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Lucille Harris, $112K, tumbleweeds, rabbits & extortion California-style

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POSTED August 25, 2009 2:25 a.m.
If Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Gang of 120 in the California Legislature want to know how to get the economy going and revenues rolling back into the state treasury they should sit down with Lucille Harris for an hour.

Harris and her husband Bill own Tuff Boy Trailers. They want to expand their truck storage facility onto an eight-acre parcel adjacent to their existing operations on West Yosemite Avenue where it joins the Highway 120 Bypass.

The land in question is dried sandy loam that grows one thing and one thing only – tumbleweeds. Anyone who has lived in Manteca more than 10 years knows the development along the bypass has cut down on the annual tumbleweed season that would stack hundreds of the weeds once they dried and rolled all over creation against sound walls. If you doubt this, go down Atherton Drive east of Van Ryn Road and you can see a bumper crop of tumbleweeds in the making where the Tesoro Apartments are proposed.

The tumbleweed fields do generate a nice habitat for jack rabbits.

You put water on sandy loam and farm it right and it’s pretty productive.

The state – in all of its infinite wisdom – has deemed the eight acres isn’t prime farm land but instead is a wildlife habitat.

No joking.

Not only are tumbleweeds and jack rabbits not in any danger of becoming extinct, but eradication is a major industry. Jack rabbits – in case folks up in Sacramento don’t know – are as damaging to crops as gophers. There was a time when people from miles around would travel to Manteca for annual jack rabbit hunts where in excess of 30,000 were killed. It was a pretty big event in its day.

The state doesn’t care about such details in its expensive one-size-fits-all approach to regulating activity in the vast and varied land we call California.

So before Tuff Boy can generate more jobs that would be the end result of a use permit to convert the eight acres to truck storage they must pay a $14,000 extortion fee per acre for a biological study.

That is $112,000 for nothing. I don’t mean to say wildlife is nothing. It’s just that studies like this have been done over and over again on similar land. It’s kind of like what Lowe’s had to go through to jump through state imposed hoops for the new store that they have put on hold in Manteca at Airport Way and the Highway 120 Bypass. They did a ton of environmental studies – $400,000 worth – but that wasn’t enough as there was a question about the noise and pollution delivery trucks would make. It doesn’t matter that there is nothing unique about the Lowe’s site. It is in the middle of the vast Northern San Joaquin Valley. No matter, the state wants you to burn through another $45,000 study to replicate what has been done on another project perhaps a quarter of a mile away.

One would hope there would be “master” studies to avoid duplicity and expense but the state won’t allow it.

So Tuff Boy Trailers has to spend $112,000 to study what we already know will be there – Jack rabbits and tumbleweeds. Yes, they might come across a burrowing owl. But guess what? If during the construction a nest is spotted it stops everything until such time as the eggs had hatched and the young birds fly away.

The Harris family probably would be farming the acreage today if the state didn’t split up a bigger 88-acre parcel in 1975 and split it into four parcels to build the Highway 120 Bypass and effectively cut off access to irrigation water north of the freeway. Also, there is the issue of existing light industrial use around it.

Environmental studies are important but California has gotten to the point of overkill. It is what is driving up the cost of doing business in California which in turn means less jobs generated.

The state has made everything in terms of development the equivalent of building on the Big Sur coast.

Then again, maybe they are into something about the biology study. A couple more years of Sacramento running the state into the ground and the blowing tumbleweed may become both the state shrub and its economic symbol.
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