That wasn’t the exact title of a recent Santa Rosa Press Democrat story which began: “A 300-mile walking and bicycle trail envisioned along the North Coast and linking the San Francisco Bay with Humboldt Bay has gained some financial footing through the state’s budget process, boosting the chances of realizing the grand project.”
Promoters of the “Great Redwood Trail” include the Press Democrat and its co-owner, ex-Congressman Doug Bosco. But the PD has now even stopped mentioning parenthetically that their owner stands to gain two-plus million as the Trail Scam “gains some financial footing…” as they conveniently pretend that anybody but Bosco and his political allies really want a “300 mile walking and bicycle trail … linking the San Francisco Bay with Humboldt Bay.”
See, under the scam “envisioned” by Bosco there’s this pent-up un-met need for bikers and hikers to link the two bay areas.
“The transportation subcommittees of both houses of the state Legislature have approved Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request of $3 million to continue the lengthy process, advancing the plan introduced in a bill by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and signed into law last year,” the PD notes, quoting McGuire: “This begins the beginning of the end for the NCRA [North Coast Railroad Authority]. It’s time to start focusing on a new chapter with the Great Redwood Trail and close a long and unfortunate chapter in NCRA’s checkered history.”
“Long and unfortunate”? Yes, millions of dollars wasted on a train system that never shipped much, but shunted a lot of those millions into Bosco’s pockets for years is “unfortunate” — for the public anyway; not for Bosco.
Bosco is a co-owner of the Northwest Pacific Railroad, which is owed a lot of money by the Railroad Authority which Bosco, with big assists from the Northcoast's insider Democrats, helped breathe into existence in the late 80s and which until recently was managed by Bosco’s well-paid former political staffer Mitch Stogner. But now the next generation of Bosco Inc. is “moving forward” to the renamed but still insider boondoggle “Great Redwood Trail” to keep the money flowing and Bosco reimbursed for the money his NWP Co. is owed to rehab and maintain the track on which trains have never and will never run. Unfortunately.
“With the expected passage of the state budget in mid-June, $500,000 from the general fund would go toward completing an audit of NCRA’s finances, which are likely to show debts totaling at least $12 million. The other $2.5 million allotted by Newsom would be spent on reviews of the defunct railway’s right-of-way boundary and property easements for future buildout of the trail, which so far has no estimated cost.”
So not only is the groundwork is being laid to set aside the money for Bosco, but now they’re talking about “property easements”! Apparently, the track right of way isn’t enough for the “Great Rail…” er, “Great Trail” Scam.
How much do you want to bet that the easements will turn out to be on property owned by Bosco et al? And that some of that easement property will be toxic dumps that the state will assume responsibility and liability for so that Bosco and his fellow NWP owners are off the hook for clean-up?
In fact, this very likihood was also mentioned, albeit indirectly, in the same recent PD article: “It’s a very fragile countryside with a very polluted rail line,” said Patty Clary, executive director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “The reason we fought it was it’s a toxic mess from end to end. If the Legislature is now spending money on a trail, the state shouldn’t balk at doing the right thing about environmental remediation.”
Knowing that at least some minimal public support will have to be ginned up for this alleged “link,” State Senator McGuire has announced a series of sales jobs up and down the Northcoast in the near future: “We want to include the communities on every stretch of the line throughout the North Coast,” said McGuire. “We’ll start bringing focus to the Great Redwood Trail vision, with the most important part of the events being advancing communitywide conversation about where we’ve been, where we’re at now and where we’re going with the trail.”
We doubt that McGuire will mention how much Bosco and his friends will get out of wherever they’re (not) going with the Great Redwood Trail.
The true route isn't the old railroad; the true route runs from the state capitol to Bosco's fat bank account.
The Ghosts Of Garden’s Gate
We had to laugh Thursday when Mendocino County Planning and Building Director Brent Schultz told the Planning Commission that one of the checklist items holding up the Lover’s Lane housing development proposal north of Ukiah is a traffic study.
But before we get into that, Schultz introduced several of his new staffers. One of them escaped from Health and Human Services (for a nice raise) and another escaped the pot permit program (also probably for a nice raise). A third new staffer came from the Assessor's office just a few weeks after the new Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Katrina Bartolome was elected. Surely, the timing was entirely coincidental.
"We are doing well, I think," said Schultz, rather tentatively. "There are always things we can do better. But I really like the team that has come together. I think things are jelling. We intend to do a lot better work in the future, not that we haven't done a lot of work, but we are going to improve."
Schultz then explained his team hadn't seen any major project applications lately. But, he added, there will be seven “new” items to consider at the May 16 meeting of the Commission.
After pointing out that the cannabis program inspectors are now all crammed into a newly remodeled file room in the Planning and Building building, Schultz contradicted the County’s party-line that Mendo has very little to do with the stalled and failed cannabis permit program. "It's a brand-new ordinance,” said Schultz, failing to mention that most of it was developed three years ago. “There are lots of questions on how it's implemented. It's amazing how much time we spend on ‘What did they mean?’ This is all new to me. So we are figuring it out with the help of County Counsel."
Schultz also addressed the recently approved increased building and planning and pot permit fees. "Those will go into effect July 1. I am watching those closely. People ask me what I think of the fees. We have some new modules in ‘Track It’ [Mendo’s fancy new project tracking software system] and we will have a better idea after I track it [sic] for years of progress [sic] to see if some of those fees should be lowered, or some increased? [Guess which.] I reviewed all the fee increases and I concurred with them. But that doesn't mean it stops right there. We can't collect more money than it costs to do this. My job is just to collect the fees for the cost of the service and I am endeavoring to do that. Our operation has a $2.5 million to $2.7 million net county cost — the county is putting more money into it than we bring in in revenue. It's difficult with planning and building services. A lot of things we do on the phone or at the counter with people you can't charge for [much as they’d like to]. And our codes are pretty complex. Especially in the coastal zone. We spend a lot of time there going over it with people."
One of the planning commissioners asked about the Vineyard Crossing (formerly Lovers Lane) and (now defunct) Garden’s Gate projects.
Schultz reported that the developer is still working on the EIR (Environmental Impact Report). "They don't have it all done yet,” said Schultz. "They are trying to complete a traffic study, a drainage study.”
A traffic study? Here’s where the ghosts came in.
“They just submitted ‘will serve’ letters on sewer,” Schultz continued. I don't yet have one for water. They are working on that, all their consultants and staff are working on that. We don't have it all together yet. It's not in any form where we are ready to bring it forward for consideration by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. We are still working on all the elements of it. We have worked out some things on housing and how to deal with housing [it’s a “housing development,” after all] on it but those are just draft frameworks and it has not all been pulled together in the final EIR. Being from an urban planning environment, this is quite difficult. There are no — it's really easy sitting there with a big water system or sewer system. I walk down the hall, or the developer does, and they go, Hey, do you have water? And they say, Yup we do. And they tell them how much it costs to hook up to the water and sewer system. And they pay the fee and they go, OUCH! But they pay the fee and the only issue is running a water or sewer line a little farther or running a road down. Here it's a whole different process. Plus the resource agencies we have to deal with on things especially on the coast. It's not an easy process. It's a difficult site. Somebody told me the other day that all the easy sites have been done, now it's the hard sites. You have to work really hard on them. We will see what happens. We are still working on it.”
Chico developer Mr. Guillon is also working on it. And, no doubt, bleeding money for consultants, and fees, and time, and taxes…
Long-time Planning Commissioner Molly Warner who has a bit of memory about Mendo’s planning activities, asked about the old Garden’s Gate project, as if anyone remembered it much.
"I don't have any status on Garden’s Gate,” replied Schultz. “Nothing has come in to us of any significance so I don't have anything to update. There have been no requests of us on it."
Commissioner Warner wistfully commented, “I was just discussing it. It's kind of water under the bridge, I guess. We already approved that project and then it kind of quit. And here we are with the water issue again. We were discussing the water issue this morning. Maybe it's a little late. [Laughs.] But…”
The Garden’s Gate project, a 200-unit housing proposal on a few acres of vineyard south of Ukiah, did indeed have water questions (which the County papered over, but never addressed). But the real reason the project “kind of quit” was that the County killed it.
Fire-up the wayback machine!
(From our coverage of Garden’s Gate developer Chris Stone’s appearance at the Supervisors back in June of 2008):
Last week, developer Chris Stone told the Supes that he’s already sunk more than $200,000 in the permit application and EIR process, and he still hasn’t received an approved EIR. “I’m pretty angry,” Stone said, managing not to sound angry.
The County’s lead planner, Frank Lynch, lamely explained that the delay had to do with the traffic study section of the EIR. “The traffic model took way too long to become available,” said Lynch. “Only in the last month and a half was a traffic engineer available. We needed the best traffic information available. The timeframes in the planning process are not binding, just goals. We opted to wait for the traffic study. If we hadn’t, there could have been competing traffic studies.”
Competing traffic studies?!
Supervisor Colfax said he hadn’t seen Stone’s complaint until the day of the meeting (June 10), but that “the delay seems almost indefensible.” Colfax also noted that the Ukiah Valley Area Plan took too long, too. “I understand the concern,” said Colfax, feeling Stone’s pain. “Mr. Stone brought forward a plan, and the County should take this very seriously. I will take this to the CEO and get some things sorted out. This should be a pretty strong commitment on the part of the County. This is costing him money. He made a good faith effort. If other bodies don't get their work done, the applicant shouldn't have to wait another six months or a year.”
Supervisor Pinches agreed. “We're nine months past the state-mandated time-line,” said Pinches. “This delay is not defensible.”
Planning and Building Director Ray Hall, he of the infamous in-box into which entire projects have disappeared, tried to defend the indefensible: “Frank [Lynch] has been the project coordinator on this,” said Hall. “We had difficulty with the traffic study. The traffic model had problems. There was no reason to go forward with the Ukiah Valley Area Plan model because there would have been no consistency. It took a lot longer than it should have. Mr. Stone never demanded a different traffic process. [It’s Mr. Stone’s fault?] My apologies. … It’s ironic that we are now talking about a problem that has since been resolved.”
Apparently the traffic study is now underway, 18 months after the application and nine months after the state-mandated deadline for completion had passed.
The developer, still managing to restrain himself, replied to Hall:
“Mr. Hall and Mr. Lynch are missing one slight thing. When we made our application we did every single study required and we used the traffic model in the UVAP. It was the best available traffic information, not the flawed model from the City of Ukiah. The County was supposed to use our model. It took care of all the supposed significant impacts. We addressed all potential impacts. But they threw them all out including the traffic impacts thus adding another $200,000 to the project. From day one we said we don't need an EIR. We could go forward with a mitigated negative declaration because [the site] has been planned for urban residential development for 25 years. Our plan is less of a build-out than the housing element in the General Plan anticipated. The traffic model which is now being used is based on less traffic than what we used. So we've over-mitigated our impacts based on future projections of growth. So there's no excuse by Planning for making the decisions they made.”
Board Chair Jim Wattenburger told Stone, “You can rest assured that this Board was looking toward an expedited process. I’m going to direct that the man to my right [Colfax] work with the CEO [Tom Mitchell at the time who never got around to anything, much less real projects] to resolve this situation in the most expeditious fashion possible.”
Of course, none of that happened. A year later in 2009 there was still no approved final traffic study. Then the Great Recession hit and the housing market collapsed and Mr. Stone gave up and moved to South America. And Garden’s Gate, whatever anyone thought of it, was dead.
Thanks to Ms. Warner’s question about Garden’s Gate last week, we got Mr. Schultz’s confirmation that it was still dead.
And now here comes poor Mr. Guillon of Chico, naively thinking that he can get a hundred or so mid-range homes built on a former vineyard north of Ukiah in an unincorporated area of Mendocino County.
Besides the complicated and onerous EIR process and all the studies that must be paid for and processed and reviewed and approved, Schultz made it clear that it’s now even harder to get projects going than it was back in 2009 when Mendo killed Garden’s Gate:
"Another difficulty developers have getting projects done here is the ag easement,” said Schultz. “That's adding [offset ag] acres there. So they have to go find an equivalent 23.59 acre site, similar soil, similar land, in Vineyard — not so easy. Everybody wants an ag easement on their vineyard. But they don't want it restricted. So how do you find that? We're working on that too. There are just a whole bunch of things they have to knock down before they can get to you [the Planning Commission] with their draft EIR and try to get your support for that project.”
In other words, according to Schultz, grape growers want tax breaks but they don’t want to offer anything in return, so it’s hard to find existing vineyard that’s not already in ag exemption status to offset the loss of vineyard (i.e., “ag”) involved in the Vineyard Crossing proposal.
"And then we are looking at affordable housing," said Warner.
"Yes, we will have affordable housing if they can ever bring it forward it will have affordable housing in it. And it will require a zoning change. And a general plan amendment. Talking about housing — we don't have water, we don't have a sewer system, we are concerned about our ag lands. The state expects you to get your housing element done. That will come forward soon. You'll start seeing drafts of that and be a part of that process to develop that. We have to do 1349 units in the unincorporated area. And the state threatens to take away your transportation funds if you don't make progress towards these objectives. They are getting more and more strident when cities or counties don't do anything to build housing. They are ratcheting down and forcing you to do things like accessory dwelling units. They're putting unfunded mandates on us. The housing elements will be harder and harder to get approved. It used to be you could just come up with some sites and it didn't need general plan or zoning; they just approved it. But now it has to be zoned, the general plan has to be in place. It will be interesting to see how we deal with this process. It's a new world. And no funding to subsidize these processes. They took that all away.”
Good luck, Mr. Guillon. With a lot of luck you might get your housing project approved before the next recession hits. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself moving to South America with Mr. Stone.