County Bank closed...Badlands Journal editorial board
Westamerica Bank, San Rafael, California, Acquires All the Deposits of County Bank, Merced, California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 6, 2009 Media Contact:
David Barr (202) 898-6992
Cell: (703) 622-4790
County Bank, Merced, California, was closed today by the California Department of Financial Institutions, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Westamerica Bank, San Rafael, California, to assume all of the deposits of County Bank.
County Bank's 39 offices will reopen as branches of Westamerica Bank. County Bank branches that had Saturday hours will reopen tomorrow. County Bank's remaining branches will reopen on Monday. Depositors of County Bank will automatically become depositors of Westamerica Bank. Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers of both banks should continue to use their existing branches until Westamerica Bank can fully integrate the deposit records of County Bank.
Over the weekend, depositors of County Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.
As of February 2, 2009, County Bank had total assets of approximately $1.7 billion and total deposits of $1.3 billion. In addition to assuming all of the failed bank's deposits, including those from brokers, Westamerica Bank agreed to purchase all of County Bank's assets.
The FDIC and Westamerica Bank entered into a loss-share transaction. Westamerica Bank will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-sharing arrangement is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The agreement also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers as they will maintain a banking relationship.
Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-591-2820. The phone number will be operational this evening until 9:00 p.m., PST; on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., PST; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., PST; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., PST. Interested parties can also visit the FDIC's Web site at http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/failed/county.html.
The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund will be $135 million. Westamerica Bank's acquisition of all deposits was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's Deposit Insurance Fund compared to alternatives. County Bank is the ninth bank to fail in the nation this year, and the third in California.
# # #
Congress created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933 to restore public confidence in the nation's banking system. The FDIC insures deposits at the nation's 8,384 banks and savings associations and it promotes the safety and soundness of these institutions by identifying, monitoring and addressing risks to which they are exposed. The FDIC receives no federal tax dollars – insured financial institutions fund its operations.
FDIC press releases and other information are available on the Internet at www.fdic.gov, by subscription electronically (go to www.fdic.gov/about/subscriptions/index.html) and may also be obtained through the FDIC's Public Information Center (877-275-3342 or 703-562-2200). PR-19-2009
Board of Directors of Capital Corp of the West, holding company for County Bank
Chairman of the Board
JERRY CALLISTER is a practicing attorney with the law firm of Callister & Hendricks, a Professional Law Corporation in Merced CA. Admitted to both California and Utah Bars. Mr. Callister received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Brigham Young University and his Juris Doctor Degree from Boalt Hall, University of California, Berkeley. He was a founding director of County Bank and is a past chairman of the Board. Mr. Callister is also past president of Merced Rotary Club, past president of Merced County Bar Association and a founding director and secretary of Merced College Foundation.
CURTIS RIGGS is a life-long resident of Merced and graduate of Stanford University. Mr. Riggs is President of VIA Adventures, Inc. and Merced Transportation Company. His work in the bus transportation industry has included serving as a Director of both the American Bus Association and the California Bus Association. Mr. Riggs has a long history of community activity including serving on the Merced City Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment. He is an Elder with Central Presbyterian Church, Past President and member of Merced Rotary Club, and a Trustee of the U. C. Merced Foundation. In 2001, Mr. Riggs was named Merced’s “Citizen of the Year”. He and his wife, Gaye, have three daughters.
DOROTHY BIZZINI is a property manager and former registered nursed and PR Director of Mercy Hospital. She and her husband own the Atwater/Merced Veterinary Clinic. She received her AA degree from Sacramento Junior College and went on to receive her BA from Sacramento State College. She is a member of the Atwater United Methodist Church where she is Chairman of the Board of Trustees and former Chairman of the Administrative Council and Stewardship & Finance. Ms. Bizzini was also a Lay Leader for eight years. She is a member of the Atwater Chamber of Commerce and is a past president. Ms. Bizzini is also a member of the Rotary Club of Atwater and sits on the CSU Stanislaus Foundation Board of Trustees. She also serves on the State of California Commissioner of Emergency Medical Authority.
DAVID BONNAR has over 20 years in the computer industry and is currently a manager in the Information Services group for Community Medical Centers of Central California. He also owns an Information Services consulting practice. Mr. Bonnar graduated from Fresno Pacific University with a Masters in Administrative Leadership and holds a Bachelors degree in Business from San Jose State. He is also member of Fig Garden Rotary and a volunteer pilot for the Fresno County Sheriffs Air Squadron.
Directors Loan Committee
JOHN FAWCETT has been President of Fawcett Farms, Inc. a dairy, tree, and row crop farm since 1974. Fawcett Farms is a family run farm started in the 1920's by his grandfather. Mr. Fawcett graduated from Colorado College with a BA in biology and geology and has completed the California Agricultural Leadership Program Class IX. He has been a member of the St Alban’s Episcopal Church for 25 years as a former Vestry Member. Mr. Fawcett is currently a Director of Central California Irrigation District. He is a former director of the Delta Restoration Coalition, California Tomato Research Institute, Processing Tomato Advisory Board, and Los Banos Community Hospital. Mr. Fawcett is a past president of Los Banos Rotary Club, the former Chairman of Boy Scouts of America SME, and a former Paul Harris Fellow.
DR. CURTIS GRANT spent most of his career at California State University, Stanislaus, where he served as Professor of History and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He was class valedictorian at Modesto Junior College, graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in history, earned his Master's at UC Berkeley, and returned to Stanford for his Ph.D. An active member of First Baptist Church in Modesto, his community involvement includes serving as board member for Stanislaus Youth for Christ, past president of Modesto Rotary, director on the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation Board, past president of Memorial Hospitals Association, and board member of the California-Nevada chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association. Dr. Grant is frequently asked to address civic and historical groups on U.S. history and the American West.
MICHAEL GRAVES is principal of Pacific Resources, Inc. a financial, strategic planning, accounting and administrative management firm for startup organizations and volunteer organizations. Mr. Graves graduated from California State University/Fresno with a B.S. degree in Business Administration. He is also a Certified Public Accountant and member and director of the Fig Garden Rotary.
Richard S. Cupp
RICHARD S. CUPP has served in the financial services industry for over 40 years. His leadership roles have covered almost the entire range of markets and disciplines within the banking industry and with institutions of all sizes and regulatory charters. For the past thirteen years, he has served as Chief Executive Officer of several independent commercial banking and savings banks and was responsible for significant improvements in operations, asset quality, regulatory and investor relations, earnings and shareholder valuation. These banks include 1st Century Bank, First Bank of Beverly Hills, HF Bancorp (Hemet Federal Bank) and Ventura County National Bancorp. HF Bancorp was the largest independent banking institution in Riverside County, California. VCNB was a multi-bank holding company whose principal subsidiary was Ventura County’s largest independent bank. Cupp was most recently President and CEO of 1st Century Bank, a newly chartered national banking institution headquartered in Los Angeles. HF Bancorp and VCNB were under-performing institutions experiencing various management, operating and portfolio challenges. Principal accomplishments were establishing strategic direction, restoring profitability and assembling effective management teams. Both companies were subsequently acquired by larger financial institutions, resulting in substantial increases in shareholder value. From 1983 to 1993, Cupp was Executive Vice President of CalFed, Inc. where he was responsible for CalFed’s first entry in commercial banking. From 1963 to 1983 he was with First Interstate Bancorp in a number of senior and executive positions. He was head of Corporate Banking, ran the European region, was responsible for the Bank’s subsidiary in Brussels, Belgium and held a number of other line and staff positions.
During the course of his career, he has raised substantial amounts of capital for new and existing banks, bought and sold banks and banking operations, built operations and businesses from scratch and insured that relations with regulatory authorities were maintained at positive levels.
Cupp is a director of The Olson Company, California’s largest developer of urban in-fill housing with revenues exceeding $350 million, and the RCR Group, a family owned manufacturer and distributor of automotive aftermarket products. He is an active director with experience in compensation, audit and finance committee roles. He is a former director of Guaranty Federal Bank, the $14 billion banking subsidiary of Temple Inland, Inc. As a director of Project Compassion, he provides direction and support to this non-profit organization that recognizes our fallen military service men and women in unique and profound way.
GERALD TAHAJIAN practices law at his own firm in Fresno. He graduated from California State University, Fresno with a B.S. in Business Administration and from the University of San Francisco with a Juris Doctor Degree. Mr. Tahajian is also a Certified Public Accountant. He currently serves on the board of Trustees of the University of California, Merced. Past community service includes: President of Fresno County & City Chamber ofCommerce, Chairman of the Board of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, President of the Fresno Downtown Club; Treasurer and Vice President of the Central Calif. Certified Development Corporation, Treasurer & Chairman of the Finance Committee of Valley Children's Hospital Board of Trustees; and President, California State University, Fresno School of Business Alumni & Friends Association.
Richard S. Cupp
Chief Executive Officer
Ed J. Rocha
President and Chief Operating Officer ED J. ROCHA was promoted to County Bank's President and Chief Operating Officer in December 2005. Mr. Rocha had previously held the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for County Bank since July 2003. Prior to that, he was County Bank's Executive Vice President and Chief Banking Officer from 1999 -2003, and the Bank's Senior Vice President and Chief Banking Officer from 1997-1999. Mr. Rocha served as Vice President and Regional Manager at County Bank from 1995-1997. He was employed as Senior Vice President and Branch Administrator for Pacific Valley National Bank from 1989-1995. Current President of California Independent Bankers Association, Mr. Rocha also serves on the "Board of Governors" for Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.
David A. Heaberlin
Executive Vice President/Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer
DAVID A. HEABERLIN joined County Bank as Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President in June, 2006. Mr. Heaberlin has served in various senior management capacities with several financial intermediaries. His most recent experience with a financial institution was with Bay View Bank in San Francisco where he held several positions including Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and President. He also served as Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Financial Corporation of Santa Barbara; Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Bowery Bank in New York City; Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Exchange National Bank of Chicago, and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Numerica Bank and Home Bank in New Hampshire. Mr. Heaberlin began his career in public accounting as an audit manager for Arthur Young and Company and is a Certified Public Accountant.
Executive Vice President/Chief Credit Officer
JOHN INCANDELA became County Bank's Chief Credit Officer and Executive Vice President in June, 2005. From 2002-2005 he served as Senior Vice President/Head of Credit Policy for Banco Popular North America in Chicago, Illinois. From 1997-2002, Mr. Incandela was the Regional Senior Credit Officer for Banco Popular North America's New York Metro Region in New York City.
Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer
KATHERINE WOHLFORD became County Bank's Chief Administrative Officer and Executive Vice President in April, 2006. From 2004-2005, she served as First Vice President for Washington Mutual in Seattle, Washington. From 1999-2004, Ms. Wohlford was a Regional Vice President with Alta Colleges based in Denver, Colorado. During 1995-1998 Ms. Wohlford was Senior Vice President/Director of Product Management for Home Savings of America in California. From 1986-1995, Ms. Wohlford held numerous senior management positions with Glendale Federal Bank. Prior to that, she was a manager with Bank of America in the Los Angeles and Orange County regions of California.
Capital Corp of the West stock last traded at $0.15.
Character Assassination by Sound Bite...Badlands Journal editorial board
There are excellent political reasons for the witch-hunt in the south Valley against Lloyd Carter, arising from a comment taken out of context about farmworkers, for which Carter apologized, once he saw what the media did with it, immediately.
Carter is the premier water journalist of the San Joaquin Valley. He has been on the story since the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge disaster of 1983, when the world, largely due to his efforts, learned what concentrated amounts of heavy metals, particularly selenium, did to wildlife, cattle and people in and near the Merced County refuge. Among the people whose health was destroyed, were farmworkers. Lloyd Carter wrote that story, at great cost to his career as a newspaperman for the craven mainstream media.
Carter has been at the forefront of defining issues of environmental, social and economic justice for all Valley residents, especially farmworkers, for 30 years.
Last week, he made a statement that appeared to slam farmworkers in the congressional district of Jim Costa (Kern and Kings counties). With $971 million in farm subsidies, which does not include water and power subsidies, Costa’s district ranks second for crop subsidies in the state, yet is the poorest congressional district in the nation. He said farmworkers do not want their children to be farmworkers. He said the teenage pregnancy rate is about 30 percent, the high school dropout rate is higher and that there is a lot of gang activity in Costa’s district. He said there were a lot of illegal aliens in the district. Who would deny these facts, particularly from a journalist who has built a reputation for integrity, accuracy and truthfulness over a 30-year career?
Nobody who knows anything about the district denies them in private. The media is constantly providing examples. But, few people connect the dots in private, and even fewer connect them in public.
The unfortunate context of Carter’s events last week consists of three elements: fear, hypocrisy and propaganda.
We are afraid of drought because these irrigation systems are vastly over-committed and always have been. Yet, politicians and “local leaders” babble on as if California never had a drought before. It had a bad one around 1990 and a worse one in the mid-1970s. Everybody knows this, particularly agribusiness, farmworkers and Valley environmentalits. There is also great fear, available to anyone who speaks Spanish in this Valley, for Mexican drug-cartel labor trafficking. But, before the onslaught on border people, the Valley Hispanic leaders had already sold out to every interest they viewed as stronger than themselves – from the traffickers, the contractors, the farmers to the state and federal government. They are cowards, cobardes, and everyone also knows this, and says it (privately).
We cannot tell the truth about agricultural water or farmworkers. We are all ‘people of lie’ on these issues. South Valley farmers and their water districts, led by Westlands, Friant Water Users Authority, Kern County Water District and other special interests, lie hysterically about both water and farmworkers. Their drain water is toxic, their water rights are junior to many upstream (mainly the exchange contractors’ riparian rights) and the majority of the farmworkers are illegal aliens. These truths must be denied. It is an article of faith to deny that the entire system of agriculture south of the Mendota Pool cannot be sustained without essential lies, lies Lloyd Carter built an exemplary journalism career exposing.
Westlands and Friant Water Users Authority, the largest, must politically sensitive and vulnerable to drought of all water districts in the nation, and its few, large-landholding, highly subsidized growers, have become, by necessity, the masters of propaganda on water issues.
Last week, an historic debate took place at CSU Fresno, hosted by the political science department because, as Judge Oliver Wanger, debate moderator, commented, the Fresno State Water Institute thought it was too controversial for them to host. The debate pitted three environmentalists against four representatives of ag water. Carter was the local environmentalist; Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, was the principal representative for Big Water and agribusiness. Judge Wanger provided the legal context for 30 years of federal water cases in his court; Birmingham and Co. argued the case for Big Water; and Carter, flanked by Bill Jennings, founder of Stockton-based Delta Keepers, and Michael Jackson, the preeminent environmental water lawyer in Northern California, presented the case for the environment, wildlife species in danger of extinction due to Delta over-pumping, public health and safety issues, the livelihoods of fishing town on the coast and agriculture beyond the sacred precincts of Westlands, such as towns like Grayson on the San Joaquin River in Stanislaus County, which rely on river water. There was almost no print coverage of that debate. This was an example of the propaganda of omission. Whatever broadcast coverage of it that occurred was, by the magic of water-hysteria propaganda, obliterated by a gross lie: Carter, “the racist.”
This is a natural resources situation in which all eco-justice advocates would like to support agriculture, the basis of our Valley economy, but the propaganda of the hysterical whine of agribusiness becomes more absurd as the years wear on.
Carter isn’t a racist, never has been, never will be. Nor is it an issue of “national security” to exterminate Delta wildlife, fish species and public health and safety for subsidized cotton and pistachios in the Westlands Water District. Jim Costa’s congressional district is not the “bread basket of the world, “ unless you like bread made of cotton, pistachios, lettuce, almonds, cheap, half-built subdivisions, expressways, blueprints, Valley partnerships, oil or any of the other export commodities produced in the south San Joaquin Valley. We don’t do bread there. As Carter put it in the argument that ended the debate at Fresno State, “The grand experiment didn’t work. Retire the badlands of the south Valley.”
Birmingham retorted that Carter’s statement about water rights was “FALSE!” (Birmingham’s rhetoric is worthy of the Roman senate long after Cicero was murdered and the Republic was forgotten and only the rhetoric went on devoid of truth.) Birmingham cited the fact that the Del Puerto Water District, far upstream from Westlands, would also get no water this year from the Bureau of Reclamation. Carter was talking about the exchange contractors in the Central California Irrigation District around Los Banos, whose riparian rights derive from the Miller-Lux Ranch, would still get 75-percent of their allotment, despite the drought because of the seniority of the rights.
Carter won the debate hands down on logic, experience and truth. Everyone in the hall knew it.
We are ‘people of the lie.’ We prefer the false to the true. Carter’s apology was another mistake, an attempt to produce a sound bite to counteract a sound bite, but it was sincere, short and, unlike the Big Water/Big Ag propaganda, it was truthful.
The environmental community of the San Joaquin Valley supports farmworkers, clean, safe, healthy housing and working conditions for them, a livable, access to education, and the right to participation in government.
In California, droughts happen, water is over-committed, urban growth threatens ag water, if Congress doesn’t finally pass the San Joaquin Valley Settlement very shortly, the judge will rule to the detriment of farmers, fish are going extinct in the Delta from over-pumping, the west side of the south San Joaquin Valley is toxic alkali flats that should be fallowed for perpetuity after 40 years of destructive farming, and no place in California has ever treated farmworkers worse than the Valley. We all know this in private. Carter said it in public.
Civilized people don’t lynch a person for telling the truth, as Carter has done for decades at huge expense. The Valley is the cruelest place for farmworkers, natural resources, democracy and the truthful journalism upon which democracy depends. At the Fresno State debate, Carter upheld the modern position; Birmingham of Westlands argued for our degraded feudalism. Meanwhile, the wheels of propaganda rolled on.
You decide what kind of valley you want to live in. Lloyd Carter has done his best for three decades to present the alternative to the same old agrarian oligarchy of the 1930s, when the Farmers Associations took axe handles to striking American workers, and of the violent hysteria about farm-labor organization of the 1950s and 1960s.
When you hear the clatter of chains, it's wise to ask who's jerking them and why. A "national security zone" for agriculture in Kern and Kings counties would be the end of all possibility of labor organization, in case anybody's thinking of trying it again.
Fresno's City Hall to be site of rally
Environmentalist's comments about farmworkers incite...The Fresno Bee
A rally at Fresno City Hall on Monday will highlight central San Joaquin Valley farms' need for water and discuss perceptions about Hispanic farmworkers.
The 10:30 a.m. rally will include elected officials such as Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, and Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson. Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, farmers and farmworkers also will be present.
The rally is in response to recent comments from Lloyd Carter, a board member of the California Water Impact Network, said Mario Santoyo of the California Latino Water Coalition, the rally's organizer.
After a recent debate between San Joaquin Valley farm water officials and environmentalists at California State University, Fresno, Carter spoke to KMPH (Channel 26) about farmworkers who would lose their jobs if west side Valley farms don't receive delta water this year.
"They're not even American citizens for starters, right?" he said.
"Do you think that we should employ illegal aliens? What parent raises their child to become a farmworker? These kids, they're the least educated people in America or in the southwest corner of this Valley. They turn to lives of crime. They go on welfare. They get into drug trafficking and they join gangs."
ABC30 Action News...KFSN-TV Fresno, CA
Water Official Controversial Comments...Shannon Handy...2-8-09
Fresno, CA, USA (KFSN) -- Comments made at a recent debate between farm water officials and environmentalists has sparked an uproar.
In a televised interview at the event, an official from the California Water Impact Network criticized farm workers and their right to work in this country.
Lloyd carter criticized farm workers saying in short the valley doesn't deserve more water because farm workers are quote "illegal aliens" and "turn to lives of crime." He has since apologized for his remarks.
Despite his apology, the NAACP has written this letter asking for carter to resign his position on several water boards. And, now the agricultural community is fighting back.
Fresno County Supervisor and local farmer Phil Larson was at Fresno State Thursday night. He was participating in a debate over the Valley's need for water and the state's policy on the delta that's keeping it away.
It was there that Lloyd Carter, a board member from the California Water Impact Network, made this statement in a television interview saying "What parent raises their child to become a farm worker? These kids, they're the least educated people in America or in the southwest corner of this valley. They turn to lives of crime. They go on welfare. They get into drug trafficking and they join gangs."
Larson was shocked by those comments. And what he said, it represents. "Is that what he really thinks? Is that what the environmental community really thinks of the ag workers? If that's the environmental philosophy, we got a problem in this country?"
Larson will join several other agriculturists and elected officials on the steps of Fresno City Hall Monday.
In response to Carter's comments, they've organized a rally hoping to shed light on farm worker stereotypes and the Valley's need for water to keep the industry afloat.
This is not focused on Mr. Carter. This is more about the overall broad range of who he represents and the comments in general.
Carter, has since apologized for his remarks. In a statement on his blog, he wrote, "My remarks were intended to focus on the social costs of exploiting an immigrant worker population which is denied adequate pay, housing and education. I now realize I made a terrible mistake in the way I expressed myself and I humbly apologize to all who were offended."
Nonprofit works to get federal protection for 100-mile area in California...McClatchy Newspapers
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Driving through the backyard of Yolo County, Bob Schneider seems to sense every plant, every animal and every nuance of the land here.
He can tell you how the tectonic plates of the Earth collided long ago and erupted upward into the Coast Ranges and its foothills creased with velvety folds.
"Change is coming to this area; there's going to be a lot more people here," said Schneider as he guided his Subaru Outback through the Capay Valley's prolific orchards and verdant farms.
He wants someone passing this same way 100 years, even 500 years, from now to see the same stunning vista where tule elk roam and the finicky yellow-legged frog manages to thrive.
Without a monumental effort to preserve the diverse environment in a 100-mile swath of California's interior, buildings and roads could obliterate it acre by acre, he said.
Schneider is board president of Tuleyome, a Woodland, Calif.-based environmental nonprofit organization working to establish a National Conservation Area - the third in California - encompassing nearly half a million acres in six counties.
The country's 13 existing National Conservation Areas create a single, cohesive plan to preserve and manage vast landscapes typically managed by a patchwork of public agencies, including counties.
The designation, which must be approved by Congress, provides a more logical way to properly care for an ecosystem, which doesn't acknowledge political boundaries, Schneider said. Even fire management would improve, he said.
What would be called the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area stretches from the Lake Berryessa region through Solano, Napa, Yolo, Lake, Colusa and Glenn counties to Snow Mountain. No private land is included unless landowners opt in.
Representatives of Tuleyome, which means "deep home place" in Miwok, are appearing before county supervisors and appealing to environmentalists and recreation enthusiasts, including hunters, to form a consensus that would eventually become federal legislation later this year.
Some farmers and ranchers, particularly in Glenn and Colusa counties, oppose the conservation area because it could exacerbate existing problems, said Ashley Indrieri, executive director of the Family Water Alliance in Colusa County.
Public lands aren't adequately managed to curtail trespassing and other infringements that plague private property owners, she said. If the conservation area expands, so will the problem, Indrieri said.
Habitat restoration could also threaten adjacent agricultural land owners, she said.
"Restoring the land means increasing pest species," she said. "You bring these critters back to the land."
Schneider once led an effort to eradicate tamarisk, a non-native, water-sucking plant that sprouts along Cache Creek, depriving native plants. Volunteers cleaned a 20-mile stretch of Bureau of Land Management land, but to continue down the creek would have meant dealing with other agencies first. It hasn't happened.
The patchwork of agencies overseeing the land - all with different missions - also makes it confusing to figure out where recreation areas begin and end, Schneider said. He believes the Obama administration will be supportive of the new designation.
A massive preservation bill that combined dozens of other proposed bills - some that had languished for years in Congress - recently passed the U.S. Senate. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 would create another 2 million acres of wilderness, including four new conservation areas in mostly Western states.
Land preservation and protection of natural resources are growing bipartisan concerns as population centers push farther out, said Kevin Mack, campaign director of the National Landscape Conservation System for The Wilderness Society.
In the past, the rally to save land usually centered on "special places," such as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley or the Old Faithful geyser, Mack said. But now, preservation is tied less to visual appeal or attraction, he said.
"There's more attention to providing ecological boundaries," Mack said.
In the proposed Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area, serpentine soils that once covered the ocean floor are now hills rippling through the region, supporting unique plant life, Schneider said.
"This part of California is really special with respect to the plants and animals who live here," Schneider said.
Editorial: No more delays on rules for Rubicon
For off-road enthusiasts, the Rubicon Trail is a hallowed spot, much like the Grand Canyon is for rafters and kayakers.
This boulder-strewn trail is home to some of the most daunting 4x4 riding on earth, especially the 12-mile stretch from Loon Lake to Lake Tahoe. About 35,000 vehicles traverse it each summer.
Yet there's a big difference between the Grand Canyon and the Rubicon Trail. The Grand Canyon requires permits, with fees used to enforce the use of portable toilets and other protective measures.
The Rubicon Trail, by contrast, is a free-for-all. It's unregulated, and El Dorado County has done little to manage it for visitors or the environment.
Two weeks ago, the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board sent the county a wake-up call.
The board issued a draft abatement order, saying that erosion from the overused Rubicon Trail was threatening fish habitat and water quality.
The order comes five years after pollution from human feces and garbage forced the Forest Service to ban vehicles from Spider Lake, a popular camping spot on the trail. Four years earlier, regulators had to prod Placer County to limit erosion on its portion of the trail.
The latest abatement order is controversial. Some trail enthusiasts feel the water board is going overboard and ignoring efforts by volunteers to clean up the trail. For its part, El Dorado County claims its budget problems have prevented it from finishing a management plan for the Rubicon.
While El Dorado County does face a budget crunch, that doesn't give it a pass on dithering over a long-sought management plan. This plan, in our view, must move toward a permit system that would limit overuse and pay for enforcement.
Off-roaders have long resisted attempts to regulate the Rubicon. Rafters and hikers reacted the same way when permits were required for the Grand Canyon and other wilderness areas. But let's face it, folks, this is California, with 37 million people. If we want to leave our landmarks for future generations, we have to manage them for the benefit of all.
At nation's container ports, economy takes its toll on workers...Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers
NORFOLK, Va. - Independent trucker William Shoffner remembers, not so long ago, when the Port of Virginia on the Elizabeth River was booming. Five times a week, he'd pick up cargo headed for America's stores and their credit-fueled customers.
Now that's down to two or three times a week. "I've seen slow times, but this is about as bad as I've seen it," Shoffner said. "If I can't make the runs, it makes it rough to eat."
The story is much the same all across America's container ports: With U.S. consumer spending off, imported goods that used to keep ports busy simply aren't coming in, and with the rest of the world also in a deepening slump, there's no demand elsewhere for what America produces.
"The ports have the double whammy where imports are down and the exports are down, so they don't have anything that's saving them in terms of activity to keep them busy," said Paul Bingham, managing director of World Trade and Transportation Markets for IHS Global Insight, a leading economic forecasting firm.
Import volume has declined on a year-over-year basis for 17 straight months, making 2008 the slowest year for imported container cargo since 2004, according to the National Retail Federation and IHS Global Insight.
Meanwhile, the volume of exported goods has fallen in each of the last five months for a near 20 percent decline, according to the latest government figures.
It's likely only to get worse: the World Bank projects that global trade volume will contract this year for the first time since 1982.
That means fewer fees, less revenue and fewer jobs.
At the Port of Los Angeles, where cargo volume fell six percent last year, officials have shaved more than $20 million in operating expenses this fiscal year by leaving vacant positions unfilled, suspending port police recruitment efforts and eliminating jobs.
"We've been cutting aggressively for the past four months," said communications director Arley Baker.
On a recent weekday, the drop-off was obvious at the four shipping terminals that comprise the Port of Virginia in Norfolk.
At the Portsmouth Marine Terminals, three vessels were in berth and further down the river at the APM Portsmouth terminal, another ship was being unloaded.
But at Norfolk International Terminals, fourteen 270-foot cranes stood idle, as if in silent sentry. Rows of container-toting straddle carriers and yellow school buses that ferry longshoreman to their work sites were likewise inactive.
And dozens of flatbed chasses that once would have been loaded with cargo, were stacked atop one another, empty, like playing cards.
Virginia International Terminals, which operates the Port of Virginia, has halted overtime, pay raises and bonuses for all port employees in anticipation of a 12 percent decline in cargo volume this year.
They've also trimmed $10 million from the budget and cut 100,000 work hours for longshoremen like 45-year-old Keith Clark.
Longshoremen — their number includes heavy equipment operators, carpenters, cargo checkers and lashers (who secure containers once they're stored on a ship) — are among the nation's highest paid blue-collar workers. A senior longshoremen can earn $100,000 a year with overtime.
Clark, relatively junior with just 13 years as a longshoremen, made about $60,000 last year.
At the current pace, he said, he'll be lucky to make $20,000 this year.
His biggest worry is whether he'll log 1,300 hours of work. That's the threshold needed to keep his medical benefits. Last week, he only worked four.
"When my son gets a snotty nose and a fever, what am I supposed to do then?," Clark asks.
Each morning, Clark and dozens of members of International Longshoremen's Association, Local 1248, gather at the union hall before sunrise for the 7 a.m. "work call."
When the economy was good, the six- and seven-page work orders often hung from the bulletin board to the floor, listing that day's incoming and outgoing vessels and the number of workers needed to load and unload each.
But in the throes of the "Great Recession," daily work orders have been slashed to about three pages.
By 8:30 a.m., union members with the most seniority are off to their work sites, leaving Clark and dozens of other less-tenured colleagues empty handed.
"All these guys you see in here now, we're in a swimming pool. And we're all in the bottom of the pool with no life jacket on. The question is who's gonna be around to swim to the top?" Clark asks rhetorically. "We've got hope that the economy is gonna come back. But how many guys will be standing when it's over?"
One member upset about his lack of work, got into a loud shouting match with Wayne Cochran, the local's president. Cochran said he understands the frustration, but added the angry longshoreman will likely be barred from the union hall.
"I know they're frustrated and hurting financially and they're catching it from their spouses and lenders. So when they come here, the place that's supposed to make it all better, and there's nothing for them, sometimes you catch an earful," Cochran explained.
Kevin Cooper, another 13-year union member, has seen his weekly hours go from 40-plus in December, to 26 in the first week of January, to 11 in each of the last three weeks. Cooper, 47, said the lean hours aren't hurting him yet because he followed the advice of his grandfather, a former longshoreman.
"He told me 'when times are good, you've got to save for the bad times because believe me, the bad times are gonna come,'" Cooper said.
And despite the projections of an extended shortage of hours, Cooper said he isn't looking another job.
"Even on the worst days, I still want to be a longshoreman," he said.
The smallest dams on Putah Creek...AMY BOYER
Beavers are one of the first mammals in the U.S. to have been restored to healthy populations after near-extinction. When Europeans discovered America, they also discovered beavers occupying "every river, brook and rill," according to Samuel de Champlain.
Some of the earliest European explorers of the Central Valley were Hudson Bay Company trappers looking for beaver pelts.
By the time of the Gold Rush, beavers were rare enough to have California trappers turning to other animals, and they were nearly extirpated from much of the East Coast by 1895. By searching out remaining beavers and moving them to protected habitat, early conservationists successfully reintroduced them; they are now fairly common throughout the U.S.-and along Putah Creek, where there are "many, many beaver," says Dirk Van Vuren, professor at UC Davis.
Historically, California beavers tended not to build as extensively as others. According to Van Vuren, beavers will dam streams in order to raise water levels high enough to protect their dens, which may be lodges or bank-side burrows, but always have underwater entrances.
The dams serve other animals as stream crossings, and you can sometimes see their scat on the dams.
Putah Creek in summer is a dam-worthy creek, but river beaver will simply hole up in banks, piling up sticks over the air hole of the den. In all cases, beavers are highly territorial and mark their areas by piling up mud and marking the mud pies with their scent.
Within their dens are close-knit families. Two adults mate for life. Both male and female build dams and lodges, and both take care of the kits, raising one to six kits per year.
The youngsters stay with the parents for two years, with the yearlings helping with dam maintenance and kit-care, in between playing with each other.
Hope Ryden's delightful book Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers describes beavers nuzzling each other, grooming each other, giving kits rides on their backs, and seemingly talking to each other in the beaver lodge during long dark iced-in winter days. When mature, the beavers take off along their stream or even cross-country, searching for a suitable site with plentiful forage-and for a mate.
Beavers' architectural tendencies are innate, with beavers raised in captivity competently building dams, lodges, and even canals (to ease transporting sticks) without parental training, but they likely learn finesse during their two-year apprenticeship. Ryden says they are leisurely workers, but little by little they can build big.
I have seen a structure in North Carolina transforming an easily jumped stream meandering through bottomlands into a pond many yards across, with the dam being about five feet high at its highest and narrowing to a long berm of sticks and mud only a few inches high, arcing through the trees as far as I could see.
Ecologically, beavers are major players. A typical pattern on many streams is that beavers dam a stream, creating a pond where sediments settle; water-loving animals and invertebrates follow; beavers use up forage and move on; dam breaks, pond dries up, leaving richer bottom land for plants to colonize; forage grows back, beavers return.
According to Van Vuren, this pattern doesn't seem to hold for Putah Creek. However, beavers' choice of plants can have a strong influence on forest structure-and on restoration efforts. Beavers will eat a wide range of non-woody plants, but they require woody plants as well.
Local beavers have a strong preference for cottonwood. "They love them. It's like a buffet," says Andrew Fulks, UC Davis Putah Creek Riparian Reserve Manager. They also like willow, and the easiest way to see beaver evidence is to walk along near the creek's summer channel looking for willow branches that have been neatly
sheared off near the ground, as if pruned with loppers.
According to Fulks, "Other riparian trees, like ash, box elder, valley oak, and shrubs like elderberry may get some incidental browsing, but generally are left alone." The answer for restorationists is to cage favored plant species.
Fulks notes that beaver pruning may actually be beneficial: "The willows in areas further from the creek have less access to water in the ground, and I've found that those that have been browsed and re-sprout have better survival. ... I suspect the reason they survive better after cutting down is that by removing the top growth you reduce the amount of water use, which works to their favor in a drier environment." He stresses that he hasn't actually researched willow survival rates.
Beavers and humans often have different ideas about what should be dammed and where.
A beaver damming an irrigation canal or denning in a levee bank can be a nuisance or even a danger. But beavers in streams and rivers increase wetland areas and can improve groundwater recharge, according to an article in Science News.
Fulks agrees: "Beaver are a natural part of the ecosystem, and I'm happy they are out on our creek!"
SSJID faces 2nd driest year ever...Dennis Wyatt
Bolinas – a rustic oceanside Marin County enclave – is the poster town for the looming California water crisis.
Households are being limited to 150 gallons of water a day as the town is now drawing on two emergency reservoirs including one that is almost empty. Any household that violates that limit three times – based on monthly readings - will have their water connection shut off.
To put that in perspective, it would be similar to Manteca requiring all of its households to slash average water use by almost 30 percent. The average Manteca household uses 215 gallons a day.
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District board on Tuesday is expected to notify the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy that water deliveries from the South County Surface Water Treatment Plant may be slashed by 10 percent in the coming months. It underscores the bad news in the Sierra where snow pack is seriously lagging as California enters its third drought year.
The SSJID watershed on the Stanislaus River is heading toward the second driest year on record. The record was 1923-24 when 17.1 inches of snow fell triggering the worst drought in Manteca history when the last water delivery to area farms was made in June. The irrigation season normally runs through the middle of October. The second driest year on record was 1977-78 when 19 inches of snow fell. The average snowfall in the portion of the Stanislaus River basin that impacts SSJID is 50 inches.
The snow pack – which is essentially the state’s biggest reservoir for water – is at 27 percent of normal on the watershed supplying SSJID.
The current price for water on the open market is $250 per acre foot. That is expected to triple to $750 barring extremely heavy snow fall for the balance of February as well as through March.
San Francisco Chronicle
UC admits misleading public about buyout-taker...Jim Doyle
UC Berkeley officials have acknowledged misleading the public in the controversial case of a high-paid executive aide who left her job at the university's headquarters and the next day began a new job on the Cal campus - qualifying for a $100,202 severance check along the way.
In November, when the severance payment became public, The Chronicle asked for an explanation of how Linda Morris Williams could get a buyout for leaving her $200,400-a-year headquarters job in Oakland and starting her new job paying the same salary in the office of UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
Williams and UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof released a statement suggesting that the Berkeley job opportunity had developed coincidentally after she had applied for the buyout.
"At the time of my Voluntary Separation Program application, the associate chancellor position on the Berkeley campus was not open and therefore played no role whatsoever in my decision making," Williams said at the time.
In their latest statement, Williams and Mogulof apologized "for our initial statement that unintentionally created an impression" that Williams was unaware of the possibility of future employment at the Berkeley campus.
"We sacrificed clarity and detail for the sake of brevity," Mogulof said in an interview. "We had no reason to be intentionally misleading."
A review of documents and e-mails obtained under the state Public Records Act showed Williams was well aware of the UC Berkeley job when she filed for the buyout on Jan. 22, 2008 - including talks with Birgeneau.
E-mails show she had been virtually assured by Birgeneau's close aides that the job was hers and was even placed on a UC Berkeley organizational chart five days before she applied for the buyout.
Williams was one of 155 former employees in the UC president's office to receive severance payments under a voluntary termination program designed to shrink the headquarters' payroll.
Under the program created by then-UC President Robert Dynes, 16 headquarters employees got severance checks and landed other UC jobs. Williams collected the most.
She had previously come to the public's attention during the university's salary scandal in 2006 after Dynes waived some rules and gave her some benefits, including a $44,000 relocation allowance and a low-interest $832,500 home loan, for which she was not otherwise entitled.
In her new position at Berkeley, Williams oversees whistle-blower complaints and public records requests, along with crisis management duties as associate chancellor - government, community and campus liaison.
Williams and Birgeneau declined to be interviewed and directed all inquires to the campus' main spokesperson, public affairs Executive Director Mogulof.
Although apologizing for Williams' earlier, misleading statement, Mogulof insisted that it was not false.
Mogulof said that Williams' prospective job at UC Berkeley was not a "done deal" when she applied for the buyout because Birgeneau's request to hire her without advertising the opening had not yet been approved; she had not yet received a formal offer letter; and her salary had not yet been set.
"Linda Williams acted in complete compliance with the letter and spirit of the UC Voluntary Separation Program set up by the Office of the President to reduce staff in those offices," Birgeneau told The Chronicle in December. "She applied for the severance program before the associate chancellor position on the Berkeley campus became available and before I offered her the position."
Williams' severance was paid in November, but the series of events leading up to it began at least a year earlier, on Nov. 7, 2007.
That was the day, UC officials said, Birgeneau met with Williams to discuss her taking the associate chancellorship, a position still in the conceptual stage. Just the day before, the chancellor's staff had drafted an outline of the position's responsibilities.
E-mails show that job talks between Williams and high-ranking UC Berkeley officials continued during the 11 weeks leading up to the Jan. 22, 2008, date when she applied for the buyout from her job as a senior adviser to Dynes. On that same day, the chancellor sent a letter to his human resources office saying Williams was "an ideal candidate" for the associate chancellor slot.
In that letter, the chancellor proposed to appoint Williams at her then-current annual salary of $200,400, requesting permission to expedite her hiring.
Just four days before filing her buyout application, Williams sent an e-mail to a soon-to-be UC Berkeley colleague urging that her hiring be publicly announced.
"Thanks for moving things forward," she wrote. "The 'news' is all over the place ... someone, or multiple people, congratulates me daily. However, getting the announcement out will be helpful."
On Feb. 1, 2008, the chancellor's request for a hiring waiver was granted, based on Williams' special skills and the hardship of conducting a full search during UC's budget crisis and the need for a smooth transition.
Williams left her old job on April 30 and began her new one on May 1. On Nov. 20, 2008, the UC Board of Regents discussed Williams' $100,202 payout in closed session, then approved it as the last item on the board's agenda.
Five days after The Chronicle reported on the payout to Williams, the new president of the University of California system, Mark Yudof, announced that employees in his office no longer will be allowed to collect full severance checks and then be rehired at other UC locations.
Linda Williams' new job
Nov. 7: UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau discusses an associate chancellorship job with Linda Williams.
Nov. 19: UC Office of the President in Oakland, where Williams worked, announces employee buyout program.
Jan. 17: A draft UC Berkeley organizational chart shows Williams as an associate chancellor.
Jan. 18: A UC Berkeley official e-mails the chart to Williams, who thanked the official for "moving things forward."
Jan. 22: Williams applies for a $100,202 severance payment from the UC Office of the President.
Jan. 22: Birgeneau requests a waiver to hire Williams without advertising the job.
Jan. 30: Williams' buyout application is approved by the UC Office of the President.
Feb. 1: Birgeneau gets the wavier to hire Williams.
Feb. 8: Birgeneau sends a letter offering the job to Williams.
Feb. 10: Williams accepts the offer.
Feb. 12: Birgeneau announces the hiring of Williams.
April 30: Williams' last day with the UC Office of the President.
May 1: Williams' first day at UC Berkeley.
Nov. 20: UC Board of Regents approves Williams' $100,202 severance payment.
Sources: UC documents, e-mails and interviews with officials
Golf industry feeling pinch of economic downturn
Tiger Woods expected to save PGA Tour...LAITH AGHA
Like most other industries, golf has taken a hit during the economic downturn. But with Tiger Woods set to return to competitive play in the coming months, PGA Tour officials anticipate a healthy boost in viewership.
The rest of the golf industry, however, does not have such a savior on the horizon to make up for lagging sales and a dip in rounds played at public courses.
Despite operating in a receding economy, the PGA's events, all of which are fundraisers in the same manner as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, raised a record $123 million for charities last year, said Ty Votaw, an executive vice president of the PGA Tour.
"Would we have raised more in a more robust economy? Sure," Votaw said. "But it's a testimony to how hard our tournaments work."
Ollie Nutt, president of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which organizes the AT&T, said the event will likely generate a tad more than $6 million for local charities this year, down from last year's record $6.74 million.
The economy has not been professional golf's only snag. The PGA Tour has had to cope with the absence of Tiger Woods, its No. 1 draw, who hasn't played because of a knee injury since winning the U.S. Open in June.
"Whenever you lose the No. 1 athlete in the world, it's not good," Votaw said.
The dip in revenue could be corrected with the return of Woods, who is talking about making his 2009 tour debut before the Masters in April.
Woods "coming back will be one of the most anticipated returns in the history of sports," Votaw said. "That will be good for the sport."
More courses closing
But for the golf industry in general, there's no relief in sight. Fewer rounds are being played and equipment sales are down.
Several of the nearly 16,000 public and private golf courses across the country are buried in a financial sand trap, forcing owners to offer deep discounts to keep players and recruit new members.
The National Golf Foundation reports golfers played about 498 million rounds in 2007. That number dropped about 8 million, or 1.6 percent, through the end of November, the most recent month surveyed, said Jim Kass, research director of the Jupiter, Fla.-based foundation.
The result is that more golf courses are closing than opening, a sharp change from as recently as 2001, when 252 more courses opened than closed.
The National Golf Foundation says 113 courses opened and 121 closed in 2007, and 2008 — for which it did not have final numbers — was on track to post the lowest number of openings in two decades.
Just last week, Pasadera Country Club announced plans to file for bankruptcy reorganization.
When it comes to equipment, the PGA noted that attendance fell about 4.5 percent at the recent PGA of America's Merchandise Show in Orlando. Benn McCallister, a spokesman for Golf Mart, a golf emporium that operates a dozen stores in Northern California and about 40 in the western states, said that every sector of golf "has seen a double-digit decreased in sales across the board" since the end of 2007.
"Nobody's making a living," said Tom Wargo, the 1993 Senior PGA champion and 1994 Senior British Open champion who owns a golf course in Indiana.
And now California is yelling "fore" with the threat of the state sales tax being extended to all golf services.
"The industry as a whole is in a recession, just like many other industries," said Bob Bouchier, executive director of the California Alliance for Golf, headquartered in Pebble Beach. That "makes the additional tax that much more dangerous."
The tax could be applied to course fees, country club fees, and even a bucket of balls at the driving range.
Sales tax could also go up 1.5 percent, which in Monterey County would push it from 7.25 percent to 8.75 percent. So a $30 round of golf would cost $32.63, and a
$1,000 membership fee would cost the member $1,087.50.
The tax could have far reaching ramifications on the Peninsula, where the tourist industry benefits greatly from being one of the top golf destinations in the world, Bouchier said.
Bouchier suspects that golf has been unfairly targeted for the tax because it is perceived as a rich man's game, while the tax add-on is not being considered for other sports and recreational activities, such as tennis, bowling, skiing and gym memberships.
Not just for the rich
"The notion that you're just taxing the rich or that golf is an exclusive, affluent sport is just not correct," he said.
Most of the 3 million or so golfers in California play public courses, which Bouchier says is a testament that golf is not a rich person's game.
McCallister said taxing golf could damage the sport's long-term viability if it were to affect junior golf programs, the costs of which are often covered by course
operators hosting the programs.
"They're providing a service for young people and they shouldn't be taxed for doing that," McCallister said. "That's where the game grows, in the youth programs. If you kill the youth programs, you're killing the game."
The tax has not been formally proposed, McCallister said, but if it were to become a reality, it could have devastating effects, he said.
"It's still on the radar," he said. "It's just not on the immediate radar."
McCallister added that additional costs for casual golfers would drive sales down even further.
"They're the industry," he said, "That's not fair."
San Diego Union-Tribune
Why Desalination Got Famous...ROB DAVIS
Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009 | The proposed Carlsbad desalination plant's timing is perfect. With California's water supplies crimped and cuts on the way, the idea of a new water source in San Diego is making politicians salivate.
The seawater desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Corp. is advertised as being able to tap into the Pacific Ocean, a drought-proof supply. Now the state sits in a drought. And with the project's permitting nearly finished, state leaders are lining up in support -- from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Linda Adams, the state's environmental protection secretary.
Their message to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the last agency to withhold needed permits: Enough already. Stop slowing down construction.
So the regional board, the local water pollution regulator, is being assailed from both proponents and opponents of the project. Environmental groups have sued the regional board for giving conditional approval to the desalination plant. And state leaders are flexing their political muscles, urging the board to go all the way.
"The political interest in this item is huge," said John Robertus, the regional board's executive officer. "And every day it doesn't rain, it goes up a notch."
The regional board in 2006 granted a necessary permit to Poseidon, which will allow it to discharge into the Pacific. But it came with conditions, including developing a specific plan for mitigating the plant's impact on marine life. The agency's staff proposes to continue withholding approval until Poseidon refines its mitigation plans. The discussion is scheduled Wednesday. Asked whether the agency is feeling political pressure, Robertus said: "Certainly. Water is about politics."
The desalination plant has always had the region's attention. But with mandatory water-use restrictions likely coming to Southern California this summer, the project has grabbed the attention of the governor and other state officials. The plant, which could begin operating in December 2011 at the earliest, would boost San Diego's supply 10 percent. The project will set the precedent for other desalination efforts.
At least one will follow on the Carlsbad plant's heels. Poseidon, a private Connecticut-based company, is seeking permits for a plant in Huntington Beach. But Carlsbad's challenges were greater, and so it has pushed that project first. The regulatory examples set there will be followed in Huntington Beach and in any other seawater desalination plants.
"As goes Carlsbad, so goes the rest of the coast," Robertus said. "This is a contentious issue. And it's going to get more intense as we get closer to the date when they begin to pump water."
At the center of the current debate is Poseidon's plan to mitigate the plant's impacts on marine life. It will suck in 304 million gallons of seawater daily and turn 50 million gallons into drinking water. The filtered-out salt will be diluted with the remaining 254 million gallons and sent back to the ocean.
The pumps that draw in that water will kill about two pounds of fish each day. (Poseidon says this is less than the daily consumption of an adult brown pelican). They'll also squash 11 million to 16 million fish larvae daily -- four billion to five billion annually.
State regulators are requiring Poseidon to mitigate that damage by restoring 37 acres of wetlands. The company estimates it would cost $10 million wherever it decides to repair damaged habitat and build a functioning ecosystem.
This hang-up has everyone's attention. The regional board wants Poseidon to pick a specific site. Poseidon has identified 11 and says it will decide on a specific location later. Five are in San Diego County: the Tijuana River Valley, San Elijo Lagoon, San Dieguito River Valley, Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon. Others are in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The company says picking a site now would require a lengthy environmental review and delay the plant's construction. The company promises to choose a site and finish mitigation before the plant begins operating, Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni said.
The environmental groups that have sued say Poseidon has the process backward. The company should not be able to get approval for building its project, they say, before completely identifying its mitigation plans.
"It's not responsible for the agencies to approve a project without these questions being answered," said Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego Coastkeeper. "Just because Poseidon has said 'We'll do whatever it takes and we'll find a place to do mitigation,' that shouldn't be sufficient. You should know where the mitigation is going to occur."
As that debate continues, state leaders are interjecting. The regional board has received letters urging approval from Schwarzenegger; Linda Adams; Mike Chrisman, the natural resources secretary; and A.G. Kawamura, the food and agriculture secretary. Donald Koch, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, wrote that mitigation plans were sufficient.
The letters sounds similar and say Poseidon's plans do enough. Schwarzenegger wrote:
The situation in San Diego, a county nearly 90 percent reliant on imported water from northern California and the Colorado River, is equally dire. Last week, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders announced the high probability that the city will need to start rationing water July 1.
Adams said nearly the same thing:
San Diego is particularly vulnerable to drought conditions because it imports close to 90% of its water. ... Last week Mayor Sanders announced the high probability that San Diego will face water rationing by July.
Same with Chrisman:
San Diego is particularly vulnerable to drought conditions because it imports approximately 90 percent of its water supply.
Poseidon, which has spent $172,000 on lobbying in Sacramento since 2007, doesn't appear to have made financial donations to any of Schwarzenegger's pet causes to get the governor's attention.
"I'm waiting for that ask," Maloni said. "I'm sure we'll get that."
Instead, it appears the state's drought is the driving force.
Pentagon Issues 'Credits' To Offset Harm to Wildlife
Payouts to Landowners Draw Criticism...Juliet Eilperin
The Pentagon has been funding Texas A&M University to pay landowners near a Texas military post to protect endangered bird species on their land under a secretive program designed to free the military to conduct training activities that would damage the birds' habitats inside the post's boundaries, documents show.
Despite complaints that the program is a boondoggle for the landowners, some federal officials are pushing to replicate it at other military sites and in federal highway projects. The program's effectiveness has been questioned by several military officials, federal wildlife authorities and an independent consulting firm, which recommended that the Army cancel it.
Initially championed by former president George W. Bush and some of his political allies, the "recovery credit system" at Fort Hood in central Texas has so far paid out nearly $4.4 million to contractors and landowners.
Under the program, the Army accumulates "credits" that correspond roughly to the acreage that landowners agree to conserve for between 10 and 25 years. After banking sufficient credits, the military can use them to offset the habitat loss or harm that would stem from its activities. It must set aside 10 percent of the credits to foster the recovery of a target species.
At Fort Hood, the program -- which does not disclose the landowners' identities, the amounts they receive or precisely where their properties are located -- aims to provide ranchers with expertise and financial incentives to expand habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.
Neal Wilkins, who directs Texas A&M's Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and oversees the Fort Hood pilot project, said imperiled animals such as the warbler will survive only if experts can persuade private property owners to provide them with a haven.
"If we don't figure out how to manage private lands . . . we've lost the battle," Wilkins said, dismissing criticism of the program. "Those are the little turf battles, the little petty arguments that go on in the background."
But according to more than a hundred pages of e-mails, internal reports and other documents obtained by The Washington Post, the criticism has come from several Army officials as well as some biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Service who study imperiled species. These officials, as well as others who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue, questioned the wisdom of using federal money to secure temporary habitat on private property when permanent easements that bar development in perpetuity are known to be more effective in protecting vulnerable species.
One federal official familiar with the program said that unlike other conservation initiatives the military has developed, the three-year pilot project at Fort Hood does not benefit either soldiers' training or the species in question.
"From my perspective, the bottom line is, it was all political pressure to take a slug of money every year and put it toward this program, and no was not an answer," the official said. "We should spend money on soldiers preparing to go to war. And instead it appears this was about making sure this money was devoted to a specific constituency in Texas."
LMI Government Consulting, an independent firm hired to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the project, produced a report in August that concluded that the military should instead devote resources to the Army Compatible Use Buffer Program, which allows the military to buy permanent conservation easements from willing landowners.
"The Army has less expensive ways to protect accessibility, capability, and capacity for soldier training at Fort Hood," the report said, adding that the project is "unnecessary." The Army has yet to release the report.
Internal Army documents and communications echo that theme. In a Jan. 15 e-mail to several colleagues, Brig. Gen. Richard C. Longo, who helps oversee military training for the Pentagon, wrote of the recovery credit system: "BOTTOM LINE: RCS is not good unless you are a local landowner in the Fort Hood area." His commander, three-star Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, replied, "ROGER AGREE HOLD THE LINE ON THIS. NO FREE CHICKEN!"
Officials as senior as Army Secretary Pete Geren also questioned the approach: In a July 2008 document, Geren hand-wrote, "I am very concerned about 'term' easements." He ordered Army officials to "brief me before anything further [is] done on them."
It remains unclear whether the program is succeeding in expanding the number of golden-cheeked warblers in central Texas. A biological evaluation issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 2, 2007, agreed with the Army that the project's impact would not necessarily boost the bird's numbers because the contracts with landowners were "not in perpetuity. . . . Thus, golden-cheeked warblers would receive short term benefits from the proposed action with no guarantee of future protection."
As it happens, the Army has made tremendous strides in rebuilding the population of the birds at Fort Hood over the past decade and a half. As a result of cultivating trees and shrubs that the birds depend on and driving off cowbirds that infiltrate the warblers' nests, there are now roughly 5,400 warbler pairs -- more than twice what is called for under the federal recovery plan for the species.
Texas comptroller Susan Combs, a longtime political ally of Bush's, helped start the Fort Hood pilot project while serving as the state's agriculture commissioner. She said she pushed for the funding because she wanted to promote "a tremendously important installation" while helping and educating area ranchers.
"The real issue was how could we persuade landowners to do the right thing for endangered species and also help Fort Hood," said Combs, a cattle rancher whose son spent time on the post before serving in Iraq.
Both Combs and Wilkins said they had made the decision to shield the landowners' identities in order to enlist ranchers in the program. Wilkins -- who said the program had paid $460,522 directly to property owners and spent another $1.9 million on "conservation actions" on their land -- said groups including the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the Texas Farm Bureau have embraced the project.
"The participation rate would be really low" if ranchers' names became public, because Texans feel passionately about their privacy, Wilkins said, adding that landowners are "lining up" to participate in part because they only have to commit to temporary rather than permanent easements. The landowners have spent $450,000 of their own money on improving their land for the warblers, he said.
Some military and Fish and Wildlife officials are hoping to apply the recovery credit system to other federal programs. Joy Nicholopoulos, Fish and Wildlife's state administrator for ecological services in Texas, said she was hoping it would "catch on" elsewhere, adding that the Federal Highway Administration is researching whether to use it. And senior officials with the Marines are exploring whether to institute it at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, in an effort to move nesting pairs of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker off the base.
But John Hammond, a Fish and Wildlife biologist in Raleigh, N.C., who works on protecting the woodpeckers, said the current plan to try to relocate the birds onto private land several miles away does not take the species' foraging habits into account.
"You don't go out 10 miles away and start planting trees. You've got to do it on adjacent territory," he said. "It needs to be guided by the science that pertains to the biology of the bird."
Pentagon officials, for their part, said they will decide whether to continue the new conservation approach once Fort Hood's three-year pilot program ends this year.
"After its conclusion, DoD natural resource and program management personnel at all levels will review the results and consider whether, and how, DoD may be able to apply recovery crediting under applicable US Fish and Wildlife Service regulations as a tool to help address compatible land use issues at DoD installations and ranges," spokesman Chris Isleib wrote in an e-mail.
When bad banks buy worse banks
The FDIC has sold several failed banks to institutions that are also losing money. Should this be a cause for concern?...Paul R. La Monica
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Nine banks have failed so far this year. That's not good news, particularly since 25 failed last year.
Fortunately, customers of these banks have had little to worry about. In most cases, the FDIC immediately found a buyer for the failed banks, so depositors simply found a new name on their bank the Monday after the takeover.
What's more, the FDIC now insures up to $250,000 in individual accounts.
Talkback: Are you worried that more major banks will fail?
But none of that means everything is A-OK. In several cases, failed banks have been taken over by banks that are also struggling.
For example. Regions Financial (RF, Fortune 500), which acquired the assets of FirstBank Financial Services of McDonough, Ga., after it failed Friday, is expected to lose $705.8 million this year, according to consensus estimates of analysts. And this is Regions' second acquisition of a failed bank in the past year.
Zions Bancorp (ZION), the parent of California Bank & Trust, which is acquiring Alliance Bank of Culver City, Calif., another bank that failed Friday, is expected to lose $117.5 million in 2009. This is also the second purchase of a failed bank for Zions in the past year.
And CenterState Banks of Florida (CSFL), which bought Ocala National Bank of Ocala, Fla., after it failed last month, posted a loss in the fourth quarter and is expected to lose money for the next two quarters.
Is it a problem that weak banks are being allowed to buy failed banks? After all, shouldn't banks that have fewer problems of their own be the ones to scoop up more deposits and assets?
A spokesperson for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was not immediately available for comment.
Still, several industry analysts pointed out that the FDIC would not sell a failed bank to another bank that was also in imminent danger.
In fact, some would argue that when the FDIC approves a takeover of a failed bank, it is an endorsement of the acquirer's own financial situation. To that end, shares of Zions Bancorp were up 2% Monday morning while shares of Regions Financial surged 12%.
Jason Goldberg, an analyst with Barclays Capital, who covers both Regions and Zions, wrote in notes to clients Monday morning that investors do view the deals as a "signal from the FDIC that the buyer is 'healthy.'" He added that the purchases should add to earnings for the two banks.
However, it's debatable if the one-day pop in Regions and Zions means that either bank is out of the woods. Shares of Regions and Zions are both down about 40% this year. Clearly, investors are worried about the long-term health of the two institutions.
And even though the FDIC has largely won raves for how it has handled the banking and credit crisis, its judgment isn't perfect. Remember, before Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) agreed to scoop up all of Wachovia last year, the FDIC originally brokered a deal for Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) to buy the banking assets of Wachovia.
Imagine how much worse shape Citigroup, which has already received $45 billion in bailout funds and more than $300 billion in loan loss guarantees, might be in if it was also trying to integrate Wachovia.
Nonetheless, another bank analyst noted that it's important to differentiate between how a bank's stock is doing and how the actual operations of the bank are faring.
"In this day and age, some of the best banks I know are struggling with asset quality issues and investment issues that they will get through," said Bill McDonald, managing director with RSM McGladrey, a Minneapolis-based accounting and consulting firm focusing on mid-sized institutions, including community banks.
And to be fair, not all acquirers of failed banks are faring poorly. Westamerica Bancorp (WABC), which bought the third bank that failed last Friday, County Bank of Merced, Calif., has remained profitable throughout the credit crisis and actually increased its dividend last month.
BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500), which acquired Haven Trust Bank of Duluth, Ga., after it failed in December, has also been one of the better performing regional banks during the economic downturn.
Then there's Community Bankers Trust Corp (BTC)., a relatively small bank in Virginia that has bought two failed banks in the past few months through its Bank of Essex subsidiary. It has also remained profitable for the past few quarters.
"Regulators are doing a good job, when arranging a marriage, of making sure it's confident the buyer is someone that's holding up well," said McDonald.