Friday, May 30, 2008

Oneto conflicted on both casinos

When Brian Oneto ran for District 5 supervisor two years ago, he promised to fight the two new casinos proposed for Amador County.
"As your Supervisor, I will continue to fight against new casinos in Amador County!"
That's a direct quote from Brian's campaign website.

Problem is -- Brian has conflicts of interest on both the Buena Vista and Plymouth casinos due to his and his family's ownership of adjoining properties. This issue was raised during the 2006 campaign, but as you can see on Brian's website, he pledged to fight the casinos -- and evidently, voters thought that's what he would do.

Amador Ledger-Dispatch
Publisher Jack Mitchell brushed off the conflict concern when he endorsed Oneto that year (he and I had a rather spirited e-mail exchange about the subject).

This last year, Oneto stepped down during the Buena Vista process after participating in a number of closed sessions. And now, the Fair Political Practices Commission has opined that he has a conflict on Plymouth as well.

Here's what the HomeTown Radio website had to say about it:

Supervisor Oneto will not participate in Plymouth Casino talks due to conflict of interest

Due to a conflict of interest as determined by the Fair Political Practices Commission, FPPC, District 5 Supervisor Brian Oneto will not participate in the governmental decisions facing the Amador County Board of Supervisors related to the efforts of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians to take land into trust for the construction of a proposed casino. According to the Supervisors Office, Oneto has not and will not participate in closed session decisions and open session discussions. Oneto has been stepping out of meetings on this issue from the start.

And now the residents of District 5 find themselves without representation on this important issue. Oneto can't even be in the supervisors' chamber when the matter is discussed.

I can't help but wonder what Butch Cranford is thinking today. Cranford, an ardent casino opponent and another District 5 supervisor candidate, endorsed Oneto after the June primary. I wonder if he's rethinking that decision now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Where's AWA's water conservation message?

Update, June 10: I received a note from Amador Water Agency General Manager Jim Abercrombie today about -- as he put it -- my "complaining about him behind his back" for using this blog to suggest that the agency put water conservation information on its home page.

Apparently someone read this entry and mentioned it to Jim (maybe it's the AWA mystery daily visitor?) . So the agency has now added a Water Conservation link, buried in the small links on the left side of the home page. It's about time. One of the links on the conservation page was on the Foothill Conservancy home page for six months.

+ + + + +

Thanks to our unusually dry spring, it's a relatively dry year in the Mokelumne River watershed, from which the Amador Water Agency gets its water.

East Bay MUD, which supplies water to the East Bay, gets its water from the Mokelumne, too. That agency started a mandatory water rationing program this spring. According to its website,
"The District is seeking a 15 percent reduction in water use overall. Single-family residential customers are being asked to cut back 19 percent."
EBMUD's website also includes a link to water-saving tips on its home page.

So you'd think the Amador Water Agency would be urging its customers to conserve water -- especially since conservation and efficiency are now part of the agency's strategic plan.

Maybe the Water Agency is doing something along those lines, but you'd never know from looking at its website. There's not one new word about water conservation or efficiency on the AWA home page, and certainly nothing indicating that we might be in a drier-than-normal year.

The home page does include a link to information about AWA's demonstration water-saving garden, but that's been on the site for years. There's also some minimal information about water conservation in the site's FAQs, but it's truly that -- minimal.

Putting water conservation information on an Internet home page -- or a link to that information -- is really cheap. Excellent information is readily available (see the California Urban Water Conservation Council's H20 House site). Nearly everyone has Internet access these days. So why doesn't the Water Agency use its website to promote conservation and efficiency?

Surely an agency that is planning a $44 million dam project (raising Lower Bear Reservoir) can spend a few hundred bucks on a web link in a dry year.

Maybe the AWA employee who reads this blog nearly every day can comment and let me know what the agency is doing to encourage its customers to conserve this year.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How do newspapers endorse candidates?

I'm confused. I've read Amador Ledger-Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell's explanation of his support and future newspaper endorsement of David Pincus. I've also read Raheem Hosseini's column saying that Jack's endorsement isn't an endorsement from the paper.

Jack says that Ledger parent corporation Main Street Media isn't involved in the endorsement other than giving him authority to make it. But Raheem says the paper is subsidizing Pincus's ads. Confusing.

No one would dispute Jack's right to support the candidate of his choice. But how the paper endorses is a legitimate subject for public discussion.

So I thought it was worth looking into how most newspapers make political endorsements. As I thought, it appears that most newspaper political endorsements aren't made by the publisher acting alone. The endorsement processes vary, but what they have in common is the involvement of an editorial board. And they often include interviews with the candidates. That's clearly not the case with our local paper. At least not this spring.

Here's what a few newspapers and others have to say about political endorsements ...

Times Union (Albany, NY) editor's blog excerpt

So how do we make endorsements? The editorial board has seven members — the publisher, editor, opinion pages editor, editorial page editor, chief editorial writer, editor-at-large and editorial cartoonist — whose views may vary widely. Endorsements (and other editorials) are the result of discussion and debate among us.

Connecticut Post editor's statement (excerpt)

The editorial page essentially represents the institutional voice of a newspaper. It's a voice that speaks to the communities which we serve and tries, through our opinions on a wide variety of issues, to better those communities and their civic life.

There are six members of the Post's editorial board and each member has an equal vote in deciding issues, although the newspaper's publisher, as it is with nearly all newspapers in the U.S., can have more than a one vote if he so desires.

Board members don't sit in ivory towers and pontificate and pronounce. We are all active in the news product and in our own communities and we are interactive with our readers.

When we gather weekly to discuss issues, there can be swift unanimity on the editorial positions we take or there can be lengthy and passionate split votes and disagreements. That holds for political endorsements as well.

Our endorsements are not made with political bias, but with what the board members perceive would be best for our communities and state. We talk to the candidates, we research their records and we examine their leadership abilities

Here are reasons why we endorse:

  • to fulfill our obligation and responsibility as a constitutionally-protected media enterprise to not only be a part of our communities but to also help improve those communities.
  • to offer information and perspective that voters can use in evaluating candidates.
  • to create dialogue with our readers.

Our endorsements are not made:

  • to tell readers who they should vote for.
  • to make a compact with any candidate.
  • to figure out who's most likely to win a contest.
Houston Chronicle blog

Be that as it may, the Editorial Board (KE note: the board in this case includes all of the editorial staff plus the publisher) looks at the endorsement process as a public service to our readers. The process works like this: Several weeks before each Election Day (Nov. 8 in this case), we invite candidates vying for the various elected offices to meet with us. The purpose being to ask them questions about where they stand on issues germane to the office they're seeking. Doing so, provides us with insight regarding which candidate best will represent the interests of their constituents.

We don't endorse on a whim. Screening candidates and vetting propositions and constitutional amendments is an arduous, time-consuming and democratic process. We debate candidates and issues vigorously. Votes to endorse any particular candidate or proposition are seldom unanimous. Oftentimes, they are decided by a slim margin.

Ultimately, Publisher Jack Sweeney and Editor Jeff Cohen, have the final say. Fortunately, they rarely exert their power and usually accept the sentiment of the board and Editorial Page Editor James Howard Gibbons.

Concord Monitor (N.H) editor's column excerpt

The editorial board consists of Publisher Geordie Wilson, Executive Editor Felice Belman, Managing Editor Ari Richter, Editorial Page Editor Ralph Jimenez and me.

After every editorial board interview, some or all of us gathered to trade impressions.

Individually or in groups, we all attended some campaign events. I was probably the most active in this regard and used some of what I saw as the basis for columns in the paper. But time spent on the campaign trail helped all of us gain a sense of who the candidates were and how they were connecting with voters and honing their messages.

... Still, we don't sign our editorials because they represent the opinion of the Monitor as an institution, not the view of the writer or any particular editorial board member.

Excerpt from item by Richard Mial, opinion page editor of the La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin)

That's where the structure of the process becomes important. Endorsement interviews are always done before as many members of our editorial board as can make it. Our board includes the opinion page editor, publisher, editor, city editor, news editor, and a community member who serves a three-month term. Interviews are taped, so that board members who could not attend can listen.

The board has some shared values, and these values influence the decision-making process. It's important to be clear about what those values are. We have what we call an agenda for the community, which is more like a mission statement that runs daily on the Opinion pages. The five items on the agenda: Encourage regional cooperation; spotlight the region as a diverse economic hub; hold public officials accountable; celebrate the arts and heritage of the region; and promote positive achievements and the value of diversity.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is going to UC Berkeley anti-Amador?

The Amador Citizens for Responsible Government aren't too happy with Ledger-Dispatch Editor Raheem Hosseini. Raheem took the group to task for the questions they put to the county supervisor candidates in a forum last week (see my previous post).

The group's website contains the text of an op-ed scheduled for publication in the Ledger on Friday. Among other things, it says this:

So why was Mr. Hosseini so upset?

Is it because the issues shed light on the anti-property rights agenda of certain groups in Amador County who he tends to support?

Or could it be because we underlined the concerns of the silent majority of Amador’s citizens with whom Mr. Hosseini appears to be out of touch?

He’s a 2003 graduate of UC Berkeley. Maybe that explains his

I just had to laugh when I read that last statement. Perhaps the "citizens" don't know how many local folks are graduates of UC Berkeley, or how many Amador kids head there each year -- or at least try to. After all, it is considered one of the finest universities in the nation, if not the world.

My guess is that some of the group's own members -- and even some of their primary backers --- graduated from UC Berkeley.

But maybe the group has a point. Perhaps a quality college education helped Raheem become the sharp, analytical, articulate young man he is today.

Raheem challenges us to make our county a better place. That's something we ought to value, not attack.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ledger endorses, or does it?

Update, May 25: Maybe it wasn't fair of me to imply that Jack Mitchell and the Ledger were being less than up-front about backing supervisor candidate David Pincus. That seems to have been a matter of timing.

However, it still troubles me that the paper is subsidizing Pincus's campaign with advertising space, according to Editor Raheem Hosseini. I don't think that's the normal practice for newspapers at all.

Update, May 20: Ledger Publisher Jack Mitchell has sent a clarifying e-mail to Amador Community News regarding the political support described in my post below. See what you think: Jack's note on Amador Community News website.

At most newspapers, an editorial board -- not the publisher alone -- determines the endorsements. That was the practice at the Ledger back when McClatchy owned the paper in the early 1990s. I know that in 1992, the editor, publisher and senior reporters voted on endorsements. Each had an equal voice.

Editorial board review helps ensure that a newspaper's endorsement is not simply the opinion of one individual who may put the profitability of the business above all other considerations. Can't say that's what Jack is doing here, but since his job is to keep the paper profitable, that's surely a risk.

My original post ...

In his excellent column in today's Amador Ledger Dispatch, Editor Raheem Hosseini revealed that the corporate owner of the paper, the Main Street Media Group, is "underwriting [David] Pincus' campaign and has helped pay for ads."

It was a shocking revelation -- or should have been.

Pincus, in case you don't know, is challenging incumbent Louis Boitano for the District 4 supervisor seat. Pincus is running for supervisor without a platform, without publicized positions on issues, and without revealing his campaign committee or supporters or contributors -- all the while beating up on Boitano. Retired District 3 Supervisor Richard Vinson, who served on the board with Boitano for years, recently wrote a letter to the Ledger decrying the negative campaign tactics employed in another letter by Pincus's campaign manager, Robert Mees.

You may recall that Ledger publisher Jack Mitchell briefly declared for the seat, then withdrew. Pincus then threw his hat into the ring. According to Hosseini, Mitchell will be writing an endorsement of Pincus soon.

Two years ago, when Mary Ellen "Mel" Welsh ran for county supervisor, Mitchell called the Foothill Conservancy "sneaky and shady" for doing something the group didn't actually do. Mitchell left the libelous editorial on the Ledger's website even after the Conservancy demonstrated that Mitchell's assertion was baseless. He never apologized to the group, its members, or its leaders -- including me -- and he never issued a correction (he did run the Conservancy response).

So I can't help but ask, "Just who's 'sneaky and shady,' Jack? People rely on your newspaper to be somewhat objective, and now we find out that the paper's Gilroy-based owners are actually funding a candidate for county supervisor?"

Hosseini was right when he called this "a breach of the public trust." It's appalling.

If you'd like to express your own opinion about this outside interference in our local politics, be sure to contact:

Jack Mitchell, Publisher, Amador Ledger Dispatch

or Jack's boss
Anthony A. Allegretti, President & CEO
Main St. Media Group

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Scenery, clean water and wildlife habitat are valuable crops

The rancher in the story below says, ""The most important crop on my land is scenery." If scenic beauty is an important "crop" locally -- and I believe it is -- those of us who enjoy that crop need to find better ways to pay for it.

Buying conservation easements is one solution, but I'd like to see us have a community conversation around ways we could compensate landowners (or create markets that would pay local landowners) for providing scenery, wildlife habitat, clean water and other valuable "crops" for which they receive no compensation today. That would help farmers, ranchers and timberland owners by creating a monetary value for crops they can't really "sell" and benefit the rest of us, too.


The article below is about a 17,000 acre ranch in San Luis Obispo County. After attending an estate planning workshop, the rancher decided to put a conservation easement on the ranch. The easement is held by the California Rangeland Trust.

On the Farm: Rancher Plants for the Future
By Steven Knudsen
San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau
Forward from California Oak Foundation

Just off the paved road outside Parkfield lives a man who is planning and planting for the future.

One tree at a time and one season after another, Jack Varian has developed a passion for sustainability. If all goes as planned, his actions today will grow for the next 400 years.

Varian is planting valley oak trees, native to the Parkfield region, and has collected a team of specialists and volunteers to assist him in his pursuit of transforming his rural landscape on the more than 16,500 acres of the V6 Ranch into what he calls "a more environmentally friendly approach" to ranching.

On a clear day in February, about 60 volunteers from the San Luis Obispo Native Tree Committee, Cal Poly and local 4 H Clubs plus agricultural and community groups joined Varian, UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist Bill Tietje and UC Cooperative Extension oak regeneration expert Doug McCreary to plant 1,000 oak trees.

Acorns for the saplings were collected from a small grove of valley oak trees that grows behind Parkfield Elementary School. The students there, who attend kindergarten through grade six in one of the last one room schoolhouses in the state, collected about 3,500 acorns for Varian.

In October 2006, Varian took the acorns to Growing Grounds Farm in San Luis Obispo for sprouting. Growing Grounds, a nonprofit wholesale nursery operated by Transitions Mental Health Association, employs adults with mental illness at a living wage to grow and care for the plants.

Last October, one year later, Varian was shocked to discover the magnitude of growth, with nearly 2,500 valley oak trees sprouted and grown. "We selected 1,000 of the oak trees and donated the remainder back to the nursery," he said.

Back on the V6 Ranch, the volunteers formed into groups of three to plant the native saplings. First educated by Varian on 11 tips for growing oak trees and then instructed on the best way to plant them by McCreary, the groups spread out over a predetermined four mile stretch of property running back toward Parkfield.

"The volunteers did a lion's share of the work, planting nearly 850 trees in a single day," Varian said.

Each of the year old seedlings, planted in groups of three in a triangle shape into the soft soil, were encased in wire baskets to protect them from gophers.

Soil was prepared with a shovel and covered with weed cloth to prevent grasses that would choke out the small seedlings. The cluster planting then was surrounded by three recycled iron fence posts, collected by Varian, and encircled with hog wire to keep pests and critters away.

All told, more than 330 planting sites were completed, all in a line with 60 feet separating each planting. Trees now run along the road and the foothills of the valley.

"The trees should grow about three feet per year, under perfect conditions," Varian said. "We are going to do everything we can to ensure that these trees get what they need to prosper."

Funding for "1,000 Oaks Day" came, in part, from a grant by the Wildlife Conservation Board's Oak Woodland Conservation Act of 2001 and from the Natural Resource Conservation Service cost share Quality Incentives Program.

Next in the strategic plan is irrigation. Each tree will receive water from a PVC irrigation line installed at the end of winter. Varian has allocated two wells in which he will use solar power to pump water into micro sprinklers that can sustain the small trees through the hot summer months.

Long term plan

The project has been a long time coming. In 1990, Varian realized that he was not satisfied with the way the ranch was being run and took over management of the cattle and husbandry of the land.

During the past 18 years, he has focused heavily on transitioning the land back to its natural state by encouraging the growth of native grasses, willow and oak trees and by evaluating and reevaluating the impact his herd has on the land.

Paramount to Varian's long term goal of preserving the land for future generations was entering into a conservation easement with the Trust for Public Lands.

In April 2001, Varian sold his development rights to the trust, now held by the California Rangeland Trust. That contract consolidated the number of legal parcels on the land to one, thus preserving the agriculture land in perpetuity. By entering into the contract, Varian is able to focus on his long term goals to improve quality of the rangeland and enhance biodiversity on the ranch.

In 2000, Varian was the first to receive the Native Tree Committee of San Luis Obispo County Stewardship Award. The committee works to promote voluntary planting and conservation of native trees through education, propagation and stewardship.

"The most important crop on my land is scenery," Varian said. "As development pressures force more agriculture land to disappear, we have chosen to preserve the beauty so that others may enjoy it in the future; as our lands' beauty survives, so do we."

Varian credits his success in range management to an education in "holistic management practices" that includes intensive rotational grazing, improved water management, proper fencing and a passion for the environment.

"We believe that the whole world should be thinking seriously about greater sustainability," he said. "Our agriculture businesses and livelihoods depend on it."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Developer protests

Since I've lived in Amador County for 29 years, I know quite a few local people. Some of them are realtors. Two of those folks sent me the e-mail below, which was sent out to every realtor in Amador County. I thought I ought to share it with you.

But first, a little context ... Amador County is updating its general plan, which the courts have called the "Constitution" of a county. General plan updates take time. Three to five years is the norm, and they can take longer.

Amador County is in no way dragging its feet on the plan update. In fact, as a survivor of last year's "General Plan Death March," during which the General Plan Advisory Committee was meeting twice a month, I can attest to the fact that much of the work was being pushed too fast without adequate discussion. The county planning staff made clear that things were being rushed because of pressure from developers. Apparently they were unhappy with the county having placed a moratorium on general plan and zoning changes while the plan update is underway.

That general plan and zoning change moratorium applies only if a landowner wants to change the current designated use of a piece of property -- for example, to change land zoned for agriculture into a subdivision. The county put the moratorium in place so that it could establish a stable environmental baseline for the general plan update. It was not an unreasonable thing to do -- and it was initiated by the county, not by any "special interests."

The e-mail reminds me that local people often forget that Amador County is not isolated from the rest of the state, the country, and the world. In case they haven't noticed, housing is in a huge slump in much of California, including our region.

The economy is a mess. People are being thrown out of their homes at an alarming rate, in part because of unscrupulous lending practice like "NINA loans" -- mortgages written for people with no income and no assets. (I just heard on the radio that California has 9 out of 10 of the highest areas of foreclosure in the state.)

How could anyone think our local economy would not be affected by these larger forces?

As you read the message below, keep in mind that the author is a developer who is planning a project just outside Pine Grove.

Here's the e-mail ...

Amador Realtors:

Re: ECONOMIC STIMULUS concept #2 (General Plan Moritorium)

Just to expand on the subject of "Economic Stimulus", we currently have a moratorium affecting our economy here in our own County. It was intended to provide processing time for the revision and change of the General Plan. The moratorium effectively halts all development and construction on parcels that are not currently zoned in a manner that is compatible to a given desired and needed land use.

The moratorium results in significant negative economic consequences, irrespective of a given communitys need for a good project to come to fruition. If a parcel of land was not previously zoned in a manner that makes sense to current day needs, a great project will consequently be stuck in a rut while the property owner can only wait for the General Plan update process to grind its way through to the end. While it is a certain fact that our General Plan needed to be updated, it surely shouldnt take 3.5 years or more to complete the process. The moratorium wast passed and adopted on November 8, 2005 and was not supposed to last more than three years. Supervisor Richard Forster and Planning Director Susan Grijalva recently stated on TSPN on separate segments something to the effect that the moratorium will continue to the middle of next year. While Ms. Grijalva on the Lets Talk segment, said it could take as much as five years. There is currently nothing in place that puts any form of time limitation on the process.

I realize there are many people working diligently to complete the process. However, I believe there are some people with their own agenda to drag it out down a long agues path.

At last Tuesdays Board of Supervisors meeting we saw contractor and long term resident of Pine Grove Leroy Carlin show his abomination and outrage for the moratorium and how it has affected him and others. I find myself in this same situation with investors who are willing to invest in my own property along with the purchase of my listings, but only if and when the moratorium is over.

It is my belief that the moratorium in Amador County is causing a profound effect on our economy, even more so than the cost of permits and impact fees for the building of a home. I question why such a lengthy amount of time is being taken to update our General Plan? The process just should not take more than a couple of years especially given the current economic status. I remember that nearly three years ago, Supervisor Rich Escamilla voted against having the moratorium and he wanted to just review each project application on its own merits, while the General Plan was being revised in parallel.

Something needs to be done to streamline the remainder of the General Plan update process. I believe we need to call for a speedy end to the moratorium and get the Countys General Plan revised and in place. We need to go back to evaluating each proposed project application on it own merits. A timely end to the moratorium does not take any funds away from the County what-so-ever. In fact, it has already cost the County at least $750,000. Now, is a really bad time to have a moratorium and a timely end to it will promote economic stimulus while also saving the County money.

Sure would like to see standing room only again this Tuesday morn at about 9:20 AM at the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 810 Court Street, Jackson. We need to make our presence known and show our desire for prompt economic stimulus. Please show your support for the cause and bring yourself and a friend.

Below is a TSPN Press Release that shows that our brother and sister Realtors in Calaveras County are fed up with their sluggish economy caused in part by moratoriums and what is said to be an "unrelenting assault on property rights and personal freedoms".

Thats my two cents. Thanks for reading.

Marc Bowman

TSPN Press Release

Controversy In Calaveras Supervisor Race

The constant battle between Hillary and Barack is not the only heated competition for election. Questions have been raised over the intentions of certain groups involved in the
Calaveras County's District 2 Supervisors race. Incumbent Supervisor Steve Wilensky believes the Calaveras County Association of Realtors political action committee is trying to buy his district 2 seat after the committee donated $7,000 to opponent John Morse