10-25-08ForbesAmerica's Next Foreclosure Capitals...Matt Woolsey...10-20-08 http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/20/foreclosure-cities-ten-forbeslife-cx_mw_1020realestate_print.htmlThe number of homeowners dealing with foreclosure is mounting. Nationwide, almost 766,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice from July through September, according to Realty Trac. That’s up 71% compared to the same time a year before.And it’s only going to get worse.Expect already high foreclosure rates in Jacksonville, NaplesandMiami to increase by 14% to 15% next year thanks to bottomless home prices and job loss. "It's so far from recovery," says Doug Duncan, chief economist of Fannie Mae. He says the ability to sell a home in the Sunshine State is not related to price, especially in the condo sector. "You can drop the price to zero and not sell a brand new property because there's no one there to buy it."In Depth: America's Next Foreclosure CapitalsAs a result, many would-be sellers confronting rapidly falling prices are opting to walk away from their homes. It's not much better in California, home to five of the top 10 cities on our list, including Fresno, Santa Cruz, Merced andSanta Barbara. Here, foreclosures are expected to rise between 11% and 14% next year. Job growth figures are better than in Florida, and new housing permits have begun to bottom out, cutting into supply. Even though prices are down, transaction activity has surged 17% in San Diego, 21% in Los Angeles and 32% in Sacramento from last year, according to Radar Logic, a New York-based research firm. "We're starting to see signs of a bottom in some places in California," says Scott Hoyt, a senior director of consumer economics at Moody's Economy.com. "Those places were the first places to crash. Now they're further into the foreclosure cycle. It looks like permit activity is starting to bottom out." Behind the NumbersIn compiling our list, we looked at the country's 50 largest foreclosure markets based on mortgage write-off rate. This measures mortgages that have fallen in value or dropped to zero as the result of foreclosures. In Miami, Fla., for example, the 2008 mortgage write-off rate was 6.2%, meaning that $6.20 of every $100 of the overall mortgage market has evaporated due to foreclosure. Data come from Moody's Economy.com and Equifax, a credit research firm. Moody's then provided for each area 2009 forecasts based on job loss and the expected number of ensuing delinquencies and defaults.Occupational HazardsJobs are an obvious factor: the less income people have, the less likely they can afford their mortgages. In Miami, Fla., and Jacksonville, Fla., projected job growth is expected to drop .4% and .3%, respectively. In other spots, including Santa Barbara, Calif., and Oxnard, Calif., job growth is expected to be flat.At present, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Moody's suggest that peak to trough, the macro economy will shed a net of 1.3 million jobs. That's bad news for the year ahead. Worse: Even when indicators like credit quality and job growth start to improve, there's usually a lag of a few months before it shows up in housing. Throw in plummeting prices and some places will feel the hurt more than others. What's the housing market like in your community? Weigh in. Post your thoughts in the Reader Comment section below."Declining house prices with ongoing job losses [means] the housing cycle is still deteriorating," says Hoyt. "Yes, we may be getting toward the bottom on construction activity, but we're not there in terms of price or credit quality."In July, the Case Shiller Index fell 17.5%; year-over-year prices in Las Vegas and Phoenix fell almost 30%."That was my worst fear," says Duncan. "Traditional foreclosure factors like job loss in the private sector look like they're going to peak at the same time as the peak of non-traditional factors like price declines."In Depth: America's Next Foreclosure Capitals...Matt Woolsey...10-20-08 http://www.forbes.com/2008/10/20/foreclosure-cities-ten-forbeslife-cx_mw_1020realestate_slide_5.html?thisSpeed=150007. Merced, Calif.Foreclosures as percent of all homes: 1.88%Mortgage write-off rate 2008: 7.5%Mortgage write-off rate 2009 (projected): 8.4%Percent change: 11.75%Job growth 2008: 1.4%Job growth 2009 (projected): 0.9%Merced Sun-StarCardoza warns of scams aimed at homeowners...MICHAEL DOYLE, Sun-Star Washington Bureauhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/514988.htmlWASHINGTON -- The Justice Department is gearing up to probe potential scams targeting distressed homeowners in California's San Joaquin Valley.On Friday, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate mortgage-reduction schemes now being marketed through the Valley. For an upfront fee, homeowners are being told, their monthly mortgage payments can be renegotiated.At best, the homeowners may end up paying for work that's available for free. At worst, they'll pay for work that isn't done at all."People need to be very careful who they send their money to," Cardoza cautioned Friday.The mortgage-reduction schemes are just one of the housing-related problems now confronting law enforcement officials. As the market melts down, the investigations are heating up. Two weeks ago, Modesto-based FBI agents assured Cardoza's office they were forming a task force to zero in on mortgage-related frauds.In his letter Friday, Cardoza told Mukasey that it was "imperative" that law enforcement authorities "crack down on these foreclosure scams quickly and comprehensively." He called San Joaquin Valley residents "particularly vulnerable" because of the region's foreclosure crisis.The questionable solicitations come in different ways.Phone calls offering mortgage negotiation services have been ringing through the San Joaquin Valley for several months. Sonia Neal, a Realtor and volunteer counselor with the Community Housing Council of Fresno, added that sometimes "they will even just show up at the door."Official-looking letters are arriving in Valley mailboxes, some citing congressional bill numbers or phone numbers for a "loss mitigation department." And on Thursday, in Modesto, some homeowners attended a workshop in which they were asked to pay $3,500 for getting their mortgage woes resolved.Typically, the companies are offering to renegotiate the mortgage in exchange for an up-front fee amounting to one month's mortgage payment, or more."We called some of these companies back; they don't even have Web sites, and they seem fly-by-night," Cardoza said. "When they found out we were a congressional office, they stopped responding."Even before Cardoza's encouragement, federal investigators began pouring more resources into mortgage-related cases. The FBI reports having 1,569 pending mortgage fraud investigations open as of August; the number of new mortgage-fraud causes opened annually doubled between 2003 and 2007.The FBI now has 42 separate mortgage fraud task forces and working groups currently established nationwide. A Justice Department official could not be reached to comment Friday afternoon.For the scammers and investigators alike, the Valley is a target-rich environment. Stockton, Modesto and Merced top the foreclosure rankings among cities nationwide, and Fresno is not far behind. As house prices have dropped and adjustable-rate mortgages have risen, more homeowners have found themselves on thin ice...State set to loot redevelopment money from local agenciesAssociation plans to sue to keep money...JONAH OWEN LAMBhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/514986.htmlA transfusion of sorts will soon flow from local coffers to the state's empty vaults.In yet another raid on local taxes to pay for state shortfalls, California's new budget will take more than $1 million from Merced County's redevelopment agencies, reducing the ability of local governments to infuse funds into the economy during a downturn. "It simply means that we will have less money available for general redevelopment activities," said Atwater Finance Director Stan Feathers. "It's one of the kinds of typical mechanisms the state government will utilize to take money away from some form of local government and give it to another."But some precincts are not taking this lying down. As of last Friday, the California Redevelopment Association's board of directors voted to sue the state of California, contending that taking the redevelopment agency money violates the constitution, said John Shirey, executive director of the association. But until that case is resolved, Merced County's cities are going to have to fork over what they owe, along with the rest of California. Assembly Bill 1389 will take $675 million in the next two years from the state's redevelopment agencies, according to the League of California Cities.The county's share this year: Atwater will have to pay the state $124,000 and Livingston more than $31,000. Merced will fork over $580,000 and Los Banos $281,000, said Shirey. "The political leaders on the state level need to solve their problems at their level and not tax the cities and counties," complained Livingston's city manager, Richard Warne.But the recent move by the state is only part of a tidal wave of reductions in city revenues over the past 30 years. During that time federal and state funds as a percentage of city revenues in the state have been cut in half, according to Michael Coleman, a fiscal consultant for the League of California Cities. "I suppose it's the nature of state and local governments to struggle in their relationship," he said.The mother of all takings was 1978's Proposition 13, said Coleman. It held local property tax increases at 1 percent and gave the power of allocating the funds to the state. This process continued into the 1990s. In 1992, with the Education Revenue Augmentation Fund, or ERAF, about one-sixth of all local property taxes were mandated to go to schools. This state of affairs lasted until 2004 with the passage of Proposition 1A, which revoked the mandates of ERAF. At the time, fears over potential raids on redevelopment agencies were allayed by the proposition's language.As a passage from the 2004 Voter's Guide reads: "Redevelopment agency tax increment revenues are already protected by the state constitution and do not need to be further protected by Proposition 1A." The lawsuit that will be filed against the state is centered on what Shirey claims is a constitutional claim that disallows such raids of redevelopment agencies. In effect, this is money the state would have had to pay out itself. But instead, it's taking the money from redevelopment agencies to pay its other bills. According to the Center for Economic Development at California State University, Chico, redevelopment agencies generated $31.8 billion in total economic activity in 2002-03. The rub, says Shirey, is that just as local governments are most in need of redevelopment agency money, the state is swooping down and removing it. "It's just the sort of thing you would never take away during a downturn or a recession," said Shirey. "That is exactly what the state of California is doing."Redevelopment agencies, Shirey contends, are one of the only tools states have for redeveloping blighted areas and boosting the economy.Maybe so, but that doesn't mean the state won't take what it can get anyway. Let the bleeding begin.Merced County to take over Castle rent collectionMove comes one day after company's debt revelation...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/story/514958.htmlATWATER -- A day after it was revealed that Castle Commerce Center's property manager owes Merced County $1.6 million, government officials told tenants that they would begin collecting rent checks.After "careful thought and consideration," all lease payments must be sent to the county instead of Federal Development beginning Dec. 1, center Director John Fowler wrote Friday to the center's tenants.The county decided to collect rent, about $110,000 monthly from 60 tenants, because it had been forced to rely on the center's rainy-day money to pay bills. Leaders didn't want to further deplete the account.The revelation raises serious questions about the Washington, D.C.-based company's role with the county and, if ties are severed, what would be done to revitalize the blighted base.Officials with the county and Federal Development are in talks to work out a solution, and neither would say the partnership is over. "The county is taking this situation incredibly seriously," spokesman Mark Hendrickson said. "We are having sensitive discussions with Federal to resolve the issues we are facing."On Monday, Hendrickson begins his transition to oversee Castle, replacing Fowler, who is set to retire in late January. Federal Development's Senior Vice President David Gazek insisted that the firm will pay its debt by year's end. It's waiting for a couple of land and building sales to close, he said, which will inject it with much-needed cash to cover the missed payments"There is a bigger picture," he said Friday. "It's part of our view of how we meet our obligation. It's unfortunate the economy has made it much more difficult."Any sales of Castle buildings and land must be approved by the Board of Supervisors. He declined to name any businesses because of confidentiality commitments.Merced County and Federal Development signed a contract in December 2006 that would let the firm collect all the rent while paying the county a flat fee of $2 million yearly.County officials touted Federal Development as being a key element in turning the center into a vibrant business hub. It's charged with marketing the center and seeking more tenants.When the deal was signed, Gazek said, Castle was generating $1.3 million in lease revenue. To make up the difference, Federal Development planned to lure more tenants and sell off parts of the former Air Force base. Both have proved difficult.Federal Development has paid $1.4 million since it began managing the complex, though it fell behind less than eight months after it took over. Gazek blamed the overall economy and the wave of foreclosures that has hit the county."We can only work with the vehicles and opportunities we have," he explained. "We accept the fact that the economy dealt everyone a bad hand."The county, Fowler explained in the letter, exercised a clause in the contract that lets it take over rent collection. The change comes a day after the Sun-Star published a story about the private company's outstanding debt.To keep the center running, the county has relied on Castle's reserve funds, running the account from more than $1 million to about $400,000.Federal Development's supposed to make quarterly payments. The next check is due in December.Though Federal Development bills itself as a well-financed international firm, Gazek said it doesn't mix project funds because that wouldn't be fiscally responsible. "Every project has to stand on its own," he said.For Castle, the coming weeks will show whether its revival will continue or collapse. Our View: A brighter future with Measure MWith our region growing, local high schools need to catch up; vote yes.http://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/v-print/story/514872.htmlMerced County has a lot of great things going for it. We also have a host of shortcomings.One thing that would ensure a brighter future is a commitment to education. It's the only thing that would guarantee our success.Measure M is an investment in education, an investment in progress and is worthy of our vote. Let's pass Measure M.We need to pull ourselves up out of this morass that has plagued our area since the Air Force pulled out of Castle 13 years ago.We can't depend on the state or federal governments to help us, we need to help ourselves. Measure M does that.The long list of projects associated with Measure M would employ a good many people here. The measure ensures that half of the workers on these projects are local residents.Merced, Atwater and Livingston would benefit.Measure M would fund a new high school in Merced to relieve overcrowding at Merced High and Golden Valley High. The measure would fund new swimming pools at Golden Valley and Buhach Colony High School in Atwater. It would expand the Livingston High School campus. It would finish construction at Buhach Colony. It would upgrade sports facilities at Golden Valley.Critics rightly say we're already paying off several bond measures for local schools. And these are tough times for making ends meet. But the yearly totals shouldn't deter us from this investment in our community. The cost to individual homeowners isn't overwhelming.The educational achievement in our region is abysmal. We must do better. Better facilities and smaller class sizes are a great step.Don't let the current housing crisis fool you. Our area is growing rapidly and we need to be prepared. Bonds are the only means to fund that growth.Our area boasts a beautiful university. Education is gaining momentum here and our local high school district needs to catch up. Please support Measure M on Nov. 4. Dan Walters: Is high-speed rail initiative a good deal?http://www.mercedsunstar.com/177/v-print/story/514876.htmlWould Californians be buying a pig in a poke if they were to pass Proposition 1A, a $9.95 billion bond issue to partially finance a high-speed train system?The answer is elusive because we'll be voting in the blind. The state's High-Speed Rail Authority didn't produce an updated business plan by Oct. 1, as the Legislature decreed, that would lay out projected construction costs, ridership, fares and other vital details for voters.Authority officials told a legislative hearing Thursday that the plan is late because the state budget was late and because its financial adviser, Lehman Brothers, went belly-up recently.They now say the plan won't be ready until Nov. 8, four days after the Proposition 1A vote.That didn't sit well with two senators on the state Senate Transportation Committee, and one of them, Bakersfield Republican Roy Ashburn, exchanged harsh words with the authority's chairman, Quentin Kopp, a former senator and semi-retired judge.Kopp assured the senators that the project, linking the state's northern and southern metropolitan areas, would be "not just a feasible project but a successful project."Ashburn cited the failure to produce a business plan as required and sniped, "Why should anyone believe you?""You said that would happen, and you are a judge," Ashburn continued. "You and the authority are in violation of the law."But Kopp cited the Legislature's failure to produce a timely budget and shot back, "You're in violation of the law.""This is not about you," Ashburn continued. "This is about the people of California committing to a substantial debt. ... Everything you said to us was a wish and a prayer."The committee's Democratic chairman, Sen. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, was also critical, albeit in milder language."We really don't have ... a discussion of all the reasonable risks involved," he said, adding later, "Do we have the final assurances that it will work?"It won't work, says Joseph Vranich, a rail transport expert who prepared a sharp critique of Proposition 1A for its opponents. He cited comparisons with existing rapid rail systems and said, "The train will be slower than they say it will, will carry fewer people than they claim it will and will cost much more than they admit it will."So what are voters to believe? Kopp et al say the public is protected because only 7.5 percent of the bond money could be spent without legislative approval and the measure guarantees that federal and private financing will cover at least half the system's cost.That 7.5 percent, however, is no small sum. It would be spent not on bullet trains but on local commuter systems in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, which may be the key to the whole thing.An 800-mile-long bullet train system sounds romantic, but could the main motivation behind the project be to get more money for urban commuters with the rest of the state paying for it?UC Merced prof. gets air board seatFresno resident teaches chemistry, biochemistry...E.J. SCHULTZ, The Fresno Beehttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/514987.htmlSACRAMENTO -- Pleasing clean-air activists, Gov. Schwarzenegger on Friday appointed a science professor from Fresno to the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District board.Henry Forman, a 61-year-old Democrat, is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Merced. He was the favored choice of environmentalists, who have frequently clashed with the board, an influential agency that sets smog rules in the eight-county region."I think his commitment to science and objectivity is going to be really great for that board," said Nidia Bautista, of the Coalition for Clean Air.A top farm leader also gave him a good review."He doesn't make irrational decisions quickly without facts," said Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League in Fresno. He is "not a person that sides immediately with the environmentalists," Cunha added.Forman holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Columbia University. He came to the Valley in 2003 after serving as chairman of the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He has also worked at the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania.Forman fills one of four board positions created by legislation the Republican governor signed last year to increase the board's size to 15 members from 11.The expansion, pushed by environmentalists, adds two city appointees and two health experts to the board, which has been dominated by county appointees.The other health slot was filled earlier this year with the appointment of Fresno cardiologist John Telles, also a Democrat. The two new city appointees have not been made. Modesto BeeUC Merced quietly goes about research...Michelle Hatfieldhttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/475046.htmlMERCED -- Research is an integral piece of academics at each of the 10 University of California campuses.Still in its early years, UC Merced is ramping up its research programs, and hasn't experienced the protests against animal experiments that have become commonplace at campuses such as Berkeley and Santa Cruz. As the campus grows, officials could see more threats and violence.Currently, rodents are the only animals used for research at UC Merced. For example, one professor is researching diabetes and obesity with the rats, said Ana Nelson Shaw, UC Merced spokeswoman.In a UC report in August, UC Merced, Riverside and Irvine noted no reported anti-animal research threats or attacks from 2005 to 2008.Violence at UC Santa CruzThe most vicious aggression against scientists came earlier this year. Firebombs struck the home and car of two UC Santa Cruz researchers this summer. In February, six masked protesters tried to force their way into a researcher's home.Officials with the Foundation for Biomedical Research say the harassment is getting more relentless and personal.Animal-rights proponents say the treatment against researchers is less severe than what animals endure.UC Merced's location in the Central Valley -- an area commonly seen as more conservative than Santa Cruz or Berkeley -- might expose the campus to fewer threats from animal-rights extremists. But officials aren't taking anything for granted when it comes to safety."While we certainly hope that UC Merced will not be targeted, it would probably be fruitless to speculate about the choices animal extremists will make regarding our campus in the future," Shaw said. "We are certainly not counting on demographics or location to protect our researchers or animals."With an enrollment of about 2,000 at UC Merced, students of all levels can participate in projects, not just graduate students. "This is an important experience for students," Shaw said.Shaw said anyone with access to UC Merced's research facilities learns the college's security procedures."They undergo training on security measures and ethics, and the right way to treat animals," she said.UC Merced also abides by policies established by the UC system, and state and federal governments.Beekeepers, growers keep eyes on hives...John Hollandhttp://www.modbee.com/business/v-print/story/474951.htmlAlmond growers, and the beekeepers on whom they rely for pollination of the trees, hope their luck holds for another year.The Central Valley harvests have continued to set records despite a mysterious collapse in commercial bee populations.Experts meeting in Modesto last week cited one key reason -- mild weather in February, when the trees bloom. Bees like to fly when it's dry and not too cold, and they can pollinate a lot of flowers even with their reduced numbers."We've had really good pollination conditions, really good weather at bloom the last three years," said Dan Cummings, a grower near Chico.The meeting, sponsored by the Almond Board of California, provided an update on colony collapse disorder, as the problem is called.Beekeepers expect that even in good times, some of their insects will die each fall and winter. But the estimated loss reached a troubling 36 percent this past winter, said Dennis van Engelsdorp, an entomologist at Penn State University."Seeing all those dead colonies is just downright depressing," he said.Researchers are looking into possible causes of the disorder, including pesticides, diseases, nutrition and parasitic mites.It's a hit-and-miss malady among the nation's beekeepers. Some have reported severe losses, some moderate, some mild.The issue is especially acute for California almond growers, who rent most of the nation's commercial hives each February. The nuts are the second-highest-grossing farm product in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, bringing an estimated $936 million last year, behind only milk.Van Engelsdorp said that by 2012, the bee supply could run short for California's increasing almond acreage.Such warnings have been sounded often since the disorder appeared two years ago, yet the crop keeps growing. The 1.5 billion- pound estimate for the 2008 harvest, which is winding down, would be the third- straight record.Cummings said that streak is threatened not just by the bee collapse, but by water shortages in the state.Some beekeepers at the meeting said they see the collapse continuing this winter, but others see reason for hope."The buzz phrase is cautious optimism," said Gene Brandi, whose operation is based near Los Banos. He said medication and supplemental food could help bees fend off the disorder.Colonies in California and much of the nation "are in better shape now than they have been at this point in the last couple of years," said Eric Mussen, a bee researcher at the University of California at Davis.The bee problem has prompted congressional hearings and increased research funding. Häagen-Dazs, for example, has pledged $250,000 out of concern that a shortage could affect the supply of pollinated nuts and fruits for its ice cream."I think that everyone at their gut level gets it," van Engelsdorp said. "A world without bees is bad."Sacramento BeeState proposes strict air rules for big rigs...Jim Downing http://www.sacbee.com/378/story/1342332.htmlState officials on Friday released a toughest-in-the-nation plan to cut emissions of air pollutants from the roughly 1 million heavy-duty diesel trucks that travel California's roads.The rules proposed by the state Air Resources Board would require older big rigs to be fitted with particle-trapping exhaust filters by 2014 and low-emission engines by 2020. In addition, aerodynamic fairings and low-rolling-resistance tires would be required on long-haul trucks to improve fuel efficiency.The changes would help California meet air-quality standards set by federal regulators, as well as the state's own greenhouse-gas targets. Emissions from diesel engines are carcinogenic and can worsen asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. The agency estimates the regulations will cost trucking companies roughly $5.5 billion and will prevent 9,400 premature deaths.Trucking groups generally object to the cost of the proposed retrofits, which would begin to take effect in 2011. The industry is currently reeling from high fuel prices and the weak economy.Exhaust filters cost $10,000 or more, new engines several times that, and a new truck well over $100,000.To some degree, companies that replace their trucks regularly will automatically meet the standards, because new truck engines are required under federal rules to have emissions controls.Karen Khangoora, vice president of Sacramento's KTX Inc., a long-haul operator with 50 trucks, said the regulations probably wouldn't cost her company much. KTX typically buys new trucks and sells them after six or seven years of use, she said, so after several years the fleet will have new, cleaner engines by default.But trucks sold off by companies like KTX often stay on the roads for decades – and the many operators that depend on those older models will be forced to retrofit.About $1 billion in state grants and loans are available to defray those costs. Small trucking companies would get more time to comply with the regulations than large fleets.The air board is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal at its meeting in Sacramento Dec. 11-12.The regulations will cover all heavy trucks on the state's roads – including those that are licensed elsewhere but haul goods into California. Stockton RecordState's water revocation lets Auburn Dam die a little more...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081025/A_NEWS/810250327/-1/A_NEWSSACRAMENTO - Criminal.That's how one San Joaquin County water official described the state's decision this week to revoke water rights for the Auburn Dam, a long-promised source of water for this area."When you look at what's been done to San Joaquin County over the years, it's criminal," said Ed Steffani, manager of the North San Joaquin County Irrigation District. "This is disappointing, and I think it was a dumb move by the state."San Joaquin is still in line to get water from the American River under a newer, junior water right. But the Auburn Dam - or at least a right to the water that was to have been stored there - might have provided more water as well as seniority over other thirsty areas.San Joaquin is scrambling for more surface water to take pressure off of over-tapped groundwater. The American River is just one of several possible solutions.There's more than 40 years of history behind the ill-fated Auburn Dam, proposed in 1965. The large reservoir would have bolstered water supplies, improved flood protection in Sacramento and provided hydroelectric power. Some water would have been sent to San Joaquin via a canal.The federal Bureau of Reclamation got the right to the water, and even began work on the dam, spending $136 million as of 1975, according to the decision this week by the State Water Resources Control Board.But a 5.7-magnitude earthquake forced the bureau to rethink the dam's design. It got more expensive, soaring past what Congress was willing to spend, estimated in 2006 at $6 billion to $10 billion.Meanwhile, environmentalists - including the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, led by Stockton's Bill Jennings - protested the bureau's request for more time to use its water right, citing needs for fish and water quality.In the world of water, if you don't use your water right, you lose it. Reclamation basically put its water rights on "cold storage," preventing others from using the water while making no progress on the dam, the state board said in its draft decision."At some point, you have to close the door," Jennings said.San Joaquin officials say they were urged for half a century to seek surface water from the American River, only to be denied by circumstances beyond their control. However, while the board recognized the problem here, it said it never denied the county the right to take water from other sources.Pointing San Joaquin to that river in the north "did not guarantee water supply contracts to the counties," the ruling said. Nor was there a guarantee that Reclamation would enter into contracts with San Joaquin to actually deliver Auburn Dam water.San Joaquin authorities want to take the bureau's water at Freeport on the Sacramento River, where the county applied in 1990 for its own junior American River water rights.But the water San Joaquin County gets from that site won't be anywhere near the quantity it might have received had Auburn Dam actually been built, Steffani said."The dam has got to be built someday," he said. "It's got to."Mark Madison, director of the Stockton Municipal Utilities Department, said the Auburn Dam "has been dead for a while.""There were a lot of efforts for many, many years to make sure we might be able to enjoy some of the benefits" from that project, he said.This week's decision doesn't completely kill the dam. The feds could get back in line and apply for a new water permit, the state said. But most seem to feel this is unlikely.A bureau spokeswoman in Sacramento said Friday that it was too soon to say what that agency's next move would be.San Francisco ChronicleForeclosures And The Environment...Cameron Scott, The Thin Green Linehttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=49&entry_id=31922In California alone, 80,000 homes fell into foreclosure in the last three months. Foreclosures are bad for families, neighborhoods, and pets. Have you ever stopped to think what effect they have on the environment?The news isn't good. Many foreclosed homes are simply demolished because it's cheaper than salvaging them, but it results in a lot of pristine wood—sometimes from intact, old-growth forests—being dumped into landfills. Nor are the houses the only things being trashed. When homes aren't destroyed, they must be made ready for resale. In many cases, would-be homeowners can't afford moving vans or haven't paid off major electronics purchases, so they leave everything behind. Cleanup crews fill entire dumpsters and cart items off. Electronics are extraordinarily toxic as they break down. The "trash out" crews move too fast (on the banks' orders) to wait for charities to pick up useful items. Trash is piling up so quickly that the environmental blog Max Gladwell has proposed that greens rent storage areas in high-foreclosure areas to keep items until they can be repurposed. Pools left behind grow stagnant and become havens for mosquitoes. Because the bugs sometimes carry West Nile virus, municipal governments are eager to get rid of them. Their methods are a bit shortsighted, however. Crews simply add mosquito fish, which bear the name of their favorite snack. Mosquito fish are a highly destructive invasive species everywhere outside Gulf Coast. Just take a moment to think about how much it costs to throw homes and the things in them away—not to mention the $800 billion that went to the bad mortgage dealers. It puts in stark relief the absurdity of valuing things, and lives, based on "the market" (whatever that is) instead of on the long-term realities of living on this planet together.Inside Bay AreaTracy mayor Ives says he can't do anything about PAC supporting him...Mike Martinezhttp://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/localnews/ci_10810233TRACY — Last month's biggest spender in the Tracy mayoral race wasn't a candidate but a political action committee established to support the mayor and oppose a councilwoman seeking re-election.The committee, For a Better Tracy, spent more than $26,000 in October on campaign literature, mailings and professional services, according to campaign finance reports filed with the city prior to Thursday's deadline.But the committee report's summary page lists only $757 in expenses paid to Bell, McAndrews, & Liltachk, LLP in Sacramento for "professional services." The committee also reported only taking in $5,600 in contributions, according to campaign disclosure statements.Tony Souza, who started For a Better Tracy, didn't return calls to his business for comment Friday.Meanwhile, Tracy Mayor Brent Ives, who is in his first bid for re-election, spent more than $21,000 for campaign consulting and various campaign goodies from Media & Associates in Winters.For the year, he's collected $37,904 and has spent $40,417."I don't know what to say about that," Ives said, when asked about For a Better Tracy. "An independent spending committee is not something I can get involved in, nor do I want to be. I can't tell them not to do something. I only have my campaign committee to run. What everybody else does is up to them. (Critics of the committee) can take all the shots they want. My conscience is clear."Celeste Garamendi, who lost to Ives in a bitterly contested election in 2006, spent nearly $11,000, including almost $6,800 with Capitol Campaigns in Sacramento for consulting and literature. Since Jan. 1, she's collected $39,355 and has spent $21,493.Garamendi, who is expected to make an appearance with her brother, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, at the Tracy Farmer's Market at noon today , was unavailable for comment Friday. Tracy City Councilwoman Evelyn Tolbert spent $4,250 in the last reporting period but had to curtail her spending for the stretch run.Tolbert, who doesn't accept donations above the $99 reportable limit, said even though she's collected more than $17,000 for the year she still ran a little short of cash and won't be able to buy any newspaper ads during the campaign's stretch run."I'm so very pleased. I sent a note out to what I call the core supporters, the people who took responsibility for things,"' Tolbert said. "I said I was really proud of the way they did everything they did. We never got dirty, we never got nasty, we never slung mud or reacted to any nasty stuff. It's been a successful campaign, but I still need their help for the next two weeks.''In 2006, HAT PAC, which had ties to local developers and former U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, spent more than $200,000 in October to help Ives defeat Garamendi. Ives, whose campaign spent about $40,000 on the election, beat Garamendi by 1,600 votes, slightly more than 10 percent of the ballots cast in a race that brought the city's polarized viewpoints on growth to the surface. Garamendi spent a little less than $18,000 on her campaign that year.Contra Costa TimesWall Street collapse kicks up Delta dust...Mike Taugherhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_10810726?nclick_check=1BETHEL ISLAND — First there was the flooding. Then the bone-rattling, drywall-cracking pounding of compaction equipment. Now, the endless dust that has one of Marguerite Lawry's neighbors comparing Bethel Island to a movie set in desert sands."One of the guys says, 'You could have filmed Lawrence of Arabia on Stone Road yesterday," Lawry said. "From my house I can't see the road. It gets that bad that you can barely see it."The source of the nuisance is a controversial housing development that, three decades after nearly 500 waterfront homes were approved, appears ready for hammers and nails. But instead of construction crews and trucks, the 310 acres form a ghostly, fenced-off site with ramps leading from levee-top pads to empty docks in the new lagoon. Not a single home has been built.What makes Delta Coves different from other stalled projects in the collapsed housing market — or perhaps a harbinger of things to come — is the developer is facing severe fines because it lacks the money to meet environmental rules. In particular, the project has not protected the new levee from wind and erosion, which regulators say should have been done earlier this month.The engineered levee is massive enough that there is no realistic threat of it failing anytime soon, but it could end up needing expensive repairs. And the sand blowing and washing off it into the lagoon, nearby channels and on neighbors' properties is not just a nuisance, it could clog drainage systems, which are particularly important on this Delta island that is more like a bowl surrounded by water than a traditional island. The flow of water underground passes beneath Lawry's house on Stone Road toward Delta Coves. When sheet pile installed several years ago blocked the flow, water rose and flooded yards, "up to the axles on the RVs," Lawry said."They either have to pump it off or this street out here is under water," said Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District district manager Steve Spence.Now, with the rainy season coming, state and local regulators are issuing citations and threatening the developer with heavy fines and other measures.State water quality regulators have demanded the site be buttoned down for winter by Nov. 1 or face fines of up to $10,000 per day. Contra Costa County officials said this week they were investigating the possibility of calling one of the bonds posted by the developer to finish incomplete work."We're looking at the bonds and all the options we have," said Thom Huggett, interim deputy director of the county's building inspection division."The county may have to act in the interest of public safety by going after the bond," Huggett said.He was unaware of any other instance where the county has called a developer's bond.It would cost about $300,000 to $400,000 to hydroseed the levee to hold sand in place and prevent erosion of the new levee, Spence said. Given the size of the project, which Spence said was more than $140 million, that's not a lot of money. But the financial backer was Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15 and stopped funding the project."Lehman selected SunCal management to provide management service for the development of Delta Coves and we are reliant on their funding to carry out our management role for the owner," according to a statement from SunCal Companies, the lead developer. "Since the Lehman Brothers Holding Inc. bankruptcy took place, funding for Delta Coves has stopped."We have been in constant contact with Lehman representatives via e-mail, telephone and in person, and despite practically daily assurance that funding for the development would soon resume, they have not carried out their financial commitment nor fulfilled their contractual obligations," the statement continued. "All of the complaints and violations we have received have been provided to Lehman and their advisers and discussed at length at every opportunity. We've repeatedly emphasized the urgency of this matter."The county has had a testy relationship with the project for 20 years. First approved in the 1970s, the county tried to block it in the 1980s, but lost a federal lawsuit in which the court ordered the county to step aside.Some residents have opposed the project because of the clash between luxury houses and the island's rustic character, while others welcome the influx of money the project would bring to the local economy. Bethel Island has about 2,000 residents, so a completed project with 494 houses and 33 condominiums would dramatically increase the population.Other critics say the project is a prime example of bad land-use planning. Bethel Island is as much as 20 feet below sea level in some places. Many of the houses are built on stilts because of the flood danger, and many others have living quarters on second or third floors.The houses in Delta Coves would be built on a sturdy levee, but that design could increase the flood risk elsewhere because other portions of the island would fill with water faster."This is sort of scary in a sense," said Jeffrey Mount, a geologist at UC Davis who has been critical of new developments in the Delta and particularly on Bethel Island. "When you build these levees, they take constant maintenance."2 greenhouse gases on the rise worry scientists...SETH BORENSTEIN AP Science Writerhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_10807679WASHINGTON—Carbon dioxide isn't the only greenhouse gas that worries climate scientists. Airborne levels of two other potent gases—one from ancient plants, the other from flat-panel screen technology—are on the rise, too. And that's got scientists concerned about accelerated global warming. The gases are methane and nitrogen trifluoride. Both pale in comparison to the global warming effects of carbon dioxide, produced by the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. In the past couple of years, however, these other two gases have been on the rise, according to two new studies. The increase is not accounted for in predictions for future global warming and comes as a nasty surprise to climate watchers. Methane is by far the bigger worry. It is considered the No. 2 greenhouse gas based on the amount of warming it causes and the amount in the atmosphere. The total effect of methane on global warming is about one-third that of man-made carbon dioxide. Methane comes from landfills, natural gas, coal mining, animal waste, and decaying plants. But it's the decaying plants that worry scientists most. That's because thousands of years ago billions of tons of methane were created by decaying Arctic plants. It lies frozen in permafrost wetlands and trapped in the ocean floor. As the Arctic warms, the concern is this methane will be freed and worsen warming. Scientists have been trying to figure out how they would know if this process is starting. It's still early and the data are far from conclusive, but scientists say they are concerned that what they are seeing could be the start of the release of the Arctic methane. After almost eight years of stability, atmospheric methane levels—measured every 40 minutes by monitors near remote coastal cliffs—suddenly started rising in 2006. The amount of methane in the air has jumped by nearly 28 million tons from June 2006 to October 2007. There is now more than 5.6 billion tons of methane in the air. "If it's sustained, it's bad news," said MIT atmospheric scientist Ron Prinn, lead author of the methane study, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters Oct. 31. "This is a heads up. We're seeing smoke. It remains to be seen whether this is the fire we're really worried about. "Whenever methane increases, you are accelerating climate change," he said. By contrast, nitrogen trifluoride has been considered such a small problem that it's generally been ignored. The gas is used as a cleaning agent during the manufacture of liquid crystal display television and computer monitors and for thin-film solar panels. Earlier efforts to determine how much nitrogen trifluoride is in the air dramatically underestimated the amounts, said Ray Weiss, a geochemistry professor with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and lead author on a nitrogen trifluoride paper. It is set to be published in Geophysical Letters in November. Nitrogen trifluoride levels in the air—measured in parts per trillion—have quadrupled in the last decade and increased 30-fold since 1978, according to Weiss, who is also a co-author of the methane paper. It contributes only 0.04 percent of the total global warming effect that man-made carbon dioxide does from the burning of fossil fuels. But nitrogen trifluoride is one of the more potent gases, thousands of times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a per molecule basis. Carbon dioxide remains the most important gas because of its huge levels and rapid growth. Still, methane and the potential of future increases is a worry, Weiss and others say. Its recent increase coincides with anecdotal evidence of more methane being released in the shallow parts of the Arctic Ocean. A scientific survey in late summer found methane levels in the east Siberian Sea up to 10,000 times higher than normal, said Orjan Gustafsson, an environmental scientist at Stockholm University who has just returned from the six-week survey. Prinn's data are consistent with the early results of "whole fields of methane bubbles" that Gustafsson said he found last month. The highest methane level increases were seen in monitoring stations in Alert, Canada, which with recent anecdotal evidence points to plants in permafrost thawing and decaying. Stanford University environmental scientist Stephen Schneider cautioned that the recent increase is new and that "it is pretty hard to be very confident of any trend or big story yet on methane." Methane levels have kept scientists guessing for the past decade. They were on the rise until about 1997, then soared in 1998 and then leveled off until jumping again in 2006.Santa Cruz SentinelChromium 6 in Davenport air falls to safe level, according to tests...Shanna McCord http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_10814090DAVENPORT -- The amount of chromium 6 in the Davenport air has fallen drastically since high levels of the cancer-causing metal were detected this summer, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District announced Friday after receiving results from tests conducted this month.Chromium 6, measured in air samples taken Oct. 6-14 at Pacific Elementary School and the volunteer fire department, dropped below the state Environmental Protection Agency standard for environmental toxins."It is promising to see these numbers," Ed Kendig of the air district said. "We have to remember it will take a long period of stable operations and monitoring before we can draw conclusions about how satisfactory the plant's emissions are."High levels of chromium 6 were traced to cement dust emitted from Cemex -- the 100-year-old North Coast cement-making factory -- in nine tests done by the air district in June to August.Those tests detected chromium 6 levels that were 10 times more than the state deems acceptable, posing a risk of lung cancer for 82 in 1 million people. By comparison, chromium 6 measured in more recent tests poses a cancer risk of about 5 in 1 million at the school and 11 in 1 million at the fire department, Kendig said.He said the reduction in the carcinogen can be largely attributed to limited operations at Cemex and tighter cement dust control measures put in place."I think the main difference was the dust control restraints," Kendig said. Cemex ceased operating its kiln nearly two months ago because of bad market conditions, and has kept it closed while further air tests have been under way. Company officials say there is no date set for restarting the kiln -- a large, 3,500-degree oven where raw materials are heated together to create the core material for cement.In addition to shutting down the kiln, Cemex has taken several steps in the past few weeks to reduce cement dust escaping the plant.Last week, the company stopped all cement shipping to prevent dust from leaking out of trucks and train cars. It's unknown when shipping will begin again.Other preventative measures include increased maintenance of dust collection equipment, doubling the size of the dust control maintenance crew and using closed-circuit cameras to monitor dust.Cemex spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen said the company is pleased the ambient air testing data shows a dramatic decrease and that is a comfort for residents. She said the company will continue to work with the air district to reduce chromium 6. Any plans to restart shipping will be done in consultation with the air district, she said.Cemex has also vowed to halt the use of mill scale and steel slag when production resumes. Mill scale and steel slag are byproducts of steel manufacturing often used to make cement. They are both high in chromium, an essential nutrient that can be turned into the toxic chromium 6 when heated at high temperatures.Mill scale and steel slag will be replaced with iron ore, a more expensive raw material for making cement, Cemex Vice President Satish Sheth said.County leaders were relieved to see the toxin fall to safe levels, but vow to keep a close eye on the plant's emissions."These are welcome results," said county Supervisor Neal Coonerty, whose district includes the North Coast. "It feels good to have the plant meet state standards, but we need to continue to monitor up there to ensure they stay below state standards."Several Davenport residents say they feel reassured that Cemex has taken the situation seriously. They're not as worried as they had been a few weeks ago when the chromium 6 discovery was announced."I hate to think I'm breathing cement in my lungs," said Mary McCarthy, who moved to Davenport in 1999. "But I know I'm living next to a factory, and if they can control it, then I'm OK with it. The more they're scrutinized, the cleaner they'll become."Daily air monitoring will continue in Davenport by the air district. Analyses of air samples taken inside Pacific Elementary School on Oct. 6-14 are expected to be complete within the next two weeks, Kendig said.There are more air samples at the state Air Resources Board laboratory waiting to be analyzed. More results should be available next week, Kendig said."We're going to keep up the daily monitoring," he said. "The challenge will be to keep the numbers low like this when they resume operations."San Diego Union-TribuneMore than 10,000 oaks in S.D. County affected...Mike Lee http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20081025-9999-1n25forest.htmlBugs and diseases are killing trees at an alarming rate across the West, from the spruce forests of Alaska to the oak woodlands near the San Diego-Tijuana border.Several scientists said the growing threat appears linked to global warming. That means tree mortality is likely to rise in places as the continent warms, potentially altering landscapes in ways that increase erosion, fan wildfires and diminish the biodiversity of Western forests. It also could prompt new approaches to forestry. Possibilities include replanting logged areas with trees that are tolerant of higher temperatures, thinning drought-stressed forests and deploying pesticides to ward off insects.But in many cases, landowners have few options to protect their trees once insects and diseases take hold, tree experts said. One serious problem is emerging in San Diego County. U.S. Forest Service officials recently announced that a newcomer called the gold-spotted oak borer has infested a larger area than they thought just a few months ago. The beetle could easily march north into more of the estimated 33 million forested acres statewide. The pest already is blamed for killing more than 10,000 oaks in the county. Some backcountry residents fear the worst is yet to come unless the drought is broken by years of heavy rain, but that's unlikely to happen. Climate models show the Southwest becoming increasingly warm and dry over the next century, conditions that leave the Cleveland National Forest and others vulnerable.“Forests are in deep trouble,” said Ron Neilson, a Forest Service bioclimatologist and a professor at Oregon State University. “It's like tripping dominoes. The trees get dry and then the bugs come in and cause the whole ecosystem to collapse, and that can also be followed by fires.” Insects and disease are a normal, even critical, part of the forest life cycle because they help break down plants and put nutrients back into the soil. However, they appear to be getting the upper hand in a growing number of forests because of heat and drought stress, Neilson and others said. “The same dynamic is at play everywhere on the planet,” Neilson said.Drought-stressed trees can't fend off pests and pathogens like healthy trees can, according to an August report by several federal scientists. The report said that from 1997 to 2003, insect-and disease-caused tree mortality quadrupled to 12.2 million acres in the United States. It also said the amount of forestland hit by bugs and disease each year is far greater than the amount that burns in wildfires. The national numbers have dropped since 2003, but they remain far above the levels reported in the late 1990s, according to the most recent federal data. Scientists said the effect of climate changes on forests is compounded by other factors, including decades of fire suppression that have left some forests too dense for the water available. “For as long as people have been looking at such things, we have never had the series of attacks on forest health all occurring at the same time that we are currently experiencing,” said Alex Woods, a forest pathologist in British Columbia. Of particular concern in the West are bark beetles, a large group of insects that includes some very aggressive species. “Several of the current bark-beetle outbreaks across North America are the largest and most severe in recorded history,” said Barbara Bentz, an entomologist for the Forest Service in Utah. In British Columbia, mountain pine beetles have infested more than 30 million acres. Bark beetles in Southern California reached epidemic proportions five years ago, when they killed drought-stressed trees across tens of thousands of acres and provided fuel for the catastrophic wildfires of 2003. Over the past six years, the number of invasive bark beetles detected in California has doubled to 20 species. Scientists expect the trend to continue as insects from Mexico and the Southwest spread north. “We are starting to pick up more cases of Mexican insects coming to the U.S. It really does suggest there's a pattern” related to climate, said Steven Seybold, who studies insects for the Forest Service in Davis. In some places, slightly warmer winters allow more insects to survive from one year to the next. In others, warmer summers give the bugs a chance to reproduce more quickly. Researchers also report that insects are moving higher up the mountains because they can survive in areas that used to be too cold. “For many of these large-scale infestations, the trigger has been the change in weather conditions,” said Chris Fettig, a researcher with the Forest Service in Davis. In San Diego County, the spread of the oak borer is a mounting concern. The metallic-green insect has hit particularly hard in and around Pine Valley, Laguna Mountain, Descanso and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. “There are dead trees all over the place,” said Bret Hutchinson, who runs a tree-service company in North County. “Drought has weakened the trees, and beetles are getting in there and spreading disease. It's a never-ending whirlwind of Mother Nature doing her thing, and we are stuck in the middle.” Tom Coleman, the Forest Service entomologist who announced the discovery of the oak borer in August, said the beetle probably arrived in the county on a shipment of firewood from Mexico. Coleman and his colleagues are looking for ways to contain the insect's spread, but their options are limited by the Cleveland forest budget – which doesn't include specific funding for oak borers in 2009 – and other constraints. Forest leaders said they expect to receive money from the service's California office once they have firm action plans. They recently banned taking oak firewood from the forest's Descanso Ranger District, but they can't control the movement of wood from private property. They have talked about other measures, including the removal of dead trees. Despite such efforts, Cleveland National Forest spokesman Brian Harris is concerned that the larvae could hatch across the region in the spring. “The very worst-case scenario is that we see a massive die-off of our hardwood forest. . . . That level of dead fuels is something we don't want to see,” he said. Beetles are the highest-profile tree pest in many places, but they aren't the only threat. In Central California, forests have been scourged by a disease called sudden oak death since the mid-1990s. British Columbia has been hammered by red band needle blight.Forestry experts say heavy summer rains promoted the spread of both infections. In Alaska, the deaths of millions of yellow cedars are linked to earlier snowmelt, which exposes shallow roots to spring freezes. Neilson of the Forest Service said he hopes the dire situation will force conservationists, regulators and timber companies to agree on plans to thin drought-stressed landscapes and reduce the chances for more catastrophic insect and disease infestations. “Change is upon us big-time, but we can deal with this,” he said. Washington PostThe Grand Canyon in Peril...ROGER CLARK, Air and Energy Director, Grand Canyon Trust, Flagstaff, Ariz.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/24/AR2008102403391_pf.htmlContrary to what Tom Kenworthy said in his Oct 18 op-ed, "Saving the Desert Southwest," we cannot "take protection of Grand Canyon National Park for granted." The Bush administration is aiding speculators' ability to file uranium claims by challenging congressional authority to put a three-year moratorium on mineral exploration around our nation's most-treasured national park. More than 8,000 claims have been filed during the past five years.On June 25, the House Natural Resources Committee declared "that an emergency situation exists regarding uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park, and extraordinary measures must be taken to preserve values that would otherwise be lost." It voted to stop exploratory drilling within the Grand Canyon's last unprotected watersheds.Not only has the interior secretary ignored the moratorium, but the Bureau of Land Management is also rescinding regulations requiring the agency to comply with the law and is allowing the public only until Monday to comment on the last-minute rule change.In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt withdrew the Grand Canyon's core from further exploitation under the permissive 1872 mining law, but mining on peripheral public lands continues to threaten the waters of the canyon. Speculators should not override our national interest in protecting the Grand Canyon for future generations.New Debate on Wolf's 'Endangered' LabelGovernment Will Try Again to Take Northern Rockies Species Off Protected List...Joel Achenbachhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/24/AR2008102402024_pf.htmlThe Bush administration is trying again to take the gray wolf of the northern Rockies off the federal endangered species list.Having lost in court this summer in a legal battle with conservationists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to reopen for public comment its 2007 proposal to delist the wolves."The position of the service is, we think the wolves no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act. We're asking the public to weigh in to that," Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife, said in an interview yesterday.Wolf advocates immediately protested."This is the Bush administration's last-gasp attempt to remove protections for wolves," said Louisa Wilcox, a senior wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Mont."It looks like they're launching an all-out run to ram the same flawed package back through," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife and a director of Fish and Wildlife during the second Clinton administration.Bangs said the government will open a comment period on Tuesday, lasting until Nov. 28. After that, officials could swiftly decide to remove federal protections for the wolves in much of the northern Rockies and turn management of the species over to the states. The Endangered Species Act provides that, once a species has recovered, states take control of its management.The previous attempt to delist the wolves led a coalition of conservation organizations to file suit in federal court. In July, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy ruled in their favor, issuing an injunction that put the wolves back under federal protection pending a final resolution of the suit.In his lengthy opinion, Molloy said Wyoming's wolf-management plan -- which would allow the predators to be shot on sight in 88 percent of the state -- would put the wolf population there in jeopardy. Molloy wrote that the federal government's decision to sign off on the Wyoming plan was "arbitrary and capricious." He also said there has not been genetic exchange between isolated subpopulations of wolves, something important for the species's long-term survival.Fish and Wildlife withdrew its proposal, and now the agency is trying again."We're particularly interested in comments related to the court action," Bangs said. One possibility, he said, is that the wolves could be delisted everywhere but Wyoming.Bangs, who is not a political appointee, said, "We'll take whatever time we need to do a good science-based decision.""We usually don't promise litigation, but I think in this instance, if they propose the same old, tired rule, we'll be left with no choice but to litigate," said Jenny Harbine, a lawyer with Earthjustice, a plaintiff in the earlier lawsuit.CNN MoneyGeorgia shutters Atlanta bankThe FDIC has transferred all accounts from Alpha Bank and Trust to Stearns Bank in Minnesota.http://money.cnn.com/2008/10/24/news/companies/alphabank_shut_ap.ap/index.htm?postversion=2008102417Apharetta, Ga. (AP) -- Georgia has shut down a failed suburban Atlanta bank. The Georgia Department of Banking and Finance closed the two branches of Alpha Bank and Trust in Alpharetta on Friday. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has transferred all accounts to Stearns Bank, based in St. Cloud, Minn. It will be business as usual for most of the bank's customers because they are covered by FDIC insurance. But 59 of Alpha's bank accounts whose assets total $3.1 million exceed the federal limit of $250,000. It is the 16th FDIC-insured bank closure this year in the U.S. and the most recent in Georgia since August. Customers with accounts exceeding the FDIC limit can call 800-591-2912 to set up an appointment to discuss their deposits.Financial TimesGlobal financial crisisLooming global recession batters stocks...Michael Mackenzie in New York and Michiyo Nakamoto in Tokyo and Song Jung-a in Seoul...10-24-08http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/626b0498-a1f6-11dd-a32f-000077b07658.htmlGlobal stocks slumped and currencies collapsed against the Japanese yen on Friday as fund managers rushed to sell risky assets and return cash to investors worried about a global recession.Traders said the massive reversal of currency positions in favour of the yen, reflected further liquidation of the so-called “carry trade”, in which investors borrowed at low Japanese interest rates to fund risky global investments. The sharp rise in the yen forced further sales of stocks, commodities and emerging market assets as investors sought the safety of short-term government debt. Redemption requests from investors in mutual and hedge funds intensified the forced selling.The yen surged to a 13-year high against the dollar and pound and reached a six-year peak against the euro. Sterling lost eight cents against the US dollar - its worst single-day fall since the era of floating currencies began in 1971 - after a government report showed that the UK economy contracted in the third quarter.“The magnitude of such historical market moves in currencies could only be the result of imploding hedge funds leading to massive liquidations,” said Ashraf Laidi, chief currency strategist at CMC Markets. Asian markets ignited the rout with Japan’s Nikkei 225 index plunging 9.6 per cent to a five-year low, while Korea’s Kospi lost 10.6 and Hong Kong fell 8.3 per cent. All three markets have fallen more than 50 per cent this year. The turmoil in shares, currencies and emerging markets triggered selling limits for US equity futures before Wall Street opened. The S&P 500 index lost as much as 6.1 per cent before closing down 3.45 per cent at a new five-year low. ”I have never seen futures go down in a straight line like that before the opening bell,” said Anthony Conroy, head of equity trading at BNYConvergEx and veteran of the 1987 stock crash. “This is not just the US and that’s the problem. It’s a global sell-off and it’s hurting everyone.”European stocks rebounded from their early losses of around 10 per cent, with the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index closing down 5.4 per cent. In London, the FTSE 100 lost 5.6 per cent. Both markets closed at fresh five and-a-half year lows and are down more than 40 per cent this year. At the peak of its rise, the yen was up 12 per cent against sterling, nearly 10 per cent versus the euro and 7 per cent against the dollar to Y90.93. In late New York trading, the was up 2.5 per cent against the dollar at Y94.83.Oil prices fell more than $5 below $63 a barrel, extending the decline in crude from above $75 on Tuesday. Gold traded below $700 an ounce, after being above $900 when stocks slumped earlier this month. An index of commodities fell to its lowest level since December 2003 - down more than 45 per cent from its peak in July.