Jack-hammering the Castle wall, II
ORDINANCE ESTABLISHING CASTLE REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced CA 95340-9550 (209) 769-0832
Monday, February 13, 2006
Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced CA 95340 ` Via fax (209) 726-7977
And via email: dist 1-5 @ co.merced.ca.us etc.
RE: Request for continuance of these items to a later public hearing.
RE: Public Hearing Feb 14, 2006 et seq/ Establishment of an Ordinance of the County of Merced Establishing Agency and adopting Redevelopment Plan for the
Castle Airport Aviation and Development Center Redevelopment Project
RE: CEQA required notice of public hearing
RE: Feb 10 non-responsive written answers by county counsel to written public comments submitted 1-23-06.
RE: Establishing common definitions for “REDEVELOPMENT”, “BLIGHT”, and “INDEMNIFICATION”.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are in receipt of written responses to 27 comments (as enumerated by county counsel) derived from our previous letter to the board regarding this agenda item. According to the final paragraph of the document sent to us, the answers to the specific comments are to be presented to you at the Board meeting of Feb 14th 2006. It should be noted for the record that these comments were received under protest by staff that this was ‘last minute’ and were somehow not meritorious because of timing.
While we appreciate that the county has responded at all to public comments, we note that this response letter was mailed Friday Feb 10th 2006 prior to a holiday weekend immediately preceding the next scheduled board of supervisors meeting.
In light of the county’s decision to respond at the last minute, and then to entertain these items on Tuesday Feb.14th, 2006 we respectfully note that the county’s previous angst over the public’s insistence on its ability to participate in a ‘public process’ seems both hollow and contrived.
In anticipation of similar calumny being offered to the press regarding the public’s purported ‘tactics’ in overseeing the County Administration, we ask an impartial audience to suppose how the public could possibly process and respond any faster regarding our concerns over the propriety of the county proceeding with this process.
The county must not distinguish between the concerns of the public who pay their salary through taxes and concerns of financially invested developers who can afford to pay the county to look the other way. This sort of cherry picking with regard to official responses by the county, to legitimate concerns of the public regarding expenditures coming from the county purse cannot be condoned any longer. There must not be a double standard in the ‘public process’ whether or not such concerns are over potential environmental impacts or gross fiscal mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds.
We are therefor submitting this request (to continue the above items to a later meeting) by fax on an official holiday, during which the county is officially closed and as soon as was possible to do so! To clarify further, we make this request in order to give the public the necessary time to assess the county’s reply and because we were not given the courtesy of receiving a copy of the staff’s report to the board on this matter. There simply has not been any time allocated to make any further refinements to our previous comments in light of those responses from the county.
Addressing failed communications between the supervisors and the county staff is of equal importance to us as members of the public, as the substance of the offered comments, and the putative responses thereto. There must be sufficient time and proper notification by the County, of the board’s intended actions (beyond the merely administrative functions of the county) in order properly to address those issues.
No effort was made to disabuse the media of its previous misperception of the ‘public process’ regarding this proposed ordinance however, the county is once again abusing the public’s right to participate in this process by failing to give timely notice in the legally prescribed manner that they intend to adopt an ordinance with a CEQA component.
While it was gratifying, while reading through the responses to our comments, to see evidence that at least one other official of the county had actually read through the Report to the Board of Supervisors (the report which prompted these referenced comments in the first place) there remains a chasm of misunderstanding between the contextual setting of the proffered comments, and the textual references regurgitated from the same report as putative ‘answers’ to those referenced comments.
County counsel has, in most instances therein, merely restated the authorities under which the board had originally intended to adopt the ordinance, cited above, establishing the existence of a Redevelopment Agency, et cetera, for the Plan area.
These authorities were not questioned in our previous comment! Simply restating that the supervisors have a certain legal authority to follow a particular path from A to B does not in and of itself give the public any more information on which to determine, decide or intelligently debate whether or not taking such a path is in the best interests of the county purse. As for establishing common definitions of words and phrases, the term ‘public hearing’ carries with it implicit expectations by the public to which the counselor’s ear seems particularly deaf. We fully intend to further address the counselor’s responses to our comments in later correspondence; hence the need for continuing this item clearly exists.
What is clear from the county counsel’s responses is that “staff”, on whom the board relies for decisions such as this, would readily recommend applying for grant money to teach pigs how to sing, if it in any way secured yet another government subsidy. (Although such a subsidy might even be appropriate given the ‘historic’ agricultural basis of Merced County’s economy, it is offered as a preposterous and profligate example of administrative behavior, unacceptable to the public who has elected this particular administrative body!)
The concerns raised by these commentators are meant to address the disturbing trend in Merced County Administration towards blatant and uncritical adoption of what is becoming widely knows as “Win-win Public/Private Partnerships”! This sort of welfare entitlement mentality on the Administrative level is fraught with opportunity to misappropriate and misspend staggering amounts of public funding with little chance of public oversight because of flaws in the process by which such funds are encumbered and subsequently accounted for.
A very pertinent case in point is the very concept of delaying the CEQA review process of this project by 18 months. The authority to make this determination was not questioned by these commentators however the needs analysis process (listed merely as findings) that gives such a decision, by the supervisors, the pretended urgency that has been described in the previous board agenda item paperwork, remains in and of itself opaque to the public.
Such a decision to delay CEQA review of a project must also be subject to proper notification and public hearing; this has not been properly documented. We therefore must respectfully request that you defer any further consideration of the proposed Ordinance until such time as the needs of the citizens of the County are clearly enumerated and whether such a proposed delay of the environmental review process is necessary or pertinent in light of the county’s citizens’ needs!
(At the very least, the public needs must be distinguished from the supposed needs of the board of supervisors and those sycophantic parties whose job security depends on guiding the supervisors down this particular path, whether or not such activity is technically legal according to the federal guidelines cited in county counsel’s reply).
With regard to the Environmental Impact Statement adopted by the County of Merced in 1996 in response to the closure of Castle AFB, we find that the context of the project both at the proposed site, and in the surrounding areas have changed substantially and significantly and that such changes have rendered such document unsuitable as an analytic tool from which to tier subsequent environmental review, especially environmental review of ‘projects’ under California Law (CEQA).
There seems to be some confusion in the county’s mind that it is appropriate to tier supplemental CEQA environmental review off of a 10-year-old document prepared under federal guidelines (NEPA). While the concept underlying such environmental review is common to both processes, the federal and state review processes are not interchangeable. Of course counsel knows this but perhaps the subtlety of comparing apples with oranges escaped the board’s notice somewhere in the sheer volume of the county counsel’s reply to these public comments.
The county should be properly chastened for allowing the city of Atwater to suck the marrow from Castle AFB’s rotting bones, prior to the dissolution of the joint powers authority which exercised land use authority when that city was busily retooling its housing market and the overall marketability of the intervening residentially developable land formerly identifiable as housing for Castle AFB staff and families.
It would seem that the city most ‘blighted’ by the closing of Castle has already rebounded with a will, approved annexed and developed abundant upscale housing, and has successfully attracted a major supply of ‘guest residents’ who appear for the most part to be employed outside of Merced County.
Now the county wants to do something about attracting industry to this empty shell left behind by the USAF, and the illuminati of Atwater’s land use authorities. Without putting too fine a point on the situation, the horse is already out of the barn. The Redevelopment funding the county is seeking to attract is being pursued under the basest of intention. To put it more clearly, the county is seeking government pork to dole out to specific non-profit corporations and private entrepreneurs of their own choosing. There are neither readily available raw material nor suitable workforce to make such redevelopment economically feasible.
There would not necessarily be anything wrong with trying to alleviate blight in Merced County, however, the various cooperating/participating agencies whose funding would flow into Merced County through the proposed ‘blight alleviation’ have widely divergent definitions as to what constitutes ‘blight’.
In the case of Castle AFB Redevelopment Plan, it is not at all clear to the public when analyzing the Kayser Marsten report to the Board, that efforts undertaken with the state’s money will ever provide any suitable return on such investment, or that any such return would even remotely resemble the benefits envisioned in the State’s Redevelopment Act law.
Conclusions presented in counsel’s response to our comments, and in previous staff reports to the board of supervisors present as bare fact that redevelopment will alleviate blight, and if saying so made it true we would have no grounds for concern. Admittedly this ‘Plan’ contains a laundry list of proposed projects for which the anticipated redevelopment money will certainly provide some benefits, but the beneficiaries, seem to be corporate entities, rather than natural persons inhabiting Merced County.
There is no evidence that this redevelopment is part of an overarching plan that will provide any long-term financial stability for the county of Merced on the order of the former USAFB. All of the component parts of this plan seem to be perfectly portable as individual business entities, and therefore do not represent a prudent investment of state funds in this county’s hands.
Given the county’s extensive history of turning a blind eye to discrepancy between the intent of government funding streams and their ultimate expenditures in Merced County, the public remains unconvinced that this project is in the best interests of the county in General. There is no question that some entrepreneurs may benefit from the expense of public monies to upgrade the existing infrastructure at the former Castle AFB, but that still doesn’t establish that ‘blight conditions have been alleviated.
County counsel’s responses to comments number 3 and 7 are illustrative of the administrative schizophrenia evident in allowing the board of supervisors to designate themselves as a Redevelopment Agency for a particular set of parcels of unincorporated Merced County. In response to comment 3, counsel establishes that the purpose of redevelopment is to redevelop the project area, not to cause a general benefit to the County at large. And in reply to comment 7, that, ‘there is no mechanism nor is it the goal to proportionally [sic] distribute the benefits of redevelopment throughout the County”.
This is an amazing admission with regard to the public’s expectations regarding the role of the persons elected to supervise the county! Given that this same administrative body (in establishing a massive Williamson Act Preserve in 2000 essentially coterminous with virtually all unincorporated land within Merced County) adopted and embraced the State Legislature’s findings that farmland was vitally important to the people of California, it could be fairly argued that the ‘redevelopment’ goals in any portion of that preserve are in fact counter productive an ‘blighting’ of the agricultural value of the land so designated.
This is merely one example from a plethora of conflicting goals and policies of the County of Merced that tend to demonstrate how fundamentally flawed and out of date, the county’s general plan really is. Making decisions as to the relative value of disparate programs with conflicting goals and implementing measures is impossible and in many cases clearly illegal. Without having an internally consistent and current General Plan in place, this decision concerning the Castle Redevelopment Plan is entirely suspect.
Counsels claim that the county intends to continue to administer economic development and other housing programs countywide utilizing HUD funds, Enterprise Zoning, Community Development Block Grant funding, and other funding sources and incentives as available and applicable presupposes a continued lack of public oversight of the administration of such programs in this County. It would be unwise to assume that the public will remain inattentive to the previous abuses of these funding sources.
The ‘moral turpitude’ of the previous District 1 Supervisor, Gloria Keene, is now a matter of public record with regard to filing of fraudulent claims. Other abuses of civil and administrative process are still under the purview of the courts, both State and Federal. The county of Merced’s involvement with the private non-profit Planada Community Development Corporation is of particular concern to the public insofar as the interaction between public and private entities in that unincorporated portion of Merced County, which were facilitated through the District 1 supervisor have blurred the distinctions and responsibilities of what should be clearly separable land use authorities and financial interests, in this County.
Not to seem flippant about this penchant of the board of supervisors for wearing a multiplicity of hats simultaneously, it should be pointed out that haberdashery often produced dementia and insanity in those practicing such a trade, hence the term “ mad as a hatter”. This situation was a direct result of failing to mitigate for the significant environmental impacts (chemical exposure) implicit in the process of molding felt into various shapes. In a similar fashion, there will be economic consequences down the road for misappropriation and incompetent accounting of government subsidies already encumbered by Merced County, and disproportionate scrutiny of any future funding requests if the county (or Agency) as described in response to comment No. 12, fails to maintain an ‘excellent’ rating with regard to the issuance of bonds, etc.
The response to Comment No. 12 concludes thusly, “The purpose of the Foreign Trade Zone and AN objective of the Redevelopment Plan are to attract businesses to an area and create additional jobs”. Once again, these commentators must point out the conflicting nature of the goals and implementation measures inherent in ‘being’ an agriculturally based economy, struggling to artificially force the creation of ‘additional jobs’ with no underlying source of raw material or labor force. The county’s goals and policies are clearly at odds with the realities of the situation ‘on the ground’ in Merced County, and a fundamental shift away from an agricultural based economy must be subject to intense and competent public discussion and yes, even debate.
The board has a demonstrable history of proceeding on a course of action in spite of public opposition to the decision. This calls into question the practice of allowing parties with vested financial interest to proceed with plans or ‘projects’ clearly beneficial to the project proponent to ‘indemnify’ the county from the legal recourse available to Merced County’s citizens. This concept of ‘paying to play’ is neither new nor subtle; it is merely abusive of the entire concept of public review and oversight of elected administrative officials.
To conclude: The board is faced once again with a list of possible action items.
· Uncertainty remains with regard to the official definition of the words ‘blight’, redevelopment, and indemnification.
· There has been inadequate response to the public comments on the Castle Redevelopment Plan Ordinance, and
· The public has no confidence with regard to the staff’s recommendations regarding the process of amending the county general plan.
The public has a right and expectation of full disclosure with regard to the disposition of public funds. Inherent in the process of such disclosure is the entire concept of a ‘public process’. There remains much to be considered before the board can competently render a fully informed decision with regard to the above referenced items.
We respectfully request that the ‘public process’ be more complete and certainly more transparent before the board takes any further action on these items.
Planada Community Development Corporation
2683 South Plainsburg Road
Merced, CA 95340-9550
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center- Lydia M. Miller, President
Protect Our Water- Steve Burke
The Planada Association
Badlandsjournal.com – Bill Hatch, Editor
Other interested parties