MARIPOSANS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND 
RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT MARIPOSANS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND MARIPOSANS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND
 

 

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MARIPOSANS FOR THE
ENVIRONMENT AND
RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT
P.O. Box 2121
Mariposa, CA 95338

MARIPOSANS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND

History of MERG
 

Some of the more significant undertakings of MERG have been implementation of the Brown Act at Supervisors' meetings, evaluation of the risks and benefits of a redevelopment proposal, fact finding on Clean Water Grant project reform of the 1872 Mining Law, sponsorship of the Foothill Mining Conference, publicizing the unmitigatable environmental impacts of a large development project, advocating Wild and Scenic status for the Merced River, making recommendations in regard to industrial zoning in the County, encouraging our Supervisors to follow CEQA in this process, and successful litigation with the National Park Service to force the production of the twelve year overdue Merced River Plan.
 

v      Mariposans for Environmentally Responsible Growth (MERG) was founded in 1989 from an ad hoc group concerned about the impacts of a cyanide heap leach mining operation on the verge of the Merced River. A cyanide roaster, an extremely toxic mechanism, was planned. MERG gathered facts about the risks of the project and disseminated them to the public and the county officials. The mine did not go forward.

v      Bylaws for the new non-profit organization were developed in 1989, and incorporation was completed in that year.  A reference library was established.  As an organization, a goal analysis was completed and the vision of growth management and environmental protection for Mariposa County emerged.  Memberships were established in the Chamber of Commerce, Sierra Club, SC legal defense fund, and the Mineral Policy Center.  The practice began of inviting guests and monitoring community activities.  Board members began attending seminars.  MERG organized and conducted a  mining conference in Coulterville

v         The organization formalized its status by covering meetings of the Board of Supervisors, the planning commission, the utility district, and the LAFCo. This allowed us to take the pulse of the county.

v      In 1990, we discovered that the Brown Act had been misinterpreted in Mariposa County. We had it corrected so that the public was allowed to speak at the start of the supervisorial meetings on items on or off the agenda.

v      In 1990 two MERG board members were appointed to the community-wide Economic Development Committee to study industrial and commercial zoning, as well as home industry. Recommendations were made in a report of 1993.

v      Also in that year, MERG participated in the Whitcomb study which revealed that maintenance of rural character and the environment were the most important issues for the citizens of the county. A later repeat study verified the findings.

v      We strongly supported the designation of Highway 140 as a Scenic Highway, and the new Mariposa Town Specific Plan.

v      During this same year, MERG studied and expressed concerns about the Mariposa Vista project.  Board members worked with the Air Quality Officer in regard to dust and smog issues in Mariposa County.  Non-voting membership reached 105 individuals in 1990.

v      In MERG’s annual newsletter discussing activities during the prior 1991, the organization vowed to continue working on County policies that will have a long-term positive effect on Mariposa’s natural environment.

v      During 1991, MERG spent hours educating itself regarding the ramifications of the proposed Redevelopment Plan for the Mariposa Town Planning Area, and planning how best to effect changes that would protect citizens and save the County dollars.  Ultimately, this redevelopment plan was abandoned

v      In 1992 a section of Hwy 49 North on either side of Bear Valley was adopted for upkeep... a practice that continues to this day.

v      In 1993, a study was presented to the count, which failed to gain backing, but was a significant MERG effort.  It was "The Outline for a Comprehensive, Community-Determined Master Plan for Resource-Protective Development in Mariposa County."  This focused on natural resource preservation, including air, water, soil, vegetation, wildlife and open space.  The second was "Suggested Policies and Development Standards for Specific Plans and Large Developments".  An update to the Mariposa County General Plan was urged.  MERG recommended a linkage between tourism and the environment.

v     1993 brought the Las Mariposas project, a giant residential and commercial development next to the airport. Insufficient water, airport viability, and traffic impacts were the main concerns which defeated the plan.  Twelve MERG members worked over the 1993-1995 timeframe to inform the Board of Supervisors on the many topics at issue in this development proposal.  The project was disapproved in 1994.

v      Local bird and wildflower compilations were done and made available to residents and visitors.  MERG published an extensive booklet covering various environmental areas.

v      This year also found MERG Board members serving on MPUD and LAFCo Boards.  MERG research into county jail operations resulted in cost savings to Mariposa County taxpayers.

v      MERG discovered the political reporting organization, Vote Smart

v      In 1994, MERG made another push for a General Plan update.  Its work on mining law reform since 1993 culminated.  Reform failed by one Senate vote. 

v      Sierra Nevada Alliance was formed in this year.  MERG was an early member.

v      1995 found MERG releasing 8 specific recommendations for reviewing and considering large developments based on lessons learned from Mariposa’s experience with Las Mariposas.  The Board provided input on the Saxon Creek project and working to obtain clean water grants for Mariposa.  Board members participated in a mining conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

v      In this year, MERG requested that the Board of Supervisors’ agenda be released on Tuesday, the week before a meeting.  The request was met. 

v      In 1996, Ralph Bayless retired as MERG Chair.  During this year, MERG Board was vocal on several issues, including permit streamlining, decertification of redevelopment, reporting of toxic releases by miners, U.C. Merced planning.  Board members attended a Planning and Conservation League (PCL) meeting in Catheys Valley, “Solutions for a Sustained Sierra.”

v      In 1997, MERG participated in forming a coalition with the Anenberg Foundation Rural Challenge, Audubon, Mariposa County Public Works, Parks and Recreation, High School Earth Club, and Soils and Conservation to begin the Mariposa Creek Project.

v     A second coalition was formed this year of MERG, Audubon and the Sierra Club working with CEQA experts Shute, Mihaly law firm.  This effort was to remind the county Board of Supervisors that a CEQA Environmental Impact Report was necessary to proceed with industrial zoning planning. 

v      MERG Board member, Shirley Schmelzer developed and published a birding guide for Mariposa County that is still in use today.  It is available at the Visitors’ Center.

v     In 1998, MERG Board, in coalition with Audubon and the Sierra Club began protesting development/construction project in Yosemite National Park because no environmental assessment or EIS was completed.  This included a redo of the Yosemite Road and decrease of parking from 9000 spaces to 3000 space.  Letters were submitted to Interior Secretary Babbitt, urging a carrying capacity study.

v      In 1999, because the Park Service initiated a series of development projects without appropriate National Environmental Policy Act and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act procedures, it was necessary to resort to a lawsuit to get the NPS to develop the twelve year delayed Merced River Plan, which the courts deem still invalid.  Litigation is on-going.

v      In this same year, SNA provided MERG a grant to support its on-going review and comments on the Mariposa County General Plan Update.  In addition, MERG actively engaged in review and comment on several projects, including efforts to write a zoning ordinance for industrial development without benefit of the new general plan; Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) development; Snow Creek Bridge; Fish Camp Silvertip impacts; Yosemite/gateway communities’ issues; and, the ongoing need for carrying capacity studies for Yosemite National Park.

v         Richard Kunstman, in 2000, developed a paper “The Devastation Framework” in response to the 2000 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (also known as the "Conservation Framework").

v      Throughout 2000, MERG Board members participated in General Plan Workshops.  They evaluated YARTS impacts and costs; evaluated the 2000 census which indicated a rapid pace of growth in Mariposa County; provided input on the Joe Howard Street bridge; developed a Ralph Bayless award; commented on U.C. Merced impacts and the need for a more appropriate site; and evaluated a proposal for a John Muir Corridor.

v      In this year, MERG decided that a web site would be developed.

v      In 2001, the Yosemite NEPA/WSRA lawsuit was pending.  MERG provided comment to the Board of Supervisors on reapportionment of supervisorial districts required by new census information.  MERG engaged the assistance of a professional consultant to help with review of updated general plan documents.

v      The Yosemite lawsuit was appealed to the 9th Circuit County in 2002 by MERG and Friends of Yosemite Valley (FoYV).  MERG also reviewed and provided input on several local issues:  updated General Plan – impacts on land use; Silver Tip development and major changes to the Fish Camp Specific Plan;  the County Landfill EIR; recycling planning; and, Mariposa stop signs, for which MERG  completed a study of traffic accidents, which showed that stop lights would not be helpful at 49N and 140.

v      In 2002, MERG questioned the choice of the new composting facility at the land fill, mainly due to the untested technology, the cost and the short projected lifespan.

v      In 2003, the 9th Circuit Court finds in favor of the MERG/FoYV appeal on the Yosemite lawsuit.  MERG continued input on several issues, including the general plan update (which went into limbo on resignation of county planning director), Silver Tip development, Fish Camp venue for Board of Supervisors’ meetings.  In this year, MERG opted to sponsor a Mariposa County High School student to a leadership conference.

v      In the same year, due to MERG’s  urging, agendas of the Board of Supervisors’ meetings became available on the County’s website and the details in the Supervisors’ Packet for each meeting are available to the public at the Mariposa Library.

v      In mid-2004 a decision was made to rename the organization to Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government as this would be more reflective of our activities in recent years.  The organization continued its efforts to assure that the general plan update reflects the rural Mariposa County values. 

v      In 2005, MERG effectively formed a “Keep Mariposa Rural Coalition” through a brochure mailer to households throughout the County.  There were 350 replies.  MERG advised the County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors of its interest in having a rural environmental alternative.  MERG publicized ways in which the public could help with this effort.  MERG hosted guests and consultants seeking advice on influencing the general plan update.  Board members cooperated in developing and disseminating a recycling information list.  Comments were submitted on creation of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

v      In 2006, the 9th Circuit Court again ruled in favor of MERG/FoYV in their lawsuit against Yosemite National Park.

v      Regarding the General Plan update effort, MERG Board members distributed brochures and made Power Point presentations for community groups.

v      During this year, a special MERG committee was formed to support community planning efforts in Catheys Valley and Hornitos, in response to development interests requesting that the Board of Supervisors consider rezoning to 1 acre or smaller parcels in the Catheys Valley area.  The special committee organized a petition drive for signatures for a parcelization moratorium to protect Catheys Valley and Hornitos from becoming a suburb of Merced, as development in that community reaches its peak.  Although the moratorium request failed to get a public hearing, the Board committed to completing the General Plan update post haste. 

v      The hazard of continuing to issue Certificates of Compliance on historical parcels was an on-going discussion with County boards and commissions.  

v      MERG had a booth at the Mariposa County Fair and the Hornitos Flea Market to provide information to the public and to encourage their participation on the General Plan update.

v      Throughout late 2006, MERG organized and sponsored a speakers’ series on water and land use issues.  The urgency of the water issues for Mariposa County, both quantity and quality, were  highlighted. 

v      MERG actively campaigned against the passage of an eminent domain initiative (Prop 90) that would have had devastating impacts on land use law.  In this instance, Mariposa County voted overwhelmingly against the measure.

v      The last months of 2006 were devoted to influencing, with the help of our board, attorney, professional planner and the support of Sierra Nevada Alliance, the eventual adoption of an updated general plan. This effort resulted in a fourth “rural environment” alternative, a significantly lower population target of 26,000 over the life of the plan, and shared input that prevented resort commercial uses from being permitted in the Agriculture-Exclusive Zone.

v      2007 was primarily devoted to urging implementation of the General Plan through revisions of Titles 16 and 17 of the County Code.  MERG efforts focused on issues of water quantity and quality and spurring interest in an integrated regional water management project, along with examining the need for more responsible and responsive county government. 

v      After a ten year effort, MERG won the top award in 2007 for its outstanding contributions to the Mariposa General Plan Update.  The award was given by the Sierra Nevada Alliance.

v      During 2008, as it celebrated its 21st year, MERG was actively involved in helping define the scale of agritourism suitable to Mariposa County.  Efforts continued to support the finalization of the Catheys Valley community plan – now scheduled for 2009.  Efforts to promote a water study similar to the Fresno County foothills and Madera County continued, along with efforts to promote integrated regional water management planning(IRWMP).  Meetings were held with SNC early in 2008.  In late 2008, SNA organized a meeting in Mariposa for stakeholders, urging action on an IRWMP.  MERG Board members urged the Mariposa County Resource Conservation District to sponsor this project.  Agreement was reached within RCD to move forward with a grant application for launch funding from SNC to create an organization that will carry out a planning grant application effort.

v        During this year, Secretary Betty Boykin retired from MERG after 20 years of splendid service.. 

v      Additionally, in 2008 we joined Earth Justice in filing a suit against the county for its breach of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) concerning the Hazel Green project. The proponent desired to gain access to Highway 120 from their 80 acre inholding by an easement across Yosemite National Park Service land.  The access is illegal.

        In 2009 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of MERG and Friends of Yosemite Valley after ten years of litigation over protection of the Merced Wild and Scenic River and Yosemite Valley.  MERG participated in settlement negotiations with the National Park Service and agreements were developed to implement the finding of the Court.  We believe this process will be effective to achieve the goals for which we undertook the lawsuit in 1999. We are closely monitoring this process to ensure that desired results are indeed achieved.  For the NPS information on this topic, please click here.

        For notable activities during the past year we urge you to read the 2010 newsletter  and the 2011 newsletter on this site.

The history of MERG demonstrates that the organization has been devoted to creating “partnerships” in the community which assisted in successful outcomes on several issues.  This is most recently demonstrated in the revision of the Mariposa County General Plan.  This updated General Plan, considered the constitution of the County for the next 15 to 20 years, was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in December of 2006.  Major implementation efforts, specifically bringing the zoning ordinance and subdivision ordinances into compliance, are still ahead.  All citizens of Mariposa should become involved. 

Get informed and make your voice heard.