Badlands Journal
Blue Dogs at the Preakness...Badlands Journal editorial board...6-2-09
Congressman Dennis Cardoza. D-18th CA, was able to suppress for two weeks the story of his "personal and professional reasons" for not attending Michelle Obama's commencement at UC Merced, a new campus he did a great deal to bring to his district.
Although covering San Joaquin Valley politics has sharpened our satiric senses, even we could not have imagined this one. Cardoza was at Pimlico for the Preakness, hosting fat cat contributors to something he calls the "Moderate Victory Fund," a Blue Dog Democrat front. The top five contributors in 2008 at this annual event were the American Bankers Association, the Blue Dog PAC, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the National Association of Realtors.
Cardoza and the fat cats enjoyed sipping juleps in a luxury box and watching Calvin Borel boot home another one, a front-running filly this time. In addition to claiming he didn't know how much the fund-raiser raised, Cardoza doubtless claimed not to know how much money he and the fat cats won and lost on the Preakness and the rest of the card that day.
But, that's our boy. He loves the fast company. Michelle Obama endured 106-degree heat to deliver an inspiring speech to the graduating class at UC Merced, mostly first-generation college students who seemed to understand and appreciate the speech, not just The Presence.
Pimlico is reported to be a failing racetrack that loses money regularly except on Preakness Day. Perhaps that explains the thoroughbred industry's support for the fundraiser. Or is its support related to the persistent rumor that Cardoza bets heavily and compulsively on the ponies?
It would seem that any local Democrat, registered to vote and able to walk and chew gum at the same time, could beat this bum simply by proclaiming his support for the president and for the 18th Congressional District of California. However, finding such a candidate
in a district stupid enough to have given Cardoza a free ride when real estate values were in a free fall might be a challenge. We aren't always so good at connecting dots because most of the time the picture made is ugly. And we are Californians, too. In our hearts, we all live in Santa Monica and each purple Jacaranda petal falls for us, too.
In the Fresno Bee, Jim Boren opines that the problem with the Valley is that its representatives don't have any clout in House Democratic leadership circles. It's a good thing for the nation that they don't, a fact possibly not utterly lost on Democratic Party leadership circles. Cardoza and his former dancing partner, Richard Pombo, tried to
gut the Endangered Species Act three times for the benefit of finance,insurance and real estate interests in their own adjoining districts, now suffering among the worst foreclosure rates in the nation. Cardoza assisted in the looting of the 18th CD for his own social, political and economic gain. Presumably, at least some senior members of the California congressional delegation know that and prefer not to elevate him. Costa, Cardoza's new dancing partner, has been raving on behalf of the Westlands Water District and state water contractors in the south San Joaquin Valley. For a guy who's always claimed a deep knowledge of water politics to back this dog is ludicrous. He wants to
invite the Obamas to the west side? For what, another renr-a-farmworker rally? All the Westlands' massive campaign to suspend the Endangered Species Act to allow more Delta pumping is proving is the incredible amount of wealth west side farmers have made on federally subsidized water, now purchasing the best propaganda and political clout money can buy.
The House Democratic leadership probably has what we now call the Costoza right where it wants it, feeding off the bottom of the pond, occasionally surfacing to disgorge a bag or two of agribusiness cash, then sinking quietly back into the slime.
The "Moderate Victory Fund" is nothing more than a front for the Blue Dogs, a group of deeply frightened Democrats from largely rural districts when Republicans took the House in 1995. The Blue Dogs looked into their crystal balls and saw their gravy train
sidetracked by millennial fascist hysteria and hopped into an empty boxcar on the Newt Ball Express. 
Cardoza's actions look even stupider than they did before we knew the "reason" he couldn't attend Mrs. Obama's speech at the UC Merced commencement. He not only insulted the president's wife. He did it to raise money for a bloc of knuckleheads like himself, stuffed very deeply in the pockets of special interests that don't give a damn about this district or any other in the nation that they have looted to the point the peasants have no more to give the lords. And this bloc will vote against the president whenever it figures it can get away with stabbing him in the back. Although all these numbnuts know of politics on their best days is when to sell what to which fat cat, they call their
reasoning process "balance," "moderation," "leadership," and "realism."
This pleasant myth is as comforting to Blue Dogs as a blanket is to a baby or a stick to a boy.
We are indebted to McClatchy Washington reporter Mike Doyle for the story. The aroma surrounding it is from one of two things: the scent of burning access bridges; or the odor of suppression through a news cycle. But, now that the story is finally out, it raises speculation into the reasons behind Mrs. Obama's acceptance of the invitation to the UC Merced commencement. It is reasonable to assume that Obama's team was aware of the Blue Dog fundraiser. It has been held at the Preakness for several years. It's no secret. Another factor was the incredible amount of flak preceding the event -- endless stories, mostly from UC, claiming that Mrs. Obama responded purely to the students' persistent invitations, personal letters from family members, and a slew of misspelled valentines. That was a sure sign of a coverup. We refrain from speculation about the first lady's motives, but note that from the political perspective of the White House it was a perfect way to set a Blue Dog's tail on fire.
In this congressional district, that's a good political day.
Cardoza did all he could to sell his district to finance, insurance and real estate for his own selfish gain. For his grand finale amid the ruins of the speculative housing bubble, he took his family away to a home in Annapolis MD, babbling over his shoulder that the Valley was desperately short of physicians and needed a medical school at UC
Merced. However, his wife, a physician, was provided a position with the University of Maryland medical system and a "voluntary" faculty appointment at the UM medical school. What was the quid pro quo to House Majority Leader and old Cardoza mentor, Steny Hoyer, D-MD, behind that?
The president's wife decides to visit the campus Cardoza did as much as any politician but Gary Condit to bring to Merced as the anchor tenant for urban growth. big farm-land prices, and a super developer/ realtor/banker/mortgage lender feeding frenzy. The Preakness and the fat cats call. What is he to do? It's a matter of values, maybe even of ethics. It could be about nothing more than good manners, excluding political protocol. For Cardoza it was simple: values are pecuniary, there ain't no such thing as ethics, the bum doesn't have the manners of an unemployed farmworker, Hoyer told him to be at the Preakness, and besides, at the track you can bet legally instead of through a bookie with all those complexities, especially for a congressman that may not always be able to cover his bets.
Fresno Bee
Maybe it's time for voters to 'scratch' Rep. Cardoza...Bill McEwen
If I lived in the 18th District, I'd be looking to replace my congressman, Dennis "Horse Track" Cardoza, in 2010.
I can think of only two reasons he has the job. First, his predecessor and former ally, Gary Condit, couldn't keep his pants zipped. And Cardoza didn't mind stabbing Condit in the back after Chandra Levy disappeared...
Merced Sun-Star
Cardoza was at fundraiser when he skipped UC Merced commencement...MICHAEL DOYLE, Sun-
Star Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, missed UC Merced's momentous 2009 graduation
two weeks ago in part because he was busy raising money...
Modesto Bee
Local reps need more D.C. clout...Jim Boren
You'd think that Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, would be pleased that his party controls theWhite House, giving him better access to the executive branch than he had when George W.Bush was president. But Costa seems frustrated that he can't get the ear of the president
at a time when his congressional district is suffering as much as any region in the country...
...Costa, at least, had a better excuse for skipping the first lady's speech than politicalpal Dennis Cardoza, the Merced Democratic congressman. Cardoza was hosting a fundraiserat the Preakness horse race in Baltimore on the day the first lady was in his hometown.
Talk about putting personal politics ahead of your district...
News From…
Congressman Dennis Cardoza
18th Congressional District of California
Announcement from Congressman Dennis Cardoza and Dr. Kathleen McLoughlin 
March 10, 2008  CONTACT:  Jamie McInerney
(202) 225-6131 
WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Dennis Cardoza and his wife, Dr. Kathleen McLoughlin, issued the following statements: 
“Today, Kathie is announcing that she will be accepting a position as a family physician with University Care which is affiliated with The University of Maryland School of Medicine. She will be working in their clinic,” said Congressman Cardoza.
Dr. McLoughlin will also be accepting a voluntary faculty position at the university. Her last day of practice in Merced will be May 31st 2008. 
“I have valued and appreciated the relationships I have built with my patients the last 19 years and will miss the daily contact with the many friends Dennis and I have made in Merced. This was not an easy decision, but many members of Congress with young families
move them to Washington. With Joey and Brittany entering high school in the fall, we believe this is the right time to have the family join Dennis in the Washington area. Even though he travels home each weekend, we miss him during the week and look forward to being together more,” said Dr. McLoughlin.
The Congressman has purchased a home in the Washington area, but will maintain his family residence in Atwater, California.  
Merced Sun Star
Banks starting to clean blighted properties ahead of city ordinance...SCOTT JASON
Construction crews recently returned to RiverStone, one of Merced's deserted subdivisions, in Bellevue Ranch.
They boarded up the windows, doors and garages. Then they left.
Months before it was approved, Merced's foreclosure ordinance was helping to improve neighborhoods in distress, if ever so slightly.
"It's better late than never," said Jessica Coble, who can see the vacant homes, which now look condemned, from her backyard. She added, "It really looks ugly."
Key Bank, which owns the half-built and finished homes built by Crosswinds Development, decided to secure the houses to comply with the ordinance before it was entered in the municipal code book.
The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance, which allows code enforcement officers to fine banks and investors up to $1,000 a day if a house and its yard aren't maintained.
Clearing its final vote Monday, the ordinance will take effect in July.
That means banks and lenders must cut weeds, prevent people from squatting and make sure swimming pools don't become mosquito resorts.
The goal is to spruce up abandoned neighborhoods and keep others from becoming eyesores.
"We want to send a serious message about blight in our community," Development Services Director David Gonzalves said.
The ordinance came as a last resort when it comes to dealing with derelict owners. Code enforcement saw about 120 foreclosure-related cases last year added to its regular case load.
Gonzalves said he expects the ordinance will be used one or two times in a year, at most.
California gave cities authority to fine banks for dilapidated houses through SB 1137, which was passed last year. The bill, also aiming to stop foreclosures, forced lenders to communicate more with homeowners before initiating proceedings.
The law, along with the city's right to fine under it, is scheduled to expire in 2013.
Banks have two weeks to clean up a house once the city brings it to their attention. It must be fixed within 30 days.
Before the ordinance, city code enforcement officers would use their standard nuisance abatement procedure, which included notices and liens.
People losing their homes would abandon them, letting weeds grow, windows stay broken and, in some cases, squatters take over.
Liens, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, would pile up, City Attorney Greg Diaz explained.
The problem was that the liens would be wiped out once the foreclosure was complete, leaving the city without payment and giving the bank a clean title.
Merced waited before writing its own ordinance because Diaz wanted to see if banks would stall foreclosure proceedings so they wouldn't have to pay liens.
That hasn't been the case because banks want to get the delinquent mortgages off their balance sheets. Diaz decided to move forward to have his staff draft an ordinance that would work for the city.
He also assured real estate agents that they wouldn't be ensnared if a property they're marketing is cited.
Back at Bellevue Ranch, Cobles' street, while filled with residents, has three houses that look as if they're sliding into foreclosure. Other than the dying grass down the block, Cobles' street is one part of the subdivision that matches the advertising.
The trees are beautiful when they're blooming, and eventually they'll provide a canopy of shade, she noted. Despite the ghost town down the street, she likes where she lives.
"It's good," she said, "as long as everyone maintains everything."
Our View: We can afford to buy a house again
Sharp decline in home prices no panacea, but it can be a good thing.
A silver lining in the foreclosure crisis is that Merced County once again has become a place where most families can afford to buy a home.
According to national home affordability statistics released recently, Merced County's median-income families can afford to buy more than 80 percent of the houses on the market today.
The reason, of course, is not that family incomes have risen, but that housing prices have dropped so dramatically -- which is discouraging to people trying to sell and depressing to those who owe more than their homes are worth.
But think about it: In 2005, only 3 percent of houses were affordable to average-income families. Many people were squeezed out of the market.
Other people did buy -- but shouldn't have. They started spending too much of their monthly income on housing and/or fell for subprime loans and other shaky deals that have led to today's housing mess.
To restart the housing market, the state and federal governments initiated income tax credits for homebuyers.
In addition, some first-time buyers may be eligible for down payment assistance programs. Put all of this together with low mortgage rates and it's obvious that housing truly is far more affordable.
In fact, Merced County now has one of the highest affordability rates in the state, right up there with Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
This dramatic turnaround has its negative sides, which are all too familiar. Lower home values have contributed significantly to the budget troubles facing cities and the counties because today they are collecting far less in property taxes than they did a few years ago.
Lower home prices also are prompting homebuilders to start pressing government agencies to reduce building fees or to delay when they are collected.
And our Valley still has a shortage of affordable rental units for the lowest income individuals and families -- people for whom buying is not currently an option and may never be.
The sharp decline in home prices is not a panacea for the many economic ills of today.
But being an affordable place to buy a home is a very good thing.
And it's good for morale and consumer confidence that Merced County ranks near the top of a list rather than at or near the bottom of one, as all too often has been the case.
UC Merced to pull curtain back today on new preschool...DANIELLE GAINES
Tiny chairs clustered around tiny tables.
Piles of pinecones and other learning tools for young children are scattered about.
And a new garden, named in honor of first lady Michelle Obama, will soon be tilled.
But the place -- the sparkling new UC Merced Childhood Education Center -- doesn't have that lived-in feel. Yet.
Today, the sustainably built modular schoolhouse, which will serve 80 pre-kindergarten children beginning this fall, will open to the public for the first time with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.
"We're going to set it up as if kids were coming to class," Danielle Waite, the center's director explained.
That means there will be easels up, Play-Doh out and milk and cookies to munch on.
UC Merced hired Waite, the first employee at the preschool, last July.
Since she started, she has hired teachers, purchased furniture, planned the curriculum and picked paint colors.
"When you look around the center, you will see that everything is soft-toned," Waite said, pointing out walls that have the look and feel of homemade paper.
"I want what the children are working on to stand out in the environment."
The school must undergo a final inspection by the State Department of Social Services and will open to some students by the end of the month.
The school will reach its full capacity in August.
Eighty children, ages six weeks to kindergarten entry, will be able to attend the center each day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
There are three wings to the building for the three age groups: infants, toddlers and pre-kindergarten.
The school will operate under a "creative curriculum" model, Waite said.
That means the children's interests will guide lessons that are developmentally appropriate.
For example, if a classroom of children are interested in balls, a teacher might have them examine and explain differences in the color, texture, size and weight of a group of balls.
Later, the students might conduct a scientific experiment by dropping them from different heights or rolling them across different surfaces.
Everything is "open-ended so the child's creativity will come out," Waite said.
It may seem abstract, but child development will not be lacking, Waite explained.
"The need for infant/toddler care is so great," Waite said. "I think that 0-3 is the most critical time in life."
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang agreed.
"Preschool is a great investment in getting our youngest people ready to do their best in kindergarten and all the way through high school, into college and beyond," Kang wrote in a recent study released by the Great Valley Center, an independent organization aimed at improving life in the Central Valley and partially funded by UC Merced.
"It's all linked."
The report went on to describe the shortcomings of early childhood education in the San Joaquin Valley.
Fifty-nine percent of public preschool programs in Merced County keep a waiting list.
If universal preschool were offered, the San Joaquin Valley would see a 22 percent reduction in the number of dropouts, according to a 2005 RAND report.
At the university's commencement last month, Kang said the new center is located near the campus entrance as an expression of the high value placed on preschool.
He then christened the center's garden as "Michelle Obama's Garden for Young Children" in honor of the first lady's visit.
Waite will unveil plans for the garden at today's open house.
The first phase of the garden will be set up this summer and will include a ground-level planter for vegetables and two raised planters for fruits and herbs.
But there are more sweet treats spread throughout the campus for pint-sized students.
In each schoolyard -- there is one for each of the three age groups -- there are several fruit trees.
From figs to quince to oranges and apricots, students will harvest the crops and sample their fruits during snack times.
(There are no nut trees on the campus.)
A second phase of the Obama garden will include a bamboo maze and additional play space that will be erected when the school expands to include an additional wing.
Waite said she didn't know when the expansion would happen, but plans are already drawn up.
Today, the school is still in its infancy.
At the open house, Waite is asking visitors to help the center add to its library collection by purchasing and donating a book from Barnes & Noble.
Those unable to attend the event may donate a book at the Barnes & Noble Merced location any time today.
In the pre-kindergarten classroom, Waite held up a coffee-table book with photos of gardens from around the world.
It wasn't what some would imagine as a children's book, but "we can put this in the science area or by the art supplies or the blocks," Waite said.
"Not all the books here are kid's books and that was done intentionally," she said.
Child care
WHAT: Ribbon cutting and open house for UC Merced's new early childhood education center.
WHEN: Ribbon cutting at 4 p.m. Open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today.
HOW TO DONATE: Community members can donate books to the school's library at the event, or at the Merced Barnes & Noble store. To donate in store, purchase a book and leave it there for the school, or ask the cashier to donate a portion of the proceeds on any sale.
UC Merced Early Childhood Education Center modular building placement
UC Merced ECE Center modular building placement...YouTube
Merced County Times
New institute to support health studies at UC Merced...JONATHAN WHITAKER
A newly established Human Sciences Research Institute at UC Merced promises to have a direct impact on health issues in the Central Valley and boost the university's plans to build a worldclass medical school on campus.
HSRI leaders expect to engage all the research labs at the univeristy and create expert teams to tackle complex and multifaceted problems in human health.
"The value to the San Joaquin Valley is huge," said Andy LiWang, the institute's director and professor of natural sciences. "Our research would be aimed at reducing the disparities in health that you see in this area — things like obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases; risk behaviors like tobacco use and early sexual activity; hepatitis C infection on liver disease; and asthma."
LiWang said the early development of a nationally recognized institute would definitely help plans for a medical school.
"Every good medical school has a strong academic research program," he said. "We already have students and faculty heavily involved in these areas of research. Bringing them together under the HSRI makes a lot of sense."
Approximately a quarter of faculty at the university is involved in research on topics related to human health, and are responsible for a large fraction of total research funds brought to the campus.
To strengthen UC Merced's reputation as a world leader in education related to health sciences, the HSRI plans to develop strong graduate-level courses that tap the broad expertise of the member faculty, and support excellent under-represented minority students as research interns each year in an HSRI laboratory to become more competitive for a UC graduate program.
There are also plans to support outstanding undergraduate or graduate students each year to move from one academic level to the next within HSRI, to keep top talent in Merced.
Other goals of the HSRI include:
Increased communication between health scientists on campus by organizing seminars and workshops
More fundraising for health sciences at UC Merced
The organizaton of a center for grant and training grant applications.
The specialties represented by the HSRI initially will include health psychology, quantitative psychology, medical anthropology, medical sociology, cognitive science, quantitative methods, molecular cell biology, biochemistry, stem cell biology, bioengineering, and computational biology.
LiWang said the HSRI membership will include faculty from UCSF Fresno who deal with both population health and clinical populations. Collaborations will provide the HSRI with access to the Central Valley patient population, and thereby link basic research with clinical and population health outcomes.
The collaborations with UCSF Fresno will give HSRI members access to patients, patient data, and biomarkers for exposure and disease progression in the Central Valley.
DROUGHT...John M. Derby
We Californians are still not getting the message. Much of us in the valley live in a semi-desert, yet we use water like we live in an oasis.
This year and for the last several years, California is facing a drought, however there are towns like Atwater and Merced where homeowners do not have metered water.
An ordinance asking the Atwater residents to cut their watering down to alternate days, was thought to be too restrictive, when the same type of ordinance is in force in most other towns including Merced.
Our lakes are virtually drying up and each year their water supply getting a little lower.
The Merced Irrigation District announces there will be shortages in irrigation water again this year.
Farmers and growers pump the water they need for their crops and the water table continues to decline.
We need to wake up to the fact that there will never be enough water in California again.
All ready, fields are being left untilled because there is not enough water to raise crops on them.
New methods of watering are slow in coming. Clearly drip irrigation is the way of the future, but some growers resist and some crops are just not suited for drip irrigation.
Homeowners need to be more concerned. When planting lawns, the grass chosen need to be drought resistant and more concern for semi-desert landscaping should be taken.
We seem to have a problem with the use of grey water. Grey water from our washing machine could be used for landscaping, however most of it goes down the drain.
We are one of the few societies in the world that uses one quality of water for everything, instead of having drinking water separate from bath and general purpose water. Americans are, however using much more bottled water than ever before.
The problem is that we accumulate a bi product of plastic bottles which last for hundreds of years. Surprising enough, most of the bottled water comes straight from the tap. Safeway stores uses Merced water for it’s bottling plant right out of town.
All this comes down to the fact that we Californians need to change our view of water. There is not an endless supply which is regenerated each year.
There is a limited supply of water which becomes more limited with every year.
For those of us who live in the valley it is our most precious resource and one which other metropolitan areas of California are trying to borrow or steal.
We need to use all our political clout to keep what water we have and then we need to maximize our conservation efforts.
Don’t complain when the city sets stricter watering schedules. Help the city meet the new requirements which are placed on it by the state.
If that means meters, then so be it. If that means alternate day watering, so be it.
Modesto Bee
California bills aim to assist Sacramento delta...last updated: June 03, 2009 08:49:25 PM
SACRAMENTO -- California legislators have approved bills that call for the development of a long-range plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta east of San Francisco and the creation of a conservancy group.
The Assembly passed four bills and the Senate another five to help protect the delicate ecosystem that funnels much of California's water supply. Several fish species are declining, and earthquakes threaten the levees.
The bills approved Wednesday require developing a regional plan by 2011. Others require increasing water conservation and measuring water diverted from the delta.
The bills now go to the opposite chamber for consideration.
Opponents fear the bills will encourage construction of a canal to carry Sacramento River water to regions south of the delta.
Wal-Mart says it will create 22,000 jobs in 2009...last updated: June 03, 2009 09:14:29 PM
BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opens about 150 new or expanded stores in the U.S. in 2009, the company expects to hire about 22,000 people for new positions.
Those positions include plenty of cashiers and stock clerks, but the world's largest retailer will also be adding store managers, pharmacists and personnel workers.
Wal-Mart is holding its annual shareholders meeting on Friday, and employees from its stores around the world are spending the week in Bentonville at company headquarters.
Wal-Mart, still the target of criticism from union-backed groups for its pay and benefits, has improved its health insurance coverage and opened it to full- and part-time employees. The company says 94 percent of its employees have health coverage, either through Wal-Mart or another family member.
"At Wal-Mart, we offer competitive pay and benefits and real opportunities for our associates to advance and build careers," Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright said. "Job creation is just one way in which we're working hard every day to help people across this country live better."
Other employee benefits include a 401(k) plan, stock purchases and discounts for workers making in-store purchases.
The company has touted its generic drugs program in which Wal-Mart is selling $4 prescriptions for many popular medicines. Competitors, such as Kroger Co., have matched the price for some prescriptions.
"During this difficult economic time, we're proud to be able to create quality jobs for thousands of Americans this year," Castro-Wright said.
Earlier this year, the company shared more than $2 billion with its workers through bonuses, profit sharing and payments into the company 401(k) plan.
Wal-Mart has more than 2.1 million employees in the U.S. and abroad. The company had sales last fiscal year of $401 billion.
Fresno Bee
Federal Agencies Sued for ESA Violations...Coalition for a Sustainable Delta
Agency Actions Harmful to Listed Species BAKERSFIELD, Calif., June 3 /PRNewswire/ The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta (Coalition) and the Kern County Water Agency (KCWA) have formally sued a number of federal agencies for their failure to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in relation to their activities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Federal agencies, including U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Maritime Administration (MARAD), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were added as defendants to an existing lawsuit filed by the Coalition and KCWA challenging regulatory restrictions placed on the state's water pumping operations. The original lawsuit, filed in March, addresses the failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to use the best available scientific data when determining the effects of water operations and other activities on the threatened delta smelt. The amended complaint, filed late last week in federal district court formally adds additional ESA violations to the broader suit's challenges.
"The amended lawsuit follows through on the notices sent to the federal agencies in March for their continued failure to address actions detrimental to threatened and endangered species in the Delta," said Michael Boccadoro, a spokesperson for the Coalition. "It makes absolutely no sense for federal agencies to continue proposing water pumping restrictions that harm the residents and businesses of California while they simultaneously take separate actions that further worsen the health of the Delta estuary." Those restrictions have greatly reduced water supplies for 25 million Californians, thousands of businesses, and millions of acres of San Joaquin Valley and Southern California farmland.
The amended complaint takes aim at a host of actions taken by federal agencies that may adversely affect the delta smelt and other listed, native fishes in the Delta. Specific ESA violations and issues addressed in the amended complaint now include, but are not limited to the following:
--  Increasing use of pesticides which are highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species in the Delta region;
--  Failure by MARAD to address adverse impacts of the moth-balled Naval Reserve Fleet in Suisun Bay;
--  Violations by FWS that result in actions to protect and enhance non-native sport fish, such as the striped bass and largemouth bass, which prey upon native protected species;
--  Actions by FEMA enabling development within flood-prone areas without consideration of the detrimental affects on listed species; and
--  Harmful dredging activities by the Port of Stockton in the Stockton Deepwater Channel.
"All of these actions by the federal agencies are having a tremendous impact on the Delta estuary and listed species including the delta smelt. They represent clear violations of the Federal Endangered Species Act and must be addressed as part of any comprehensive effort to restore the health of the Delta." said Jim Beck, Kern County Water Agency General Manager.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is an ad hoc group of water users who depend on conveyance through the Delta for a large portion of their water supplies. The Coalition is dedicated to protecting the Delta and is committed to promoting a strategy to ensure its sustainability.
The Kern County Water Agency was created in 1961 by a special act of the State Legislature and serves as the local contracting entity for the State Water Project. The Agency participates in a wide scope of management activities, including water quality, flood control and groundwater operations to preserve and enhance Kern County's water supply--the main ingredient for a healthy economy.
For more information including a copy of the lawsuit, visit the Coalition's web site at: www.sustainabledelta.com
Coalition for a Sustainable Delta                 Kern County Water Agency
Contact:                                             Contact:
Michael Boccadoro                                Jeanne Varga
916) 441-7685                                     (661) 549-4520
(916) 600-4383
SOURCE Coalition for a Sustainable Delta
Tulare Voice
New Racetrack Escrow Opened
Tulare - The International Agri-Center board has again entered into an escrow with the developers of a proposed NASCAR-type racetrack, said Jerry Sinift, the Agri-Center's general manager.
And that is all Sinift would say about the escrow to sell 350 acres of Agri-Center land to Tulare Motor Sports Complex L.P. (TMSC), which is proposing a 711-acre development adjacent to the Agri-Center that also would include a drag strip, retail sales, office, residential and other recreational components.
“We don't want to go into details,” Sinift said Friday, when asked about a rumored January 2010 closing date for the escrow.
Several sources also said the developer has put $500,000 down on the project, but that also could not be confirmed. If true, the amount is significantly more than the $10,000 TMSC put down when the first escrow was opened in 2007.
The initial escrow to sell the land ended Jan. 20. Agri-Center officials explained then that the developer had failed to come up with an additional $240,000 the board was requiring in exchange for extending the agreement for 120 days as TMSC had requested.
The board also had become disgruntled with Bud Long, a general partner in the TMSC project.
When talks resumed between the two parties in March, Agri-Center officials met with James Bratton, an investor and owner of Bratton Investments, LLC, and not Long.
The Agri-Center board has been interested in the project because of the additional hotels and other amenities it would offer visitors, especially those attending World Ag Expo.
City Manager Darrel Pyle said Friday he had been told the developers are “shipping mounds of documentation to underwriters to finance both the real-property and off-site improvements” and want to be ready to begin making infrastructure improvements within 90 days of closing escrow.
Those improvements include the building of Commercial Avenue, the widening of Turner Drive and Hosfield Road and other changes.
In other related matters:
• Sierra Club officials were expected to urge the Local Agency Formation Commission to reconsider its approval of a 935-acre annexation to the City of Tulare, on the grounds the public hearing notice was vague because it did not mentioned the racetrack project.
• The City Council was to discuss this week the approximately $1 million TMSC owes it for fronting the bill for the project's environmental impact report. The money is in a Fresno bank and attorneys for the city and developer have been working on an agreement that will spell out exactly when the city will get its money. The City Council has said it will not approve a development agreement with TMSC until the money is in the city's general fund.
Both the LAFCO and City Council meeting were scheduled to occur after the Tulare Voice's Monday deadline.
National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration
NOAA Biological Opinion Finds California Water Projects Jeopardize Listed Species; Recommends Alternatives
NOAA released its final biological opinion today that finds the water pumping operations in California’s Central Valley by the federal Bureau of Reclamation jeopardize the continued existence of several threatened and endangered species under the jurisdiction of NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
The bureau has provisionally accepted NOAA’s recommended changes to its water pumping operations, and said it will begin to implement its near-term elements as it carefully evaluates the overall opinion.
Federal biologists and hydrologists concluded that current water pumping operations in the Federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project should be changed to ensure survival of winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, the southern population of North American green sturgeon and Southern Resident killer whales, which rely on Chinook salmon runs for food.
Two independent peer review panels were conducted to ensure the opinion is solidly grounded in the best available science. The package was peer reviewed by the CalFed Independent Science Board and the Center for Independent Experts.
“What is at stake here is not just the survival of species but the health of entire ecosystems and the economies that depend on them,” said Rod Mcinnis, southwest regional director for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “We are ready to work with our federal and state partners, farmers and residents to find solutions that benefit the economy, environment and Central Valley families.”
As part of the final opinion, NOAA’s Fisheries Service has provided a number of ways the bureau can operate the water system to benefit the species, including increasing the cold water storage and flow rates. Such methods will enhance egg incubation and juvenile fish rearing, as well as improve the spawning habitat and the downstream migration of juvenile fish.
Changing water operations will impact an estimated five to seven percent of the available annual water on average moved by the federal and state pumps, or about 330,000 acre feet per year. Agricultural water use in California is roughly 30 million acre feet per year. Water operations will not be affected by the opinion immediately and will be tiered to water year type. The opinion includes exception procedures for drought and health and safety issues.
In addition, the opinion calls for the bureau to develop a genetics management plan and an acoustic tagging program to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions and pilot passage programs at Folsom and Shasta reservoirs to reintroduce fish to historic habitat.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will mitigate some costs resulting from the opinion’s recommended actions. The Department of the Interior identified $109 million to construct a Red Bluff Pumping Plant that will allow the old Red Bluff Diversion Dam to be operated in a "gates out" position to allow salmon and green sturgeon unimpeded passage. In addition, the Act contains $26 million to restore Battle Creek, a salmon tributary to the Sacramento River.
The water projects included in the opinion are Shasta Dam at the upper headwaters of the Sacramento River, Folsom and Nimbus dams on the American River, and New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River. The opinion also covers the state and federal export facilities in the Delta, the Nimbus hatchery on the American River, and the operations of diversion structures, including the Red Bluff Diversion Dam on the mainstem Sacramento and the Delta Cross Channel gates in the Delta.
The bureau initiated the formal phase of consultation in May 2008 and then cooperated with NOAA’s Fisheries Service throughout the development of the biological opinion and alternative actions in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Departments of Water Resources and Fish and Game.
A copy of the final biological opinion and alternative actions may be found online.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.
Department of Water Resources
DWR Responds to New Biological
Opinion to Protect Salmon...Press Release
SACRAMENTO -- The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today responded to the new biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) intended to protect salmon and several other species.
"Today's Biological Opinion on salmon reaffirms the need for a comprehensive solution to the water and environmental conflicts in the Delta," said DWR Director Lester A. Snow. "The new Opinion, which could reduce Delta export on average by about 300,000 to 500,000 acre feet, further chips away at our ability to provide a reliable water supply for California. A multi-species approach, as envisioned in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, is the best approach to achieve habitat and species conservation and a reliable water supply."
NMFS (NOAA Fisheries) calculates that its biological opinion that addresses salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon will reduce by 5 to 7 percent combined the amount of water state and federal projects will be able to deliver from the Delta to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central
Coast and Southern California. DWR's initial estimates show the average year impacts closer to 10 percent. That is in addition to current pumping restrictions imposed by biological opinions to protect Delta smelt and other species.
DWR will continue to work with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NMFS, California Fish and Game and others on the BDCP steering committee to develop a collaborative habitat conservation plan under the Endangered Species Act and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act, with the goal of creating a long-term strategy for Delta sustainability that complies with state and federal environmental laws.
Stockton Record
Agencies sued over Delta species...The Record
BAKERSFIELD - Several federal agencies have been sued by a group of south San Joaquin Valley landowners who allege the agencies have failed to protect threatened and endangered species in the Delta.
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta has filed several such suits, claiming that cities, the state and the federal government have allowed environmental conditions to worsen, thus reducing the amount of water that can be exported from the Delta.
Among the charges is that dredging in the Stockton Deep Water Channel has harmed fish.
"It makes absolutely no sense for federal agencies to continue proposing water pumping restrictions that harm the residents and businesses of California while they simultaneously take separate actions that further worsen the health of the Delta," coalition spokesman Michael Boccadoro said in a statement.
In addition to dredging, the allegedly harmful actions include increased use of pesticides, failure to clean up the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay, protection of non-native species such as striped bass and allowing development in flood-prone areas.
Defendants in the federal lawsuit are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maritime Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Weekly lawsuit alert...Alex Breitler's Blog
The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta is at it again. The coalition -- a group of south San Joaquin Valley landowners -- filed suit today against four federal agencies claiming that their actions in the Delta have contributed to the decline of species there.
The decline of species, of course, impacts how much water can be delivered from the Delta to these landowners.
Among the culprits, the coalition says in the new lawsuit, is dredging in the Stockton Deep Water Channel.
Read the complaint yourself: 
Case 1:09-cv-00480-OWW-GSA Document 23
Tainted water discovered
Stockton East: Contamination poses no threat...Alex Breitler
STOCKTON - The agency that supplies Stockton with most of its drinking water has found contamination from a seemingly unlikely source: its own water-treatment plant.
In late October, the Stockton East Water District detected a manufactured chemical known as carbon tetrachloride in water that had already been treated, and later concluded that the chemical came from chlorine tanks used to purify water at the district's plant on Main Street east of Stockton.
The public was not notified because the district considered the risk minor, said Kevin Kauffman, general manager of Stockton East. State health officials agreed that immediate notification was not necessary.
Carbon tetrachloride, or CCl4, was detected at a level exceeding state standards, but lower than a more relaxed federal standard. The highest readings, Kauffman said, were 1.2 or 1.3 parts per billion; that's like a half-teaspoon spilled into an Olympic-size swimming pool.
"It's such a minor risk, it's not noticeable," Kauffman said.
Still, one entity that supplies Stockton with water is increasing the amount of water it is pumping from the ground, and decreasing the amount of water it takes from Stockton East.
California Water Service Co., which delivers water to 42,000 homes and businesses in central and south Stockton, conducted its own tests and detected the chemical "at or below" the state standard, said Ross Moilan, district manager for CalWater. He said the water is safe since officials are using groundwater to dilute the tainted surface water.
"There's nothing to be alarmed about," Moilan said.
The city of Stockton, which takes water from Stockton East and supplies it to north and south Stockton, also conducted its own tests and didn't find any CCl4, Municipal Utilities Department Deputy Director Bob Granberg said Friday. He agreed that the water is safe.
Exposure to high levels of CCl4 can damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system, and the chemical has been proven to cause cancer in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It has been used as a pesticide, as a cleaning fluid and as a degreaser.
No one would know that Stockton East's water was contaminated had it not been for an accident in late October. A Stockton East employee drove a pickup into a canal upstream of the treatment plant.
The driver was fine, but officials were worried that gasoline, oil or other substances had fouled the water.
A battery of tests turned up nothing related to the accident, but officials did find CCl4 in water that had already been treated at the plant.
Further investigation showed that the chemical came from one-ton chlorine gas tanks. CCl4, a chlorine byproduct, escaped into the water in relatively high concentrations as each chlorine tank approached empty.
Officials have changed how they use the tanks, a temporary solution. Switching to liquid chlorine might be a permanent solution, Kauffman said Friday.
"We really want to guarantee it won't happen" in the future, he said.
Carbon tetrachloride
Exposure to very high levels of carbon tetrachloride, or CCl4, can damage the liver, kidneys and nervous system. The chemical also has been proven to cause cancer in animals, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. It has been used as a pesticide, as a cleaning fluid and as a degreaser, among other purposes.
• Federal limit for CCl4 in drinking water: 5 parts per billion (ppb)
• State limit for CCl4 in drinking water: 0.5 ppb
• Stockton East Water District recently found CCl4 in treated drinking water at 1.2 or 1.3 ppb.
San Francisco Chronicle
California bills aim to assist Sacramento delta...Wednesday, June 3, 2009
(06-03) 20:40 PDT Sacramento, CA (AP) -- California legislators have approved bills that call for the development of a long-range plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta east of San Francisco and the creation of a conservancy group.
The Assembly passed four bills and the Senate another five to help protect the delicate ecosystem that funnels much of California's water supply. Several fish species are declining, and earthquakes threaten the levees.
The bills approved Wednesday require developing a regional plan by 2011. Others require increasing water conservation and measuring water diverted from the delta.
The bills now go to the opposite chamber for consideration.
Opponents fear the bills will encourage construction of a canal to carry Sacramento River water to regions south of the delta.
On the Net: Read AB13, AB39, AB49, AB900, SB12, SB229, SB457, SB458 and SB565 at www.assembly.ca.gov
Los Angeles Times
Biden says state's high-speed rail project is primed for recovery funding
California may get a significant share of the $8 billion set aside for rail projects, the vice president says. A planned high-speed corridor would link L.A. to San Francisco in under 3 hours...Maeve Reston
Though California is in the throes of a budget crisis, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the state's high-speed rail project is well-positioned to compete for a significant share of the $8 billion that the Obama administration set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for rail lines.
This summer, California officials will be vying against other states to get funding for a planned high-speed rail corridor that would ferry passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in a 2-hour, 40-minute trip. Voters approved $9 billion in bonds for the project in November -- and promoters hope the federal government and the private sector will kick in enough money to help them complete the $34-billion first phase.
Construction between Anaheim and San Francisco would take at least a decade, according to planners. Ultimately, proponents envision an 800-mile network -- costing at least $45 billion -- that would reach Sacramento and San Diego.
"The reason why California is looked at so closely -- it's been a priority of your governor, it's been a priority of your Legislature, they've talked about it, a lot of planning has been done," Biden said in a conference call with reporters.
The vice president said the administration wants "to get shovel-ready projects out the door as quickly as we can. . . . So California is in the game."
Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said two sections of the project could meet the Recovery Act criteria for high-speed rail: of having contracts awarded by 2012 and work completed by 2017. The sections would be those between L.A. and Anaheim, at a cost of $3 billion, and between San Francisco and San Jose, at a cost of $4 billion to $5 billion, he said.
Washington Post
Minnesota judge approves Wal-Mart wages settlement...The Associated Press
HASTINGS, Minn. -- A Minnesota judge has given final approval to a settlement of a wages-and-hours lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that could be worth up to $54.25 million.
A joint news release from Wal-Mart and the plaintiffs' attorneys on Thursday says the settlement concludes seven years of litigation over Wal-Mart's employment practices in Minnesota.
About 100,000 people who worked for Wal-Mart in the state from Sept. 11, 1998, until Nov. 14, 2008, are eligible for a share of the settlement.
Dakota County District Judge Robert King Jr. filed the final approval Monday. He ruled last summer that Wal-Mart cut workers' break times and failed to prevent employees from working off the clock.
Wal-Mart has faced dozens of similar lawsuits across the country.
CNN Money
Most over- and under-valued housing markets
Low prices bring investors back into many markets...Les Christie
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Home price declines have sent affordability soaring. Prices have fallen so far that the average U.S. home is now undervalued by 12.2%, according to a new report from IHS Global Insight.
"The good news is that the declines are happening as consumer confidence is rising and housing sales and [building] starts seem to be bottoming out," said Jeannine Cataldi, senior economist for IHS in a statement accompanying the study.
"The bad news is that job losses continue at high rates, housing inventories are still elevated and consumers, while becoming somewhat more confident, are still wary in the face of economic uncertainty."
Prices still falling
The IHS study, House Prices in America, reported that, of the 330 markets it tracked, homes are under-priced in 248. That contrasts sharply with four years ago when only 108 markets were undervalued.
One-time bubble markets are now going through sales renaissances, according to Cataldi. "In Las Vegas and Phoenix, people are going in and snapping up foreclosures," she said. "They often rent them back to the former owners."
The report claimed the most undervalued metro area in the nation is Vero Beach, Fla., where the median home price has fallen 29.7% since the first quarter of 2005 to $125,400. That is 42.5% below the expectation. Houma, La., prices, at a median of $113,500, are undervalued by 41.4%. Las Vegas prices have dropped more than 46% since 2005, and the city is now undervalued by 40.9%.
To arrive at these figures, the analysis focused on three key factors of home affordability: income, housing densities and historical prices. IHS used that to define statistically normal house values for a given area and then compared them with the actual prices. The difference between those two figures determines how much a place is under - or over - valued.
And there are still some over-valued areas. Atlantic City, N.J., for example. Here the median price is $243,600, an overvaluation of 44.1%, the most of any metro area. The Ocean City, N.J., median price of $302,100 is the second most overvalued, at 33.8%. In third place is Wenatchee, Wash., which at $247,100, is 29.3% above normal.
In the biggest metro area, New York City, the price is just about right, with a median at $469,400, an under-valuation of just 3.3%. Los Angeles ($357,100) is a bit further off, undervalued by 6.6% and Chicago ($220,800) is down 13.2%.
One may presume that the undervalued cities should return to their natural equilibrium and astute real estate investors and homebuyers could pounce on bargains and make a profit later. But Cataldi thinks that could take a long time. "Price declines are slowing but we're still cautious," she said. "We're predicting stagnant prices through 2011."
Bottom fishing
In Florida, there are many condo developments with listings ripe for plucking, either in bunches or individually, according to Matt Martinez, who represents a private equity group that is investing hundreds of millions of dollars there. He reports that investors are able to make profits of 7% to 8% a year, after all expenses, by buying condos and then renting them at market rates.
"Even higher [profits] exist on some highly distressed fractured condo deals where the lenders are selling the notes," he said.
In California, sales of deeply discounted distressed properties are flourishing, according to the California Association of Realtors. Inventory of homes priced under $500,000 has shrunk to a three-month supply at current rates of sale while the supply of million-dollar homes has expanded to 17 months.
"The dramatic difference in inventory exemplifies how the low end of the market is attracting more first-time buyers and investors, creating a shortage of distressed properties for sale," said James Liptak, president of CAR, in a statement accompanying the sales data.
Even the battered Michigan market is attracting investors, according to the CEO of the Michigan Association of Realtors, Bill Martin.
"It tends to be in the low-to-middle price range that is moving," he said. "There has been investment buying, mostly concentrated in Detroit. People are buying up bundles of 100 to 200 homes."
The median single-family home in the Detroit metro area -- where layoffs may threaten any recovery -- sold for $77,700 during the first three months of 2009, according to the IHS report, but many repossessed homes in the city itself are packaged and sold as bundles and can be had for under $10,000 apiece.
These markets may be in the forefront of a market recovery but, according to the IHS report, it's too early to call a bottom.
"More observations through the spring will be needed to support this trend," it said

10 Most Overvalued

Home prices in these cities are abnornally high.

Metro area

Median home price

% Overvalued

Atlantic City, N.J.



Ocean City, N.J.



Wenatchee, Wash.



Longview, Wash.



Honolulu, Hawaii



St. George, Utah



Bend, Ore.



Bellingham, Wash.



Portland, Ore.



Asheville, N.C.



Source:IHS Global Insight

10 Most Undervalued

Home prices in these cities are well below normal.

Metro area

Median home price


Vero Beach, Fla.



Houma, La.



Las Vegas, Nev.



Merced, Calif.



Cape Coral, Fla.



Houston, Tex



Midland, Tex.



Lafayette, La.



Vallejo, Calif.



Stockton, Calif.



Source:IHS Global Insight
6-9-09 Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting...6:00 pm.…Evening meeting
Agenda posted 72 Hours Prior To Meeting
6-10-09 Merced County Planning Commission agenda...9:00 a.m.
6-10-09 MCAG Technical Review Board meeting...12:00 p.m.