Dave Comstock Testifies to Planning Commission (video)

Here’s a compilation of some excerpts from the testimony of local historian and publisher Dave Comstock at the April 22nd Planning Commission meeting.

Dave is arguing against the application of Blue Lead Mine ((Pronounced “blue leed … “))  for the “vested right to mine.” (See background on this issue in my previous set of posts here).

When Dave refers to “sniping” in these excerpts, he is using a synonym for “prospecting.”

Getting Ready to Eat Local this summer?

Press Release

The A.P.P.L.E. Center’s final event of the Just Grow It! Everyday Food for Everyday People exhibit theme explores meal planning for localvores.

Just in time for the Farmers Market and home gardening seasons, the APPLE Center hosts an evening presentation: Seasonal Cooking, Meal Planning and More, next Thursday April 29th 7-9pm at 412 Commercial Street, Nevada City.

“One of the challenges to eating locally, be it from your own garden or from the farmers market, is learning to pair foods that are in season together.  Most cookbooks don’t support seasonal eating because their recipes assume all foods are available at once.” explained Nevada City Farmers Market Manager, Mali Dyck.  “Understanding seasonality is key to meal planning for the aspiring localvore.”

This presentation with local chef and cooking instructor, Wendy Van Wagner, of In the Kitchen cooking school, located in on Zion Street in Nevada City, will cover how to think about cooking with the seasons; where to shop, how to pair foods, and what cookbooks are helpful.  Sample dishes made at In the Kitchen will be served for mouthwatering inspiration of eating locally.

The A.P.P.L.E. Center’s exhibit, Just Grow It!, is available for viewing through May 2nd at 412 Commercial Street.  The exhibit pieces together the parts of every food garden: soil, water, pollinators, plants, the sun and the gardener, with real plants growing in a 3’ by 10’ raised bed.  The exhibit is sponsored by Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply.

For more information, visit APPLECenter.org, call 478-1700 or stop by 412 Commercial Street. The A.P.P.L.E. Center is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday 11am to 5pm.  Memberships are available, along with their resource library and unique green gift shop.

Public Speaks Loudly at Packed Planning Commission Meeting

The public made its voice heard loud and clear at yesterday’s Nevada County Planning Commission meeting in the packed Board of Supervisor’s Room at the Rood Center. The central agenda item — a consideration of the application of Blue Lead Mine for the “vested right to mine” — occupied the meeting from 2 PM until nearly 6 PM, with a final decision deferred until its next meeting on May 27th. (Note that this right, if it is determined by the Commission to exist for Blue Lead, attaches to the property itself and not to the succession of owners).

The Commission must determine (1) whether Blue Lead’s right to mine was vested in 1954 when the county assumed oversight of mining, and if so, then it must also determine (2) whether Blue Lead has convincingly shown that it has maintained and preserved this right continuously until the present day without lapse or abandonment. In order to maintain this right, the applicant bears the burden of proof to provide objective evidence of continuous mining activity on that property throughout the decades since 1954.

Ultimately yesterday the Commission was unable to resolve the question of abandonment and directed its legal counsel to prepare statements of clarification before the next meeting on May 27th, with particular emphasis on that question.

Although the Commission remains divided and unclear on the issue of abandonment, a number citizens seemed entirely clear and emphatic, most significantly the first speaker, publisher and historian David Comstock, who is also a neighbor of Blue Lead.

In his written statement to the Planning Commission on April 8th, 2010, David Comstock said:

“I knew just about everybody who prospected (or sniped) for gold in this area from 1968 on, and all of them worked along the running streams with shovels and picks. No one worked in the Blue Lead section because there was no running water.”

Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum, speaking not as Mayor but as a personal acquaintance of Tom Brown, another of Blue Lead’s neighbors, read a letter from Brown, who now resides on the east coast.

Brown’s letter reads, in part:

“We have a special interest, perhaps a unique interest, in this matter because we are one of the neighbors most affected by the situation. Indeed, our land has already been damaged by the mining operation on the parcels in question. Our parcel is specifically mentioned on page 2 of the Staff report dated January 13, 2010: “…the applicant has taken access through the adjoining private property … and BLM property …  to the east without the benefit of access easements from either owner” …

“I certainly would have known if any mining activity was occurring. The fact is that between 1986 and May 2006, the land was unused, and there certainly was no mining. My personal observations about the use of APN# -12 supports the Staff’s belief that the parcel has been abandoned or idle and that the vested right is destroyed.”

Many other members of the public also spoke in opposition to the vesting application. Only Braiden Chadwick, the attorney for Blue Lead, spoke in support.

While the Commissioners conscientiously struggled to parse the legal nuances of the abandonment issue, it was clear from the occasional applause and murmurs from the audience that most members of the public were convinced by the firsthand testimony of Comstock and Brown.

I spoke briefly to David Comstock after the meeting, and he said, “It doesn’t matter how they decide, because it will be appealed either way. It will go to the Board of Supervisors.”

A Beautiful Film About Permaculture

This is a beautiful film about permaculture and the future of farming by British farmer, film-maker, wildlife photographer and “bag lady” Rebecca Hosking.

What’s beautiful about it?

For starters, the usual gorgeous British countryside.

Then there’s the close and rich display of wildlife, flora and fauna.

But what’s most beautiful here is Hosking’s own transformation of consciousness.

She grew up on a traditional multi-generational small farm which, she now admits, wasn’t sustainable even at its modest scale. At university she studied film and wildlife photography, a trade she plied with the BBC. Finally a few years ago she decided to come home and farm the land her father and grandfather had farmed before her. In the process she studied the problems with the old fossil-fuel-intensive agriculture, and decided to farm in a new way, using permaculture methods.

Rebecca Hosking

In this film, “Permaculture — Farms for the Future,” she includes interviews with Peak Oil theorists Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg, who (among others) have deeply analyzed the consequences of modern industrial agriculture’s unsustainable use of ten calories of fossil fuel for every one calorie of food produced.

Permaculture and re-localization offer a sustainable path out of this dilemma. (Though, speaking for myself, I believe it will be a rough and uncertain path, because industrial agriculture is so entrenched in our economy and culture. We may have to experience various forms of collapse before change to a sustainable path becomes more widespread).

This film, produced in the spring of 2009, would be an excellent addition to SYRCL’s Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival.

UPDATE (4/22/10 12:05 PM): I heard from Mali Dyk that this film was indeed shown at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival.

“More than 96 per cent of all the food grown in Britain is reliant on synthetic fertiliser. Without it there would be serious trouble.

But without artificial fertiliser there’s not enough nutrients for the crops to grow, and without ploughing there is nothing to aerate the soil. So how can we manage without them?

The answers are in nature. As Charles Darwin pointed out, earthworms have been ploughing and aerating the soil for millions of years. And as for fertilisers, just look at how a forest flourishes: by using the natural fertility created by billions of living microbes, fungi, plants and animals.

The non-destructive, low-energy methods are elements of a wider system known as Permaculture, which challenges all the normal approaches to farming. One of its central principles is that you work with the land, rather than against it. “

More Deep Ideas from the Tea Party Patriot Movement

If you laugh at this video, you’re probably an elitist.

Live with it.

See also an earlier entry in this category (Ignorance as a Point-of-View), “The Depth of Ideas Behind the Tea Party Movement.”

Year’s Most Important Public Meeting: Thursday 4/22 1:30 PM

The Nevada County Planning Commission on March 25th passed a resolution — against the written recommendation of its own staff — signaling its intent to grant a “vested right to mine” to the Blue Lead Mine, LLC, in response to an application for that right by Blue Lead owner, Robert White. Why is this important? Because if the Commission follows through with its intent in its next meeting (tomorrow at the Rood Center at 1:30 PM), hundreds of mines in Nevada County could be affected by that precedent and potentially become immune to County oversight if granted the same right!

The meeting on the 25th — the only official public hearing on the issue — nearly flew under the radar of the local media. Yubanet (here and here), The Union (here) and CLAIM (here) all reported on it. But many neighbors and interested members of the community missed the meeting because they were unaware of the extremely important agenda item dealing with Blue Lead.

Here’s how the Yubanet article explains the “vested right to mine:”

A vested right to mine basically “grandfathers” an existing, operating mine into the county or state system. Any vested mine does not need to apply for a mining permit to the county and no California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) document for the mining operation itself is required. Another exemption concerns grading permits for roads, landing pads, staging areas, etc. Culverts and diversion ponds are also exempt from any oversight under the vested right to mine.The advantages granted under the vested right are numerous and exclusively profit the applicant.

Yubanet also quoted Don Drysdale, Public Affairs Officer for the Office of Mine Reclamation:

“Any mine that had a two-year break in production without a valid reclamation plan and Interim Management Plan is deemed to have been abandoned under SMARA and thus is ineligible for vested rights,” Drysdale told YubaNet.

The owner of Blue Lead has altered his neighbor’s property and BLM property without permission, and has been cited in Nevada County and elsewhere.

Vox Populi

The public is now roused and should make a significant showing at the meeting tomorrow, where there will likely be many requests to reopen the hearing. Although County Planning Commission meetings are not routinely videotaped, special arrangements have been made for tomorrow’s meeting to be taped by an NCTV videographer for later broadcast on NCTV.

In the meantime, more Planning Commission staff and public comments requesting a reopening of the hearing have now been posted in the County’s Docushare folders, here. (See comments there by local historian Dave Comstock, Blue Lead neighbor Tom Brown, Tom Grundy and others).

Yubanet interviewed Dave Comstock and reported his comments as follows:

Author and historian Dave Comstock, a resident of the neighborhood since 1968, also sent comments to the planning staff after the March meeting. He was not aware of the meeting taking place, otherwise he would have appeared in person and shared his knowledge of the property with the commission, Comstock told YubaNet. He said he was quite appalled at the commission’s decision …

Yubanet has a late update to its article this afternoon, quoting Blue Lead’s attorney to the effect that public comment is “irrelevant.”

Tomorrow’s meeting should be very interesting.

UPDATE 1 (6:05 PM): I just received this email from Terri Hicklin:

Hi Don,

It looks like we will end up carrying this meeting LIVE, after all. So you
can tell any interested parties that we will carry the meeting on Comcast
Ch. 17 LIVE at 1:30 p.m., as well as on both our website at
www.nevadacountytv.org and the County’s website at www. mynevadacounty.com

Terri Hicklin
NCTV Access Coordinator

UPDATE 2 (6:14 pm):
See this related article posted to Yubanet late this afternoon:
Blue Lead’s Geologist Dabbles in Selling Mining Claims

UPDATE 3 (7:46 PM):
A new Docushare directory containing more public comment is here.
See comments from Gary Griffith, Ray Bryars, Rita Jennings, Shute Mihaly & Weinberger for CLAIM-GV, Robert Joehnck, Counsel for the Sierra Fund, etc.

Move Your Money and Save

Big banks don’t just undermine local economies—they’re bad for your wallet, too.

by Stacy Mitchell

Bigger banks were supposed to lower costs for consumers. That was the promise made repeatedly in 1994 and again in 1999, when Congress dismantled laws that had long restricted the size and scope of banks, ushering in a wave of mergers that left the industry dominated by a few financial giants.

Testifying in support of the so-called Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999, Michael Patterson of J.P. Morgan used the word “consumer” no less than twenty-one times in his remarks. He told Congress that freeing up big banks to get even bigger would provide consumers with “greater convenience, more innovation, and lower costs.”

Many regulators and lawmakers echoed his assertions. Robert Rubin, then Secretary of the Treasury and later a director at Citigroup, said that the “reforms” would “lead to better service and lower costs.” Congress passed the bill by wide margins and President Bill Clinton enthusiastically signed it into law, promising that the changes would “save consumers billions of dollars a year through enhanced competition.”

Just seven years later, the fees consumers were paying on their checking and savings accounts had skyrocketed, rising from $21 billion in 1999 to $36 billion in 2006. (And these amounts do not include credit card and ATM fees, which also shot up.)

That bigger banks would mean higher prices was plainly evident in 1999 to anyone who bothered to consult the data. For the previous five years, the Federal Reserve had issued yearly reports to Congress that showed that bigger banks charged significantly higher fees on checking and savings accounts.

The Fed’s 1999 report, published five months before the Financial Services Modernization Act passed, found that overdraft fees were 41 percent higher at big banks compared to small. Big banks charged more for almost every fee imaginable, including 43 percent more for bounced checks, 57 percent more for stop-payment orders, and 18 percent more for ATM withdrawals.

But rather than allow the evidence in favor of smaller banks to guide policy, Congress decided to get rid of the evidence. At the urging of then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, Congress ordered the Federal Reserve to stop publishing its annual report on bank fees. “The Fed fought to get rid of it,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the US Public Interest Research Group. “They said transparency was not a good use of their resources.”

For most of the last decade, information on the average cost difference between big banks and small local financial institutions has not been publicly available. But, as it turns out, the firm that the Fed once employed to gather this data, Moebs Services, has continued to survey fees at more than 2,000 financial institutions. Moebs agreed to share its 2009 data with the New Rules Project. As our chart shows, the biggest banks still impose much higher costs on their customers than small financial institutions do.

Not only are fees lower, but several studies have found that smaller banks and credit unions pay higher interest on savings accounts. In a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, researchers Kwangwoo Park and George Pennacchi examined data from 1998 to 2004 and found that rates on one-year CDs were an average of 14 percent higher at small banks (under $1 billion in assets) than at large ones (assets of $10 billion or more) and rates on interest-bearing savings accounts were 49 percent higher.

Why are small banks and credit unions a better deal? One reason is that they really want your deposits. Unlike big banks, which have access to wholesale funding, community banks rely much more on customer deposits to finance their lending and investments.

A second reason is that many small banks are more efficient than their big competitors. That may seem surprising at first. In many industries, more volume lowers costs, but in banking there’s an upper limit—a point at which a bank’s bloated bureaucracy makes the cost of doing everything more expensive, not less. Exactly where that threshold lies is a matter of debate, but some analysts suggest that the sweet-spot for efficiency starts as low as $500 million in assets and ends once a bank hits $4 or $5 billion. To put that in perspective, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase are about 300 times that size.

But perhaps a more instructive question to ask is not why are small banks a better deal, but how do big banks get away with charging so much more? After all, people have a choice about where to bank and free markets are suppose to drive down prices.

Christopher Peterson, an expert on consumer finance at the University of Utah School of Law, says there are two main theories. Those who believe the market is working contend that “bigger banks have more comprehensive branch locations, so people will pay a premium for convenience.”

Another explanation is that banks are adept at obscuring their prices and make it hard to comparison shop. “I think our impulse in this country is to overestimate the ability of people to shop down fees that are not transparent,” said Peterson.

Indeed, the Government Accounting Office recently sent secret shoppers into 185 bank branches. They were unable to obtain detailed information on account terms at one-third of those branches and unable to obtain a comprehensive schedule of fees at one-fifth, despite the fact that such disclosures are required by federal law—a law that apparently is not enforced. More than half of the banks did not provide this information on their websites, either.

Mierzwinski says big banks have the advantage of having recognizable names and branches everywhere. Many people simply go to the nearest big bank branch and don’t shop around. “They particularly don’t compare the bank’s penalty fees, which are so hard to find,” he said. “Everyone advertises free checking, but ‘free’ only defines monthly maintenance fees.”

If you bank at a big bank, all of this should prompt you to give some serious thought to ditching it. Even if you are good at avoiding penalty fees, why do business with a bank that charges exorbitant prices and attempts at every turn to hit its depositors with sneaky fees? Shop around instead for an institution that treats its customers fairly. Consumer advocacy groups say the best place to start is with local credit unions and community banks. The smallest have the lowest costs on average. But keep in mind that averages are just that; institutions vary and each should be evaluated individually according to how well it meets your needs and how responsive it is to your community.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the New Rules Project, a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance that challenges the wisdom of economic consolidation and works to advance policies that build strong local economies. She is the author of the monthly bulletin the Hometown Advantage and the book Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses, which was named one of the top ten business books of the year by Booklist.

This article is part of the New Rules Project’s Community Banking Initiative and was originally published on Huffington Post as part of a partnership with their Move Your Money campaign.

Move Your Money
Move Your Money is a growing national movement to switch money out of big, national banks and into local, community banks. A video paralleling “It’s a Wonderful Life” promotes the campaign.

Teaching Children the Facts of Global Climate Change

Among other wonders at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the Climate Change Gallery, where the facts of global climate change are made vividly clear to children and adults alike.

It warmed our hearts to see the hordes of excited children — the ones to whom we are bequeathing this planet — pouring over these exhibits with uninhibited excitement and curiosity.

Here are just a few of the illustrations from this gallery.

Goodnight Pacific Grove

My Brother, the Artist

My older brother, Gordon, has been many things in his life: son, brother, husband, father, systems programmer, manager, entrepreneur, author, computer forensics expert, expert witness, my hero and — for the last few years — artist.

What we’ve always said about him is that he seems to be able to do whatever he sets his sights on doing, and for the last few years he has set his sights on drawing.

His work is currently on exhibit at the Lake Wildwood Clubhouse, and — starting tomorrow — in the lobby at the Center for the Arts.

Here are some examples of his work:

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