1-7-09Badlands JournalThe University of California: overbuilt, underfunded, and a reckless investor...Badlands Journal editorial boardhttp://www.badlandsjournal.com/2009-01-06/0070341-6-09Modesto BeeLowering UC's standards has several costs...Doug Ose. Ose, of Granite Bay, is a developer who served three terms in Congress http://www.modbee.com/opinion/community/v-print/story/553747.htmlEditor's note: This article was submitted in response to The Bee's editorial "Changes in UC admissions should improve process" (Jan. 2, Page A-1).Recently the University of California Board of Regents considered a proposal to lower admission standards for incoming freshman. At the heart of the proposal is the elimination of the SAT subject tests and the establishment of a "holistic" admissions process called Entitled to Review.The concern is that eliminating subject tests removes a long- established path to admissions that has a proven record in predicting a student's readiness for success in college. Changing to this new policy invites legal mischief. UCLA has been using "holistic" admissions practices and now faces scrutiny for potential violations of Proposition 209, which outlawed college admissions based on race or ethnicity. Fortunately, a significant public outcry from students and others forced the regents to postpone making any decision until early 2009.Concerns about lower standards have fueled much of the admissions policy debate, but the costs associated with these changes have received considerably less attention. UC officials statewide reviewed the proposal last year and a December 2007 report showed that "divisions and committees listed a number of concerns, which included costs/resources" connected to the proposal. These higher costs were explicitly laid out during the September 2008 regents meeting when the board was informed that "(University of California Office of the President) costs ... are anticipated to increase by at least $1 million annually."The regents were also informed that if the new admissions policy "achieves its goal of substantially increasing the number of students who apply to UC, both UCOP and campuses will see increased costs."The proposal for changing the admissions policy must take account of the changing fiscal situation confronting UC. The global financial crisis has sent shock waves through the state budget and nothing is immune to spending cuts, including the state's higher education system. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed more than $65 million in additional cuts from the UC budget after previously slashing spending by $48 million.Making things worse, the UC endowment has lost $1 billion over the first nine months of 2008, and UC Treasurer Marie Berggren bluntly informed the regents during their November meeting, "It's going to get worse."Financial problems at UC are so severe that the regents warned in November that the university may have to cut freshman enrollment. There's also talk of a possible $215 million hike in student fees. The regents voted against the hike at their most recent meeting, but lawmakers in Sacramento may be forced to revisit the issue.It appears that one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing.Prudent fiscal management would have UC on a cautious approach during these economic times, with a focus on core missions and competencies. Yet UC President Mark Yudof is recommending that the Board of Regents approve a new admissions policy that increases costs while lowering academic standards. This is a lose-lose situation: an admissions policy that dumbs-down academic standards in a costly exercise in social engineering while siphoning scarce resources from a cash-strapped system.Where will the money come from to pay for these new initiatives?The more closely one examines these proposed changes to the UC admissions policy, the worse it looks. Lower standards risk the university's legacy of academic excellence. Higher costs threaten the resources available for scholarly pursuit. The process dashes the hopes of applicants seeking admission to an institution that cannot afford to accept them. It is a trifecta of folly that must be rejected.Merced Sun-StarMerced County CEO Tatum says he's ready to retireTried to call it quits in 2007, but stayed on...CORINNE REILLYhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/626023.htmlFor the second time in a year, Merced County CEO Dee Tatum has announced plans to retire. Tatum, 62, has served as the county's top administrator since 2001. He said Tuesday that he'll leave the post at the end of this year. Tatum made the same announcement in December 2007, then decided six months later to stay on as CEO at the request of the Board of Supervisors. Board members argued it was a bad time for Tatum to go. They said they needed his expertise to help shepherd the county through what's expected to be a difficult year, especially because of the recession and credit crunch.The board approved a 5 percent pay raise for Tatum in exchange for his decision to stay.This time around, Tatum submitted a letter to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17 indicating his new plans to retire at the end of 2009, board chair Deidre Kelsey said after the supervisors' regular meeting Tuesday morning. "He's requesting once again to retire at the end of this year," Kelsey said. "I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Tatum for the time he's spent with us, especially this last year and the next year ahead."Since Tatum agreed in July to stay on as the county's CEO, he has faced some calls for his resignation. In November the Sun-Star reported that the Board of Supervisors approved a 10 percent raise for Tatum's wife, a manager at the county's mental health department, though the supervisors apparently didn't know they'd done so. The pay hike was buried so deeply as part of a budget amendment that none of the supervisors was aware of it, they each have said. The raise was later rescinded. Tatum has said he had nothing to do with the proposal, though it originated in his office. A few local residents have since come to public meetings to call for Tatum's resignation.On Tuesday, Tatum suggested the board begin identifying candidates to succeed him as soon as possible and that it conduct interviews by June to allow some overlap between the new CEO and Tatum.Tatum has worked for Merced County for 12 years. As CEO he oversees all county departments and is responsible for implementing policies set by the Board of Supervisors. He also is charged with the day-to-day management of the county's budget.He earns about $230,000 a year.Under a county policy that rewards its highest-level managers for providing at least a one-year notice of plans to resign or retire, Tatum is eligible for a roughly $11,000 bonus, or 5 percent of his annual base salary. He won't accept the bonus, a county spokeswoman, Katie Albertson, said.Tatum began his public service career when he joined the military in 1972. Serving in both the Air Force and Air Force Reserve, he retired from the military in 2002 at the rank of colonel.He began working for the county in 1996 as director of its mental health department. He previously worked for Fresno County's mental health department. In 1998 he was promoted to the position of assistant county administrator. He took over as CEO three years later.Tatum is the fourth CEO to serve the county in the past 50 years.Merced County ends contract with Castle developerLeaders say firm will still pay $2.1 million it owes...Scott Jasonhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/625985.htmlMerced County leaders junked their contract with the private investment firm that had been pegged to transform Castle Commerce Center into a thriving economic hub.In another move aimed to stimulate the local economy, supervisors authorized money to be spent to show that the Castle center could work as a maintenance hub for the statewide high-speed rail project.Federal Development owes the county $2.1 million in payments it was obligated to make for the past two years. Leaders expect the debt to be cleared soon.The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously and without discussion agreed to cancel its contract with the Washington, D.C.-based company. A staff report cited current economic conditions as the cause for cutting ties.Managers on both sides said the decision was mutual."We have the opportunity, or perhaps the onus, to step up our economic development and marketing of Castle," Chairwoman Deidre Kelsey said after the meeting.The decision again creates questions about Castle Commerce Center's future. The 517-acre complex closed in 1995. Repeated efforts to rejuvenate it have had limited success, and there's not nearly as much activity as leaders envisioned.Still, despite a recession that's hit the Central Valley ever harder, leaders remain optimistic about taking the economic reins once more and starting fresh. "Castle Commerce Center and its airport remain one of the most promising sites in the Central Valley and even in the state," said Mark Hendrickson, who will begin managing the complex Jan. 23.It's too early, he said, to speculate about what options the county may consider in the future. He didn't rule out future public-private partnerships, such as was the case with Federal.With the county back in charge of Castle, the supervisors voted to spend money on a study on whether to set up a maintenance hub at the complex for the proposed high-speed rail project.Meantime, the county will collect roughly $110,000 a month in rent from Castle's 50-some tenants.Merced County signed a five-year contract with Federal Development in December 2006 with the hope that the firm would successfully market and revamp the former base.In exchange for collecting and keeping the tenants' rent, Federal promised to pay $2 million each year to the county. It began missing payments in mid-2007 and maintained a checkered record through last month.Federal Development has blamed its troubles on the foundering economy that made luring private investors difficult."We've enjoyed the opportunity," project manager Sean Arnold said, adding that it was just the wrong time to redevelop Castle because of the economy. "We're leaving in good faith."It plans to transfer control today. In a statement, Federal touted its accomplishments during its two-year run, which included increasing annual rental income and overseeing the selling of some land and buildings. The county, as part of the severance, will use two sales orchestrated by Federal that will probably go toward settling the firm's debt, Assistant County CEO Jim Brown said.The rent revenue wasn't enough to keep Federal from losing money at Castle, he said.The county is now hoping Castle's future will include serving as a maintenance hub for California's first high-speed bullet train.Plans to build a 700-mile passenger rail system that would connect Los Angeles to the Bay Area were first proposed more than a decade ago. With the November approval of a $10 billion bond measure to pay for the first phase of the project, it now appears it may actually be built.On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors voted to revive the county's dormant High Speed Rail Citizens' Committee and spend $40,000 to prepare a feasibility study on building a train maintenance hub at Castle.County officials hope both moves will help convince the state's high-speed rail board that Castle is the right choice for the hub. Several nearby counties are also vying for the designation. While that goes on, Kelsey said the county will keep working to improve and market Castle, its only major economic development opportunity, except UC Merced."We need to pursue it now," she said. "We're trying to get out in the front and catch the wave before it crests."Lieutenant governor offers new blueprint for UC Merced medical schoolStudents could get M.D. in 8 years on 'fast track'...DIANIELLE GAINEShttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/626018.htmlIn the shadow of a tanking economy and with state budget cuts looming for higher education, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi has dramatically recast plans for a medical school at UC Merced. His plan will be unveiled formally at a Fresno event Thursday night, but he revealed some details to the Sun-Star on Tuesday. Basically, Garamendi's new plan would speed up the process of turning out medically qualified graduates. It proposes to enroll promising freshman students on a pre-med track immediately, use community college resources and eliminate summer vacations in order to fast-track graduation. This would create a new cohort of doctors and nurses in the San Joaquin Valley, the lieutenant governor said in an interview. Garamendi, who is also a member of the UC Board of Regents, said the program could be up and running by fall 2010. The Board of Regents will have the final word on the medical school plans. (The lieutenant governor's son, John Garamendi Jr., works as the vice chancellor for University Relations at UC Merced.)Officials at UC Merced said late Tuesday afternoon they were unaware that a new plan was being created and are waiting for more details. "We are very pleased and appreciative that the lieutenant governor is looking for new ways to increase the presence of health care physicians in the San Joaquin Valley," said Patti Waid Istas, executive director of the office of communications. "We are looking forward to seeing the plan unveiled on Thursday and hearing more of the details."The new plan was crafted, in part, after UC President Mark G. Yudof said at a December meeting of the California Postsecondary Education Commission that plans for the medical school were certainly delayed due to a lack of funds and the "newness" of the campus. "A delay for the San Joaquin Valley is a problem -- certainly a problem for the university at Merced and certainly a problem for the men and women and children that live in the Valley," Garamendi said Tuesday. "It will be that much longer before doctors become available."Garamendi said his fast-track medical school plan is more efficient and cost-effective. "There is a crisis," Garamendi said. "And it is not just a budget crisis, it is a medical crisis."But his plan omits one major tenet that's been repeatedly characterized as of utmost importance in the original med school planning documents -- scientific research. Garamendi said that concentrating on general medical education first would allow the school to get up and running, with the more costly task of creating a research program coming later. His intentions were partially revealed in December when he told the Sun-Star that the early emphasis should be on education, "and then, as the school matures, add the research to it." Nursing and medical students enrolled at a UC Merced medical school under Garamendi's plan would graduate with a bachelor of science degree in three years. Then students pursuing an M.D. degree would begin a two-year clinical rotation at clinics and hospitals throughout the San Joaquin Valley.After that general medical education training, required students would begin their residency programs. The entire process would take a minimum of eight years, which includes residency training. Traditional training for medical doctors takes a minimum of 10 years. Other "fast-track medical schools" have been established in Florida, Ohio and New York. Modesto BeeValley lawmakers eye river, irrigation...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureauhttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/555195.htmlWASHINGTON — Some familiar San Joaquin Valley priorities are being resurrected in the 111th Congress, which began Tuesday.Potentially, the new Congress could restore the San Joaquin River; provide money for a Yosemite-area school; design an irrigation drainage cleanup for the valley's West Side; and help distressed homeowners."Unless you solve the mortgage meltdown, you won't be able to stabilize the economy," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said Tuesday.Cardoza, like his valley colleagues, is carrying over to the new Congress some old ideas left unfinished in the 110th Congress. And Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer reintroduced legislation restoring water flows and salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The bill, shrunk from previous versions, provides $88 million over 10 years to the project that will receive funding from other sources.Cardoza pushes ethics billCardoza's first bill of the Congress is likewise a do-over, with a reintroduced ethics package that adds a fine and two-year prison term for a public official "who engages in any conduct in furtherance of a federal felony." A related bill passed the House last year but was stymied in the Senate."It's more applicable than ever," Cardoza said, citing the recent allegations against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.Cardoza was speaking near the House floor, enlivened by the rituals that mark the start of a new Congress. Children were everywhere, including on the lap of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, who held his 1-year-old daughter, Evelyn.A traditional party line vote, the only one of the year in which all House members call out their choices instead of using their voting cards, confirmed Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco as House speaker. Pelosi and her fellow Democrats enjoy a 257-158 margin over Republicans."I don't like being in the minority like this, obviously," said Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, adding that he is "excited about a new administration, and the possibility of working together to solve problems."The party line means some plans are doomed from the start. Nunes, for instance, concedes that the odds are against congressional Democrats approving an energy bill he will be reintroducing that would boost nuclear power production."Obviously, my ideas are not going to become law," Nunes acknowledged, "but it's important to put these ideas out there for public consumption."Most measures never passIn fact, most bills fall short. Last year, House members introduced 2,410 bills. A total of 179 House bills were enacted into law, in some cases folding in bills once introduced separately.Some returning valley issues are entirely parochial. Radanovich plans to reintroduce legislation providing federal funding for the Wawona School and others serving Yosemite National Park employees and concession workers. The current funding bill is running out.Other perennial valley priorities cast a wider net, such as the regular introduction of Armenian genocide commemorative resolutions. These resolutions are politically popular in the valley, with its large Armenian-American population. They are unpopular diplomatically because they antagonize Turkey. Still other returning bills spark fights between traditional antagonists such as farmers and environmentalists. Radanovich will reintroduce legislation from last year to permit more irrigation water to be pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Environmentalists oppose it.Calif. congressman lobbies Obama aide on delta...last updated: January 06, 2009 01:12:22 PMhttp://www.modbee.com/state_wire/v-print/story/554552.htmlSACRAMENTO -- A Democratic congressman is worried about plans to pipe Northern California water around the delta and wants the incoming Obama administration to take a go-slow approach.In a letter to President-elect Barack Obama's environmental adviser, California Rep. Jerry McNerney on Tuesday warned about diverting fresh water away from the delta.He said such a move could destroy the region's natural habitat, while hindering agriculture and commerce.The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the hub of California's water-delivery system. Its maze of levees, islands and river channels funnel drinking water from Northern California's rivers to two-thirds of the state's residents.McNerney sent his letter to Nancy Sutley, Obama's nominee to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.His position puts him at odds with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose administration is examining the environmental effects of building a canal.Fresno BeeFresno County to sue over Rio Mesa developmentSupervisors have change of heart about project in Madera County...Brad Brananhttp://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/1111556.htmlReversing an earlier decision, Fresno County officials decided Tuesday to sue Madera County over the approval of a major development proposal in the Rio Mesa area.Fresno County supervisors voted behind closed doors to file a lawsuit in Madera County Superior Court.Fresno County will challenge Madera County's review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act. The 3,000-home project is planned in the northwest corner of Millerton Lake. Madera County's review of the project doesn't adequately detail how to alleviate traffic that would spill into Fresno County, said John Navarette, interim Fresno County administrative officer. The lawsuit is necessary because Madera County refused Tuesday to grant a legal extension so both sides could discuss how to handle traffic spillover on Friant Road, he said. In voting unanimously to reject the extension request, Madera County supervisors apparently agreed with their staff, who said Fresno County officials had plenty of time to evaluate the project, said Stell Manfredi, Madera County administrative officer.Tuesday's decision by Fresno County supervisors was a reversal from what they decided last month. They rejected a proposal from Navarette to sue Madera County over the project, saying it would hurt the area's economy.Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea said Tuesday that board members were reluctant to sue. But he said the lawsuit won't hold up development of the project because the developer isn't expected to start construction for several years. Perea said he's concerned Madera County will file a suit in retaliation against a Fresno County development.A similar situation happened in recent years between the city of Fresno and Madera County. Fresno sued Madera County over a housing project, and then Madera County challenged the city's approvals of a shopping center and housing development.All three lawsuits were related to traffic crossing the San Joaquin River into the two counties. They were all settled. UC Merced asked to trim med school plansLieutenant governor urges a 'fast-track' program...E.J. Schultzhttp://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/1111521.htmlSACRAMENTO -- A key state official Tuesday said he will urge the University of California at Merced to scale back its medical school plans in favor of a stripped-down version that would turn out new doctors quickly. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who is a University of California regent, said if the university does not change course, the state's budget problems will stall progress on the school, which still requires final approval. To save money, he wants the school to eliminate research programs. He also will urge the university to develop a "fast-track" curriculum in which high school graduates could earn medical degrees in as little as five yearsThe revised program, he said, could be ready to go by the fall of 2010, three years sooner than the current plan."Absent a different path, it is probable that the UC Merced medical school will be significantly delayed," he said in an interview. "My goal is to propose an alternative that would create in short order a medical school to provide the doctors and other practitioners necessary for the San Joaquin Valley."Garamendi plans to unveil the proposal Thursday in Fresno. He also will bring it up for discussion at a UC regents meeting next week, he said.UC Merced officials have not seen the plan, but "we look forward to seeing and reviewing it," said Brandy Nikaido, a university spokeswoman.The university last summer got the go-ahead from the University of California Board of Regents to continue planning for the medical school. But since then, the state's budget problem has worsened considerably. Lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have yet to agree on how to close a more than $40 billion state budget deficit forecast for the next 18 months. The fiscal situation is so dire that regents next week will hold a special meeting to consider curtailing freshman enrollment at campuses for the 2009-10 academic year.UC Merced had hoped to go before regents sometime this year for final approval of the medical school -- but that could be pushed back."We would want to go when the economy shows signs of improvement," Nikaido said.Under Garamendi's plan, students would be recruited from Valley high schools. They would go to school year-round for three or four years to earn a science degree. Then students would do rotations at Valley medical sites for a couple of years before earning a medical degree and starting residencies."Unlike the other five UC medical schools where research competes with clinical practice, UC Merced's priority should be educating new doctors and nurses," Garamendi said in a statement. The Valley has long dealt with a doctor shortage. Civic leaders say a local medical school would help. The closest medical schools now are in San Francisco and Davis.Garamendi said his plan would save money because some of the necessary courses are already offered at UC Merced. Also, students could make use of existing labs at UC Merced and surrounding community colleges.Garamendi could not say exactly how much money would be saved by eliminating research. Other UC medical schools include medical centers that run programs to test new diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.UC Merced's preliminary plan calls for medical students to enter with undergraduate degrees already in hand. Medical students would take their first two years of classes on campus. For their third and fourth years, they would go to the University of California at San Francisco program in Fresno for clinical training. Plans call for the school to be research-based, like the five other UC medical schools, said Nikaido, stressing that the plan is subject to change.Research objectives for the UC Merced medical school include "programs in basic and applied sciences and a signature program in population health with an emphasis on chronic disease and prevention and a particular focus on conditions pertinent to the Valley," according to a UC statement issued last May.With a targeted opening in 2013, the school would have an operating budget of $11 million to $16 million, growing eventually up to $86 million once full enrollment of more than 450 students is reached, according to the statement.Bryn Forhan, co-chair of the Valley Coalition for UC Medical School, said the community group is still pushing for the 2013 opening date. But "we also realize that there's the pragmatic side that the [budget] situation is getting worse." Conservation groups threaten suit over oil shale...JUDITH KOHLER - Associated Press Writerhttp://www.fresnobee.com/641/story/1111631.htmlDENVER -- Environmental groups are threatening to sue the federal government to block plans for commercial oil shale development on nearly 2 million acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.Twelve groups sent letters to Tuesday to the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management saying they will sue unless the potential impacts on endangered species are addressed.They argue the final plan and rules approved late last year violated federal law because the agencies didn't formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They cut Fish and Wildlife Service out of it," said Melissa Thrailkill, an attorney with Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.Documents obtained by the groups under the Freedom of Information Act show that Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were concerned about "information gaps" in the BLM's environmental analysis. The biologists suggested barring leases in habitat for threatened or sensitive species, the documents show."In its rush to pave the way for oil shale development before leaving the office, the Bush administration broke the law once again by refusing to protect the West's endangered wildlife," Thrailkill said.BLM spokesman Matt Spangler said Tuesday the agency had no comment on the environmental groups' claims.Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and other state officials have urged federal officials to delay a final plan and rules for commercial oil shale development, saying there are too many unanswered questions about the effects on water, wildlife, air and local economies.They point out that companies are still experimenting with the technology and that industry and government officials acknowledge that commercial development is several years away.The Bush administration released the final plan for opening the land to shale development in November, a few weeks after Congress - pressured by the White House and Republicans to increase domestic energy - failed to renew a ban on issuing final oil shale regulations.One of the ban's sponsors was Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to head the Interior Department.Shale deposits in northwest Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are thought to hold more than 1 trillion barrels of oil. About 800 billion barrels of that are believed to be recoverable.Four companies have received 160-acre parcels of public land for oil shale demonstration projects in Colorado and Utah, and Shell Exploration & Production has been running tests on private land in western Colorado since the mid-1990s.Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd said the company will likely file for a permit to work on its research lease within the next year. Sacramento BeeNature Conservancy backs Delta canal, with conditions...Matt Weiserhttp://www.sacbee.com/1268/v-print/story/1521634.htmlOne of the nation's largest environmental groups has decided to support building a controversial new water canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.In a statement expected today, the Nature Conservancy calls a canal diverting the Sacramento River around the Delta an "essential component" to restore the estuary and protect water supplies. It thus becomes the first major environmental group to publicly support the project.But the conservancy wants a new and independent governing agency formed first, to ensure that the canal is operated both to enhance the environment and protect water supplies. Resolving such thorny issues is why the group chose to express conditional support for the canal now. "We need to explore something that's new and has more independence, and we need to do that as soon as possible," said Anthony Saracino, the conservancy's California water program director. "The trick really isn't in the engineering; it's in the governance."This conflicts with Schwarzenegger administration officials, who on Friday opted to spend another year debating governance while planning to start canal construction in 2011.It also left other environmental groups puzzling over the announcement.Unlike the debate in 1982, when voters rejected the so-called "peripheral canal," many environmental groups today acknowledge a canal may be an effective solution to the Delta's troubles. But other issues must be resolved first, they say, including operating rules to protect the environment and an independent agency to enforce those rules."They've stated the obvious – that a canal that works for the environment would be acceptable to a wide number of groups," said Laura Harnish, deputy regional director of Environmental Defense. "The problem is, nobody's demonstrated how we do that."Harnish's group and the Nature Conservancy are both part of a coalition of green groups working with state and federal agencies to develop a habitat conservation plan for the Delta. They have stated within that context that a canal is a promising solution – if it can be operated to improve the environment.But until now, none has been willing to publicly announce support for a canal under any terms."They are the first ones out of the box to say 'Yes, this is a good thing, and we need to start talking about how to do it,' " said Laura King-Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors, who formerly worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council for 17 years. "It breaks the ice, and I think that's very helpful."The water contractors, however, disagree that new governance is needed. They want to see Delta operations remain in the hands of existing agencies.The Nature Conservancy is unique compared with other environmental groups, because it also owns huge tracts of land in the Delta: 9,000-acre Staten Island and 1,600-acre McCormack-Williamson Tract.Both are managed for farming and wildlife habitat, and both were purchased, in part, with state grants.Saracino also was once partners in a consulting business with Lester Snow, now director of the state Department of Water Resources. And his wife was once DWR's general counsel and chief deputy director.He said none of these relationships influenced the Nature Conservancy's Delta policies."Even in business, Lester and I didn't always agree, and that continues. We're doing this because we hope we can move the discussion forward."The conservancy's land could be dramatically altered by the state's "dual conveyance" canal plan.The plan includes both an isolated canal around the Delta and a "through-Delta" canal built by bolstering existing levees. The preliminary route would follow the south fork of the Mokelumne River, which weaves along one side of Staten Island.An initial Water Resources study last year states that the Mokelumne River's south fork would be dredged for the project. New levees, much wider and taller than those in place now, would be built to widen the channel.This could take hundreds of acres of farmland out of production and eliminate habitat that exists now."It's not something we're terribly concerned about right now, in part because there's so many details still to work out," said conservancy spokeswoman Shari Cravens. Talks between Yolo, tribe stall over casino expansion...Hudson Sangreehttp://www.sacbee.com/ourregion/v-print/story/1521831.htmlYolo County officials said Tuesday they had reached a stalemate with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians over plans for a massive expansion of the tribe's Cache Creek Casino Resort in the rural Capay Valley.Negotiations ended Monday, and the two sides appear headed to private arbitration under terms of the tribe's compact with the state.The Rumsey Band intends to add 467 hotel rooms, a 62,500-square-foot event center and thousands of square feet of dining, shopping and gambling areas. The overall size of the complex would nearly triple – from 414,000 square feet to more than 1.2 million square feet – over the next two years.The county has little say over the sovereign tribe's expansion plans, but it is seeking millions of dollars to offset the expected increased demands on county services and to mitigate the impact on roads and the environment.Under an earlier agreement, the tribe gives the county $5 million a year to mitigate the impact of the current casino.Supervisor Mike McGowan said the tribe and county agree the cost to the county resulting from the expansion will be about $3 million a year.On other issues – especially road improvements needed to support the expanded casino – the tribe and county remain far apart. County officials want the tribe to pay more than $20 million for road improvements along Highway 16, McGowan said.The projects include building a bypass around Esparto; adding traffic-calming measures downtown; fixing flood-prone spots; installing signals at intersections; and widening the highway to add shoulders, he said.Capay Valley residents and local government shouldn't bear the brunt of the casino expansion, the supervisor said."If you're going to build this behemoth in the valley, what is it going to cost to mitigate the impacts?" McGowan asked.Tribal spokesman Matt Ross said the Rumsey Band intends to fund its share of a long-awaited state safety improvement project along Highway 16, but it doesn't plan to fulfill other county demands.In a statement issued Tuesday, casino General Manager Randy Takemoto said the expansion will create about 1,000 jobs and pump $90 million into the local economy.The casino is already the county's largest private employer.The tribe, he said, is "perplexed" that the county would portray itself as a victim of the tribe's plan to transform the casino into a "world-class destination resort."Both the tribe and county have submitted written proposals that a private arbitrator will weigh."The tribe stands by its offer, which, if accepted, would open the door to a project that would employ hundreds of county residents and provide economic benefits to all of Yolo County," Takemoto said in the statement. Sacramento-area banks face stiff test in 2009...Jim Downinghttp://www.sacbee.com/business/v-print/story/1521578.htmlThe Sacramento region's banks so far appear to be weathering the national recession.But they will be tested this year as defaults shift from residential real estate, which hit big banks worst, to the commercial real estate and small-business sectors – where many local banks are heavily committed."I think most banks are going to see some deterioration in that piece of their portfolio in 2009," said Stephen Fleming, president and chief executive of Sacramento's River City Bank. In the third quarter of 2008, though, Fleming's bank improved its financial footing. River City's Texas Ratio, one measure of an institution's capacity to deal with bad loans, dropped by nearly half. The bank reworked some troubled loans, wrote off others and socked away funds against future losses, Fleming said.The story was similar at American River Bank, Bank of Sacramento and Five Star Bank, all of which posted improvements in the third quarter, according to a Bee analysis of data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.Elsewhere, though, conditions worsened. At relatively small Gold Country Bank in Marysville, bad loans – mainly for construction and land development – jumped from $2.3 million to $6.2 million in the quarter, while reserves remained stagnant. Still, the bank remained below what analysts consider the "danger" area for the Texas Ratio. Gold Country executives were not available for comment Monday or Tuesday.Year-end results for U.S. banks haven't been released yet, but the fourth quarter is thought to have been worse than the third.And for 2009, "There's every reason to believe things will get worse, not better," said economist Sung Won Sohn of California State University, Channel Islands.Today's struggling commercial economy has yet to translate into large amounts of defaults on commercial real estate and business loans, Sohn said. But he expects the total value of troubled loans on U.S. bank books to grow until 2010.That trend threatens hard times for the region's banks, many of which have specialized in local business and commercial real-estate lending.Granite Community Bank, based in Granite Bay, saw its Texas Ratio nearly double in the third quarter, mainly due to troubles in its $38 million residential land- development portfolio.But the bank has a much bigger portfolio – $68 million – of commercial real estate and business loans, according to FDIC figures. Chief Executive David Kaiser said he has redeployed staff in an effort to avoid defaults on the bank's current portfolio, and that he expects the bank's position to improve this year.The Texas Ratio compares the amount of a bank's bad loans with its reserves. The index takes its name from a series of bank failures in Texas in the 1980s. When the ratio topped 100 percent, an analyst with equity research firm RBC Capital Markets found, banks were likely to fail.At the end of the third quarter, the Sacramento region's worst Texas Ratio score, at Gold Country Bank, was 47 percent.Even a very high Texas Ratio isn't necessarily a sign of doom, in part because banks can recover some of the value of their bad assets by selling off loan collateral.But that's often of little use in a bad economy, said Granite Bay-based banking expert Anat Bird."When times are tough, by definition the value of the collateral is a problem," she said. "Otherwise, people would be selling the collateral and getting out from under." Stockton RecordMcNerney on the canal...Alex Breitler's Bloghttp://blogs.recordnet.com/sr-abreitlerRep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, condemned the peripheral canal today in a letter to President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality. As this blog previously reported, the nominee, Nancy Sutley, is a board member for San Francisco-based Baykeeper, parent group of now defunct Deltakeeper. In short, McNerney says a canal could ruin the ecosystem, agriculture and commerce of the Delta, including the Port of Stockton. Other options should be considered, such as water recycling, conservation or even surface storage, he wrote, also asking Sutley to investigate the likely consequences of a canal.Interestingly, many of McNerney's East Bay constituents live in areas that are served by the State Water Project (Livermore, Dublin, etc.) and thus would stand to gain, in theory, a more reliable water supply if a peripheral canal is built.Read his letter:Congress ofn the United StatesHouse of RepresentativesWashington, DC 20515-0511...1-6-09http://online.recordnet.com/projects/blog/2009/0106sutley.pdfNancy Sutley, Council n Environmental Quality Chair designeeObama-Biden Presidential Transition Headquarters451 6th Street NWWashington, D.C. 20001Dear Ms. Sutley,Congratulations on your nomination to serve as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. I look forward to working with you as we address some of our nation's most pressing air and water quality concerns.One issue of particular importance is the crisis that faces the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the West Coast's largest estuary and the hub of California's water distribution system. The Delta provides not only potable water to tens of millions of Californians but some of the most fertile agricultural and in the state as well as innumerable recreational activities and a habitat to hundreds of species including several on the endangered species list.As you know from your service on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board as well as the California State Water Resources Control Board, the Delta is in serious trouble. Over the years the use of the Delta for a variety of purposes, particularly as a statewide water supply system has dramatically jeopardized the health of the estuary. Today, the Delta ecosystem is faced with unprecedented threats including a collapsed fishery, invasive species declining water quality, flood risks and aging and failure-prone levees. Recent drought conditions are exacerbating this situation and bringing increased threats to our water supply.In attempting to address these problems and to continue providing a reliable water supply across the state, dramatic changes to the Delta, which would irreversibly alter the region, are being considered. The Delta Vision Committee just last week announced support for building a canal to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a so-called "alternative conveyance."There is no question that we have to figure out a sensible way to ensure the health of the Delta and provide water for agricultural, industrial, and residential uses statewide. But I am concerned that a conveyance s stem to divert water around the estuary in any form, will destroy the Delta ecosystem and with it the agriculture and commerce including the nation's second largest inland port, the region supports.With the power and responsibility to over see multiple aspects of Delta land and water management the federal government has a larger role to play in determining the future of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.In executing federal water policy in the region, I ask that you fully and accurately investigate the viability of an alternative conveyance taking into account the serious consequences should such a policy be implemented. Concerns have already been raised about the Public Policy Institute of California's benchmark analysis and recommendation regarding a new conveyance system to circumvent the Delta.Additionally, I implore you to pursue other water management strategies that would negate the need for an alternative conveyance around the Delta, including water reuse, conservation recycling, reclamation and perhaps even additional surface storage.The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is not only critically important to those who live, recreate and farm in the Delta region, but to citizens across California and our nation. I look forward to working with you over the coming months as we move expeditiously to address the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.Sincerely,Jerry McNerneyMember of CongressVote on road access measure in Calaveras County postponed...The Recordhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090107/A_NEWS/901070313/-1/A_NEWSSAN ANDREAS - The long-running dispute over whether Calaveras County property owners can build homes on lots even if they can't prove they have a legal way to drive there is not over.An item on Tuesday's Calaveras County Board of Supervisors agenda, if it had been approved, would have allowed single-family homes to be built even in places with no proven road access.A first reading of the measure was approved by the board in December. Since then, one supervisor who voted for the measure, Bill Claudino, left and been replaced by Gary Tofanelli. Tofanelli has yet to have a chance to vote on the issue.The second reading, which would have made the measure law and was scheduled for Tuesday, was put off after members of the board decided they wanted to add language that would require people who pull building permits on lots without legal access not only to sign a statement that they know their lot doesn't have proven access, but also to record that document in county records just as deeds and titles are recorded.The board voted unanimously to seek a way to record such a warning on legally landlocked properties even though several attorneys from the County Counsel's Office warned that it may not be possible under state law."I am not sure we can make that type of document recordable," Assistant County Counsel Janis Elliott said.Upstaged Calaveras needs love...Michael Fitzgeraldhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090107/A_NEWS0803/901070316/-1/A_NEWSThe Calaveras River, the wallflower of Stockton's environment, finally got asked to dance recently with the formation of a group called Friends of the Lower Calaveras River.About time. For decades, everybody has sued and frothed over the San Joaquin River and the Delta. Yet we drive over the Calaveras without giving it a thought.So let's give it a thought. The Calaveras River originates in a sodden meadow in Calaveras County above Jenny Lind.Fed by rain, not snow, it tumbles past ranches, through a wild canyon by Valley Springs and pools an average 164,000 acre-feet of water in New Hogan Reservoir, Stockton's water tank.This Upper Calaveras is mostly on private land. The Friends are adopting the lower, more public, stretch.That part leaves New Hogan, swirls past a Bellota weir and Stockton and joins the San Joaquin River.A seasonal river, the Calaveras dries up part of the year. Yet Delta tides often back up and fill the bed to West Lane or so. Other times the river looks dead.But there's life in the old gal yet. Its residents include bluegill, catfish, even fall-run chinook salmon, which evolved to flourish in an on-again, off-again river.But while Stockton has lavished millions on an events center, marina and even a bubbling gizmo to remove algae along the San Joaquin River, the Calaveras gets bupkis.So Job No. 1 is "really just to increase public awareness," founder Jeremy Terhune said. "For people to value it as a resource, they first and foremost need to understand that it is there."Other jobs: photographing the river; removing a salmon-thwarting weir; replanting native plants along Stockton banks; periodic cleanups; even water quality monitoring.All good stuff. If there's potential for conflict, it is over flows down the Calaveras, which are controlled by Stockton East Water District at New Hogan Dam.Stockton East and federal authorities are about to release a flow plan for public comment. Whether this will be a casus belli remains to be seen. The Friends could play an important role."We don't expect it will go back to a wild river," said Calaveras friend Kari Burr, a biologist. "But we do want to educate the public so they are interested in seeing it function as a river, not just a flood control channel."Why is this important? Well, much of Stockton's natural heritage involves special interests, environmental degradation and '50s-era ideas that need greening.Also, the bleak riverbed embodies a mind-set of civic disengagement that has allowed so many of Stockton's problems to languish. It's high time to snap out of it.History lesson for Delta trusteesBoard briefed on Mountain House campus situation...Alex Breitlerhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090107/A_NEWS/901070315/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - San Joaquin Delta College may be on winter break, but its new Board of Trustees got a crash course Tuesday on the history of the controversial Mountain House project.Lawyers briefed trustees both in private and in public on the decade-long process that got Delta to where it is today - spending millions on a south county campus that some trustees believe is in the wrong place.While no action was taken Tuesday, trustees asked administrators what other options might be considered, such as seeking state funds for a south county campus and saving what's left of the $250 million Measure L bond for improvements at the Stockton campus or other locations.Most of the new board was elected in November after public outcry over bond management. They are arriving as Mountain House finally picks up speed: Portable classrooms are being installed at the site, with classes expected to begin in the fall. A permanent building there is under design.An attorney for a Mountain House developer warned Delta after the election that pulling out of Mountain House, or simply leaving portables at the site, would not fulfill the "spirit and intent" of the agreement between the college and the developer. The college would have to pay back $16 million in fees and costs to developer Gerry Kamilos, the attorney said.An attorney for Delta College said Tuesday night that a campus of portables would not constitute a breach of the agreement."We are fulfilling our obligations," board President Steve Castellanos said after the meeting.As for the future of the Mountain House campus: "We don't know yet what the recommendations will be," he said. "I think now we have it clearly in our heads what the charge is and what the risks are."The tortuous process of seeking a south county campus for Delta included consideration of at least two other sites and years of negotiations. Critics say Mountain House is too far from urban centers to best serve students; one Mountain House resident at Tuesday's meeting, however, said the community is still growing and said the campus plans should move forward."We're one exit away from Tracy," Mike Klinkner said. "I do not believe this project should be abandoned or put off."New Trustee Mary Ann Cox said students will attend other community college districts if Delta's south county campus is not convenient. This puts college funding at risk, she said.Delta President Raul Rodriguez said the new board has an opportunity to say "not so fast" and take a fresh look at the Measure L bond as a whole. The previous board had labeled Mountain House as the top priority, Rodriguez said; as a result, a "disproportionate" amount of money went to Mountain House.About $22.6 million has been spent on that $83.3 million project.Trustee Ted Simas, one of only two trustees remaining from before November's election, told his colleagues that a 45-minute briefing by attorneys wasn't enough to fully explain 10 years of history. But Simas, known for his careful documentation of the Mountain House saga, joked that he might eventually enlighten them."Nobody will ever really know what went on until I write my book," he said.San Francisco ChronicleFormer UC Davis employee gets prison for theft...Wednesday, January 7, 2009http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/01/07/state/n112446S33.DTL&type=printableA former University of California, Davis employee has been sentenced to a year in prison for stealing $160,000 from a federal program.Beverly Benford pleaded guilty in June to one count of stealing government property. The 67-year-old Sacramento resident admitted altering purchase orders from the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program to buy hundreds of items over a six-year period.The items included iPods, camcorders, digital cameras, home security systems, televisions and stereos.Benford worked from 1991 to 2006 at the nutrition program, which teaches those who are eligible for food stamps how to buy nutritious food and handle food safely.During her sentencing Tuesday, she also was ordered to repay nearly $129,000. Benford will not have to pay for items that were recovered.Contra Costa TimesUC to curtail enrollment in 2009...Matt Krupnickhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/education/ci_11388989?nclick_check=1The University of California is preparing to limit the number of freshmen it admits this year, a step brought on by the state budget crisis.The UC Board of Regents will meet Jan. 14 to discuss the best way to cut enrollment, university system officials said Tuesday. The 10-campus, 220,000-student system follows the California State University system in limiting admissions for the fall 2009 term.University leaders did not discuss details of the plan Tuesday, but a UC spokesman said it would likely involve students being denied entrance to the campus of their choice and instead referred to UC Merced, which has more space than other campuses.Administrators expect that plan would lead some applicants to choose other universities, thereby reducing systemwide enrollment. Such strategies have worked in the past, said Steve Boilard, higher-education chief in the state Legislative Analyst's Office.The regents' chairman, Richard Blum, called the state an "unreliable partner" and said the governor's plan to cut UC funding was forcing the university to take drastic action."One day it was going to happen," Blum said. "We're supposed to be getting $10,000 for each additional student, and we're not getting it."The university had long warned it might be forced to turn away qualified students for the first time, especially because the state did not cover the cost of the university's enrollment increase this year. UC had asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pay back that money in 2009-10. But Schwarzenegger's proposed budget neither pays back UC for last year nor provides for enrollment growth this year. A Schwarzenegger representative could not be reached comment late Tuesday.Even with the governor's proposed cuts, his budget assumes sharp fee increases at both state universities — averaging 9.3 percent at UC and 10 percent at Cal State.Both UC and Cal State leaders have said students turned away from the universities could spend their first two years at community colleges, many of which already are having trouble handling booming enrollment."If we can't pick up these kids, hopefully the community colleges can," Blum said. "At the end of the day, you still get a UC diploma."Los Angeles TimesCalifornia Supreme Court to take on state law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrantsThe justices have accepted the case that began with a lawsuit filed by out-of-state students and their parents, who argue that such a benefit violates federal law...Anna Gorman...1-5-09http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-immigtuition5-2009jan05,0,913151,print.storyCalifornia's highest court is poised to be the next battleground in the debate over benefits for illegal immigrants as the justices have agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of a state law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. The decision could affect hundreds of illegal immigrant students who attend community colleges, Cal State and UC campuses and who say they would not be able to afford a higher education if required to pay out-of-state tuition, which can cost more than triple the amount that residents pay. But the outcome could have a broader effect -- at least nine other states, including Oklahoma, New York and Texas, have similar laws providing the reduced fees to illegal immigrants. Although a court decision would not be legally binding in other states, politicians around the country are looking at California as a litmus test for future legal challenges. The state Supreme Court accepted the case late last month and will probably hear arguments later this year.In a letter urging the high court to take up the case, Utah's Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff wrote, "The implications of this decision extend far beyond California, and far beyond a state's ability to set educational policy, into the heart of the national debate about illegal immigration."Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California began with a lawsuit filed in Yolo County in 2005 by out-of-state students and their parents. The lawsuit alleges that education officials are violating federal law by granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants while not offering the same lower fees to students from outside California. "U.S. citizens should have at least the same rights as undocumented immigrants," said one of the plaintiffs, Aaron Dallek, an Illinois native who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2006. Another plaintiff, 2006 UC Davis graduate Onson Luong, said he didn't think it was fair that he, as a native of Nevada, had to pay higher tuition than illegal immigrants. Luong, who majored in biotechnology, worked two jobs during college and owes $15,000 in student loans. "If they are allowing illegals to pay in-state tuition when they aren't even citizens, what kind of message is that sending?" Luong asked. For the 2008-09 school year, out-of-state undergraduates pay about $28,600 to attend a UC school, compared with about $8,000 for students who qualify for in-state tuition. Out-of-state undergraduate students at Cal State campuses pay on average $10,000 more than in-state students. At community colleges, California residents pay $26 per unit, while out-of-state students pay between $140 and $170.Cora Orta, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who is a senior at UCLA, said she could not afford the school if she had to pay the higher tuition. As it is, the in-state fees are a stretch, she said. She is not eligible for loans, so she works part time, crams into a studio apartment with four other students and constantly applies for scholarships."It's been the difference between attending college or not attending," Orta said of the in-state tuition. Matias Ramos, who graduated from UCLA last year, said the out-of-state costs exceed the annual family income for many illegal immigrant students. Ramos, an illegal immigrant from Argentina, said that such students who attend public California colleges and universities are accepted based on their academics, talents and involvement and shouldn't be penalized because of a broken immigration system that leaves them few options.The California Supreme Court case revolves around a 2001 state law, known as AB 540, that permits the tuition breaks. Under the law, illegal immigrant students qualify for in-state rates if they attended a California high school for three years, graduated here and signed an affidavit saying they will apply for permanent residency as soon as they are eligible. The law has remained in effect during the legal challenge.Michael Brady, who represents the out-of-state students and their parents in the case, said California is "completely undermining the intent of Congress" and that the state law should be invalidated because it violates federal immigration law that prohibits states from providing college benefits to illegal immigrants based on residency unless all U.S. citizens are eligible for the same benefits.Brady said that in passing the strict immigration law in 1996, Congress sought to deter people from coming to the U.S. and staying here illegally. "When public benefits are provided, it encourages people to stay here," Brady said. "That is why we have all these laws."But Ethan Schulman, who represents the University of California, said California's law was carefully crafted so it complied with federal law. U.S. citizen students are also eligible for in-state tuition, if, for example, they are from another state but attended a boarding school in California or if they attended high school here but then moved away for college and returned to the state for graduate studies. In the 2006-07 school year, 1,639 UC undergraduate and graduate students received in-state tuition under AB 540 provisions. Of those, about 70% were here legally, while the others were potentially undocumented, in the process of obtaining residency or their status could not be determined, according to university officials. Schulman defended the benefit as a way for illegal immigrant students who have excelled in the state's high schools to attend college. Schulman said he recognized, however, that the controversy wasn't just over the relatively small number of students who receive the tuition break."The larger issue is a political issue, and that is how undocumented immigrants who live and work in our state are to be treated," Schulman said. The undocumented students also have long-standing ties to California and have worked hard to make a better life for themselves and their families, often overcoming substantial obstacles, said Nicholas Espiritu, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also involved in the case."They have earned the right to be there," Espiritu said. "These are students who are coming from, oftentimes, very low-income areas and underperforming schools, who are finding ways to really achieve and succeed in education despite almost every roadblock imaginable being put in their path." A UC for allMore out-of-state students? It's an idea worth considering...Editorialhttp://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-uc7-2009jan07,0,3175860,print.storyAs a way of closing California's $41-billion budget shortfall, admitting more out-of-state applicants to the University of California system seems almost quaint. Even if every one of the system's 220,000 students paid $150,000 toward the state's shortfall, it still wouldn't staunch the red ink.But the idea is being floated nonetheless, and it's hard not to take it seriously. In a year when elementary schools may close, when the school year may be shortened, when parks may be shut down, when the poorest residents may lose healthcare, it's certainly conceivable that a few Californians might have to lose their spots in the university system to students from elsewhere, because out-of-state tuition is higher than that charged to residents. Currently, about 6% of UC undergraduates are non-Californians.Though this move won't solve the budget mess, it's worth considering anyway. For generations, the University of California has served as the intellectual core of this state and as an agent of social and economic mobility. From its earliest years, the system was coeducational, serving this state more completely than many universities elsewhere. Educators and astronauts; governors, members of Congress and a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; athletes, actors and authors -- all have passed through its halls and plazas, taken its blessings into the world and achieved greatness. The University of California taughtJackie Robinson and Earl Warren, Alice Waters and Joan Didion, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Antonio Villaraigosa. But the system never existed merely to educate Californians. It serves more broadly to advance the intellectual and cultural life of California, not just by educating its sons and daughters but by drawing others here.Indeed, the admissions debate is less about the budget than about identity, a fact exquisitely highlighted by news that even as the state considers admitting more nonresidents, the California Supreme Court will soon hear arguments on whether students who are here illegally may pay in-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities. Are those students properly thought of as Californians, because they live here, or out-of-state residents, because they arrived under unorthodox circumstances? We opt for the broadest definition of "Californian" and hope that the state will continue to educate as many young people as it can, drawn from the widest possible area, mindful of its budgetary troubles but not constrained by them. California did not become the expansive and prosperous place it is by shutting its borders.Recession creates a load of problems for truckersCuts at firms are pushing more haulers into the ranks of independent owner-operators, spurring bidding wars for fewer jobs...Ron Whitehttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-nutruckers7-2009jan07,0,1800797,print.storyIn early December, trucker Joe Rini learned that his own personal recession had just gotten worse. ¶ One of his best clients called about a load of building materials that needed to travel to the Pacific Northwest, Northern California and Colorado -- normally a $4,400 job. Rini offered to do it for $3,400. ¶ But before Rini's truck had arrived to pick up the load, the Cleveland-area customer of more than four years called back. Another trucker had offered to do the job for $400 less. Would Rini match it? ¶ The answer, which was hard to spit out, was no. ¶ "I didn't want to bid that low in the first place," said Rini, speaking from the road as he completed a trip from Ohio to California and Arizona and back to Ohio. "I start down that slope and I'm out of business." ¶ "This has been going on a lot lately. People willing to bid so low just to get anything in their trucks," Rini said. "Finding loads in the areas you need has become a hair-pulling experience." ¶ There are few occupations that feel every jolt along the nation's economic highway as deeply as trucking does. Every fuel price surge, such as when diesel hit $5 a gallon last summer, is an immediate hit that can turn a profitable run into a money-loser. The average American might not notice an auto plant closing or business bankruptcy. For truckers, such events represent another loss of steady work. And with so many industries cutting back, 2008 will go down in modern trucking annals as the worst year ever.After October -- which is normally the busiest month on the road for the holiday season -- turned out to be the worst October for hauling cargo by truck in five years, the American Trucking Assn. reported a slight rise in business in November.But the trade group's chief economist, Bob Costello, warned that "the freight outlook remains bleak."A total of 785 trucking companies with a combined fleet of about 39,000 trucks went out of business in the third quarter, bringing the number of company trucks idled in the first nine months of 2008 to more than 127,000, or 6.5% of the industry, reported Donald Broughton, trucking analyst and managing director of Avondale Partners."Never have more trucks been pulled off the road in a shorter period of time than in the first three quarters of this year," Broughton wrote in his third-quarter analysis of the trucking industry.That has pushed tens of thousands of drivers who had been on company payrolls out to compete for slices of the smaller cargo pie with the nation's independent owner-operator drivers, who were already struggling. It's the reason for the desperately low bids facing Rini of Grand River, Ohio, and other truckers."I would estimate that we probably lost work for about 100,000 drivers in the first half of 2008 when diesel hit that record high price," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. "It's hard to know exactly because they don't report it anywhere. They just go away, and they haven't been missed that much yet because the economy has been so bad."Worse, Spencer said, are all the regulations in what he calls the "supposedly unregulated" trucking industry that are making it more difficult for the average driver to survive. Spencer cited work-hour regulations that allow for 11 hours of driving followed by a requirement of at least eight hours of sleep, which many truckers find difficult to do all at once.Spencer also pointed to post-9/11 security concerns and the commercial encroachment of land formerly set aside for rest areas and truck stops, making it increasingly difficult to find places around the U.S. where it's acceptable for a driver to park his rig for several hours.In addition, more states such as California are adopting tougher environmental regulations that require drivers to use the newest, cleanest and most expensive rigs."Most of our members are trying to find a niche -- earn enough to stay in business this year," said Spencer, noting that the group's average member is 50 years old, has been driving for about 20 years, owns 1.8 trucks, has no medical insurance or retirement plan and clears about $40,000 annually after taxes.Driver DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, Wis., found a niche more than a year ago when he got the chance to work directly for the five Brennan's Markets, headquartered in Monroe, Wis., instead of working through a freight broker."If I didn't have them, my business would be dead," Marshall said. "I'd be out there struggling for work just like everyone else."When Brennan's and other customers saw Marshall's fuel costs spiraling out of control last spring and summer, running his costs per mile up from 53 cents to 93 cents, they were willing to pay a fuel surcharge to keep his truck rolling.To compensate for the fact that even Brennan's orders were getting smaller, Marshall redoubled his efforts to find alternative cargo to carry, so much so that he expected to gross more than $300,000 in 2008 -- which would be his best year ever.It sounds like a lot, Marshall says, until he starts subtracting.There was $109,000 spent on fuel through mid-December, even after the collapse to about $2.40 a gallon from diesel's all-time record national average of $4.764 a gallon July 14. He's paying $2,580 a month for his $133,000, 2007 Kenworth W900 rig, $980 a month for the $74,000 refrigerated trailer he's paying off and $7,910 for the refrigeration unit. Insurance costs him an additional $850 a month.And in the back of his mind is January and beyond, when he suspects there will be more layoffs and even more truck drivers out there looking to undercut his rates."If a plant closes and a guy has been hauling freight for them no longer has that business, the easiest way for him to find another haul is to cut someone else's rate," Marshall said, with only a trace of sarcasm in his voice as he drove north on California 99 to pick up a load of raisins, oranges and carrots for Brennan's. "It's the free-enterprise system at work."In Long Beach, Ventura Transfer Co. has been in the bulk-products hauling business since the 1860s. The company hauls liquid cargo such as fuel additives, cleaning agents and solvents, and dry cargo such as various kinds of plastics, as well as some hazardous cargo. It also maintains its own rail yards for transloading, which is shifting cargo from one mode of transportation to another.But 2008 was the first year in which the company, which owns 40 rigs, 100 trailers and uses both employee drivers and independent owner-operators, struggled to find new ways of earning money just to keep pace with 2007."We have put tremendous pressure on our salespeople," said Brian Oken, chief executive of Ventura Transfer."Gone are the days where you can own a trucking fleet and just rely on the demand of the marketplace," Oken said.Ventura Transfer has begun repairing damaged cargo containers and markets itself as available to quickly transfer the cargo out of any damaged container and move it into a new box quickly enough to avoid shipment delays."We can't be a jack of all trades, but we can pick two or three new jobs and be really good at them," said Oken, who added that the new work has helped the company avoid any layoffs. "If we were in transportation only now," Oken said, "we would be dying."New York TimesE.P.A.’s Doctor No...Stephen L. Johnson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, Dec. 31, 2008http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/opinion/l07epa.html?sq=pollution&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=printTo the Editor:Here’s why your Dec. 25 editorial “E.P.A.’s Doctor No” misses the mark.In 2002, President Bush asked Congress to give the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to develop a market-based strategy for controlling interstate pollution. Congress failed to act, and the E.P.A. developed the Clean Air Interstate Rule using existing authorities. The Court of Appeals has now said the E.P.A. acted beyond its authority. Action by Congress would have avoided this uncertainty.With respect to energy security and climate change, in 2007, as the president requested, Congress enacted legislation to increase renewable fuels production and improve fuel economy. The Department of Transportation and the E.P.A. are working to carry out these programs.More needs to be done on other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, but existing Clean Air Act authorities could well be cumbersome and ill suited. Congress should act to avoid years of litigation and regulatory uncertainty.Hundreds of Coal Ash Dumps Lack Regulation...Shaila Dewan http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/us/07sludge.html?sq=mining&st=cse&scp=5&pagewanted=printThe coal ash pond that ruptured and sent a billion gallons of toxic sludge across 300 acres of East Tennessee last month was only one of more than 1,300 similar dumps across the United States — most of them unregulated and unmonitored — that contain billions more gallons of fly ash and other byproducts of burning coal.Like the one in Tennessee, most of these dumps, which reach up to 1,500 acres, contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium, which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be a threat to water supplies and human health. Yet they are not subject to any federal regulation, which experts say could have prevented the spill, and there is little monitoring of their effects on the surrounding environment. In fact, coal ash is used throughout the country for construction fill, mine reclamation and other “beneficial uses.” In 2007, according to a coal industry estimate, 50 tons of fly ash even went to agricultural uses, like improving soil’s ability to hold water, despite a 1999 E.P.A. warning about high levels of arsenic. The industry has promoted the reuse of coal combustion products because of the growing amount of them being produced each year — 131 million tons in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990.The amount of coal ash has ballooned in part because of increased demand for electricity, but more because air pollution controls have improved. Contaminants and waste products that once spewed through the coal plants’ smokestacks are increasingly captured in the form of solid waste, held in huge piles in 46 states, near cities like Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Tampa, Fla., and on the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. Numerous studies have shown that the ash can leach toxic substances that can cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems in humans, and can decimate fish, bird and frog populations in and around ash dumps, causing developmental problems like tadpoles born without teeth, or fish with severe spinal deformities. “Your household garbage is managed much more consistently” than coal combustion waste, said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who testified on the health effects of coal ash before a Congressional subcommittee last year. “It’s such a large volume of waste, and it’s so essential to the country’s energy supply; it’s basically been a loophole in the country’s waste management strategy.”As the E.P.A. has studied whether to regulate coal ash waste, the cases of drinking wells and surface water contaminated by leaching from the dumps or the use of the ash has swelled. In 2007, an E.P.A. report identified 63 sites in 26 states where the water was contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps, including three other Tennessee Valley Authority dumps. Environmental advocacy groups have submitted at least 17 additional cases that they say should be added to that list.Just last week, a judge approved a $54 million class-action settlement against Constellation Power Generation after it had dumped coal ash for more than a decade in a sand and gravel pit near Gambrills, Md., about 20 miles south of Baltimore, contaminating wells. And Town of Pines, Ind., a hamlet about 40 miles east of Chicago, was declared a Superfund site after wells there were found to be contaminated by ash dumped in a landfill and used to make roads starting in 1983.Contamination can be swift. In Chesapeake, Va., high levels of lead, arsenic and other contaminants were found last year in the groundwater beneath a golf course sculptured with 1.5 million tons of fly ash, the same type of coal ash involved in the Tennessee spill. The golf course opened in 2007.State requirements for the handling of coal ash vary widely. Some states, like Alabama, do not regulate it at all, except by means of federally required water discharge permits. In Texas, the vast majority of coal ash is not considered a solid waste, according to a review of state regulations by environmental groups. There are no groundwater monitoring or engineering requirements for utilities that dump the ash on site, as most utilities do, the analysis says. The lack of uniform regulation stems from the E.P.A.’s inaction on the issue, which it has been studying for 28 years. In 2000, the agency came close to designating coal ash a hazardous waste, but backpedaled in the face of an industry campaign that argued that tighter controls would cost it $5 billion a year. (In 2007, the Department of Energy estimated that it would cost $11 billion a year.) At the time, the E.P.A. said it would issue national regulations governing the disposal of coal ash as a nonhazardous waste, but it has not done so.“We’re still working on coming up with those standards,” said Matthew Hale, director of the office of solid waste at the E.P.A. “We don’t have a schedule at this point.” Last year, the agency invited public comment on new data on coal combustion wastes, including a finding that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold. If such regulations were issued, the agency could require that utilities dispose of dry ash in lined landfills, considered the most environmentally sound method of disposal, but also the most expensive. A 2006 federal report found that at least 45 percent of relatively new disposal sites did not use composite liners, the only kind that the E.P.A. says diminishes the leaching of cancer-causing metals to acceptable risk levels. The vast majority of older disposal sites are unlined.Most coal ash is stored wet in ponds, like the one in Tennessee, almost always located on waterways because they need to take in and release water. But scientists say that the key to the safe disposal of coal ash is to keep it away from water, by putting dry ash into landfills with caps, linings and collection systems for contaminated water.Environmentalists, scientists and other experts say that regulations could have prevented the Tennessee spill. Andrew Wittner, an economist who was working in the E.P.A.’s office of solid waste in 2000 when the issue of whether to designate coal ash as hazardous was being debated, said the agency came close to prohibiting ash ponds like the one at Kingston. “We were going to suggest that these materials not be wet-handled, and that existing surface impoundments should be drained,” Mr. Wittner said.If storing coal ash were more expensive, environmental advocates say, utilities might be pushed to find more ways to recycle it safely. Experts say that some “beneficial uses” of coal ash can be just that, like substituting ash for cement in concrete, which binds the heavy metals and prevents them from leaching, or as a base for roads, where the ash is covered by an impermeable material. But using the ash as backfill or to level abandoned mines requires intensive study and monitoring, which environmentalists say is rarely done right. The industry takes the position that states can regulate the disposal of coal ash on their own, and it has come up with a voluntary plan to close some gaps, like in the monitoring of older disposal sites. “There probably isn’t a need for a comprehensive regulatory approach to coal ash in light of what the states have and our action plan,” said Jim Roewer, the executive director of the Utility Solid Wastes Activity Group. Mr. Roewer said there was a trend toward dry ash disposal in lined landfills, though that trend was not identified in the 2006 federal report on disposal methods.Environmentalists are skeptical of the industry’s voluntary self-policing plan and the states’ ability to tighten controls. “The states have proven that they can’t regulate this waste adequately, and that’s seen in the damage that is occurring all over the United States,” said Lisa Evans, a former E.P.A. lawyer who now works on hazardous-waste issues for the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice. “If the states could regulate the industry appropriately, they would have done so by now.”Utility companies are often aware of problems with their disposal system, Ms. Evans said, but they put off improvements because of the cost.The Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the Kingston Fossil Plant, where the Tennessee spill occurred, tried for decades to fix leaks at its ash pond. In 2003, it considered switching to dry disposal, but balked at the estimated cost of $25 million, according to a report in The Knoxville News Sentinel. That is less than the cost of cleaning up an ash spill in Pennsylvania in 2005 that was a 10th of the size of the one in Tennessee. Silence as Nascar Testing Ban Begins...Richard S. Changhttp://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/silence-as-nascar-testing-ban-begins/?pagemode=print“For the first time since anyone can remember, the first Monday morning of the New Year did not begin with the sounds of 358-cubic-inch monsters roaring to life at the Daytona International Speedway,” wrote Ryan McGee for ESPN.The near silence was the result of Nascar’s ban on preseason and in-season testing at its tracks.The testing ban, which should save teams an estimated $1 million a car per test, is part of a series of cost-cutting measures that have been made during the economic crisis, to which Nascar has been particularly vulnerable.Brian France said in December that many major longtime sponsors have pulled back. “They’re making cuts, and we’re affected,” he said.Mr. France is also considering reducing the number of team members permitted at each race, which would save teams $500,000.But the initiatives come too late for many teams, including Richard Petty Enterprises, which signed a merger agreement with Gillett Evernham Motorsports last month, according to Fox Sports.The conditions of that merger are expected to be revealed this week. The Petty name will most likely live on, but the shop will close down — more silence, which will be tough getting used to.“We are creatures of habit in this sport; we stick to routines,” Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, told ESPN. “When we go down in early January we stay at the same place, eat at the same restaurant, say hello to the same folks; it’s just part of the deal. That said, it sure did cost us a lot of money …”CNN MoneyPricing in a jobs apocalypseStocks tumbled after bleak jobs reports Wednesday but they didn't get crushed. It could be a sign that investors are slowly but surely getting used to bad news...Paul R. La Monicahttp://money.cnn.com/2009/01/07/markets/thebuzz/index.htm?postversion=2009010716NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- There is no way around it. This is the worst job market in years and it's going to get even tougher. Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) announced Tuesday it was eliminating 13% of its global workforce. Payroll-processor ADP (ADP, Fortune 500) said Wednesday morning that 693,000 private-sector jobs were lost in December, raising fears of an equally bleak, if not even more grim, employment report from the government on Friday morning. And to cap that all off, the Federal Reserve revealed Tuesday in the minutes from its last meeting that many Fed members expect unemployment to rise "significantly" into 2010.With this in mind, it's not surprising that stocks fell hard Wednesday morning. But the initial sell-off -- about 2% -- was tamer than might have been expected. It wasn't one of those Acapulco cliff-dive drops that were routine back in September and October. Talkback: How high will the unemployment rate go?"It's hysterical that a 2% down day seems pretty good. But we've been immunized because some of the bigger moves in the past few months," said Paul Nolte, director of investments for Hinsdale Associates, a money-management firm based in Hinsdale, Ill. Stocks took a turn for the worse as the day progressed though. The Dow finished Wednesday down 2.7% and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each gave up about 3%.Still, other market experts suggested Wednesday that the lack of a truly bloodcurdling plunge could be a sign that investors are finally getting used to the fact that this is going to be a long, painful recession."My guess is that most people who were going to sell have already done so. I don't see a lot more en masse selling," said Phil Dow, director of equity strategy for RBC Capital Markets in Minneapolis. This doesn't mean that the stage is set for a major rally anytime soon. Dow said that many average investors he talks to are still "scared to death" and looking to avoid risk. But he said there does seem to be a growing sense that stock prices now adequately reflect the gloom-and-doom to come."Within the framework of 2008's huge decline, stocks are still trading in the deep end of despair. When we look back, we will view this as a historical buying opportunity," he said.Jason Tyler, director of research operations for Ariel Investments, a money-management firm based in Chicago, agreed that investors are slowly but surely coming to grips with the weak economy. For this reason, he doesn't expect stocks to get whipsawed around as sharply as they did last year."Volatility is down dramatically and coming back to normal levels," Tyler said. "People had no idea how to price anything in the fourth quarter. But emotional uncertainty leading to dramatic price changes has mostly abated." In fact, Tyler said he thinks that the market is already factoring in the likelihood of the unemployment rate rising above 8% in the next few months. The unemployment rate was 6.7% in November and economist expect that it hit 7% in December."The market has priced in a pretty bearish employment picture," he said. "As companies look at what the holiday season was like, there is not a case to invest and hire and spend. Businesses are still looking heavily at layoffs and managing to reduce expenses." Along those lines, Nolte said fourth-quarter earnings for many companies will probably be terrible as well. Businesses have already been preparing investors for bad results.According to several reports, Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) CEO Ken Lewis said in an internal memo Tuesday that the bank's results for 2008 would be worse than expected. And on Wednesday, semiconductor giant Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) and media firm Time Warner (TWX, Fortune 500), the parent company of CNNMoney.com, both lowered fourth-quarter forecasts. Nolte predicts that the combination of more bad economic news and weak corporate profits will probably lead to a rough start for stocks this year. But he thinks that investors will eventually look past the unrelenting tide of negative headlines and prepare for the possibility of a rebound."There will be impatience about the economy turning around but what's going to happen over the course of the year is there will be a divergence between the markets and economy," he said. "The economy probably won't recover until early 2010 but stocks could start to rally as investors anticipate the recovery."And one market strategist said that while it's probably premature to say the worst is definitely over for stocks, the economic news will have to be truly scary to justify another major plunge. "The market is prepared for trillion dollar deficits, a Hail Mary stimulus package and rising unemployment. It will take some pretty grim data to send stocks back to the lows from last October," said Chip Hanlon, president of Delta Global Advisors, an investment advisory firm in Huntington Beach, Calif.