Merced Sun-Star
Public Notice
NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY AND INTENT TO ADOPT A NEGATIVE DECLARATION LOCATION: :Statewide...to delist the American peregrine falcon under provisions of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
NOTICE OF AVAILABILITY AND INTENT TO ADOPT A NEGATIVE DECLARATION LOCATION:Statewide. DESCRIPTION: This proposed project is a regulation change to amend Section 670.5 of Title 14, California Code of Regulations, to delist the American peregrine falcon under provisions of the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The peregrine is currently listed as endangered under CESA. It is also a fully protected species under California Fish and Game Code Section 3511. PUBLIC REVIEW PERIOD:The Initial Study/Negative Declaration (IS/ND) is being circulated for public review and comment for a period of 30 days, beginning 4/23/09. Questions regarding the project should be directed to Dr. Eric Loft. Written comments should be submitted no later than 5:00 PM on 5/23/09 and may be sent via mail to the following address or by fax and must include a contact name and mailing address: Dr. Eric Loft, Wildlife Branch, CA Dept. of Fish and Game, 1812 9th St., Sacramento, CA 95811; fax: (916) 445-4048; Email: wildlifestrategy@dfg.ca.gov. Copies of the IS/ND may be reviewed online at: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/pubnotice/ or at the following locations during normal business hours: CA Dept of Fish and Game, 1812 9th St., Sacramento, CA 95811; CA Fish and Game Commission, 1416 9th St., Sacramento, CA 95811. Public testimony on the IS/ND will be taken at a Fish and Game Commission meeting to be held May 13, 2009 in the Resources Bldg. Auditorium, 1416 9th St.,Sacramento. Proposed adoption of the regulation change and negative declaration is scheduled to be considered at a Fish and Game Commission meeting to be held August 5-6, 2009 in a location to be determined. 4/17/09 CNS-1569024# MERCED SUN-STAR Legal April 17, 2009
Environmental report on Wal-Mart's Merced center draws mostly support...SCOTT JASON
Merced's Civic Center has yet to be overwhelmed with criticisms and questions about the environmental report chronicling the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center's effects on the area.
Of course, the deadline is still a week away.
As of Thursday, the city had received letters from Caltrans, Madera County, the Central California Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Native American Heritage Commission.
An additional 50 letters in support or against the project have also been submitted, though they don't offer any specific criticism or pose questions.
Comments supporting the project outnumber ones against it by nearly a nine-to-one ratio. Most residents cite the need for jobs as a top reason for it to be built.
Wal-Mart has said it will hire 1,200 full-time workers by the time the 24-hour-a-day center is in full swing.
Though supporters have been more vocal so far, the Stop Wal-Mart Action Team at various public forums has continued to voice its concerns about the project's impact.
A group of opponents went before the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District board Thursday to remind it of the 1.1 million-square-foot project's implications.
In a letter to the board, it noted that 72 tons of nitrogen oxides and 32 tons of particulate matter -- dust and soot -- will be created each year by the distribution center.
It asks that the district be vigilant in protecting the city's air.
If Wal-Mart's project is approved, it will have to pay a one-time fee for its pollution, District Director of Permit Services Dave Warner said.
The district charges $9,350 for a ton of nitrogen oxide and $9,011 for a ton of particulate matter.
The money collected goes into a fund that helps improve air quality by giving $100 million in grants every year.
Top projects include upgrading truck fleets and replacing water pumps, Warner said.
The district will also comment on the draft report.
The number of comments affects how long it takes before the final report is issued.
In the case of Riverside Motorsports Park, the most controversial development in recent history, more than a thousand comment cards were sent to the county.
Hundreds of letters were mailed as well.
It took 10 months before the final report was released.
For the Wal-Mart project, 37 people have urged the city to approve the distribution center as quickly as possible.
Four people said they were against it being built. Another nine asked for more time to read the 441-page review, a request the city denied last month.
All comments on the project must be in by 5 p.m. April 27.
The third-party firm that wrote the draft environmental impact report must then respond to the critiques and make any changes to the report before issuing it in its final form.
The report, and essentially the project itself, then goes before the City Council for approval or denial.
If it's approved, Wal-Mart hopes to break ground in early 2010.
People can comment on the Wal-Mart distribution center report by sending an e-mail to espinosak@cityofmerced.org, by faxing it to (209) 725-8775 or by mailing Kim Espinosa, planning manager, City of Merced Planning Department, 678 W. 18th St., Merced, CA 95340. Residents must include their full name and address to become part of the public record.
The deadline is 5 p.m. April 27.
Home prices' falling slows; median price of Merced County homes down to $105,000
Meanwhile, sales starting to heat up...J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee
Home sales prices continued to slip during March throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but the drop wasn't nearly as steep as it had been during previous months.
The median price in March in Merced County was $105,000, down $500 from February.
Stanislaus County homes sold for a median price of $135,000 in March, down $1,250 from February, according to MDA DataQuick statistics.
Stanislaus prices have fallen nearly 66 percent since the December 2005 housing boom peak when homes went for a median of $396,000.
Stanislaus homes now sell for about what they did during the spring of 2000. In San Joaquin County, the median price was $154,000, down $1,000 from the previous month.
And sales are hot.
DataQuick tracked 933 home sales in Stanislaus last month, most of them foreclosed houses that were resold by banks. In March 2008, by contrast, 527 homes sold. That's a 77 percent increase.
Low prices and low mortgage rates have triggered a buying frenzy and sparked multiple offers for many homes.
"We do not seem to have any shortage of qualified buyers," PMZ Real Estate President Mike Zagaris told a packed luncheon crowd this week during an Appraisal Institute conference in Modesto. "The cost of ownership today is extremely attractive. We're in the window of opportunity for people to get into a house."
But that window doesn't look so attractive to homeowners.
Property values have dropped so dramatically that many people owe more than their homes are worth. Homeowners who are upside-down on their mortgages can't afford to sell their homes to buy newer or bigger homes, so higher-end homes are very difficult to sell.
"I don't think you're going to see a move-up buyers' market until we burn through the foreclosures. I think we're two years away," Zagaris predicted.
To help people buy foreclosures, the federal government this spring is sending about $50 million to the Northern San Joaquin Valley in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. That includes more than $8 million for Modesto, which will loan families and investors money for down payments and renovations at very low interest rates.
Loose Lips: No worries, Pazin's on the job
For baseball players, the pinnacle of success is winning the World Series. For football players, it's catching the clutch touchdown in the Super Bowl. And for law enforcement officials, it's working holster-to-holster with the Secret Service agents to protect President Barack Obama.
In this case, his wife is the next-best option.
Like the student who reminds the teacher of homework that needs to be assigned, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin wasted no time committing his deputies to special duty during the UC Merced commencement, when Michelle Obama will be speaking.
The sheriff headed straight to the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to let local leaders know he'll have a command post at Lake Yosemite, complete with a helicopter landing pad.
The hitch? Neither UC Merced's police chief nor its head spokeswoman recall asking for help. To run security, the school is tapping the UC system's police force of close to 400 officers and the California Highway Patrol.
Pazin, who has a mild flair for embellishment, wrote in his board report that there'll be 25,000 people at Obamastock. The school's printing 9,000 tickets so that means there'll be about 16,000 party crashers.
Fortunately for taxpayers, this special first lady detail (code name: Please Increase Federal Public Safety Funding) won't cost extra because the deputies will be pulled off regular duty to secure the UC perimeter next to the lake.
Lips heard Merced police are working with the university in case help is needed, though no requests have been made yet or command posts proposed.
The sheriff's eagerness to help during such a big event reminds Lips of a joke: Why did God create Secret Service agents? Because even sheriff's deputies need heroes.
First Lance, now Michelle
Speaking of the first lady, even Merced's rolling out the red carpet, announcing that it's holding a street fair to celebrate the 2009 graduates and Mrs. Obama's visit. Why, the city hasn't been this stoked since Lance Armstrong rolled through town.
The biggest challenge the city faces is satisfying spectators' appetites for a piece of the action and food.
TVs will broadcast the speech while the city hopes that local service groups will serve food downtown to fill the bellies. Lips understands Michelle Obama's fave dish is mac and cheese. Any takers?
Modesto Bee
EPA takes first step toward climate change regs...H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- The EPA on Friday declared that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases sent off by cars and many industrial plants "endanger public health and welfare," setting the stage for regulating them under federal clean air laws.
The action by the Environmental Protection Agency marks the first step toward requiring power plants, cars and trucks to curtail their release of climate-changing pollution, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said while the agency is prepared to move forward with regulations under the Clean Air Act, the Obama administration would prefer that Congress addressed the climate issue through "cap-and-trade" legislation limiting pollution that can contribute to global warming.
Limits on carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases would have widespread economic and social impact, from requiring better fuel efficiency for automobiles to limiting emissions from power plants and industrial sources, changing the way the nation produces energy.
In announcing the proposed finding, Jackson said the EPA analysis "confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations" and warrants steps to curtail it.
While EPA officials said the agency may still be many months from actually issuing such regulation, the threat of dealing with climate change by regulation could spur some hesitant members of Congress to find another way to address the problem.
"The (EPA) decision is a game changer. It now changes the playing field with respect to legislation," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whose Energy and Commerce subcommittee is crafting broad limits on greenhouse emissions. "It's now no longer doing a bill or doing nothing. It is now a choice between regulation and legislation."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee responsible for climate legislation, said EPA's action is "a wake-up call for Congress" - deal with it directly through legislation or let the EPA regulate.
Friday's action by the EPA triggered a 60-day comment period before the agency issues a final endangerment ruling. That would be followed by a proposal on how to regulate the emissions.
The agency said in its finding that "in both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem" and that carbon dioxide and five other gases "that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
The EPA concluded that the science pointing to man-made pollution as a cause of global warming is "compelling and overwhelming." It also said tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles contribute to climate change.
The EPA action was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if found to be a danger to human health or public welfare.
The Bush administration strongly opposed using the Clean Air Act to address climate change and stalled on producing the so-called "endangerment finding" demanded by the high court in its April 2007 ruling.
The court case, brought by Massachusetts, focused only on emissions from automobiles. But it is widely assumed that if the EPA must regulate emissions from cars and trucks, it will have no choice but to control similar pollution from power plants and industrial sources.
Congress is considering imposing an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions along with giving industry the ability to trade emission allowances to mitigate costs. Legislation could be considered by the House before the August congressional recess.
In addition to carbon dioxide, a product of burning fossil fuels, the EPA finding covers five other emissions that scientists believe are warming the earth when they concentrate in the atmosphere: Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
New laws help reduce foreclosures...J.N. Sbranti
Let's call this positive news about foreclosures: The number of Northern San Joaquin Valley homes repossessed by banks during March was the lowest for any month during the past year.
But don't get too cheerful, because a staggering number of homes received notices of default — the first step in the foreclosure process — last month.
The decline in final foreclosures in large part has been credited to changes in state law that have forced lenders to go through more steps before repossessing homes with unpaid mortgages
That change only postponed the process, it didn't fix the problem, warned Sean O'Toole, whose ForeclosureRadar company tracks all California foreclosure proceedings.
In Stanislaus County, lenders took back 311 homes in March, according to ForeclosureRadar. During the past two years, nearly 12,195 Stanislaus homes have been lost to foreclosure.
Stanislaus homes foreclosed last month cost lenders nearly $115.6 million in unpaid mortgages, bringing the two-year loss to $4.1 billion
During March, 1,169 Stanislaus homeowners were issued formal notices of default, warning them they'll lose their homes if they don't catch up on mortgage payments. It's expected to take at least four months before lenders can take back those homes.
In Merced County last month, 185 homes were lost to foreclosure, bringing the two-year total to 6,655. Bad mortgages there cost lenders $115.1 million last month and nearly $2.7 billion over the past two years.
In San Joaquin County last month, 409 homes were lost, bringing the two-year total to 17,327. Lenders there lost $153.7 million last month and $7 billion over the past two years.
That means the Northern San Joaquin Valley has lost 36,177 homes to foreclosure and lenders have lost $13.8 billion in unpaid mortgages over the past two years.
And it looks as though more bad news is ahead.
Statewide, a record 54,268 notices of default were filed in March, about 25.8 percent higher than any other month in history, according to ForeclosureRadar.
"Not one government program aimed at addressing the foreclosure problem has dealt with the core issue of negative equity," O'Toole said. "The only tangible effect of these programs so far is a significant increase in uncertainty for homeowners, lenders, investors and even government officials trying to make sense of these wild swings in activity."
A shockingly high percentage of Northern San Joaquin Valley homeowners are delinquent on their mortgage payments, according to recent calculations by First American CoreLogic, which gathers statistical data about real estate.
For Stanislaus homeowners with mortgages, 11.5 percent are 90 days or more behind on their mortgages. The delinquency rate is 16.5 percent in Merced and 12.2 percent in San Joaquin.
By comparison, 7 percent of California homeowners and 5 percent of U.S. homeowners are 90 days late paying their mortgages.
Stanislaus County unemployment rate at 17.5 percent...Bee Staff Reports
SACRAMENTO -- The unemployment rate in Stanislaus County rose to 17.5 percent in March 2009, up from a revised 16.8 percent in February 2009, state officials announced this morning.
California's unemployment rate hit a record 11.2 percent in March, according to figures released by the Employment Development Department. The state lost 62,000 jobs in March.
Merced's unemployment rate rose to a whopping 20.4 percent, while San Joaquin County came in at 16.4 percent.
The state's unemployment rate grew from 10.6 percent in February, and is nearly 5 points higher than in March 2008.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show it is a historic high. Only two states - Michigan and Oregon - had higher rates in March.
Contra Costa Times
California unemployment rate rises to record 11.2 percent...Juliet Williams Associated Press
SACRAMENTO — California's unemployment rate hit 11.2 percent in March, the highest rate in modern records, as the construction, manufacturing and banking industries continued to shed jobs, the state employment agency said today.
The state's unemployment rate grew from 10.6 percent in February and is nearly 5 points higher than in March 2008, the Employment Development Department reported.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show it is a historic high. The bureau said only three states — Michigan, Oregon and South Carolina — had higher rates in March.
Among the reasons California is hit harder than most other areas is the sheer size of its economy and its central role in funneling overseas imports to consumers here, said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist at UCLA.
"As consumer demand declines all over the country, that gets amplified in the California numbers in our logistics — transportation and warehousing and ports," he said.
California's relatively young work force and a worse-than-average housing market collapse also contribute to its high rate, Nickelsburg said.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in March.
About half the job decline in California is related to reduced consumer spending in areas such as leisure, hospitality, retail, transportation and housing, Nickelsburg said.
"A bunch of it is manufacturing and of course California manufactures for the world economy, and the world economy is in a recession," he added.
With nearly 859,000 people receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits in March and the number continuing to grow, Schwarzenegger said today he would expedite the hiring of an extra 1,150 workers to staff unemployment call centers.
The agency is in the process of hiring about 850 workers to be paid from federal funds.
He said the agency will also be authorized to contract out services and borrow personnel and office space from other state departments to help reduce wait times for unemployed people seeking benefits and services.
The agency already has extended its call center hours and opened several of its centers on Saturdays to deal with the surge in claims.
More than 2 million Californians are now out of work — 913,000 more than were jobless one year ago — according to the state figures.
Construction continues to be among the hardest hit sectors in the wake of the collapsed housing, finance and credit markets, losing more than 152,000 jobs since March 2008, an 18.4 percent decline. Manufacturing saw a 7 percent decline for the year.
Government sector jobs also fell for the first time as state and local governments absorbed billions of dollars in state program and service cuts.
One area, the educational and health services sector, added nearly 38,000 jobs, a 2.2 percent yearly increase, EDD said.
Last month, Schwarzenegger signed legislation allowing California to tap into $3 billion in unemployment funds included in the massive federal stimulus package. It allows workers to receive benefits for up to 79 weeks and collect an extra $25 a week through July 3, 2010. Payments range from $65 to $475 a week.
The governor said his administration is working aggressively to spend and distribute federal stimulus money, but the economic recovery will take time.
"I am committed to doing everything within my power to help Californians through this tough economic time and get our unemployed back to work," he said in a statement.
The rising jobless rate has strained the state fund that pays jobless benefits.
In January, California began borrowing from the federal government to keep its unemployment insurance fund solvent. The employment department projected the state will need to borrow $2.4 billion through year's end and $4.9 billion in 2010 if the state doesn't adjust its benefits or taxes on employers.
The last time California's unemployment rate was over 10 percent was during a 12-month period that ended in June 1983. The rate peaked at 11 percent in February 1983.
Nickelsburg said he expects the unemployment rate to rise slowly for the next several months, then taper off in the second half of 2010.
On the Net: California Employment Development Department: www.edd.ca.gov
Los Angeles Times
Rep. Nunes calls on Schwarzenegger to resign...L.A. Now...12:59 PM, April 17, 2009
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) said today that California’s GOP standard-bearer, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, should step down for his “failure to respond to the ongoing California water crisis.”
Nunes, a Central Valley Republican, sent out his statement on the day Schwarzenegger appeared at the San Luis Reservoir for the last stop of a march organized by the Latino Water Coalition. The governor this week also held a news conference with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for the announcement of millions in federal funding for California’s water infrastructure as the state heads into a fourth year of drought.
Though the governor has repeatedly called for action on a variety of measures to deal with the problem, Nunes said the governor’s similar remarks at the water march were “lip service.” He said Schwarzenegger should quit because of the lack of progress, and also faulted the governor for “ducking” the issue of pumps to get water out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“When a government can’t provide the people access to a reliable supply of water, it has failed,” Nunes said. “This government has utterly failed and Governor Schwarzenegger should resign from office.” 
Seems unlikely that Schwarzenegger will take the advice, but, of course, Nunes won’t have long to wait as the governor leaves office at the end of next year anyway.
Obama administration declares greenhouse gases a threat to public health
The ruling today by the Environmental Protection Agency paves the way for federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions...Jim Tankersley
Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration today declared greenhouse gases a threat to public health, marking a major step -- both practically and symbolically -- toward federal limits on the carbon dioxide emissions scientists blame for global warming.
The move by the Environmental Protection Agency was prompted by a 2-year-old Supreme Court decision. It paves the way for the White House to regulate emissions from vehicles and effectively force the U.S. auto fleet to be cleaner and more efficient -- a plan the administration is expected to put in place soon.
"This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said today.
"It follows President Obama's call for a low-carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation," she said. "This pollution problem has a solution -- one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country's dependence on foreign oil."
The finding declares that "in both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
This action opens the door to broad emissions limits in all other parts of the economy, including power plants and construction sites, which critics say could further chill an already recessionary economy. Administration officials insist they'd prefer to let Congress set those limits and that they will help spur millions of clean-energy jobs in the years to come.
Environmentalists are celebrating the so-called "endangerment finding" as the biggest statement yet that the federal government, after years of downplaying the dangers of climate change under the Bush administration, is now preparing to act boldly to combat it.
This is a "landmark moment in environmental history," Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, said in a press release anticipating the decision.
"Where the Bush administration lagged, the Obama administration is now leading," said David Bookbinder, Sierra Club's chief climate counsel. "There is no longer a question of if or even when the U.S. will act on global warming. We are doing so now."
Critics warn that the policy could cripple small businesses and kill economic growth.
"An endangerment finding would lead to destructive regulatory schemes that Congress never authorized," a group of eight leading conservative and free-market activists, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, warned the EPA in a letter this week, adding later: "the Administration will bear responsibility for any increase in consumer energy costs, unemployment, and GDP losses" that result.
New York Times
A Clear, Clean Water Act...Editorial
Clean water policy is in a terrible muddle, and the country has the Supreme Court to thank for it.
The 1972 Clean Water Act was written to protect all the waters and wetlands of the United States. Two unfortunate Supreme Court decisions narrowed its scope, weakened its safeguards and thoroughly confused the federal agencies responsible for enforcing it. As a result, thousands of miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands have been exposed to development.
The remedy lies in a Senate bill called the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would reassert the broad reach of the 1972 law. Similar legislation has been languishing for years, and if this version has any hope, it will need a strong push from the White House.
The good news is that Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, cares about clean water issues and isn’t afraid of a fight. She has already moved to restrict pollution from coal mining operations in Appalachia and is promising to crack down on polluted runoff from animal feedlots.
Without endorsing any particular bill, Ms. Jackson agreed last week that the system that has long protected America’s waterways from unregulated development and pollution is paralyzed — and will remain paralyzed unless Congress fixes it. An internal E.P.A. report furnished to Congress last year revealed that the agency had dropped or delayed more than 400 cases involving suspected violations of the law — nearly half the agency’s entire docket. The reason in every instance was that regulators did not know whether the streams and wetlands in question were covered by the law.
Until the two Supreme Court rulings, the Clean Water Act had been broadly interpreted by courts and by federal regulators to shield all the waters of the United States — seasonal streams and remote wetlands as well as large navigable rivers and lakes — from pollution and unregulated development. The assumption was that even the smallest waters have some hydrological connection to larger watersheds and therefore deserve protection. The Supreme Court, however, exploiting ambiguities in the law, effectively decreed that only navigable, permanent water bodies deserve protection.
As a result, at least 20 million acres of wetlands and as much as 60 percent of the nation’s small streams have been left unprotected, while effectively shutting down enforcement actions against developers who have been disturbing or plan to disturb these waters without a permit.
The Clean Water Restoration Act would establish, once and for all, that federal protections apply to all waters, as Congress intended in 1972. Now a new Congress and a new White House must ensure that it becomes law.