Badlands Journal
"Reverse Dust Bowl"...Badlands Journal editorial board
Congressmen want more water for California farmers...Fresno Bee...3-31-09
The Associated Press – 3/31/09
By Kevin Freking
      Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, said thousands of families
      were moving out of his district. He called the exodus the
      "Dust Bowl migration in reverse."
Congressman Cardoza has always been a great leader in the 18th Congressional District of California. His greatest act of leadership in recent months has been to move his family to Annapolis, Maryland and get his wife a job at the U. of Maryland.
Cardoza did everything he could, as a state assemblyman and later as a congressman, to promote real estate, finance and insurance growth in Merced, Modesto and Stockton, today among the top foreclosure rate capitals of the nation. He was particularly effective in breaking every environmental law and regulation in his path to site the University of California campus in Merced, which became the anchor tenant for that hapless county's speculative real estate boom and bust. Only the enormous protections offered congressmen for stating their economic interests prevents the public from getting a clear picture of how much Cardoza personally benefited from the boom.
In any event, as pickups pull away from foreclosed homes in Cardoza's district with all the household goods they can stack in them, some of them are surely headed for Annapolis, following their leader to the end.
Merced Sun-Star
Vernal pools around Valley and UC Merced fill diverse role
Seasonal ponds allow unique wildflowers to flourish...CAROL REITER
They're not cow wallows, and they're certainly not seasonal mud holes.
That's what some people think vernal pools are. And they are wrong. Vernal pools are biologically diverse self-contained ecosystems unique to the Central Valley.
Vernal pools were also a large part of where the UC Merced campus wound up being built. The campus' original proposed site had to be moved to the southwest because 670 acres of pristine vernal pool habitat would have been destroyed.
Vernal pools still exist around the UC campus, and along the highways and in the foothills of Merced County. They are at their peak now, which is earlier than normal because of low rainfall and rising temperatures.
And those vernal pools are something to see. In the middle of grasslands, with waving fields of native grasses bending to the winds, a vernal pool is easy to spot. They are the areas full of yellow and white flowers, some with water still in the middle of the pools, some already dried up. Cattle like to graze near vernal pools and help keep the nonnative grass species from taking over the pools.
Vernal pools once covered nearly 22 million acres of California and Oregon. Up to 80 percent of those pools are now gone because of the growth of cities and some farming practices.
Lynn Hansen, a retired biology professor from Modesto Junior College, has spent a lot of time studying vernal pools and the species that inhabit the pools.
"They are seasonal pools, relying on rainfall and runoff," Hansen said. The pools don't have a year-round source of water, and the species that inhabit the pools have evolved to thrive in the impermanence of the pools.
The pools are home to invertebrates such as tadpoles and fairy shrimp. Those tiny critters are mere cysts in the dry ground when the winter rains come. Once the pools start to fill with water, the shrimp hatch, and then several generations live and die in the pools until the summer sun dries up the pools completely.
"All of the invertebrates come early in the season, when the water is still cool and at its deepest," Hansen explained.
What makes vernal pools unique is that unlike many areas on earth, vernal pools are found where there is either hardpan, a concrete-like clay that is found under the topsoil, or a rock base under the topsoil. The water that comes from rainfall or runoff is unable to soak into the ground, and vernal pools are the result.
Vernal means spring, and that's when the pools are at their most beautiful. Along with the invertebrates that live in the pools, many species of flowers have adapted to living alongside vernal pools, Hansen said.
"All of the flowers around vernal pools are keyed into the drying phases," Hansen said. Some of the most common flowers seen in the Merced area are white meadowfoam and yellow goldfields. These turn the hillsides into areas of gold and white, tucked among the green native grasses of spring.
Other flowers are also found around vernal pools, and they can be blue, purple, yellow and white. "It looks almost like a Joseph's coat," she said.
The vernal pools are important to wildlife, such as migratory birds, Hansen said. Because the pools teem with life in the spring, waterfowl like ducks use them as a place to feed. The pools are also home to tiger salamander and spadefoot toad larvae.
Zachary Simmons, a regulatory project manager for the United States Army Corps of Engineers, said vernal pools are unique to the Central Valley. Most of the species of animals and plants are only found near vernal pools.
"You will never see some of these flowers anywhere else in the world," Simmons said.
Along with invertebrates and plants, Simmons said there are also solitary bees that live and feed near vernal pools. Simmons said the bees live in the ground and use pollen from the flowers around vernal pools to feed their young.
"There are estimates that there are thousands of species of bees that are native to California, and we haven't identified all of them yet," Simmons said.
Both Simmons and Hansen said vernal pools are important because of their unique ecosystems, and the fact that they can be enjoyed by almost anyone.
"If we think of them as a park-like atmosphere, where you can enjoy something really beautiful, we realize how important they are," Hansen said.
Simmons said preserving the native species found around vernal pools is important for everyone.
"We don't understand the role the species play until they are completely gone," Simmons said. "Then we realize that maybe we should have kept those species around. When you get rid of a vernal pool, it's gone forever, and those flowers won't grow anywhere else. They're just gone."
And they can't be replaced by wallows and mud holes.
Our View: Salmon must top state's water agenda
In any water reform the governor wants, he must not let fisheries slide into oblivion.
Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger wants to leave office having achieved what he calls "comprehensive water reform."
This includes improved water conveyance and habitat restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and increased water storage and conservation for the entire state.
This is a worthy and ambitious to-do list. Yet it doesn't go far enough.
Along with advancing a water agenda, Schwarz-enegger needs to advance a salmon agenda. Otherwise, the governor could leave office with the state's prized salmon fisheries sinking into oblivion.
During Schwarzenegger's tenure, he has supported Klamath River restoration and aid to salmon fishermen who have been put out of work.
But his administration hasn't done enough to improve conditions for salmon in the Central Valley, where these magnificent fish confront a range of perils.
The giant pumps in the delta, which kill fish directly and also alter the flows of the estuary, are one of these perils. Unscreened water diversions are another.
Extremely warm, polluted water from the San Joaquin River hurts salmon in that part of the delta. Upstream on the Sacramento River, irregular flows in dammed tributaries such as the American River harm salmon trying to spawn.
To be sure, conditions in the ocean have much to do with recent salmon declines. Scientists have documented a reduction in the usual "upwelling" of nutrient-rich currents that generate food for salmon while they are in the ocean.
Yet as biologists have pointed out, the decline of chinook salmon has been ongoing for 150 years, even during periods when ocean conditions were favorable.
As UC Davis biologist Peter Moyle points out, blaming ocean conditions for salmon declines is like blaming an iceberg for sinking the Titanic.
Such a view, he says, "ignores the many human errors that put the ship on course for the fatal collision."
With the change in the White House, there's an opportunity for California and the Obama administration to pursue the goals of salmon recovery.
The 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act, viewed with hostility by the second Bush administration, calls for at least a doubling of salmon populations on a "long-term sustainable basis."
To meet this goal, California must learn from successes. Congressional approval of the San Joaquin River restoration settlement also offers potential for restoring salmon.
Salmon restoration goals can't stay on the back burner any longer.
With state's fishing industry on the ropes, Schwarz-enegger must make salmon a centerpiece of his water agenda.
Letter: CEO's salary...GEORGE BAIR, Merced
Editor: Let me see if I correctly understand this: Merced County ranks near the bottom in nearly every criteria used to measure a community's quality of life, yet the salary of the county CEO's salary ranks 13th in the state?
Seems we have our own AIG/Detroit fiasco right here in River City.
Modesto Bee
Growth to take middle ground...Garth Stapley
FRESNO — In a symbolic move that could evolve into a significant regional growth strategy, San Joaquin Valley leaders Wednesday approved a compromise between status quo sprawl and a scenario that would double housing densities.
The 12-3 vote for a compromise valleywide blueprint finishes three years of debate throughout the eight-county region from Lodi to Bakersfield. Wednesday's final decision won't produce immediate results, but eventually it is expected to play a role in how state officials award housing and transportation funds.
Of seven Northern San Joaquin Valley representatives, five voted for the compromise: Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover, Oakdale Mayor Farrell Jackson, Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum, Ripon Mayor Chuck Winn and Merced County Supervisor Mike Nelson. Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston and Merced Councilman Bill Spriggs favored the compact housing alternative.
"This is an incredible step forward," said Kern County Supervisor Michael Rubio, chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Regional Policy Council. The panel is composed of representatives from each of the counties — San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Kern and Tulare.
Panel members acknowledged significant support for the most compact alternative from the Blueprint Regional Advisory Council and from a Blueprint summit in Fresno attended by nearly 600 people. But only 361 voted at the summit, Jackson noted, adding that nearly half of the audience hailed from Fresno County.
"That wasn't representative of the entire valley," Jackson said.
Status quo growth, which no one favored Wednesday, would consume 261,300 acres of prime farmland in the next four decades, said Nate Roth of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California at Davis. The version adopted Wednesday could reduce that by 37 percent, Roth said, while the highest density option might have reduced the loss by 54 percent.
The highest density option could have reduced homes' climate-changing emissions by 20 percent, Roth said, compared with a 6 percent reduction under the option embraced by Wednesday's majority.
Blueprint coordinator Barbara Steck of Fresno said it's not surprising that regular people frustrated with declining quality of life would want to set the most aggressive smart-growth goals. "At the political level, we understand other things are to be taken into consideration," she told the panel.
Steck and others noted that state officials have yet to determine how such regional growth strategies will affect land use decisions handled by local leaders. Some predicted that the state will force higher densities on the valley in the not-too-distant future, regardless of Wednesday's vote.
"We should be leaders and set the stage in California, not be forced into it," Johnston argued, to no avail.
Though Wednesday's choice doesn't represent the most aggressive change to sprawl, it still should make the valley's future growth 29 percent more dense, said Fresno County Supervisor Judy Case.
Fresno Bee
Water wars leave northern Colorado farmers dry...ALYSIA PATTERSON, Associated Press Writer
WIGGINS, Colo. Many farmers in this northern Colorado plains region are struggling to keep their crops irrigated and stay afloat as they find themselves on the wrong side of state water rules dating back to the 19th century.
The farmers around Wiggins, population 830, recently lost a lengthy war over access to the nearby South Platte River.
To make ends meet, several of them banded together for a recent auction to raise money: combines, tractors, vintage trucks and piles of rusted scrap metal, all arranged in rows, waited to be gobbled up by buyers amid a cloud of dust hanging over the auction site.
"I've been auctioneering for 31 years. I've had the opportunity to call auctions for many different reasons - retirement, just broke. This is the most uncalled for, sad situation I've ever seen in my life," said auctioneer Chuck Miller.
The farmers' plight traces back to the late 1800s, when reservoir and ditch companies bought senior rights to the Platte. Some 30 years later, farmers drilled their first wells in the South Platte River Valley.
Water in Colorado is first come, first served. State law requires well users to have a supply of replacement water ready before they start pumping from the river to ensure there's enough for the senior rights holders.
For years, the state water engineer worked out ad hoc deals with farmers, allowing them to pump their wells without replacing water required by the law. There was enough to go around, and senior rights holders were satisfied.
But trouble cropped up during drought years earlier this decade. In 2003, the state Supreme Court ordered the engineer to force individual farmers to adhere to the law to satisfy the needs of senior rights holders.
"We're not interested in putting anybody else out of business," said Tim Buchanan, an attorney for Harmony Ditch Company, a contingent of alfalfa farmers in Logan County. "We just want our share of the water."
The decision ultimately shut down or severely curtailed pumping at 4,000 area wells, said Doug Sinor, a water court attorney. As many as 2,000 farmers were affected: Potatoes, corn, beans, cabbage and sugar beets all dried up.
The court also required well-using farmers to replace some of the water they had sucked out of the river over the years before they could use their wells. Platte Valley farmers now are required to replace nearly 100 percent of the water they pump out, and each year they must buy enough water to pay off past water debt. Once that debt is paid, they have to buy enough water to cover the amount they plan to use in the coming year.
Few can afford it, especially with water much more expensive than it was 10 or 20 years ago because of suburban growth.
Duane Pope, a farmer from Greeley, said he'd have to pay $960,000 a year to use his well on his 300-acre farm.
"There's just not that kind of money in farming," said Pope, whose grandfather bought the farm in 1938.
Pope, 53, auctioned all his farm equipment in Wiggins. He'd tried dry-land farming but the yields were too low - 28 bushels of corn per acre compared with 220 bushels on irrigated land. A sprinkler system he bought in 1992 for $30,000 was sold for $5,700.
The farmers argue they deserve water debt forgiveness.
"The state encouraged us to drill these wells," said Steve Bruntz, who grows sugar beets, corn and wheat in Wiggins.
Before farming arrived, snowmelt would flood the South Platte each spring, but the dry climate left it barren by August. To boost the economy and stabilize the water table, Colorado offered low-interest loans and other incentives to farmers to dig wells in the 1930s and '40s, said Bruntz. Farm water gradually seeped back to the river, creating a year-round river flow, he said.
Colorado's Legislature belatedly is trying to help.
One bill set to be signed into law April 16 will allow farmers to rent water from water management districts to reduce the amount they must buy before pumping their wells. Renting costs less than buying.
But it won't help Chris Metherd's family. They sold most of their farm equipment at the Wiggins auction. They'll put the money into their business of fixing up and renting foreclosed homes.
"It ain't right what happened but it's over. Can't keep whining about it," Metherd said. "We're not destitute like some farmers around here."
Gov't sees loan defaults, foreclosures rise...ALAN ZIBEL - AP Real Estate Writer
WASHINGTON The number of troubled loans backed by the government's mortgage insurance program is rising as economic problems mount, and lawmakers are worried taxpayers will be stuck with the final bill.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., warned Thursday that the Federal Housing Administration is a "powder keg" waiting to explode, and said Congress and the Obama administration shouldn't place a greater financial burden on the already strapped agency.
"The taxpayer credit card is maxed out," Bond said at a Senate subcommittee hearing.
"My constituents have been clear that they don't want to wake up to learn that Congress has taken steps that leave the taxpayer holding the bag," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "That is exactly what could happen if the FHA is pushed to buy loans that could go bad soon or down the line."
President Barack Obama's housing secretary, Shaun Donovan, told senators that the FHA is "unlikely to face the catastrophic losses borne in the subprime sector." That's partly because the agency didn't back loans for more expensive properties that have plummeted in value, particularly in places like California, he said.
As of February, 7.2 percent of loans backed by the FHA were either 90 days overdue or in foreclosure, up from 5.8 percent in August.
If losses surge too high, the agency would be forced to raise money - either by increasing insurance premiums on new borrowers or seeking a subsidy from taxpayers.
It's too early to determine whether such a decision is imminent, officials said, but the current financial outlook is troubling.
"Based on the numbers we're seeing, I think it's going in the wrong direction," said Kenneth M. Donohue, inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The FHA became the main source of home loans to borrowers with poor credit and low down payments after the subprime lending market's collapse. It allows borrowers to take out home loans with down payments as low as 3.5 percent, compared with 20 percent for a typical loan that doesn't require mortgage insurance.
FHA loans are made through by banks, insured by the government and sold as mortgage-backed securities by Ginnie Mae, the government's mortgage finance agency. The FHA currently backs around a third of new home loans, up from about 3 percent in 2006.
Obama last month nominated real estate industry veteran David Stevens to head the FHA. Stevens is currently president and chief operating officer of Long and Foster Cos., a Chantilly, Va.-based real estate brokerage. The position requires Senate confirmation.
Sacramento Bee
Salary freeze bill for highest-paid California state workers clears first hurdle...Jim Sanders
Legislation to freeze salaries for hundreds of California's highest-paid state employees cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 53 would impose a two-year ban on raises for about 785 state employees – primarily managers or executives – who make more than $150,000 annually.
The bill, sparked by projections of a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, passed the Assembly's public employees committee without a dissenting vote.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who proposed the bill, said highly paid state employees should share the fiscal pain of seniors, children, college students and other taxpayers.
"The very least we can do is freeze our highest-paid state salaries until we steer our way clear of our budget crisis," said Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge.
AB 53, if signed into law, would take effect next January for employees in the legislative, executive and judicial branches, including state boards and commissions.
Legislators do not earn $150,000 while the state's constitutional officers do, but salaries for both are set by an independent commission and would be unaffected by the legislation. Aides earning more than $150,000, however, could be affected by Portantino's bill.
AB 53 does not apply to state workers covered by a labor contract – thus most rank-and-file workers.
It also excludes the University of California, which has constitutional autonomy, but the bill urges system regents to adopt the policy.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have the right, under AB 53, to issue an executive order designating specific public safety employees for exclusion and providing a reason why.
Portantino's bill was opposed by the CSU and UC systems, which said they have imposed various systemwide cost-saving measures but do not feel a blanket pay freeze is appropriate.
Karen French, UC director of legislative affairs, said AB 53 could make it difficult to attract and retain top personnel for key positions, particularly in the field of medical education.
Karen Zamarripa, representing CSU, said CSU has imposed a pay freeze on its top officials through June 2010.
Decisions on such matters should be left to the system's governing board, she said.
Zamarripa said the effect of AB 53, covering a limited number of state employees, is to "pick out the few management roles that you can carve out in order to make a political point."
California tax credit for new-home buyers bearing fruit...Jim Wasserman
A newly enacted $10,000 state tax credit for new-home buyers in California has already spurred 1,710 applications for $16.6 million in its first three weeks, the state Franchise Tax Board said Wednesday.
Few seem surprised.
"We were anticipating it would be something that people would take advantage of quickly," said Franchise Tax Board spokeswoman Brenda Voet.
The California Building Industry Association said updates this week will show that 20 percent of the $100 million allocated for the buyer tax credit is "already spoken for." If applications continue at the same rate, the credit would be used up during the summer months.
The group is talking with lawmakers about adding to the tax credit pool, said Tim Coyle, a CBIA lobbying executive. The trade association, representing a statewide industry struggling through its worst time in half a century, landed the tax credit as a key concession for a Republican Senate vote during February's budget standoff.
"The tax credit is having its desired effect," Coyle said Wednesday. He said home builders report that the financial perk, which went into effect March 1, has spurred more browsing and sales at subdivisions across California.
Coyle didn't have a specific breakdown for the number of tax credits claimed by Sacramento-area buyers.
But Ian Cornell, a Sacramento spokesman for New Jersey-based K. Hovnanian Homes, reported a 25 percent jump in visitors in March as the tax credit coincided with the spring sales season.
The credit, estimated to benefit about 10,000 homebuyers statewide this year, offers up to $3,333 off state taxes for each of the first three years after buying. First-time and move-up buyers alike are eligible, and there are no income limits. The state credit can also be combined with a new $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers.
The credits come none too soon for struggling builders.
February data for new-home sales released Wednesday show that Sacramento-area home builders are off to a worse start for new home sales in 2009 than last year – their worst in recent memory.
With discounted bank repos dominating the market and many potential buyers fearful about their jobs, national giants and family builders alike sold just 211 homes in February in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. That compared to 591 the same time last year, reported industry tracker Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.
Roseville accounted for nearly one in three of the area's February sales, trailed by Rancho Cordova, Natomas and Elk Grove, the firm reported.
Builders sold 400 homes the first two months of 2009 – fewer than half their 983 sales in the same period last year. By contrast, sales of existing homes in Sacramento County, the majority of them bank repos, are up almost 70 percent from the same time in 2008.
First-time buyers represent most of the builders' few sales, said Kathryn Boyce, a Sacramento Hanley Wood analyst.
"It's everything in the lower prices that people are able to get the loans for," she said. Forty-two percent of sales so far this year were priced between $200,000 and $300,000, Hanley Wood data showed.
Boyce said a combination of tax credits and historic low interest rates will likely prod "more of a surge" in sales.
"But it's not going to be a huge surge," she said.
Though the Mortgage Bankers Association reported mortgage rates as low as 4.6 percent for 30-year loans Wednesday, home builders aren't the beneficiaries. Nearly 80 percent of rising U.S. applications are from homeowners aiming to refinance, said the MBA.
Home builders across California have incorporated the state tax credit into advertisements, e-mail blasts and Web pitches to potential buyers.
Dean Wehrli, a Sacramento analyst for Sullivan Group Real Estate Advisors, said, "We're hearing traffic and interest is up a bit as they're rolling out the advertising. But I think it's probably too early to say about sales.
"It's still hard to sell when there's a lot of foreclosures out there," he said.
Sacramento-area builders sold just 4,847 new homes last year as banks peddled their discounted inventories of repossessed homes. Home builders, decimated by layoffs and office closings the past two years, accounted for just 7 percent of February escrow closings in the capital region, according to researcher MDA DataQuick. In Feb. 2007, shortly before the subprime loan crisis sent the region's housing market into a tailspin, new homes represented 27 percent of all sales.
California builders last year produced just 65,000 new residential dwellings, the fewest since the state began keeping records in 1954.
Capital Press
What took so long to check subsidies?...Editorial
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it couldn't be done. This year, apparently thanks to a change in administration, what most of us thought was happening right along is, in fact, going to happen.
We're talking about USDA verifying a farmer's eligibility before it deposits a program crop payment in a bank account.
The General Accounting Office started the whole thing by auditing subsidy payments based on recipient income caps in the law as it existed between 2003 and 2006. That's when individuals or farms were ineligible for any subsidy payment if the average adjusted gross income was above $2.5 million in a three-year period, except in cases where 75 percent of total income came from farming, ranching and timber production.
If you didn't see last year's report on the GAO findings, the Associated Press gave us a recap: 2,702 people who were not eligible got $49 million in USDA payments. At the time a USDA spokesperson said the agency couldn't verify financial eligibility because it has no access to Internal Revenue Service income data. Tom Vilsack, the new agriculture secretary, said in a March 19 news release that from here on out, USDA has an agreement with IRS that will allow verification of financial eligibility.
When you sign up for a program, part of the paperwork will be a waiver giving USDA access to your income tax returns. IRS form 8821, the waiver, becomes an application document for 2009 crop year payments.
It's about time. There's a separate quarrel over maximum payments that has been ongoing since a populist Congress in 1996 all but eliminated meaningful caps. But that's another issue. We think income verification ought to have been government practice from the very first time Congress wrote an income cap into farm bill law.
It's even more important since the 2008 Farm Bill also restricts program payments to operators having less than $500,000 a year in off-farm income, and sets the crop payment income cap at $750,000 average total annual income over a three-year period. That has to be checked, too.
"It is truly outrageous that the federal government has been unable to enforce the rules we already have on the books," said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. He joined with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to introduce a bill the same day Vilsack made his announcement of the deal with IRS. The Kind-Flake measure would mandate income verification, regardless of whether an applicant for USDA subsidy signed a waiver.
What took so long?
Obama won't defend Bush's spotted owl cuts...JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - The Obama administration has notified a federal court that it will not defend the Bush administration's decision to cut protections for the northern spotted owl, a threatened bird whose need for old growth forests has been at the center of long-standing battles over logging in the Northwest.
In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., lawyers for the Department of Interior said they based the decision on an inspector general's report finding potential political interference in owl protections by a former deputy assistant Interior secretary, Julie MacDonald.
The motion is the latest in a series of actions in lawsuits over Bush administration plans to cut protections for threatened and endangered species. Similar motions were filed recently in cases involving Gunnison sage grouse, Canada lynx, and bull trout, whose habitat needs stand in the way of grazing, logging and mining on federal lands.
MacDonald resigned in May 2007. The Interior Department's inspector general found evidence of political interference in 20 decisions involving threatened and endangered species and said MacDonald was involved in 13.
"It is very clear they are drawing a line saying, 'We are not going to have anything to do with that kind of political meddling,' " said Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice, which represents conservation groups that intervened in the case.
The Wildlife Society, the Society for Conservation Biology and the American Ornithologists Union said last year that the owl recovery plan was better than a draft they had flunked outright, but there was still no scientific basis for allowing more logging of the old growth forests where the threatened bird lives.
If a new spotted owl recovery plan and critical habitat designation are developed and impose the levels of old growth forest habitat protection sought by conservation groups, it would be very difficult for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to go forward with the Bush administration's last attempt to increase logging in owl country.
The Western Oregon Plan Revision, known as WOPR, calls for logging five times what BLM sold last year, which amounts to about half what was logged before the Northwest Forest Plan cut logging in 1994 to protect habitat for spotted owls, salmon and other species.
"The amount of forest they are cutting includes up to 680 owl sites," said Dominick DellaSala, director of the National Center For Conservation Science & Policy, who served on the owl recovery team and testified before Congress on political interference in their work. "Two essential documents WOPR was built from are going down in flames."
The spotted owl was declared a threatened species in 1990 primarily because of heavy logging in old growth forests. Lawsuits from conservation groups led to a reduction of more than 80 percent in logging on federal lands, causing economic pain still felt in the region, particularly in small logging towns.
The Bush administration agreed to produce a new spotted owl recovery plan and review the critical habitat designation under terms of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the timber industry.
Owl numbers are dwindling, down 4 percent a year at last count. The Bush administration recovery plan put the blame on the barred owl, an aggressive East Coast cousin that has driven spotted owls from their territory, and on wildfire that has destroyed old growth forests where the spotted owl lives.
It threw out the Northwest Forest Plan, which had spared old growth forests from industrial-level logging and provided more habitat for owls and salmon.
After reviewing the amount of habitat considered critical to the owl's recovery, Fish and Wildlife cut it by 23 percent - 1.6 million acres - in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
"It's hard for me to understand after the years they spent doing first the status review and then the recovery plan and then defining the critical habitat," said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resources Council, a timber industry group. "It was the best scientific information available at the time. I don't see the science changing that much in the few months from one administration to a new administration."
DellaSala said the owl protections are so tainted by political interference that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to start over.
There were no owl experts on the recovery team and the work was guided by a team of Bush administration appointees in Washington, he said.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett said the agency felt that if there was political influence, it was minimal, but she acknowledged that confidence in the owl recovery plan has been undermined, making it worthwhile to take another look. How extensive that look might be remains uncertain.
"We feel like there is a lot of good in the recovery plan," she said. "The scientific reviews we received, while they did have criticisms, they did find the basic framework was a solid framework for recovery."
Lawyers for the Department of Interior told the court they will try to negotiate with the timber industry and conservation groups over the next 30 days to set the terms of reconsidering the owl protections.
Stockton Record
Ethanol company may be out of cash...The Record
Pacific Ethanol Inc. is running on fumes.
The Sacramento-based company warned in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing it could run out of operating cash by the end of the month unless it finds additional capital and restructures its existing debt.
With little profit in making and selling ethanol, it already has shut down three of its four ethanol fuel plants - including a $140 million facility opened last fall in Stockton.
It is in default on more than $260 million in loans, but the company's creditors have agreed to give it until April 30 to try to restructure its debt, find additional sources of financing or both.
In announcing continuing negotiations with its lenders - including Wachovia Capital Finance Corp., WestLB AG and Lyles United - Pacific Ethanol also said it had gotten unsecured loans of $2 million from its chairman and former California secretary of state, Bill Jones, and Neil M. Koehler, the company's chief executive.
Those loans are helping Pacific Ethanol keep the lights on, said Joseph Hansen, its chief financial officer.
"That hopefully gets us to the end of the month; that gives us additional time to talk to the lenders," he said Wednesday from his Sacramento office.
In a 10k annual report filed Tuesday with the SEC, Pacific Ethanol warned unless it can resolve its cash squeeze, it might be forced to seek protection under U.S. bankruptcy laws.
It also reported a deep fourth-quarter loss of $34.7 million, or 61 cents a share, more than double its loss of $15.8 million, or 39 cents a share, in the same period the year before. For the full year, Pacific Ethanol posted a loss of $151 million, or $3.02 a share, vs. a loss of $18.6 million, or 47 cents per share in 2007.
Rapid growth in 2008 saw Pacific Ethanol's sales jump by more than 50 percent to nearly $704 million from $462 million the year before. But like the rest of the industry, the company was buffeted by volatile commodity markets and narrow margins between the price of corn - its raw material - and oil prices.
It is certainly not alone.
Aventine Renewable Energy in Pekin, Ill., warned earlier this month it, too, was running short of cash and might seek Bankruptcy Court protection. Ethanol maker VeraSun Energy Corp. entered bankruptcy proceedings in October.
While the ethanol industry has been hurt by adverse commodity prices, it has a bigger problem in the long term, said Severin Borenstein, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business and director of the UC Energy Institute.
"The bigger issue is what is the future of corn ethanol, and I think over the last year it has gone from being pretty rosy to being pretty bleak," he said.
Because of new studies and shifts in public policy, Borenstein said, "The country has moved away from corn ethanol being a major part of the solution for the oil dependency problem or to the climate-change problem."
Pacific students campaign against bottled water...Alex Breitler
STOCKTON - Several hundred University of the Pacific students this week are pledging to give up bottled water, and a taste-test experiment on Wednesday may have converted even more to the cause.
During the noon hour, clusters of students outside the University Center were tasked with correctly judging which of three pitchers marked "A," "B" and "C" contained bottled water, filtered water, or tap water.
For many, it was guesswork. They sipped thoughtfully, cast blank looks at their friends and finally scribbled their evaluations on slips of paper.
Brandon Wong seemed confident.
"I thought pitcher 'A' had a very distinct bottled water taste," he said.
To which his buddy, Alex Bae, turned and said, "I thought it was pitcher 'B.' "
They laughed. "Clearly, we have no idea," Bae said.
Student organizers fear their friends have no idea of the environmental consequences of bottled water, including the millions of gallons of oil needed to produce the bottles, pollution from transporting them, and the waste that results if bottles aren't properly recycled.
So if the taste isn't all that different, organizer Kaitlen Colafrancesco asks, why buy bottled? "We want to get rid of plastic bottles as much as we can," she said.
The university has not banned bottled water and has no formal policy on its use, said Dan Shipp, Pacific's assistant vice president of student life. Indeed, just steps from Wednesday's water-tasting station, frosted bottles of Aquafina were sold from a display refrigerator.
Pacific is, however, encouraging the students organizing this week's campaign, Shipp said.
"What I can tell you is that our students are very much aware, becoming more and more aware, of the things we've taken for granted for many years, the impacts we're having on the environment," he said.
Results of the taste test were not available Wednesday; organizers said they planned to announce the numbers in a future e-mail.
This week's bottled-water theme, which includes speakers and films, comes on the heels of a survey of 250 Pacific students showing that half rely solely on bottled water on campus, mostly because of convenience, but also for trust and, for a few, better taste.
"It's convenient, it's clean, and they advertise it that way," said Wong, 18, from Hawaii.
Taste was a wash for 20-year-old Avneet Chadha, who could tell little difference between the samples he drank Wednesday. "Water is water," he said.
But Chadha said he'd consider taking the pledge.
"It's an interesting fact that if there are so many huge negatives, so many people continue to drink bottled water," he said.
Indeed, it remained the second most popular beverage for sale in the United States in 2008, with 8.6 billion gallons sold, according to the consulting firm Beverage Marketing Co. However, sales declined last year, perhaps because penny-conscious consumers are refilling those plastic bottles with tap water.
San Francisco Chronicle
Feds file to delist wolves, except in Wyoming...BEN NEARY, Associated Press Writer
(04-01) 17:19 PDT Cheyenne, Wyo. (AP) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a formal rule Wednesday to remove gray wolves from the federal endangered list in Montana and Idaho while keeping protections in Wyoming.
That state and environmentalists promised to challenge immediately when the formal delisting rule is published Thursday in the Federal Register. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had said last month that he would uphold the agency's decision to continue managing wolves in Wyoming.
State Attorney General Bruce Salzburg said Wyoming will sue over being denied management of wolves. The state has proposed classifying wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state and managed as trophy game in some parts.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups said they would sue over their contention that federal protections are inadequate.
Doug Honnold, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Montana — the law firm representing conservation groups — said they were "going to fight until we can get to legitimate recovery. We think that the population is close to appropriate recovery levels, but it's not there yet."
Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana, said the agency expected the legal challenges.
"We know we're going to be in litigation over this whole thing," he said.
Salzburg said Wednesday that Wyoming objected to the federal agency's request to raise the number of wolves the state should accommodate. He said the agency has said for years that Wyoming, Montana and Idaho needed to maintain 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves each. The rule released this week specifies that Wyoming also should maintain at least seven breeding pairs and 70 wolves outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to make its decisions based solely on science, as opposed to what we think are political and public relations concerns that in our view don't have a place in a listing or delisting decision," Salzburg said.
The federal agency in late 2007 accepted Wyoming's management plan but environmentalists sued over the delisting. A federal judge later ruled in favor of the environmental groups, saying the state plans were insufficient to protect the wolves.
The agency also filed a separate rule Wednesday calling for removing federal protections for wolves in the western Great Lakes.
Bangs said about 1,645 wolves live in the northern Rockies, including more than 300 in Wyoming, nearly 500 in Montana and about 850 in Idaho.
Contra Costa Times
Energy department resumes toxic waste cleanup at Livermore lab...Suzanne Bohan
The U.S. Department of Energy has agreed to resume toxic waste cleanup at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.
The settlement, reached on Tuesday, follows the EPA's demand in January that the Energy Department immediately restart cleanup at the site or face escalating fines.
The EPA said the DOE also agreed to pay a $165,000 fine, despite an agency spokesman's earlier assertions that it would appeal the fines as "unjustified."
"I'm very, very pleased that we reached this settlement," said Kathy Setian, an EPA remedial project manager assigned to the lab. "But I'm very disappointed that we had to take it to the point that we had to take it."
The site is listed as one of the most contaminated Superfund sites in the country. The pollutants were left behind from military operations in the 1940s, and after the site became a nuclear weapons and energy research facility in 1951.
In February 2008, the DOE, which funds the Livermore lab and is responsible for groundwater contamination cleanup at the facility, abruptly shut down 28 of its water treatment plants — roughly three-quarters of them — due to Congressional budget cuts. It also laid off 60 percent of the staff running them. Although Congress restored the funding last July, the DOE told the EPA it needed until 2011 to resume full cleanup, primarily due to a lack of trained personnel.
Several of the shuttered treatment plants are now back in operation, and Setian said that all of them are expected to be operational by Sept. 30.
Mike Brown, assistant manager for environmental stewardship for the DOE at the Livermore lab, said he had "mixed feelings" about the settlement.
"We really didn't feel that the fines and penalty assessment were really fair," he said, given that it was an error in the Congressional budgeting process that led to the initial shutdown. "But we felt it was better for us to focus resources on the cleanup, rather than engaging in a dispute."
He said additional staff and contractors are being hired to run the resumed cleanup operations. "Folks are also working overtime," Brown said.
Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a watchdog group, expressed relief at the resumption of cleanup.
"It is absolutely critical for the community's health and safety that this toxic and radioactive mess at the Livermore lab main site gets cleaned up in a timely manner," Kelley said.
Setian said that contaminated groundwater "plumes" from the site contain toxic waste like tetrachloroethene, Freon and chloroform, the heavy metal chromium, and tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen.
Setian said a contaminated plume outside the site's western perimeter did spread after the shutdown, although she said no wells or other sources of drinking water were affected.
Lab site history
· The one square-mile site on the eastern edge of Livermore was first was used as a Naval Air Station in the 1940s.
· In 1951, it was established as a nuclear weapons and fusion research facility.
· In 1984, the California Department of Health Services ordered the lab to provide alternative water supplies to residents west of the facility, whose wells had been contaminated from operations on the site over the decades.
· Federal groundwater cleanup operations began in 1993, and reached full compliance in 2007.
· In February, 2008, three-quarters of the water treatment plants were shut down.
-- Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Editorial: A milestone at the Nuclear Ignition Facility...MediaNews editorial
FINALLY, AFTER years of frustrating delay and cost overruns, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has been certified and is ready to operate at full capacity.
The primary purpose of the NIF is to assess the reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile through simulation rather than actual atomic tests.
As the world's largest, most powerful laser operation, the facility also is a training ground and magnet for a new generation of physicists.
However, the most anticipated operation at the NIF will come next year, when scientists will attempt to achieve a nuclear fusion reaction that produces more energy than it takes to ignite it.
Fusion power has been a dream of physicists for more than a half century, ever since the first man-made fusion reaction was unleashed with the hydrogen bomb in 1952.
Fusion reactions occur when hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium and convert a portion of matter into energy. A small amount of hydrogen is converted to huge amounts of clean energy.
No carbon is released into the atmosphere, and unlike today's nuclear fission power plants, there are not large volumes of radioactive material to deal with.
Hydrogen fuel is readily available in water. There is no need to import it or drill for it. Also, fusion power plants could be used to produce hydrogen fuel for cars and aircraft. Fusion occurs naturally inour sun and every star in the universe, where intense pressure and heat fuse hydrogen atoms into helium atoms and convert matter into vast amounts of energy.
Producing a controlled and containable fusion reaction on Earth has eluded scientists for decades. But with the NIF, there is a good possibility that a fusion reaction can be achieved by focusing 192 highly amplified laser beams on a tiny amount of hydrogen.
The hope is that anywhere from 10 to 100 times the energy used to ignite the reaction will be produced and contained.
Even if successful, the NIF operation is a long way from creating a sustained, fusion reaction that could be used to fuel a power plant. But it is a necessary first step that could lay the foundation to a major national effort to develop fusion power and permanently eliminate the need for fossil fuels.
Mercury News
Valley could be in for years-long battle over high-speed rail...Will Oremus, Bay Area News Group
Most people agree the concept is cool: a 220 mph electric train that will zip passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
In November, California voters took a big step in making that happen by approving Proposition 1A, a $10 billion bond measure that will provide a down payment on the system.
Silicon Valley residents were particularly excited about the plan. More than 60 percent of voters in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties approved the measure, compared to 52 percent statewide.
Yet that support has been shaken as residents and officials in some cities have begun to take a closer look at the details.
Although the California High Speed Rail Authority's initial study assumed the trains would race through much of the Peninsula atop a 15-foot-high, 75-foot-wide concrete platform along the Caltrain corridor, most of the project's early supporters didn't read deep enough into environmental reports to discover that.
Now they know, and visions of a concrete monolith are generating fear and outrage in cities such as Palo Alto, where the tracks cut through quiet — not to mention expensive — residential neighborhoods. Menlo Park and Atherton are so alarmed they have joined a lawsuit challenging the rail system's environmental approval.
On the other hand, mid-Peninsula cities such as Redwood City and San Mateo continue to embrace the high-speed rail project. There, the tracks are mostly lined by businesses, along with some big apartment and condominium complexes designed with public transit in mind.
The result is a Peninsula-wide tug-of-war over a project whose fate will likely be determined not here but in Sacramento, where the high-speed rail authority is tasked with getting the rail line up and running by 2020.
Locally, the entity with the most leverage is Caltrain, which today will vote on an agreement to share its tracks with high-speed trains in exchange for help with its own electrification plans. That decision could be hotly contested.
The Palo Alto City Council on Monday approved a letter to Caltrain protesting the proposed agreement, which calls for a four-track system separated from cross streets by either bridges or tunnels.
The rail authority, chaired by San Mateo County-based judge and transit advocate Quentin Kopp, has assured residents and officials it will take their feedback into account.
The only sure thing so far is that the route will be aligned with Caltrain's rail line, a choice finalized in 2008 after years of debate.
The dearth of specific information has convinced some that the rail authority is trying to hide its true intentions to avoid an outcry.
San Jose, which lobbied heavily for the high-speed rail line to run through the city, remains supportive of the project. But city officials and residents still have a host of concerns, particularly about the route through the southern end of the city to Diridon Station downtown, which would cut through Willow Glen and other neighborhoods.
San Jose Transportation Director Jim Helmer said the city will ask high-speed rail authorities to consider either tunneling underground through those neighborhoods, realigning the route to avoid homes or narrowing it from four tracks to three.
"We still strongly support the system and the benefits it will bring to California," Helmer said. "But our community is not unlike Peninsula communities in that we too have real concerns about high-speed rail impacts to our community."
One thing the tracks cannot do is intersect with cross streets, as Caltrain currently does at some 46 locations between San Jose and San Francisco. Between the high-speed rail line and an upgraded Caltrain system, trains will be whizzing by as often as every three minutes, with the bullet trains traveling up to 125 mph in populated areas.
The tunnel idea has galvanized many. But there's a reason the rail authority didn't assume a tunnel in its original cost estimates, said Dominic Spaethling, the project's regional manager: Digging underground is extremely expensive. It also comes with its own environmental pitfalls.
Still, Spaethling said, the environmental study will evaluate underground options as well as at-grade and elevated alignments for the track. The end result will likely include a mix of all three designs at different points on the line.
For all its impacts, not least its estimated $45 billion total price tag, backers say high-speed rail is a necessity both environmentally and for California's economic competitiveness.
With the state's population projected to soar to 50 million by 2050, the alternative would be to build an additional 3,000 lane-miles of freeway and the equivalent of two international airports, said rail authority board member Rod Diridon. That would cost more than $100 billion, he said, not including the environmental costs.
The close of the initial public comment period on Monday will mark only the beginning of the lengthy environmental review process on the line's San Jose-to-San Francisco leg. Next will be a six-to-nine-month period of defining the alternatives to be studied, followed by the release of a draft environmental report in late 2010 or early 2011. Another public comment period will precede the preparation and approval of a final document, which could come by the end of 2011, according to the rail authority.
In other words, this fight won't be over anytime soon.
High-speed rail around the world...Jessica Bernstein-Wax...Daily News Staff Writer
California may be ramping up to build the United States' first high-speed train line, but the technology has been used for decades in Asia and Europe.
So as the state proceeds with the multibillion-dollar project, what can it learn from older high-speed systems?
Namely, according to experts familiar with those systems, that the trains should run below-ground in highly developed sections of the state and that government money likely must cover a large portion of construction costs, which may be higher than expected because of California's mountainous terrain and other issues.
Some experts also suggest the state would be wise to connect the high-speed line with local airports, so passengers can take advantage of both modes of transport in a single trip.
Japan unveiled the world's first bullet train in 1964, timed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics and traveling at speeds greater than 124 mph. The Japanese name for the trains, Shinkansen, translates to "new trunk line" and refers to the new tracks built for the high-speed endeavor, according to the 2002 book "Bullet Trains: Inside and Out."The French opened Europe's first high-speed line in 1981, with a Train a Grande Vitesse, or TGV, running between Paris and Lyon at speeds of up to 168 mph.
In the years since, both Japan and France have extended their high-speed rail networks, and the technology has made advances in both speed and design. Countries throughout Europe and Asia, including Germany, Spain, China, South Korea and Taiwan, now have bullet trains.
Those trains run both above and below ground, although Japan has increasingly favored tunnels because of aesthetic and noise concerns, said Dr. Christopher P. Hood, director of the Cardiff Japanese Studies Centre at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. About 30 years ago, the government abandoned plans for a line running through Narita into Tokyo after massive protests from residents.
At the time, most trains ran on unsightly elevated tracks when they left major urban areas, often slicing smaller cities and towns in two, Hood said.
"Even in very small towns the track just plows through" when elevated, said Hood, author of the 2006 book "Shinkansen — From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan."
"It becomes quite an obvious barrier between the north and south and east and west," he added. "The more they can be covered up, the better for residents."
Hood noted that a new line being built between Tokyo and Nagoya will run almost entirely underground, with a trip time of about 40 minutes.
Japan now has six main Shinkansen lines, with trains traveling up to 186 mph, Hood said. Some lines, such as the Tokyo-Osaka link, cater almost exclusively to business people, but others get about 50 percent pleasure travelers and even have ski lifts at the end of some platforms, Hood said.
The national government initially paid construction costs, but since privatization, local government meets about a third of those expenses, with private companies and the central government making up the rest, Hood said.
In Spain, where high-speed train service began in 1992 with the inauguration of a line between Madrid and Seville, the administration of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has begun opening up a rail system that was previously a state monopoly.
A state agency will continue to handle the construction and maintenance of tracks, but train operator Renfe Operadora is on the road to privatization, and other companies will eventually have the opportunity to operate passenger trains.
The system is thriving, and a new line running between Madrid and Barcelona has already captured 50 percent of the travel between those two cities in just a year of service, said Apolinar Rodriguez, Renfe's international director.
"A flight from Madrid to Barcelona takes an hour, and it's a two-and-a-half hour train ride," Rodriguez said in a telephone interview conducted in Spanish. "But in door-to-door travel, it's about the same amount of time."
Rodriguez added that the train is a more attractive option for many customers because of its relative comfort and accessibility.
Last December, Rodriguez gave a presentation on Spain's high-speed network to California officials and has also testified on the topic before Congress.
He called California "a textbook case" for high-speed rail, saying the average trip distances are well-suited to the technology, as are the state's many urban areas, its relatively dense population and high standard of living.
"The development of high-speed rail in California will almost certainly be a success," Rodriguez said. "If it has succeeded in other parts of the world, it will succeed there too."
But Dr. David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied high-speed trains, questioned whether California is the ideal place for the technology, given its mountainous terrain and a population density that is low compared with parts of the Northeast and certainly most Asian cities.
"It's not the worst corridor in the U.S. — I can think of a lot of corridors that are sillier," Levinson said. "In terms of demand, it's not a terrible market. But in terms of cost it's much higher, and that's because of the mountains."
Levinson predicted that the project, if completed, would balloon to at least $80 billion, particularly if the trains run underground on the Peninsula.
"The people in the cities throughout the Peninsula are not going to want elevated trains going through their towns, and they're going to have to build tunnels," Levinson said. "That's going to drive up the costs."
High-speed rail: myth vs. fact...Will Oremus, Daily News Staff Writer
As the realization has sunk in that a statewide high-speed rail line will soon reshape the Caltrain corridor, Peninsula residents have clamored for answers to what the tracks will look like and how their neighborhoods might be affected. California High Speed Rail Authority officials have reached out to the public with dozens of informational sessions, yet rumor and speculation continue to swirl around the project.
Part of the problem is that, as officials have said repeatedly, the rail authority has not yet decided just how this portion of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system will be designed. In fact, with the environmental review process still in its early stages, they have not even decided what alternatives to study. However, some broad decisions were made in a less-detailed study finished in 2008. And within that study are some clues to what might lie in store.
Armed with project documents, the Daily News interviewed Dominic Spaethling, the rail authority's regional manager for the San Jose-to-San Francisco section, to get to the bottom of some of the thornier claims. Here is a brief look at which are myths, which are facts, and which are somewhere in between.
Claim: The default plan for the Peninsula is to run the high-speed tracks on an elevated platform, likely in the form of a "retained fill" design that some have likened to a 15-foot-high "Berlin Wall" dividing local neighborhoods.
Status: Mostly fact, with caveats.
Explanation: In its broad, initial study of the high-speed rail line's feasibility, the rail authority assumed that the tracks would alternate between underground, at-grade and elevated alignments at different points along the line. A diagram available on the authority's Web site shows the tracks going underground at points in northern San Jose and southern San Francisco, but above-ground in between. While some parts of the tracks would stay at ground level, the "retained fill" option was chosen for many intersections because that's what was used in Belmont and San Carlos, the sites of the most recent grade separations on the mid-Peninsula.
The big caveat is that the preliminary study was just that — preliminary. Spaethling described it as a "proof of concept" to show just one way that the marriage of high-speed rail and Caltrain could work. The next step is the project-level environmental study, which by law is required to evaluate all options put forward in the public scoping process that concludes Monday. That means the rail authority will look at underground as well as above-ground options in places such as Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and downtown San Mateo.
A second caveat is that the "Berlin Wall" analogy is exaggerated. The purpose of the retained fill is to lift the tracks over certain key cross streets, meaning it wouldn't be one continuous wall. Many in Belmont and San Carlos would likely dispute the idea that their cities are divided like East and West Berlin.
Claim: El Palo Alto, the historic redwood tree that gave Palo Alto its name, will almost certainly be fatally damaged or removed due to construction of the high-speed tracks just north of the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station.
Status: Myth, hopefully.
Explanation: It's true that El Palo Alto stands perilously close to the Caltrain tracks, and the city's arborist has determined that any expansion in its direction, even underground, could doom it. But Spaethling said officials know it's there and will aim to avoid it. The authority's initial study showed trains running at-grade at the Palo Alto station and the San Francisquito Creek bridge, meaning construction there would be less intensive. Though nothing has been decided, Spaethling said the natural approach would be to build the tracks to the west of their current location — the opposite direction from the tree.
Claim: There is a chance that construction will force the authority to acquire private property, perhaps through eminent domain.
Status: Fact.
Explanation: The authority has been reluctant to discuss eminent domain, pointing out that it would be used only as a last resort. Gary Kennerly, regional manager for the San Jose-to-Merced section, said an initial review estimated 85 percent of the Caltrain corridor is wide enough to accommodate four tracks side-by-side. But that leaves portions where engineers may have to get creative.
Spaethling said they'd look at solutions such as stacking the Caltrain and high-speed tracks two-by-two before resorting to acquiring property. If they do have to acquire property, he added, they'd prefer friendly negotiations to the legal process of eminent domain. That said, no one is prepared to rule it out.
Claim: It's too late to push for the tracks to follow a different route; the decision to use the Caltrain corridor has already been made.
Status: Fact, pending court ruling.
Explanation: In 2008, after years of debate, the California High Speed Rail Authority approved a report that selected the Pacheco Pass alignment over the Altamont Pass option, meaning trains would reach San Francisco via the Peninsula rather than the East Bay. Included in the report were plans to use the Caltrain corridor rather than alternatives such as Highway 101 or Interstate 280. Officials said all the overpasses that cross the freeways presented an almost insurmountable design challenge.
Aside from those active in transit boards, Peninsula officials largely sat out the battle, which raged in San Jose and the East Bay. Several have said recently they weren't even aware of it.
The decision left several transit groups angry, arguing the East Bay alignment would have served more Bay Area riders. They, along with the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton, filed a lawsuit in August challenging the environmental report. Unless they prevail in Sacramento Superior Court, however, the Caltrain alignment is likely a done deal.
California high-speed rail project timeline...Joshua Melvin, Daily News Staff Writer
1982 — The California state Assembly passes a bill authorizing the sale of $1.12 billion in bonds for the construction of a bullet train between Los Angeles and San Diego.
1984 — Due to lack of funding as well as opposition from environmental groups and local governments, the bullet train project is abandoned.
1993 — The Intercity High Speed Rail Commission is created to look into building a high-speed rail line between Northern and Southern California.
1996 — The California High Speed Rail Authority is created and put in charge of planning, constructing and operating a high-speed train system.
2007 — Two possible train routes through the Bay Area are considered. The rail authority's board of directors votes to send the train down the Peninsula rather than through the East Bay.
Nov. 4, 2008 — Fifty-two percent of California voters approve the issuing of $9.96 billion in bonds to build a portion of the 800-mile high-speed rail line.
April 6, 2009 — The deadline for public comment on what should be included in the project's environmental impact study.
2011 — Construction on the high-speed rail line is slated to begin.
2020 — Train service is projected to begin.
SOURCES: Reuters, California High Speed Rail Authority Web sit
Funding for rail project still undecided...Shaun Bishop, Daily News Staff Writer
For months, Peninsula residents have debated the potential impacts of a high-speed train line on their neighborhoods, from seizure of private property to high concrete walls dividing neighborhoods.
But those fears may be moot if the California High Speed Rail Authority fails to find the $45.4 billion officials estimate is needed to pay for the 800-mile project.
Critics say the rail authority doesn't have a chance of securing that much money, which still wouldn't be enough. And they argue that ridership estimates have been greatly exaggerated.
California voters gave the project a much-needed funding boost in November by passing Proposition 1A, which authorizes the rail authority to issue $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds.
The rail authority now must raise the rest of the money it needs for the first phase of the system, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles and is expected to cost about $32 billion.
For that section, the rail authority hopes to receive between $12 billion and $16 billion in federal funding, about $7 billion from private investments, and $2 billion to $3 billion from local and regional sources, said Quentin Kopp, chairman of the authority's board.
Kopp said he is confident the rail authority will get a "substantial" piece of the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail projects in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year.
Twenty-eight private investment firms have also shown an ongoing interest in financing the project, according to the rail authority. Kopp says formal agreements with private investors would likely be signed after the project's engineering and environmental review are completed in about two years.
"We're on schedule, and I'm very happy about the progress we're making," Kopp said.
But critics say the funding plan is a pipe dream that will leave taxpayers subsidizing the rail line's operation.
A September 2008 report from the Libertarian think-tank The Reason Foundation suggests the high-speed train's projected ridership numbers are too optimistic and the cost was underestimated.
The foundation says the actual cost could reach $81 billion by the time the project is finished.
"There will be no private sector investment because it will not make a profit," said Adrian Moore, vice president of research for the Reason Foundation.
Even if the rail authority receives stimulus funds, Moore said, it will still need billions more from the federal government. "The thing is just completely unfinanceable," he said.
Still, Kopp said high-speed rail projects have received strong support from Congress and President Barack Obama, and he believes other sources of federal funding will be available.
As for critics of the rail authority's funding plan, "they're wrong as usual," Kopp said.
Los Angeles Times
Cleaning up Bush's mess on public land
Recent legislation to preserve public land should be cheered, but President Obama and Congress have a lot more work to do to undo the damage caused by the previous administration...James William Gibson. James William Gibson is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and the author of the forthcoming book, "A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature."
On Monday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, placing more than 2 million acres of public land in nine states under Wilderness Act protection. The new legislation preserves remote glacial valleys in Wyoming, fragile deserts in California and dense forests in northern Michigan, making these and other tracts of pristine land permanently off-limits to road building, oil and gas drilling and commercial timber harvesting.
But for all the joy the law brings to those who treasure America's wild places, it was nevertheless a bittersweet victory. After eight years of the George W. Bush administration's assault on public lands, there's still so much to be done -- and undone.
During the Bush era, millions of acres of public land were leased for oil and gas drilling and logging. The Endangered Species Act was ignored and weakened. Snowmobiles and off-road vehicles were allowed to invade national forests and parks. Mountaintops in the Appalachians were dynamited to mine coal. The damage was so deep that it's hard to know where to begin. But let's start with oil and gas exploration. On President Bush's watch, vast tracts of undeveloped public land were opened to drilling, and federal employees were directed to expedite the process. Utah field officers for the Bureau of Land Management, for example, were told by supervisors in one memorandum to instruct staff that "when an oil and gas lease parcel or when an application to drill comes in the door ... this work is their No. 1 priority." During the eight years Bush was in office, the amount of public land leased to gas and oil companies increased several-fold, bringing the total number of acres leased to 44 million of the 258 million acres the BLM manages, including 5 million acres designated as wild mustang habitat.
The Bush administration also ignored rules that had been put in place to protect undeveloped public lands. The Clinton administration's "Roadless Area Conservation Rule" was aimed at stopping road building in 58.5 million acres of forest lands. But when Bush came into office, officials of his administration let it be known that the Justice Department would not defend the rule. Soon, battles raged in courts across the West, producing conflicting decisions. Because of the legal disputes, only seven miles of proposed forest roads have been built, but the rule's ultimate fate is still undecided.
And then there is the Endangered Species Act. During the Bush years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was loath to extend protections to new plants and animals. By 2007, it had voluntarily listed only four new species. Petitions and lawsuits by environmental groups had forced the addition of 54 more species. But meanwhile, 279 candidates for listing were stuck in an interminable review process.
And even when species did make it on the list, the department refused to designate "critical habitat" necessary for the species' survival. In late 2008, the Interior Department inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, concluded that political interference by department brass repeatedly overturned scientific reviews and that there was "an unwritten policy to exclude as many areas as practicable from critical habitat designation."
But the report did little to curb the Bush administration. Shortly before leaving office, it issued new rules declaring that federal agencies whose plans might affect endangered species no longer needed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before proceeding.
Another Bush rule declared that when any Arctic species, such as polar bears, was under review for listing, scientists and officials could not consider the effects of greenhouse gases produced outside the Arctic.
Gale Norton, Bush's first secretary of the Interior, loved snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, and pushed the gates to the nation's public lands wide open for them. Today, more than 60,000 snowmobiles roam Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks each winter, creating a blue haze of exhaust along popular trails. Park workers don government-issued respirators and hearing protection because of hydrocarbon emissions that are 10 times higher than on Los Angeles' freeways and noise levels approaching those of large airports.
It was the Bush administration's utter disregard of the Clean Water Act that made it possible for the coal industry to destroy a large swath of the Appalachians. At first, the administration simply ignored the act and issued permits that allowed coal companies to dump mining waste into streams. Then, in 2002, after losing legal challenges, it issued rules that made "valley fill" specifically exempt from the clean-water law. Two years later, it began to undo another rule, one that said debris couldn't be dumped too near streams. In December 2008, this requirement was officially removed. About 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams now lie buried under mining debris.
The Obama administration and Congress should be applauded for protecting 2 million acres of public land, but that does not begin to make up for all that was lost during the Bush years. And swift action is necessary to stop further erosion of environmental protections. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has only until May 9 to reverse the Bush changes to Endangered Species Act rules. Obama should order his Justice Department to settle lawsuits filed by environmental groups, vacating many Bush policies. And Congress needs to pass a strong legislative package, bills such as the proposed Roadless Area Conservation Act, which would protect wilderness areas in our national forests.
Not all of the damage to our land and its creatures can be reversed. But new laws and federal regulations could at least create a solid legal foundation on which large-scale restoration can begin.
Student is charged with obstructing Utah land auction
He says his false bids on oil and gas parcels were acts of civil disobedience against the exploitation of public sites. The two felony charges carry up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine...Associated Press
Salt Lake City — A college student was charged with two federal felonies Wednesday for what he contends were acts of civil disobedience -- making false bids to run up auction prices on oil and gas parcels on public land near Utah's national parks.
At the Dec. 19 lease sale, Tim DeChristopher grabbed a bidder's paddle, drove up prices and won 22,000 acres of land for $1.79 million, an amount he later said he didn't have the means or intention to pay.
DeChristopher "repeatedly said he intended to disrupt the lease-bidding process," U.S. Atty. Brett Tolman said in announcing the charges. "Today's indictment is our answer to his decision."
A grand jury charged DeChristopher with one count of interfering with a federal auction and one count of making false representations at an auction, Tolman said. The penalty could range from no punishment to a combined sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
DeChristopher, 27, a University of Utah economics student, will be issued a summons to appear in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. No arraignment date has been set.
He isn't affiliated with any major environmental group but has said that he infiltrated the auction as a protest. He made no apologies Wednesday for obstructing the lease of land in Utah's red-rock country.
"This auction was a fraud against the American people and a threat to our future," DeChristopher said. "My motivation to act came against the exploitation of public lands, the lack of a transparent and participatory government and the imminent danger of climate change."
One of his lawyers, Patrick Shea, said prosecutors hinted weeks ago that the case could be settled with a misdemeanor plea bargain instead of a felony punishable by prison time.
"Nobody was hurt. No property was destroyed," Shea said.
The auction was already being challenged by environmental groups, who won a court stay on the sale of some parcels. Weeks later, new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rescinded 77 of the leases, saying they were too close to national parks and never should have gone up for sale under the Bush administration.
The defense contends that DeChristopher caused no financial harm to the government or legitimate bidders, but at least one bidder disputes that.
"We are angry," said Daniel Gunnell, managing partner of Twilight Resources of Orem, Utah, who said he lost parcels when Salazar rescinded them and paid extra for other parcels when DeChristopher ran up bids.
"Tim DeChristopher is a guy who walked in the auction without a penny and cost our company $600,000," Gunnell said.
Out West, a new kind of water war
Nestle wants to tap an aquifer in Colorado for bottled water. Some residents are angered by the project. 'They're taking and not giving,' one critic says...DeeDee Correll
Reporting from Denver — In rural Chaffee County, Colo., one of the world's largest beverage companies has discovered water it deems fit for a bottle: clean and crisp, with the mountain spring flavor people are willing to pay for.
Nestle Waters North America wants to tap an aquifer feeding a pair of springs near Salida, southwest of Colorado Springs, and draw 65 million gallons of water per year to bottle and sell under its Arrowhead brand.
But many mountain residents say Nestle should go bottle someone else's water.
"I'm afraid they will pump and pump until they suck it dry," said Michele Riggio, a Salida physical therapist who has led the opposition.
The conflict is the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle against the bottled water industry, which has enjoyed strong growth over the last decade thanks to the beverage's popularity among consumers who eschew tap water and soft drinks.
As companies like Nestle, which operates 50 spring sites around the country, seek to acquire new water sources, communities have increasingly resisted, said Noah Hall, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and an expert in water law.
"By the nature of its business -- taking water out of the ground and putting it in a bottle and selling it -- Nestle is a lightning rod for opposition wherever they go," Hall said, citing conflicts in Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington and California.
Such conflicts seem to have more to do with larger social concerns than the specific projects, said Bruce Lauerman, a natural resources manager for Nestle, a division of the Switzerland-based company.
"It's more a debate about corporations, who owns the water, and what is the best and highest use of water," he said.
Because a good supply of spring water isn't easy to come by, Nestle and other companies are reluctant to let one go without a fight, Hall said. Such conflicts usually wind up in court, where he said judges rarely denied water companies the right to at least some water.
"The opponents don't usually come away satisfied. They want to run them out of town, and that almost never happens," Hall said.
In Chaffee County, with a population of about 17,000, Nestle's research led it several years ago to the Ruby Mountain and Bighorn springs, Lauerman said.
The company wanted a local source for water it sells in the western U.S. -- a product that Nestle has been trucking from California to other states.
Nestle's plan in Colorado is to extract water from the aquifer, pipe it several miles to a truck stop, then send it to a bottling facility in Denver. Because it will be taking water that otherwise would flow into the Arkansas River, Nestle intends to replenish the river with water purchased from the Denver-area city of Aurora.
The plan, Nestle officials say, leaves more than enough water. Nestle will extract less than 10% of the average spring flows, and snowmelt and precipitation will recharge the aquifer, Lauerman said.
The company also intends to restore the land around the springs, including an old fishery, to its natural habitat and preserve 100 acres of land, a plan praised by state wildlife officials.
Nestle also touts the economic benefits to Chaffee County, saying it would provide short-term construction jobs and about $80,000 in annual taxes, as well as donations to charities.
But many residents regard Nestle's assurances with skepticism. And what happens, they ask, if there's a drought?
"They're taking and not giving," said Riggio, who learned of Nestle's plan soon after viewing the documentary "Flow," which examines the world's dwindling fresh water supply. The film reinforced her conviction that water should not be wasted on "the very unsustainable practice of putting water in bottles and trucking it all over the place."
"I think tap water is just fine," said Riggio, 45.
She and other residents, who have packed county meetings to protest the project, also question whether the county will realize much economic benefit and worry that Nestle's trucks, making 25 round trips per day, will snarl traffic on mountain passes.
Frank McMurry, a rancher who sold Nestle the Bighorn springs property in 2007 for $860,000, and other supporters of the project said it could spur businesses to invest in the area. They dismiss worries that it could deplete water supplies or worsen traffic.
McMurry, a longtime resident, noted that some of the biggest opponents of the project were newcomers.
"They got their spot in heaven and don't want any change," said McMurry, 70. "The old-timers -- and there's not many of us left -- you never see them protesting. But by God, the longhairs and the ponytails come out of the woodwork just to protest something."
Chaffee County commissioners will consider the proposal this month. County development director Don Reimer said one topic of interest will be the possible effect on the aquifer.
And as always seems to happen with water in the West, there are varied opinions. Several reports have drawn different conclusions on the potential effects on the watershed.
High Country News
Environmentalists must learn to compromise
Desalination plants are necessary to quench the West's thirst...Jonathan Parkinson. Jonathan Parkinson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a writer in LaJolla, California…3-31-09
One of Aesop's fables is about a dog that found a bone nearly as big as he could carry. The dog trotted home to gnaw on his prize, but on the way, he caught sight of his reflection in a stream. Convinced that he was seeing another dog -- and that the other dog had a bigger bone -- he dropped his own to seize it, and he ended up, of course, with nothing.
I was reminded of the story recently at a public meeting on California's ever-worsening water woes. One of the speakers came from Poseidon Resources, a company that's been trying to build a desalination plant in Carlsbad, Calif. Environmental groups have filed lawsuits, challenging the project's permits. During the question-and-answer time, a committee member with the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation stood up to recount a number of problems with the project. The company's representative, Peter MacLaggan, began his response by telling the audience he was familiar with Surfrider; in fact, he said, "We're good friends."
He was facetious; Surfrider, a $3.5 million nonprofit dedicated to protecting beaches and oceans, has repeatedly objected to the Carlsbad desalination plant. So have several other groups, including San Diego Coastkeeper and the Sierra Club. Why? Because desalination consumes a lot of energy, and because the seawater intake will kill some fish.
Never mind that the power plant that already exists at that location kills more fish than a desalination facility would, and never mind that the desalination plant would be powered in part by solar energy. Many environmentalists simply don't like desalination as done with current technology. But we obviously need the water. What solution do they suggest? The usual answer you'll hear is conservation.
Conservation is a great thing, and sometimes it's been extremely successful. The city of Los Angeles, for example, emphasizes conservation and uses less water today than it did in 1987, despite a fast-growing population. But to claim that conservation by itself can solve the West's water crisis is shortsighted. California's population is projected to nearly double by 2050 if current trends continue. You can't conserve your way out of a drought.
Would it be ideal if we shut down golf courses and tore up our lawns to plant Astro-Turf? Yes, but we don't live in an ideal world. The West has a water crisis, and it stems from a simple problem: We've built our homes in deserts where nature never meant us to live. In order to stay here, we require a mix of solutions. There's no magic bullet that will do the trick. Some solutions may have environmental impacts, but almost every human activity implies an environmental impact. You might as well object that building a wind turbine kills some birds; it does, but just think about some of the alternatives, such as a coal-fired power plant.
Environmental impacts from desalination greatly concern several environmental groups, but it's hard to see why this is a high priority. If their concern is energy use, the Carlsbad project is powered in part by solar panels. If they're worried about altering the marine environment, over-fishing is undoubtedly more serious. The impacts of drawing water from other sources, such as rivers or groundwater, are more serious still.
So why do some environmentalists object to desalination? I've concluded it's out of a kind of wishful thinking: If only everyone were to conserve, if the population could stay at current levels, if we could find a solution that has no environmental impacts -- if, if, if. In this respect, environmental advocates are behaving no differently from residents who object to Orange County's "toilet-to-tap" project -- though they have no qualms about drinking recycled wastewater from the Colorado River. Perhaps all of us prefer to ignore the realities of difficult choices in the belief that somewhere a perfect solution exists.
The debate over water use in the West has been hampered by this kind of irrational thinking for years. Ultimately, we're going to have to discard our excess fastidiousness and make use of all the options for finding water -- and that may mean turning to seawater as well. If we wait for the technology to improve, perhaps a perfect solution might come along. But that assumes that a perfect solution exists, and that we have enough time to wait for it. Sometimes, as Aesop's dog discovered, it's better to take what you have rather than end up with nothing at all.
Washington Post
EPA Can Weigh Cost-Benefits in Environmental Action, Court Says...Robert Barnes
The Supreme Court said yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency may consider whether protecting fish and other aquatic creatures is worth the cost of the most advanced upgrades for older power plants, a defeat for environmentalists who had challenged the government's position.
The court ruled 6 to 3 that such cost-benefit decisions are allowed under the Clean Water Act as the agency moved to require more than 500 older power plants to upgrade the ways they draw water to cool machinery. Water-intake systems kill 3.4 billion fish and shellfish each year, the EPA estimated.
But the technology that could bring the older plants more in line with new plants would cost about $3.5 billion annually, the EPA said.
Environmentalists argued that the Clean Water Act requires remedies that "reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact," and that Congress understood it was nearly impossible to put a monetary value on the loss of wildlife. But Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that even the environmentalists acknowledged that there was some limit to whether the most advanced technology was worth it.
"It seems to us, therefore, that the phrase 'best technology available,' even with the added specification 'for minimizing adverse environmental impact,' does not unambiguously preclude cost-benefit analysis," he wrote.
Power plants draw more than 214 billion gallons of water from U.S. waterways daily to cool machinery, "squashing," in Scalia's words, billions of fish and other small aquatic creatures against intake screens or sucking them into the cooling systems. In newer plants, closed-cooling systems reduce the rate by 98 percent.
But it is extremely costly to implement such systems at older plants, and the EPA said less expensive plans would reduce the loss by 80 to 95 percent.
Industry has long advocated the cost-benefit analysis embraced by the Bush administration's EPA. But whether the Obama administration will feel the same is another question, and environmentalists have begun to lobby for a different approach.
Alex Matthiessen, president of the New York-based environmental group Riverkeeper, which brought the lawsuit, noted that the court did not say that EPA is required to use the cost-benefit analysis, only that it may.
"We are looking forward to working with EPA's new administrator, whom we are confident will agree that the Bush EPA regulations failed to satisfy the Clean Water Act," he said.
Environmental groups pointed out that new EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson previously headed the environmental protection agency in New Jersey, one of the states that supported Riverkeeper in the suit. An EPA spokeswoman said the department had no comment on the decision.
Justice John Paul Stevens, in dissent, said that the majority was ignoring the plain language of the statute, and that he found it "puzzling" that the court relied on Congress's silence about whether a cost-benefit analysis was appropriate to decide that it was allowed. He was joined by Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The case is Entergy v. Riverkeeper.
CNN Money
Record high in jobless claiming benefits
Government report shows 12,000 more people filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week. Continuing claims hit fresh record high...Ben Rooney
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, while those filing continuing claims hit an all-time high for the 10th straight week, according to a government report released Thursday.
In the week ended March 28, a total of 669,000 people filed initial jobless claims, up 12,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 657,000, the Labor Department reported.
It was the largest weekly increase since October 1982, and it surprised economists surveyed by Briefing.com, who had forecast initial claims to decline to 650,000.
The number of people continuing to file for jobless benefits rose 161,000 to 5.7 million in the week ended March 21, the latest week for which data was available. It was the highest number since the government began keeping records in 1967, and the 10th consecutive week that continuing claims rose to a record high.
The increasing number of people continuing to file for unemployment benefits suggests that Americans are struggling to re-enter the workforce.
The 4-week moving average for weekly filings, which smoothes out volatile peaks and troughs, was 656,750, up 6,500 from the previous week's revised average.
Earlier this month, initial claims and the 4-week moving average had declined slightly, raising some hopes that the labor market was stabilizing. Given last week's increase, however, that seems improbable, according to Andrew Gledhill, an economists at Moody's Economy.com.
"This increase is definitely bad news," Gledhill said. "This is the worst labor market downturn at least since the 1980s, and I don't expect it to subside soon," he said.
The report comes one day before the government's closely watched monthly jobs report. The Labor Department is expected to report Friday that the economy shed 658,000 jobs in March, more than the 651,000 reported for February, according to a consensus estimate of economists complied by Briefing.com. The unemployment rate is forecasted to rise to 8.5% from 8.1%
4-6-09 Merced City Council/ Redevelopment Agency/ Public Financing authority agenda...7:00 p.m.
4-7-09 Merced County  Board of Supervisors meeting...6:00 p.m....Night Meeting
Agenda Posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting
4-8-09 Merced County Planing Commission agenda... 9:00 a.m.
4-8-09 MCAG Technical Review Board meeting...12:00 p.m.
4-8-09 Merced City Planning Commission...7:00 p.m.
Agendas are posted the Monday before a Wednesday Planning Commission Meeting.
4-23-09 LAFCo agenda...10:00 a.m.