restored" along the Napa River on the Bay's northern shore."It's fabulous to see so much of this habitat coming back to the Bay after being closed off from the Bay for so many decades," Larson said. The former salt ponds at the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve form a northern extension of the salt pond complex that rings the southern tip of the Bay. From ground level, parts of it make up a flat, salt-whitened and barren landscape. Viewed by satellite images on Google's maps page, the region looks like an abstract painting of unusual shapes filled with unnatural-looking purples, oranges and greens — algae thriving in different concentrations of salinity.In addition to restoring wetlands, the East Bay Regional Park District on Wednesday dedicated a 2.5-mile extension of the Bay Trail, where it is expected one day to continue around the South Bay. The extension is scheduled to open to the public later this month.The Eden Landing property was purchased by the state in 1996 for $12 million from Cargill. The purchase signaled the epilogue in a long-running battle over a developer's plans to build a horse track on the property.Frank Delfino and his late wife, Janice, were among those who led the fight against it."It lasted until the 70s, when they went belly up," Delfino said, referring to the developer.David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, said the fight waged to stop the racetrack might have been pivotal to the fate of the other salt ponds."If this development happened here, that could have been an anchor for more development," Lewis said. "It was definitely a turning point."Cargill, the agribusiness giant, later sold 16,500 acres that rim the Bay to the government for $100 million in 2003, launching what supporters say is the largest tidal wetlands restoration project on the West Coast.Around the Bay, 190,000 acres of tidal marsh before the Gold Rush was reduced to about 40,000 acres by 2000. That year, ecologists, wildlife agencies and environmentalists set a goal to increase that number to 100,000 acres in an effort to expand thriving ecosystems.About 13,000 acres of marsh has been restored since then with an additional 35,000 acres in various stages of planning or design, said Steve Ritchie, project manager for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.Mercury NewsState forestry board shoots down plan to log trees off Highway 17...Ken McLaughlinhttp://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_10661590?nclick_check=1San Jose Water Co.'s plan to log more than 1,000 acres of redwood and Douglas fir trees near Highway 17 came to an abrupt end Wednesday when the state forestry board voted unanimously to side with mountain residents who had fiercely fought the proposal.In a surprise announcement shortly after the nine-member Board of Forestry and Fire Protection made its decision, a representative of San Jose Water indicated that the company would not appeal the decision in court.So the most contentious logging dispute in Santa Clara County in decades is suddenly over."I believe this is it,'' said John Tang, spokesman for the water company. "We're very disappointed.''Tang left open the possibility that the company might return in the future with a smaller timber harvest proposal, but he stressed that nothing has been decided...Opponents had vowed to sue if the forestry board approved the plan, arguing that the logging would generate noise, trigger landslides and increase fire danger.San Jose Water had said it wanted to log the 1,002 acres to reduce the danger of fire. Fire danger, however, was not the central point of contention before the forestry board Wednesday.At issue was how much timberland is actually owned by the investor-owned company, which provides drinking water to about a million people in San Jose, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino and Campbell.After a 31/2-hour hearing at which about two dozen people spoke, the forestry board agreed with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (also called Cal Fire) that the company owns more than 2,500 acres of timberland. So, it ruled, the company does not qualify for the open-ended logging permit it was seeking. Without an open-ended permit, the company has to come back for approval each time it wants to log a portion of the property — a process that is more expensive and time-consuming.Cal Fire and the forestry board say the company owns 2,825 acres of timberland, while the company says only 1,971 acres of that actually bears commercially harvestable trees.The forestry department's chief counsel has argued that "timberland'' is defined in the state Forest Practices Act as any land "available for, and capable of growing, a crop of trees of any commercial species used to produce lumber and other forest products, including Christmas trees.'' That, the department's chief counsel wrote in legal briefs, means "timberland'' includes not only areas with big trees but also land with small sprouts, stumps and even soils capable of growing trees.San Jose Water and Big Creek Lumber, the Santa Cruz County contractor working with the water company, characterized that definition as unfairly broad."We're also disappointed in the decision, but it's up to our client to decide what to do next,'' said Bob Berlage, a Big Creek spokesman. "The law would absolutely allow other timber harvest plans to be presented.''Santa Cruz SentinelHealth officials: Don't panic over chromium 6...LISA GROSSMANhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10676198SANTA CRUZ -- After meeting with Davenport residents to discuss the airborne levels of chromium 6, a carcinogenic chemical believed to have come from the Cemex plant, health officials Wednesday encouraged the public not to panic."The only significant hazard is lung cancer from inhalation" but over long periods of time, said Will Forest, an epidemiologist with the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. "Exposure is unlikely to have any other health effects."Chromium is a metal usually found in one of two forms: chromium 3 and chromium 6. The difference is their valence states, which determine "how they like to bond with other chemicals," Forest said. In this case, it makes the difference between an essential nutrient and a dangerous toxin.Chromium 3 is good for you in small amounts, health officials say. It's found in a lot of foods, and people often take it in multivitamins. Chromium 6, on the other hand, is a carcinogen. Both forms are found in nature, though chromium 3 is more common, and both forms can morph into the other by acquiring or losing electrons.At extremely high temperatures, chromium 3 can turn into chromium 6, which is likely how the Davenport Cemex plant produced it, Forest said. According to Forest, chromium 3 is a contaminant in the materials used at the Cemex plant.Plant officials said they will stop using two kinds of materials that probably contain the metal: mill scale and steel slag. In the air, chromium 6 can naturally turn into chromium 3 over the course of a week, Forest said. That means that chromium particles that settle on the ground may be nontoxic.However, Dr. Robert Blaisdell of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment said that health officials assume any chromium 6 in the air will stay for a long time, just to be safe."It's a health protective measure," he said. "It's likely that it will go to chromium 3 over time, but we can't say that for certain."If inhaled, chromium 6 tends to stay in the lungs, where it can get into cells. That's probably why it causes lung cancer, Forest said. But if ingested through contaminated food or water, the stomach converts it into the benign chromium 3 and the body flushes it out. That's why it's more dangerous to breathe chromium 6 than drink it, Forest said.Because chromium 3 is so normal, it can be difficult to detect dangerous levels of chromium 6 in people, which is part of the reason health officials aren't suggesting tests for people in Davenport."Testing people for chromium would find chromium 3, and it's supposed to," Forest said. "You wouldn't be able to tell if amounts of chromium 3 were higher than they should be at Davenport's exposure level.""You can look for it in urine," Blaisdell added. "But if it started out as chromium 6, by the time it gets to the urine it'll be chromium 3. In a situation like Davenport, where the amounts of chromium that you're inhaling are extremely small, although they're a significant cancer risk, it's going to be pretty small compared to the amount that you're taking in in your diet."Officials said the groundwater in Davenport has tested safe. No chromium 6 was detected in the water, and any particles that landed on the soil are unlikely to end up in the groundwater, Blaisdell said.If you are concerned about chromium 6 in the soil, Blaisdell suggests you wash your hands often, "simply as a precaution."Chromium 6 testing continues in Davenport, Cemex changes business practices...Shanna McCordhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10676189DAVENPORT -- When demand for cement picks up and Cemex looks to restart the Davenport plant, there will be some significant changes in the way the company does business.Cemex officials, during an interview Wednesday, promised to act promptly to protect the community and remain viable in the marketplace after last week's discovery that excessive levels of the carcinogenic chromium 6 had been detected in the air this summer by the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District."We have instituted new management practices to alleviate the problem," said Satish Sheth, a Scotts Valley resident and vice president of Cemex manufacturing. "Of course we were alarmed; of course we were concerned when we learned about this. We immediately went to work."The cement factory's top priority is suspending the use of two key ingredients -- mill scale and steel slag -- commonly used for making cement. Those ingredients, which came from the Seattle area, are believed to carry high levels of chromium, which can turn into the cancer-causing chromium 6 when heated at high temperatures in the kiln.Instead of mill scale and steel slag, Cemex will turn to iron ore, a more expensive raw material, for future cement production.Sheth said Cemex already notified its Seattle steel slag provider that the company will not be making any new orders for the Davenport facility."Iron ore is certainly more expensive," he said. "I don't know how much more expensive it will be." Air samples taken by the air district from June to August at the elementary school and fire department in Davenport registered measurements of chromium 6 that were up to 10 times higher than what state environmental standards allow.The chances of someone contracting cancer from the chromium 6 levels found in Davenport are about 2 in 10,000 people, according to Dr. Bob Blaisdell of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.Many of Davenport's 400 residents, voicing concerns for their cancer risk, have asked the county or Cemex to conduct medical tests. Local officials say they're not willing to take that step this early in the process.The levels of chromium 6 are small enough that if measured by the federal Environmental Protection Agency's standards, not the state's, no alarms would have sounded, air district and county health officials said.However, further testing of the area's air, water and soil is under way to determine if the cement factory's recent closure due to a weak economy has helped reduce the contaminant.Sheth said drinking water tested last week at Cemex showed no signs of chromium 6. Factory employees were tested for chromium 6 in August with a device attached to their chest that monitors the air they breathe. Those tests came up negative, he said.Results from air samples collected in Davenport over the weekend by the air district should be released in the next few days, according to Ed Kendig of the air district. The county's most recent testing of San Vicente and Mill creeks, the two water sources for Davenport, in August 2007 also failed to detect any chromium, Steve Schneider of county Environmental Health Services said.Beyond ending the use of raw materials with high chromium content, Cemex has doubled the size of its maintenance crew; repaired aging or old equipment; taken steps to better supervise and control the loading of trucks and the dust created; and worked to ensure dust from cement stored indoors doesn't leak from doors and windows.Sheth said the company has considered building an enclosed facility for trucks to load cement, but such a project would be a long way off.Cement-making operations were shut down in the past month because of little demand, the third time this year the market has forced its closure. The company continues to ship material in their silos where they have a couple of months' supply, he said. The company, whose cement customers are mostly from the San Francisco Bay Area, doesn't have a timeline for when production will start again, but doesn't anticipate laying off any of the 130 workers, Sheth said.Cemex operates 13 other cement plants across the country, including one in Victorville. None has reported problems with chromium 6, he said.Monterey HeraldPlanning Commission rejects developmentRancho Los Robles: Water supply is issue...JIM JOHNSON, Herald Salinas Bureauhttp://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_10676195One of the last major projects left to be considered under the 1982 general plan received another setback from the county Wednesday. Voicing concerns about the long-term water supply in North Monterey County, the Planning Commission decided to recommend denial of the long-delayed Rancho Los Robles subdivision to the Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision. The county planning staff had recommended a smaller project, but that was dismissed by the commission. A motion by Commissioner Jay Brown directing the staff to investigate the impact of the smaller project failed before the commission voted to present the denial recommendation to supervisors on Oct. 29. As proposed by developer Heritage Western Communities, the controversial project on the edge of Las Lomas would convert 33.6 acres of farmland, pasture and woodland into 97 single-family lots and four multi-family townhouse complexes, along with commercial development, parks and open space. The project, located between Hall and Sill roads, has been in the works for 20 years. The recommended alternative, proposed by the county Subdivision Committee, would have included 68 single-family lots, four duplexes, mixed-use commercial development with second-floor apartments and a smaller area designated for parks and open space. Water supply Under the existing general plan, the proposed project site is zoned for medium-density residential development, but under the proposed new general plan no subdivisions would be allowed in North County and any development would be restricted to existing lots of record. Commissioner Keith Vandevere summed up the crux of the argument against either project. The project's environmental impact report found the development would have a potentially significant and unavoidable impact on the already overtapped North County groundwater supplies, which show evidence of seawater intrusion. That impact, Vandevere said, clearly outweighed any community benefit from the proposed subdivision. "There's a very severe water problem in that area and all the water solutions we thought might resolve that problem seem to have fallen through," Vandevere said, referring to the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency's failures to provide alternative water supplies. "I'd need very, very strong evidence of overriding considerations. Nothing I've heard today comes close." During public comment, several North County residents testified about the water supply problem in their area, and argued that the project should wait until solutions are found. Developer fees But attorney Mark Blum, representing the applicant, pointed out that the environmental impact report found that the project would actually result in a more than 50 percent reduction of water demand on the property because of the large amount of water previously used in farming the land. Blum argued that denying the project would likely result in a return to the more water-intensive uses on the site, which he said had previously resulted in degradation of the property's woodland and wetland areas. He also pointed out that the developer would have to pay associated fees that would legally reduce the overall impact of the project to acceptable levels. The bottom line, Blum argued, was that the project met the county's own land-use guidelines under the existing general plan, would provide much needed housing and other benefits for the area, and predates any water problems in the area anyway. Even a reduced alternative was inappropriate, he added, and argued that the project was bolstered by prior case law. Brown agreed, arguing that the EIR was clear that the water supply was adequate for the project and that speculation about the extent of overdraft in North County was not sufficient grounds to deny the proposal. He called the project a "great use of land" that would provide exactly the kind of housing the county needs. But Vandevere pointed out that most of the proposed housing would consist of single-family homes, and that there remain plenty of existing lots in North County for those kinds of homes. Commissioner Martha Diehl said she objected to the applicant's suggestion that a rejection of the project would result in what some have called "over-use" of water on the property, and rejected the argument that previous case law justified the project's impacts. "You can't drink case law, when it comes right down to it," Diehl said. Developers originally proposed a much-larger, 204-home project in 1996, but that was rejected by the county and the courts upheld the county's decision. The current proposal was submitted in 2000. Los Angeles TimesL.A. River kayak trip gets government biologist in trouble...Associated Press http://www.latimes.com/news/local/me-kayak7,0,3173343,print.storyA federal biologist was threatened with a 30-day job suspension over a kayaking trip she took to protest perceived government threats to the Los Angeles River and other waterways, according to documents released Wednesday.Heather Wylie, a project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles, went kayaking on the river one Saturday in July to draw attention to a proposal by the Corps that could have exempted parts of the Los Angeles River from federal clean water protections.Shortly thereafter, her supervisors told her they were proposing to suspend her for 30 days without pay because of the "unsafe and unauthorized boating expedition" and also because of an "unauthorized and inappropriate e-mail message" she had sent to co-workers about the clean water issue.The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility announced plans Wednesday to file a whistleblower complaint on Wylie's behalf, and released the letter she received from her supervisors.In an interview, Wylie said her employers were violating her First Amendment rights."It's really silly because it was on my day off, it's my freedom of speech, I have the right to say I don't agree with what you're doing," said Wylie, who said she's worked for the Corps in Los Angeles for 41/2 years."I was doing the right thing and that's what you're supposed to do in a democracy."Jay Field, a spokesman for the Corps in Los Angeles, declined comment. "Out of respect for the privacy rights of all of our employees the Los Angeles district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot comment," he said in a statement. PEER replied on Wylie's behalf to the notice of proposed suspension but so far Wylie's supervisors haven't responded, so it's not clear whether they'll attempt to move forward with the suspension.At issue is a proposal by the Corps of Engineers earlier this year to declare only small portions of the Los Angeles River to be "traditionally navigable waters" and therefore subject to the Clean Water Act. Similar determinations were being considered for other rivers around the country.The decision prompted complaints from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.The Environmental Protection Agency subsequently stepped in and took jurisdiction from the Corps to determine whether the Los Angeles River and the Santa Cruz River in Arizona would be subject to Clean Water Act protections.The point of the kayaking trip Wylie went on with other activists was to prove that the Los Angeles River is, in fact, navigable.The river runs 51 miles from the northwestern San Fernando Valley, around the eastern side of downtown Los Angeles and south to Long Beach harbor. Lined with concrete along most of its route to prevent meandering and flooding, it flows at a trickle, if at all, during dry periods but can turn into a raging torrent during storms. Wylie said she participated in one day of a three-day kayaking trip and kayaked about 20 miles downstream from the edge of the Sepulveda Basin.Her supervisors found out about it when they saw a photo of her on the kayak trip on the Internet, according to the notice of proposed suspension letter. San Diego Union-TribuneJamul tribe sues, claims Caltrans is meddling...By Onell R. Soto http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20081009-9999-1m9jamul.htmlEAST COUNTY – A tribe fighting to build a casino on a tiny reservation next to a curvy state highway is taking its battle to court. The Jamul Indian Village sued the California Department of Transportation last week over the state's threat to block a driveway to the reservation if the roadway is used as access to a gambling hall. The driveway would be dangerous if used for a large casino, Caltrans officials say. The tribe says the state agency doesn't have the right to ask about the casino plans and how they might affect state Route 94. “(Caltrans') repeated attempts to apply and enforce state land use and environmental laws on the tribe's on-reservation activities and . . . decision to restrict access to the reservation are impermissible, invalid and patently unlawful,” the tribe says in the lawsuit. Caltrans officials have said the tribe has to go through a complicated environmental review before they can grant a permit to widen the highway and put in a traffic light at the reservation driveway. The driveway is on a curve on the hilly state highway. A Caltrans study, prepared last year, found an average of 8,600 cars a day use Route 94 between Jamul and Tecate. A tribal study found that a casino would add 3,600 cars to the roadway, making a traffic light necessary. Jamul's gambling hall would be 20 miles from downtown San Diego, the closest casino to the city center. Caltrans says a better option than using the driveway is to build a new, longer driveway from nearby Melody Road. But the tribe says that's improper meddling by the state. The lawsuit, filed in San Diego federal court, asks a judge to prevent Caltrans from enforcing state laws that might affect the reservation. A Caltrans spokesman said the agency has not been served with the legal papers. In a prepared statement, county Supervisor Dianne Jacob derided the lawsuit. “Fighting to take direct access onto an already deadly Highway 94 for a huge casino development is dangerous and unconscionable,” Jacob said. “It truly demonstrates how little casino proponents care about the safety of the people who drive this highway.” A member of the tribe's Executive Council, Carlene Chamberlain, shot back that Caltrans and Jacob should do more about the safety of the road than complain about the casino. “There's a traffic problem already,” Chamberlain said. “Yeah, we're going to add to it, but Dianne Jacob and Caltrans can do something to improve it.” The lawsuit was necessary because negotiations with Caltrans over road access have broken down, Chamberlain said.The Minnesota company backing the casino, Lakes Entertainment, can't get funding for design and construction until it's clear that gamblers will be able to get to the slot machines, she said. Jamul Indian Village was one of about 60 tribes that signed casino agreements with the state 10 years ago, but lawsuits, internal squabbles and outside opposition have stopped its plans. A major problem has been getting approval from state and local officials for an environmental plan. Last year, tribal leaders decided to scale back plans and fill their casino with bingo-based slot machines and card games that don't require state approval. This year, workers have been busy building the driveway on reservation land that connects to Highway 94. But Caltrans has said it wouldn't issue the encroachment permit for the traffic light and widening without a full environmental process that takes into account the casino project. In a letter June 12, the state agency went a step further. “The tribe does not have a safe access point,” said Pedro Orso-Delgado, the local Caltrans director. “We will take any steps needed to ensure the safety of SR-94 users, which may include limiting/preventing access to the project site.” That was too much, tribal lawyer Skip Durocher said. “We have an unfettered right of access to that reservation,” Durocher said. The tribe views the permit process and environmental issues as separate from access. A spokeswoman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn't comment specifically on the lawsuit, but said that he supports Caltrans “and its work to ensure that developments, including tribal casinos, do not create a safety risk and that any adverse impacts are mitigated.”New York TimesOn Parched Farms, Using Intuition to Find Water...Jesse McKinleyhttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/09/us/09water.html?sq=drought&st=cse&scp=5&pagewanted=printWATERFORD, Calif. — Phil Stine is not crazy, or possessed, or even that special, he says. He has no idea how he does what he does. From most accounts, he does it very well.“Phil finds the water,” said Frank Assali, an almond farmer and convert. “No doubt about it.”Mr. Stine, you see, is a “water witch,” one of a small band of believers for whom the ancient art of dowsing is alive and well. Emphasis, of course, on well. Using nothing more than a Y-shaped willow stick, Mr. Stine has as his primary function determining where farmers should drill to slake their crops’ thirst, adding an element of the mystical to a business where the day-to-day can often be painfully plain. Asked how he does it, Mr. Stine has a standard retort.“I just tell people,” Mr. Stine said, “it’s the amount of lead” in your haunches.Scientists pooh-pooh dowsers like Mr. Stine, saying their abilities are roughly on par with a roll of the dice. But witches have been much in demand of late in rural California, the nation’s biggest agricultural engine, struggling through its second year of drought. The dry period has resulted in farm layoffs, restrictions on residential and agricultural water use, and hard times for all manner of ancillary businesses, like tractor dealerships and roadside diners.“There is a domino effect to the point that a little clothing store goes out of business in a town, because the people living there move on,” said Doug Mosebar, the president of the California Farm Bureau.The state estimates nearly $260 million in crop damages through August. The drought has been particularly hard on areas like the Central Valley, the state’s 400-mile-long farming basin, and in Southern California, where some avocado farmers have taken to stumping their trees, cutting them back to the base rather than watering them. Statewide, farmers have left nearly 80,000 acres fallow rather than struggle — and pay handsomely — to keep them irrigated. The dry times have meant good business for people like Blake Hennings, a well-driller in the Central Valley city of Turlock, who says he has a lengthy waiting list and a yard full of worn-down drill bits. At a recent job he dug five test holes, all of which had been identified by a water witch like Mr. Stine.“We only had one bad one,” said Mr. Hennings, whose brother Curtis also dabbles with the dowser. “How they do it is beyond me.” How many rural witches are still around is an open question. Water witches have no trade unions — or covens. Few advertise, or dowse full time. Mr. Stine, for example, offers his services without charge, though he says he does accept thanks of another sort. “I got a bunch of gift certificates,” he said. Dowsers have been part of lore for millenniums, and many on the farm today have no doubt they have special abilities. Richard Cotta, the chief executive of California Dairies, a Central Valley cooperative, said he vividly remembered the first time he saw a witch.“I was 6 years old,” Mr. Cotta recalled. “A neighbor’s well had gone dry, and this old fellow came out and he witched it, quite a ways away from the other well. Doggone it, I’ll be darned if they didn’t get water. That made a believer out of me.”So much of a believer, in fact, that Mr. Cotta recently walked away from a land deal because Mr. Stine said there was no water to be found. “He said he couldn’t find enough water to do what we wanted,” Mr. Cotta said. Thomas Harter, a hydrologist at the University of California, Davis, who runs workshops with farmers looking to drill wells, said there was no scientific evidence that dowsers had special talent at finding water. They are, however, usually much cheaper than the various scientific tools, like electromagnetic imaging or seismic studies, that can help find aquifers.“It’s worth a bottle of whiskey to have a guy come out,” Dr. Harter said. But Dr. Harter also said men like Mr. Stine, who worked in the irrigation business for nearly half a century, could have an intuitive sense of where water was, simply by dint of knowing the territory.In the Central Valley, which was once the bottom of a giant inland lake that water soaked into for eons, finding groundwater for domestic use is pretty easy, Dr. Harter said. But Mr. Stine’s efforts are reserved for agricultural wells, which need to produce much more water and sometimes can run 1,000 feet deep.Mr. Stine is 77 and retired from a successful irrigation business here in Waterford, a town of about 7,000 on the banks of a slender section of the Tuolumne River, the same river from which he now cuts his willow branches. What does he look for in a good dowsing rod? “It’s got to have leaves on it, and it can’t really be bigger than your finger,” Mr. Stine said. “And you got to find one with a fork in it.” He says he was taught his dark arts many years back by a fellow irrigator who used a metal coat hanger and a hard hat to dowse. “He used a metal rod and wore a metal hat, and that thing would hit his head,” Mr. Stine said. “So he always wore that hat.” The American Society of Dowsers, an organization based in Vermont, claims more than 3,000 members who use various tools — pendulums, L-shaped rods, bobbers — on all manner of mystery, finding minerals and lost objects, and even attaining “ancient wisdom,” according to the group’s Web site.“Dowsing is a system that uses tools,” said George Weller, the society’s national president. “And the tools give you an answer.” Mr. Stine, a plain-spoken Baptist, claims no connection with a higher power or otherworldly sensations when dowsing, merely a strong tugging in the hands. “You can feel it twist,” he said. “You can’t hang on to it. It will actually break in your hand.”On an afternoon not long ago, Mr. Stine was summoned to a parched patch of earth outside Merced, Calif., owned by Mr. Assali and Mr. Cotta. Mr. Stine’s process is simple: walk the eastern edge of the property with the willow held straight up. When it bends toward him, he marks the spot with a flag and keeps walking. If he gets two or three in quick succession, he is convinced there is a stream somewhere underfoot.On Mr. Assali’s and Mr. Cotta’s land, Mr. Stine worked fast, practically speed-walking. And then, after about 150 feet, the willow bowed suddenly — inexplicably — toward Mr. Stine’s chest. “There it goes,” he said, his hands straining against the stick.And so it went, again and again as Mr. Stine moved along the property’s perimeter, planting perhaps 20 flags. Mr. Assali said he would start drilling on Mr. Stine’s recommendation as soon as he could. CNN MoneyCiti, walk away from Wachovia!The Wells Fargo deal is better for shareholders, employees and taxpayers. If Citigroup is desperate for deposits, it should go find another bank to buy...Paul R. LaMonicahttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/09/markets/thebuzz/index.htm?postversion=2008100912NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Wells Fargo and Citigroup are apparently still battling over who should get the right to buy Wachovia. The government is urging a quick resolution so that the two banks, which agreed yesterday to extend their standstill on pending legal actions until tomorrow, don't have to drag this case though the courts. According to several published reports, Wells may wind up acquiring the majority of Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) with Citi getting about 20% or so. But talks are said to have hit a snag. Call me crazy. But isn't the solution simple?Citigroup should walk away -- even if it has to be paid to do so -- and go find something else to buy.Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) wants to buy all of Wachovia for about $15.7 billion, or $7 a share. Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) announced four days before Wells swooped in with its bid that it planned to buy just the banking assets of Wachovia for about $2.2 billion, or $1 a share.Do the math. $7 or $1? Which is the better deal for Wachovia shareholders? Hmm. Talkback: Should Citigroup walk away from Wachovia?In addition, the Wells deal is arguably better for Wachovia employees. There's less geographic overlap between Wells, which is based in San Francisco and mainly has a branch presence on the West Coast and Midwest, and Wachovia, which is based in Charlotte and is big on the East Coast. Wachovia does have a branch network in California as well through its disastrous 2006 purchase of savings and loan Golden West. But Citi, headquartered in New York, has more overlap with Wachovia as both have a sizable presence in many markets in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. What's more, the Citi purchase would leave the company's Wachovia Securities brokerage division (Wachovia bought A.G. Edwards last year) and Evergreen Investments mutual fund business in limbo. "To me, the offer that came from Wells Fargo is quite superior," said Theodore Kovaleff, an analyst with Granta Capital in New York.But most importantly, the Wells deal puts no taxpayer money at risk. None. Wells agreed to take on all the potential losses from Wachovia's troubled loan portfolio. Citi, on the other hand, had the FDIC broker its deal. Citigroup would absorb up to $42 billion in potential losses. The FDIC would be on the hook for the remainder of losses in a $312 billion pool of Wachovia's loans. The FDIC would get $12 billion in Citi preferred stock and warrants as collateral.So let's do the math again. Wells puts zero taxpayer dollars at risk. Citi's deal potentially leaves the FDIC holding the bag on $280 billion in losses. What's the better deal? Hmmm.As one of this column's loyal readers, Jay Black, put it in an email to me, "This whole thing with Citi and Wells fighting over Wachovia is ridiculous. Citi will cost the [government] money and Wells will not. That's a no-brainer to me." The FDIC has done an admirable job of managing the banking crisis so far, which makes it a little disconcerting that it has not decided to fully endorse the Wells Fargo offer over Citigroup's. Instead, the FDIC said last week that it is standing by the Citi deal but is also "reviewing all proposals...to pursue a resolution that serves the public interest."But when would cutting a bank into pieces and potentially putting taxpayer money at risk be in the public interest?I realize that Citi has a legitimate legal beef here. According to a copy of the merger exclusivity agreement with Wachovia obtained by CNNMoney.com, it is clearly spelled out that Wachovia was not permitted to engage in other discussions regarding a sale of the bank. What's more, Citigroup and Wachovia agreed that in the event of a breach of the deal, the banks would be "irreparably harmed" and "could not be made whole by monetary damages." In other words, Citigroup did not see a need to negotiate a possible break-up fee if Wachovia found another white knight.But clearly that stance has changed. On Monday, Citigroup filed a suit against Wells and Wachovia asking for $60 billion in damages. So if Wells agreed to pay Citigroup something to walk away, should Citi really refuse that?If Citi is to be believed, the purchase of Wachovia's banking assets is not a make or break acquisition for the firm. In the press release about its complaint Monday, Citigroup said that Wachovia "was always a deal Citi wanted rather than one we needed."So if that's the case, then instead of trying to broker a split of Wachovia, shouldn't the government just strongly suggest to Wells that it pay Citigroup a reasonable break-up fee that Citi could then use to target another bank?There are plenty of other large banks that Citigroup could go after if it's craving more deposits as a source of capital. "Citigroup can afford to be opportunistic. There are other banks that may well find themselves available," Kovaleff said.Cleveland-based National City (NCC, Fortune 500), the 10th largest bank in the country according to data from the Federal Reserve, has been hit hard by the credit crunch. And shares are actually up nearly 8% today on speculation that it's looking for a buyer.And if Citi is more interested in building up its network in the Southeast, two big banks whose stocks have also plunged this year could be a good fit: Atlanta-based SunTrust (STI, Fortune 500), which is the 8th largest bank in the country, and Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions Financial (RF, Fortune 500), the 11th biggest bank in the U.S.Citi has more options. If Wells Fargo now is willing to pay nearly $16 billion for all of Wachovia and not ask the FDIC for any help, then what's the problem. Citi should go back to the drawing board and start shopping for something else.Paulson 'actively' eyes bank investmentWhite House confirms that Treasury looking at buying stakes in nation's banks...Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writerhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/09/news/economy/treasury_bank_investments/?postversion=2008100913NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Treasury Department is "actively" looking at buying equity stakes in some of the nation's banks, according to White House spokesperson Dana Perino.At a White House briefing on Thursday, Perino confirmed reports that the United States could soon join the United Kingdom, Iceland and Italy in announcing a plan to inject capital directly into their troubled banking systems.Capital - a measure of a bank's strength - is what makes lending possible. For the past month, as major financial institutions have failed, banks have been hoarding their cash to make sure they don't get caught in a capital squeeze. That in turn has caused a cutoff in credit needed by businesses and consumers.It's not clear what form the government intervention would take, but Treasury is likely to end up with ownership interests in the banks that receive the capital."These capital injections are something that Secretary Paulson is actively considering," said Perino. She said she couldn't comment on the timing or extent of such investments.The move would be made under the $700 billion Wall Street bailout law enacted on Friday.The focus of the bailout was a plan to have Treasury buying damaged mortgage-backed securities from banks and financial firms. The aim is to help firms improve their balance sheets and profit prospects and attract capital from the private sector. But the administration is now arguing that direct investment is part of the powers under the act.Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson first hinted of such a move Wednesday in a speech about the bailout. He said increasing capital investment in the nation's banking system is one of Treasury's goals, and he seemed to suggest that such capital could come directly from taxpayers.The new law gives "broad flexible authorities for Treasury to buy or insure troubled assets, provide guarantees, and inject capital," Paulson said.Paulson vowed to "use all of the tools we've been given ... including strengthening the capitalization of financial institutions of every size."The reports cheered some experts who had argued that such direct investment was the best way to help financial companies."The proper way to resolve a banking crisis is not to buy toxic assets but rather to recapitalize banks directly via injections of public capital (in the form of preferred shares) into distressed but solvent financial institutions," wrote Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business, on his blog Thursday.Treasury had been reluctant to move in that direction during debate over the bailout bill and it is significant that officials are now talking about the possibility of such direct investment, Roubini wrote."The 180 degree turn in the Treasury position is driven by the disastrous market reaction to the passage of this legislation and to the realization that U.S. banks are in such a deep trouble that, absent a direct partial public takeover of the banks, this severe financial crisis will get much worse," wrote Roubini.Jaret Seiberg, a financial services analyst at the Stanford Group, said in a note that he believes buying shares would be a good move for banks and their shareholders.He said even if government stock purchases dilute the value of shares held by investors, they are unlikely to wipe out current holdings.Financial Times (UK)Wall Street stocks in volatile trading...Alistair Gray in New Yorkhttp://us.ft.com/ftgateway/superpage.ft?news_id=fto100920081301455265&page=2Wall Street stocks extended their six-session losing streak on Thursday in highly volatile trading even after the SEC lifted its temporary ban on shorting.The market once again swung violently from losses to gains, as investors faced ongoing uncertainty over the likely success of authorities' series of vast intervention in the financial system.Earlier, relatively positive results from technology bellwether IBM had provided a glimmer of hope that corporate earnings may not be as dire as stocks' worst five-day sell-off since 1987 had implied.They helped improve - albeit modestly - relentlessly negative sentiment, particularly in the technology sector that has been hit hard on mounting fears of a global recession. IBM, which also reaffirmed its profit forecast, rose 1.7 per cent to $92.05 while Apple and Intel gained more than 3 per cent.The S&P 500 rose as much as 2.1 per cent, with technology up 3.3 per cent, but later lost as much as 2.5 per cent.By lunchtime in New York the benchmark index was 0.5 per cent lower at 980.05, still below psychologically significant barrier of 1,000 breached earlier in the week. That left it on track for its longest run of losses in twelve years.The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which has also sunk far beneath an important barrier of 10,000, was 0.4 per cent down at 9,228.55.However, the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index stood 0.7 per cent higher at 1,752.91.General Motors, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley all sustained heavy losses after the SEC lifted its temporary ban on short-selling.GM, which reported a decline in European sales declines, fell 13.2 per cent to $6.00 and sank at one point to its lowest level since 1950. Ford lost 7.5 per cent to $2.46.Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley fell 8.8 per cent to $16.40 and 14.8 per cent to $14.31 respectively.Investors were also examining reports that the government could take stakes in banks, which would be the latest in a series of measures to shore up confidence. Hank Paulsen, Treasury secretary, on Wednesday highlighted that the rescue legislation allowed the authorities to recapitalise financial institutions. Bank of America stood 1.6 per cent lower at $21.74 whileJP Morgan rose 4.4 per cent to $21.74.Elsewhere, Abercrombie & Fitch continued a string of poor performances in the retail sector with a 14 per cent drop in September like-for-like sales, worse than expected. The shares tumbled 8.3 per cent to $29.81.In economic news, the number of individuals filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell in line with expectations, including the impact of lesser hurricane-related claims. However, workers continuing to file existing claims rose to a five year high, according to the Labor Department.Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics said: "The only thing preventing a run of 2001-style drops in payrolls is that companies have not yet cut the pace of gross hiring as much as they have raised the pace of gross firing. We don't think this is sustainable; expect faster payroll declines."Materials and technology, both up 1.6 per cent, led the sectors on Thursday. Most steel producers gained even after Goldman Sachs cuts price forecast on the commodity sector by 29 per cent due in part to the slowdown in emerging markets and cut its recommendation on a host of stocks.In technology, Quest Software jumped 9.5 percent to $11.58 after the group unveiled plans for a $400m share buy-back.Yet the financial and energy sectors were the biggest losers, down 2.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent respectivelyInsurance company XL Capital sank 45.4 per cent to $4.74 while peer Allstate recovered modestly from heavy losses of more than a fifth in the previous session, up 5.4 per cent at $28.46.Hartford Financial lost 6.4 per cent at $23.27 after UBS slashed its price target from $70 to $26 and on speculation that talks between it and Metlife fell through. Metlife, which priced new shares at a discount in the previous session, gained 6.7 per cent to $28.80 after heavy losses on Wednesday.Federal litigation on the dispute between Citigroup and Wells Fargo over the fate of Wachovia was extended by two days. Citigroup added 0.3 per cent to $14.44 whileWells Fargo sank 9.8 per cent to $28.82. Wachovia fell 15.6 per cent to $4.27Bucking the downward trend, National City gained 10.3 per cent to $2.46 on reports it might sell itself.Energy producers suffered as oil fell below $87 a barrel. Chevron was among the biggest losers, down 4.4 per cent at $69.88. 10-9-08 MeetingsMCAG10-16-08 Governing Board Meeting...3:00 p.m....not posted at this timehttp://www.mcagov.org/govbrd.htmlWhat's Newhttp://www.mcagov.org/Notice of Cancellation of Public Comment Period on DRAFT Amend. #1 to the 2009 Interim FTIPview Public Notice...10-3-08...Merced Sun-Star 10-20-08 Merced County Hearing Officer agenda...8:30 a.m.http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/hearing/2008/Agenda/102008ka.pdf 10-23-08 LAFCo agenda...10:00 a.m.http://www.lafcomerced.org/pdfs/2008/10_23_2008/Agenda/102308.pdf City of Merced  meetingsOctober   20 CITY COUNCIL MEETING              22 PLANNING COMMISSION Merced County meetingsOctober  21  Merced County Board of Supervisors              22  Merced County Planning Commission