10-20-08Merced Sun-StarForecast: Calif. home prices to dip further in '09...ALEX VEIGAhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/506350.htmlCalifornia 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. Sacramento BeeGroup teaches do's and don't of rescuing harmed fowl...Carrie Peyton Dahlberghttp://www.sacbee.com/101/story/1326898.htmlNoah has relationship issues. A bright-eyed magpie with iridescent plumage, she can't fit into a flock because she thinks she's human.Genetics, not human meddling, made a misfit out of Ivory. A pigment deficiency turned what would normally be the strong, black feathers of a healthy crow into tan and tattered ones, prone to breakage.Unable to make it on their own, both birds were taken in by volunteers who eventually recruited them as ambassadors on the wildlife rescue circuit. On Sunday, both flapped and posed for a small gathering at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, helping to demonstrate how to come to the aid of injured wildlife – and when to let well enough alone."It's amazing how quickly these animals can heal," said Doug Forbes of the Wildlife Care Association, who has helped nurse back to health birds mauled by cats and stricken by West Nile virus.Forbes handed out long lists of do's and don'ts for everything from bunnies to seal pups, and stressed that anyone needing more advice can call the association's hotline at (916) 965-WILD(9453).Noah, confiscated from an animal evacuation center during a flood in 1996, was the poster bird for why humans shouldn't make pets of wild creatures. She was a young bird probably raised by well-meaning humans, Forbes said.When rescuers tried to introduce her to other yellow-billed magpies, Noah couldn't relate, and the birds ignored her, robbing her of the flock interactions that mean food and survival."A lot of species will imprint on human beings really quickly, and at that point, they can't be released," Forbes said."It's just not fair" to the animal, he said. And it's illegal.Ivory was spotted by wildlife officials in a Winters cemetery not long after he'd left the nest. They recognized his condition and knew he wouldn't survive on his own because his feathers are too fragile.At this time of year, animals brought to Wildlife Care's rescue center in distress are likely to be injured, rather than fledgling birds more commonly found in spring and summer.One of the biggest myths of bird rescue, Forbes said, is that baby birds that fall from a nest are doomed if a human handles them."Mother birds will never reject a baby bird if you put it back in the nest," he said. "That's absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong."It's OK to replace a bird that has fallen from a nest if it is a nestling – one that appears downy or fuzzy and is unable to fly. Fully feathered young birds should be left alone."A fledgling … it's going to flop around and be uncoordinated for a while, but that's how it's going to learn," Forbes said.If there's a cat around, it's best to keep it indoors until the fledgling has gotten the feel of flying.Birds that have survived a cat encounter should be taken to a rescue center even if they seem in pretty good shape, though, because they're prone to infection.Other key tips include keeping an injured or orphaned animal warm, around 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and confining it in a dark, secure container. The animal should not be given food or fluids, and should be taken to a rehabilitation center as quickly as possible, according to the Wildlife Care Association."If you find an animal, we have a lot experts on the phone lines" who know their way around squirrels, possums and raccoons as well as birds, Forbes said.By the time he was done, Charlie Linn of Carmichael was among the listeners who asked to sign on as volunteers, ready to clean cages and feed birds on the mend."I've been to these programs for 20 years, and you always learn something new," said Linn, who lives close enough to the nature center to attend its events regularly. Rising water in Everglades threatens wildlife...CURTIS MORGAN, McClatchy Newspapershttp://www.sacbee.com/702/story/1327727.htmlMIAMI -- The Everglades are drowning.Canals along Alligator Alley have spilled over banks into roadside swales. Deer have been driven from flooded-out tree islands to strips of dry ground - mostly canal levees, but a few have even been spotted on the porches of empty hunting cabins.And the water, already near a record high, is still creeping up - particularly in the area of deepest concern: the sprawling sawgrass prairies north of Tamiami Trail. If the water doesn't recede fast, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns deer and other denizens could die in potentially large numbers. "If we don't start doing something, we're going to end up with a total massacre," said wildlife Commissioner Ron Bergeron, who recently took U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., on an airboat trip into the 700,000-acre conservation area west of suburban Miami-Dade and Broward counties, a marsh hammered by high waters over the decades.Similar conditions decimated the Glades' white-tailed deer in 1982 and 1995, knocking the herd from thousands to hundreds, and killed countless smaller animals that rely on high, dry tree islands for food and shelter.Those tree islands are anything but high and dry now.About five miles south of Alligator Alley, Bergeron slowed his airboat near a small tree island, where months earlier he'd spotted a buck. The island used to have a landmark rock outcropping."That crop rock shot up 3 to 4 feet there," he said. "It's under water now."It's not the water depth - which ought to range from 6 to 18 inches depending on location - that presents the biggest problem; it's duration. With the water up since Tropical Storm Fay seven weeks ago, wildlife managers figure they've got less than 30 days before the toll starts mounting.State and federal water managers, working with an outmoded and overwhelmed flood-control system and sometimes conflicting regulations to protect suburbs, farms, the Glades and the nests of an endangered bird from flooding, say there is not much more they can do - at least until the long-delayed overhaul of the Tamiami Trail and other Everglades projects move forward...Stockton RecordFor the treesIt may not look like it now, but someday it will be home to the Valley's largest riverine forest...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081020/A_NEWS/810200317VERNALIS - It's like watching a forest grow before your eyes.Here are spindly saplings, sheltered by milk cartons and propped up by wooden stakes.Across a dirt road are 50-foot willows and cottonwoods whose stakes have long been an afterthought.Thousands of acres of trees have been planted in stages over the past six years at the little-known San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, which someday will be home to the largest riverine forest in the Valley.Thick oaks, willows and cottonwoods will mimic the dense jungle that once flanked the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers on their journeys to the sea. About 95 percent of that unique habitat has been lost as cities and farms sprouted over the past century.Other refuges have attempted to restore some forestland in chunks - a few hundred acres here, a thousand acres there. The San Joaquin refuge's forest will top 3,700 acres.Ready to benefit from the new growth are rare rabbits, wood rats, birds and bugs of all kinds and - yes - humans."There are probably innumerable benefits to humans that we don't think about every day," said Eric Hopson, who manages the 7,100-acre refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.For one thing, the public will enjoy better access to the hidden refuge through a new system of trails and interpretative areas, Hopson said. Now there is only an observation point.Reforestation also helps prevent air and water pollution. The trees catch tiny particles of dust that are a health hazard to humans; forest grasses filter out herbicides and pesticides before farm runoff reaches the river.Officials also will allow the refuge to periodically flood, which could take pressure off levees protecting Stockton and other urban areas.Finally, the trees will suck hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere, said John Carlon, president of the Chico-based nonprofit River Partners.Funded by grants, his group has replanted hundreds of thousands of trees up and down the Central Valley, including the current project at the San Joaquin refuge."It's been a really rewarding experience," Carlon said.The Valley's river corridor is used by 300 species, including migratory birds from as far away as Argentina and the Arctic Circle."Wildlife is just kind of pouring into this thing from all four corners of North America," Carlon said. "It is the richest wildlife habitat in California."This is National Wildlife Refuge Week, a time when people are encouraged to learn more about the country's 548 refuges. Some are a mere miles from freeways or cities yet remain anonymous. These are not national parks, after all; the public doesn't have access to many areas, including private land that is preserved through conservation easements.While the new trees require irrigation for about three years - and it will be many more before the oaks, in particular, are well-established - the land will eventually sustain itself."We want to get to the point where nature takes over," Hopson said.CAMPAIGN 2008: THE RECORD ENDORSESNo reason to changeCardoza serves 18th District well; no wonder he's running unopposed...Editorialhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081020/A_OPINION01/810200303/-1/A_OPINIONIt's fairly easy to endorse Dennis Cardoza for another term in Congress.There is no doubt he'll be going back to the House from California's 18th District. He's running unopposed. So safe is the Merced Democrat's district that no Republican challenger rose to the test.It's easy to see why this Democrat will breeze into office in a part of the state generally more conservative and more Republican-leaning than, say, the Bay Area.Cardoza is relatively conservative. He is co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 37 moderate to conservative Democrats who are committed to balancing the federal budget and paying down the national debt. The fact that they've failed miserably doesn't take away from the fact that 18th District voters appreciate his conservative approach to spending their tax dollars.Cardoza went to Congress in 2003 from a district that has a portion poking into Stockton (he maintains a district office in the Hotel Stockton). However, most of the district is in western Stanislaus County, Merced County and a small portion of Fresno County.Cardoza remains a good Democratic fit for the temperament of the majority of Valley voters.San Francisco ChronicleCourt names special master in states' water fight...APhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/10/20/national/w072134D63.DTL&hw=river&sn=003&sc=392The Supreme Court has appointed an outside lawyer to gather information in a dispute over water involving Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.Montana claims it is not receiving its share of water from two rivers as spelled out in a 1950 agreement.Wyoming asked the court to dismiss the complaint. Instead, the justices on Monday appointed Barton H. Thompson of Stanford, Calif., as a special master with broad powers to summon witnesses and issue subpoenas.The three-state agreement outlines how water from the Tongue and Powder rivers is supposed to be divided. Montana claims that increased use of groundwater and construction of reservoirs in Wyoming since the agreement was signed has prevented Montana from receiving its fair share of water.Wyoming argues that the compact only applies to surface water, while Montana contends that the compact covers water pumped from underground aquifers for irrigation or during coal-bed methane drilling.The case is Montana v. Wyoming, 137, original.New way of life needed to run high-speed rail...Michael Cabanatuanhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/20/BA5N13IO71.DTLBuilding a high-speed rail system would change the way Californians travel. But for high-speed rail to work - as it does in Europe and Asia - Californians will have to change the way they live, and the state will have to change the way it grows.High-speed train experts from France and Japan as well as the United States say that the success of the 800-mile system depends not just on the commitment of money but on the willingness to develop and live in denser cities and vastly expand and modernize public transportation systems in areas where trains stop."It's a lifestyle change we're talking about," said Noriyuki Shikata, a North American director in the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "It affects how people lead their lives."Proposition 1A on the Nov. 4 ballot would authorize the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to help start construction of a high-speed rail network that would send electric trains between Northern and Southern California at up to 220 mph. A trip from the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and Los Angeles Union Station would take about 2 1/2 hours, according to the state High Speed Rail Authority, and would cost about $55 one way. There would be stops on the Peninsula and in the South Bay before the train heads across the Pacheco Pass into the San Joaquin Valley on its way south.California's system would be the first in the United States. But high-speed rail has been running in Europe and Asia for three to four decades. "It's a proven business model in many parts of the world. Most of the high-speed rail in Europe is 25 years old," said Roelof Van Ark, senior vice president for North America for Alstom, a French firm that develops and builds high-speed rail trains and systems. Based on that advice, Tony Daniels, the authority's program director, said: "I don't think there's any doubt that high-speed rail will be a success here."Van Ark and Shikata agree, saying a line connecting the heavily populated Bay Area and Southern California, and running through the flat, more sparsely developed San Joaquin Valley, is ideal. "That stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles is such an optimum stretch," said Van Ark. "You want a long stretch where you can actually use the maximum speed of the train."Critics of Prop. 1A criticize the authority's proposal, saying California lacks the population density of Japan and Europe with cities spread farther apart and the populace more dispersed."They're saying it works in Europe, but there are problems comparing (California) with Europe," said Adrian Moore, vice president of research for the Reason Foundation, which opposes the bond measure. "It's far more densely developed, and people there were already used to riding trains."Transportation experts, including many high-speed rail supporters, say that denser land use - as in Europe and Asia - will be necessary for the system to succeed."The high-speed rail system could be far more successful if it's connected with plans to build high density around station sites," said Martin Wachs, director of the transportation, space and technology program at Rand, a Santa Monica think tank.Daniels said the authority is already studying ways to encourage denser land use around high-speed rail stations. Van Ark said that usually happens naturally, as high-speed rail makes it possible for people to commute longer distances to work, and proximity to a station becomes valuable.But how cities in the San Joaquin Valley develop around high-speed rail is important, said Wachs. He speculated that opposition to high-density development around stations could be strong in some areas."If we don't concentrate development around the stations, high-speed rail will be an incentive for those cities to sprawl even more," Wachs said.Another key to high ridership is expanding and modernizing public transportation systems to make it easy for people to get to stations without driving."If high-speed rail is going to have a high probability of success in California, we're going to have to develop better public transportation systems," he said.The European and Asian systems have stations served by subways, light rail or high-capacity bus lines, he said, but the Bay Area and Los Angeles lack such extensive connecting systems.Prop. 1A devotes $995 million for connecting rail, but critics say that's not enough. Without dense urban areas surrounding stations and efficient transit systems to haul people to the trains, huge subsidies will be needed, they say. The authority argues the trains would be profitable.California's plan calls for taxpayers to raise roughly a third of the estimated $32 billion to $35 billion cost of building the initial San Francisco-Los Angeles line. Another third would come from the federal government, with the final third coming from private investors. Some cities and counties would also contribute.Japanese companies and Alstom are both interested in possibly investing in the California system, Shikata and Van Ark said. And both are convinced that high-speed rail can fly in California - if voters approve it at the polls."The world is booming in high-speed rail," Van Ark said, citing new lines around the world and expanding networks in Europe and Asia. "The model has proven to be successful. It's only a matter of time before it comes to North America. But you've got to start somewhere."Washington PostRisk of Disease Rises With Water Temperatures...Kari Lydersenhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/19/AR2008101901533_pf.htmlWhen a 1991 cholera outbreak that killed thousands in Peru was traced to plankton blooms fueled by warmer-than-usual coastal waters, linking disease outbreaks to epidemics was a new idea.Now, scientists say, it is a near-certainty that global warming will drive significant increases in waterborne diseases around the world.Rainfalls will be heavier, triggering sewage overflows, contaminating drinking water and endangering beachgoers. Higher lake and ocean temperatures will cause bacteria, parasites and algal blooms to flourish. Warmer weather and heavier rains also will mean more mosquitoes, which can carry the West Nile virus, malaria and dengue fever. Fresh produce and shellfish are more likely to become contaminated.Heavier rainfalls are one of the most agreed-upon effects of climate change. The frequency of intense rainfalls has increased notably in the Midwest, the Northeast and Alaska, and the trend will accelerate, said the 2007 report of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.The consequences will be particularly severe in the 950 U.S. cities and towns -- including New York, the District, Milwaukee and Philadelphia -- that have "combined sewer systems," archaic designs that carry storm water and sewage in the same pipes. During heavy rains, the systems often cannot handle the volume, and raw sewage spills into lakes or waterways, including drinking-water supplies.On Sept. 13, during an unrelenting downpour, Chicago chose to prevent urban flooding by opening and releasing runoff containing raw sewage into Lake Michigan. About a month later, a University of Wisconsin study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine predicted an increase of 50 to 120 percent in such releases into the lake by the end of the century."One of the strongest indicators from climate models is more intense rains," said co-author Stephen Vavrus, director of the university's Center for Climatic Research. "They don't agree on everything, but they do agree on that. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, so as we get more moisture in the air, when we do have a storm situation, you get more total rainfall."From 1948 to 1994, heavy rainfall was correlated with more than half of the nation's outbreaks of waterborne illness, according to a 1991 study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency. In one of the worst, torrential rains in Milwaukee in 1993 triggered a sewage release that exposed 403,000 people to cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite transmitted in fecal matter. Fifty-four people died."Raw sewage got sucked back into the clean water supplies," said Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. "Cryptosporidium is a parasite that chlorine doesn't kill, so it escaped water treatment."On Ohio's South Bass Island in Lake Erie in the summer of 2004, at least 1,450 residents and tourists suffered gastrointestinal illnesses linked to several months of above-average rains that contaminated the town's drinking water.More than 100 pathogens can cause illness if you drink or swim in water contaminated by sewage, including norovirus Norwalk and hepatitis A viruses and bacteria such as E. coli and campylobacter."If someone gets something swimming, they could bring it into work or day care. This is what's happened with cryptosporidium before," said Joan Rose, a Michigan State University professor and water researcher. "So we have all these rippling effects that occur in our community."Combined sewer overflows can be eliminated by upgrading sewerage systems, but it is an expensive process."Here we are in a wealthy country with a very strong public health infrastructure," said Jonathan Patz, a professor of environmental studies and population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "But we need to realize it's not as strong as we thought it was, and water systems really need tremendous resources for upkeep in the face of climate change."A report last week by the National Research Council concluded that the EPA's storm-water program needs major overhauls to deal with increasing runoff, including a more integrated permitting system based on watersheds and a focus on land use by growing municipalities. Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water, said Friday that upgrading combined sewer systems is among the agency's top priorities.Runoff from agricultural land can also spread waterborne diseases, and rising water temperatures are conducive to the growth of pathogens such as naegleria, an amoeba that enters the nasal passages and leads to often-fatal meningoencephalitis. Warmer waters also trigger blooms of algae and plankton, which themselves can be toxic or can harbor pathogens such as the bacteria that cause cholera, as has happened in Peru and the Bay of Bengal.Algae blooms are also fostered by nitrogen and phosphorus that are washed into rivers, lakes and the ocean by heavier rainfalls.Downpours are likely to lead to more seafood contamination as human waste, animal manure, nitrogen and phosphorus make their way to coastal areas.Epstein said the recent flooding in Texas from Hurricane Ike and the mosquito infestation that followed are one example of climatic conditions that are likely to foster more waterborne disease in coming years, despite efforts by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."It will be the next few years. This is not 20 years away," Epstein said. "It's already occurring. The CDC is gearing up to deal with [it], but at the same time, we need to be focused on the primary driver, which is our unstable climate. We need to do all of the above -- protect, prepare and prevent."