10-26-08Badlands JournalThe state Fifth Appellate District Court publishes decision upholding CEQA in Madera aggregate case...Badlands Journal editorial boardhttp://www.badlandsjournal.com/print/6930We wish to congratulate the law firm of Donald B. Mooney and Associates, Donald B. Mooney and Marsha A. Burch, representing Sheryl Gray et al., for successfully arguing against the Madera Ranch Quarry, Inc. (Jaxon Baker) environmental impact report for an aggregate mine in Madera County. The state Fifth Appellate District Coiurt decided for the neighbors of the proposed project, against Baker and published the decision, which can be used as case law in CEQA cases, particularly those involving aggregate mines. Filed 10/24/08CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATIONIN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIAFIFTH APPELLATE DISTRICTSHERYL GRAY et al.,Plaintiffs and Appellants,v.COUNTY OF MADERA, et al.,Defendants and Respondents. MADERA RANCH QUARRY, INC. et al.,Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.F053661(Super. Ct. No. SCV005567)OPINIONAPPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Madera County. Charles A. Wieland, Judge.Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney, Donald B. Mooney and Marsha A. Burch; Koczanowicz & Donaldson, Martin D. Koczanowicz, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.David A. Prentice, County Counsel and Douglas W. Nelson, Assistant County Counsel, for Defendants and Respondents.Law Office of Thomas H. Terpstra, Thomas H. Terpstra for Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.2.INTRODUCTIONSheryl and Bruce Gray appeal from the dismissal of their Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Injunctive Declaratory Relief. For the following reasons,we reverse...Modesto BeeFraming Our FutureGrading Smart Growth in the Valleyhttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/475946.htmlDo you like the way your neighborhood looks and feels? Can you stroll to the store or your children's school? Or do all the houses look the same, and everyone drives past abandoned lots to the standard strip mall?You can thank — or blame — the planners of your community.Planning surveys have been used in some regions to rate and analyze growth policies. But it's never been done here. Until Now.The Modesto Bee, working with planning experts and the Great Valley Center, created a survey with ideas from successful scorecard projects in places such as Vermont, Colorado and the Bay Area, modified to fit the San Joaquin Valley's reality.The results appear in a two-day package in The Bee and at modbee.com/smartgrowth.A Smart Growth Report Card: The methodology...Michael R. Sheahttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/story/475951.htmlGrowth patterns — good or bad — are products of city and county government policies and practices. To understand how the San Joaquin Valley is growing, it’s helpful to take a hard look at these policies.The Modesto Bee, assisted by planning experts, drafted a survey to assess and rank those planning policies. Questions were tailored to reflect realities in the San Joaquin Valley. The survey incorporates widely accepted smart-growth principles and reflects specific goals pinpointed in the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley’s strategic action proposal.The 55 multiple-choice questions for cities are grouped in nine sections: Public outreach (seven questions), development (five), fees (six), transportation & infrastructure (eight), design (eight), amenities (six), affordability (seven), agriculture & open space (four) and economic development (four.)The 40 multiple choice questions for counties are grouped by public outreach (five questions), development (four), fees (seven), agriculture (11), wildlife & resources (four), transportation (five) and economic development (four.)The questions evaluate planning policies, not on-the-ground realities. The exception is amenities, which gauges public leisure and educational spaces such as museums, libraries and plazas.A public policy class at California State University, Stanislaus, staffed phone banks and polled 68 planning heads across the eight-county valley from October 2007 through January 2008. Planners were then given several opportunities to refine and reform their answers. Scores are presented as percentages.Framing Our FutureGrading Smart Growth in the Valleyhttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/Interactive Map: Scoring our CitiesMost cities can do much more to stop auto-reliant sprawl...Garth Stapleyhttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/v-print/story/475812.htmlAcross the San Joaquin Valley, one of California's fastest- growing regions, cities on average are doing about half of what they might to encourage smart growth.Fifty-six of the valley's 60 cities achieved smart growth scores of less than 70 percent, according to a comprehensive planning audit developed and conducted by The Modesto Bee in cooperation with the Great Valley Center and a class of California State University, Stanislaus, pollsters.The resulting scorecard is designed to help people gauge whether their leaders are serious about improving communities and boosting contentment through thoughtful planning, or merely paying lip service.Smart growth brings jobs closer to homes, promotes health and curbs pollution, experts say. And people generally are happier walking on tree-shaded streets to lush parks or shops in a village square than isolated in sprawling, drab subdivisions on the edge of town."A survey is a snapshot," Carol Whiteside, president emeritus of the Great Valley Center, said of the collaborative effort, nearly two years in the making. "It gives us kind of a big-picture look and allows us to find places where we want to go deeper."Planners and top administrators in the valley's eight counties and 60 cities provided data in late 2007 and early 2008 for the survey.Notable findings:Size doesn't seem to matter. The highest-scoring cities feature a mix of the valley's very smallest (Sanger, Dos Palos) and largest (Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield).Many cities are conscious about the fees they charge developers. Among nine smart growth sections, cities valleywide scored best in the category measuring whether they charge adequate fees and update them regularly, although even the best cities earned less than 90 percent.On average, cities' design and public outreach leave much to be desired.Whether good planning rubs off on neighbors is debatable.Of the valley's 60 cities, the three highest-scoring -- Oakdale, Patterson and Turlock -- are in Stanislaus County, and the county seat, Modesto, tied for seventh place. Overall, Stanislaus County cities scored an average of 66.19 percent -- significantly ahead of cities in runner-up Madera County, with 57.88 percent.Tulare's progressive streakBut cities from five other counties also made the Top 10 list, with representation from Kings (Hanford, fourth), Kern (Bakersfield, tied for fifth), Merced (Dos Palos, tied for fifth), Tulare (Dinuba, tied for seventh) and Fresno counties (Fresno, ninth and Sanger, 10th). San Joaquin and Madera counties had no city in the Top 10.That Stanislaus County has four cities in the valley's Top 10 has little correlation with the county's own performance, however. Stanislaus placed fifth among eight counties.Radically progressive policies adopted by forward-thinking Tulare County leaders three decades ago helped land that agency first among the eight counties. But critics say current leadership is showing signs of dismantling some of the most significant smart growth rules.Smart growth scorecards have been used to measure planning policies in several regions across the United States, including the Bay Area. They provide "a better understanding of how the rules on the books can deliver" more livable communities, said Tim Torma, policy analyst with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Dumb growth, or traditional urban sprawl, typically features an outward-growing mass of cookie-cutter subdivisions gobbling farmland on a city's fringe. Residents rely on automobiles for trips to generic strip malls and jobs in distant places.Experts say such growth patterns contribute to the nation's health problems by robbing people of exercise. And driving more causes air pollution, breathing disorders and climate-changing greenhouse gases."As air quality gets worse, the climate heats up and people become increasingly obese because they're spending more time in the car," said Judy Corbett, founder of the Local Government Commission in Sacramento. "That leads to asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Socially, we're becoming isolated from one another, spending so much time in the car rather than out in the community."Homes near shops, officesSmart growth principles embrace walking, bicycling and transit by incorporating a compact mix of affordable and upscale homes with stores and offices in carefully planned villages.Ripon earned a perfect score in the survey's development category.Benjamin Powell, 47, four years ago moved from a small Ceres rental to an attractive two-story house he bought on a truck driver's salary in Ripon, nestled among custom homes in a quiet neighborhood. The city is among few in the valley requiring developers to offer below-market prices on some units in every new subdivision."This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal," Powell said. "We're paying less than $900 (a month) for mortgage, insurance and everything included."Recycling downtowns, by better using services already in place, makes more sense than building redundant infrastructure in outlying areas, supporters say -- and brings some sanity to everyone's taxes.After some five decades of encouraging auto-reliant growth, state leaders are reversing course, passing laws linking land use to health and climate change with Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375. The latter would give money to local agencies that facilitate growth close to transit centers, bringing jobs and homes closer together.Standards shape the futureMany valley leaders have tried inserting smart growth pillars into local policies, which vary widely even among neighbors -- with varying success.Oakdale owes its No. 1 ranking to leaders' refusal to buckle on high design, parks and farmland protection standards, despite incredible pressure from builders in boom times earlier this decade.Patterson, whose unique downtown layout generally is well- regarded among experts, in recent years welcomed a spate of generic subdivisions on its fringe while far outpacing most other valley cities in rampant growth. But newer smart growth policies, including some requiring a healthy mix of affordable housing, should position the No. 2 city for a brighter tomorrow.Among the newer developments in Patterson is Las Palmas Place, an affordable housing community for seniors."A lot (of us) couldn't afford what few apartments they have in town," said resident Murtie Coggins, 63. "If you're lucky enough to get in here, you thank your lucky stars."Patterson planners made sure Las Palmas Place is close to stores, restaurants and services."We just walk across the street and they're right there," said Bea-trice Basaldua, 86.The survey relies heavily on sustainable policies because they provide the framework that makes smart growth possible. Not measured is on-the-ground reality, theoretically resulting from policy. But reality also depends on the political will of leaders, who have broad control to ignore or uphold policy.Readers, then, won't see reflected in these rankings the damage done by a rash of foreclosures in some highly ranked cities, including Patterson, Modesto and Newman. Neither is it apparent by its low affordability ranking that remote Avenal, a tiny city in small Kings County, has an abundance of affordable homes; its leaders haven't seen a need, so they haven't adopted such policy.Other cities' rankings may be skewed because a representative, despite repeated requests, failed to answer all questions. For example, Stockton, with an impressive downtown renaissance and progressive reputation, stopped the audit before finishing significant portions and ended up 59th of 60.Institutions behind previous surveys in other areas said planning audits proved to be worth the effort because they spark public dialogue and provide a flashpoint for government accountability.The Greenbelt Alliance's 2006 award-winning Bay Area Smart Growth Scorecard "infused a sense of healthy competition on something we should all be working on," said Elizabeth Stampe, the group's communications director."It shined a light at how decisions we're making are affecting the entire Bay Area and everyone who lives here," she continued. "It helped local leaders -- planners, mayors, council members, supervisors -- learn how they could do better by adopting reasonable policies that other agencies already are doing."The Bay Area's survey, like the valley's, produced lower scores than expected, Stampe said -- but gives leaders a tool for suggesting where they might seek change. "It's really valuable to have a quantitative illustration," she said.Whiteside said scorecards also provide baseline data for future studies. A second look at the valley's policies in a couple of years would show whether we're learning and moving forward, she said."A survey gives us an overview of the general trends and the ability to compare ourselves against other places, both in the region and throughout the state and nation," Whiteside said. "If we don't like what we see, the point is to have a chance to go back and change it."Oakdale gets it right: Trees, trails and parks...Michael R. Sheahttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/story/475811.html  Includes comments sectionhttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/v-print/story/475811.html   Print...no comments sectionOAKDALE - A front porch swing catches a lift of breeze and gently sways beyond a white picket fence. A meandering sidewalk, 10 feet off the road, works through bright green grass. The sidewalk connects to a bike path, nature trail and a country river.It's not old-timey nostalgia or a Hollywood ideal. It's a 320-home mass production subdivision called Burchell Hill.It is smart growth.Armed with a strong community vision and a few founding documents, Oakdale has thought "smart" since the mid-1990s. The philosophy helped the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Capital" take top honors in The Modesto Bee's survey of all 60 cities in the San Joaquin Valley.Oakdale, known for its chocolate festival and annual rodeo, quietly embraced smart growth policies to produce vibrant, attractive neighborhoods with a mix of affordable homes while charging adequate development fees. Other policies protect Oakdale's beloved historic clock tower.The city also scored highly in areas that may be less visible but still support smart growth concepts, with strong policies regarding jobs, streets, water and sewers. And Oakdale's west end is protected by an agricultural buffer, a rare greenbelt formally acknowledged by Riverbank.Such forward thinking vaults Oakdale to the top of The Bee's survey of ideals. But the policies have been in place long enough to produce real results.Drive through Oakdale and you'll see soulless markers of 1970s and '80s drab development common in the valley -- tall subdivision walls, garage-dominated houses, wide treeless streets. But keep moving into the city's newer neighborhoods and things seem to get older, with streets cast in shade trees, garages and alleys hidden behind homes, and walking paths and parks.The change started in 1993.Regular people helped draw up a new general plan, identifying development spheres outside the city limit for possible expansion. Leaders vowed to annex only entire spheres to avoid disconnected, patchwork growth. Developers were told they had to ask permission to start a specific plan process, which entails mapping a big swath of land, sometimes hundreds of acres."The biggest challenge to smart growth is the production home builder," said city manager Steve Hallam, who spent seven years as the city's planning chief. "It's hard to get them to pause and realize we don't want our subdivision to look like their other subdivision in Modesto, Riverbank, Turlock or Patterson."Community weighs inIn 1995, then-Mayor Pat Kuhn started calling town hall meetings. She showed photos from throughout the valley -- the Merced County Courthouse, open fields, huge big-box parking lots and the like. Residents were asked to grade elements from positive to negative 10."The very, very highest rated slides were historical buildings, so that made it very easy when we wanted to save the bank building, the First National Bank. We could say the community had voted on it," Kuhn said. "Walking trails and historical buildings were most popular. Sign blight, wide streets and neon signs over the road were simply hated."The city drafted expectations for home builders. Not guidelines, Hallam quickly points out, but expectations. Building themes, setbacks, street designs and all other accoutrements of a modern urban area are mandatory. Builders essentially self-regulate with checklists.Unanticipated positive consequences popped up when building slowed on the city's edges. Developers began to look inward, at vacant land within the city.The average property assessment value in Stanislaus County decreased $122,000 this year. Assessments plunged 19.8 percent in Newman and 8.1 percent in Modesto, but only 5.5 percent in Turlock and 6.7 percent in Oakdale -- two of the valley's high- scoring cities in The Bee's survey.Oakdale's Burchell Hill shows what smart growth can do for regular people, leaders say. Foreclosures are less common here. Neighbors have a Web site and newsletter and regularly track City Council meetings. There’s an annual neighborhood yard sale, and more home owners groups and associations than anywhere else in Oakdale.The city once wanted to mark some no-parking curbs in red, but didn't move fast enough for neighbors' liking. So they organized work crews, got the paint from City Hall and did it themselves."The community is awesome," said Jennifer Dykes, 39, who walks or rides a bicycle to the grocery store with her husband and their 8-year-old son. They haul a raft to the Stanislaus River on the path's other end."We fell in love with the river, the lake, the parks," she continued. "The first time we saw this house, we were instantly in love."When speeding irritated enough Burchell Hill people, the Police Department trained neighbors on using a radar gun and set them up to record speeds and license plates. The results: The offenders turned out to be primarily Burchell Hill residents. So the homeowners association started a neighborhood campaign to raise awareness and lighten lead feet.Even as Burchell Hill unfolded, other developers pressed for free-for-all building. The Oakdale City Council was tested sorely when the market superheated about 2002, said Mayor Farrell Jackson, a council member at the time."Large developers started advertising and moving forward as if they had a large specific plan, but they didn't have city consent," Jackson said. "They thought they could come in and win over the community. But in Oakdale, the community trusts the city."One developer’s Web site proclaimed a vision for 650 acres south of Highway 108 featuring 2,000 homes, man-made lakes and a college satellite campus. The city hadn’t seen so much as a blueprint.“It was like getting beat up every day,” Kuhn said. “If it wasn’t in a City Council meeting, it was in your office or on the phone. People would get in your face and scream, ‘You’re costing me money!’ But these weren’t people from Oakdale. They thought they could ride out of town with saddlebags full of money.”“The key to success,” Jackson said, “is not folding in hard times.”A subsequent stab at smart growth, on Oakdale's other end, hasn't turned out as well despite more wraparound porches and narrow streets. Bridle Ridge neighbors in recent months have complained that a developer got out of town when the economy soured, leaving behind debris and knee-high weeds instead of promised parkland.But many remain hopeful that vestiges of Oakdale's smart growth glory days eventually will bring more Burchell Hills.Policies are helping preserve Oakdale's claim to the best jobs-to-housing ratio and highest sales tax per capita in Stanislaus County, leaders say.More important to Jennifer Dykes are friendly neighbors, the path to stores and the river, and a lush park just across the street where her husband coaches her son's soccer and Little League teams.“We have great neighbors, everyone’s friendly,” she said. “It almost makes me feel like it was as a child.”Jardine: Housing bust lets planners reflect, revise...Jeff Jardinehttp://www.modbee.com/columnists/jardine/story/475810.htmlBooms and busts provide valuable lessons.The housing market boomed for a decade. Then, over the past two years, it busted as the subprime loan game ran its course and, like an overworked wad of Bubblicious, left the nation covered in the reddish slime of a $700 billion bailout.It's perfectly acceptable to blame all involved: greedy buyers who demanded the 3,400-square-foot McMansion on a tent-trailer budget, real estate and mortgage types who scored hefty commissions by nudging buyers into these exploding loans, and the greed-mongers who orchestrated this fiasco from Wall Street's end.The only people who should benefit from this state of arrested development are city planners who, after a decade of pressure from developers and the demands they needed to meet, can finally regroup and prepare for the next inevitable growth spurt."A downturn is a time to plan," said Rod Simpson, Patterson's planning director."That's exactly what we're doing," said Debbie Whitener, Turlock's deputy director of development services.Throughout the boom, cities grew to meet the demand. Some developers demanded faster annexations and entitlements, and in some cases, pretty much had their way. In some cities, officials circumvented their own policies to allow growth that far exceeded established caps.Conversely, valley cities including Oakdale and Turlock had prepared to handle the growth. They'd mapped out their futures by amending their general plans during the building lull of the early 1990s. Just as important, their elected officials stuck with those plans."One of the unique aspects of Oakdale is that the elected officials here have always approached development cautiously," Oakdale City Administrator Steve Hallam said.That, in part, is why Oakdale and Turlock, along with Patterson, led the way in the growth scorecard developed by The Bee and the Great Valley Center. And all three cities are using the building stoppage to rework their general and specific plans based upon what worked and what didn't during the boom.Planning is perhaps more important now than during the last lull because of tougher environmental and air quality restrictions, Patterson's Simpson said."It's no longer a case of, 'We'll do that in five years,' " he said. "We've got to do it now."Roughly 15 years ago, Oakdale and Turlock embraced neo-traditional development principles. Patterson recognized mistakes it made with some developments and amended its general plan in 2004 to include policies similar to those of Oakdale and Turlock. Expect other cities to follow their lead.Neo-traditional neighborhoods emerged in the late 1800s, when many people still relied on horses and buggies for transportation. As the automobile replaced the horse, the garage replaced the stall.Builders began putting garages closer to the streets -- architecture that morphed into a two-car garage door with a home somewhere behind it -- and the trend continued until some cities and developers brought the neo-traditional concept out of mothballs the past 15 or so years.In neo-traditional neighborhoods, large front porches make it easy for neighbors to socialize and pay more attention to the happenings in the streets. That provides a level of security you'll seldom find in more conventional contemporary subdivisions that aren't gated. The garages are set back behind the homes or along back alleys. The streets generally are narrower than in other types of subdivisions, forcing motorists to drive more slowly. These neighborhoods have parks, walking paths and retail within walking distance.Oakdale has enjoyed success in its Burchell Hill development. Drive through Burchell Hill on Halloween night and you'll see numerous block parties, haunted houses and other gatherings. It's more than just a collection of homes. It's truly a community.Modesto developed in neo-traditional neighborhoods around Graceada Park in the 1920s, and they remain among the city's most solid neighborhoods."It's been a good measure of success," said H. Brent Sinclair, Modesto's director of community and economic development.Modesto will encourage neo-traditional concepts when the approved Tivoli development is built north of Sylvan Avenue, planning division manager Patrick Kelly said.The housing crisis dictates that builders and buyers consider smaller, more affordable homes the next time around -- as many as eight homes per acre instead of five or six."Who's going to (want) the 3,000-square-foot home now?" Sinclair asked. "What's going to be the norm?"That's why it's important for city planners and councils to use this time wisely. There's little pressure from developers. There's no need to rush projects to meet demands.And if we've learned anything from the boom and bust, it's that future home buyers might want to consider -- as un-American as this might seem -- starting small and working their way up to the McMansion.What the experts are saying about planning, the surveyhttp://www.modbee.com/smartgrowth/v-print/story/475883.html"The consumer mentality is bigger, bigger, bigger, more, more, more. That makes sprawl." — Steve Hallam, city manager, Oakdale"(Government agencies) have been reluctant to impose any restraints on development because there’s always somebody standing there, saying, ‘If you raise this fee or put in this regulation, then you’re anti-business and we’ll take our business someplace else.’ Now people are seeing that bad development is not better than no development." — Carol Whiteside, president emeritus, Great Valley Center"What I hope comes out of this is the public says, ‘Why do we suck?’" — Tim Fisher, survey contributor and former Modesto councilman"The people who developed Burchell Hill are local. Their name is on it. It wasn’t a Texas company that comes in, rapes the town and rides out with saddlebags full of gold." — Pat Kuhn, former mayor, Oakdale"What will skew this (survey) is the ability of the person being interviewed to do smart growthspeak. People with a strong smart growth vocabulary are going to give good interviews and get the best results." — Bruce Race, Race Studio, Berkeley"I’m troubled by the survey as a starting point to understanding how government works. Going to planning departments and asking how they serve the public is an interesting strategy to understanding how they’re doing." — Maureen McCorry, founder, San Joaquin et al."(Smart growth) is something that’s affecting everyone. But in a way, it’s invisible because it’s buried in planning policies that no one ever sees. Bringing it to light is very well within the mission of a newspaper." — Elizabeth Stampe, communications director, Greenbelt Alliance"When gas is $4, $5 a gallon, it’s starting to become obvious why it’s important to design communities in a way that minimizes the requirement to drive everyplace."— George Osner, former planning manager, Modesto "Land use in California has been a fact-free zone for as long as I can remember. You can’t prompt any action without facts." — Ed Thompson, California director, American Farmland Trust"This is a really admirable thing for a newspaper to take on. The big problem in doing something like this is to find indicators that really matter and to get good responses that are reasonably accurate and comparable from city to city." — Michael Teitz, senior fellow, Public Policy Institute of California"Our general plan gives lip service to all that (smart growth) stuff, but there is no teeth to it. If you don’t know what to look for, you might read the plan and say there are a lot of good ideas. But how many people have time to wade through thousands of pages to realize there is nothing there?" — Sarah Graber, former executive director, Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth"We’re trying to make future development public transit-friendly. But it may not work well in Tulare County. We’re not Fresno or Modesto." — Allen Ishida, supervisor, Tulare County"Unless we depart from the business-as-usual paradigm and embrace the new principles of smart growth, we risk pushing the environment past the tipping point into cataclysmic climate change. The stakes are too high for Tulare County to abdicate its responsibilities, allowing the market to control the future of hundreds of thousands of people." — Susan S. Fiering, California deputy attorney general"How could our county (Kings) be dead last and our city (Hanford) fourth (among 60)? Could the stats be skewed in some way? We have lots of commercial retail available in this town, and prison jobs, but not much else." — Robin Mattos, Hanford Environmental Action Team Audio Podcast The Great Valley Center's Carol Whiteside and Tim Fisher discuss smart growth and the scorecardhttp://media.modbee.com/smedia/2008/10/23/12/scorecard_podcast.source.prod_affiliate.11.mp3More Smart Growth InformationU.S. Environmental Protection Agencyhttp://www.epa.gov/dced/scorecards/  Smart Growth ScorecardsIntroduction | Municipal Level Scorecards | Project Specific Scorecards | Component Scorecards | Additional ResourcesSmart growth tool kithttp://www.smartgrowthtoolkit.net/Welcome to your online resource for smart growth implementation tools. This is a project of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ...You can start your smart growth plan by clicking on the tools (on the right) or following any of the links below: ...Smart growth Americahttp://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/Gas prices changing the face of AmericaAlmost overnight, gas prices have become the most pressing issue in the minds of most Americans, competing with the Iraq War and the economy at large for center stage. People are looking for solutions and grabbing the low-hanging fruit: Combine trips. Work from home occasionally. Drive the sedan instead of the SUV. Carpool. Vacation close to home...Great Valley Centerhttp://www.greatvalley.org/Bay Area Smart Growth Scorecard...Greenbelt Alliancehttp://www.greenbelt.org/resources/reports/smartgrowthscorecard/Smart Growth Scordcard Report 2006(10 MB pdf, right-click on the link and choose the option to save the file) http://www.greenbelt.org/downloads/resources/smartgrowthscorecard/smartgrowthscorecard.pdfThe Smart Growth Scorecard is a landmark assessment of the planning policies of all 101 cities and nine counties of the Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Area will grow by a million more residents by 2020, and these policies provide the blueprints of how that growth will occur. The Scorecard found that the region could be doing much more to prepare for this growth. Cities were scored in seven policy areas, while counties were scored in five. On average, cities score 34%. They have only one-third of the needed policies to achieve smart growth. Counties are doing somewhat better than cities. On average, they score 51%, meaning they are doing half of what they could do to promote smart growth. These scores are low, but that can change. For every policy area, there is an outstanding city or county that can guide other jurisdictions as they seek to improve. (32 pp, June 2006)Sperling's Best Placeshttp://www.bestplaces.net/city/Sustain LaneSustainLane Presents: The 2008 US City Rankingshttp://www.sustainlane.com/us-city-rankings/Welcome to the 2008 SustainLane US City Rankings! You'll find extensive coverage on the greening of the 50 most-populous cities in the nation on these pages, and the most complete report card on urban sustainability in America. This report benchmarks each city's performance in 16 areas of urban sustainability, including an essential new measurement this year: Water Supply. Forged in 2005 and now in its third edition, the peer-reviewed Rankings track the unfolding story of cities working to improve their residents' quality of life. In this story, some cities are becoming more self-reliant and better prepared for an uncertain future, while others have been slow to act on opportunities to green their municipalities.We hope you enjoy reading through our work as much as we enjoyed creating it! Get started now with a closer look at our methodology, or a review of what makes a sustainable city. Or if you'd like, simply cut to the chase and check out the Rankings. We'll be continually updating these pages with stories from the field, so check back often. Thanks for visiting, and happy reading!Local Government Commissionhttp://www.lgc.org/Congress for New Urbanismhttp://www.cnu.org/Making Connections a PriorityThrough grids of streets, transportation choices, and the siting of buildings along sidewalks, New Urbanism brings destinations within reach and allows for frequent encounters between citizens, in sharp contrast to sprawl (right). A key measure of connectivity is how accessible communities are to people with a range of physical abilities and financial resources.Other woes makes foreclosure crisis hard to break...ALAN ZIBEL, AP Business Writerhttp://www.modbee.com/2020/v-print/story/476113.htmlEach day from July through September, more than 2,700 Americans lost their homes in foreclosure.That number, up from 1,200 a day a year ago, is a sign that the mortgage industry and government programs have done little to help troubled homeowners.The mortgage market's troubles have proved to be far more serious and intractable than most in government or the private sector had predicted a year ago."We are behind the curve. We are falling behind," Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. told a Senate hearing Thursday. "There has been some progress, but it's not been enough, and we need to act. And we need to act quickly, and we need to act dramatically to have more wide-scale, systematic (loan) modifications...."More than 4 million homeowners with a mortgage were at least one month behind on their payments at the end of June, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, and a record 500,000 had entered the foreclosure process.So why is the foreclosure crisis so hard to fix?There are five main reasons:- Crashing home prices:A massive speculative bubble in housing prices caused millions of Americans to think of their homes as an investment, rather than a place to live.Now prices are plummeting, especially in once-sizzling markets like California, Florida and Nevada. And the bleeding might not stop until the end of next year.The median home price in the U.S. dropped 9 percent in September from a year ago to $191,600, and is down 17 percent from the peak in July 2006, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.Already, 23 percent of homeowners with a mortgage owe more on their loans than their homes are worth, and that figure is expected to rise to 28 percent by this time next year, according to Moody's Economy.com.While the majority of homeowners will continue to make their payments and wait for values to recover, some will mail their keys to their lender and walk away, leaving the lender with no choice but to foreclose.Sophie Lapointe, a mortgage broker and owner of Five Star Mortgage in Las Vegas, has found there's little that can be done to help people who owe more than their homes are worth. "The biggest problem is negative equity," she said.When homeowners in that position ask her about refinancing, Lapointe tells them to contact their current lender and ask about a loan modification because she already knows no new lender will give them a loan.Loan modifications vary depending on many conditions, but can include deferring payments, allowing partial payments, lowering the interest rate and lowering the principal balance.- Investor speculation:Plunging prices have had even more impact on investors than on homeowners because investors have less emotional attachment to a house. They're even more likely to walk away, especially if they've put little money into a property.Investors purchased one of every five homes last year, and almost one of every three when the market peaked in 2005, according to the Realtors trade group.They flocked to hot markets like California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, as television shows such as A&E's popular reality series "Flip This House" touted the easy money that could be made buying and selling homes.They took advantage of risky loan products that didn't require down payments or proof of income. Other loans allowed the borrower to pay only the interest on the loan, or even less, and none of the principal for a certain time.Now, more than 30 percent of properties in the foreclosure process are owned by someone with a different address, indicating the home is likely owned by an investor, according to foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc.Government programs to help homeowners are specifically designed not to help such investors, though in reality it may be hard to weed them out.- Complex investments:Traditionally, lenders evaluated borrowers carefully because they held onto the mortgages for the life of the loan. That process started to change in the late 1980s, as Wall Street found new ways to package the loans into securities to sell to investors.Investors were attracted to these new mortgage-backed securities because they paid better returns than government bonds.At the beginning of this decade, the Federal Reserve started cutting interest rates to historic lows. So investors poured money into the U.S. mortgage market, particularly into securities made up of high-interest mortgages made to borrowers with poor credit records.The high-interest, risky mortgages, called "subprime," boomed, from $160 billion in new loans in 2001 to more than $600 billion in both 2005 and 2006, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication.Lenders stopped worrying about the creditworthiness of borrowers and offered them ever-riskier mortgages. Most of those loans were made by commission-driven mortgage brokers, who had nothing to lose if the mortgage went bad because it had been resold."By the time it defaults, it's somebody else's headache," said Barry Ritholtz, CEO of research firm FusionIQ.When mortgages are packaged into securities, borrowers' monthly payments are divided up and sent to thousands of investors around the world. With so many owners, helping troubled borrowers is tougher. Many of these investors have been reluctant to agree to drastic loan modifications, such as reducing the principal balance, because they don't want to take a big loss."We and others have gone to these investors, and they're just not having it," said Evan Wagner, spokesman for Pasadena, Calif.-based IndyMac Federal Bank, which has been run by the FDIC since July. "They don't want to take more losses than they have to." Without such modifications, many homeowners can't avoid foreclosure.Democrats on Capitol Hill are frustrated.On Friday, six House Democrats, including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., accused hedge fund investors in a letter of blocking loan modifications and called them to a hearing on the issue next month."For the hedge fund industry, which has flourished for much of the past decade, to take steps so actively in opposition to what is currently in the national economic interest is deeply troubling," they wrote.- Job losses:The No. 1 reason people fall behind on their mortgage is loss of a job, or some source of income, perhaps from a divorce or death of a spouse. If a borrower is unemployed, lenders don't have many options but foreclosure.Two years ago, about 36 percent of mortgage delinquencies were caused by loss of income or unemployment, according to research by mortgage finance company Freddie Mac. But that number has risen to 45 percent this year as the unemployment rate has ticked up to a five-year high of 6.1 percent.Jon Falen, 33, put his four-bedroom house in Olathe, Kan., with high-end appliances, granite kitchen countertops and a landscaped lot, on the market more than two years ago after health problems forced him to leave his job as an air traffic controller.Falen and his wife, now delinquent on their two home loans, are finally scheduled to sell their house next month.But there's a big catch: The buyer has agreed to pay only $490,000, which is $70,000 less than what the couple paid for it in 2002.Making matters worse, Falen and his wife owe $675,000 to two lenders because they used their home equity - which soared during the housing boom - to pay off student loans and remodeling expenses.Though Falen and his family seem to have avoided becoming another foreclosure statistic by cashing out on retirement plans and dipping deeply into savings, he is chastened by the drawn-out experience."Any debt right now scares me to death," he said.- Falling behind again:It's hard to fix something that keeps breaking. Roughly one-third of all subprime loans modified in the third quarter of last year were delinquent again within 10 months, according to a Credit Suisse report released this month.Maria Martinez, 57, an administrative worker at the county jail in Stockton, Calif., is typical of homeowners who have gotten help, but not enough. She is three months behind on her mortgage, even after receiving a loan modification earlier this year.Though Martinez bought the house more than a decade ago for only $76,000, she now owes about $230,000 because she refinanced her home loan several times."I was trying to borrow some money to pay some bills," said Martinez, who is on leave from her job this month after being diagnosed with cancer. "I didn't really think...that I would get into a bind like this."Until the summer, she was paying an interest rate of about 8.5 percent on her mortgage. The modification lowered that amount to 7.75 percent.If she had been given a more generous loan modification, she might be in a better situation. But most efforts to help homeowners have been slow and weak.- So what has and should be done?The scale of the mortgage crisis became clear in July 2007 when Countrywide Financial, then the nation's largest mortgage lender, reported an unexpected surge in defaults in high-quality mortgages.Three months later, the Bush administration announced a new mortgage industry coalition - dubbed the Hope Now alliance. The coalition had an "aggressive plan to reach more homeowners and help them find a way to stay in their homes," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said at the time.The Hope Now group says the industry has modified 765,000 loans since last July, and put 1.5 million borrowers on temporary repayment plans. There are no data on how many of those homeowners have fallen behind again.Faith Schwartz, the coalition's executive director, said the effort was never meant to be the only solution to the foreclosure crisis. She says there "has been a tremendous effort" on the industry's part, noting that 1.9 million households have received letters urging them to call a housing counselor.Industry and government responses have also drawn fire from consumer advocates for being too slow and too narrow.The Federal Housing Administration, a government agency that backs loans to borrowers with weak credit, says it has helped about 400,000 borrowers refinance over the past year, though only about 1 percent were behind on their loans.This month, the FHA started the "Hope for Homeowners" program, included in legislation passed over the summer by Congress. It is designed to let another 400,000 troubled homeowners swap their mortgages for traditional 30-year fixed rate mortgages , but only if lenders agree to reduce the value of a loan and take a loss.But there are still questions about how eager lenders will be to participate.Faced with public outrage that they passed a $700 billion plan to rescue the financial industry, politicians in Washington are going to keep trying to find ways to fix the foreclosure crisis. One promising approach came this month when 11 states entered into a more than $8 billion settlement with Countrywide Financial and its new parent Bank of America Corp.The settlement, which goes into effect Dec. 1. is projected to help an estimated 400,000 Countrywide borrowers by allowing them to replace risky loans with ones at substantially lower interest rates.And in Washington, the FDIC's Bair has proposed a plan in which the government would provide guarantees for mortgages that have been reworked by banks, lowering payments to more affordable levels.All eyes now are on Bair, Paulson and other top officials to see if the government can craft a plan that gets at the heart of the global financial meltdown - the U.S. foreclosure crisis.Fresno BeeEmissions plan needs full debateReducing greenhouse gases in state will be difficult, but we must make the effort...Editorialhttp://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/story/963378.htmlCalifornia took the next step in an ambitious plan to drastically reduce its production of greenhouse gases when the state air board released a draft plan recently. It will take several years to work out the details of the plan, but it's something Californians should begin thinking about right now. The new rules that eventually emerge from the planning process will touch virtually every part of our lives, from the way our cities are planned, to the sort of transportation choices we have, to the jobs that will employ future generations. The larger goal of the California Air Resources Board's so-called "scoping plan" is to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions -- those blamed for the shrinking of the protective ozone layer -- to 1990 levels by 2020. Along the way, it's expected that new technologies will spawn new jobs -- so-called "green jobs" -- and that reduced emissions will lead to other savings in energy costs, improved air quality and concomitant improvements in the health of the state's residents. The magnitude of this effort can't be overstated. It amounts to reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 4 tons per person. That will call for a massive shift from using fossil fuels to renewable, non-polluting energy sources. That means new, cleaner vehicles. It means whole new industries to produce cleaner energy. It also means imposing a cap-and-trade system to allow larger polluters such as oil companies and power plants to purchase offsetting pollution credits to balance their own production of pollutants. It's a controversial plan that is sure to be at the center of the coming debate. Perhaps not surprisingly, most environmentalists hailed the plan, though many would like to see even higher standards and tougher limits on pollution. Likewise, many business and industry groups are leery of the plan, concerned that its implementation will prove too costly for the state's economy to sustain, particularly now, when times are bad. The concerns of both groups -- and all Californians -- must be addressed in the months ahead. The scoping plan is the product of a lengthy process in which CARB gathered some 40,000 comments since the first draft of the coping plan was released in June. The CARB board will get the plan in December to approve, reject or revise. Once it's approved, CARB staff will begin writing the specific regulations for reducing greenhouse gases. That's when the contention will truly begin. But that laborious process will be well worth the trouble if we end up with a set of rules that make sense for the future. We must address greenhouse gas emissions. California has taken a national and worldwide lead in that effort since the adoption of AB 32, the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. AB 32 imposed requirements that CARB must follow throughout this process. It must consider a wide range of factors in making the new rules, including impact on the economy, environment and public health; the reliability of energy sources; existing environmental protections; and making sure that low-income communities don't bear the brunt of the burdens. That's a tall order, but we're confident that we can have an aggressive and effective program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while preserving and even growing the state's economy. The devil's in the details, and that's why the process bears close attention from all of us, starting right now. Sacramento BeeInteractive graphic: Foreclosures in the region...Mitchell Brooks http://www.sacbee.com/995/story/560329.htmlThe Sacramento housing crisisDuring the past year, the Sacramento region has buckled under a growing tide of flreclosures brought about largely by subprime loans. The poorer parts of the region have been especially hard hit. But areas with lots of new development - places such as Elk Grove, Sourthport and Lincoln - also were heavily affected. The map below shows the percentage of loans that were subprime in 2006, broken down by community...Foreclosures in the Sacramento regionhttp://projects.scoopytube.com/foreclosures/map.htmlSince last October, banks have taken back ownership of thousands of homes in the Sacramento region. Enter an address and city to see the number of foreclosures in a particular neighborhood. Data goes from October 2006 to January 2008. Data gathered by Phillip Reese. Google Maps script by Dan Nguyen Tip: Clicking "Submit" without entering information will list foreclosures in the entire region. Scroll down below the map to see the results in a spreadsheet listing ...Stockton RecordUsually calm water district election has people riled up...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081026/A_NEWS/810260313LODI - It's been a quarter-century, maybe longer, since an obscure water district in north San Joaquin County had a contested election.But ask people to open their pocketbooks for something they've always gotten for free, and you can expect a little uprising.Two seats will be up for grabs in the November election, largely because of one man - a third-grade science teacher and rancher - and his bitter battle against a new fee charging landowners to pump groundwater.The fee, approved by the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District board in May 2007, has spawned courtroom showdowns and shouting matches in the middle of public meetings.The teacher, Bryan Pilkington, calls the district's "groundwater assessment fee" a "tax" and says it should have been subject to a full vote of the people. He attends each district meeting, videotapes them, blurts out questions and has been known to get a few board members worked up.Yeah, I'm passionate," Pilkington said. "I'm passionate because this district doesn't ask the people, 'What would you like us to do for you?' "Now, he wants a seat on the same board that he has, at times, lambasted."I think we'll work together just fine as long as we stay focused that what we're doing is working for the people," Pilkington said.His opponent is Stanley Chaves, a 42-year-old dairy farmer who supports paying a fee "if that's what it takes" to get surface water from the Mokelumne River to the 5,501 landowners in the district.That's the point of the fee. The district has had the right to take water from the Mokelumne for decades, but has been unable to do so because it lacks money to build pipes and canals, and a fish screen.The state has threatened to take away the district's water right if it doesn't start using it. On top of that, underground water levels have dropped because too much water has been pumped from the aquifer, officials say.Some fear that if the district doesn't take river water soon, regulators will step in and dictate how much groundwater each landowner can pump.Chaves says that could mean 25 percent of his 200 acres taken out of production."I need every chunk of ground we can get," he said. "If the state takes over, ... it's going to hurt worse."In a second race on the ballot, rancher Dale Carver - a groundwater fee opponent, like Pilkington - challenges current board member John Ferreira.Carver said he is against taxes on water and said it's important that river water be kept in the district. Opponents to the fee allege that the district intends to sell river water to Stockton; North San Joaquin says it will not do that unless there is more water than the district needs.Ferreira has criticized Pilkington for litigation that one official says has cost the district $150,000 in lawyers' fees - money that could have been spent building pipelines. An initiative to repeal the groundwater charge, spearheaded by Pilkington, will cost another $100,000, the district says."These people don't want to see the reality in front of them," Ferreira said. "All the other districts have groundwater charges, except ours."Will altered Measure V matter?...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081026/A_NEWS/810260314Bryan Pilkington's fight against the water district's new fee has taken him from state hearings in Sacramento to crowded public meetings in Lodi to a judge's courtroom in Stockton.Now the issue goes to the voters.Pilkington gained 2,200 signatures on a petition to repeal the fee, forcing the district to place Measure V on the November ballot.But will the vote make any difference?Pilkington's original initiative said that no groundwater fees could be imposed "in any future fiscal year" unless the district got approval from voters first.In other words: If the measure passed, the fee would be nixed not just this year, but beyond.The district, however, changed the language of the measure after a judge ruled in August that while Pilkington's proposal did indeed qualify for the ballot, it does not require voter approval for any future groundwater fees.So Measure V, as presented to voters, would repeal the fee only for 2007-08, according to attorneys for the district.And even if the measure passes, the money already paid by landowners - probably close to $800,000 - will not be refunded, because the district will have already collected and spent it, said Karna Harrigfeld, an attorney representing the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District."(The initiative) does nothing except waste $100,000" in election expenses, said North San Joaquin General Manager Ed Steffani.If the measure succeeds, Steffani said, he expects Pilkington and his attorney with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to continue challenging the fee.And that may be the one point on which the two men agree."This isn't over," Pilkington said. "Oh, gosh, no, this isn't over."San Francisco ChronicleDrought, or water heist?...Tom Stienstrahttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/26/SPE813N9LM.DTL&type=printableGov. Schwarzenegger is calling the year's lack of rain and snowfall a drought of epic proportions and points to the low lake levels to prove it. The answer, he says, is passing a $9.3 billion water bond next year to build a peripheral canal and several new reservoirs in a program designed to send more water to points south.The facts are that the past two years are only the ninth driest two-year period in the past 88 years, and that California routinely experiences such periods once every 10 years, according to the Department of Water Resources.What happened last year is that water managers were betting on a wet spring. When it didn't happen, many lakes were drained down to nothing in order to send water to L.A. and farmers.Shastina, tucked on the north slopes of Mount Shasta, is a testament to this bad bet. In the past two summers, water was drained from the lake to irrigate hay fields in the Shasta Valley as if there was no end in sight to the water available. The lake hit bottom last month. So when you drive up to the boat ramp, all you can see is exposed lakebed. This isn't a drought. This is a created shortage.True droughts are measured by soil moisture, and in some cases, water levels at wilderness lakes. In a true drought, soil moisture is so low that plants go into artificial hibernation to protect themselves, as in 1992, and that has not happened. Up in the high country, most wilderness lakes - outside the reach of water-grabbers - are full.Even more telling is that along Interstate 5 near L.A., Pyramid Lake, which gets water from Northern California, is 97 percent full right now.Yet while all this is going on, ocean conditions are setting up right now for decent chance of a very wet fall. Audit turns up something fishy...Tom Stienstrahttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/26/SP9H13NF3B.DTL&type=printableA state audit of the Bay Delta Sport Fishing Enhancement Stamp shows that anglers have paid $8.6 million since 2004 and received virtually nothing from the Department of Fish and Game.More than $7 million is now sitting in a DFG account, unspent, according to an audit released this past week. It was conducted by the State Bureau of Audits, required in legislation by Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco.As for the rest of the money, none has been spent to stock striped bass or sturgeon as fishing organizations expected when they supported the creation of stamp. Instead, the audit showed that money was taken from stamp funds to pay for DFG employees from other programs."Individuals who purchase the fish stamp are not obtaining the full benefit of the fees they are required to pay," according to a statement released by the State Bureau of Audits. Acting director of Fish and Game, Don Koch, appointed earlier this year and awaiting a confirmation vote in the state senate, agreed in a statement Thursday to reform the program and follow guidelines the bureau set forth.In a line-by-line check of spending, the audit found that DFG inappropriately charged payroll costs to stamp funds for activities that had nothing to do with Bay-Delta enhancement and restoring fish populations."Fish and Game is reviewing the payroll practices to resolve and discontinue inappropriate payroll charges to the fish stamp account for identified employees not pertaining to the program," Koch said. He said that DFG would make "the necessary accounting adjustments.""It's clear that inadequate oversight and use of these monies has been the rule, and this audit should result in greater transparency and insure that the funds are put to proper use," Mullin said.When the stamp was first proposed five years ago, Sacramento radio host Bob Simms said it was "an outrage to propose to take money from anglers without a program that details how (it) would be spent to benefit them.""It's just the same now," Simms said. "They take our money and still do not have a plan."In response, Koch said, "Fish and Game is in the process of developing a spending plan."The stamp costs $6.05 and is required to be purchased by anglers who fish San Francisco Bay, Delta, and rivers that feed the Delta .Koch agreed to reimburse the stamp fund with money that was taken for non-stamp expenditures."Fish and Game is reviewing the payroll practices to resolve and discontinue inappropriate payroll charges to the fish stamp account for identified employees not pertaining to the program," Koch said. When the stamp was started, anglers thought they were paying to stock striped bass and sturgeon to jump-start populations and fishing success. Instead, no money has been spent on fish stocks."Because DFG so poorly manages this program, the additional money anglers had to spend to buy this stamp each year is a de facto tax added to the cost of a regular fishing license, already the most costly in the nation," said Jeff Shellito, government affairs manager for the organization California Trout.Terns benefit from efforts to restore salmon...Jeff Barnard, Associated Presshttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/26/BAPG13LL8G.DTL&type=printableAdel, Ore. -- Biologists had no sooner set out a couple hundred plastic Caspian tern decoys and turned on a recording of the birds squawking than five real ones flying overhead came around for a closer look.In a matter of months, some 800 Caspian terns were sitting on eggs, feeding small fish to chicks, fending off marauding gulls and doing what their ancestors did before a tiny island in a desert lake was destroyed in the 1950s by people looking for arrowheads with a bulldozer.This rock and sand reinvention of nature was never about the terns, however. They are not protected by the Endangered Species Act. It was about making them less of a monkey wrench in the untold billions of dollars spent on restoring salmon threatened with extinction by hydroelectric dams and other factors hundreds of miles away at the mouth of the Columbia River.The official name for the project is Columbia River Avian Predation Project."If it were up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as much as they might want to build these islands, there is no way they could afford to," said Dan Roby, a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University who is watching over the tern relocation project. "The resources are only there because it makes sense in the context of the major effort to try to restore salmonids in the Columbia Basin."With tern nesting islands in short supply around the West from a century of human development, some 14,000 of the birds crowd onto a little island at the mouth of the Columbia River each summer, where they pig out on 5 million baby salmon a year. That amounts to about 5 percent of the total coming down the Columbia to the Pacific, some of which are on the threatened and endangered species lists.With so many terns nesting in one spot, conservation groups were worried they could be wiped out by some catastrophic event, and sued the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, to come up with a solution. The corps agreed to go into the habitat restoration business, budgeting $2.7 million to build new nesting islands farther away and persuade the terns to move there.This one in Crump Lake was finished in March in true Army Corps of Engineers style, armored with rock so it would never wash away. More islands will follow this year and next year on traditional tern migration routes in Oregon, Northern California and San Francisco Bay.Kieran Suckling is happy to see things turning around, no matter what the reason. Suckling, policy director at the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, has fought to protect dwindling habitat for frogs, salmon, sage grouse and spotted owls."Habitat restoration is the single best and usually cheapest thing we can do to restore imperiled species," he said. "And more often than not we have been destroying habitat or seeking expensive technological fixes when the simple low-tech project of restoring habitat is the best thing we should do. It's what we should be doing everywhere all the time."Desperate for islands that offer a water barrier to predators like foxes, as well as bare sandy ground in which to lay their eggs, Caspian terns had first colonized Rice Island, 15 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia. The island was a dumping ground for the sand dredged out of shipping channels.When biologists figured out the terns were eating too many young salmon migrating to the ocean, they drove them off Rice Island and lured them to East Sand Island, closer to the ocean, where other fish became part of the tern diet. But the 14,000 birds there, representing 70 percent of the birds in the Western U.S., still ate too much.The first new tern island, on Fern Ridge Reservoir in the Willamette Valley near Eugene, has done poorly - a video monitor spotted only a couple birds this year. Besides being off the historical migration paths of Caspian terns, it is on a lake busy with people, Roby said.The second was this one on Crump Lake, located a few miles outside the desert outpost of Adel, which has far exceeded expectations.More islands are planned for nearby Summer Lake, in Tule Lake and the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in Northern California, and in San Francisco Bay.As new nesting islands are built, the Corps will allow the weeds to grow back on East Sand Island, squeezing the terns out.The cost of building the remaining islands is likely to take the project over the original $2.7 million budget, especially in San Francisco Bay, where materials are expensive, said Army Corps of Engineers biologist Geoff Dorsey, who is in charge of the project. The later ones will depend on future funding being approved by Congress.The San Francisco Bay islands are planned for Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the Hayward Regional Shoreline.Crump Lake Island, which cost $800,000, gives the birds a place to themselves, except for biologists Frank Mayer and Megan Jones, who did daily counts of terns and their chicks, documented what kinds of fish they ate, and interactions with gulls that also nested on the island, throughout the summer nesting season.And the 400 or so nests Mayer and Jones have counted far exceed the goal of just 71 the first year. They also spotted terns carrying leg bands showing they were born on East Sand Island and Rice Island in the Columbia, as well as a couple nesting sites in Washington, and one bird born at Crump Lake five years ago.Roby said a key to the success at Crump Lake is that terns had nested here before. Though Caspian terns live to be 30 years old, none is old enough to remember the island before it fell to the artifact hunters' bulldozer. But some die-hard birds never gave up on their birthplace.In 2003, Roby and a crew were studying food sources at Crump Lake when some terns were flooded out of their nests by rising water. The biologists built a plywood platform above the rising waters, threw sand on it, and the terns - desperate for habitat - resumed nesting.Mercury NewsValley construction workers feel sharpest pain as economy shrinks...Julia Prodis Sulekhttp://www.mercurynews.com/valley/ci_10818445?nclick_check=1Construction jobs are so rare these days that when small residential builder Aaron Van Roo of San Jose recently posted a job opening for a lead carpenter on Craigslist, 100 resumes a day came pouring in."I have to open them up as they come in or I'll never get through," said Van Roo, whose Benchmark General Building company is one of the few companies in the construction field expanding, from six to eight employees.Over the past year, the economic downturn has cost the San Jose area 2,500 construction jobs, leaving skilled laborers scrambling to find work. Statewide, more than 75,000 jobs have been lost, and builders are projected to pull permits on no more than 66,000 single- and multi-family units this year — the lowest number since record-keeping began in 1954. That's almost half the number of permits pulled last year, and down from 213,000 at the peak of the housing boom, in 2004."That means production is roughly one-third of what it was five years ago," said John Frist of the California Building Industry Association. "The impacts have been far and wide."The biggest hit has been to the largest builders of residential subdivisions and condo projects. Stories abound of builders across California auctioning off unsold new homes or filing for bankruptcy. Commercial and industrial builders have fared a little better. And some small remodelers are also getting work from people who can't afford to move because their homes have lost value, but have enough money to improve what they have. While Van Roo still has work and is expanding his nearly two-year-old small business — and getting the pick of the employment pool — he's cautious. Home-equity lines of credit are disappearing and construction loans are nearly impossible for clients to get. He's not getting the big commercial jobs anymore, because the competition to be the lowest bidder is fierce. He's now taking smaller jobs — those less than $100,000 — that he didn't have time for last year. The 27-year-old graduate of Mitty High School and UC-Berkeley canceled an order on two new trucks and is putting aside plans to move his business out of his home."We put that all on hold pending the fallout of the economic downturn," he said. "If I make it out to the other side, hopefully I'll be in a good position to grow."His new employees are grateful for the jobs. Jason Franks, 32, a carpenter, had been working odd jobs since July, when his boss stopped an improvement project on a rental property. Angelica Mendieta, a spring graduate from San Jose State, had to move back in with her parents after the administrative job she held at a small construction company was eliminated. She had been out of work for six months.But Van Roo can't sustain everyone. While he hires the subcontractor Lori Does Hardwood for all his residential jobs, it's not enough to keep Lori Miranda busy. In 2005, she had two vans running two crews of men — including her grown son — installing and refinishing floors throughout the South Bay. After renting for 15 years and "saving and scrimping," she bought a $500,000 home in South San Jose.Back then, she was getting 15 to 20 calls a week — mostly from Realtors getting houses ready for sale. Now she's lucky to get one call. While home sales are finally creeping up in Silicon Valley, foreclosures are driving the numbers — and no one is refinishing the floors of those homes, at least not yet. Last summer, usually Miranda's busiest season, she had no work for six weeks. She says she's lucky to find work just for herself now. She couldn't pay her mortgage, and the bank foreclosed on her house. She's renting now."Everything I had planned for my entire future," she said, "went up in flames."Los Angeles TimesNorthern California wetlands are getting back to naturalA $10-million project by the National Park Service aims to fully restore a Marin County estuary, which was turned into pastureland more than 60 years ago...Julie Carthttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-wetlands26-2008oct26,0,6936692,print.storyReporting from Point Reyes Station, Calif. — Conservationists often speak of restoring landscapes as erasing the "hand of man." But sometimes the job of undoing decades of human manipulation requires wielding an even heavier hand.It took eight years of planning, of which two were spent bulldozing and excavating to knock down levees and redirect creeks, to re-create the "naturalness" of the Giacomini Wetlands, one of the most extensive restoration projects of its kind undertaken by the National Park Service.The project comes more than 60 years after one of the largest estuary systems on the Central Coast was obliterated to make way for dairy cattle providing milk and butter during World War II.Today, after the last levee is breached and high high tide is restored to most of the 560 acres of former pasture, the Giacomini Wetlands at Point Reyes National Seashore will begin to perform their natural function: restoring the health of Tomales Bay.The new estuary system is integral to a 200-square-mile watershed, where it filters pollutants. It also serves as a habitat and nursery for a menagerie of marine life and birds.As some water has seeped in during the last months, park rangers have reported rare sightings: rays and leopard sharks gliding into the shallows of the former pasture."We couldn't get it back to what it looked like in 1860, and that's OK," said park service hydrologist Brannon Ketcham, standing atop an 8-foot-high berm that was about to be scraped away. "The idea is to return the natural hydraulics, and the habitat will come back. In a year, no one will know we did anything."The new wetlands are at the south end of Tomales Bay, a shallow 12-mile-long finger slicing inland from the Pacific, much of it over the San Andreas fault. The wetlands were first squeezed at the turn of the century when a levee was built at the south end to allow a road. Then the system was blocked off from the bay and drained in 1946 to accommodate west Marin County's burgeoning dairy industry.Over the years, farmers created a network of channels and ditches that redirected and managed the freshwater flow. Without the flushing action from the exchange of freshwater and saltwater, the bay stagnated, became heavy with sediment and ran afoul of the federal Clean Water Act. Much of the wildlife abandoned the site.After the restoration began in 2000, cattle were gradually phased out of the property. By the beginning of last year, they were mostly gone.Park biologists were amazed to discover an immediate bounty of rare species: Tidewater goby, small fish thought to be eliminated from the area, were found in Tomasini Creek, on the property's east side. Elsewhere, biologists found western pond turtles and California red-legged frogs.To accommodate the protected species, project planners created separate refuges.Birds already throng to Point Reyes, which is on the Pacific Flyway. Roughly 45% of North American bird species can be found in the area. But now in the wetlands, rarely seen shorebirds such as greater yellowlegs and the red-necked phalarope have made themselves at home, as have clapper rails, California black rails and northern harriers, also known as marsh hawks.Otters and seals are becoming more common in Lagunitas Creek, a popular destination for kayakers. White sturgeon, steelhead, chinook and coho salmon thrive in the waters. In fact, the state's largest recorded coho, 22 pounds, was pulled from Lagunitas Creek in 1959. About 15% of California's coho are found in this watershed.Restoring the wetlands will do more than help fish, said Lorraine Parsons, a wetlands ecologist with the park service. The project should help protect a small group of homes at the south end of the property that are regularly flooded."When they leveed this, they took out about 50% of the Tomales Bay watershed," she said. "It no longer served as a filtering tool for the water here; it didn't help in flood control."The project was jump-started by $4 million from a California Department of Transportation mitigation fund that allowed the park service to acquire the land from the Giacomini familyi n 2000.After that, the Point Reyes National Seashore Assn., a nonprofit group that funds park projects, scrounged to find $6 million to finance the complicated restoration."It's funny. You'd think that it would be easy to take down levees," Parsons said. "Just come in and mow them down. But actually it has to be given a lot of thought."After barns, fences and irrigation material were removed, heavy-equipment operators followed precisely drawn plans to shave and reshape the berms over months. Lighter equipment with special treads was used in boggy areas, and many of the trucks removing soil operated on bio-diesel fuel.Most federal projects of this size can be expected to draw opposition, but the Giacomini Wetlands effort has garnered surprisingly wide approval, in part because the public will have access to much of the site once it's fully restored.The park, established in 1962, draws about 2.2 million visitors a year, many from the San Francisco Bay Area 40 miles to the south."Park service restoration projects often take place in wilderness or in backcountry," Parsons said. "No one sees them. This is a project that is happening in front of everyone."People are excited. A local woman called me and we talked about the project. She said her whole family was following it. Her 3-year-old was beginning to identify the yellow excavator and the orange one, and the bulldozers. Meanwhile, her 17-year-old was outside with a spotting scope identifying different birds. That's pretty cool."Subprime meltdown culpritsLow-income borrowers and affordable-housing advocates didn't cause the credit crisis. The real villains are greedy mortgage brokers, lenders and investors...Editorial...10-25-08http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-cra25-2008oct25,0,3707034,print.storyAs the cost of Wall Street's credit crisis has mounted, the hunt for villains has intensified and the accusations of fault have widened. At first the focus was on greedy profiteers among lenders and investment bankers, who were an easy (and deserving) target. Then the finger-pointing became politicized, with Democrats blaming deregulation advocates in the Bush administration and previous GOP-controlled Congresses, and Republicans citing influential Democrats at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and their allies on Capitol Hill. Lately, even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who once incited hero-worship among lawmakers, has been heaped with blame.But it's not just the rich and powerful who've been held up for scorn. Some politicians have also started pointing fingers toward the bottom of the economic ladder, associating the problems in the financial markets with irresponsible low-income borrowers and advocates for affordable housing. The latter include the controversial group ACORN, the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which was best known as a lobbyist for low-cost housing before it gained infamy for its fraud-tolerant voter-registration drives. Had banks not been forced to make loans to minorities and people with lower credit scores, some say, the subprime meltdown would not have occurred.Underlying this point of view is the belief that government regulation and intervention in markets cause more problems than they solve. In particular, these critics maintain that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act pushed banks to make bad loans by requiring them to serve low-income neighborhoods. Although the law set no lending quotas or even targets, it enabled community groups to extract concessions from banks that sought to expand or acquire rivals. ACORN, for example, has used the CRA as leverage to compel banks to create pools of loans for low- and moderate-income families. Its efforts have generated about $6 billion in loans to these borrowers, while also generating funds for ACORN’s nonprofit housing corporation. Supporters call that a win-win scenario; critics say it's legalized extortion.Linking the credit crisis to the push for more affordable housing, however, is blaming the victim. Had banks covered by the CRA been the driving force behind the boom in subprime lending, or had Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac been true to their mission of promoting affordable homes and apartments, the housing market wouldn't have inflated as dramatically, and the pain wouldn't have been as great when the bubble burst. Borrowers made their share of mistakes and reckless decisions, but the more fundamental problem is that too many mortgage brokers, lenders and investors stopped caring whether loans could be repaid. They abandoned the underwriting standards that would have protected borrowers and lenders alike.It's easy to dismiss the rap against the CRA if you understand why Congress enacted the law. Commercial banks' reluctance to serve minority and low-income communities had left these areas open to exploitation by less savory sources of credit, such as payday lenders. Consumer advocates pushed Congress to end this redlining because they wanted banks' good lending practices to drive predatory lenders out of those communities. The law and subsequent regulations made clear that banks and thrifts were being asked to try harder to find capable borrowers, not to make loans that were more likely to default. As the Federal Reserve Board put it in Regulation BB, "[T]he board anticipates banks can meet the standards of this part with safe and sound loans, investments and services on which the banks expect to make a profit. Banks are permitted and encouraged to develop and apply flexible underwriting standards for loans that benefit low- or moderate-income geographies or individuals, only if consistent with safe and sound operations."Here are three more data points that show the CRA or affordable-housing efforts in general can't be blamed for the growth in subprime loans. Most subprime loans started with brokers and lenders not covered or affected by the CRA, such as now-defunct New Century Financial. Such loans went mainly to middle- and upper-income borrowers . And the vast majority were for home refinancing, not new purchases. The problem with these refinancings was that they were built on sand -- they existed to generate fees for brokers and lenders and/or to tap equity that would evaporate soon after the bubble burst. Beyond that, a recent study found that loan programs aimed specifically at low-income borrowers have significantly lower default rates than subprime loans in general.The last things anyone wanted from the CRA were the exotic mortgages that have failed at alarming rates, including "liar loans" and "negative amortization" mortgages whose low payments pushed borrowers deeper into debt. So why did those types of loans and other questionable practices proliferate? Because they generated higher returns for lenders and investors.Consider what happened at Fannie and Freddie. Since 2000, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has required that at least half of the mortgages purchased by the companies go to low- and moderate-income borrowers. To hit those targets, Fannie and Freddie -- whose underwriting standards prevented them from buying most types of exotic loans -- invested hundreds of billions of dollars in subprime-backed mortgage securities. The loans underlying those securities, however, had little to do with helping low- and moderate-income families buy homes. Instead, they were refinancings that pulled money out of homes people already owned. No question, Fannie and Freddie's demand for securities poured gas on the red-hot subprime market. But the companies lost half their share of that market during the boom years from 2004 to 2006, so they clearly weren't the only sources of fuel. Congress needs to resolve the tension at Fannie and Freddie between shareholder returns and HUD targets. But as they do so, lawmakers shouldn't pin the rap for the larger credit crisis on affordable housing. Washington PostWatching Yellowstone's WolvesSuccessful Reintroduction Inspires Devotion, Helps Fuel Battle Over Protection...Joel Achenbachhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/25/AR2008102501941_pf.html YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK -- The wolves are back from a hunt, bedding in the tall grass of the Lamar Valley."So that's the alpha male, 480. Two black pups, they're trying to get a regurgitation. . . . Black pup is approaching. . . . Two gray pups are bedding. . . . The black male has bedded to the left. . . . We have a black coming in carrying something. . . . This may be a grouse."Rick McIntyre, a soft-spoken park employee, narrates into a tape recorder as he observes the Druid Peak pack. This pack is thriving, unlike the Slough Creek wolves farther down the valley. Druid Peak wolves killed the Slough Creek beta female one day recently in sight of the wolf-watchers. Three days later, the Slough Creek alpha female turned up dead, possibly killed by other females in her own pack.This is wild stuff, on display for anyone with a viewing scope and a willingness to stand in the cold on the windswept hill that overlooks the glacier-carved valley. Yellowstone rangers say this is the best place on Earth to watch wolves in the wild.But 13 years after being reintroduced to Yellowstone, they remain polarizing animals, generating endless controversy and furious litigation.On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took steps to revive a 2007 proposal to remove the gray wolf of the northern Rockies from the Endangered Species List. Environmentalists howled, calling it a last-gasp effort by the Bush administration to delist wolves.The Fish and Wildlife Service had officially delisted the wolves in March, and afterward wildlife officials in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana developed management plans that included hunting seasons. In Wyoming, anyone could shoot a wolf at any time in most of the state.A coalition of conservation groups sued in federal court. In July, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued an injunction that put the wolves back on the endangered list.Now Fish and Wildlife is reopening its plan for public comment, making clear that it believes the wolves have recovered sufficiently to allow the states to take over their management. Further litigation is a certainty."All wolf stuff will always be in court," says Ed Bangs, the agency's wolf recovery coordinator. Taking the long view, he says that for thousands of years, wolves have been both romanticized and demonized. "Wolf stuff has nothing to do with reality; it's all about symbolism."Dangers and SuccessesThe wolves are fecund -- the bunny rabbits of the predator world.But for every 100 wolves at least six months of age, only 74 will live through the year, Bangs says. Of those that will not, 10 will be killed by government agencies because they attacked livestock. Another 10 will be killed illegally. Another three will die accidentally -- struck by a car, for example. And three will die from natural threats, including being killed by other wolves.Despite the perils of wolf-life, they have proved robust, growing in number by an average of 24 percent a year. Last winter, Bangs says, there were 1,513 wolves in the northern Rockies. But the population has dropped this year, and there will probably be about 1,450 come winter."We're losing a lot of pups this year. I can't tell you why," says Doug Smith, who leads Yellowstone's gray wolf restoration project. Canine diseases may be partly to blame. Diseases such as distemper and parvovirus can spread between dogs and wolves.Smith also suspects that there's an element of self-regulation of population. Yellowstone is now dense with wolves -- 171 of them spread among 11 packs. (The larger Yellowstone ecosystem has about 350 wolves.)"At some point wolves control their own numbers through killing one another," Smith says.They've now spread far from the national park. Ranchers don't want them around. Hunters see them as competition for moose and elk."We was doing fine without 'em," says Gerry Endecott, a ranch manager south of Jackson, Wyo. "In this day and age, it just can't go back to where it was a hundred years ago. If you go back a hundred years, you have to get rid of Jackson and all the people."Bruce Malcolm, a rancher in the Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone, says: "They're not a warm, fuzzy animal. They're a predator." He is dismayed that the wolf hasn't been delisted. "What happens when you start putting these animals up on a pedestal, whether it's a wolf or a bison, is that you lose the ability to manage them, because the managing becomes emotional."A Connection to the WildThere is definitely emotion in the Lamar Valley -- a connection between humans and wolves that no amount of harsh weather can disrupt. Even when it was 37 below, retiree Laurie Lyman went to see her wolves, driving in predawn darkness to her viewing spot on a hill above the road. She had buried herself in clothing, six layers on top, four below, with battery-powered warmers in her boots.Lyman was a schoolteacher in San Diego before moving to a small town just outside the park."I never thought I'd see a wolf in the wild," Lyman says. Now she comes here every day. "I don't want to miss anything. It's compelling. Every day is a new day, every day is different."Enthusiasts cluster along the road through the Lamar Valley, gazing through spotting scopes, recording data and communicating by walkie-talkie with watchers elsewhere in the park. According to McIntyre, the park employee, the last day when no one saw any wolves in Yellowstone was Feb. 8, 2001.They know the wolves individually. They know which packs are robust, which are weak, which have lots of pups and which have none.The first glimpse of a wolf in the wild has driven some visitors to tears, McIntyre says.Justin Hill, from Rapid City, S.D., drove nine hours to get here: "They're mysterious. You really can't go anywhere else in the U.S. to see them.""We need something to control the elk and buffalo," says Don O'Neil, of Butte, Mont., as he peers through his viewing scope.Why does he love the wolves so much?"The sheer wildness of it. This is something we haven't had for a while. Wolves are wild."But maybe not quite wild enough: There are fears that some of the wolves are becoming tolerant of the presence of human beings. Park rangers last year decided that one had lost its fear altogether when it repeatedly came near people.At one point the wolf walked right behind a woman as she was bending over tying her shoe. Park officials intended to kill that wolf, but it vanished. No one is sure what happened to it.Meanwhile there is another wolf that scientists are monitoring, a male from Idaho. The conservationists, biologists, government officials and lawyers for the various litigating organizations are all waiting to see if the Idaho wolves can make a genetic connection with the Yellowstone wolves. But so far, the Idaho male hasn't bred or formed a pack.He's just roaming -- a lone wolf.New York TimesSpeed-Reading at Interior...Editorialhttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/opinion/26sun2.html?_r=1&sq=endangered%20species&st=cse&oref=slogin&scp=2&pagewanted=printIn its closing months, the Bush administration is pulling out all the stops in its eight-year effort to undermine the Endangered Species Act. In mid-August, the administration proposed two dangerous regulatory changes. One would free the government from considering the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on polar bears and other imperiled wildlife. The other would eliminate some expert scientific reviews of federal projects that could harm endangered species. Under the law, such proposed rules changes must be opened for public comment before they take effect. The idea, at least the way we have always understood it, is for the government to listen to what citizens are saying before making important policy changes. Americans are clearly concerned about these new proposals: the agency received 300,000 comments. Last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service, presumably at the behest of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, summoned 15 employees from their field offices to Washington to read the comments. We are delighted that the secretary wanted them read. Unfortunately, the employees were given less than a week to do so. If you assume an eight-hour workday, that means the group was zipping through somewhere north of 7,000 comments an hour. Why so fast? The White House has imposed a Nov. 1 deadline for finalizing all of the regulatory changes it wants to make before Mr. Bush leaves office. This rush job is, obviously, a travesty of the public comment process. It affirms what the Interior Department has so often demonstrated during the past eight years: the public’s input counts for little, whether on snowmobiles in Yellowstone or public lands management or, especially, on the endangered species law. We are confident that both Barack Obama and John McCain would be more sensitive to environmental matters. The unfortunate part is that while it has taken only months for Mr. Bush and Mr. Kempthorne to weaken important protections, it could take years for the next president to restore them.