1-8-09 Merced Sun-StarMerced County Supervisor Pedrozo to host town hall meetingshttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/628026.htmlMerced County Supervisor John Pedrozo will host a series of town hall meetings in his district over the next month, beginning today. Pedrozo's district includes the communities of Celeste, Tuttle, El Nido, Le Grand, Planada and parts of Livingston and South Merced. The meetings are meant to provide the public with information about issues facing the county and state, Pedrozo said in a statement. County department heads will be on hand to answer citizen questions. Representatives for Congressman Dennis Cardoza, State Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani will also be there. "As we begin this new year, I want to encourage the residents of District One to participate in these town hall meetings and come out and voice any concerns they might have," Pedrozo said. The meeting schedule is as follows:South MercedTenaya Middle School multipurpose room760 W. 8th St.Jan. 8, 7 p.m.LivingstonLivingston City Council Chambers1416 C St.Jan. 15, 7 p.m.Le GrandLe Grand Legion Hall12560 LeGrand RoadJan. 29, 7 p.m.PlanadaPlanada Community Hall9167 E. Stanford Ave.Feb. 5, 7 p.m.For more information, call (209) 385-7366. Cardoza submits plan to refinance mortgagesCongressman's bill puts Treasury's bailout money in citizens' hands...SCOTT JASONhttp://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/628022.htmlRep. Dennis Cardoza proposed a bill Wednesday to have the government refinance mortgages for all homeowners in an effort to stop foreclosures, put more Americans in homes and jump-start an economy in recession.A vocal proponent of lower mortgage rates, Cardoza, D-Merced, said his plan goes to the core of what caused the economic crisis: the ravaged housing market."This proposal is the quickest, easiest and most effective way to help the economy," Cardoza said over the phone from Washington, D.C. "You cannot fix the economy unless you fix the foreclosure crisis."Locally, real estate agents say any plan that could stem foreclosures should be considered positively.The fate of the Housing Opportunity and Mortgage Equity Act remains uncertain as Cardoza must gain the support of fellow legislators as well as President-elect Barack Obama.Cardoza spent the afternoon pitching his plan to House leadership, with the hope of funding the program with part of the remaining $350 billion of the $700 billion bailout.The biggest hurdle, he said, will be getting other representatives to comprehend the dire state of the Valley's housing market and then to support foreclosure relief. "It's contagious, and it will affect your area too," Cardoza said he tells them.Predictions about the housing market have been grim. Cardoza sent a Fortune magazine article to other representatives showing that housing values will continue to slide. For Fresno, the median price is expected to decline by 21.6 percent in 2009. In Stockton, that figure is at 24.7 percent. Merced isn't listed.Similar approaches to what Cardoza proposed have been considered by the U.S. Treasury and advocated by a dean and a vice dean at Columbia University Business School, but haven't gained momentum.As introduced to Congress, Cardoza's bill would allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages at a fixed 4 percent interest rate for a 30-year term through mortgage holders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.Such a plan, as estimated by outside economists, would cost around $100 billion, Cardoza said.The benefit would be threefold. First, homeowners teetering on the verge of foreclosure would probably be able to keep their houses. Second, stable homeowners would be able to lower their monthly payment, savings that Cardoza said would essentially be a monthly economic stimulus check.Third, the plan would help potential homeowners buy a house. That would reduce the supply of vacant homes and slow -- or stop -- house value declines.The Treasury in early December was considering a plan close to what Cardoza proposed, but nothing ever materialized. He believes they ran out of time as the White House transition began.Under a plan similar to Cardoza's, about 34 million households could save an average of $428 every month by refinancing, two Columbia University Business School leaders wrote in a Dec. 17 Wall Street Journal opinion piece. R. Glenn Hubbard, a dean at the school, and Christopher J. Mayer, a senior vice dean and a professor of finance and economics, based their figures on a 4.5 percent interest rate.Such a solid deal would also create about 1.6 million new homeowners, they wrote."Finally, a decrease in the mortgage rate, even though it is intended be a temporary intervention in the present exigency, plants a seed for future thought," they wrote. "Given the chaos of the recent past, wouldn't a return to simple, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with a low rate be the right foundation for the long-term future?"Michele Gabriault-Acosta, president of the Merced County Association of Realtors, said she knows of a variety of Mercedians who would benefit from Cardoza's plan. One homeowner, she said, has been trying to refinance his mortgage because he pays $3,000 a month. The loan company refused to negotiate, she said.Another client is looking to buy a home for the first time and was looking for one under $150,000. A search of the listings turned up 268 homes. Gabriault-Acosta said, "(4.5 percent) would be an excellent rate to help people across the board."Another real estate agent, Dorothy Kielty, said Cardoza's idea sounded promising, but wondered if the paperwork to refinance millions of mortgages would bog down the effort.Stopping the wave of foreclosures, Cardoza said, is akin to catching a tiger. The government has been trying to grab its tail with slippery hands. This bill, he hopes, will put a set of steel bars in front. That all depends on whether Congress and the president will decide it's the right plan and give him the steel.Modesto BeeUC Merced med school plan due today...E.J. Schultz, Bee Capitol Bureauhttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/556640.htmlSACRAMENTO — A key state official intends to unveil a plan today to urge UC 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, a University of California regent, said Tuesday that 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 will urge the university to develop a "fast-track" curriculum in which high school graduates could earn medical degrees in as few as five years.The 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," Garamendi said. "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."He plans to unveil the proposal today in Fresno. He 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 UC Board of Regents to continue planning for the medical school. But since then, the state's budget problem has worsened considerably.Lawmakers and Gov. Schwarzenegger have yet to agree on how to close a more than $40 billion state budget deficit forecast for the next 18 months. The situation is so dire that regents next week will have 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 facilities 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.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 offered at UC Merced. Also, students could make use of labs at UC Merced and surrounding community colleges. He 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 diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.UC Merced's preliminary plan calls for medical students to enter with undergraduate degrees in hand then take two years of classes on campus. For their third and fourth years, they would get clinical training at the University of California at San Francisco medical education program in Fresno.Fresno BeeRetirees leave DFG with new feel for '09...Marek Warszawskihttp://www.fresnobee.com/sports/outdoors/story/1114661.htmlSignificant change is under way at the Department of Fish and Game following the retirement of three senior managers with more than a century of combined experience of ecological policy making and protecting natural resources.Staff at the DFG's Region 4 office in Fresno have bid farewell to regional manager Bill Loudermilk, aquatics program manager Dale Mitchell and executive-level biologist Randy Kelly. Their last day was Dec. 31.All fish biologists by training, Loudermilk, Mitchell and Kelly leave a trail of policies and programs throughout the 12-county region that stretches from the Central Coast to the Sierra Nevada crest. "It's a huge transition, one that's going to take a while to sink in," DFG personnel specialist Krista Lowenthal said.Steve Haugen, who worked with all three men as watermaster of the Kings River Water Association, added, "That's an awful lot of experience to walk out the door hand in hand."The DFG's Region 4 includes 160 permanent employees, four fish hatcheries, four wildlife areas and several ecological reserves, and has an average annual budget of $15 million.Although headquartered in the same building on Shaw Avenue, these resource managers and biologists are a separate branch of the DFG from the law-enforcement division.Loudermilk's replacement is Jeffrey Single, the region's terrestrial program manager since 2000. Mitchell's position is vacant, as is the one Single just vacated. Kelly has spent the past few years away from the regional office while supervising one of the department's highest-profile fisheries projects.Single said all three men spread not only their vast knowledge but also a sense of commitment and motivation to help protect the state's natural resources."It's daunting, but they've left a legacy," Single said. "They've also left their phone numbers, which I'm sure I'll be calling."We'll do the best we can."Loudermilk, 59, said he was looking forward to working in the private sector and lending time to the DFG as a volunteer as well as devoting more time to hunting, fishing and traveling.As regional manager since 1999, Loudermilk played a key role in helping shape statewide DFG policies and procedures in areas ranging from budgets and litigation to endangered species, land usage and food safety."This job goes far beyond hunting and fishing," he said.During his 34 years with the DFG, Loudermilk supervised salmon restoration projects on the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers, co-founded the Salmonoids in the Classroom education program that has spread to 100 area classrooms and helped steer the Kings River Fisheries Management Program that ensures year-round flows in the tailwater fishery east of Fresno.For the past two years, Loudermilk said he and Mitchell sought ways to mitigate the impact of their retirements by ensuring remaining staff received the training they would need to succeed in supervisory roles."One of the jobs of a manager is to build a bench for the future," Loudermilk said. "I feel very good about the transition. The region is in good hands."Mitchell, also 59, has been around fish his entire life. He practically grew up at the San Joaquin Hatchery in Friant, which at the time was managed by his father, Earle.At 19, Mitchell began his 40-year DFG career as a seasonal aide whose duties included fish tagging, taking fish censuses and surveying backcountry lakes. As aquatics program manager since 1999, he served as lead negotiator for the Kings River Management Program and worked with Southern California Edison to establish a $2.5 million trust fund whose proceeds pay for fisheries and management programs on the Upper Kern River.Mitchell founded the popular jumbo trout program on the Lower Kings and other rivers that in recent years has sparked angler interest and boosted fish license sales. He also found time to negotiate flow agreements for more than two dozen area creeks."Every time I drive by one of those streams and see enough water flowing to keep the fish in good condition, I feel a sense of pride," he said.While planning to assist his former colleagues on a volunteer basis, Mitchell is looking forward to spending more time hiking and backpacking with the llamas he and his wife, Julie, raise at their home in Clovis. "I'm planning to spend a lot of time in the backcountry," Mitchell said. "That's my first love."Kelly, a 62-year-old Fresno native, is also anxious to enjoy his favorite outdoors pursuits -- hunting, fishing and hiking -- after devoting the last 31/2 years of his 38-year tenure to eradicating invasive pike from Lake Davis in Plumas County.Since the lake was last treated with the pesticide rotenone in September, there have been no signs of the predatory northern pike that once threatened to destroy what was an excellent trout fishery. The lake has since been stocked with nearly 1 million pounds of trout.While Kelly was on assignment at Lake Davis, fish biologists Brian Beal and Julie Means were elevated to senior positions within the region. Settlement Reached in Virginia Stream and Stormwater Case...U.S. Department of Justice...Press Release http://www.fresnobee.com/556/story/1114021.htmlWASHINGTON, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Five defendants associated with the construction of the Liberty Village housing development in Lynchburg, Va., will pay a $300,000 penalty and fund more than $1 million in stream and wetlands restoration work for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and permit restrictions during construction, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced. The settlement with Savoy Senior Housing Corporation, Savoy Liberty Village LLC, SDB Construction, Inc., Best G.C., Inc., and Acres of Virginia, Inc., was part of a consent decree lodged today in the Western District of Virginia by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA. The consent decree would resolve allegations that the defendants discharged and/or controlled and directed the discharge of pollutants including dredged and/or fill material, sediment, and other pollutants carried by stormwater into waters of the United States during the construction of a housing development without required permits, and then in violation of the stormwater permit after one was obtained. Specifically, the defendants allegedly buried existing streams on the site and filled wetlands that formed the headwaters of one of the filled streams. Silt and sediment from the construction activities were also discharged into streams on and off the site and flowed downstream to Pine Lake and beyond.The current owner of the property, Liberty Ridge, LLC, which is not a defendant, has agreed to implement approximately $250,000 in on-site restoration work, which will be funded by the defendants. The defendants will also pay approximately $825,000 to purchase credits to fund stream and wetland restoration projects in the region. The alleged Clean Water Act violations at the Liberty Village site, located at 5700 Candlers Mountain Road in Lynchburg, Va., occurred from July 2001 through January 2003 when the defendants cleared and graded the site, installed roads and utilities, and completed or partially built several housing units. In the process, the defendants allegedly destroyed approximately 3,765 feet of stream, and wetlands at the headwaters of tributaries to the Roanoke and James Rivers. Silt and sediment were discharged into streams on and off the site and flowed downstream to Pine Lake and beyond. These waters are important for flood control, nutrient and sediment retention, filtration, water quality improvement and maintenance of healthy aquatic ecological communities for other water bodies down stream. As the result of defendants' actions, water now flows downstream faster and at a higher temperature, killing or stressing aquatic animals and plants. The site restoration plan requires restoration of one stream, restoration and enhancement of four ponds, installation of plantings, and eradication of invasive species in certain areas. The consent decree also prohibits future disturbances of the restoration project area. A copy of the decree will be filed with the Circuit Court in Virginia and each future deed, title, or other conveyance instrument must contain a notice stating that the property is subject to this consent decree.The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.For more information about wetlands and permitting requirements, go to: http://www.epa.gov/owow/. For more information on stormwater and permitting requirements, go to http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/home.cfm?program_id=6. Beekeepers hope dry weather won't dampen almond pollination...Robert Rodriguezhttp://www.fresnobee.com/business/story/1114511.htmlBeekeepers attending an industry conference in Fresno said Wednesday that they hope that the region's uncertain water supply doesn't affect almond pollination, which starts next month."If they get less water, they [farmers] may not pollinate some groves," said Ken Haff, a North Dakota beekeeper.Reduced pollination could be damaging for beekeepers who rely on the almond crop to start their season. Worries of a third year of drought in California have been stoked recently by reports of a La Niña starting to appear on the equator in the Pacific Ocean. The vast stretch of cool water alters global storm patterns, and meteorologists say the phenomenon helped create a record dry spell last March and April.Haff was among the more than 300 beekeepers and industry representatives from across the nation gathering at the Radisson Hotel this week for the American Honey Producers Association's 40th annual convention.The central San Joaquin Valley plays a key role for the bee industry that every spring depends on more than 1 million bee colonies to pollinate the region's almond orchards.Yet while some beekeepers are concerned that the lack of a water supply might require less pollination for some crops, such as almonds, others are more optimistic. Jackie Park-Burris, a beekeeper from Shasta County, said growers may cut back on other things, but not pollination. "I think cutting back on bees will be the last thing they do," Park-Burris said. "Because without bees, they won't have much of a crop."Park-Burris said beekeepers have been talking with almond growers over the past few weeks to gauge how the season is progressing. For beekeepers, pollination can be a lucrative business. Pollination fees for almonds range from $140 to $150 a hive, with growers averaging two hives per acre.Along with almonds, a shrinking water supply could also cut the acreage of seed alfalfa, another Fresno County crop that requires pollination. Other concerns raised by beekeepers at the convention were their industry's battles against imported Chinese honey and colony collapse disorder, a problem that last year contributed to the reduction of about one-third of the U.S. bee colonies.Eric Mussen, an apiculturist with the University of California at Davis, said the good news is that the number of colony collapse disorder cases appears to be tapering off when compared with the previous three years."It is not gone," Mussen said. "But hopefully we are on the tail end of this."Researchers continue to study the mysterious problem characterized by a sudden decline in a bee colony's population and the inexplicable absence of dead bees.Bee industry officials, who have sought funding from the federal government to study the issue, also hope regulators will clamp down the flow of Chinese honey coming into the U.S. through suspect channels. "We think they [importers] are circumventing the process and shipping honey that is substandard and loaded with chemicals we can't use here," said Haff, who is also the vice president for the honey producers association. Bee industry officials say they have seen an increase in new companies shipping honey from countries that typically do not produce the quantities and specific qualities of honey known for that region. "If this goes unchecked, it will end up hurting not just the big commercial producers of honey, but the small guys as well," said Mark Jensen, a Montana beekeeper. "It will trickle down." Mortgage giants extend suspensions of foreclosures...The Associated Presshttp://www.fresnobee.com/559/story/1116108.html WASHINGTON -- Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said Thursday they will extend the suspension of foreclosure sales and evictions from single-family homes through the end of January.The companies had suspended foreclosures through the holidays, but were expected to resume proceedings after Jan. 9.The government-controlled home loan giants said the extension will allow borrowers facing foreclosure to keep their homes as it works with mortgage servicers to find options for troubled mortgage holders under the Streamlined Modification Program. Freddie and Fannie began the modification program in December, aiming to create more affordable mortgage payments for borrowers at risk of foreclosure. The program applies to borrowers who have missed three payments or more, own and occupy their homes, and have not filed for bankruptcy.Under the program, borrowers can reduce their interest rate, extend the life of the loan or defer payments on part of the principal.The extended hiatus on foreclosures will give Fannie more time to launch a new policy that will allow renters in company-owned foreclosed properties to stay in their homes, Fannie said in a news release. Details of the new policy have not been announced.Fannie personnel have been reviewing seriously delinquent loans to see if borrowers have been contacted and all options to work out their situations have been exhausted, the company said.Freddie Mac Chief Executive David Moffett said in a statement the mortgage giant is "committed to pursuing every responsible opportunity to reduce foreclosures and accelerate the return of stability to the U.S. housing market."Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of the $11.5 trillion in U.S. outstanding home loan debt. The government seized control of the sibling companies in September. Tulare VoiceBank Sues Racetrack Developershttp://www.valleyvoicenewspaper.com/tv/stories/2009/banksuesracetrack.htmTulare - Before casting his votes in favor of the 711-acre Tulare Motor Sports Complex, Mayor Craig Vejvoda told the audience at the Tulare Senior Center the project “will have many, many hurdles” to clear before it becomes reality.“It might not happen,” Vejvoda said. “It's not our job to make that projection.”Many people have assumed opponents of the project, which was approved in a series of six 3-2 City Council votes on Dec. 29, will file a lawsuit challenging the proposal. Others are concerned that in the current economy, the developers will be unable to find financing.As it turns out, the developers already face a concrete hurdle in the form of a lawsuit filed in late August by a Fresno bank claiming the Tulare Motor Sports Complex Limited Partnership has defaulted on two loans—one totaling $1.06 million and the other $303,203.The complaint filed in Fresno County Superior Court also alleges the partnership has overdrawn a checking account in the amount of $212,303. A trial date has been set for Nov. 16 with a mandatory settlement hearing conference scheduled for October 21.Fresno attorney Jim Betts, who is representing Bud Long and his TMSC partners, did not return a phone call requesting comment. A response filed to the complaint, which he filed in Superior Court in September, denied the allegations and listed a number of defenses.The first public mention of the lawsuit came during the hearing on the project, when retired dentist Dr. Tom Drilling cited the case and urged the City Council to find out more about the legal action before voting.Vejvoda said a few days later he was unaware of the lawsuit until Drilling made reference to it, but it would not have changed his vote.“The decision is not about the developer; the decision is about the project,” Vejvoda said.Newton's ExperienceHe noted Charles Allen, the mayor of Newton, Iowa, who spoke at the Council's hearing about his community's experience with a racetrack, had said the developer that first brought the project to the Iowa council was not the one who ultimately did the project.“This thing will be dead a half-dozen times probably…and have to come back to life,” Vejvoda said.The important thing, he said, is the City of Tulare in a development agreement expected to gain final approval this week, has protected itself from financial liability with regard to the project.City Manager Darrel Pyle said that Long had told the city about two months ago that a bank that had extended a letter of credit to the developers “at a substantial cost” had decided not to honor the letter after a couple withdraws were made.“It wasn't a secret,” Pyle said. “We had that conversation in summer.”Pyle said he didn't “think twice about it,” because many financial institutions were experiencing difficulty, money was getting harder to borrow and “none of that had anything to do with the city of Tulare.”(The developers established a special account from which they are paying the city for environmental impact report work as it is billed by the consultant. Pyle said they have to date paid more than has been charged and the final billing is expected by mid-January.)Vice Mayor Phil Vandegrift said he had heard that the developers line of credit might be affected but agreed with Vejvoda that the Council's only concern is land entitlement and getting the property adjacent to the International Agri-Center zoned for the hotels and entertainment it will need to remain viable in the long run.If the motorsports complex fails, perhaps someone will step forward and build a Central California Cow Palace or a stadium for the four-year college the city hopes to attract in the future, Vandegrift said.“While we call him the developer, Bud Long will not be building the shopping center portion of the project,” he said, reporting he has spoken with the vice president of the retail division of the Regency Group and was told that company has entered into a contract to purchase 50 acres of retail commercial land. Vandegrift reported Regency has $9 billion in assets and owns 73 retail centers in California. “I look at them as the guys who look at the project and tell me if it's economically feasible or not,” he said.The vice mayor also said he has talked to a group of Korean investors who want to purchase one or two sites and to the carpenters union, which has $1.5 billion that it does not want to put on the stock exchange and might be willing to invest their assets “so they can put their people to work.”Like Vandegrift, Vejvoda seemed optimistic developers will be able to find money for a race track project here. A retired economics profession who is vice mayor of a Southern California city was extolling the virtues of having a race track in a city and told him that if “they have problems getting funding, have them give me a call,” he said.Agri-Center DecisionThe motor sports partnership recently asked landowners for a time extension for the escrow, which the International Agri-Center considered at a board meeting.Understanding that it was “fairly typical” to ask for 1 percent of the purchase price in such a case, the board requested $240,000 from the developers, who said they could not do that, Agri-Center General Manager Jerry Sinift said.While the matter is still in negotiations, Sinift said he does not see it “as a real stumbling block” and spoke of the importance of having a project that brings hotels and entertainment like this next door to the Agri-Center.“The missing piece of the pie to make us even better…is the Las Vegas-type of experience,” he said. “That's what [World Ag Expo] and attendees have been asking us for years.”Sinift and city officials refuted rumors the city is pressuring the Agri-Center board to grant the extension without requiring additional money by threatening to charge the center for services the city currently provides without charge.“That is absolutely not true,” Sinift said. “We have a good partnership with the city of Tulare. We don't feel any pressure — none whatsoever. We don't feel threatened. No one has come to us.”The only leanings possible would have to come from the City Council and that has never been a discussion topic, Pyle said.3-2 VotesCalling it a project that could have far-reaching, positive economic implications for Tulare and the surrounding areas, the City Council approved the Tulare Motor Sports Complex proposal in a series of split votes Dec. 29.Councilman Richard Ortega, who joined Vejvoda and Vandegrift in voting “yes,” described the votes as “a once in a lifetime” opportunity to do something that could dramatically improve the community. “We're commonly referred to as 'The Appalachia of the West' and I'm not proud of that,” said Ortega, noting the latest figures peg unemployment in the area at 12.7 percent.Approved were the final environmental impact report, a general plan amendment, an oversizing reimbursement agreement and a request to initiate annexation proceedings on 965 acres.Councilmen David Macedo and Wayne Ross were opposed. Macedo reiterated his belief voters should decide the matter and Ross said the numbers just don't add up for him. “Show me the money,” Ross said. “Show me the ability to make this a viable project,” he said.The council, again in 3-2 votes, gave initial approve to ordinances that would pre-zone land earmarked for annexation and establish a development agreement between the city, the Tulare Industrial Site Development Foundation and the Tulare Motor Sport Complex Limited Partnership. Final approval was expected this week.The annexation request must go to the Tulare County Local Agency Formation Commission for final approval.The four-hour council meeting on Dec. 29 included nearly two hours of public testimony for and against the project and Vejvoda later praised the conduct of audience members, who spoke respectfully and kept tempers in check.“Your decorum has been absolutely exemplary,” Vejvoda said.Charles Allen, the Newton, Iowa, mayor, said his community of 16,000 people experienced vigorous debate before allowing a 267-acre speedway to be built on the outskirts of town in 2006.“We kept our eye on the prize,” Allen said. “Someone wanted to invest $40 million in our community.”The project was very controversial but has made Newton a destination point and increased revenues, he said, noting the city was able to reduce residential property taxes 7 percent even after the loss of its Fortune 500 company, Maytag.The speedway has been open 26 months and holds 13 Indy and other races a year, Allen said.Macedo and Ross were not swayed by his presentation.Macedo called the Iowa project “nothing at all like what we're facing here” and suggested the council refuse to allow the drag strip portion of the project, since that will be the major source of noise.Ross reported the Newton speedway has 35 full-time employees, whose salaries are not “high-end,” a fact that causes him to continue to question the environmental impact report's finding that the project will create the equivalent of 16,359 full-time jobs in the area.In addition to a speedway and drag strip, the proposed Tulare project also includes a technology park, retail commercial and office developments, luxury condominiums and a recreational vehicle park/resort.Members of the Sierra Club and others asked the Council to proceed with caution to protect Elk Bayou, which runs near the site of the proposed recreational vehicle park.Vejvoda it would his hope the project will be “gentle” on the bayou.Sacramento BeeGovernor, Democrats collide over environmental exemption for Hwy. 50 projectGovernor, Democrats collide over environmental exemption for Hwy. 50 project...Tony Bizjakhttp://www.sacbee.com/topstories/v-print/story/1524931.htmlWith the clock ticking toward insolvency, talks on fixing California's budget this week hit a bottleneck on Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova – where officials are at odds over the state's iconic and controversial environmental protection law.Because of the jobs it would create, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing for a fast-track launch this spring of a project to build a seven-mile-long carpool lane between Sunrise Boulevard and Watt Avenue.The Highway 50 project and nine other state highway expansions would boost California's sagging economy, Schwarzenegger said. To speed those projects, the governor wants them exempted from further review under the California Environmental Quality Act, and to give them immunity from future lawsuits.But legislative Democrats, led by Sacramento's Darrell Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, argue that such exemptions would undermine the landmark law and dilute California's leadership in the fight against global warming.That highway fight is one of several state budget issues the governor and legislators failed to settle this week.They say they have given some ground in negotiations, but insist the state complete a full, court-ordered environmental review of the Highway 50 project.The state law in question, the monumental 1970 environmental quality act, requires large projects to be analyzed for potential adverse impacts on the environment and on surrounding communities, and requires steps be taken to blunt them.The act is credited with giving the public more say over large-scale projects in California and with reducing air pollution and other environmental degradation.But the law has long been criticized by some public officials and developers for causing delays and increasing costs, and for opening projects to lawsuits.Despite the stalemate, Schwarzenegger pressed forward this week in a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, asking him to ease federal environmental requirements on a number of major projects.It's all about helping the economy, Schwarzenegger administration officials argue.The state faces a historic $40 billion budget imbalance over the next 18 months. State Controller John Chiang has warned the government will run out of cash as early as February and would have to start issuing IOUs for some bills if a deficit-closing deal isn't concluded before then.Schwarzenegger this week rejected an $18 billion, one-year fix proposed by Democrats. The governor counter-proposed a $40 billion balancing act for the entire projected 18-month deficit – including quick starts on the highway projects."We're in the economic doldrums as a state," state Department of Transportation head Will Kempton said. "One of the best ways is through immediate creation of jobs. The notion is to get a certain amount of work out the door as soon as possible."Kempton said the highway projects already have had some environmental review, and that Caltrans would be diligent in dealing with environmental issues during construction."We are not talking about backing away from our environmental standards," Kempton said.The 10 projects, worth $1.2 billion, would generate 22,000 jobs, he said.Planning and legal experts say the governor's attempt to circumvent environmental law is not new."When times get tough, it is almost predictable you will hear some people say let's streamline, repeal or exempt projects from CEQA," Sacramento environmental law attorney Jim Moose said.He and William Fulton, publisher of the California Planning & Development Report, say they have seen the governor and Legislature exempt projects during emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes, but not as a means to stimulate the economy.Democrats and environmentalists contend Schwarzenegger's proposal would do little to boost the economy.Instead, they said, it will be a setback for California's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020."I think it sets a horrible precedent," said Eric Davis of the Environmental Council of Sacramento.Davis called it a cynical move by a governor who has promoted himself as a champion for the environment and wants California to set international standards for reducing global warming gases."We urge the governor to return to his earlier principles that the economy and the environment are compatible," said Warner Chabot, head of the California League of Conservation Voters.Democrats and environmentalists say they are particularly concerned about the governor's efforts to pre-empt two ongoing environmental lawsuits.One involves a $420 million fourth bore for the Caldecott Tunnel on Highway 24 in the East Bay hills.A local group has sued Caltrans for not doing enough to handle adverse impacts, including added noise and traffic in surrounding areas and pollution effects on nearby schools.A judge is expected to issue a ruling shortly.The other, the $165 million Highway 50 carpool project through Rancho Cordova, has become a cause célèbre among environmentalists.Local residents and environmental activists sued Caltrans last year, claiming the agency did not adequately study, among other things, the possible increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which are linked to global warming.In July, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ruled Caltrans' environmental review was inadequate and needed to be redone. It is believed to be the first court ruling on a transportation project to use global warming as a legal backdrop.Caltrans officials said they are redoing the environmental review to include greenhouse gas studies while they await the outcome of the state budget negotiations.That additional review could take more than a year, local Caltrans district head Jody Jones has estimated. My View: Environmental law no obstacle to prosperity...Richard Seyman. Richard Seyman is co-chairman of the Environmental Council of Sacramento's Committee on Transportation, Air Quality & Climate Change. He lives in Davis. http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/v-print/story/1524569.htmlUntil very recently, the conventional wisdom in the financial world was that reducing regulatory oversight was the high road to ever-accelerating economic prosperity. But this road has led us straight into a high-speed, head-on economic crash of global proportions.Nevertheless, in recent weeks, corporate interests and Republican legislators in California have lobbied hard to eliminate environmental oversight for certain public infrastructure decisions, alleging this deregulation is needed to jump-start California's economic rebound. With the governor's help, they are holding the state budget hostage to extort free passage around environmental protections.The precise target of this deregulation campaign is the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. For major construction projects, public or private, CEQA requires the best alternative to be followed unless the government identifies specific policy reasons justifying a less environmentally protective alternative. To determine which alternative would be best, a formal, science-based review must be conducted and made public before any alternative can be implemented.This is what the Republicans in the Legislature and the corporate interests want eliminated. While this change would affect projects throughout the state, there is an especially telling example only a few miles from the Capitol: Caltrans' planned expansion of Highway 50 from Sunrise to Watt.This project has already gone through a CEQA review process, but a flawed one. The courts ruled that Caltrans had not followed the law and had failed to conduct proper environmental review by not considering alternatives to freeway widening and failing to assess potential impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions. The court ordered Caltrans to do a new, more comprehensive analysis.One of the alternatives that a comprehensive analysis of this project would include is the expansion of light-rail service. For economic and environmental reasons, expanded light-rail service is the better choice.Transit expansions tend to generate more jobs than roadway expansions. Regional Transit officials say the initial projects for expanded light-rail service could be implemented within the 120-day time frame for the first phase of the federal economic stimulus program, if funding were made available. Construction of the entire double track to Folsom could begin within the next year.The best scientific studies to date strongly indicate what many freeway commuters have long suspected – that the supposed benefits of HOV systems do not, in practice, pan out. Mostly, HOV lanes allow those who already share rides for other reasons to shorten their commutes slightly compared to those who drive alone. Reductions in congestion resulting from freeway expansion are short-lived as new lanes are quickly overwhelmed by increased traffic from residential sprawl development that invariably follows such expansions.Infrastructure projects that encourage more use of the automobile not only increase greenhouse gas emissions, they also increase other long-term, health-related costs as well as community-related costs, such as decreased property values, less mobility for those with disabilities and for those who would prefer to walk and/or to bike rather than drive.One can disagree with my assessment. But the point of having a CEQA review is to ensure that a sound, science-based analysis is available so decision makers and the public can make the best choices. This is the oversight process the governor and corporate lobbyists want us to forgo, in the name of economic expediency.Forgoing this process would definitely be expedient and economic for certain firms – those that specialize in building highways. But it would be neither expedient nor economic for the state as a whole. Corporations and their lobbyists look out for their shareholders. The governor should look out for all of us by looking forward. Looking the other way is no way to move California forward. Stockton RecordPro-canal enviros...Alex Breitler's Blog...1-7-09http://blogs.recordnet.com/sr-abreitlerThe Nature Conservancy, a national environmental group, said today that "a peripheral canal is an essential component to restoring the conditions that Delta species need to survive."That is, short of ending exports from the Delta entirely, a strategy that doesn't seem to be on the table.It's not news that some enviros support a canal while others don't. But today's announcement stirred the pot nonetheless.Stockton-based Restore the Delta charged that the Nature Conservancy's conclusion was based on bad assumptions."The Nature Conservancy does not work with or represent the interests of Delta locals," RtD Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla wrote. "The Nature Conservancy does not meet with and communicate regularly with local environmental activists, fishermen, or a broad association of Delta farmers, and thus does not understand the water needs of Delta communities."Read the AP story here.Environmental group backs canal for Calif. delta...By SAMANTHA YOUNG – 17 hours ago...AP http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hLlScP37mxSIS3tnC3TcHQSgTQ0gD95IM1NO0SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A national environmental group recommended Wednesday that California overhaul its water-delivery system by building a canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.A report by The Nature Conservancy endorsed piping Sacramento River water around the delta, which is suffering from degraded water quality and declining fish populations. The conservancy said a canal could help restore the region's natural habitat.It's the first endorsement of the canal by a major environmental group and provides a boost to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's argument that there might be a better way to send water from Northern California to two-thirds of the state residents."We felt now was a good time to help shift the debate from whether or not to build a canal to how do we build a canal," said Anthony Saracino, the conservancy's water program director.Water from Northern California is currently funneled through the delta's fragile maze of levees, islands, river channels and sloughs. Scientists say the system is susceptible to rising sea levels, earthquakes and levee breaks that could interrupt key water supplies to some 25 million Californians.Various groups also support a new canal as a strategy to avoid wildlife and water quality problems now blamed on the massive pumps that pull water from the delta and send it to the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.Saracino said a canal should be a stopgap measure for the next 50 years until cities around the state develop their own water supplies.Most environmentalists fear water diversions would deprive the region's fish, wildlife and farms of much-needed fresh water. A canal is also opposed by delta farmers, Northern Californians wary of a Southern California water grab and many state lawmakers.The conservancy's report comes a week after the governor's top water advisers embraced a canal as one of the ways to restore the delta while also ensuring reliable water deliveries. They recommended construction begin as soon as 2011 after pending environmental studies are completed by the Department of Water Resources. Digging into the problemPeripheral canal proposal aims to fast-track idea that won't go away...Editorialhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090108/A_OPINION01/901080309/-1/A_OPINIONA recommendation to set a timetable to start digging a ditch around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta - a far-fetched idea with more lives than a cat - should be a warning to north Valley residents that there are those who couldn't care less about the health of the fragile estuary.The so-called Delta Vision task force, a Cabinet-level group, last week sent its recommendation to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a supporter of a peripheral canal project.Basically, such a canal would take water from the Sacramento River at Hood and route it around the Delta to huge pumps that would then shoot it south.All this would be done without legislative or voter approval.There are at least two troubling things about this:First, despite 20 months of study, the Delta Vision group seems to have given short-shrift to study after study that has shown the Delta ecosystem to be under threat. Fish populations are collapsing. Foreign species are invading. Water quality is declining. Flood risks - because of aging and failure-prone levees - are growing.Second, how can we possibly pay for such a project, estimated by the state Department of Water Resources at from $4.2 billion to $7.2 billion, when the Delta itself is in such terrible shape? The Delta Vision group suggests new water bonds for the canal, but there is no way to build a canal and repair the miles and miles of levees, too.About two of every three Californians - about 25 million people - depend on the Delta for water. Agriculture, especially in the south San Joaquin Valley, is utterly dependent on its water. Engineering studies indicate that the simultaneous failure of just two levees - and there are hundreds of miles of them containing the Delta - could bring catastrophic floods to Stockton and Sacramento. That, in addition to interrupting water supplies for millions of residents.So the question is not if something should be done, but what should be done. And at this point, decreasing water flows through the Delta, exactly what the governor's "alternative conveyance" would do, seems to do nothing to address the health of the Delta itself. What it does do is sate the thirst, at least temporarily, of Southern California.We simply cannot let the northern San Joaquin Valley become a new Owens Valley, the once-water rich area on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada that was decimated by the water needs and political maneuvering of the vote-rich south state.Nuclear possibilitiesWaste from power plants poses little risk because of extreme precautions...Editorialhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090108/A_OPINION01/901080308/-1/A_OPINIONIf a nuclear power plant is built in Fresno - a highly unlikely proposition - then radioactive waste from that plant could pass through Stockton and its port on the way to France for reprocessing.Scary.Twenty years ago this month, the Department of Energy was to have begun accepting spent nuclear reactor fuel and other radioactive waste at its Yucca Mountain Repository in the desert 80 miles north of Las Vegas. The Energy Department began studying Yucca Mountain 10 years earlier, in 1978.But so far, because of legal challenges, concerns about transporting the waste, and political pressure resulting in underfunded construction, nothing more radioactive than the ire of Nevada residents is stored there. And there is no date set to open the facility.There are more than 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste sitting around at 121 sites in the nation. That's important to remember when considering the seemingly impossible proposal of shipping such waste through San Joaquin County.California law requires that before a nuclear power plant can be built, its operators must have a safe place to park the waste it produces. And it has to be parked for a long time. Plutonium, for example, takes about 250,000 years until nearly all its radioactivity has died away. (Plutonium loses half its radioactivity every 24,000 years.)When you start to see timelines like that, you start to understand the problem. Not to mention the money it will take to supervise its storage over the millennium.What if the nuclear power plant proposed for Fresno is built? And what if waste from that plant passes through San Joaquin County and to the Port of Stockton for shipment to France for reprocessing? Is there a danger.In a word: some. But a bit of perspective is helpful, especially when trying to fathom the relative danger of one action over another.The fact is dangerous chemicals and highly flammable substances pass through the county all the time. How do you think gasoline gets to your service station?Have there been accidents? Yes. And sometimes people have gotten hurt.That doesn't stop us from moving these materials. We accept the danger because we balance the possible hazards against the perceived benefits.An accident with nuclear waste could have disastrous consequences. But moving such materials, whether from Fresno through Stockton, or from any of the 121 U.S. sites eventually to Yucca Mountain would be done with extreme precautions. Guarded convoys. Accident resistant containment canisters. Highly trained transport crews.That's more than can be said about how hazardous materials are moved about us now.San Francisco ChronicleShutting off the water pumps to save delta smelt unwarranted...Craig Manson, Brandon Middleton. Craig Manson is a professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and a former U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary. Brandon Middleton is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation ( www.pacificlegal.org).Craig Manson is a professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and a former U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary. Brandon Middleton is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation ( www.pacificlegal.org).http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/08/EDU9155APS.DTL&type=printableThere's great cause for concern over the biological opinion issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the form of a new rules to protect the delta smelt, a fish species that is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. That's because millions of Californians depend upon the continued operation of two large irrigation projects for a reliable supply of water. And the scientific reasons for shutting them down to protect the smelt are dubious at best.The two water operations in question, the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, depend on pumps located at the southern end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, to move water flowing into the delta from Northern California to water users through Southern California and the Central Valley. Recent court decisions have identified the operations' pumps as a major cause of the smelt's decline, and the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision will force a dramatic reduction in pumping.Obviously, protecting the delta smelt and other delta fish species is important. But unfortunately, the numerous farmers who will be severely affected by the water restrictions cannot take solace in knowing that their pain will be ameliorated by the delta smelt's gain. There is little science to support the notion that pumping restrictions will solve the problem of the smelt's decline.Myriad factors negatively affect the well-being of the delta smelt. These include, but are not limited to, a low food supply, presence of predatory fish and a toxic water habitat for the smelt. The pumps play a role through entrainment, meaning that smelt can sometimes get sucked into the pumps.But the significance of this and how it affects the species is unknown. No one knows how many smelt are in the delta.Moreover, no study has shown a definitive link between the pumps and smelt viability. As a federal judge overseeing litigation concerning the delta smelt has noted, there is no one cause for the smelt's decline. And yet, as a 2008 CALFED report indicates, the pumps are "blamed for many of the delta's ills," despite their being "no conclusive evidence that export pumping has caused population declines" of delta fish species.Environmentalists contend that increased water pumping restrictions are necessary "to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost," in line with a 1978 Supreme Court decision on the Endangered Species Act. But even that dubious principle acknowledges that whatever is done on behalf of a threatened or endangered species should at least reverse a species' decline. In contrast, there is nothing close to a guarantee that increased pumping restrictions will help the delta smelt.It would have been a pleasant surprise if the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken the above into account when it released its biological opinion. Much is at stake, as delta water deliveries help to sustain the state agriculture industry and play a key role in the state's energy, tourism and entertainment industries, not to mention everyday human activity.It makes no sense to make the pumps the scapegoat for the delta smelt's decline, at the cost of threatening the water supply for millions of human beings.In the drying West, dams are no longer the answer...George Miller. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, is a member of the House Democratic Leadership and the former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/08/EDU91559QS.DTL&type=printableIn the 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began planning a reservoir on the American River, hoping it would become a major element of California's extensive system of dams and canals that ships water across the state. The bureau studied the proposal, to be called Auburn Dam, for decades only to find the dam would cost $10 billion to construct - if it ever survived environmental review and if earthquakes didn't render the site useless in the interim. This fall, the State of California finally revoked the federal government's unused water right for the project. Ultimately, the Bureau of Reclamation spent more than 40 years and $300 million studying a dam that would never be built and would never deliver a drop of water. The Auburn Dam boondoggle is not an outlier. The Bureau of Reclamation is a billion-dollar-a-year water management agency created for a different era, when our nation had different needs. Enormous water infrastructure projects like dams and reservoirs once drove agricultural and urban development, but no longer. Today, the serious water challenges facing the American West have been exacerbated by climate change, and the largest water manager in the country hasn't adapted. The Bureau of Reclamation has constantly convinced themselves that building one more big dam - or one more canal - would finally solve our water problems. In some cases, reservoirs help to meet our new water needs, but such expensive and time-consuming projects only make sense in the context of an agency that follows the science and the law, is a wise steward of the resource, and promotes cost-effective solutions. It's hard to say that the Bureau of Reclamation is that agency, and to remain relevant in the coming years the agency will have to reinvent itself. President-elect Barack Obama has articulated a clear and compelling vision of a government that, in sharp contrast to the last eight years, addresses real-world problems. As he said last month, "This isn't about big government or small government. It's about building a smarter government that focuses on what works." Smart government, when it comes to supplying water to cities, farms and the environment in the 21st century, will mean leaving behind the dam-building and pipeline-laying federal bureaucracy of the last hundred years. If we put our money into proven and cost-effective strategies like groundwater cleanup and better coordination between reservoirs, then we can dramatically improve the reliability of our existing clean water supplies without wasting time and energy chasing the cumbersome and expensive infrastructure dreams of the past century. Instead of spending time and money we can't afford to study dams that will never be built, the federal government should work with local water managers who have cost-effective plans to stretch their existing water supplies. In the city of Pittsburg, in my congressional district, and in other parts of the Bay Area, for example, water managers are actively pursuing alternative water supplies through water recycling, where wastewater is treated and the clean result is reused for commercial irrigation and industrial processes. This allows us to add water to the system - quickly, reliably and without causing environmental damage or depending on increasingly unreliable snowpack. Congress authorized the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Water Recycling Program last year, which will pump nearly $30 million in federal seed money into the system that will be matched many times over by local entities. Congress will be pursuing similar efforts in the years to come.Under the Bush administration, the Bureau of Reclamation fought these proposals every step of the way. Federal agencies also need to do much more to help businesses, farms and cities adjust to a new, more water-constrained future by becoming more efficient. California has already proved it can rise to such a challenge with energy use: We use 40 percent less electricity per capita than the national average, and a recent UC Berkeley study found that our investments in energy efficiency have created more than a million jobs while saving Californians $56 billion in energy costs. We can take that model and apply it to our world of water. Significantly improving the water-use efficiency of major appliances and fixtures could save billions of gallons of water per day, yet today there are no tax incentives targeted specifically at water conservation. Expanded federal incentives, improved research and development, and stronger federal efficiency requirements can help us reduce our reliance on dwindling or unstable water supplies, while driving innovation, saving money and adding to the economy. Now is the time to have a serious conversation about whether we will still need a $1 billion-a-year federal dam construction and water management agency in the 21st century.The president-elect and his team clearly understand the challenges posed by a warming and more variable climate, and they recognize that a smarter government can help America meet its challenges. It's time to insist that an old bureaucracy learn new tricks so that we can meet our clean water needs without breaking the bank or wreaking havoc on our natural waterways. H{-2}O cops prowl for drought-oblivious scofflaws...Noaki Schwartz, Associated Press...1-7-09http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/07/BAA0154O5K.DTL&type=printableLos Angeles -- The green thumbs who keep lawns lush and flora flourishing in the city have found a new foe among the aphids, white flies and other yard pests - the water police.Just as some scofflaws keep an eye out for black-and-white patrol cars, gardeners have learned to spot the white Toyota Priuses driven by Los Angeles water cops out to fight waste as California struggles with an extended drought."They get to scattering when they see us," said Department of Water & Power officer Alonzo Ballengar. "I don't know what they call me, but I'm sure they have names."Fifteen officers now prowl neighborhoods and respond to thousands of tips in their search for those who use sprinklers between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., clean driveways with water instead of a broom or otherwise waste the precious commodity.Officials estimate that landscaping accounts for as much as 70 percent of household water bills.Offenders can be get a warning or be hit with fines that start at $100 for homeowners and automatically appear on water bills.The tough tactics began last summer after a voluntary conservation program yielded only a 4 percent drop in water use. Restrictions were expanded and penalties stiffened with the goal of a 10 percent reduction.Thus far, 763 citations have been issued. The program has received thousands of tips from residents about wasted water and responded to at least 800 of them.The threat of a water shortage is deadly serious in this sprawling, thirsty city that owes its existence to the vast quantities of water piped in from the Colorado River and other sources.In June, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought in response to two years of below-average rainfall, low snow-melt runoff, shrinking reservoir levels and court-ordered water restrictions to protect diminishing fish populations.But getting the conservation message to sink in has been a challenge in the city where expansive lawns and tropical gardens have long been status symbols.City officials first unveiled the "drought busters" patrol in the early 1990s. Their blue T-shirts and patches with images of crossed-out drippy faucets were reminiscent of the "Ghost Busters" movie logo.Now, to be taken more seriously, the unit has been outfitted with gray uniforms and renamed the water conservation team. There are similar programs in other U.S. cities."They're in fact educators and ambassadors to the public," said H. David Nahai, who renamed the team and oversees the agency. "They deserve to have a title that is reflective of the gravity of the situation."Officials also learned blue was not the best color to wear in some neighborhoods."It's unfortunate, but in Los Angeles red and blue are associated with gangs," said Nance Walker-Bonnelli, who oversees the team. "One team member just wouldn't wear his shirt if he went into certain areas of the city."Ballengar, a patient man with an easy laugh, has endured his fair share of name-calling from customers who have yet to embrace him as a water ambassador. On loan from another department, he just shrugs it off."I have thick skin," he said. "My regular job is bill collections."On more than one occasion, Ballengar has heard from gardeners that it's their employers who insist on watering during the day to maintain their yards and gardens."They want their yard taken care of a certain way," he said.He has also run across some surprising situations.One resident tattled on four of his neighbors in regular order every week. A group of dedicated conservationists anointed themselves citizen busters and patrol their own neighborhoods, calling in everything from broken sprinklers to mysterious puddles of water.The most curious case, however, came from the San Fernando Valley, where an elderly shut-in was apparently draining and refilling her pool every three days, wasting thousands of gallons of water a week."As soon as we opened up our mailbox everyone on her street reported her," Walker-Bonnelli said. "We left that one in the hands of health and safety."Not even the governor, who has urged Californians to save water, is safe from scrutiny. On a recent afternoon Ballengar drove past split rail fences and horse barns into the gates of the upscale community where Schwarzenegger lives in the Brentwood area.Ballengar stopped for a moment in front of the governor's mansion, peering through the iron gate searching for any evidence of water waste in the governor's garden."Nothing," he said before driving on.Contra Costa TimesEPA demands resumption of toxics cleanup at Livermore lab...Suzanne Bohanhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_11401969To prevent further spread of contaminated groundwater on and around Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, the federal government on Wednesday ordered the lab to immediately resume its Superfund cleanup activities.The Environmental Protection Agency is also seeking fines of $105,000, stating there were cleanup violations between February and September, and continuing fines of $10,000 per week, retroactive to Oct. 1.Laboratory spokesman John Belluardo, however, described the fines as "unjustified" and said the Department of Energy, which runs the lab, plans to appeal.Last February, the DOE began shutting down the lab's state-of-the-art cleanup system due to budget cuts. It also laid off 60 percent of the staff running it.Currently, the lab is operating at one-third of its Superfund cleanup capacity, Belluardo said, but expects to achieve two-thirds capacity by Oct. 1.He emphasized that the cleanup was scaled back "due to circumstances beyond our control." However, in July 2008 Congress fully restored funding for the operation, and the laboratory should have immediately restarted the program, the EPA asserted.Instead, the DOE on Dec. 19 sent Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a letter stating it needed until 2011 to fully resume the cleanup operation at the site, which is listed as one of the most contaminated federal sites in the country. Volatile chemicals such as tetrachloroethene, Freon and chloroform, as well as the heavy metal chromium, and tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, pollute soil and groundwater on and around the one-square-mile national laboratory, located on the outskirts of Livermore. "The shutdown of the treatment systems puts the community and the environment at risk," said Michael Montgomery, assistant director for the EPA's Superfund Division in the Pacific Southwest region. "The taxpayers have already paid for the construction of the treatment systems — it's DOE's responsibility to operate them." The pollutants are a legacy of Navy operations starting on site in the 1940s. In 1951, it then became a nuclear weapons and fusion energy research facility. In 1993, federal cleanup operations began, reaching full compliance in 2007 with agreed-upon remediation plans, until budget cuts led to the current shut-down.The system's shutdown came only months after the EPA gave final approval for its operation, said Kathy Setian, a remedial project manager at EPA assigned to the lab."Right up through the end of 2007, I used to hold up this system as really a model treatment of groundwater," she said. "Yet almost as soon as construction was finished, it was shut down."Phil Wong, the Livermore lab's project manager for site cleanup, disagreed that the scaled-back operation is posing a health threat to workers or nearby residents. "There's no imminent danger to anyone," Wong said, noting that the contaminated groundwater plume moves slowly, at about 70 feet per year.But that's little assurance to Setian."Basically the groundwater plume is not under control," she said. "It's definitely the exact opposite of what we try to achieve in a Superfund site cleanup."The EPA has no evidence that any nearby residents are in immediate danger, Setian said. But wells near the plume could become contaminated if its spread isn't halted, she said.What's indisputable, Setian added, is the shutdown has increased the pollutants' environmental and financial toll, since they're spreading and thus full cleanup will take longer.Wong explained that lack of staffing has hindered resumption of the program. While the lab rehired some of the laid off workers, "a lot of those folks are basically no longer available," he said. Others hired to take their places require time-consuming training, added Belluardo.In addition, each treatment facility needs a fresh evaluation to ensure proper operation, Belluardo said.Port of Oakland, regulators fight over clean air funds...Denis Cuffhttp://www.contracostatimes.com/environment/ci_11402138An agreement between two public agencies to cut diesel truck pollution from the Port of Oakland has turned into a tug of war over $5 million the port wants to keep in reserve and the Bay Area's air pollution board wants to use to clean the air.The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is trying to collect the last $3 million of the $5 million the port agreed in August to contribute toward grants for installing soot filters on trucks using the port. Air officials say the district will look into its regulatory and legal options to get the money."We're going to do what needs to be done to clean up the single biggest source of particulate pollution in the Bay Area — the Port of Oakland," said Mark Ross, a Martinez city councilman who serves on the regional air pollution board. "We are appalled and angry the port reneged on its deal to protect public health."Port managers, however, said they put the $5 million on hold in November because of uncertainty over worsening port finances. The port has asked to get back the $2 million it already has given the air district."Please immediately provide ... payment of the unused amount to the port," Omar Benjamin, the port's executive director, wrote in a Dec. 19 letter seeking return of the $2 million.Benjamin said the port is not obliged to contribute the $5 million because the port commission voted Nov. 19 to indefinitely postpone use of port money on truck grants. That vote made the disputed money "legally unavailable" — grounds to terminate the agreement that the port and air district each contribute $5 million toward the truck retrofit grants. The air district still plans to proceed with the grant program using its $5 million, and as much of the port money as it can get, air officials said.Marilyn Sandifur, a port spokeswoman, said the port remains committed to reducing soot pollution risks in the long term, but wanted to reassess the $5 million payment amid a sharp decline in the shipping industry.Commissioners also have expressed some doubts about the effectiveness of the truck grant program, she noted.Air officials contend the port should pay up now to protect public health.In a report last year, California Air Resources Board estimated that West Oakland residents face a cancer risk three times higher than the rest of the Bay Area because of fine particle pollution — some from trucks, trains and ships visiting the port and some from vehicles on nearby freeways.Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor on the air board, said he is growing impatient with the port."I hope this board steps up and says, 'Since you don't want to do it the nice way, we will do it the regulatory way. We will fine you,' " Haggerty said last month at a pollution board meeting.Air board members also said they may consider adopting a port pollution rule giving them more leverage over the port, which is a magnet for trucks, ships and trains that carry freight.Mercury NewsGaramendi proposes fast-track medical school at UC-Merced...Lisa M. Krieger http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_11401018?nclick_check=1 A  state official is promoting a bold plan that would allow high school graduates to earn medical degrees in just five years, potentially creating 23-year-old physicians — the youngest in the nation.Lt. Governor John Garamendi, who is also a University of California regent, envisions a program at the University of California-Merced which would create more Central Valley-grown family doctors, using an educational approach that is cheaper, quicker and less specialized than traditional schools. He hopes by combining undergraduate and medical degrees, the fast-track program would supply much-needed medical care to the underserved region.It is the most extreme example of a growing trend. Currently, the quickest combination degree is a six-year program at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine."I applaud the concept," said Dr. Henry Sondheimer, senior director for student affairs and student programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, noting that several states are adding new rural medical schools. "The idea of shortening the process is gaining traction everywhere. "... Because the costs of going to college and medical schools are increasing, many are looking to see if there are ways to shorten it."But others wondered if young UC-Merced is up to the task — and cautioned that such an approach needs to be planned with care."The problem with accelerated programs is that students are still very immature," said Erin Quinn, dean of admissions at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. "Maybe they're superstars in high school, but you really need maturity for medical school." Garamendi's plan would target the Central Valley's brightest youngsters, with family ties to the area. He imagines a program that would condense an undergraduate science program into three years, then a general medicine program into two years.In contrast, Stanford University and the University of California-San Francisco Medical School offer four-year programs, on top of a conventional four-year undergraduate degree — a total of eight years.The state's newest UC, Merced is an isolated campus of only 2,700 students, one-third of them Central Valley natives. Its first full undergraduate class will graduate this spring. It's not expected to be fully accredited until June 2011.But its plan for a more traditional medical school has been derailed by state funding problems; by downsizing, Garamendi is trying to salvage the concept.He said the campus is an ideal place for a medical school that can be tailored to the rural region, where 130 languages are spoken and many residents suffer from chronic ailments such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory ailments from dust, diesel-burning farm equipment and wood-burning stoves."A new school has an opportunity to play a profoundly important role in meeting the health care needs of the San Joaquin Valley, and can be done in a way that is not expensive," said Garamendi, a native of the tiny Central Valley town of Mokelumne Hill, who attended UC-Berkeley and then Harvard University.The Merced school would provide no research component, he said, unlike the state's five existing UC medical schools: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Davis, Irvine and San Diego.Because it would be held at the UC-Merced campus, community colleges and local clinics and hospitals, no new construction would be required and it could open as soon as 2010, he said. But some regents have questioned whether a new UC campus should embark on a medical school.Medical education experts agree that California has a big problem: No new seats have been added to its medical schools for 35 years — while its population has surged to nearly 40 million.The Central Valley is one of the most physician-poor regions in the state. The eight-county San Joaquin Valley has only 173 physicians per 100,000 people, compared with 415 per 100,000 residents in the greater Bay Area."If you get sick, you get the hell out of here," said Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, whose father had a pacemaker implanted in Santa Barbara, mother-in-law was treated for cancer at UC-San Francisco and brother-in-law had prostate surgery at Stanford. "But traveling is hard on the elderly. And we have a large population of uninsured."Fresno High School principal Bob Reyes said that last year's two valedictorians, both interested in medical careers, left the valley to attend college. "I like what Garamendi is proposing because it will benefit our kids," he said.But in addition to building new medical schools, officials need to consider changing the admissions criteria or expanding the existing slots. The highly competitive process has historically excluded Central Valley students, who haven't had the same access to Advanced Placement courses. "I'm not saying it's not possible," USC's Quinn. "It all depends how you recruit students and how you select them."Los Angeles TimesLawsuit seeking to block California Democrats' tax hikes is tossed outAn appellate court says it cannot rule on the $9.3-billion package because the governor vetoed the legislation hours after the suit was filed...Evan Halperhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-budget8-2009jan08,0,579635,print.storyReporting from Sacramento — A state appeals court Wednesday threw out a lawsuit that antitax activists and Republican lawmakers filed to nullify a package of tax hikes Democrats pushed through the Legislature.The package, containing new and increased taxes on gasoline, sales and personal income, was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, hours after the lawsuit was filed. The court said it could not intervene because the proposal had not been signed into law. "Absent the Legislature's passage and the governor's signing of such legislation, adjudications of its constitutionality and the other matters raised by the petition are not yet ripe for judicial review," said the ruling from the 3rd Appellate District. At issue were the untested maneuvers that Sacramento's dominant Democrats employed to pass the $9.3 billion in tax increases without a two-thirds vote of lawmakers. They used a complex strategy that hinged on the legal difference between taxes and fees, and passed the package on a simple majority, without any of the Republican votes they typically would have needed. Every GOP legislator joined the lawsuit, which they said violated the provision in Proposition 13 that prohibits a simple majority of the Legislature from passing broad-based tax increases.Developer wins suit against L.A. over El Sereno housing tract projectA judge rejects the City Council's demand that Monterey Hills Investors, which sought to build 24 homes on a hillside, do a new environmental report. The developer will seek to recoup losses...David Zahniserhttp://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lawsuit8-2009jan08,0,2998773,print.storyA real estate developer has won its legal battle to build 24 homes on a vacant hillside in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno -- and is now looking to recoup its financial losses from City Hall. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled Monday that the City Council had no authority to order Monterey Hills Investors LLC to perform a new environmental impact report on its proposed subdivision of single-family homes.Ignoring the advice of its lawyers, the council voted in 2007 to demand the additional review, effectively blocking the developer from moving dirt and building new roads in the area nicknamed Elephant Hill.Monterey Hills Investors, which claimed in its lawsuit that the city's actions cost it more than $8 million, will now seek "substantial" damages, said attorney Ben Reznik."This was the biggest waste of taxpayer money, because it's such a frivolous action by the council," he said Wednesday. "They had to hire outside counsel because their own city attorney was telling them they were violating the law."Reznik, a lobbyist with dozens of City Hall clients, said the council had already approved a tract map and environmental impact report for his client's project. He accused Councilman Jose Huizar of blocking the work in an effort to placate constituents who wanted to see the hillside remain open space.Huizar, whose district includes El Sereno, said in a statement that the fight to save Elephant Hill was "the right thing to do. . . . And while I'm disappointed to hear about the judge's ruling, I am as committed as ever to protecting the safety of our hillside residents."Although he played a key role in the Elephant Hill case, Huizar issued a separate, seemingly unrelated news release Wednesday calling for greater oversight of the city's legal expenses. "In these tough economic times . . . we simply cannot afford to keep throwing money at these unnecessary and extremely costly lawsuits," the councilman said. Reznik, in turn, said Huizar's own actions spurred a costly lawsuit. "He created one, and that's painful," he said. "Taxpayers are going to bear the burden here."Opponents of the project received legal help from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that said the 15.7-acre site should be preserved. The city's environmental review found that grading would ultimately affect 85% of the site and result in an "irreversible environmental change to the topography," according to court documents.Nick Velasquez, spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, had no comment on the ruling. But a transcript included in the court file showed that Assistant City Atty. Susan Pfann disagreed with the environmental group's legal arguments regarding Elephant Hill.The group maintained that the permit sought by Monterey Hills Investors was a discretionary action, and therefore governed by the state's environmental laws. Pfann told the council that she believed the permit was ministerial and not covered by those laws, according to the transcript. Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer Tim Grabiel, who appeared in court in the El Sereno case, could not be reached for comment. Reznik said damages could rise considerably higher than $8 million because the city's efforts caused his client to lose its financing."We may not be able to get a construction loan because the market has collapsed" since the council's vote, he said. Washington PostLoan Delinquencies Hit Record High Last YearJob Losses Hurt Consumers' Ability to Pay...Nancy Trejoshttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/07/AR2009010703913_pf.htmlDelinquencies on auto loans and home equity lines of credit reached their highest levels on record during the third quarter of 2008, the American Bankers Association reported yesterday.Indirect auto loans, which are arranged through a third party such as a dealer and account for 90 percent of all auto loans, hit a delinquency level of 3.25 percent, up 18 basis points from the previous quarter.Delinquencies on home equity lines of credit rose 7 basis points to 1.15 percent during the third quarter, the latest period for which data were available, the association said in its Consumer Credit Delinquency bulletin. Delinquencies are payments that are 30 days or more overdue."The number one factor in rising consumer credit delinquencies is job losses," James Chessen, ABA chief economist, said. "With one million jobs lost in the first three quarters and 2 1/2 million expected for the year, delinquencies of all types of consumer loans will likely increase in the coming quarters."Charles McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, a District-based business forecasting firm, also pointed out that the credit crunch has limited consumers' ability to find other ways to pay down their debt.The delinquencies, he said, "were the result of the freezing up of credit markets and therefore the inability of consumers to refinance their homes or otherwise use new debt to service the old debt."Nonetheless, the association found that delinquencies on credit cards issued by banks dropped 34 basis points to 4.2 percent.Chessen attributed that decrease to consumers fearful of taking on more debt in a precarious job market."For those who are still able to meet their obligations, who have good sources of income, we're seeing a more concerted approach to credit. They're bringing down balances, they're trying to limit how much they're putting on their cards," he said.Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said consumers have also learned the dangers of being delinquent on credit cards. Card issuers often charge exorbitant fees and are quick to raise interest rates on delinquent borrowers."Being delinquent on a credit card means the sky is the limit for your punishment, and people have learned that," he said.Continuing jobless claims rise more than expected...CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, The Associated Presshttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/08/AR2009010800855_pf.htmlWASHINGTON -- The number of people continuing to seek unemployment benefits has risen sharply, according to government data released Thursday, indicating that laid-off workers are having a harder time finding new jobs as the recession enters its second year.The Labor Department also reported that initial applications for unemployment insurance dropped by 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 467,000 for the week ending Jan. 3. Wall Street economists expected initial claims to increase, but analysts said the new figure reflects the difficulty the government has in making seasonal adjustments over the holiday period.The four-week average of initial claims, which smooths out fluctuations but also includes the shortened holiday weeks, fell by 27,000 to 525,750.The number of people continuing to claim jobless benefits jumped unexpectedly by 101,000 to 4.61 million. That was above analysts' expectations of 4.5 million and the highest level since November 1982, when the nation was emerging from a steep recession, though the labor force has grown by about half since then. The data for continuing claims is for the week ended Dec. 27."Getting a job in this environment ... is extremely difficult," said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., a New York consulting firm.Companies have resumed mass layoffs after a brief respite over the holidays. This week alone, insurance provider Cigna Corp., aluminum producer Alcoa Inc., data-storage company EMC Corp. and computer products maker Logitech International have announced large job cuts.Unemployment figures due out Friday are expected to show that the U.S. lost a net total of 500,000 jobs in December. If accurate, that would bring total job losses last year to 2.4 million, the first annual job loss since 2001 and the highest since 1945, though the number of jobs has more than tripled since then.The job cuts are expected to send the unemployment rate to 7 percent in December, up from 6.7 percent the previous month. That would be the highest level since June 1993. The unemployment rate also will be released Friday.Last week was the second in a row that initial claims have come in below 500,000, after seven weeks above that level. A Labor Department analyst said the dip could be a result of companies laying off workers earlier this winter than in previous years. Initial claims reached a 26-year high of 589,000 two weeks ago.Economists said the drop in initial claims is likely an aberration due to seasonal volatility. For example, Shapiro said that retailers engaged in less hiring over the holidays, leading to fewer layoffs afterward.Automakers General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC also cut jobs earlier last year than in previous years as their sales were hammered by the credit crunch, Shapiro said.As a result, initial claims are likely to top 500,000 again in the next month or so, economists said."We have to expect a hefty rebound and new highs in (jobless) claims over the next few months," Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note.Three states said earlier this week that their online and phone filing systems for unemployment benefits crashed due to the heavy volume of first-time filers. The impact of that volume won't be seen until next week's data.Analysts say increasing unemployment is adding to consumer anxiety and further reducing their spending, which drives about 70 percent of the economy. Retailers reported dismal December sales figures Thursday, confirming fears that the holiday shopping season was the worst in four decades.On Wall Street, investor concerns about consumer spending and unemployment sent stocks lower as bad news from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. signaled that even the stronger U.S. retailers struggled during the holiday shopping season. The Dow Jones industrials lost more than 90 points in midday trading.President-elect Barack Obama, who takes over Jan. 20, is proposing a mammoth $775 billion package of tax cuts and government spending over two years to revive the moribund economy. With add-ons by lawmakers, the package could swell to $850 billion, his advisers say.Obama on Thursday warned of dire and lasting consequences if Congress doesn't pump unprecedented dollars into the economy. "In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse" if Washington doesn't go far enough to address the spreading crisis, he said.But even with a big government stimulus, economists still believe the unemployment rate will keep climbing, hitting 8 to 10 percent by the end of this year. Obama's economic advisers estimate that a $850 billion recovery package would lower the jobless rate to about 7.4 percent and create 3.2 million jobs by the first quarter of 2011.Financial Times US deficit set for postwar record...Krishna Guha, Edward Luce and Andrew Ward in Washington...1-07-09http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/92d8a656-dcd6-11dd-a2a9-000077b07658.htmlThe US budget deficit will hit nearly $1,200bn this fiscal year even without the cost of Barack Obama’s planned fiscal stimulus, Congress’s budget watchdog warned on Wednesday.The warning came as the president-elect said that the stimulus would be “on the high end of our estimates” – implying close to $775bn over two years – but “will not be as high as some economists have recommended, because of the constraints and concerns we have about the existing deficit”.The estimate, published by the Congressional Budget Office, threw into stark relief the dilemma facing the president-elect, highlighting the urgent need for stimulus and the fraught state of public finances.Mr Obama announced the appointment of Nancy Killefer, a Clinton-era economic official, to a cabinet-level post to cut government waste, in an effort to reassure fiscal conservatives alarmed by the prospect of giant deficits. The CBO said that the budget deficit for the fiscal year 2009 would “shatter the previous post-World War Two record” relative to the size of the US economy. Without a stimulus, it said that the deficit would reach 8.3 per cent of gross domestic product.Its numbers imply that the proposed stimulus could push the US fiscal deficit close to or over 10 per cent of GDP.“These numbers are absolutely staggering. We knew the deficit numbers were going to be big. But $1.2 trillion?” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.The CBO said that revenues were on track to fall 6.6 per cent this financial year, while government spending would rise 17 per cent – with much of the increase due to crisis-fighting measures. Robert Sunshine, acting CBO director, said that the subsidy cost of the $700bn bail-out fund known as the Troubled Assets Relief Programme was estimated at about $189bn. This amounts to an average subsidy of about 25 cents for each dollar spent. The cost of taking control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was $238bn, he said, though this was almost entirely a one-off expense.The budget watchdog warned that without policy changes such as a large stimulus, the economy would contract by 2.2 per cent in 2009, unemployment would peak at 9.2 per cent in 2010, house prices would fall a further 14 per cent and the economy would not return to its potential output until 2015.It projects that the total amount of US debt held by the public will jump 55 per cent between September 2007 and September 2010, with the debt to GDP ratio jumping from 36.9 per cent to 54.2 per cent – a level last seen in the aftermath of the second world war.Mr Obama said: “My own economic and budget team projects that unless we take decisive action, even after our economy pulls out of its slide, trillion-dollar deficits will be a reality for years to come.” He said that the appointment of Ms Killefer “was among the most important I will make”. It is aimed at redeeming his pledge to change the way business is done in Washington and reassure fiscal hawks that the stimulus will not lead to an era of waste.Meanwhile the tone in financial markets – which had steadily improved since the start of the year – turned sour ahead of what investors fear could be a very bad December jobs report on Friday, with a 3 per cent fall in US stocks and a 12 per cent plunge in the price of oil.The private sector ADP employment survey released on Wednesday suggested the government could announce about 670,000 job losses in December – more than the 533,000 lost in November.The dramatic deterioration in the US budget outlook in recent months has not had the usual negative effect on the dollar or pushed up US government borrowing costs. Investors apparently accept the need for aggressive action to fight the crisis, and judge that if US government bond yields started to rise the Federal Reserve would step in to buy Treasuries. But some analysts think the build-up of deficits and unconventional actions by the Federal Reserve could result in both higher borrowing costs and a weaker dollar. 1-8-09 MeetingsMerced County Supervisor Pedrozo to host town hall meetings...Merced Sun-Star...1-8-09http://www.mercedsunstar.com/167/v-print/story/628026.htmlMerced County Supervisor John Pedrozo will host a series of town hall meetings in his district over the next month, beginning today. Pedrozo's district includes the communities of Celeste, Tuttle, El Nido, Le Grand, Planada and parts of Livingston and South Merced. The meetings are meant to provide the public with information about issues facing the county and state, Pedrozo said in a statement. County department heads will be on hand to answer citizen questions. Representatives for Congressman Dennis Cardoza, State Sen. Jeff Denham and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani will also be there. "As we begin this new year, I want to encourage the residents of District One to participate in these town hall meetings and come out and voice any concerns they might have," Pedrozo said. The meeting schedule is as follows:South Merced...Jan. 8…7 p.m.Tenaya Middle School multipurpose room, 760 W. 8th St.Livingston...Jan. 15…7 p.m.Livingston City Council Chambers, 1416 C St.Le Grand...Jan. 29…7 p.m.Le Grand Legion Hall, 12560 LeGrand RoadPlanada...Feb. 5…7 p.m.Planada Community Hall, 9167 E. Stanford Ave.For more information, call (209) 385-7366.  1-14-08 Merced County Planning Commission agenda...9:00 a.m.http://www.co.merced.ca.us/planning/pdf/commissionarchive/2009/1-14-2009/agenda/PC%20Agenda%20011409.pdf MCAG1-14-09 Technical Review Board meeting...12:00 p.m.http://www.mcagov.org/trb.html1-15-09 Governing Board meeting...3:00 p.m.http://www.mcagov.org/govbrd.html