THE CALIFORNIA DESERT PROTECTION ACT AND A STORY OF POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM

Are our environmental stewards in Congress using their credibility for personal benefit? Why are they almost all at least millionaires and why is that fact ignored by the media? For example; Dianne Feinstein and her husband, finance capitalist Richard C. Blum, are in the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. They stand for everything that such enormous wealth implies.

See: http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Richard_C._Blum_and_Dianne_Feinstein:_The_Power_Couple_of_California

As an example of corruption in the highest levels involving Senator Feinstein, in 2009 it was reported that she introduced legislation to provide $25 billion in taxpayer money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., a government agency that had recently awarded her husband’s real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.

She also voted for appropriations for the Iraq conflict worth billions to her husband’s firms. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_C._Blum

Senator Feinstein fancies herself as a champion of environmental causes. More often than not in the American political realm saving the environment is code for political corruption. Almost without exception the mainstream media is complicit in this treachery.

In 1996 Dianne Feinstein was appointed to chair a legislative team to negotiate the purchase of Head­waters from Hurwitz whose company, Maxaam, had clear-cut most of the forest in question. Hurwitz was an investment partner of senator Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum. In the end Hurwitz’s empire cashed out by liquidating the forests and the livelihoods of the North Coast in exchange for a $380 million taxpayer-funded payout.

Then there was Senator Feinstein’s opus, the Desert Wilderness Protection Act. Who ever imagined that the desert needed protection from development?

The Desert Wilderness Protection Act and its companion bill known as the California Desert Protection Act (sponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein); created three new national parks and seventy- four new wilderness areas in the desert of California which totaled 8 million acres. This bill was originally passed in 1994 and funded with additional legislation sponsored by Senator Feinstein in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 sessions of Congress.

Senator Feinstein contended that the fragile ecosystem of the desert must be protected from development, but in reality the areas being placed into park and wilderness closures were not threatened. The desert was protected by the California Desert Conservation Area Plan enacted in 1980 that had been scrupulously adhered to by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

In addition, the designated acreage was completely dry and could not be developed. As a consequence it remained unsold for over a hundred years even though it had been on the market at bargain level prices.

First a little history: In the nineteenth century the U.S. Congress gave Southern Pacific Railroad a checkerboard pattern of right a way land parcels lining their tracks from Texas to California. Eventually Southern Pacific Railway dried up economically and was swallowed up in a merger. Catellus Development (Catellus), a subsidiary of Santa Fe Pacific, eventually took over these land parcels.

The congressionally created landholdings existed in 1994 under the name of Catellus which owned over 400,000 acres of worthless land in the California Mojave Desert: that is until that land was exchanged for much more valuable land under Feinstein’s bill, the California Desert Protection Act. Catellus gave up essentially worthless desert tracts for lucrative freeway properties.

400,000 acres of land owned by Catellus in the Mojave Desert was purchased by the federal government to create a natural preserve. Of the $56.5 million purchase price for the Catellus desert properties, $30 million of the money came from the U.S. government. The rest came from a non-profit environmental group called The Wildlands Conservancy.

The Wildlands Conservancy did not come into being until September 1995, after Senator Feinstein introduced the first desert protection bill, which initially named Catellus specifically. We need to ask ourselves how often is an environmental group established to join a cause created by a U.S. senator to benefit a private corporation?

Richard Blum is a member of Governing Council of The Wilderness Society which supported the California Desert Protection Act. The group has been a force behind the passage of dozens of wilderness bills, which have enlarged the National Wilderness Preservation System to more than 106 million acres.

Gifts from the independently wealthy Marshall financed the organization. After his death in 1939 the Society received revenue from a trust established by Marshall’s estate. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wilderness_Society_%28United_States%29

In a column titled “A Succession of Land Deals” by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters published in March of 2001, Walters wrote that the Catellus desert swap amounted to a deal where “Catellus walked away with cash and valuable land and gave up virtually nothing of real value.

What, if any, hidden interest does Richard Blum have in Catellus as a finance capitalist? His holdings are varied and far flung and include varied forms of real estate interests. One source reports that Richard C. Blum, held a serious interest in Catellus. See: http://articles.superhunky.com/4/231

In fact it has been surmised (because it was public land in as little as ten years before the swap) that some of the land that Catellus got in exchange for its original holdings was public land that was illegally transferred to private ownership by the BLM.

In a May 1997 issue of Media ByPass magazine, writer Karen Lee Bixman explored an area of the land swap that make these concerns look pale by comparison. This story is titled “The Great Gold Heist: The Desert Wilderness Protection Act,” See: http://www.propertyrightsresearch.org/great_gold_heist__the_desert_wil.htm

“Through a complex series of land exchanges, Catellus Corporation, a subsidiary of Santa Fe Pacific, will receive land that contains some of the richest gold deposits in the world. In exchange, the public gets seventy-four widely scattered tracts of desert which have found no economic use in more than a century.”

“In the land swap, Catellus Corp. will receive land from decommissioned military bases. One of the bases will be the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Unbeknownst to the public, inside the range is the world’s richest gold rift zone. Geologists estimate that the gold contained in this zone is worth between $40 to $100 billion. These are surface gold deposits which are more profitable to mine than the one-mile deep gold deposits in South Africa.”

When the language in the original bill raised all sorts of red flags (specifically stating that Catellus Corp. should receive preferential treatment), the Catellus provision was stricken. This would not have made any real difference according to Ms. Bixman. “Therefore, even with the Catellus provision stricken from the bill, the money would still be routed to the same beneficiaries.”

Not bad for $150,000 in political contributions from Catellus to Feinstein’s political campaign. It was also reported that the Sierra Club made large contributions earmarked toward the desert wilderness campaign. A short time after the donation Senator Alan Cranston introduced the California Desert Protection Act into legislation.

There is also the small matter of the connection between Catellus Development and the Wildlands Conservancy which constitutes a direct conflict of interest. The resulting charitable gift/sales of ostensibly appreciated land is inconsistent with the underlying land values of these properties as determined by the county assessor.

In the company’s annual report for the year 2000, Catellus’ CEO Nelson Rising in his letter “To Our Shareholders” wrote: “In 2000 we closed on two sales totaling more than 405,000 acres of desert lands. We also entered into an option agreement with The Wildlands Conservancy to sell an additional 277,000 acres of desert land… These transactions have generated more than $320 million in sales proceeds.”

In effect, today hundreds of millions  of acres are taken away from the American public who once recreated on lands turned into Wilderness Areas. Wilderness Areas were purportedly created to “…secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Nice…

The problem is that fishermen, hunters, mountain bikers, OHV enthusiasts and others no longer have access to land turned over to the National Wilderness Preservation System because of restrictions on mechanized travel on dirt trails. The ones that really benefit from National Wilderness legislation are the wealthy. They don’t want you to know about their dirty little secrets. Would you?

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/12/29/catellus-development-the-next-octopus/

Where there are powerful political voices in the mix and a lot of talk about saving the environment, it is important to look behind the rhetoric and find out what the hidden agenda might actually be. This is true especially when the issue is over land use and where any decision which could affect adjacent land values. Think Carnegie and the expansion.

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12 Responses to THE CALIFORNIA DESERT PROTECTION ACT AND A STORY OF POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM

  1. Dave Duffin says:

    This lady is brilliant…honest!!

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Excellent article. I’m researching a story about how Wildlands Conservancy sabotaged solar utility scale development in the Mojave, and need your help. Please contact me at mike.greenframe@gmail.com. You can google me plus climate to view articles and blog posts.

  3. Reblogged this on Flying Tiger Comics and commented:
    A long train of abuses… Only this time is anyone going to actually do anything or just sit there bitching?

  4. Diana Tweedy says:

    Just sit there bitching. But did you see the latest in the San Francisco Chronicle?

    “Industrial-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects could be built within a few miles of national parks in the California desert as part of the Obama and Brown administrations’ efforts to combat climate change, under a mammoth plan released by federal and state officials Tuesday.

    Construction of the plants, many of which could cover several square miles, would drastically alter desert vistas near national parks and wilderness areas, according to a draft of the Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, a joint state and federal project more than five years on the making.

    But that would be offset by the climate-change benefits of allowing large solar and wind energy plants on more than 2 million acres of the Mojave Desert, the report said.” ()San Francisco Chronicle)

    Both Boxer and Brown support the plan to bulldoze big areas of desert for the installation of large scale solar and wind projects (only where it is appropriate). The trouble is that a few years ago Obamas’ billions of dollars in stimulus money (for wind and solar projects) resulted in the pell-mell development of untouched deserts endangering birds and desert tortoises.

    “David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks and Conservation Association, said the plan could be an improvement over the current system of scattershot development. But he said officials appear to have left in limbo several controversial proposals, including a 23 Square mile wind and solar plant in the Silurian Valley just south of Death Valley and a 3,000 acre plant at Soda Mountain, atop A big Horn Sheep Corridor near the Move National Preserve.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

    “… Officials are calling this a conservation plan while they are planning on fragmenting up the large remaining sections of the California desert into development zones and conservation zones which ultimately translates into a net loss of desert habitat.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

    The plan includes a 4-mile buffer for three historic and protected hiking trails. The ones behind this plan are the same folks who say that our OHV trails destroy the desert and that we use the desert tortoises for target practice. Can you say hypocrites?

  5. Pingback: Dianne Feinstein’s husband owns part of the railroad industry. How does that connection affect rail road safety issues? | THE TAKE-DOWN

  6. Rich Rotte says:

    These numbers are not correct. “Of the $56.5 million purchase price for the Catellus desert properties, $30 million of the money came from the U.S. government. The rest came from a non-profit environmental group called The Wildlands Conservancy.”

    Catellus donated about $15 million in value, of the $56, as I recall from the records in the Bureau of Land Managements (BLM) LR 2000 data base. The Wildlands Conservancy later stated, in the absence of an agreement, that the land would remain undeveloped in perpituity.

    The Wildlands Conservancy did not donate land, they donated funds towards the BLM’s acquisition of the land. The BLM’s documention of environmental review and the actual acquisition costs should be available throught the district office Moreno Valley.

  7. Dennis says:

    That doesn’t change the premise of the argument that Fienstein profited from this action and the Wildlands Conservancy used the Wilderness Act not to preserve forests from development, mining and logging but to prevent off road recreation in an area that certainly was not Wilderness. It was desert and had been used for off road recreation for decades.

  8. Rich Rotte says:

    Dennis, you are correct. I was pointing out that the Wildlands Conservancy did not contribute as much toward the article as stated in the article. The The Desert Wilderness Protection Act impacts the development of solar energy facilities more than the off road communities. There is very little evidence of off road vehicle use in the area but there were many applications for permitting of solar facilities in the area.

    Diana, National Parks and Wildernes Areas are finite areas as designated by congress. There is no buffer around these designations. Development may occur adjacent to a wildernes area or national park. Development on Public Land adjacent to a Natinal Park or Wildernes Area would have the impacts determined under the process following the National Environmental Policy Act.

  9. Dennis says:

    Except that the Desert Wilderness Protection Act stopped off road vehicle recreation which was prevalent in the area before it was designated wilderness. Wilderness protection is to protect wilderness. Wilderness is defined as an area untouched by human activities. Anyone familiar with the desert in southern California before the the Desert Wilderness Protection Act was passed knows that it was used for primarily for off road recreation and off road racing. It was an area totally inappropriate for wilderness designation. Land can still be protected from solar development, as you pointed out, under the process following the National Environmental Policy Act..

  10. Diana Tweedy says:

    Dianne Feinstein has introduced new legislation that would designate five already existing OHV parks encompassing 143,000 acres in the California desert as permanent OHV parks. After Obama used his power as president under executive action to designate more than 1.8 million acres of California desert as national monuments, Feinstein introduced this bill to address aspects of the 2015 bill that Obama did not include in his executive action.
    U.S. Representative Paul Cook whose district includes the California desert introduced a similar bill HR 3668. The AMA supports Cooks bill and the Feinstein bill is under consideration.
    It is good to see politicians who do not wholly ignore the right of the American public to use the desert for responsible off road recreation. We don’t destroy the desert but we love the desert and we use roads just like any other vehicle.
    I hope that Dianne Feinstein received a lot of letters from people like me who urge her to support the right to pursue responsible Off Highway Vehicle Recreation and that she is responding to her constituents’ concerns. Of course the bill also bows to the concerns of the Sierra Club and other desert conservationist constituents by designating Wilderness areas and other forms of protection for the desert encompassing just under a million acres.
    This is the same issue of the AMA magazine (May 2016) that supports the Carnegie Expansion and an anti sue and settle bill passed by the House. The conservationists use a tactic called sue and settle to get their own way without any public comment or scrutiny. They settle out of court to get their extremist agenda incorporated into the practices of US Forest Services managers. This tactic takes decision making out of the hands of professional managers to meet the needs of participants, protect the land and promote responsible use.
    I urge everybody who rides a motorcycle to join the AMA and support our participation in the sport we love.

  11. Diana says:

    If you believe that Dianne Feinstein represents the little guy, I have a bridge to sell you. See: http://thefifthcolumnnews.com/2015/03/a-little-ditty-bout-jacked-up-dianne/
    Does anyone see the connection between PG&E, the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk and the fact that PG&E wanted to raise transmission costs on San Franciscans for power the city owned and controlled, i.e. the Hetch Hetchy Dam? Moscone and Milk were against PG&E raising the costs of power along transmission lines that the city owned. Soon afterwards Dianne Feinstein was elected mayor and PG&E raised the cost of power in San Francisco. They are still the biggest contributor to Dianne Feinstein’s campaign. Any connection there?
    See: http://www.sfwater.org/index.aspx?page=391

  12. Pingback: Terrified Elon Musk tries to save his “scam” railroad project by saying it is now an OUTER SPACE TRAIN - The New York Daily

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