Monday, November 22, 2010

County taxpayers are on the hook for $400,000 to fund a conservation easement, ostensibly for the death of one tiger salamander. That is a steep price to pay for a dead salamander, considering you can buy live tiger salamanders over the Internet for as little as $2 each. Why the mark-up?

It is a complicated story of environmental, bureaucratic and judicial activism, but suffice it to say, we have come to the point that each and every isolated population of critters is considered so unique that they are worthy of federal protection, even though in other areas of the country and state, they may be ubiquitous.

In the case of salamanders and tiger salamanders, they are so plentiful that they are sold in bait shops in minimum quantities of 50 per purchase. Yet, here in Santa Barbara County, a tiger salamander fell into a construction trench, died from dehydration, and taxpayers ended up footing the bill, thanks in large part to our county Board of Supervisors' poor negotiating skills with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The Board of Supervisors kept as many of the details of its deal secret as long as they could. After I badgered them in an open meeting, they finally coughed up the details as to what transpired.

The county was building a project in Orcutt and a dead salamander was discovered. Subsequent to this event, the county also got caught digging another trench without having observed all the safety protocols necessary to avoid another salamander kill, also called a "take" of an endangered species. So, the USFWS threatened to throw the book at the county. The fines didn't amount to all that much, perhaps $50,000 in total for both violations. The real kicker, according to the supervisors, was the potential loss of incidental take permits and the probable application of permit requirements upon agriculture to prevent impacts to salamanders. Allow me to explain.

The county does a lot of work along rivers, streams and creeks via its Flood Control District. It also does a lot of work along roads and bridges via the Public Works Department. Inherent in this routine work is the risk of harming an endangered species. This risk is heightened in Santa Barbara County because activists in our area have managed to get more species on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list than any other county in the continental United States.

The USFWS and other government agencies allow for "incidental take" when projects are covered under formal and established protocols governing how the work is completed. In view of the take of the salamander, the USFWS was threatening to abrogate the incidental take agreements with the county. This means the county would have been mired in red tape and wouldn't be able to get anything done sans permits and the threat of felony prosecution if there were any damage to all the various critters they come across in a day's work.

The second threat was to hold the county responsible for requiring farmers and ranchers to have to apply for permits for routine day-to-day operations including disking their fields. Because it can take literally years and cost tens of thousands of dollars to get a permit from the USFWS and the county, this would have been the death of agriculture throughout most of the county. One requirement imposed on property owners right now is the requirement to monitor a field for a couple of years to see if any salamander pops up out of a hole in the ground Nothing can be done with the land until the survey is complete. This is a big deal, as the tiger salamander, thanks to the activists, lays claim to 180,000 acres all by itself. Throw in the red legged frog, steelhead trout, various birds, insects and weeds that are on the ESA list and, well, there is virtually no ag land left that is not encumbered by the ESA and related critical habitat designations.

In retrospect, as bad as it is to have spent $400,000 for one salamander, we were even more outraged to learn that Supervisor Janet Wolf voted against the deal because she opted to throw our farmers and ranchers under the bus to save the county from having to pay for their own mistake. That is right. She voted to tie up the farmers and ranchers from being able to use their land for years to come to avoid the county having to pay for the county's own violation on its own construction project. To think she was one of the negotiators with USFWS makes me shudder. Supervisor Wolf is no friend of farmers and ranchers.


Andy Caldwell

The author is the executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business, and hosts a daily talk show on AM 1290, Monday-Friday from 3-5 p.m.
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Thursday, November 4, 2010
Disappointed Is An Understatement
By Harris Sherline

To say that I am disappointed in the results of the election is putting it mildly. Waking up at 6:00 in the morning to catch the early news and hoping for some sign that the voters in California had at last come to their senses and not elected another crop of liberal clones to office was obviously too much to ask for.
For example, I wasn’t too thrilled with Meg Whitman as a candidate for Governor, but to return Jerry Brown to the office where he earned the nickname “Moonbeam” feels more like some sort of punishment to me, especially after we have suffered through almost eight years of the faux conservative governor Schwarzenegger, who accomplished little more than burnishing his personal resume. Some of Brown’s more egregious positions have included his long standing opposition to Proposition 13 and his recent unwillingness to acknowledge or respond to the allegation that someone in his office referred to Meg Whitman as a “whore.”
For Lieutenant Governor we got Gavin Newsome, the ultra liberal former Mayor of San Francisco. In addition, Barbra Boxer, perhaps the most do-nothing Senator in Congress, won going away over Carly Fiorina, a woman who worked her way up from the bottom of the corporate ladder to head one of America’s largest companies.
In the race for state Controller, I was disappointed that Tony Strickland, who is currently a state Senator and an ardent believer in the free market, did not win out over John Chiang, who has opposed oil drilling in California.
We also had a disappointing but not surprising result in Santa Barbara County, another center of liberal sensibilities in California: Das Williams, who has almost never held an actual job in his life, defeated conservative Mike Stoker in the competition to replace Pedro Nava in the state Assembly, where he (Nava) was termed out.
Moving on to the California ballot propositions, I was disappointed that Proposition 23 didn’t pass. That’s the one that would have suspended California’s cap and trade bill, AB 32, until unemployment falls below 5.5% for a year. AB 32, which does not take full effect until 2012, requires the development of regulations to reduce California’s greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, to their 1990 levels by 2020. This legislation may ultimately prove to be the economic undoing of the state, largely by imposing such restrictive and costly limitations on trucking that many if not most independent truckers will be forced out of business. The net result can only drive up the costs of transporting goods throughout the state which in turn will raise the price of goods to consumers, especially produce.
Fortunately, Proposition 24, which would have eliminated three business tax deductions, was another example of feel good legislation that would only have induced more businesses to leave the state.  The targeted tax breaks included allowing the way multi-state corporations are taxed, allowing corporations to seek tax refunds by “carrying back” current year losses to the two prior years, and distributing tax credits among corporate affiliates. California's tax regulators estimated that about 120,000 businesses in the state would have higher taxes, if Proposition 24 had been approved by voters.
Proposition 25, which enables the state legislature to pass budget related legislation with a simple majority rather than a 2/3rds approval also passed. The problem with this is that it also makes it possible for legislators to label a new tax as a “budget” measure, a legislative trick for making it easier to impose new taxes on unsuspecting taxpayers.
One ray of sunshine was the change to Republican control and leadership of the House of Representatives, which was only slightly marred by the fact that Nancy Pelosi was re-elected to another term of office in her home district of San Francisco. At least I won’t have to see or hear her pontificating any longer from the dais at press conferences and photo ops for the administration, making such outrageous statements as, “But we have to pass the (health care) bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Huh?
In addition, another disappointment to me was Harry Reid winning another term as the senior Senator from Nevada and his continued leadership of the Senate, where the Democrats managed to maintain control, notwithstanding a substantial increase in the ranks of the Republicans, who couldn’t quite reach the magic number needed to wrest control from the Democrats.   
Finally, I was and am most disappointed in the vicious personal attacks on candidates by both sides. For me, it reached a point of such intense revulsion that, after a time, I simply tuned out all campaign advertising. I’ve read that it was effective. Maybe so, but it simply left me disgusted.
Obviously, there are a great many people who see the election results differently than I do. But, as has sometimes been said, “That’s what makes horse races.”
© 2010 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
Read more of Harris Sherline’s commentaries on his blog at www.opinionfest.com
Posted at 08:43 AM By admin | Permalink | Email this Post | Comments (0)

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