Before the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors got down to the equivalent of a bake sale on the Titanic's poop deck last Tuesday, a group of gray-haired Ukiahans made their case that Mendo should seriously consider a rent control ordinance for trailer parks, a plea that deserves the support of every fair-minded person in the County.
“Trailer space rentals are out of control,” said Dorothy Wheeler, a resident of Lake Mendocino Mobile Home Estates. “In the last ten years space rental has doubled. This year it increased $50 more. We now pay between $638 and $680 a month just for the space underneath our homes. SSI checks have remained the same for the last two years. Some Seniors will be forced to leave their purchased homes if the increases continue at the current rate. They moved [to this park] to simply live out their lives, but have fallen captive to corporate greed. We have only two options: pay or leave our homes. We are being stripped of what we have earned and our dignity. We need assistance. We ask you to consider a rent control ordinance as the City of Ukiah has done. Please put an ordinance on next meeting agenda.”
Donald Howard agreed. “We need some semblance of protection. These increases have become an unbearable burden on manufactured home owners in the park. These are not mobile homes. They are anything but mobile. I’ve never seen one moved. Residents are captive to the monthly rents that are freely imposed by the park owner — in this case, the Leasing Management Company. A rent stabilization ordinance like those in other cities and counties would help. Our Park is leased by a leasing company for the purpose of providing a guaranteed profit for the leasing company. The leasing company gets guaranteed profit by imposing rents that include all expenses, both operational and capital, plus profit. If expenses increase one year over the previous year, so do the rents. The leasing company bears no cost. So there’s no incentive to control expenses. The renters pay all these expenses, but we get no information regarding the expenses that they say they pay for. So senior citizens are in a particular bind and need some protection. We have limited income and increasing rents and we have no means of moving the home. The only option is selling. But selling these days, even if it’s possible, results in insufficient money to live elsewhere.”
Joan Costos offered her own numbers. “I’m 72 and I’m desperate. I get $1230 per month in SSI and it has not gone up lately, plus $200 a month from other retirement plans. This month my space rent went up to $648, an 8% increase over last year. So there’s very little left over to pay supplemental health insurance at $205/month and PG&E and the Waste Management bill and car insurance and home insurance and gas, and food and all those things. I’m frightened. I’m running out of options. I have exhausted my meager savings to pay my latest auto insurance bill which is mandatory. If it keeps going up this way, in seven years we’ll be paying over $1,000 a month. Some of my neighbors already need to leave because they can’t afford the rent. But people can’t sell because the space rent is so high. So the choices are stay and go steadily into debt or just walk away and lose everything. We need rent control before it’s too late.”
Several other seniors offered similar testimony.
Supervisor John Pinches agreed that the subject should be on an upcoming agenda.
But Supervisor John McCowen, former Ukiah City Councilman, cautioned everyone about what to expect. “I support putting this on our agenda. But I don’t want to give people false hope. The Ukiah situation is very different. They had redevelopment money to pay for it. The County has no ability to fund it other than General Fund [which is already in serious debt]. And even though Ukiah adopted an ordinance, the park you’re complaining about is in the city limits. So it’s not clear that the County has a simple solution. I wish we did. But I support putting it on the agenda.”
McCowen seems to be saying that rent control nowadays only means having the government pay part of the usurious rents and lease agreements the lucky few can charge for pieces of ground large enough to accommodate an old person's final home. In the past, rent control involved a sort of arbitration process where, if a landlord wants to raise rents more than, say, the cost of living index, they have to bring in their books and convince an independent officer that they really have increased costs.
County Counsel Jeanine Nadel offered to “dust off” her old package of rent control legal materials from a few years ago when Mendo made a previous feeble attempt at looking into the matter. The renters are obviously in need of some kind of rent limitation, but asking official Mendo to do something about it these days indicates they haven’t been following the Board of Supervisors much lately.
Supervisors Brown, Smith and Hamburg said nothing in response to the senior's pleas, undoubtedly the first of many pleas as the Bi-Partisan Axis throws the most vulnerable members of our society over the side so they can “bail out” the crooked bankers and miscellaneous high finance swindlers who fund both political parties.
* * *
The Board spent almost an hour Tuesday discussing a long-delayed logging of a small parcel of County-owned timberland surrounding the Little River Airport.
UC Forestry Extension Advisor Greg Giusti told the Board that much of the paperwork was already in place but that “a lot more work is still to be done” on the Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) for the 57-acre area.
Giusti said the FAA still has to approve the logging, there has to be a public tour of the site, and a forester and a logging outfit has to be selected.
Then there’s the timber “market volatility.”
Like, dude, check the log prices these days.
“The redwood market has dropped about $200 per thousand board feet (mbf),” said Giusti. “Doug fir is stable at $450 to $500 per mbf which is relatively strong. But this could change. You should not decide until the time is right. The process is moving smoothly, but the market is hard to predict.”
Pinches, a rancher who has done some logging himself, having absorbed Giusti's remarks that the prep work would cost an additional $30k and the job might bring in $100k gross, immediately proposed dropping the project.
“If we’re going to spend 30% of our estimated value on this I think we ought to just drop this whole proposal. That’s way outtaline. I was thinking around maybe $8-10k. You said there’s no problem with marbled murrelets or spotted owls. That’s the main hold-up there. The Doug fir market you mentioned was $400-$450 per mbf. That’s only the Chinese market and that’s only the first segment. What do you do with the rest of your segments? You go up to Eureka right now and they’re on the deck. They got a whole big stack of logs that they culled. They’re not culls, but they would not accept them. So the logger or owner of the timber has the option to send a truck and come get them or to sell them to a neighboring mill right there and Schmidbauer’s [mill in Eureka] only paying $200 (per mbf) for them. So your fir market is still pretty rock bottom. They’re paying $325 for it at other places in Humboldt County. That’s the closest fir market. That pretty much covers logging and transportation. You get nothing for the wood. If the redwood market has slipped so much… these administrative costs of getting it ready… That’s one of the fallacies of the NTMP. You spend a lot of money getting ready to log. Then no, you’re still susceptible to all this new stuff going on and on and on. If we really want to go forward with this, we should get a bid on the price of the wood first and see if we want to spend the money to get it ready instead of spending all this money up front and then seeing what the price is. We’re kinda doing it ass-backwards. But with these numbers, let it grow another couple years. I’d like to see the job go forward to create jobs and help our general fund, but if we’re going to spend 30% on admin costs to sell $100k worth of wood that’s not in the best interests of the taxpayers of Mendocino County.”
Giusti said it might still be advisable to finish the paperwork and be ready when the market improves.
Pinches wasn’t convinced.
“If we spend the $30k now and hire this forester to get it ready and we don’t decide to log and you wait, say, two or three years, you know, that’s the problem with an NTMP, that doesn’t mean it’s ready again. Then you reset the clock and go back and do all the surveys again. That’s 30% of your revenues on administrative cost. If price of the wood went up to $300k, then all of a sudden your administrative costs are down to 10%. It’s these numbers. I just don’t know. I was all for it because I thought the markets were going to be better. But they’re not. I just don’t think this is the time. It’s an asset we want to maximize and at these numbers we’re just giving it away.”
McCowen asked, “We have not selected the forester?
Giusti: “The contract has not been let yet.”
McCowen: “We have a letter from another forester who’s under the impression that it’s a done deal and we’ve already selected who we’re going to make the contract with.”
McCowen was referring to a letter from Westport forester Tom Lisiuk pointing out that the forester Giusti had already been working with on the paperwork meant the job was wired for this guy although the contract had not yet been formally awarded.
Giusti: “I can’t address that. I’m not involved in that.”
By “that,” Giusti was referring to the contracting process which, true, was not complete.
McCowen: “And [Lisiuk] further makes the point that we would be going with not the most economical approach nor the most experienced. Whoever it is that he thinks is lined up for the contract, he [Lisiuk] says has no experience with NTMPs. And has never administered a timber harvest operation.”
CEO Carmel Angelo interrupted: “Supervisor McCowen, we are still in the process. So we can’t publicly speak to this. I realize we have received a couple of letters on this. But as Mr. Giusti said, we have not let a contract. We’re still in this process and it really is not an item we can discuss here.”
McCowen: “But we issued an RFP and we have responses to it?”
Angelo: “We issued a request for qualifications and we had responses, yes. We are still in that process. But it has not yet been completed.”
Pinches: “We have not allocated any funds for this project yet, right?”
Angelo: “We have not let a contract obligating funds at this point.”
Pinches: “We have not obligated any expenditure of funds for this project?”
Angelo: “Not at this time.”
McCowen: “So the board could still take action in line with Supervisor Pinches’ recommendation?”
Angelo: “You can today give the Executive Office direction to stop the process and revisit it either this year or next year.”
McCowen: “I would defer to Supervisor Pinches’ experience with the timber market. It does sound like the administrative costs for this are high for the return we would get. Unless we were certain we could go forward on this in a year or so, the odds are we could spend the money up front and wind up losing the whole amount and wind up going through all the hoops again. Correct?”
Pinches: “The timber market is different than pears or grapes or land. If you don’t harvest it when it’s ready, it doesn’t just wilt away and die on you. It’s just going to be more next year.”
McCowen: “Fir will age, right?”
Pinches: “It’ll age, but actually the bigger it grows in diameter, both fir and redwood are worth more money, so your value just keeps going up. That’s why timber is a good investment. You not only get it on the growth, the bigger diameter you get a step up in the price. But I just don’t think the return… I just think we should hold off until administrative costs are going to be in the 10% range instead of the 30% range.”
Supervisor Dan Hamburg asked Giusti, “Isn’t it true that as my colleagues have pointed out, that if you do all this preparatory work too early you may have to repeat it before you get down to harvesting the timber?”
Giusti: “You have a window of time. Perhaps a year or two. Beyond that it might get a little iffy. I couldn’t sit here and say let’s go ahead and do it and we’ll wait three years, that’s too much time. Certainly 12-18 months I’m comfortable with. But beyond that, I’d be a little uneasy.”
Hamburg: “Your advice today is that we move forward with the preparatory work with anticipation that within the next 24 months we’d be doing the harvest?”
Giusti: “This tract is not in a forester’s stable of clients. It’s very difficult to get this thing going. It takes a lot of effort. My concern is how much time and effort and cost it takes. The fact that we’ve actually got some momentum here, that’s why I’m suggesting we move forward and continue on the path you’re on.”
Hamburg: “Does it make sense to you, given the economics of forestry, to spend $30k to make $70k?”
Giusti: “I know you’re leaving money on the table.”
Hamburg: “How much?”
Giusti: “That depends on how much redwood goes up. Ideally, if redwood goes up to $900 and the fir stays at $500, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table if you cut it at $700 — if we can sell it.”
Hamburg: “And you still recommend we go forward and get into the stance where we’re ready?
Giusti: “I want to put you in a position that you’re ready to react when the market improves. … But just so everybody is clear, if we stop this process, to get it started again, there’s an inertia that has to be built up because it’s not in somebody’s stable because they’ve been tracking it along the way. We start from scratch. Certainly the botanical survey’s good for a couple years. Bird surveys mean running out there two mornings and getting it done. We’ve got the assessment about the murrelets and the owls. For an extended period of time, those are gonna hold. The botanical holds up to five years.”
Hamburg: “What’s the main thing that doesn’t hold?
Supervisor Carre Brown laughingly inserted, “Prices.”
Hamburg asked again: “What’s the main thing?”
Giusti: “Increased cost of administration. Just hourly rates. The process is not going to get cheaper. The act of hiring a consultant over time is not going to get cheaper. The cost of putting this together in 1994 was $14,400. Now we’re just talking about bringing somebody to freshen it up and it’s doubled. That’s the one constant, fuel goes up, logging costs escalate, there’s going to be a cost associated whenever we move forward.”
John Sakowicz took the floor to read Mr. Kisiuk’s letter into the record. Kisiuk wrote that the County had selected a forester who had never written an approved NTMP or administered a Notice of Timber Operations or Harvest Plan. “The forester is not experienced nor the most economical choice. Perhaps the competition was not to hire the most experienced or most economical forester, but to hire a colleague of the county’s extension forester who, like the winning candidate, has never written an approved timber harvest plan or administered an NTO. … I wonder if more valuable contracts are awarded based on personal relationships rather than producing the best result for the client, the Mendocino County taxpayers.”
Supervisor Brown referred vaguely to “another letter” which was not part of the publicly posted agenda package.
Chair Smith: “The CEO has already clarified that the process is still under consideration and that there has been no decision.”
McCowen: “I can’t say I’m confident we’re going to see a turnaround in the economy in the next 12-18 months. The County owns this timberland because it owns the airport. Private timberland borders it. We’ve been looking at other surplus property the County has, so provided we put a conservation easement on it to make sure there would be no development which would interfere with potential airport operations, I think we should consider selling a portion of this property and let the companies that are in the timber business be in the timber business and we can be in the airport business.”
Pinches: “That’s an option to be looked at. But for this timber harvest sale, the price for fir logs in Humboldt County is going to be negative. That means you’d have to subsidize what you’d normally make on the redwoods to pay it to get the fir delivered so it would bring down your price of redwood even further. You’ll lose money on harvesting the fir. In 1973 I had Jim Little do a timber harvest plan for me for a half of beef.”
Brown: “They were only three pages.”
Pinches: “Nobody looked at them. They didn’t know what they were reading anyway. And you logged! And you know what? You log the same way right now that you did in those days. You stay out of streams and everything, the same protections were there. You’ve added all this bureaucracy. And you wonder why our timber industry… We can’t compete with Canada and other states and why we’ve lost the job market and everything. But that’s where we are. But timing’s everything. I appreciate Greg’s work on this so far, but that’s kinda what happens. If you do get a tick up, it’ll be in the spring when construction starts. We didn’t have a tick up, so going into the fall it’ll just get worse. I’m not so sure it was a great opportunity in the first place. But leave it sit. The timber’s there. When we get ready to do it we’ll have to spend some money to upgrade our NTMP but hopefully we’ll do it when we have more of a net dollar than we have here. To pay 30% of your cost upfront is nuts. It’s not good business sense. The idea of offering it as a tract to timber companies with a conservation easement is very interesting. That should be explored. We’ve proven we’re not good about being in the timber business here. I move to put this on hold and find another way of making that $100k in our budget.”
Giusti told Board Chair Kendall Smith that the stand includes “a percentage of trees with symptoms of internal disease which is not unusual in a stand of fir that’s 90-100 years old. … Maybe a third of a log is rotten and would be left in woods for ecological reasons. To make the stand thrive, this property could benefit from active management whether it’s today or three years. It’s not that big a difference.”
After some more minor discussion about the budgetary impact of not having the estimated $70k of revenue, the Board voted unanimously to postpone the logging project indefinitely.
* * *
Curious about Westport RPF Tom Kisiuk’s letter, we called Kisiuk last Friday after listening to the Board discussion and asked him what was behind his letter.
“I have nothing against anyone involved in this project,” emphasized Kisiuk. “But their numbers are just wrong. I’m working a much bigger NTMP for a client right now and it won’t cost anywhere near $30,000. That would be half my gross salary for a year and there’s no way this rather small job would take six months of my time — especially since a lot of the prep work has already been done.”
Kisiuk also disagreed about the potential value of the timber. “Using their own estimates for the price they can get, plus my estimate of how much timber they can log, I’d say they should be able to sell it for at least $200,000,” said Kisiuk, “even after discounting that maybe a third of the fir would be culled.”
Kisiuk added that he suspects that the people involved in the project so far don’t have enough experience with NTMPs and therefore they overestimated the paperwork cost and underestimated the value of the timber. Kisiuk said he hopes that the County takes another look at the project and the numbers because, these days, the local timber industry could use every job they can get and the County can use every dollar it can get.
At Supervisor Hamburg’s request, Mr. Giusti updated the Board on SOD (Sudden Oak Death). Giusti said they have “not really determined the cause.” Giusti added that the centers of SOD in Mendocino County are from Yorkville, through Boonville, and up Peachland Road. “There have been isolated outbreaks in Little River Park. McKerricher tanoaks are riddled with SOD. Hendy Woods is a confirmed site. Mailliard Redwood Reserve is a confirmed site. Peachland Road has several properties that are heavily infested with it.” Giusti added that SOD has also been found in Santa Cruz County, Marin County, and Santa Clara. “Occidental has been heavily hit. There’s a smaller outbreak in Southern Humboldt. And another pocket in Curry County, Oregon. It’s very localized and spotty. No one knows why. We have not seen the rapid spread people feared. But it can be intense.”
Mr. Giusti may have answered his own question about what causes sudden oak death. Let’s see: Anderson Valley, Little River, Santa Cruz, Marin, Santa Clara, Occidental, Southern Humboldt, Curry County…
Aha! The cause of sudden oak death is high concentrations of liberals!
* * *
The County approved giving the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance another $300k next year for their nebulous “promotional” activities. Mendocino Lodging Association President Scott Schnieder burbled-gurbled to the Board about the wonderful work he and his “team” are doing in reminding the six million people of the Greater Bay Area that a hundred miles north of them lies America's intoxicant capitol. Stoner County also has redwood trees and a visible ocean to its immediate west. Schnieder told the pre-sold Board that “the partnership really pays off.”
Supervisor Carre Brown, who has definite rube tendencies, explained why she thought the $300k was a great idea. “The KGO ads are really fun,” she said. “It attracts Bay Area people. I’ve noticed in several county newspapers [i.e., the AVA and nowhere else] the $300k — there’s criticism of that. But I think it’s very well spent and it benefits mostly our coastal area. But the promotion — that benefits the whole county. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.”
Hamburg of course agreed. “We put lots of money into the Business Improvement District [the name of the funding apparatus segment of the Promotional Alliance]. It’s important to me because there are so many of these businesses in my district [laughs], and they are getting along on what the contract should say and that everyone feels confident that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Names! The right direction of what?