10-17-08Merced Sun-StarCongressman gets a look at Merced's new hospitalCardoza emphasizes need for quality health care...CAROL REITERhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/502665.htmlA new hospital is nice, but it's the entire package that counts. That's what Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said after a tour of Mercy Medical Center Merced's new hospital Thursday.Cardoza, who's been outspoken against the hospital in the past, said a new building needs to go hand-in-hand with quality care."We need the staff, the nurses and the doctors all working together," Cardoza said.One of the major problems facing health care in Merced is that many patients don't trust the hospital, he said. "There is still significant leakage to other regions, and it's important for the hospital to attract patients back here," he said.During Cardoza's three terms in office, he's come out strongly against previous hospital administrations because of problems there. Cardoza was especially upset when Catholic Healthcare West, Mercy's parent company, closed one hospital in a town that had enjoyed two hospitals for more than 80 years.But Cardoza said the current administration has helped bring the quality of care up to a higher standard.David Dunham, president of Mercy, said that he, like Cardoza, believes that quality of care must come first. "What patients in the community want is to have a hospital that they have confidence in," Dunham said.For the past four years, Dunham said he and his staff have made big strides in patient satisfaction."When I started here, patient satisfaction was at about 60 percent," Dunham said. "Now it's in the high 80s." Dunham took over as president of the hospital in 2004.A lack of specialists in the community has plagued the hospital, and Cardoza said that attracting doctors to Merced needs to be a high priority."Having a medical school at the UC would certainly help, and I'm trying hard to get it here," Cardoza said.Although the new hospital will be a big plus for the community, Cardoza said it's just a beginning in changing health care in Merced County."This is a first step, and I hope we can still keep marching down that road," he said.Bond approval would mean progress for Merced schoolsOvercrowded campuses an issue again...DANIELLE GAINEShttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/502671.htmlIn the far rear of the Golden Valley High School campus, tucked between the tennis courts and a Dumpster, is Jayson Sargent's geometry classroom."It's a long-distance phone call from here to the office," Sargent joked.Sargent's is one of 21 portable classrooms at the Golden Valley campus and 90 in the Merced Union High School District.His colleague, Cara Birmingham teaches world history a few buildings away in another portable. "It just doesn't breed continuity with the school," Birmingham said. "You have the school there and the addition here."...When class bells ring, hundreds of students pour from the portables into one hallway. "During passing periods, the hallways are just too crowded," Principal Craig Chavez said. "It leads to safety issues and supervision issues, among other problems."District officials say it is conditions like this that will be fixed if voters pass Measure M on Nov. 4. Measure M is a $149.5 million bond sale that will go toward funding $210 million in projects at every school in the district. The state would chip in the difference. The bond measure would fund a new high school campus in Merced, near the corner of Farmland Road and G Street...Other things will be fixed too, such as replacing the aging portable classrooms at Atwater and Buhach Colony; constructing new classrooms at Livingston High; and upgrading facilities at the school district's bus yard...The overcrowding and lack of facilities also deadens parent involvement at some Merced schools, the leaders say. At Golden Valley, there's no space for parents to watch after-school tennis matches anymore -- Sargent's portable is one of the buildings taking up space where the viewing area once stood. Water polo parents at Buhach Colony can't just pop into their child's practice. With no pool, the teams have to travel to Livingston to practice. It's tough to ask the voters of Merced to pass a bond, considering the current fiscal crises at the local, state and national levels, Deputy Superintendent Diane Hockersmith said. But it needs to be done. "That's the California funding model," Scambray said. "We don't have another option. This is it. Or we could not build schools."...If passed, the bond measure will cost homeowners in the district -- the cities of Merced, Atwater and Livingston -- $30 per $100,000 of assessed home value a year. "Having good schools is going to protect those housing values," O'Neill asserted. And good school facilities might just help occupy empty homes out there, too. "We want the community to fill up the houses," Scambray said. "It is a much more positive environment when the houses are filled."...In another bid to sweeten the deal, the district's board passed a resolution that would require the hired contractor to use Merced's resources for at least 50 percent of the labor and costs.The new high school is expected to cost anywhere between $77 million and $93 million... Merced Union High School District's most recent experience with a bond measure is the 2006 ballot item that failed by less than 3 percentage points of the vote. The majority of residents in Atwater voted no, a district study found in the weeks after the election. "In Atwater, it is very, very hard to pass any type of monetary bond," Mayor Joan Faul said. "We hope, though, that we can get enough citizens that have children and grandchildren that they want in safe schools to turn out on Election Day."This time around, they concentrated on including projects that specifically benefited the Atwater community, Hockersmith said. They hope the strategy works. "Knock on wood, this thing passes," Scambray said. "But if it doesn't we are going to have to start busing kids from Merced to Atwater."Our View: Now isn't right time for hospital bondshttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/v-print/story/502698.htmlProposition 3 asks voters to approve $980 million in bonds to fund building, expanding, improving and equipping children's hospitals throughout the state.The bonds would fund five hospitals affiliated with the University of California system, and eight private hospitals likely would receive money from the measure.Included among the private hospitals is Children's Hospital Central California in Madera. These hospitals provide care for children with serious illnesses such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, heart defects, leukemia and sickle-cell anemia. They treat thousands of kids whose families can't pay for their care.Backers of Proposition 3 note that children's hospitals save lives every day. They cite a state Department of Finance study estimating that the number of children in the 10 counties the Madera hospital serves will grow by 875,000 over the next 25 years, a 66 percent increase.We acknowledge the lifesaving work of the doctors, nurses and other caregivers at these hospitals. We understand that the health needs of children will continue to grow as the population expands.Yet we must point out that funds still are available from the last statewide bond measure benefiting children's hospitals, Proposition 61 from 2004.We have serious reservations about increasing the state's bond obligations at a time when our state and national economies are teetering on the brink of recession or have gone over the edge. This is a time when we must focus our funding on the most critical needs of our state and our people.We believe it is premature to take on a greater debt load on behalf of children's hospitals when the previous bond measure still has money to help them continue their good work. We recommend that you vote "no" on Proposition 3. Modesto BeeHousing projects downturn in the Valley...Dale Kasler and Jim Wasserman, The Sacramento Beehttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/466131.htmlIn the Central Valley these days, the bankruptcies and foreclosures don't just affect individual homeowners. They swallow entire developments -- and the people who conceive them.Three massive high-end projects in the San Joaquin Valley symbolize the California housing bubble at its most extreme. Combined, they have cost lenders and investors tens of millions of dollars -- and offer clues about the roots of the financial crisis that has gripped Wall Street and the world's economies.Each is striking in its own way:Diablo Grande, partially built out in western Stanislaus County, is faring better. But homeowners grumble about water-quality problems and plummeting values, and the project became a nightmare for original developer Donald Panoz, a pharmaceutical tycoon who made a fortune on the nicotine patch. He lost Diablo Grande after it filed for bankruptcy protection.After Running Horse in Fresno collapsed, none other than Donald Trump jetted in with a rescue plan. He gave up months later. One of the original developers, accused of fraud, turned up dead in a Fresno motel last month.Bakersfield's McAllister Ranch defaulted on a $235 million loan from Lehman Bros., the investment giant whose Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing helped heat Wall Street's woes to their current boil. McAllister's only occupants are a herd of sheep grazing on a golf course designed by Greg Norman.All three developments were designed to bring the luxury life to the valley, and that's where the problem lies. Their struggles illustrate how hard it is to transplant $800,000 homes and designer golf courses to California's chronically depressed midsection.Bakersfield boom turns to bluesWhile the housing boom brought money and diversification to a region too dependent on farming, the overall impact was somewhat hollow. The fundamentals of the economy didn't change. The valley didn't generate nearly enough high-paying jobs needed to sustain such high-end developments as Running Horse."The markets were so overheated they were chasing any deal," said Fresno real estate consultant Robin Kane. "Part of the problem that always hurts us in the valley, from Bakersfield to Stockton, is your employment and per capita income (are) not rising."With the boom a faded memory, unemployment is creeping back up to the 10 percent range in much of the valley. The real estate market is a disaster: Stockton had the nation's highest foreclosure rate in August, according to researcher RealtyTrac, followed by Merced and Modesto.Developers of big projects are paying for what Kane and others said was a classic valley mistake: They fell in love with the area's inexpensive land but ignored its troubling demographics. The valley is still plagued by low incomes, a poorly educated work force and other ills."We're not another Silicon Valley," said Bakersfield real estate appraiser Gary Crabtree.Nation's hottest market fizzlesThat didn't seem to matter when McAllister Ranch was taking shape in southwest Bakersfield. The city in 2005 had become the nation's single hottest housing market, as measured by price growth, thanks to a stampede of home buyers from Los Angeles.McAllister was going to be a big-time operation, with 6,000 homes and a host of amenities. Developer SunCal Cos. of Irvine borrowed $235 million from Lehman Bros. -- part of a $2.2 billion war chest Lehman handed SunCal to develop properties throughout California and Nevada.SunCal had a grand vision for Bakersfield. After buying out the original developer, it doubled the asking price for individual lots, to $115,000.But once the market petered out, "those prices were no longer viable," ex-project manager Darryl Tucker said.Work halted months ago. The partly built golf course became a sheep pasture. SunCal defaulted on the Lehman loan, and contractors forced McAllister Ranch into involuntary bankruptcy."You've just got tumbleweeds growing, and that's about it," Tucker said.It's a similar story at Running Horse, which was going to bring prosperity to Fresno's long-neglected west side.Homes would sell for up to $800,000. The PGA pledged to stage a tournament on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.Instead, Running Horse became Fresno's longest-running soap opera. After years of promises, developers Scott Webb and Tom O'Meara -- the latter a California State University, Fresno, grad living in Pebble Beach -- ran out of cash. They sold to Mick Evans, a Ripon golf course builder, in March 2007 for $200,000.A month later, Evans put the property in Chapter 11.All that had been built were two holes of Nicklaus' course.Then came Trump. The brash developer arrived one afternoon in May 2007 in his jet. Emerging from a meeting with elected officials at the double-wide trailer serving as Running Horse's headquarters, Trump told reporters: "We're looking to try and save a very troubled situation."He was willing to buy, but only with a subsidy from the city.After months of negotiations, Trump bailed out. The property was taken over by its San Diego lenders.Recently the state Department of Real Estate accused O'Meara and Webb of defrauding investors out of more than $4 million by allegedly selling the same lots to multiple buyers.The two were stripped of their real estate licenses in September. Two days later, Webb was found dead in a Fresno motel.Authorities said there was no foul play, but the case remains under investigation.The property sits idle."It would have been a big deal for Fresno," said Harlan Kelley Sr., 71, a west side resident who put $385,000 into the project and was among those said to be defrauded. "We still got our fingers crossed that Donald Trump or someone else will come in and take over."Patterson project still strugglingAnother Donald built Diablo Grande. Donald Panoz, a pharmaceutical executive, land developer and owner of an auto-racing business endured eight years of environmental lawsuits and spent $120 million bringing Diablo Grande to life.His goal: a luxury hideaway in the dusty hills west of Patterson, the self-proclaimed "apricot capital of the world." A vineyard and winery, plus two 18-hole courses, became part of the vision.But the 33,000-acre site was geared to the Bay Area transplants flocking to valley towns in search of cheaper housing.That made it vulnerable. Once housing prices softened in the Bay Area, buying a home in the valley made less sense, said Dean Wehrli of Sullivan Group Real Estate Advisors in Elk Grove.Diablo Grande "was absolutely ripe to be hit hard by the downturn," he said.More than 450 houses were built when the project sputtered earlier this year. Both golf courses closed temporarily. A Chapter 11 filing came in March.The project is trying to get back on its feet. A Los Angeles developer named World International LLC bought it for $20 million and pledged to build a resort spa, equestrian center and Spanish-style shopping village. It said last week it plans to rename the development to give it "a fresh start." Meanwhile, a rash of foreclosures among the finished houses lured bargain hunters.East Bay couple Karen Cinfio and David Rose bought a million-dollar home with panoramic views out of foreclosure for $375,000."I kind of refer to the people who lived here first, they were kind of like the Donner Party," Cinfio said as she stood by her backyard pool. "They paved the trail."Valley prices back to earthMany of the trailblazers still live at Diablo Grande, and they wonder when things are going to improve. A chemical problem has left the water undrinkable and prompted a $1,000 state fine. The plummeting home values are another cause for concern.Darcie Nessinger lives with her parents in a home valued at $275,000. They paid $534,000 three years ago."We expected the values of the houses to go up," said Nessinger, 33, an AT&T employee. "It's a resort area on a golf course."A quick return to 2005 pricing is unlikely, at Diablo Grande or anywhere else in the valley. Steve Smiley, who tracks valley trends for consulting firm Meyers Builder Advisors, said outrageous housing prices are gone for good. Taking their place: modest prices based on the valley's economic fundamentals."I don't know if pricing is ever going to come back to that $800,000 house in Manteca," he said. "In my mind, it shouldn't."Home construction falls sharply in September...MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/2020/v-print/story/466209.htmlConstruction of new homes plunged by a bigger-than-expected amount in September as builders slashed production yet again, putting the country on track to build the fewest homes this year in more than six decades.A barometer of future building also dropped, falling to the weakest level in more than 25 years. Analysts blamed the renewed swoon on the financial crisis which erupted with force this fall, raising new anxieties among potential home buyers and making it harder for builders to get construction loans.The Commerce Department reported Friday that construction of new homes and apartments dropped by 6.3 percent last month, a much bigger decline than the 1.6 percent decrease that had been expected. It pushed total production to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 817,000 units. That's the slowest pace since January 1991, when the U.S. was in a recession and going through a similar painful housing correction."This is pretty bleak. The home building market continues to slide away and it is not over yet," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "Demand is now weakening as a result of the financial panic and the hit to the job market."President Bush on Friday defended the government's extraordinary interventions to rescue the financial system as a "last resort" that would work eventually to stabilize the economy.The construction declines last month reflected weakness in many parts of the country. It was led by a 20.9 percent drop in the Northeast, where construction of single-family units fell to the lowest level on record.Construction slipped by 16.8 percent in the West with single-family building hitting a record low there, too. The Midwest saw a gain of 5.6 percent, although that came from strength in apartment construction as single-family building also hit a record low in that region. Construction activity in the South was up a slight 0.5 percent.Applications for building permits, considered a good sign for future activity, also fell sharply in September, dropping by 8.3 percent to an annual rate of 786,000 units, the weakest level since November 1981.The housing industry, which enjoyed a five-year boom, is suffering its worst downturn in decades.The weakness in housing, where prices have been falling sharply in many parts of the country, has triggered severe economic problems. The government has been forced to rush through a $700 billion rescue package for banks which have been hit with billions of dollars in losses from soaring defaults on mortgages.Banks, worried about their cash reserves and the health of other banks and businesses, have tightened lending, causing credit markets around the world to freeze, stock markets to tumble and anxiety about a global recession to rise.Builder sentiment dropped to a record low in October, according to the latest survey from the National Association of Home Builders which said builder confidence had been shaken by the recent financial market troubles. Builders have been facing tighter lending standards as they try to get financing for new projects.Rental rates hold steady...J.N. Sbrantihttp://www.modbee.com/business/v-print/story/466163.htmlApartment rental rates remain flat in Modesto and throughout much of the Northern San Joaquin Valley, and most landlords must offer "move-in specials" to keep up their occupancy rates.New statistics show the average monthly rent charged was $813 in Modesto during July, August and September, according to RealFacts. That was just $4 a month more than average rents two years ago.Many renters, in reality, pay less than that because they're given move-in incentives -- like $200 off the first month's rent or the first month free with a one-year lease."Move-in specials are offered pretty much across the board for high-end to low-end apartments," said Debra Clover, who manages Stanislaus Property Management, which runs 10 small apartment complexes in and around Modesto.Even with such deals, Clover said her properties have vacancy rates around 15 percent, which is more than double what they were a year ago.That's why rents aren't going up, even though costs may be. "Sometimes if you raise the rents, you increase your vacancy rates," Clover explained. Because the result doesn't increase overall income for apartment owners, they keep rents stable.That generally was true during the region's building boom, too. In 2003, when home prices were soaring, Modesto rents averaged $760 a month. During the five years since, they've crept up only 7 percent, RealFacts statistics show.RealFacts, a rental research firm based in Novato, tracks rents and occupancy rates throughout the United States. Its research covers Modesto's 27 largest privately owned apartment complexes, which include more than 4,700 rental units.Apartments, of course, aren't the only rental option for Modesto families these days. There are thousands of rental houses in the city, and their numbers are increasing daily as investors scoop up bargain-priced foreclosed properties. "We have a flood of investment homes on the rental market now," said Clover, whose company manages more than 300 of them.Home rental rates are not easily tracked because many of houses are rented privately by their owners, who do not make their rates public.Clover estimated that three- bedroom, two-bath Modesto rental homes typically rent for $1,000 to $1,200 a month, with rates in Salida, Turlock and Ripon being higher.Liberty Property Management, the county's largest real estate management company, currently has about 55 houses available to rent, priced at $925 to $1,995 per month.Since the foreclosure crisis started two years ago, more than 10,000 Stanislaus County homes have been repossessed by lenders. Many of the families who had been living in those homes have left the county, Clover said."When these people -- especially those who were commuting to the Bay Area -- lose their houses, they don't stay here to rent. They move closer to their jobs," Clover said.For more apartment rent statistics from RealFacts, go to www.modbee.com/housing.High-speed rail an investment like universities, dams...Cathleen GalgianiGalgiani represents the 17th Assembly District, which includes Merced County and parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. She carried the bill to put Proposition 1A on the ballot.http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/v-print/story/466211.htmlAnyone who has traveled on Highway 99 or Interstate 5 recently or used any regional airport has seen just how well things are -- or are not -- moving in California. Our state's transportation network is simply locked in congestion. And as our population grows, it's only getting worse.Proposition 1A offers a smart long-term opportunity to ease congestion. It will authorize construction of a high-speed train system connecting California's major cities. How does downtown Modesto to downtown Los Angeles in under two hours for less than $50 sound? Or Modesto to Sacramento in about half an hour? This train project couldn't be arriving at a better time. That's because long before the rails even carry their first passengers, the high-speed train will deliver a needed economic boost to the Modesto area and all of California.Construction alone will create 160,000 jobs, injecting investment directly into local businesses and households. Once running, the whole system will generate more than 450,000 permanent jobs, including new businesses around vibrant downtown stations that will come to life in our cities.The high-speed train will also pay dividends for generations to come in our environment. The all-electric trains won't burn fossil fuels, keeping some 12 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year from entering our environment. That's equivalent to taking one million cars off the road.Plus, the high-speed train will save some 12.7 million barrels of oil per year. That's because a passenger on a train uses one-third of the energy of one on an airplane and one-fifth of the energy of one in a car. Today, congestion on our roads and in our airports costs Californians about $20 billion per year in lost time and fuel. One recent study showed the high-speed train could save Central Valley drivers $2.2 billion per year in reduced freeway congestion costs alone. High- speed rail is a forward-thinking, long-term investment in California's future much as our university system and water projects were decades ago.Proposition 1A would allow the sale of $9.95 billion of state bonds to help pay for the development and construction of high-speed rail. But the state will not do this alone. Construction will be funded through a partnership of federal, private and state dollars. That means every state bond dollar used for construction will attract at least two more dollars of matching funds, making the most of the bond investment. And taxpayers are protected. If the matching funds for construction are not raised, the bond money for construction will not be spent. That is the law. Ongoing operations of the high- speed train system will be funded by ticket revenue, without public subsidy.Proposition 1A is supported by a diverse coalition including business groups from across the state such as the Modesto Chamber of Commerce; environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters; and labor organizations including the California Labor Federation. Proposition 1A, by building the high-speed train system, will provide a long-term, environmentally responsible solution to the congestion challenge California faces. It will reduce pollution and save oil. And Proposition 1A comes at a time when our struggling economy can definitely use the boost and the hundreds of thousands of jobs this project will bring to communities like Modesto. Vote "yes" on Proposition 1A to ease congestion, fight pollution and create jobs.Fresno BeeCalifornia unemployment rate steady at 7.7 percent...DON THOMPSONhttp://www.fresnobee.com/state_wire/business/story/944598.htmlCalifornia's jobless rate held steady at 7.7 percent last month. The unemployment rate for August and September is at its highest level since March 1996. The figures released Friday by the California Employment Development Department track the national unemployment rate, which also was unchanged at 6.1 percent in September. The jobless rate is up from 5.6 percent in September 2007. The state projects that 1.425 million people were unemployed in California last month. That's up by 4,000 over August, and up nearly 400,000 from September last year. The number of jobless is more than more than triple the number unemployed from a year ago as the economy falters. Of the unemployed, the state says 548,300 people were laid off while 133,800 left their jobs voluntarily. Air district sued over dairy approvalSuit says adverse effects weren't considered...Pablo Lopezhttp://www.fresnobee.com/news/local-news/v-printerfriendly/story/943685.htmlA lawsuit filed Thursday against the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District contends district officials approved a proposed 6,120-animal dairy in southwest Fresno County without considering global warming or adverse effects on human health. The Center for Biological Diversity and California Rural Legal Assistance said the proposed dairy near the community of Burrel violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not requiring equipment that converts methane gas into energy. The lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court also said megadairies produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions such as methane, particulate pollution, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia that are dangerous to human health. "By illegally downplaying the project's impact on global warming, human health and the environment, the air district squandered a critically important opportunity to incorporate solutions ... to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutions from dairies," said Matt Vespa, a senior attorney for the San Francisco-based center. The air board approved the proposed dairy owned by Charles Van Der Kooi on Sept. 17. The two groups want the court to nullify an environmental impact report that led to the approval of the dairy and order a new report that addresses global warming and human health impacts. The lawsuit also challenges the approval process, saying the Fresno County Board of Supervisors should have jurisdiction over whether the dairy gets built, not the air district. Air district officials had no immediate comment, spokesman Anthony Presto said. The two groups represent Eugenia Melesio, a Fresno County resident. "All I am asking for is that the responsible agencies do a good job of looking at the environmental impact, or else people suffer," Melesio said in a statement. The proposed dairy would adversely affect Fresno County residents, the lawsuit said, because nearly one in five residents has asthma -- at least three times the national average. "Every year, 300 people die in Fresno County alone from pollution-related causes," said Alegria De La Cruz, a lawyer in CRLA's Fresno office. "The average Fresno resident will die one or two years earlier here than elsewhere due to our high pollution levels."Association of California Water AgenciesWater Agencies Welcome New Vision for DeltaACWA to Remain Engaged as Strategic Plan Moves to Cabinet-Level Committee...Press Releasehttp://www.acwa.com/mediazone/newsreleases/view_release.asp?ID=689Sacramento – Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) Executive Director Timothy Quinn issued the following statement today on the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force’s strategic plan. The task force is meeting for the last time today and tomorrow to finalize the plan, which will provide the basis for a cabinet-level committee to issue recommendations to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to improve the sustainability of the Delta.“As the Delta Vision Blue Ribbon Task Force completes its work, we appreciate the sincere effort this group has sustained over the past two years to move toward a new vision for the Delta. Task force members have taken an unflinching look at the Delta and its complexities, and we commend them for their commitment.“In 2005, ACWA asked the governor to establish a process that would break the decades-old stalemate over the Delta and lead to a powerful new vision. The task force has moved substantially in that direction, and we applaud the out-of-the-box thinking shown to date. We strongly agree with the co-equal goals of ecosystem health and water system reliability that the task force has established as the cornerstone of its plan.“ACWA members are encouraged by the physical solutions recommended by the task force. We agree with the call for improved Delta conveyance, linked to expanded surface and groundwater storage, to be operated for the co-equal goals. We also support the substantial investments recommended in water use efficiency and local resource development. These are in fact the very elements of the comprehensive water package we have worked hard to advance in recent years.“We remain concerned, however, about the details of the governance recommendations, as well as potential proposals to take water away from water rights holders without compensation. ACWA will remain engaged as this process moves toward final recommendations to the governor and Legislature by year’s end.”ACWA is a statewide association of public agencies whose 450 members are responsible for about 90% of the water delivered in California. For more information, visit www.acwa.com.San Francisco ChronicleHow many hamburgers does a reservoir hold?...Kelly Zito, Village Greenhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=50&entry_id=31570Not too long ago, I visited the San Luis Reservoir, a giant water storage system located on Highway 152, about 30 miles east of Gilroy. As of early September, the reservoir was at just 13 percent of capacity.The 60-plus miles of dry shoreline looked as though they didn't even remember what water was. Vegetation had sprouted, and they had the look of the striped walls of the Grand Canyon, with layers of sedimentation visible.The reservoir also has a visitor center, where helpful rangers answer questions, point our landmarks and give out fact sheets. One pamphlet that I'd picked up popped into my mind the other day while I was eating a hamburger and contemplating California's drought (Yes, I think about these things during my off hours...).Essentially, the sheet highlights the fact that everything we eat can be boiled down (harhar) and measured by the amount of water needed to produce it.It's the carbon footprint idea, using water instead.According to this handout, it took nearly 700 gallons......of water to grow the ingredients and produce the hamburger I was enjoying so much.The beef patty took more than 600 gallons, the cheese about 56 gallons and the top and bottom buns took 22 gallons together (the Department of Water Resources, which produced the sheet, didn't include condiments. Hello - those are the best part!)Anyway, let's do some math.The capacity of the San Luis Reservoir is more than 2 million acre feet. One acre foot is the equivalent of about 326,000 gallons. Using that 2 million number, that means the reservoir can hold, say, 652 billion gallons of water. That's more than 930 million hamburgers.Thirteen percent capacity works out to about 85 billion gallons of water -- or, enough to make 121 million hamburgers. These are rough calculations, of course, and I'm NO engineer.But it's interesting to think about how much water gets handed out through take-out windows -- and at gourmet restaurants -- every day.Wal-Mart closes unionized Canada center...CHUCK BARTELS, AP Business Writerhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/10/16/financial/f123634D29.DTL&type=printableLittle Rock, Ark. (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., known for its strong stance against workers unionizing, on Thursday closed a tire and lube center in Canada where workers had voted to organize.A Wal-Mart spokesman said the five workers and one manager at the center were offered jobs at comparable Wal-Mart facilities or elsewhere in the store, which is located in Gatineau, Quebec and has more than 250 workers. The store itself will remain open.The closure comes after an arbitrator in Quebec had imposed a labor contract on the facility in August.The United Food and Commercial Workers union called the closure an "attack" on Wal-Mart workers. Wal-Mart in 2005 closed a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, after workers there agreed to unionize. The union has a Canada Supreme Court case pending over whether those workers' rights were violated.Wayne Hanley, president of UFCW Canada, said the closing violates workers' rights."Wal-Mart thinks a cheap oil change is more important than the Canadian constitution," Hanley said.Wal-Mart Canada spokesman Andrew Pelletier said the contract that was imposed on Wal-Mart in August would have raised costs too much. "It could require us to increase consumer prices by more than 30 percent," Pelletier said.Pelletier said the company bargained in good faith. He would not say Wal-Mart opposes unions but said the company prefers to deal directly with its workers."We think the best-case scenario is when the (employee) can deal directly with the company through an open door and ... open communication," he said.Union-backed groups Wal-Mart Watch and WakeUpWalMart criticized the company for the closure."The Gatineau workers have merely exercised their human rights under Canadian Law, something that is clearly unacceptable to Wal-Mart," Wal-Mart Watch director David Nasser said.WakeUpWalMart spokeswoman Meghan Scott said the company is "shamelessly anti-union."Wal-Mart is actively opposing a bill before the U.S. Congress that would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret ballot elections."Many Wal-Mart customers are union members and we respect their work efforts and dedication, but we are opposed to card-check legislation in the United States because of coercion and loss of privacy. The last thing this country needs now ... is a bill that would hurt job creation and hurt prices for consumers," Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said.Wal-Mart has 309 stores in Canada and 77,000 workers.Mercury NewsFull speed ahead? Voters to decide fate of high-speed rail project in California...Paul Rogershttp://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_10738404It was 139 years ago when railroad baron and future university founder Leland Stanford drove in the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, completing the transcontinental railroad and forever changing California.Supporters of a new high-speed rail measure on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot hope voters will perform the electoral equivalent, hammering home a yes vote and reshaping the state's future again.Proposition 1A would authorize the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to begin construction of a network of bullet trains traveling up to 220 mph, zipping passengers from the Bay Area and Los Angeles in 21/2 hours. Fans of the project say it will help the environment and modernize the state's transportation needs, but opponents say it is too expensive, particularly during the current economic downturn.Previous generations laid the foundation for modern California with the transcontinental railroad, State Water Project and BART, say backers of 1A."These three projects were indispensable. California couldn't have existed and flourished without them. This is absolutely comparable," said Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, a state agency drawing up the proposal.High speed rail would reduce smog, global warming emissions and congestion at the state's airports and freeways, Kopp said, particularly as California's population continues to grow by 600,000 people a year.Opponents, however, call the plan a boondoggle that the state cannot afford. "It's highly unrealistic. It's just going to be another black hole where we end up shoveling money into," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association...The authority predicts the final cost at $45 billion. If Proposition 1A passes, that money would complete construction of the first phase from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2018, Kopp said. Eventually, the train would also travel to Sacramento, San Diego and, potentially, Oakland.The authority has not secured the remaining $35 billion, a point noted by critics who include the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Farm Bureau Federation and State Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks...The most recent poll, a Field Poll in July, showed Prop. 1A leading by 56 to 30 percent. Looming over the election, however, is the recent Wall Street meltdown and California's housing slump, which almost certainly will affect voters, political experts say."When all you hear is bad economic news, people are much more cautious," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University, Sacramento. "I don't think it has anything to do with the merits of the project. It's all about timing."The last time the economy was this bad, in 1994, California voters rejected all four bond measures on the state ballot — $6 billion for normally popular issues like parks, schools and earthquake safety. This year, there is nearly $17 billion on the state ballot in bond spending for high-speed rail, renewable energy, veterans housing and children's hospitals...Last month, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association released a report that said the project's ridership estimates and costs — 70 million people by 2030 and $55 for a one-way ticket between San Francisco and LA — are overly optimistic. It noted that high speed rail is more suited for Japan and Europe because they have denser cities, higher gasoline prices and more government subsidies.Critics also say that California already has too much debt. The state legislative analyst said Proposition 1A would cost $19.4 billion over 30 years once principal and interest on the bonds is paid off."This is like losing your job and then using your credit card to put in a new swimming pool to help provide work for others,' said Vosburgh of the jobs argument.Temporary financial downturns shouldn't dissuade Californians from investing in their future, supporters counter."If this fails, I don't know the next step," said Kopp. "I can speculate that it would probably be dead for another decade and maybe the next generation."UC-Berkeley officials consider using owls to control rats in People's Park...Kristin Bender and Doug Oakley, Bay Area News Grouphttp://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_10745903Barn owl boxes in Berkeley? Maybe. In an effort to reduce the number of grayish-brown rats that scamper around People's Park in the morning, eating scraps of food and hiding in the agave plants, the People's Park Community Advisory Board will consider a proposal to install wooden owl boxes in the park to attract predator owls. Barn owls, which can eat at least a dozen or so rats a night, could be non-toxic rodent controllers in the 2.8-acre UC-Berkeley-owned park off Telegraph Avenue, university officials said. "I was noticing them in the morning and I realize we live in an urban area where there are going to be rats, but when I was seeing them clearly in the daytime that's when I knew it was a problem," said Devin Woolridge, park site coordinator. Luis Mendez, who empties the park's trash cans in the mornings, said groups that leave food for homeless people in the park are to blame for the increase in rats. Also, people who eat meals from Food Not Bombs often leave their scraps on the ground even though the group cleans up before it leaves, Mendez said. He said he saw an increase in rats about five months ago, about the same time the number of homeless people staying in the park spiked. "I have suggested they take the food (handouts) somewhere else, like to one of the churches nearby," Mendez said. "There's a lot of rats here; they're big and they're not afraid of you anymore. This is a nice park, but it's contaminated." ...Irene Hegarty, the director of the university's office of community relations, downplayed the rat situation. "The rat population gets noticeable from time to time with standing water, food at the park and foliage," she said. "There happens to be a creek system in Berkeley and we have rats. Every once in a while you see them. I'm sure that other parks in Berkeley have them." The agave plants in the park don't make getting rid of the rats any easier, Woolridge said. "No predator can get in there after them. No bird is going to get to them. It's even hard to stick bait in there," he said of the 5- to 6-inch rats. He said owl boxes could work. "I do think it's something we could do but we need to look at how many, and in what trees. I would want us to do some more homework on it," he said. Lisa Owens Viani, founder of Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley, said putting up an owl box or two couldn't hurt. "There is no guarantee that the owls are going to move into the box," which is usually about 3-feet tall by a foot-and-a-half wide. "We do use the boxes for the owls to nest in because we don't have the big old trees (with the cavities) that owls used to go to nest." Owens Viani, who started the non-profit two years ago, said she supports the idea as long as neither the university nor nearby businesses or restaurants use rat bait on the rodents in the park, which has been done recently. "They can't use any kind of poison because if the owls eat the rats they won't live," she said. Owl boxes, which have been up on poles for at least five years in Cesar Chavez Park, have been successful at controlling an overabundance of squirrels at the Berkeley park, said Patty Donald, coordinator at the Shorebird Nature Center. "We've just started to see owls in them the last year," she said. In addition to the owl boxes, there are signs asking people not to feed the squirrels. "If the ground squirrels eat food that is not natural to them, they grow obese and then they (mate more) and then in the winter people aren't feeding them and they get really sick," Donald said. "The owls are a natural predator that will hopefully take care of the young squirrels." Two years ago, the city temporarily closed the Willard Park tot lot for several weeks to oust some rats. Traps, rather than poisons or pesticides, were used to get rid of the rats, which had found a home in some dense vegetation between the park tennis courts. There was also talk of bringing in barn owls. William Rogers, the city's director of parks, recreation and waterfront, said there hasn't been a rat problem in other city parks recently. But "we do assume that all of our parks have rats," he said. Santa Cruz SentinelDavenport residents told chromium 6 exposure poses very small cancer risk...Shanna McCordhttp://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10744162When Davenport residents, concerned about the recent discovery of chromium 6, ask how long the cancer-causing contaminant has been in the air, they're told the question is not as relevant as finding a solution to the problem.Many residents, still in the dark about how long the cement plant has emitted chromium 6, are confused by that response, as they've learned their risk of cancer is based on years of continual exposure."We need more information," said North Coast resident Susie Devergranne, whose son attends Pacific School. "If I had lived here for the last 40 years, I'd wonder what I've been exposed to." The amount of chromium 6 detected in the Davenport air -- traced to cement production at Cemex -- two weeks ago by the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District is about 10 times higher than the allowable limit set by the state Environmental Protection Agency, and would pose a cancer risk for about one in every 10,000 people, air district officials said.When breathed, chromium 6 has been known to cause lung cancer. "I'm not saying there's no danger. I want to be very clear that I do think there is a problem that needs to be addressed," Santa Cruz County epidemiologist Will Forest said. "Having said that, I also think people tend to overreact."Your probability of being killed by lightning is not very different from contracting cancer in Davenport." The chromium 6 levels detected from air monitoring conducted during June to August are small enough that the risk of cancer wouldn't change much if the compound had been around for five years or 50 years in the North Coast town of roughly 400 residents, Forest said."The difference is between one very small number and another very small number," he said. "In a population this size, I would expect less than one cancer in this group."Forest said he'd worry more if Cemex officials hadn't promised to take "reasonable and appropriate" measures to control the situation.Pacific Elementary School Principal Sharon Smith said about a dozen children have missed school each day this week because of parents' worries that continued exposure could put their children's health at risk.It's not known how much chromium currently is in the air in Davenport.Air district officials are awaiting results from more recent air samples that were taken Oct. 6-8, and have vowed to continue regular testing indefinitely."We don't have enough new information," Smith said. "I'm hoping for the new test results so we can better know what we're dealing with here."Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit that examines pollutants from cement plants, said responses to the chromium discovery will be different and personal, according to the individuals. Each person's worries and questions are "very legitimate" and should be taken seriously by Cemex and county and state officials, Rotkin-Ellman said."The Davenport community is learning that there was a hazardous material found in their backyard," she said. "Everyone has the right to live in a pollutant-free environment. The Davenport community is facing an undue burden." Cemex officials have identified two raw materials used for making cement as the source of the chromium 6 -- mill scale and steel slag, byproducts of steel manufacturing. Those materials carry high chromium content, which can easily turn into chromium 6 when heated at extreme temperatures, like the 3,500 degrees used in the Cemex kiln.Cemex officials haven't pinpointed the exact timeline for use of mill scale and steel slag. It was probably in 2001, Cemex Vice President Satish Sheth has said.However, in moving forward, the company will halt their use and instead turn to other raw materials that contain iron, such as iron ore, which is a more expensive product.What is chromium 6?Chromium is found in many natural materials. High-chromium content materials such as rocks and limestone can create chromium 6 when heated up to high temperatures. During cement production, a 3,500-degree oven turns raw material to clinker, a rock that gets crushed to make cement. Extreme heat in the kiln can cause oxidation and convert chromium to chromium 6. Besides cement production, the toxic metal is often used in metal plating, the aerospace industry, stainless steel processing and dye manufacture. SOURCE: Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District and CemexLos Angeles TimesHome construction falls sharply in September...From the Associated Presshttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-housing18-2008oct18,0,1760455,print.storyWASHINGTON -- Construction of new homes plunged by a bigger-than-expected amount in September as builders slashed production yet again, putting the country on track to build the fewest homes this year in more than six decades.A barometer of future building also dropped, falling to the weakest level in more than 25 years. Analysts blamed the renewed swoon on the financial crisis which erupted with force this fall, raising new anxieties among potential home buyers and making it harder for builders to get construction loans.The Commerce Department reported Friday that construction of new homes and apartments dropped by 6.3 percent last month, a much bigger decline than the 1.6 percent decrease that had been expected. It pushed total production to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 817,000 units. That's the slowest pace since January 1991, when the U.S. was in a recession and going through a similar painful housing correction."This is pretty bleak. The home building market continues to slide away and it is not over yet," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "Demand is now weakening as a result of the financial panic and the hit to the job market."President Bush on Friday defended the government's extraordinary interventions to rescue the financial system as a "last resort" that would work eventually to stabilize the economy.The construction declines last month reflected weakness in many parts of the country. It was led by a 20.9 percent drop in the Northeast, where construction of single-family units fell to the lowest level on record.Construction slipped by 16.8 percent in the West with single-family building hitting a record low there, too. The Midwest saw a gain of 5.6 percent, although that came from strength in apartment construction as single-family building also hit a record low in that region. Construction activity in the South was up a slight 0.5 percent.Applications for building permits, considered a good sign for future activity, also fell sharply in September, dropping by 8.3 percent to an annual rate of 786,000 units, the weakest level since November 1981.The housing industry, which enjoyed a five-year boom, is suffering its worst downturn in decades.The weakness in housing, where prices have been falling sharply in many parts of the country, has triggered severe economic problems. The government has been forced to rush through a $700 billion rescue package for banks which have been hit with billions of dollars in losses from soaring defaults on mortgages.Banks, worried about their cash reserves and the health of other banks and businesses, have tightened lending, causing credit markets around the world to freeze, stock markets to tumble and anxiety about a global recession to rise.Builder sentiment dropped to a record low in October, according to the latest survey from the National Association of Home Builders which said builder confidence had been shaken by the recent financial market troubles. Builders have been facing tighter lending standards as they try to get financing for new projects. Economic turmoil puts municipal bonds, projects in a bindGovernments and schools are delaying their plans or paying higher interest rates to attract investors...Kim Murphyhttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-na-bonds17-2008oct17,0,6912430,print.storyREDMOND, ORE. — As flocks of disenchanted Californians streamed across the border in the last decade, drawn by central Oregon's crystal-clear skies, ski slopes, small-town charm and affordable homes, Redmond has been hastily assembling portable classrooms and scrambling to build another high school.Voters here are notoriously testy about new taxes, though, and it wasn't until May that they approved a $110-million bond issue to build a high school on the south side of town, along with an elementary school.The district was about to sell the bonds to pay for the project Sept. 24, when the market for municipal bonds all but disappeared. Amid the global financial meltdown, the market for school bonds suddenly looked like the Monday after a bad garage sale: plenty of merchandise left, no buyers.No buyers? For years, cities, counties and school districts have counted on the comfortable predictability of municipal bonds, whose tax-free earnings and bedrock safety rooted in local government treasuries made them attractive for cautious investors. They have been the equivalent of $400-billion-a-year, low-interest Visa cards for governments looking to build airports, courthouses, schools and industrial parks. States such as California routinely issue revenue anticipation notes to keep their coffers full before tax receipts come in. But as Redmond School District officials and other government bodies have learned over the last few weeks, trying to sell bonds these days -- with escalating interest rates and investors wary of commitment -- is an enterprise restricted to the bold, the rich or the desperate.St. Louis has had to postpone selling bonds for airport improvements; Morgan County, Ala., is putting off plans for a new industrial park; and Broward County, Fla., is likely to delay the sale of $170 million in bonds for sewer and water line renewals. A new rental car facility at the Port of Seattle has also been put on hold."I've been in my position for 12 years, and I've never seen anything like it," said Kent County, Mich., Treasurer Kenneth D. Parrish, who is also president of the National Assn. of County Collectors, Treasurers and Finance Officers. It's not over'California succeeded this week in selling $5 billion in short-term notes to keep the government afloat in cash, after weeks of alarm that the state would run out of money by the end of the month. But the state is paying higher-than-normal interest rates, and though investor demand was unexpectedly high, compared with the bidding wastelands of the last few weeks, analysts said it was too early to celebrate."It's certainly good that California was able to get this done, but it's not over. The market is still quite tied up in the credit liquidity crunch," said Maud Daudon, chief executive of Seattle-Northwest Securities Corp., which markets municipal bonds for governments.Kent County last month refinanced bonds for drainage walls on the Grand River and was stuck with a nearly overnight hike in interest rates that could cost the county $750,000 over 10 years. On what was to have been a routine package of delinquent tax anticipation notes, the county saw its interest rate jump from 2.5% to 10%.In Vancouver, Wash., a $115-million bond package issued in 2004 to build a not-for-profit hospital addition also got caught in the escalation this year. Its rate when it came up for scheduled revaluation rose from about 2.5% last year to 5%."What happened was the market just froze up for these securities. No one was interested in them," said David Willie, chief financial officer at the hospital, Southwest Washington Medical Center.Municipal Market Advisors, a Massachusetts-based bond research and analysis firm, estimated that $10 billion in planned bond financing was delayed during the last two weeks of September, with the total over the last year now reaching $100 billion in postponed projects.Those cities and counties forced to go to market now -- usually because of construction deadlines or contract penalties for delay -- may be facing an increase of 25% in overall interest rates on bonds with a 10-year maturity compared with a month ago, said Municipal Market CEO Thomas G. Doe."People can get to market," Doe said. "It's just a shockingly high number."Municipal bonds have normally been attractive for those willing to commit to a long-term maturity because their potential for tax savings substantially increases the effective earnings to investors.Over the last five years, Wall Street financiers also discovered a way to package the long-term bonds into structured investment vehicles, similar to how subprime mortgages had been packaged, that allowed money market funds to buy them and turn them over relatively quickly, earning speedier returns.This winning formula was explosively popular. The roughly $300 billion a year in debt issued by the nation's 65,000 states, municipalities and other government entities in 2002 rose to $400 billion by 2003 and remained at that level until this year's downturn.But Doe said those so-called tender-option bond packages ran into the same kind of turbulence hitting other leveraged securities in mid-2007.Another problem is that some city and county projects, like the Vancouver hospital, had their bonds guaranteed by insurance companies that had also insured subprime mortgages, causing the bonds to be downgraded to a lower rating. Lower ratings mean cities and counties must pay higher interest rates."We never dreamed these insurance companies would then go out and insure some of these subprime mortgages," said Willie of the Vancouver hospital.Good news, bad newsHe said that once the market settles down, managers hope to sell new bonds to quickly pay off the old ones.When will that be? Many had hoped this month's $700-billion congressional bailout would correct the market, but it now appears that it will take time. "There's probably been a billion dollars or so of long-term bond issuance this week. The good news is, it's showing the markets are starting to open up a little bit. The bad news is because investors are so nervous, the interest rate being paid is considerably higher than it was three weeks ago," said Jeffrey Esser, executive director of the Government Finance Officers Assn. in Chicago.In Idaho, a group of five irrigation districts near Boise went to market with $41 million in bonds for a new hydropower plant at Arrowrock Dam on the Boise River.Although the group had initially hoped for an interest rate as low as 5%, the bonds were sold at about 6.5%.The districts had no choice but to proceed because construction must commence during the low-water months of the fall and winter, said Albert Barker, attorney for the Boise-Kuna Irrigation District.If we put this off for a year, no one could assure us that the market would be any better next year," Barker said.In Redmond, school district administrators are opting to bide their time, though the old high school is bursting at the seams and a majestic but dowdy 87-year-old elementary school is crumbling into disrepair. They've waited this long to replace them; they can perhaps afford to wait a few months longer.If the bond sale had proceeded as planned last month, it would have forced the district to shave $1 million off its construction plans -- or risk telling voters who had been promised a relatively low tax rate that they would instead have to pay 20% to 30% more, said Doug Snyder, the district's chief operations officer. "That's not very good trust-building with the community," Snyder said.Washington PostAgencies Rated on Scientific Candor...Marc Kaufmanhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/16/AR2008101603993_pf.htmlThe Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have among the most restrictive policies in the federal government on releasing scientific information to the press and public, according to a "report card" being issued today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by contrast, do a commendable job of making scientific research and expertise available, the report said.After a year-long review of press office policies of 15 federal agencies, the group concluded that the agencies handled information requests inconsistently and that there appears to be significant confusion in some agencies about what their policies are.The report, begun after high-profile complaints by some government scientists that they were not allowed to openly discuss their findings, is based on surveys filled out by 739 researchers and some follow-up interviews, on information gathered through Freedom of Information Act requests, and on searches of agency Web sites for their stated policies."What we found is an inconsistent and too often controlling situation in many agencies," said Francesca Grifo, director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "This is scientific research funded by the taxpayers, and in most circumstances the public should have the right to know what it says."Grifo said presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have both called for a far more open discussion of government-funded research, and the group would watch to see whether the winner delivers the "wholesale culture change that's needed." UCS is a generally liberal, nonprofit organization that studies and issues reports on environmental, safety, health and other topics.The Bush administration has often taken the position that federal scientists can discuss their findings but not the policy implications that might flow from them -- a position that brought complaints from scientists including NASA climate change expert James Hansen, former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona and James G. Titus, the EPA's project manager for sea level rise. The administration increased the number of political appointees in many agency press and publicinformation offices.Grifo singled out NASA as an agency that responded properly when top managers learned that political appointees where interfering with Hansen's contacts with reporters.The Food and Drug Administration received an "incomplete." The report said that it could find no media policy through Web site searches, agency contacts or FOIA requests, and FDA scientists contacted by the UCS said that all media calls are routed through the press office. While the FDA holds proprietary information that cannot and should not be publicly discussed, the report concludes that the agency "should create a media policy that includes protections that will allow scientists to speak freely about their expertise."The National Science Foundation also got an incomplete because some of its policies were unavailable.The study also reported that "many Fish and Wildlife Service scientists told UCS that political appointees have interfered with science-based decisions in recent years and, as a result, that scientific openness has suffered."These were the grades awarded by the UCS: A: CDC; B-plus: Nuclear Regulatory Commission; B: NASA, NOAA, Census Bureau, National Institute of Standards and Technology; C: National Institutes of Health, U.S. Geological Survey; D: Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA , Bureau of Land Management, Consumer Product Safety Commission; F: OSHA.EPA Places Stricter Regulations on Airborne Lead...Juliet Eilperinhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/16/AR2008101601618_pf.htmlThe Environmental Protection Agency yesterday tightened the regulatory limit on airborne lead for the first time in 30 years, lowering the legal maximum to a tenth of what it was on the grounds that it poses a more serious threat to young children than officials had realized.The change, which was required under a court settlement, came despite a last-minute lobbying effort by battery recyclers to weaken the final rule. The suit was brought by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.In a conference call announcing the decision, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said he was lowering the current standard of 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter. That figure was in keeping with the recommendations of both the EPA staff and the agency's independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, but the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee had urged a sharply lower limit of 0.02 micrograms."America's air is cleaner today than just a generation ago," Johnson said. "And just last night I built upon this progress by signing the strongest air-quality standards for lead in our nation's history. . . . This action will improve public health, especially for children."Environmentalists hailed the decision as a significant public health advance but questioned some aspects of the EPA's plans for measuring lead pollution under the new rule. The vast majority of airborne lead, a neurotoxin that reduces young children's IQ, comes from lead smelters. The lead in the air eventually falls to the ground, and most of children's exposure comes from indoor dust and soil.Since 1990, 6,000 scientific studies have shown that young children suffer harm at much lower blood lead levels than was recognized when the old standard was set in 1978.The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement yesterday praising the EPA for the new standard, adding, "There is no safe level of lead exposure for children.""We commend EPA for taking a giant step in the right direction, but they need to greatly expand the lead-monitoring network if they hope to enforce this new standard," said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. "However, this administration has dismantled half of the air-monitoring stations across the country. With less than 200 air lead monitors nationwide, scientists don't even know how much lead is in the air in most communities."Johnson said the agency will expand its network to monitor any source that emits 1 ton of lead or more a year into the air, along with urban areas with populations of more than 500,000. According to sources who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations, some White House officials had pressed the EPA to scale back the monitoring so it would apply only to large population centers.According to the EPA, there are 16,000 sources across the country emitting 1,300 tons of lead into the air each year.In the United States, lead has been banned from gasoline and paint since the 1970s, and between 1980 and 2005, the average amount of lead in the air plummeted by nearly 97 percent. But the neurotoxin does not break down in the environment, and lead exposure is elevated in urban areas, especially in minority and low-income communities.More than 300,000 American children display adverse effects from lead poisoning, and elevated lead exposure can result in increased blood pressure and decreased kidney function in adults.Robert N. Steinwurtzel, counsel for the Association of Battery Recyclers, called the new federal requirement unrealistic and questioned how the industry would meet the stricter standard."It certainly threatens the viability of the industry at those numbers," Steinwurtzel said in an interview. "The problem is that many of the facilities have installed all known control technologies. . . . What else is there to be done? No one's identified any other known control technologies."Still, the association has estimated that two of the nation's seven battery recycling facilities that are currently being monitored will be able to meet the new restrictions, which will take full effect in 2017. The Institute of Clean Air Companies, which represents pollution-control manufacturers, has said that it could work to apply technology currently used in other operations to battery recycling plants.Johnson said he understands the pollution cuts will pose a challenge for some emitters but emphasized that the Clean Air Act compels him "to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety" without taking economic considerations into account."While I recognize that there are perhaps some who don't like the new standard I just set, I set it on the basis of science," he said. "It is a stronger standard, and now it will be left to everyone to make sure that standard is being met."Environmental groups criticized Johnson's decision to measure lead pollution levels over three-month averages rather than the one-month averages the agency's scientific advisers recommended. Averaging the readings over three months, they said, would obscure spikes in pollution that could threaten children and adults.Frank O'Donnell, who heads the public watchdog group Clean Air Watch, said "a three-month average would permit smelters and other lead polluters to belch high levels of lead periodically and still be considered legal. The monthly average recommended by EPA's science advisers would limit the belches."