10-15-08Badlands JournalWhat if?...Badlands Journal editorial boardhttp://www.badlandsjournal.com/2008-10-14/005618The local McClatchy Chain outlets blared the good news this morning that the stock market rebounded yesterday. Hot damn! Today the Dow lost 110 points, the S&P 500 lost 1.2 percent and the Nasdaq composite lost 3.5 percent.We didn't notice the list of foreclosure announcements was any shorter in the Merced Sun-Star. Yesterday, in fact, we noticed that the Sun-Star's publisher had received a notice on his $507,000 home in McSwain. Evidently, we’ve had a real estate speculator running the paper during most of the boom. Mr. Vander Veen must have believed the propaganda he has been publishing.The only politician calling for a moratorium on foreclosures is Barak Obama, also the best funded presidential candidate. However, here in Merced, an Obama lawn sign from the campaign office is reported to cost $10, and a tee shirt, $25. Blue Dog idiocy at the wheel as usual.Maryland's newest Blue Dog congressman, Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-formerly Merced, ought to stop down at the old U of M and have a chat with Herman Daly, a distinguished economist recently retired from the World Bank to the university department that once fostered the work of Mancur Olson. Olson is important to the Valley because without his theoretical guidance, Brooks Jackson would not have been able to write so clearly his illuminating study, Honest Graft (1990), a seminal, prophetic work on political corruption in Congress that focused on the career of former Rep. Tony Coelho, Michael Milken's Friend-Merced.Daly explained recently why Merced, Modesto and Stockton, metro centers of Cardoza's rotten-borough district here and metro foreclosure-rate capitals of the nation, have no reason whatsoever to rejoice with the McClatchy Chain corporate outlets over the stock markets and the bailouts:----------------------------------CounterPunch.comWhy the Rescue Plan is Fraudlent The Wall Street Coup and the Bailout Scam ...By ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH...10-14-08http://www.counterpunch.com/zadeh10142008.html...As Herman E. Daly, University of Maryland economist, puts it, “The value of present real wealth is no longer sufficient to serve as a lien to guarantee the exploding debt. Consequently the debt is being devalued in terms of existing wealth. No one any longer is eager to trade real present wealth for debt even at high interest rates. This is because the debt is worth much less, not because there is not enough money or credit...Financial assets have grown by a large multiple of the real economy—paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities.” ...Reply to a local planning officialTuesday, December 21, 2004From: Lydia Miller, President San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Merced CA Steve Burke Protect Our Water, Modesto CA To: Merced County Board of Supervisors Merced CA December 21, 2004 (via fax and email) Re: December 21, 2004 Board agenda item: 10:30 a.m. Planning - 2004 Cycle III General Plan Amendment; University Community Plan.The following is submitted for the record regarding the Board’s consideration of the University Community Plan.An article titled “Reply to the Chancellor on UCP” was recently posted on the Badlands website (http://badlandsjournal.com). A local planner responded with the question: What do you think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced?It is a serious question, we appreciate it, and will try to articulate what we think about Merced County/UC Merced planning. The first word that caught our attention in the planners question was the word, we. Who, we wondered was the planner intending to include in the word, “we”?Participants in the sordid political deal in which Merced got the UC in return for Condit delivering the Valley for Davis in 1998, ripping the campus from the talons of Fresno where they had committed to locate at least a medical school as early as 1965, and had land already donated in Kearney Park?Participants in the whole cover up, inconsistency, tendentious obfuscation, regulatory-agency avoidance in the process to streamline UCM permitting run out of the governor’s and congressman’s office?Participants in the process of gagging the press, buying the press, and intimidating reporters so that no critical questions would appear in the media about the UC project?Participants in the UCM propaganda machine, which featured huge, UC-produced, publicly paid-for PR supplements in the local paper?Local paper regurgitation of UCM press releases as objective journalism? Tiny tots in UCM T-shirts lining state Capitol corridors?Greenlining Institute, proclaiming all Hispanic students would, should, and could go to UC if only they could stay in their family homes here in the Valley?Promoters of a campaign to name a mascot that gave the prize to a species that does not appear in Nature?Great Valley Center’s smart-growth propaganda, emanating from that tower of planning rectitude, Modesto?Dot-driven public focus groups confronting lists of projects that contained all pre-cooked possibilities but no project?The Nature Conservancy?Producers of meaningless planning documents like the CAA, CPAC, CAPS, various MCAG plans, Merced Water Supply Plan, NCCP/HCP, storm drain master plan?Grant hustlers using the East Merced Resource Conservation District to legitimize bogus plans and be a conduit for mis-spending public funds?Authors of numerous General Plan amendments that have rendered a weak document utterly unintelligible as a planning tool?The red and green teams?The black-and-blue team?Scientists scouring the pastures for endangered species who also found a dead baby Black Bear?Participants in the political process of suppressing ground-truthed science about the biological inventories on UCM land?The political geniuses behind adopting a blanket Agricultural Preserve over most of the county to mitigate for UC, the most significant restriction of private-property rights in the history of the county?Right-wing propagandists who whipped up a mob of land owners against the much less intrusive Critical Habitat Designation?Every scofflaw in the county Planning Department?Members of a county bureaucracy that systematically obstructs public access to public documents?Aggregate-company and developer lawyers who write planning documents and General Plan amendments?Private and publicly funded indemnifiers against lawsuits opposing local land-use decisions? Politically directed judges?Contemptuous EIR-writing, finger-flipping, harassing consultants?Packard Foundation money launderers?Venal, punitive local political staffers, hit squads for congressmen, state legislators and the special interests who pay them?Land-boom speculators in elective and appointed public offices?Elected officials that constantly, publicly harass members of the public who object to what only the county calls a planning process?Returning to the question: “What do you think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced?”, the next word that perhaps requires more definition is the word “plan” itself.Now, what could the planner have meant by this pregnant term?A hopelessly out-of-date General Plan created in 1992 as the result of a lawsuit brought by the public against a county that could not provide the court with evidence that there was a Merced County General Plan; a General Plan the state Attorney General directed the county to update at least every decade; a General Plan that was never followed anyway, but has now been rendered absurd by the superimposition of huge development amendments over a plan that valued the county’s agricultural and natural resources?The donation of a large tract of land to UC by a land trust too hapless to run a golf course during the height of popularity of that sport, manipulated by a local water lawyer, (his partner under indictment for defrauding Waterford), and a county planning department unwilling to enforce environmental law on its wetlands takes?The wholesale use of programmatic UC EIRs to secure mandates for “plans to make plans” that avoid any concrete analysis of inevitable negative impacts to natural resources, public health and safety that set a new, low, irresponsible planning standard for Merced County? Lawyer-guided, side-stepping of inconvenient permits, and building without them?The policy of UC to continually whine that UCM is the first campus it has attempted to build since serious environmental protection laws were passed, therefore it can’t really be held accountable to laws of the land? The splitting of land-use authority in two pieces: the county and UC?The splitting of local planning offices in two: the county Planning Department and the UC Development Planning Office? Wholesale confusion and lack of coordination between the two offices and between one or the other or both of them with the City of Merced?The complete lack of an adequate, comprehensive water plan for eastern Merced County?The disturbing eagerness and insanity of UC and its speculating boosters, landowners, and surrounding developers to double and triple the size of the Merced population in what has become the worst air-pollution basin in the nation?The willingness of the City of Merced to break its own ordinance to supply water and sewer services to UCM, once UC promised to indemnify it from legal challenges to its decision?A resource-easement program designed to fail?The wholesale, unrelenting stream of planning propaganda in place of accurate information, leaving the public in as much dark as could be decently managed at every step in the process? (For just one example, the completely bogus presentation of the Williamson Act as mitigation for UC and its induced development.)Leading the public into unpleasant speculations about future suburbs that could be named Smithville, Kelseyville, Crookhamton, Cardoza/Coelho Azorean Estates, Cuidad Cortez-Keene, Lynch-Adam-dAdamoville, Tatum Corners, Wellman Retirement Community, Lyons Industrial Park?Every project in the county driven by the heretofore not really, fully, completely permitted location of UCM?Rumblings of bribery and corruption in the county Planning Department?In conclusion, what do we think will happen if we don’t plan for the growth that will result from UC Merced? Well, Mr. Planner, the only answer we can give is: what’s happening at the moment. Merced’s agricultural and natural resources are being auctioned off to the highest bidders because of what you and your fellow planners did, while subjecting the public to an endless barrage of bureaucratic procedures and documents claiming you would not do exactly what you have done, are doing and will continue to do until your actions become so transparently corrupted that even the local judiciary will be unable to blind itself to them.Sincerely,Lydia MillerSteve BurkeCc: Interested parties------------------------------What if all the lies had not been told?What if the Great Valley Center and the University of California had not advocated the faith that “growth was inevitable,” and simply respected the environmental laws and regulations on the books?What if Great Valley Center had said that the growth projections of their developer sponsors and contributors and the California Department of Finance were unacceptable?What if the Pomboza (representatives Richard Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced/Maryland) had not tried three times to gut crucial provisions in the Endangered Species Act to allow even more construction of half-built subdivisions losing homeowners by the day?What if there had been any concern in local governments for environmental law and regulation beyond how to avoid both?What if there had been more than a tiny handful of people willing to resist publicly the wholesale destruction of environmental law and regulation in Merced County during the speculative real estate boom that has now, catastrophically, busted?What if development had actually paid for itself?What if local McClatchy outlets, the Merced one led by a squalid speculator in a half-million-dollar house, had written accurate journalism instead of being the chief pimp for finance, insurance, real estate, University of California. Riverside Motorsports Park and the WalMart distribution center?What if Valley judges had ruled to uphold environmental law and the laws of public process in cases involving the permitting of developments that not only ruined the environment but, if not the entire global finance economy, at least the economy of these Main-turning-Mean streets?What if people opposed to their own environmental destruction had been able to withstand the public hazing dished out by rightwing politicians on the dias and in the audience that they were “socialists” and “anti-growth nuts,” “tree-huggers,” “fairy shrimp lovers,” etc.?What if more people in Merced had regarded the economy as something other than a casino and politics as more than a high school popularity contest?What if agricultural special interests, who benefit constantly from the help of eco-justice advocates, had not demonized them completely behind their backs, as if farm and ranchland ownership were a license to lie, cheat and steal? What if agriculture could escape its schizophrenic state – are we farmers or are we owners of parcels for development? What if local, state and federal government did not perpetually subsidize our yeomen stewards of attractive real estate parcels for future development?What if our esteemed local business and political leaders had conceived of economic growth as something – anything – other than housing construction? What if they had realized that housing is about the most wasteful economic growth investment possible? What if they began to cope with the contradiction between their “free-market” ideology and their abject begging of government for grants and loans, bailouts and subsidies for the stupidities of the Merced Main Street?What if the term “jobs-housing balance” had ever been taken seriously?What if, as Mayor Ellie Wooten recently said, 80 percent of the entire Merced housing market actually was speculative?What if local government had actually retained any meaningful control of growth after the arrival of UC Merced?What if landowners, developers, financial and insurance institutions and local, state and federal politicians had not conspired to destroy the environment and economy of Merced, in some instances including their own institutions?What if any elected or appointed official among Merced County’s land-use boards and councils had ever taken their responsibilities as anything other than to enrich themselves and their cronies?What if planning and administrative staff had planned rather than accommodated growth that is both environmentally and economically ruinous?What if any of these complacent, overpaid, incompetent officials had ever had a clue about the relationship between the environment and the economy, between protection of natural resources and the greedy, speculative boom, or the difference between housing growth and economic growth? What if they had ever had any sense of the balance of things, rather than becoming experts in coercion of the public and corruption of the laws?Merced Sun-StarCounty supervisor hopefuls debate at UC Merced...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/498956.htmlDistrict 2 supervisor candidate Hub Walsh portrayed himself as a government insider with the experience to lead Merced County through bad times during a forum Tuesday at UC Merced, while opponent Jim Sanders billed himself as a problem-solver with a fresh approach.What was said, however, meant much less than where they said it.UC Merced students and faculty could be a major voting bloc in this year's election, influencing who wins the District 2 supervisor's race and leaving a mark on Merced County. UC Merced falls within the district boundaries, and the Board of Supervisors will oversee how the area surrounding the university grows.Despite this looming influence, neither candidate has made a strong effort to appeal the UC Merced community until appearing during the forum in the library, attended by a few dozen students.Even then, who to support remained murky. The candidates touched on a variety of issues, including growth, health care and job creation, and always seemed to come back with similar answers.Adam Kook, a 22-year-old student studying political science, asked that they highlight one policy in which they differ during their closing remarks. It was the second time they were pressed to show differences rather than similarities. It didn't happen."I think they're the same guy in different suits," Kook said after the forum. "They both say the same thing with different words."Kook, who grew up in Turlock before moving to Merced, said he wanted concrete examples of how they'd manage job growth against an agricultural backdrop. "You have to say no to some businesses," he noted. "I want to see how they'll balance that out."He's still not sure who'll get his vote, but he's definitely going to the poll on Election Day.The two candidates didn't specifically tailor their answers to the university crowd, though they did spend time on job creation and economic development -- two of the issues that seemed to resonate with a group heading into a bleak national job market and a worse local one...This is the first year that the university students will be choosing a supervisor to represent them. Retiring Supervisor Kathleen Crookham was re-elected in 2004, a year before the school opened.With both candidates having strong support, the tallies will probably be close. UC Merced, through its professors and students, could be sending hundreds, if not thousands, of voters to the polls.There are 21,359 registered voters in District 2, as of last month... UC Merced has 2,718 students and about 800 professors and staff. About a third of the 1,000 students who live on campus are registered to vote, according to the Merced County Elections Office. Student body President Yaasha Sabba said nearly 500 students have registered or re-registered to vote in the past few months. Today, Associated Student representatives will be going door-to-door to make sure everyone eligible has registered. The last day to send in a form is Monday.Sabba, who moderated the debate, suspects a majority of students will take the time to cast a ballot, even though the polls are off-campus. "It's the ultimate election when we're guaranteed to make history," he said. "They all want to be part of this historical event."Merced County economic leaders weigh in on fiscal madnessUC Merced professors agree that bailout was a necessary evil...DANIELLE GAINES...10-14-08http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/497238.htmlEconomics are a complicated concept. When three UC Merced professors planned a financial crisis lecture Friday, the market was in a freefall, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 2,400 points over the previous eight days.On Monday, just hours before the lecture, the Dow closed up 936 points as the result of a record-setting rally."Never have I written a presentation that has gone out of date so fast," said Katie Winder, the organizer of the event, referring to changes in the congressional bailout package as well as the economic upswing. Winder said the event began when she prepared a presentation for students in two of her economics courses. The presentation was not part of the normal curriculum, but "we were discussing arcane theories while the market was collapsing," she said. So, while the information she presented was not in her area of expertise (gender equity in the workforce), she felt she owed it to her students to do the research and share with them the basic history of the current crisis. The lecture went over so well with students, that she decided to share it with the general public at last night's meeting. Two other professors, Shawn Kantor and Todd Neumann, came to help field questions. (Kantor worked for Freddie Mac in the 1990s and Neumann has researched the Great Depression.)While many things are speculative at this moment in time, the three agreed that one thing was certain: The bailout is a "neccessary evil," as Kantor put it... Central Valley home foreclosures downNotices of default fell 62 percent in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties...J.N. Sbranti, The Modesto Bee...10-14-08http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/497218.htmlForeclosures dropped dramatically during September throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but don't start celebrating yet.Experts warn that the decline was caused by a change in state law that simply may have delayed -- not stopped -- foreclosures.Whatever the result, statistics from ForeclosureRadar show Senate Bill 1137's impact has been striking:Notices of default, the first stage of the foreclosure process, fell 62 percent in Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties in September compared with August.Notices of trustee sale, the last warning in the process, fell nearly 47 percent.Foreclosure sales dropped 19 percent.The law, which took effect Sept. 8, makes lenders meet strict homeowner notification requirements before they can start the foreclosure process."Clearly, SB 1137 has had a huge impact on notices. Only time will tell if the impact is beneficial or only delays the inevitable," said Sean O'Toole, founder of ForeclosureRadar, which tracks California foreclosures.Mortgage defaults have devastated the region's real estate and financial industries, making the Northern San Joaquin Valley the foreclosure capital of the nation...abc30 newsValley Cities Rank Worst in Job Growth...Sara Sandrik...10-13-08http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=6447752Fresno, CA, USA (KFSN) -- Despite the gains on Wall Street ... Main Street is still suffering. Unemployment numbers are at their highest rate since 2003. And in the Central Valley the troubling economy has made it harder than ever to find a job. New numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics rank valley cities among the worst in the nation for new job growth. Merced ranks fourth in the country and highest in the valley ... With a 12-point-1 percent unemployment rate. Followed by Visalia, Fresno, Hanford, and Madera. More than 12 thousand people are currently unemployed in Merced. But the city says businesses are interested in moving here because of the long term potential, and now local leaders are trying to show more companies what the area has to offer.Greg Conner worked in construction for 15 years before the housing boom went bust ... and he ended up unemployed. Conner turned to the Merced Rescue Mission for help and recently earned his GED in hopes of getting a job in retail. But so far, all he's heard is "we're not hiring." Greg Conner said, "It's actually pretty frustrating because you spend all that time doing that hard work and doing the testing thinking it's going to get you somewhere and then you hit a road block." And he's certainly not alone ... City of Merced Spokesperson Mike Conway said, "When the foreclosure crisis erupted, we had all sorts of people who were not just contractors and construction workers, but also those in the other fields like retail outlets and things like that that also suffered." But city spokesperson Mike Conway says Merced is actively working to attract new businesses. Conway said, "Right now staff is down in San Diego at a solar power industry convention where they're talking with different power companies and research and development to see what kind of solar opportunities we might be able to bring here." And Conway says despite the current downturn, companies are showing interest in Merced. That includes a dairy processing plant that would bring 125 new jobs to the city, as well as two potential call centers. "One would bring 300 jobs, one would bring 400 jobs," says Conway. Which could be the break Conner and thousands of other unemployed residents are waiting for ... Conner said, "I just have to keep my faith up and know that something's gonna come real soon." The city also points out that UC Merced will continue to add jobs as more faculty and staff are hired to keep up with the growing student populationFresno BeeMemos tell wildlife officials to ignore global-warming impact...RENEE SCHOOFhttp://www.fresnobee.com/news/national-politics/v-printerfriendly/story/936694.htmlNew legal memos by top Bush administration officials say that the Endangered Species Act can't be used to protect animals and their habitats from climate change by regulating specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of global warming.The assessment, outlined in memos sent earlier this month and leaked Tuesday, provides the official legal justification for limiting protections under the Endangered Species Act. One of the memos, from the Interior Department's top lawyer, concluded that emissions of greenhouse gases from any proposed project can't be proved to have an impact on species or habitat, so it isn't necessary for federal agencies to consult with government wildlife experts about the impact of such gases on species as stipulated under the Endangered Species Act. The legal opinions about the Endangered Species Act come as the Bush administration seeks to change regulations to reduce the role that government wildlife experts have in protecting animals from the effects of climate change. The administration proposed the changes in August. Tuesday was the last day for public comment. Public opposition was massive. The August proposed changes would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether timber sales, dam building or other projects harm wildlife, in many cases without consulting with the agencies charged with administering the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Endangered Species Act prohibits any federal actions that would jeopardize the existence of a listed species or "adversely modify" critical habitats. The 1973 law has helped save species such as the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the manatee. "They are reinterpreting the law in ways many believe are unlawful," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, who was the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration and now is the executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, a group that works to protect and restore wild animals and plants in their natural habitats. Clark said career people weren't consulted, and that the system for federal agencies to meet with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service didn't need to be revised. Clark said many federal agencies lacked the biological expertise to determine whether their projects harmed wildlife, but that the bigger issue was conflict of interest. "When you have the Forest Service or the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or the Defense Department or whoever, they have a different primary mission," she said. The two wildlife services have knowledge about the species protected under the act and "they become the check and balance for the Forest Service in assessing the impacts of their timber cuts and so on." John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation said the consultations were a cornerstone of the law. "Allowing federal agencies to forgo this process would put America's treasured plants, fish and wildlife at risk." Eric Biber of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and professors from 17 other law programs criticized the proposed rule change Monday and said they'd send comments to the government. "The rules are overbroad, rushed and possibly illegal," Biber said. "Given the timing of the proposed changes, it's clearly an effort by the administration to weaken the regulations before President Bush leaves office." Interior Department spokesman Chris Paolino said the department planned to read all the comments and research the issues they raised before deciding whether to change the rule. The change doesn't require congressional approval. Barack Obama's campaign said in August that the Democrat would undo the rule change if he were elected. John McCain's campaign at the time reportedly had no comment. His campaign headquarters press department didn't return a call requesting comment Tuesday. Clark said the Interior Department memo also was significant. The Oct. 3 memo from Interior Solicitor David Bernhardt to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, which was released Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, concluded that indirect effects on wildlife can't be traced to emissions from any specific source and that cumulative effects "are of no relevance" under the Endangered Species Act. Clark said, however, "The bottom line is the Endangered Species Act does not contemplate singling out of threats to a species' survival and deciding well, this threat is not going to be considered by the ESA." Climate change is "one of the most obvious threats to species sustainability, and to say we're going to give it a pass, that's just clearly nonsensical." Another document released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an Oct. 10 letter from James Lecky, the director of the National Marine Fisheries Service's Office of Protected Species, agreed with a recent EPA finding that the harm from the greenhouse-gas emissions of a single coal-fired power plant would be so remote that it shouldn't provoke government action. The letter also agreed with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which argued in May, when the Interior Department listed the polar bear as a threatened species, that it wasn't possible to establish a link between a single source of carbon dioxide and specific harmful climate impacts. ON THE WEB: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has links to the two memos and a news release": http://tinyurl.com/4er3bq (McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Michael Doyle and David Goldstein contributed to this report.) Survey: 77 Percent of NPS, Fish & Wildlife Experts Say Proposed Gun Rule Will Hurt Management of National Parks, Wildlife Refuges...Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Washington, D.C.http://www.fresnobee.com/556/v-printerfriendly/story/935288.htmlMore than three out of four (77 percent) of 1,400 present and former employees of the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) predict that the controversial Department of Interior (DOI) proposed rule reversing the long-standing prohibition of carrying loaded, concealed weapons in National Parks and Wildlife Refuges will have an adverse affect on the ability of NPS and USFWS employees to accomplish their mission. This finding and others are contained in "Natural and Cultural Resource Impacts and Management Consequences of the Proposed Regulation to Authorize the Possession of Concealed Firearms in Units of the National Park & National Wildlife Refuge Systems," a major new report the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR), which now has more than 670 members. While DOI has neglected to provide an analysis of the potential impacts of its proposed rule, CNPSR surveyed in excess of 1,400 present and former employees of the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the impacts that these experts foresee should the regulation go into effect. Other key results of the survey include:   --  75 percent feel that there will be an increase in opportunistic or impulse wildlife killings in parks and refuges; and   --  83 percent of survey respondents anticipated that the proposal will increase the overall level of complexity for management of their park or refuge.In issuing the report, CNPSR emphasized that DOI violated the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in failing to adequately examine the foreseeable impacts of the relaxed gun regulation. Additionally, CNPSR asserts that DOI should have consulted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to ESA, as 89 threatened or endangered species inhabit the parks that would be affected by the regulation. The new CNPSR report highlights the enforcement complexities and threats to public safety that should have been addressed in an analysis of reasonable alternatives to the rule under NEPA. Based on the report, CNPSR is renewing its call for DOI to withdraw the proposed rule. CNPSR Executive Council Chair Bill Wade said: "We think the proposed rule is manufactured and driven politically to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Data show that parks are among the safest places to be in this country. Moreover, we believe it will create more problems than it can possibly fix. It is likely to alter, over time, the friendly atmosphere visitors look forward to in parks, where they go to get away from the day to day pressures and influences of their everyday lives, including worry about guns." For the online version of the new CNPSR report, go to http://www.npsretirees.org/cnpsr/2008/cnpsr-submits-report-potential-imp... on the Web. ABOUT CNPSR The 675 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 20,000 years of stewardship of America' most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members now strive to apply their credibility and integrity as they speak out for national park solutions that uphold law and apply sound science. The Coalition counts among its members: former national park directors and deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, rangers and other career professionals who devoted an average of nearly 30 years each to protecting and interpreting America's national parks on behalf of the public. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site at http://www.npsretirees.org. SOURCE Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Washington, D.C.Sacramento BeeForecast: Calif. home prices to dip further in '09...ALEX VEIGAhttp://www.sacbee.com/308/story/1316184.htmlLOS ANGELES -- California will remain a buyer's market next year, with prices declining across most of the state and home sales climbing for the second year in a row, a trade association for real estate agents said Wednesday.In its 2009 forecast, the California Association of Realtors calls for the median price of a home in the state to decline by 6 percent to $358,000 from the group's projection for this year of $381,000.The forecast also anticipates sales of existing single-family homes will rise 12.5 percent to 445,000 units - essentially the same as the increase in sales this year over 2007. "The worst is over, but we're still not out of the woods," said Leslie Appleton-Young, the association's chief economist.The association's outlook hinges on the health of the U.S. economy and the nation's credit markets, which have been strained, making it tougher for would-be homebuyers to get financing.The forecast assumes that economic growth in the first half of next year will be in recession territory - either flat or negative - then improve in the second half of the year. And that the credit markets will stabilize sometime this year or early next year.But all bets are off if the state's economy - already considered by some economists to be in recession - worsens should the U.S. experience a sharper-than-expected economic downturn."This forecast is not baking in a recession with huge job losses," Appleton-Young said.California is in the third year of a housing slowdown that has been among the worst in the nation. Pricey coastal markets such as San Francisco have seen moderate price declines compared with inland regions, where foreclosures have helped drive down prices by double-digits.Several of the state's metro areas, including Stockton, Merced and Modesto, have among the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.Home sales statewide bottomed in late 2007 at 265,000 units, but since then, have turned around, fueled largely by buyers seizing on foreclosure bargains.The forecast calls for home sales to ebb statewide until the second quarter of next year due to seasonal slowdowns.Foreclosure sales should continue to be the main factor in driving down the statewide median home price next year.The forecast also calls for sales of distressed properties to peak early in the year, which should help slow price declines."I would think by 2010 we would be up by mid-single digit (percentages)," Appleton-Young said, referring to the state's median home price. KATHY GUILLERMO: Killing animals won't cure breast cancer...People for the Ethical Treatment of Animalshttp://www.sacbee.com/846/story/1315628.htmlAnyone who has picked up a magazine or walked through a department store recently knows that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's hard to miss the displays of pink sneakers, vacuum cleaners, blenders, body washes and other products that benefit breast cancer charities.But before you buy, ask yourself this question: Will your donation really help women in relevant ways, or will you simply be funding the same useless experiments that have been going on for decades?In laboratories across the country, researchers are busy infecting healthy mice and rats with breast cancer even though such experiments hold little promise for actual human patients. Pregnant rats are forced to breathe cigarette smoke for four hours a day in an effort to determine how it affects the development of breast cancer in their offspring. Mice are injected with cancer cells to induce tumor growth, then fed diets rich in flaxseed oil and seaweed to see if they have any effect on breast cancer. Rats are forced to live in social isolation, causing them great distress - not unlike human depression - to observe how stress influences breast cancer development.The basic model of research has not changed all that much since President Nixon first declared war on cancer in the 1970s: Grow cancer cells in a lab dish, inject them into mice, attack the resulting tumors with the experimental drug du jour and see what happens. But there is a world of difference between humans and animals in their metabolism, biochemistry, physiology, genetic makeup and gene expression, so what happens to mice doesn't necessarily happen to people."Animals don't reflect the reality of cancer in humans," says Fran Visco, a breast cancer survivor and founder of the advocacy group National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We cure cancer in animals all the time, but not in people."Much of this research misses the mark entirely. As a recent article in Newsweek reported, we now know that metastatic cells - rogue cells that break off from the original cancer tumor and make their way to other parts of the body - cause 90 percent of all cancer deaths. Yet the human tumors that researchers transplant into mice almost never metastasize. Still, many researchers continue to pin their hopes on animal models.Meanwhile, as we spend billions of dollars to cure cancer in mice, we are missing opportunities that could help real people in the real world - such as making breast cancer treatment more accessible to low-income women, educating consumers about the role that diet plays in cancer prevention and pairing scientists with women volunteers who are willing to participate in breast cancer research (the goal of the innovative Love/Avon Army of Women). And new technologies that could truly benefit sick patients - like a three-dimensional model of human breast cancer recently developed by British scientists, made by growing cells from normal and cancerous breast tissue - remain the exception.This October, we don't need more pink ribbons or pink T-shirts - or mice with breast cancer. We need a commitment to funding programs that will result in true medical progress, including patient services for poor families, education and vital research that does not rely on outdated animal models. Pretending that experimenting on animals holds the key to curing breast cancer in humans is pink-washing of the worst kind. Stockton RecordBuilding permit activity plunges...Reed Fujiihttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081015/A_BIZ/810150317STOCKTON - San Joaquin County home construction remains in the doldrums, based on the latest building permit figures from the Construction Industry Research Board.The Burbank-based research board reported that in the first nine months of 2008, county builders took out 641 permits for single-family homes valued at a total $143 million. During the same period of 2005, the height of the housing bubble, local governments issued nearly eight times as many home building permits, 4,976 in all, with a value of $1.17 billion.Among area communities, Manteca issued the most single-family home permits in the first nine months of the year: 205 with a construction value of $31.3 million. Permits were issued for 194 homes, valued at $50.1 million, in unincorporated county areas in the period. Stockton followed with 139 permits and a construction value of $37.4 million.Home construction is being suppressed by a flood of foreclosure properties, and the credit crisis is making it hard for home buyers to obtain financing, officials said.The frozen home building industry is not unique to San Joaquin County, said Ben Bartolotto, research director for the research board. He said the housing industry may be in worse straits in areas of Southern California, such as Riverside and San Diego counties, where home construction boomed in the early 2000s."It's almost at a fictional level," he said Tuesday of the glum picture statewide.Bartolotto blamed the building industry's problem on the collapse of the credit markets, caused by uncertainty over billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities backed by subprime and other risky loans issued during the housing boom."The steep drop in activity is really due to the lack of financing," he said. "As bad as anything might be out there in the real marketplace, it's not that bad."He said recent U.S. government proposals to inject money into the credit market by buying stock in banks could be the right medicine."The credit market has to be unfrozen, and I think that's what they're doing," Bartolotto said.Even with the government moving to shore up the crippled financial industry, however, he said it might be next year, at the earliest, before any housing recovery could begin.John Beckman, executive officer of the Building Industry Association of the Delta, said area home builders at looking at 2010 for any upswing in activity."Foreclosures have taken the place of new construction," he said Tuesday, noting that there's probably a year's worth of inventory - foreclosure homes being actively marketed or simply vacant - that needs to be absorbed at current sales rates.Beckman said the planned injection of taxpayer cash into banks could help."If they are willing to use that to work with people who are having trouble to restructure, renegotiate, change the parameters of the mortgages that are out there, maybe we can stop the numbers of foreclosures coming onto the market," he said.Calaveras board votes to phase out tax break...Dana M. Nicholshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081015/A_NEWS/810150334/-1/A_NEWSSAN ANDREAS - In a historic move, Calaveras County officials Tuesday acted to end tax breaks that several rural landowners have been getting even though they don't qualify.In one case, it has been 16 years since any farm production took place on a parcel that has been getting the farmland preservation tax break. In another case, it has been nine years since the property owner filed a required annual report on farm production.Calaveras County Agricultural Commissioner Mary Mutz said county staffers are diligently checking the status of such Williamson Act contracts after a California Department of Conservation audit released early this year slammed Calaveras County for its lax oversight."It has come to the department's attention that there has not been agricultural production on the land," Mutz said Tuesday in an oral report to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.The Williamson Act is intended to keep land in food production by granting owners a property tax break if they agree not to carve up the land for development or otherwise change it to a non-farming use for at least 10 years. Such contracts automatically are renewed each year for an additional 10-year term unless either the owner or county officials starts the non-renewal process.Once such contracts are not renewed, the tax break phases out gradually over 10 years. It is only once the tax break is completely phased out that owners can legally develop the land for a non-farming use.The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to phase out the tax break for a 50-acre chunk of ranch land near Burson and for a 26-acre vineyard in San Andreas.In both cases, the land had been purchased by a new owner since it was originally placed under a Williamson Act contract.Mutz said that in the case of the 50 acres of ranch land on Ospital Road, the land was purchased by Peter and Holly Araquistain of Stockton in 1989. She said the couple last reported farm production with a dollar value - $11,884 - in 1992. In some subsequent years, the couple filed reports stating activities such as mowing, clearing debris or grazing horses on the property.Mutz said it appeared from a conversation she had with Holly Araquistain that the couple did not understand the requirements of the law and believed that they were behaving appropriately by maintaining the land in a state where it might be useful for agriculture in the future.A call to the Araquistains' Stockton phone number went unanswered Tuesday.According to Mutz, no report of production has been submitted since 1999 for the 26-acre vineyard along Mountain Ranch Road in San Andreas, and the vineyard has not been maintained "for the past few years."The vineyard was purchased in 2001 by Elke Vorheis. Vorheis, reached by cell phone Tuesday, disagreed with the conclusion that her land is not being farmed."There is agricultural stuff going on on the property - not a lot, but some," Vorheis said.How much matters. Calaveras County requires parcels to yield at least $2,000 in agricultural production to qualify for the tax break.Vorheis said via e-mail that she would not be able to immediately make a more detailed response to the county's action.Mutz said after Tuesday's meeting that Calaveras County property owners should know from here on out that they won't get the tax break if they don't qualify."There needs to be a system in place that checks annually," said Mutz, who has been the county's agricultural commissioner for three years.Red-legged frog land talks resume...The Recordhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081015/A_NEWS/81014014/-1/A_NEWSSAN ANDREAS - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct. 30 will hold a public meeting in San Andreas on its resurrected proposal to designate nearly 4,450 acres of Calaveras County as critical habitat for the California red-legged frog.The habitat in Calaveras County was proposed for designation in 2005 and then was eliminated in 2006 after protests by property owners and real estate interests. It is just part of 1.8 million acres of potential designated frog habitat that for years has been disputed.The Fish and Wildlife Service in the past year has been under fire over its decision to sharply scale back the red-legged frog habitat listing, both from a lawsuit by environmental groups and from a federal investigation into science tampering.The Oct. 30 meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the Sequoia Room of the Calaveras County CalWORKs Building, 509 E. St. Charles St., San Andreas.The Calaveras County Farm Bureau requested the public meeting to give county residents a chance to learn about the proposal. Space is limited.Contact the Department of Agriculture at (209) 754-6504, ext. 3.The land proposed for designation is generally east of Valley Springs along Young's Creek in an area north of state Highway 26 and south of Paloma Road.Comments on the frog habitat proposal can be submitted through Nov. 17.Comments can be posted through the federal rule-making portal, www.regulations.gov; or by mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2008-0089; Division of Policy and directives management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments for the record cannot be submitted at the Oct. 30 meeting.Manteca BulletinSSJID updating EIR for retail power bid...Dennis Wyatt, Managing Editorhttp://www.mantecabulletin.com/main.asp?SectionID=28&SubSectionID=58&ArticleID=59783&TM=52605.23South San Joaquin Irrigation District is updating its environmental impact report concerning its proposal to enter the retail electrical business.The board Tuesday authorized spending up to $25,000 with Aspen Environmental Group that did the original EIR study. The consultant was directed to comb state laws as well as review tee project to make any changes needed in the EIR document so that the study done in February 2005 can be updated and ready to go "in the event the district should submit a new application" to the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission.It is part of SSJID's drive to reduce electrical retail rates 15 percent across the board in Manteca, Ripon and Escalon.They are already working on a document known as a municipal service review.It is a document that will detail exactly the district intends to provide retail electrical services. The document must be completed before LAFCo can decide whether the district should be allowed to enter the retail power businesses. SSJID, which has been generating wholesale power and delivering it flawlessly to PG&E for almost a half a century, must outline its game plan.Although it won't be highly detailed like the huge stacks of documents SSJID has compiled over the years using two different specialized consulting firms to determine the feasibility of going into retail power and if they can indeed cut costs a minimum of 15 percent, it never-the-less will outline enough of the district's plans to let LAFCO determine whether it is indeed a doable service for the agency to perform.Earlier this year the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled against SSJID's petition for a writ of mandate against San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphrey's earlier finding that the district was required by law to seek approval of its retail electric plan from LAFCo.After the ruling, SSJID pledged to work closer with LAFCo to reconsider the request to provide retail power service within the district boundaries.LAFCo in 2006 rejected SSJID's request to enter the retail power business in its bid to reduce electrical rates for the 33,000 customers in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon who are currently served by PG&E. The reason for the rejection was that commission felt the SSJID did not adequately demonstrate that they could serve the 33,000 impacted customers.The SSJID had contended that state law did not require them to first seek approval from LAFCo to enter the retail power business based on their reading of specific sections of the government code. The SSJID said they only went before LAFCo as a courtesy as well as based on previous PG&E actions where they challenged irrigation or public utility districts that didn't ask LAFCo first.Judge Humphrey essentially noted in her ruling that SSJID must have agreed with the need to go before LAFCo or they wouldn't have asked for their permission in the first place.PG&E joined LAFCo in their appeal of Humphrey's decision and agreed to pick up the legal tab.Tracy PressDig, baby, dig Owners of a rock quarry south of Tracy want to dramatically expand their operation over the next 40 years...Jennifer Wadsworth   http://tracypress.com/content/view/16090/2268/A California mining company wants to expand a Tracy rock quarry on a 315-acre site about 8 miles south of town from 84 to 283 usable acres over the next four decades. West Coast Aggregates Inc. will ask San Joaquin County planning commissioners to OK the plan at a meeting Thursday night. If approved, the quarry would also be allowed to operate 24/7, up from the eight to 10 hours a day it’s now permitted. The company — which opened its Tracy quarry in 2001 off South Bird and West Blewett roads between Interstate 5 and Interstate 580 — digs up rock to use in cement and asphalt. More working hours would give the company a chance to work at night, when electricity is cheaper, according to the report submitted to the county. To expand, West Coast will divert a seasonal creek and will strip mine another 200 acres in five phases over the next 40 years. Lone Tree Creek runs along the east side of the property, closer to I-5. Part of the plan is to straighten the creek’s path to clear the way for some strip mining. "This is a really long-term plan," said Dave Ward, controller of West Coast Aggregates, which also owns quarries in Half Moon Bay, Los Gatos and Crows Landing. "We’re just expanding what we do have." The 80-plus acres the company mines now is plenty for the next few years, he said. "We don’t even use all of what we have now," he said. "This is something for the future, for when the demand does go up." Construction would lower the water table and might pollute local groundwater, according to plans submitted to the county. Upon construction, the company would have to hire a state certified hydrogeologist to keep an eye on the water level and quality. The company also would have to replace the topsoil after it finishes extracting rock from a given area. Then, the rock-mined land would revert to a grazing pasture, which is what the land is zoned for now. Miners would extract between 600,000 and 800,000 tons per year of sellable rocks during the first few years after expansion. The company expects to increase that to 2.5 million tons of rock a year about 20 years after the project starts. West Coast mines and processes the rock into asphalt or cement on site, and then transports it to customers via the two nearby highways... San Francisco ChronicleSEBASTOPOL2 men charged with environment crimes...Heather Knighthttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/15/BA0013HATL.DTL&hw=wetlands&sn=002&sc=526A property owner and contractor face charges of illegal grading, water pollution and draining of wetlands at an environmentally sensitive tributary to Atascadero Creek in Sebastopol.Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua filed the charges Tuesday against property owner Robert O'Brien, 50, of Tiburon and contractor Charles Craig Von Schalscha, 50, of San Rafael. The men each face three felony charges for allegedly violating the California Water Code in June when they removed vegetation along one bank of the stream, channeled 800 feet of the stream and constructed a 200-foot-long ditch to drain the wetlands.O'Brien and Von Schalscha also face four misdemeanor charges apiece for allegedly violating the Fish and Game Code and local zoning laws. O'Brien faces two additional misdemeanor counts for allegedly failing to provide technical reports to local and state officials so they could determine the extent of damage resulting from the work.Both men are scheduled to appear in Sonoma County Superior Court on Nov. 13.Bottled water has contaminants too, study finds...JEFF DONN, AP National Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/10/14/national/a211725D46.DTL&hw=wal+mart&sn=002&sc=791Tests on leading brands of bottled water turned up a variety of contaminants often found in tap water, according to a study released Wednesday by an environmental advocacy group.The findings challenge the popular impression — and marketing pitch — that bottled water is purer than tap water, the researchers say.However, all the brands met federal health standards for drinking water. Two violated a California state standard, the study said.An industry group branded the findings "alarmist." Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, said the study is based on the faulty premise that a contaminant is a health concern "even if it does not exceed the established regulatory limit or no standard has been set."The study's lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said."In some cases, it appears bottled water is no less polluted than tap water and, at 1,900 times the cost, consumers should expect better," said Jane Houlihan, an environmental engineer who co-authored the study.The two-year study was done by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, an organization founded by scientists that advocates stricter regulation. It found the contaminants in bottled water purchased in nine states and Washington, D.C.Researchers tested one batch for each of 10 brands. Eight did not have contaminants high enough to warrant further testing. But two brands did, so more tests were done and those revealed chlorine byproducts above California's standard, the group reported. The researchers identified those two brands as Sam's Choice sold by Wal-Mart and Acadia of Giant Food supermarkets.In the Wal-Mart and Giant Food bottled water, the highest concentration of chlorine byproducts, known as trihalomethanes, was over 35 parts per billion. California's limit is 10 parts per billion or less, and the industry's International Bottled Water Association makes 10 its voluntary guideline. The federal limit is 80.Wal-Mart said its own studies did not turn up illegal levels of contaminants. Giant Food officials released a statement asserting that Acadia meets all regulatory standards. Acadia is sold in the mid-Atlantic states, so it isn't held to California's standard. In most places, bottled water must meet roughly the same federal standards as tap water.The researchers also said the Wal-Mart brand was five times California's limit for one particular chlorine byproduct, bromodichloromethane. The environmental group wants Wal-Mart to label its bottles in California with a warning because the chlorine-based contaminants have been linked with cancer. It has filed a notice of intent to sue.Wal-Mart spokeswoman Shannon Frederick said the company was "puzzled" by the findings because testing by suppliers and another lab had detected no "reportable amounts" of such contaminants. She said Wal-Mart would investigate further but defended the quality of its bottled water.The researchers recommend that people worried about water contaminants drink tap water with a carbon filter.Some bottled water toxicity shown to exceed law...Jane Kayhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/15/MNGV13H0L4.DTL&hw=wal+mart&sn=003&sc=1000Bottled water brands do not always maintain the consistency of quality touted in ads featuring alpine peaks and crystalline lakes and, in some cases, contain toxic byproducts that exceed state safety standards, tests show. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization with offices in Oakland, tested 10 brands of bottled water and found that Wal-Mart's Sam's Choice contained chemical levels that exceeded legal limits in California and the voluntary standards adopted by the industry.The tests discovered an average of eight contaminants in each brand. Four brands besides Wal-Mart's also were contaminated with bacteria.The environmental group filed a notice of intent to sue Wal-Mart Tuesday, alleging that the mega-chain failed to warn the public of illegal concentrations of trihalomethanes, which are cancer-causing chemicals. "The investigation has uncovered that consumers cannot be assured of the quality of their bottled water," said Olga Naidenko, a toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group and lead author of the bottled-water study. "Our study was a snapshot of the marketplace. We found some brands that provided good quality and other brands that contained various chemical pollutants. What this shows is that consumers cannot have confidence. They don't know what they're getting," she said.The group also singled out Giant Supermarket's brand Acadia for excessive levels of disinfection byproducts, but it didn't sue because the Mid-Atlantic chain's water isn't sold in California.Some of the Sam's Choice bottled water purchased from Wal-Marts in Mountain View and Oakland came from Las Vegas Valley Water District's sometimes-chlorinated public water supply, the group found. Wal-Mart respondsShannon Frederick, senior communications manager at Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said the corporation stands by its product. Wal-Mart owns 4,200 stores in the United States."Both our suppliers' tests and tests from an additional external laboratory are not showing any reportable amounts of chlorine or chlorine byproducts. We're disappointed that the EWG has not shared more details with us as we continue to investigate this matter," Frederick said."We're puzzled by the EWG's findings."The Las Vegas water supply meets federal standards for toxic chemicals that form when disinfectants such as chlorine react with organic matter, sometimes in reservoirs. The federal standard is 80 parts per billion. But in California, the byproducts standard in bottled water is eight times as strict, possibly making Wal-Mart liable for action under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. In 1995, after animal tests showed that the byproducts could cause cancer and reproductive damage in lab animals, California added the bottled water provisions to the health and safety code, setting a standard at 10 parts per billion.The Food and Drug Administration requires bottled water to meet the same standards as tap water from public systems - which is 80 ppb. The FDA doesn't require bottled water companies to inform consumers of the source and presence of contaminants. Yet by law, public water companies must send customers annual information about sources and the presence of contaminants such as trihalomethanes, arsenic, nitrates and fluoride in the water supply.Study findingsIn the Environmental Working Group study, the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory screened for 170 possible contaminants. The lab found 38 pollutants in 24 samples from 10 major brands purchased by the group in California, Washington, D.C., and eight other states.The environmental group won't release the names of eight other brands it tested, saying it would do so only after it conducts more-extensive testing. Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, said he had no knowledge that Wal-Mart was using Las Vegas's water supply for bottling.After some checking, he said a local water-bottling company that sells to the Strip could be supplying Wal-Mart as well.Some findings from the study:-- Three samples of Sam's Choice bought in Oakland, Mountain View and Fayetteville, N.C., contained levels of total trihalomethanes between 14 ppb and 37 ppb, exceeding the state and industry standard of 10 ppb. -- One of the byproducts, bromodichloromethane, also a carcinogen, is even more toxic to lab animals and is more strictly controlled. The state's cancer safety standard is 2.5 ppb. Three bottles of Sam's Choice purchased in Mountain View and Oakland contained the contaminant at levels from 7.7 ppb and 13 ppb.-- Also present in bottled water were caffeine and the pharmaceutical Tylenol, as well as arsenic, radioactive isotopes, nitrates and ammonia from fertilizer residue. Industrial chemicals used as solvents, degreasing agents and propellants were also found in the tests.-- Trace amounts of synthetic chemicals or degradation products from the manufacture of PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, plastic bottles were found, including acetaldehyde, isobutane and toluene. At those low levels, scientists can't ascertain the health effects.Bottled vs. tapAmericans drank more than 9 billion gallons in 2007, and fewer than half of 228 brands of bottled water reveal their source. Typical cost is $3.79 per gallon, 1,900 times the cost of public tap water. Green campaigns have focused on steering away from bottled water because manufacturing, transporting and sending unrecycled bottles to the landfill use natural resources and create an environmental burden.San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in June 2007 barring use of city funds to purchase bottled water."The primary reason is that it can cost a thousand times more, and you're not even getting better quality water," said Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission."There have been hundreds of millions of dollars spent to market the myth that bottled water is purer and safer than the tap water. The study is further evidence that the myth is often a lie."Guide to safe drinking waterFilters: Drink filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Use carbon filters, pitcher or tap-mounted. They reduce lead and disinfection byproducts. Install a reverse osmosis filter if you can afford it.Containers: Carry water in stainless steel containers.Research: Learn what's in your tap water. Suppliers publish water-quality tests.Find the full report on bottled water quality by the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org.Inside Bay AreaMassive Bay pipeline project will protect water supplyNew pipeline will be laid by 2012 with the tunnel completed by 2014...Julia Scott, San Mateo County Timeshttp://www.insidebayarea.com/sanmateocountytimes/localnews/ci_10720648MENLO PARK — The 700,000 San Mateo County residents who rely on two enormous pipelines to bring them water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir each day have never seen the state of the pipelines — and that's probably a good thing. Snaking out into the Bay on a rickety wooden trestle, the two rusting riveted steel pipes are covered in lichen and raised less than a foot from the flood-prone tidal marshland they were built on in 1923. Several crusty extending joints crack open when the weather heats up each week, temporarily spilling hundreds of gallons of clean, potable water.Leading a tour of the pipelines on Tuesday, Joe Ortiz didn't even try to make it look good. "It's amazing that they're still holding up. I don't want you to think it all looks like this — this is definitely the worst part of the whole system," said Ortiz, a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission employee and manager of the Bay Division Pipeline Reliability Upgrade Project.Then there's the earthquake hazard and the fact that these pipelines cross three major seismic faults on their journey from Alameda County's Sunol Valley to Crystal Springs Reservoir in the woods above Hillsborough. The commission's own engineers have predicted that at least part of the pipeline could fail in a magnitude 6.8 earthquake or higher, cutting off the region's water access. That's why, starting in 2010, the commission will launch a $550 million ratepayer-funded project to build a new, 17-mile stretch of steel pipeline through Redwood City, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto to the Fremont hills and out to the new Irvington Tunnel, another ongoing project of the commission. Five miles of pipeline will be encased in a thick concrete tunnel 170 feet under the Bay with the capacity to carry 100 million gallons of water per day. "It will be our bulletproof pipeline that will survive any earthquake we can come up with," said Ortiz, looking out at the twin shafts stretching over the Menlo Park mudflats at the lip of the Bay. "All of this is Jello, from a geologic point of view."The commission will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. today at the Belle Haven Senior Center in Menlo Park to discuss potential project impacts on the community when work gets under way in 2010, including underground work on several roads. The new pipeline will be laid by 2012 and the tunnel completed by 2014. Water officials will also give a presentation describing the Bay Division pipeline project at a San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 21 in Redwood City... Santa Cruz SentinelAir-quality group promises new regulatory hurdles for Davenport cement plant…Shanna McCordhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10726698DAVENPORT -- The Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District by early next year expects to adopt rigorous regulatory standards for the Davenport cement factory to ensure the potent carcinogen known as chromium 6 doesn't resurface in the coastal town.Ed Kendig, head of the air district, said Tuesday night at a community meeting that the new rules must be permanent and enforceable with heavy fines for Cemex if the toxic metal is ever detected in Davenport's air, water or soil."We can't rely on good faith or the good intentions of the company," Kendig said. "It has to be a meaningful sanction."Kendig outlined the air district's plan during the meeting at Pacific Elementary School. He was joined by Cemex Vice President Satish Sheth, county and state health officials, county Supervisor Neal Coonerty and state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.The meeting, planned originally to discuss mercury testing in the area, drew a standing-room only crowd of about 100 residents -- about a quarter of the 400-person town -- concerned about the recent detection of high levels of chromium 6 in the town's air.Nine air samples taken between June and August showed levels of the carcinogen above state-set safety levels. The exposure poses a risk of cancer for about 100 people in 1 million if continuously exposed for 70 years, according to state environmental standards.The amount of chromium 6 was considered "trace," but more than what the state considers safe for people and the environment. Cemex officials say since being notified of the chromium detection they have started working to fix the problem, including suspending the use of two raw materials suspected of producing chromium 6 during cement-making -- mill scale and steel slag, byproducts of steel manufacturing.Cement production at the Davenport factory has been halted for more than a month due to weak demand. Sheth said the plant will stay closed until company officials have a handle on the problem and a new source of iron for making cement.Cement continues to be loaded into trucks and train cars on a limited basis, Sheth said."There's nothing going on that I would call increased activity," he said.Testing the air, soil and water in Davenport will continue on a regular basis for the near future.The air district is awaiting results of air samples taken Oct. 6-9 that were sent to a laboratory in Los Angeles. Kendig said he expects to have results by Friday.The state Air Resources Control Board has provided the air district with several new, higher quality air monitors to be placed at Pacific Elementary School. The monitors, essentially vacuum pumps that capture small breathable air particles on a filter, will capture higher volumes of air than the ones previously used by the air district.The county Environmental Health Department will take samples of the drinking water in Davenport every three months. Tests conducted last week showed "non detect" levels of chromium 6.The air district plans to hire an environmental contractor to test the area's soil to find out if there's been residual contamination from the chromium.School Principal Sharon Smith said Tuesday's meeting didn't offer much in the way of new information about the chromium issue. She'd like to see quicker testing results, and she's adamant that soil analysis begin soon.Fourteen students missed school Monday and 11 were absent Tuesday because of concerns with air quality, Smith said."I respect people's right to make that decision," she said. "I don't think it's time to talk about closing or moving the school, but I want the soil tested and they haven't even hired the contractor yet."Los Angeles TimesWolves back on endangered species list -- fornow...Steve Padilla...L.A. Unleashedhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fasttrain15-2008oct15,0,2422777,print.storyFrom the Associated Press:BILLINGS, Mont. — Federal wildlife officials said Tuesday they want to remove wolves in the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list — again — by early 2009. That declaration came on the same day a judge restored the predator’s endangered status, as part of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists. It’s been less than seven months since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stripped wolves of federal protection for the first time since 1974.The decision transferred control over the animals to state game agencies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. But after wolves were allowed to be shot on sight across most of Wyoming — and all three states began planning public hunts — U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in July issued an injunction to block the killings.On Tuesday, Molloy went a step further, restoring the animal’s endangered status. That means the public dispute over wolves in the Rockies will drag on. Ranchers and state wildlife agencies want hunting allowed to curb the wolves’ tendency to prey on livestock. Meanwhile, environmentalists insist the wolf population remains in peril and could crash if the states get their way. Molloy’s Tuesday order came at the request of federal biologists who acknowledged they had failed to prove the animal had fully recovered from near-decimation last century. Molloy had criticized the federal government’s support for Wyoming’s shoot-on-sight law. And he questioned whether packs of wolves were interbreeding enough to maintain their genetic diversity."The judge was pretty clear [we] were going to lose the case if we went forward," said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator in the Northern Rockies for Fish and Wildlife Service. Bangs said the "quickest way" to shore up the government’s case that wolves are recovered would be to revamp its proposal, then reissue its rule to downgrade wolves’ status in early 2009. "We’re talking about getting this whole thing done within 4 to 5 months," he said. A Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, Sharon Rose, later cast doubt on that timeline. Rose said internal deliberations within the Fish and Wildlife Service could stretch out longer than Bangs had anticipated."The government is a big entity and it doesn’t always move so fast," she said. An attorney for the environmental groups that had sued over wolves said they would be watching closely. "They’re conceding there are flaws, and if they are hell-bent on delisting and just trying to paper over those major flaws, then we’re almost certain to be back in court challenging it again," said Doug Honnold with Earthjustice. Honnold represented the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and 10 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The federal government has spent more than $27 million on wolf recovery efforts in the Northern Rockies. In the mid-1990s, 66 wolves from Canada were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Their population has grown rapidly and has spread across an estimated 113,000 square miles. Last month, biologists reported the first dip in that population since the recovery began, from 1,545 animals in 2007 to 1,455 this year. Northern California town moves to head off another kind of bank failureSheets of metal will be driven into the edge of a creek to protect buildings from burrowing beavers. But some fear for the safety of the animals, which have become a tourist draw...Richard C. Paddockhttp://www.latimes.com/news/science/environment/la-me-beavers15-2008oct15,0,7289719,print.storyMARTINEZ, CALIF. — Ever since the beavers arrived here in John Muir's adopted hometown, the human residents have been divided. Some wanted to save them. Others wanted to kill them.The first two beavers swam up from the delta in 2006 and began building lodges and dams in the creek that runs through downtown. Their construction work has caused some property owners along the creek to worry that all that burrowing will undermine their buildings and cause major damage. For Martinez, bank stabilization has nothing to do with a fiscal crisis.After months of acrimonious debate, the city is gambling that it can shore up the creek-side buildings without driving away the beavers -- which have drawn thousands of tourists who never would have ventured to the industrial center. Workers could begin placing sheets of metal into the creek bank next to the beavers' lodge as early as today. Beaver supporters, who have formed a group called Worth A Dam, fear that one or more of the animals could be crushed or trapped when the 25-foot-long sheet piles are driven into the ground. They also worry that the noise and vibration could drive away the animals, which now number eight."Any city that is smarter than a beaver ought to be able to keep beavers," said Heidi Perryman, president of Worth A Dam.Martinez, a city of 37,000 located 35 miles northeast of San Francisco and founded during the gold rush, has long had a split personality. It boasts that it was the home of Muir, the great conservationist, for 24 years. But it is better known for the huge oil refinery established in 1915, the year after Muir died. The beaver, North America's largest rodent, appears to be making a comeback in California and moving along waterways into urban areas. Last year, public opposition stopped Bakersfield from exterminating the "bike path beaver," which was chewing up trees along a bikeway. Elk Grove has killed dozens of beavers in recent years to protect trees and prevent flooding.Martinez residents have been sharply divided over the beaver question and the city's handling of the issue has been messy.Residents complain about closed-door City Council meetings, the city's refusal to release documents, the skirting of state environmental laws and Mayor Rob Schroder's possible conflict of interest.The mayor acknowledged in an interview that he had participated in council discussions about the beavers before disclosing his potential conflict. An insurance salesman, the mayor insures the creek-side property of Earl Dunivan Sr., which allegedly is threatened by the beavers. Schroder recused himself from the issue Oct. 1.Schroder said he has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to help determine if he has a conflict of interest based on the value of his income from Dunivan. "I want to do the right thing," the mayor said.Alhambra Creek, where the beavers have taken up residence, is known to overrun its banks during heavy rains and flood downtown. Officials say the collapse of one of Dunivan's two creek-side buildings during a storm could cause a major flood.Dunivan has threatened to sue the city if it does not protect his property from the beavers. He did not return phone calls for comment.Last year, the city obtained a permit to kill the beavers by shooting them in the head, but backed off after outraged residents protested.In September, an expert hired by the city concluded that the beavers were causing damage by burrowing into the bank. Worth A Dam, which hired its own expert, disputes the finding.Citing Dunivan's threatened lawsuit, the five-member City Council -- including the mayor -- discussed the matter behind closed doors last month, further angering beaver supporters, who allege that the sessions violated the state's open meeting law.The council concluded that the beavers' burrowing constituted an emergency, thereby exempting the city from a state law that requires an environmental review before taking action.Beaver backers went to court to block the creek-bank project, contending that the burrows do not threaten any buildings. But last week, Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga sided with the city, saying there was substantial evidence the beavers were causing damage.Worth A Dam has attempted to rally support by posting videos of the beavers on its website, www.martinezbeavers.org, and on You Tube.The beavers, which are primarily nocturnal, have attracted tourists from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, giving a boost to downtown businesses. Councilman Mark Ross said he was stunned to find that a couple had driven from their home in scenic Carmel to see the beavers."Welcome to California. You've got a beaver lodge 20 feet from a parking meter in the hometown of John Muir," the councilman said.Ross, who is up for reelection Nov. 4, has been caught in the middle of the dispute. He favors keeping the beavers but also wants to protect property.After the mayor's recusal, Ross provided the crucial fourth vote needed to approve the project.The plan is to use a vibrating hammer to drive 2-foot-wide corrugated sheet piles into the ground. The metal wall will extend along an entire block on one side of the creek. It is expected to cost $375,000.The new sheet piles will join half a dozen piles placed in the creek before the beavers arrived. By chance, the animals built their initial lodge right next to the original sheet piles, and beaver supporters worry that the new ones will be placed so close that they could harm the lodge and the beavers.Worth A Dam plans to monitor the beavers day and night. The group is particularly worried that the beavers could panic, flee deeper into the burrow and be trapped behind the metal sheeting. Ross, the councilman, said he hopes that the noise and vibration will prove to be only a "temporary inconvenience" for the beavers."There is going to be a period of angst," Ross said. "I don't want to lose any of them. The last thing we want is the tomb of the unknown beaver."Backers push bullet-train measure as a dramatic change in California transportationFoes of Prop. 1A, which would authorize about $10 billion in bonds as a down payment on the vision of an 800-mile network, say its cost projections and estimated travel times are way too low....Eric Baileyhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fasttrain15-2008oct15,0,2422777,print.storySACRAMENTO — For a quarter century it has been a California dream on one drafting board or another -- a bullet train system so novel, environmentally friendly and fleet that it could reshape transportation in the car-crazy Golden State.Now, state voters will be asked Nov. 4 to provide some locomotion by approving nearly $10 billion as a down payment toward the ultimate vision of an 800-mile high-speed rail network.Promoters of Proposition 1A boast that the $45-billion project, featuring sleek trains reaching 220 mph, would be the nation's most ambitious public works effort since completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.Foes say it would be a fiscal black hole that wouldn't deliver as promised.With gas prices high, highways congested and airports jammed, it would seem the best of times for a bullet train.But to some it seems the worst, with Wall Street in meltdown, California facing a perpetual budget deficit and the lurking specter of last month's horrific Metrolink commuter rail accident.Past surveys have found that as many as two of three California residents support a bullet train. A poll in July found 56% support for financing the project this year.But that was before the big problems hit."After all the crashes -- the train crash and the market crash -- supporters may have a lot more trouble than they anticipated," said Richard Tolmach, president of the nonprofit California Rail Foundation, a Proposition 1A foe.California has been down these rails before with nothing to show for it.In the late 1970s, high-speed rail was a gleam in the eye of then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Coastal denizens in the early '80s shot down a bullet train from L.A. to San Diego. Hopes for an L.A.-to-Las Vegas high-speed line have languished for years.Elsewhere, it's been a different story. Germany, Spain, Italy and France all have high-speed rail systems. Japan's Shinkansen bullet train started rolling way back in 1964.California's most serious attempt began in 1994 with the advent of a state commission to study the idea of linking Northern and Southern California. That spawned the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996.Over the last dozen years the authority has spent $60 million planning the project. But attempts to fund construction have been stymied by politics and economic reality, with bond measures yanked by lawmakers from the ballot in 2004 and 2006.This year, promoters concluded, it was now or never.They are pulling out the stops to promote it, suggesting that high-speed rail will change the very face of the state -- getting folks out of their cars, fanning a more rail-oriented style of denser development.The ballot measure would raise construction money by authorizing the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds. The borrowing would be repaid over 30 years, at a cost of $647 million a year to state coffers.Most of that money would help finance the $33-billion first phase of the high-speed rail line, linking the Bay Area to L.A. and Orange County. It would be financed roughly a third each by the state, federal government and private sector, with construction to begin in 2011 and trains rolling by 2020.Subsequent phases -- paid off by what promoters predict will be at least $1 billion in annual ticket sales profits -- would reach San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland.As envisioned by the train's advocates, a trip from San Francisco to Union Station in Los Angeles would cost $55 and take little more than 2 1/2 hours. Bakersfield to downtown L.A. would take just 54 minutes."Fresno could become a bedroom community of Silicon Valley," said Quentin Kopp, the rail authority's chairman.Backers say that not building the train system would further overburden a state already outstripping its airports and highways. California's population is expected to rise 30% and eclipse 50 million by 2030."We're behind an 8-ball," said Elizabeth Deakin, a UC Berkeley city and regional planning professor. "We're going to have a big slug of new people, and we need the transportation infrastructure to accommodate them."Backers said the rail line would be a boon for both the present and future. As many as 160,000 construction jobs would help fuel an anemic current-day economy, they say, and 400,000 more would be created once the system was running.Metrolink-type collisions wouldn't be an issue, they say, because the train would run on tracks separate from freight lines. Bridges and other grade separations would keep the rails away from cars.The electric-powered trains would slash greenhouse gas emissions by 6.3 million tons a year, saving 12 million barrels of oil a year, proponents say.Those numbers have lured the support of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, and the promise of an economic boost has lured support from the chambers of commerce in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno and other cities along the route.A diverse band of small-government advocates and rail enthusiasts, however, support high-speed trains in concept but believe that the current plan is an ill-conceived disaster about to slam the state.Several transportation experts agree.Professor James Moore, director of USC's transportation engineering program, calls it "a dumb project" with overblown ridership and construction estimates, inflated profit forecasts, and wildly optimistic speeds and travel times."It's technologically impossible to do what the High-Speed Rail Authority claims can be done, for any amount of money," he said. "When it comes to predicting the actual cost of systems like this, I just say a zillion and leave it at that."A report commissioned by the Libertarian think tank Reason Foundation and other foes compared California's plans with what is rolling on the ground right now in Europe and Asia.Instead of a profit, the California trains could yield financial losses up to $4 billion, the report contends, predicting at least 60% fewer passengers than promoters project.The trains also would be hard-pressed to achieve the predicted average speeds, which are more than 20 mph faster than anything now running. They estimate that travel time from Los Angeles to San Francisco would balloon to about 3 1/2 hours, making the line less competitive with air travel.The final construction tab, they say, would swell beyond $80 billion, and other studies support that sort of conclusion. A Danish researcher who analyzed more than 250 big infrastructure projects around the world determined that new rail lines typically cost 45% more than originally estimated."I'm a transportation guy, but this is a wasted opportunity that sets the cause of high-speed rail back by years," said Ken Gosting of Transportation Involves Everyone. "It's a pig in a poke, to say nothing of lipstick."L.A., land of fire -- always...Editorialhttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-rutten15-2008oct15,0,974085,print.columnThe wildfires burning in Southern California have been a natural event throughout history.  Tim RuttenEight thousand years ago, the Tongva and Tataviam peoples, who made their homes in what we now call the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, did exactly what many of us have been doing for the last few days: They inhaled the bone-dry air of a wind-scoured fall afternoon and watched the hillsides above them burn. The smoky conflagrations they witnessed -- more than 5 millenniums before the first European sailed up the California coast -- were, even then, an annual ritual of nature so ancient and reliable that it had set its evolutionary stamp on the chaparral itself, giving rise to species of plants whose seeds require the heat of wildfires to germinate.Then, as now, the sequence of events was the same. Santa Ana winds blowing off the high desert to the sea suck the moisture from the late season grasses, brush and light forest up-slope and turn them into tinder. A spark occurs. The first such fires were no doubt caused by lightning, though there's evidence to show that the early Amerindians here, as in other parts of North America, often set fires themselves -- just as we now do, sometimes by accident, too often by design. High winds spread the embers and, depending on the ground cover and gusts, burn until they reach a limit set by nature -- or, nowadays, by man through the mechanism of modern fire suppression.What the Uto-Aztecan-speaking Tongva and Tataviam never had to put up with is the torrent of self-righteous abuse that now follows each fall's wildfire season as inevitably as rain and mudslides. The bigger the fire and the greater the losses, the higher the wave of rhetorical censure. Our annual struggle with wildfires inevitably looses a flood of essays on the essential hubris of unnatural Los Angeles, a city that insists on sprawling beyond its naturally appointed limits and on building where it ought never to build -- on hillsides, in canyons, on flood plains and at the seashore. Arrogant defiance of nature, the argument goes, inevitably brings disaster -- and well-deserved disaster at that. (It's interesting to recall that our worst single fire preceded urbanization. During the last week of September, the Great Fire of 1889 burned more than 300,000 acres in northern San Diego County and southern Orange County, killing thousands of sheep and destroying the unharvested barley crop.) Putting aside for the moment the simple historical fact that our natural disasters -- earthquakes, floods and droughts, as well as fires -- predate development, there is another way to look at this. Alone among the world's great cities, Los Angeles does not exist at the confluence of great rivers, on the shore of a fine natural harbor or astride some important traditional trade route. It never was the historical seat of some great power. It exists because it has a magnificent climate and a fascinatingly beautiful natural setting, and because a bunch of ruthless, steely-eyed guys with their avarice on overdrive realized that they could get rich selling good weather and open space, if they willed a city into being.They succeeded beyond even their counting-house fantasies; the result was Los Angeles, which is unique among the world's great cities in that -- until the construction of Disney Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels -- it lacked a single inarguably distinguished public building but possessed the world's finest store of fine domestic architecture. The city that the newcomers made of the developers' ambitions is preeminently a city of private lives rather than public spaces. It also is one in which people live more intimately intertwined with nature than any other urban population, though that intimacy exposes them to everything from wildfires to the odd hungry mountain lion. Our sprawling suburbs -- the despair of generation after generation of enlightened planners -- also happen to provide the best lower-, middle- and working-class housing of any metropolis in the world. A detached house with a bit of garden to enjoy remains an unattainable dream for most of the globe's population.Dealing with the fires, floods and quakes that are part of this environment -- albeit on a scale unimagined in most other cities -- is part of the price we pay for reaping the very considerable day-to-day benefits, spiritual as well as economic, from this arrangement.And if our sprawling suburbs look to many of us these days like simply way too much of a good thing, it's worth recalling that the phrase only occurs to those who've already got theirs. Which banks live or die? Wielding $250 billion, U.S. may decideThose fortified by federal money could swallow up smaller rivals, leading to fewer, bigger institutions. Some say, however, that the capital-infusion program could help weaker banks stay in business...Michael A. Hiltzik and E. Scott Reckardhttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-banks15-2008oct15,0,953244,print.storyBy flooding the U.S. banking system with hundreds of billions of dollars in cheap capital, the government could find itself funding the most dramatic change in the nation's financial landscape since the deregulation drive of the 1980s.That's because the Treasury secretary and bank regulators will decide which banks get an infusion of government money, and which will be denied. Many of the nation's 8,400 banks -- especially the smaller and weaker among them -- may be allowed to fail or be swallowed by bigger rivals, industry analysts say."It will hasten consolidation, no doubt about it," said Frederick Cannon, chief equity strategist at investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.The stock market reflected that fact Tuesday, he said, noting that investors bid up the shares of banks more likely to be helped by the government, while shares of capital-starved institutions considered unlikely to get government funds declined.The program is also likely to hasten the evolution of the country's financial system from a conglomeration of community banks into a network of bigger, interconnected institutions, said Timothy J. Yeager, a former economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and a finance professor at the University of Arkansas.But not everyone agrees. Gerard S. Cassidy, managing director of bank equity research at RBC Capital Markets, said he believed the program would help some weaker banks stay in business, because they will be eligible for the same favorable terms the big banks will get for government capital."This plan by the Treasury blurs the lines between the haves and have-nots," Cassidy said. "The natural course of Darwinian banking has been interrupted by this plan."The program's centerpiece is an infusion of $250 billion into the banking system through the government's purchase of nonvoting preferred shares in financial institutions.As outlined Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila C. Bair, the banks will be required to pay dividends of 5% a year on the shares -- an attractively low rate for new capital -- rising to 9% after five years. The rate jump is designed to provide an incentive for banks to repay the taxpayers before the five-year mark.The government will also take warrants for each bank it gives capital, which gives it the right to buy stock in the bank later. The device is aimed at giving taxpayers a chance to profit if the bank's stock rises during the period the bank is using the government's money.Banks accepting the federal help will also face constraints on how much they can pay their top executives.Although the three financial regulators tried to spell out the program in great detail Tuesday, much about it remains murky. One question is whether individual banking firms will find the government financing attractive.Cannon contends that the government terms will be hard to resist."This is very inexpensive capital," he said. "Most boards will say it's very appealing, and I think we'll see a lot of participation."Treasury officials tried to eliminate any stigma that might attach to the government assistance by announcing huge disbursements of capital to nine top financial firms Tuesday. Whether they succeeded in removing the stain is open to question."A lot of stronger banks will say, 'Thanks but no thanks -- why should I wear that scarlet letter?' " said Bert Ely, an independent bank consultant in Alexandria, Va.Some bankers said that other elements of the Treasury's rescue plan, including an expansion of FDIC insurance to beyond $250,000 for non-interest-bearing accounts (those used mostly by business customers) might play a more important role in shoring up confidence in medium-sized and small banks."That will level the playing field," said Russell Goldsmith, chief executive of Beverly Hills-based City National Bank, the largest commercial bank in Los Angeles County.Goldsmith said his management would "run some numbers" to decide whether it should apply for the government capital but said his institution was "well capitalized, and we haven't been looking for more capital."There is little question that America's small banks are struggling to raise cash in a difficult environment, as bank consultant Jeff Rigsby of San Juan Capistrano can attest.Many of the community banks Rigsby works with have been pressured by regulators over the last year to build up their capital, while others have wanted new funds to expand their business, he said. Both types of bank have struggled to sell new stock this year as investors have shied away from putting money into a banking business that has fallen under stress.Stock offerings at existing banks with $3 billion or less in assets declined to 41 in the first half of this year, compared with 114 in the same period last year, according to a study by Rigsby's Community Bank Ventures.It is likely that many weaker banks will be refused the assistance, although no one is sure where regulators will draw the line. Cannon said he expected regulators to use CAMELS ratings -- an acronym for capital adequacy, asset quality, management ability, earnings, liquidity and sensitivity to interest-rate risk. Banks are graded on each of the six factors, but regulators do not disclose the ranks for particular institutions.The biggest question about the program is the most crucial: whether it will prompt the assisted institutions to return to the lending market.Paulson left no doubt Tuesday that unfreezing the credit market was the program's chief goal, saying, "The needs of our economy require that financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it."But the secretary's authority to mandate such an outcome is almost nonexistent."You can't force a bank to make a loan," Cannon said. "The leap of faith is that now that they've got the capital, they'll go out and lend it."The government's hope is that the flow of new capital, combined with other steps it is taking to improve confidence in the banking and credit systems, will trigger more interbank lending first, followed by lending to companies, finally thawing the consumer loan market.Even with the best intentions, some banks may face obstacles making loans on responsible terms in today's deteriorating economy."Our question is whether there's enough business out there" for old-fashioned mortgage loans in which borrowers are willing to fully document their income and makelarge down payments, said Babette Heimbuch, CEO of FirstFed Financial Corp. of Los Angeles, the parent of savings and loan First Federal Bank of California."Are there enough people who are qualified and are looking for housing?" she asked. "If you were worried about your job at a manufacturing facility, or in retail, would you go out and buy a house right now?"The capital infusion program represents a dramatic turnaround from the Treasury's original financial bailout plan, a complicated program to take bad mortgage loans off the banks' books. That program, which now will take a back seat to the capital injections, was widely seen as favoring big institutions -- investment banks and large commercial banks that played a key role in creating and investing in what proved to be toxic mortgage-backed securities.The new approach is also more broadly targeted, at least on the surface.Spokesmen for the Independent Community Bankers of America and the American Bankers Assn. said Tuesday that they had lobbied successfully to ensure that every bank and thrift in the country would be allowed to apply for aid from the government.Still, by its nature the program is steeply oriented toward large institutions, on whose health the survival of the financial system is highly dependent. Their importance was made evident by the Treasury's announcement that half the initial $250-billion infusion would be spread among nine huge financial firms: Citigroup Inc.; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Bank of America Corp.; Wells Fargo & Co.; Morgan Stanley; Goldman Sachs Group Inc.; Merrill Lynch & Co.; Bank of New York Mellon Corp.; and State Street Corp.As though to signify that the nine institutions stand to be big winners, shares of all but one rose sharply in trading Tuesday, ranging from a 21.2% increase for Morgan Stanley to 10.3% for Wells Fargo.The lone exception was JPMorgan Chase, which fell 3%. JPMorgan is strong and didn't need the extra capital, Cannon noted, so investors thought its relative position was hurt as other banks got a boost.Shares of Newport Beach-based Downey Financial Corp. declined 10.7%, to $2.41. The bank, which has suffered large losses from adjustable-rate loans, is an example of what Cannon said is a regional bank that may not get federal capital. Downey executives declined to comment.Washington PostEPA faulted on waterway pollution from sprawl...DINA CAPPIELLO, The Associated Presshttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/15/AR2008101502371_pf.htmlWASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency is failing to stem the pollution washing into waterways from cities and suburbs, the National Academy of Sciences reported Wednesday.The report's authors urged "radical changes" in how the federal government regulates stormwater runoff so that all waters are clean enough for fishing and swimming."The take-home message is the program as it has been implemented in the last 18 to 20 years has largely been a failure," said Xavier Swamikannu, one of the authors and the head of Los Angeles' stormwater program for the California Environmental Protection Agency.Stormwater runoff is the toxic brew of oil, fertilizers and trash picked up by rain and snowmelt as the water flows over parking lots, roofs and subdivisions.The report said responsibility for managing stormwater must shift from developers to local governments, and permits should be issued on the boundaries of a watershed, rather than state borders. Such a change probably would require a new law and take between five years to 10 years, the report said.While urban areas cover only 3 percent of the U.S., it is estimated that their runoff is the primary source of pollution in 13 percent of rivers, 18 percent of lakes and 32 percent of estuaries.Current law is ill-equipped to deal with the problem, the authors said.Congress required the EPA in 1987 to start issuing permits under the Clean Water Act to industrial and construction sites. But lawmakers changed the focus on water pollution, from industrial discharges and sewage pipes to runoff, a problem that is much larger and harder to pinpoint.The law is designed to target specific contaminants, when the problem with stormwater often is one of volume. A surge of water after a storm can cause streams to erode and fill waterways with sediment.Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said the findings underscored the approaches the EPA is taking. The agency requested the review in 2006, but Grumbles disagreed on Wednesday with the conclusion that the stormwater program was failing."We want to accelerate the progress on reducing pollution and managing stormwater. We believe sound science, pollution prevention, and watershed protection will ensure continued clean water progress," he said.The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters.On the Net:  National Academies: http://www.nationalacademies.org/Three U.S. Banks Exceed Profit Expectations...Howard Schneiderhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/15/AR2008101500804_pf.htmlA trio of banks posted stronger-than-expected profits for the past three months, results that were nevertheless driven lower by billions of dollars in further mortgage write-downs, losses from the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and other costs associated with the financial crisis.At the same time, new data showed that retail sales plummeted in September, adding a layer of economic concern on top of the financial crisis that has preoccupied policymakers and investors in recent weeks.Markets worldwide were lower on Wednesday after a buoyant start to the week. European exchanges were off by about 4 percent, Asian indexes were largely lower, and U.S. markets opened down about 2 percent.That comes despite news that three U.S. banks did better than expected from July through September. The results from J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and State Street offer an initial glimpse of how key banking companies fared during the months that led up to the near collapse of global money markets -- and how government actions and market events affected the bottom lines of even healthy companies.All three were among the group of nine banks that the federal government partly nationalized this week in an effort to bolster the country's tottering financial system. The Treasury is using $125 billion in public funds to buy preferred stock in the companies, a capital infusion intended to strengthen key institutions and get the banking system overall in a position to lend more freely to businesses, homeowners and to banks themselves.Their results come at the start of a round of quarterly financial results that will be watched closely in coming days for signs of life in the financial system, and for evidence of how the broader economy is performing. Following dramatic action globally to stabilize banks and restore credit marks, concern remains that underlying the financial crisis is a world economy heading toward a potentially deep recession.Retail sales in September did nothing to assuage that concern. Consumer spending dropped 1.2 percent, the sharpest monthly decline in three years and a deeper drop than analysts predicted. Some good news: The prices paid by manufacturers dropped by 0.4 percent largely on the decline in oil prices.The results from the three banks made for positive news but showed that the impact of bad mortgage loans continues to take a toll.Morgan had to devalue mortgage-related investments by $3.6 billion. In addition, the company lost $642 million on stock it held in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage giants that were taken over by the federal government. The company also had $640 million in expenses associated with its purchase of Washington Mutual -- a transaction arranged by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to keep the foundering savings and loan from going under.Still, amid the turmoil, Morgan turned a profit of $527 million, or 11 cents a share, at a time when market analysts had projected losses approaching $1 billion. The outcome represents a sharp decline from the same period a year ago but was nevertheless welcomed by Morgan executives.The company had managed to make money "under extremely stressful circumstances" in which such staple companies as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government, Lehman Brothers failed and governments worldwide rushed to bolster the financial markets, J.P. Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said in a news release.Wells Fargo recorded earnings of $1.64 billion, or 49 cents a share -- a drop of nearly 25 percent compared with last year. The result would have been far stronger except for $646 million of losses associated with the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the failure of the Lehman Brothers investment bank.State Street, the smallest of the nine banks included in the initial federal investment, said its earnings increased over the past three months compared with the same period a year ago, jumping to $477 million, or $1.09 per share, from $358 million, or 91 cents a share.The company had to set aside $200 million to cover losses associated with the failure of Lehman Brothers, and also had to decrease the recorded value of mortgage-backed and other assets by more than $5 billion.CNN MoneyYour vote, your crummy highwaysThe economy is in trouble - so are the roads, bridges and trains it depends on. Here's a close look at how the candidates would fix the problem...Tami Luhbyhttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/15/news/economy/infrastructure_and_economy/index.htm?postversion=2008101506NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The economy isn't the only thing falling apart in the United States.Much of the nation's infrastructure - the highways, bridges, airports and transit lines that keep the American economy humming - is also crumbling and in dire need of improvement. Clearly, a top job for the next president will be finding the funds to fix these sprawling systems.In fact, it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to address the nation's infrastructure problems, according to a 2005 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the country's system a "D."Both presidential candidates have acknowledged the importance of rebuilding the roads and rails, but have offered very different solutions. John McCain, the Republican nominee, advocates shifting financing from earmarks to high-priority projects, while Barack Obama, his Democratic challenger, would create a federally-funded bank to invest in improvement projects.Experts, however, say what's really needed is money and a lot of it.One of the main reasons the nation is in this sorry state is that the federal government has pulled back on funding improvement projects. Fifty years ago, the federal government allocated 10% of its non-defense spending on infrastructure, said Polly Trottenberg, executive director of Building America's Future, a coalition of elected officials advocating increased infrastructure funding. Nowadays, the amount has shriveled to between 3.5% and 4%."A significant increase in investment is required at all levels," said John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a trade group. "We can't deliver services and sustain the highways and bridges."Whoever wins will have to address the issue next year since Congress must reauthorize the federal transportation spending law, which expires in September 2009. The current law, approved in 2005, allocates $286 billion to highway and transportation projects."The next administration will have an important role to play in setting the vision for the federal transportation program for the 21st century," said Robert Puentes, fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.McCain's shift away from earmarksHis plan: The Republican presidential nominee is famous for his opposition to earmarks. He's made it a hallmark of his campaign. Instead of funneling money to crumbling highways and bridges, many of these earmarks go to building bike paths, beautifying highways or constructing "bridges to nowhere," he said a year ago, speaking out against a transportation spending bill."Funding for transportation infrastructure and transportation safety is of enormous importance," said McCain, who chaired the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee when the Republicans controlled the Senate between 1997 and 2005. "But we simply must do so in a fiscally responsible manner. If Congress fails to recover from its addiction to earmarks, then crumbling bridges, congested highways, and crowded airports will continue much to the determent of all Americans."Instead, McCain would address the problem by determining how much the federal government can spend on infrastructure and making sure the money gets to the most pressing projects first, his advisers say. He favors funding the projects through the budget so proposals can be scrutinized every year. And he wants more input from state and local governments on what projects they think should get top priority."You have to have a commitment to saying we have genuine infrastructure needs," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain's senior economic policy adviser. "We cannot simply write checks to everyone who raises their hand. We have to develop a system that identifies national priorities and ensures the funding goes there."Experts say: Most applaud McCain for his desire to end earmarks, which they say divert money from critical projects. Earmarks accounted for about 15% of the current transportation law, Horsley said.Otherwise, McCain has offered little insight into how much federal funding he'd set aside for infrastructure and what projects he'd support."What will replace earmarks? That's the great open question," said James Burnley, former McCain adviser and transportation secretary in the Reagan administration.Obama's infrastructure bankHis plan: The centerpiece of the Democratic presidential nominee's infrastructure plan is a $60 billion National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would expand and enhance existing federal projects. It would also seek to bring in private-sector funds.The bank would be funded over 10 years with money saved by reducing the nation's involvement in Iraq."But when it comes to rebuilding America's essential but crumbling infrastructure, we need to do more, not less," Obama said in June before the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "Maintaining our levees and dams isn't pork barrel spending, it's an urgent priority, and that's what we'll do when I'm president. The work will be determined by what will maximize our safety, security, and shared prosperity."In addition to improving roads, Obama supports investing in mass transit to bolster metropolitan areas. He also supports investing in high-speed trains.Obama is also looking at infrastructure as an opportunity to stimulate the economy. He estimates that the projects the bank finances would create up to two million jobs - both those directly involved in the project and indirectly supporting it, such as suppliers - and generate approximately $35 billion a year in economy activity.In addition, Obama wants to create a $25 billion emergency Jobs and Growth Fund to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, prevent cuts in road and bridge maintenance and fund school repairs. It would create or save one million new jobs.Experts say: Obama has consistently supported greater spending on infrastructure. They were also pleased he did not advocate suspending the federal gas tax.Most favor the creation of an infrastructure bank that can harness the financial power of the private sector, which is increasingly interested in leasing or investing in highways and airports. Setting up such a bank also would make the federal government more involved in infrastructure projects than it is now.Still, $60 billion over 10 years is a far cry from what's needed to address the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, they said.