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Off the Record (January 15, 2020)

LINDY PETERS WRITES: Friday night I attended the special informational Town Hall [Fort Bragg] forum on the future of the OB/GYN program at our Hospital. The room was full of concerned citizens with folks standing in the back. We heard discouraging news. The Hospital continues to operate at a deficit. Discontinuing the OB/GYN services will substantially cut their losses. The speakers in attendance tended to disagree. There were many passionate speakers during public comment. They placed women’s health and the right to a safe birth in your own local hospital as more essential and important than the profit/loss statement could even begin to indicate. They asked the Hospital for tighter financial scrutiny and to perhaps look for cuts elsewhere in the budget. From what I understand, if there is a voter affirmed affiliation with Adventist Health, there will be a 60 day window period for the new affiliate and the Hospital Board to determine whether or not to continue the program or to morph into something else. But the tone of the Hospital presenters made it seem like it may be a foregone conclusion. I am hopeful that our medical professionals will sort this out. To me it is a quality of life issue. Our community will be encouraging young parents to have their children somewhere else and complicated births may become more life-threatening without a full range of OB services provided for support. The Board and Adventist Health, assuming they get affiliation approval, will make this decision jointly according to Board Member Steve Lund who spoke briefly on the topic just as the meeting was about to end. Nothing final yet.

JUDY VALADAO CLARIFIES: “Currently doctors are on call for births. No change there. Expectant Moms will be taken to a birthing room to deliver. No change there. Expectant Moms will not deliver in an ER bed or next to an ill person. No change there. Expectant Moms will have a person in attendance trained in child birth. No change there.

So what has changed? The door you walk through? Many expectant Moms choose to use out of the area hospitals to give birth. If a person chooses to deliver local, enter through the ER and the services are available. At risk births are planned for in advance and if MCDH can't handle it they are sent to another facility equipped to handle the situation. 

All these rumors that there will be no place for a person to give birth are only adding more stress to expectant Moms who don't need that added stress. Yes, there are lots of unanswered questions but let’s drop the scare tactics.”

JENNY SHATTUCK: “With approximately 50 births a year seems staffing a unit 300 or so extra days is not feasible. Many don’t understand that just because one is admitted through ER, they are not giving birth next to sick patients, but rather in a birthing room like currently set up. Not much changes. As it is, docs are on call for births.”

KAREN MATTSON ASKS: “With approximately 50 births a year seems staffing a unit 300 or so extra days is not feasible. Many don’t understand that just because one is admitted through ER, they are not giving birth next to sick patients, but rather in a birthing room like currently set up. Not much changes. As it is, docs are on call for births.”

MARK SCARAMELLA REPLIES: The Supes could redirect a sizable portion of the Bed Tax revenue to ambulances in the very short term if they wanted to. The $1-$2 mil that the County spends on “promotion” each year is wasted because Bed Tax revenue tracks very closely to Sales Tax revenue (i.e., overall retail activity) and has no correlation to promotional activity. In addition, tourism and wine both contribute to increased ambulance calls, yet no bed tax money goes to ambulances. But that would require touching the Third Rail of Mendo Politics: the wine-tourism juggernaut. In effect, Mendo is saying that useless wine-tourism promotion is more important than ambulance services.

I'M ALWAYS ANNOYED by these snooty media blurbs that claim stuff like, "Less than a third of registered American voters are able to correctly point to Iran on an unlabeled world map, a survey has shown." So what? That one-third figure still represents many millions who do know their geography. The “less than a third” figure was asserted by Morning Consult (whatever that is) and Politico after the assassination of Qassam Soleimani. One-third who can seems pretty darn good, certainly good enough to get a person on Jeopardy.

SAVVY GUY that I am, faced with a blank map of the world, it would take me at least an hour to puzzle it out, maybe longer, and a lot of the names of countries I came up with would probably be either wrong or antiquated, especially the 'stans,' those vague locales on the Eurasian Steppes somewhere around Afghanistan. Way back in my formative grade school years, we memorized the countries of the world, and even had to pass a civics test to get out of the 8th grade. We did a lot of memory work which, looking back, seems to have served this geezer pretty well, but which, I think, was long ago discarded by modern pedagogues as too consternating for little noggins.

THE SMART TRAIN has 148 employees to move an average of 1,125 people a day. That’s one employee for every 7.6 passengers. Those fortunate 148 receive $22,916,000 in salaries and benefits, which works out to $158,000 per employee. The heavily subsidized and obviously failing rail line has an annual budget of roughly $127 million, little of it derived from passengers. The solution? Contract train service out to the Chinese or Japanese who successfully run high speed trains more than a hundred miles beyond their population centers.

I DON'T KNOW anything more than the next reasonably well-informed captive, er, citizen of our crumbling republic, but Iran's counterattack after the assassination of their foremost terrorist was about all they could do given preponderance of might on the Trump end of the crisis. The on-line chatter assumed apocalypse, but the attack itself seemed not only pro-forma but our side obviously got a heads-up so nobody could get killed. And Generalissimo Bone Spurs, the toughest guy on the globe, got himself a re-election boost. If the Iranians were really looking for trouble, or the end of their world, they would have closed the Straits of Hormuz, lobbed big missiles into Israel, maybe wiped out the Saudi's oil production capacity. But realism seems to have prevailed among the mullahs, whose government is unpopular with their people to begin with, and they knew they'd be finished if they counter-attacked in any meaningful way. And then the mullahs shot down a commercial airliner! Presumably an accident, that atrocity may at last bring down their government.

THE LOCAL ANGLE: From Tuesday's San Francisco Examiner: “A duo that is notorious in transit and bicycling circles for efforts to block local bike lane projects is back in action. Attorney Mary Miles and car advocate Rob Anderson, who successfully tied up city bike lane plans for years with litigation, have filed an environmental challenge to the Page Street Bikeway Pilot that could potentially delay the project (They’re back: Frequent bike lane foes challenge Page Street project, Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez).

THE NOTORIOUS DUO are former AVA staffer Rob Anderson, and former AVA cartoonist Mary Miles of Potter Valley. They’ve teamed up to bedevil Frisco bicyclists, successfully suing The City to stop expansion of bike lanes, some of them anyway. Ms. Miles is now an attorney and a good one, it seems, having defeated San Francisco's city lawyers. Anderson labors as her para-legal.

AS I SETTLED in to watch the 49ers take on the Vikings, it occurred to me that I belong to an exclusive club — people who saw the 49ers play at Kezar, me in 1950 or so for the first time as a ten-year-old. Then it was out to Candlestick and then to Santa Clara, a place so far from San Francisco I didn't know if it lay before Palo Alto or after on Highway 101. Not that I care because, even with the offer of a free ticket, I wasn't about to devote an entire day and part of an evening getting in and outta there, wherever it is. I'd also vowed to stop watching pro football when the NFL went to special timeouts for advertising, thus disrupting the flow of the game. But here I am with the rest of the Bay Area's frontrunners looking forward to Sunday's game via television, having finally figured out that it's possible to tape the game then, instead of tuning in at 1:30, tuning in at 3:30 to fast-forward past the commercials.

MY OWN FOOTBALL career ended with high school where, tall and skinny and slow, I didn't fit anywhere so they put me at center where I took a regular beating whenever the coach — there was only one in those days — decided there was nothing left to lose. But he, a math teacher named Dick Miller, did give me an occasional shot at gridiron glory at quarterback because I could throw a football farther than the regular qb. The idea was that the fastest guy on the team, Freddie Thomas, a state finalist in the sprints, would "streak" downfield from his half-back position and I would heave the ball as far as I could in his general direction. We tried it several times, never once connecting or even coming close. My preferred sport was baseball, which we played year-round in San Francisco's semi-pro leagues between the winter rains. Basketball? Played a little in junior college but not in high school because I didn't like the high school coach, whose name I can't remember other than recalling that for some adolescent reason he annoyed me more than I'm sure I annoyed him.

THE BITTER IRONY in the murder of 77-year-old Jim Cummings in August of 1997 (apart from the irony of being murdered at an advanced age) is that Cummings had been quite kind to both the accused killer and the accused killer’s family over a period of many years. Cummings, ruthless in his business dealings, had a soft spot for derelicts and the miscellaneous walking wounded, many of whom found shelter in Cummings’ Cannery Row-like complex at Noyo Harbor. Cummings’ assassin, William Alton Vargas, Jr. then 45, had been employed by Cummings to do odd jobs around Noyo in exchange for rent and walking around money. Twenty-three years later Vargas is still incarcerated at Napa State Hospital where he is supposedly being restored to sanity, or enough sanity to stand trial for Cummings' murder.

PERSONAL NOTE: Having corresponded with Vargas for many years, he's the only crazy person among my epistolary acquaintances who writes well, so well it makes me wonder, How nuts can this guy be? People writing from the bin are typically incoherent, in my experience anyway. Vargas was deep into methamphetamine when he shot Cummings, meaning he was in a state of altered consciousness that often doesn't carry over into life without the drug, at least that seems to be the case with the small army of post-tweek Mendo meth heads who've regained themselves after years on the white powders.

IN HIS LETTERS to Boonville, Vargas has mentioned another Mendo guy, Joe Mannix, who is held in the same unit as Vargas. Joe grew up in Boonville. I knew him as a kid, remember how much he enjoyed playing basketball. But he got into marijuana at an early age and, as so often happens, it seems to have triggered adult schizophrenia in Joe, and he became dangerously unhinged, once stealing a small plane from SF International and steering it into nearby San Bruno Mountain. (Joe learned to fly in the flight class then offered at Boonville High School.) Another time he miraculously landed a Cessna on a cliff outcropping on the east side of the Anderson Valley almost directly opposite central Boonville, the marooned plane a sight we all marveled at for weeks. Joe also threatened to do a kamikaze into the high school gym when it was full of people. And then he was shut away, apparently forever. Vargas wrote that they keep Joe in a drugged stupor at Napa, and you have to wonder if the chemical healers make any real effort to bring Joe back. 

DEVELOPERS have coveted Noyo Harbor for years, envisioning a tourist trap similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. With Cummings gone, and his tangled affairs involved in a lengthy probate, the wolves circled but soon roosted, and broadly considered the Harbor looks pretty much as it did when Cummings dominated it. He owned property up and down the Coast valued, some say, at perhaps as much as $25 to $50 million but, when all was settled, came in at about $10 million. In addition to his extremely valuable holdings at Noyo, Cummings owned most of Chapman Point overlooking the Mendocino Headlands, not to mention other parcels up and down the Coast. Some of the properties are under his given name of Boyle, some under Cummings, the name of his stepfather. Bob Peterson, the Fort Bragg attorney, was executor of the Cummings estate. A baby Brinks — an armored SUV-like vehicle — was needed to haul off Cummings' cash, gold coins, and various antiques from his modest, elevated (for high waters) home. A pair of accountants tabulated the treasure.

CUMMINGS was married several times, his last connubial contract being to a Brazilian immigrant he’d hired to assist him recuperate after an automobile accident near Yorkville. His wife was not with him on his last night; she lived at another address. Cummings has two teenage children from his marriage to a much younger Fort Bragg woman, Aura Johansen, a scandal of sorts at the time because Ms. Johansen was a teenager when Cummings took up with her.

MS. JOHANSEN and the two Cummings heirs made the national news a few years after Cummings death when mom, a recovering drug addict, was falsely arrested by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department and charged with possession of black tar heroin. The black tar heroin turned out to be a batch of popcorn balls mom was making, prompting unkind community speculation about the abilities of police officers to distinguish dope from a jam sandwich. Ms. Johansen had been videotaped by her son allegedly in the act of doing drugs. The son went to the police with the claim that his surveillance showed that Mom was supplying drugs to her young daughter, all of which turned out to be untrue but provided much grist for the national talk show moralists for about a week. 

THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, by the way, described Cummings’ accused killer as being “highly educated” because, in a stormy court case with his former wife, Vargas had deployed the word, “uxorious” to describe himself, presumably. The defendant is highly educated for sure given the quality of his correspondence, but probably not in the formal college sense, whatever "educated" means anymore, college or no college.

VARGAS has admitted that he went to Cummings home at Noyo shortly after midnight on a Wednesday of August 1997 where he tossed a small bomb up on Cummings deck to lure to lure the old man outside, then shot Cummings when Cummings appeared on his porch with a pistol. Vargas’ usufructuary plan seems to have worked in that he shot Cummings before Cummings could shoot him, dispatching Cummings with an odd handgun outfitted with a can't miss night scope.

FOLLOWING his father's death, Jim Jr., at the time only 17, soon alleged that his father's trust was being looted by its trustees. Junior spent several unhappy years in litigation with the managers of his late father’s bequest, finally settling with them and moving first to Texas with his wife, the former Amber Brown, also of Fort Bragg, and then to Bangor, Maine. (Cummings' trust managers hired past and present girl friends to perform nebulous to non-existent tasks, enjoyed expensive meals on the trust's tab and so on. Junior wasn't particularly wrong about that.)

IN 2009, Cummings Jr., 29, was shot to death by Amber, then 31, in the couple's home in Bangor, Maine; the couple's 9-year-old home-schooled daughter was present. Police attributed the shooting to "domestic violence," implying that Mrs. Cummings was defending herself when she shot her husband. She was described by neighbors and acquaintances as a "quiet" and "very pleasant lady." Jim Jr. was described as "a fat loud mouth with a Napoleon complex."

CUMMINGS JR. had earlier come to national attention when he was arrested in Bangor for possessing bomb-making materials, and threatening to blow up President Obama's inauguration.

THE BANGOR DAILY NEWS, in an account by Walter Griffin, says that Cummings bullied Amber, that she "cowered" in his presence. “It didn’t shock me at all when I heard about it,” said Mike Robbins, who spent a month painting and roofing the Cummings home last summer. “He was a very angry person and was verbally abusive to his wife all the time.” Robbins described Cummings as a heavyset man who liked to walk around his house wearing a cowboy hat and an ankle-length black leather coat. He said Cummings would often sit outside on a lawn chair and watch him work and make disparaging comments. He said Cummings had a mean streak and was particularly abusive toward his wife. Robbins said Cummings also spoke about how he “really liked the Nazis” and claimed to have a large collection of Nazi memorabilia, including pieces of Hitler’s silverware and place settings.

Jim Cummings Jr.

ANOTHER CONTRACTOR who worked on the Cummings' Maine house had similar recollections. The man declined to be identified because he was preparing legal action against Cummings’ estate because of unpaid work. He said he and Cummings disagreed about the work he performed and that he decided to walk away without getting paid because of Cummings’ explosive personality. “Normally I’d go after payment, but in this case I walked away. He was absolutely the worst customer I ever had,” the unnamed man said. “I just perceived that the guy was dangerous and capable of real violence. I was afraid of the guy. He talked all the time about guns, one of those guys that would let you know he had guns.” He added that “this guy was a huge fan of Adolf Hitler; he had silverware and dinner sets Hitler used.” He described Cummings as “verbally abusive to his wife and just about everybody."

AMBER CUMMINGS plead guilty in 2010 to manslaughter for shooting Cummings Jr. and received an eight-year suspended sentence. The legal proceedings revealed that Amber and her now 10-year-old daughter, Claira, had been subjected to years of emotional and physical violence at the hands of James Cummings Jr. [Her story: No Way Out: The True Story of Amber Cummings

VARGAS wrote the following letter to the AVA in December of 2001



I just returned to Ukiah from Napa State Hospital for a court hearing and this young man in the jail, Tai Abreu, who grew up in Noyo Harbor, shows me this story titled “Sgt. John Naulty the ideal street sergeant,” by Neil Boyle, which contained two paragraphs regarding Sgt. Naulty’s role in the July 1997 death of Jim Cummings. 

There was mention of officer Naulty having a “sixth sense.” First of all, a deputy sheriff arrived at Mr. Cummings’ residence minutes after the attack who testified at the preliminary hearing as to Mr. Cummings’ possessing a loaded .38-caliber revolver. My point being it’s doubtful Officer Naulty was the first to respond. 

Second, the fuse found on the front seat of my car was not left there by me, to my knowledge, nor was the cotton for bomb making found in my trunk later at the Sheriff’s station by Sheriff’s Detective Jay Miller put there by me. But I agree how officer Naulty deserved credit for this. 

Third, I was never hiding under the fuel dock watching them (the police) and I never dumped the gun in the river. I understand how Officer Naulty was, or could be, misinformed, but to assume I came out because he and his men made a scene about leaving is half-logical and false. The fact is that I was near the south end of the piers and, having decided to wait until daylight to emerge, fell asleep. At my trailer, I let Detective Miller inside to look, then agreed to drive up to the station with him, where I was detained and agreed to be questioned by him. 

Fourth, and for what it’s worth, I was never arrested by Sgt. Naulty. That can be checked in police records. My question and concern is why did such a good cop claim something which isn’t true? Or was it simply an exaggeration or honest mistake? I’m the one with the certified mental illness and delusional beliefs, after all. 

William Vargas


RECOMMENDED READING: "Families, A Pictorial History of Round Valley, 1864 to 1938, A Project of The Friends of Round Valley Public Library, Covelo, California." Anyone interested in the history of Mendocino County will want to have a copy of this very nicely produced book which, apart from its copious and fascinating collection of photos of early Covelo and its residents, also contains many passages from memoirs and newspapers of the time, which illuminate the history of a very small place with a very big history. The book has been steered to completion by Elmer Bauer and Floyd Barney, Covelo old timers whose roots go back almost to the middle of the last century when the first white slavers and outlaws — since upgraded to pioneer and explorer status — stumbled into Round Valley. I was especially fascinated by excerpts taken from the memories of Judson Liftchild, Covelo’s first doctor who seems to have arrived in town in the 1880s. Of a time when educated people not only were expected to be able to write and talk, Liftchild, as many educated people of the time, wrote in a vivid prose which, like no other I’ve read on local history, enables us to feel what it was like in this unique, and uniquely volatile little community in eastern Mendocino County in the last quarter of the 19th century. 

“CARTER ROHRBAUGH was the opposition lawyer and indulged in a number of sallies at my expense, in what I thought was rather poor taste, and I resorted to a little sarcasm myself, to the great enjoyment of the spectators, who always expected to be entertained whenever Judge Redwine’s court was in session. To my client’s surprise, as well as my own, as I really believe he was guilty, he was acquitted by the jury and Brad was returned to society, his remaining period of existence being spent in getting drunk and sobering up again. Poor Carter died under mysterious circumstances several years ago, having been shot while riding home one night. It was probably accidental, as he was too passive a character to incur enemies and passed through life as easily as possible, being satisfied with plenty of smoking materials and a book. He received an excellent education but lacked initiative. And there was little in Round Valley to stir his ambition, so he found refuge among his books, becoming a sort of literary hermit.” 

BAUER AND BARNEY have made a large contribution to County history with this wonderful book, which is available from, and whose proceeds go to support, the Round Valley Public Library, P.O. Box 620, Covelo, Ca 95428. $41.04 per soft cover copy including postage and handling. 


[1 Human brains have not evolved with the foresight of cinema so when the average person sees a famous actor who played a superhero in his or her last role, they respond in a manner that is akin to actually seeing and meeting the superhero who saved the world. This orgiastic adoration bestowed on celebrities coupled with the wealth that they accrue turns them into our society’s royal class. It is difficult then, for some celebrities not to succumb to a sense of narcissistic grandiosity: “I am a wealthy actor who is worshiped by millions of fans. Surely, my uninformed opinion on issues that I know next to nothing about is profound. Hey members of the peasant class, let me lecture to you in a patronizing and condescending way about why you are immoral scum. I will guide you about whom to vote for, what to eat, and how to navigate through daily life because I play pretend on a screen.” Then Ricky Gervais happens. He steps into the room and smashes celebrities’ privileged safe spaces. They are not used to being called out, let alone from one of their “own.” After all, Gervais is a world-famous celebrity in his own right, so he is part of the ecosystem of grand pretenders, and yet he possesses the fortitude to call out their moral hypocrisy, baffling ignorance, stifling herd mentality, and nauseating virtue signaling. He does not suffer fools gladly. Gervais stares at these pampered, narcissistic, and self-indulgent ignoramuses and tells them what millions of people are thinking, and he does it with spicy humor. Throughout history, great satirists have used their rhetorical abilities to challenge the powerful. Gervais is the latest instantiation of this long tradition: Namely, he uses his comedic talent to mock an out-of-touch elite class of professional fakers.

[2] HOMELESSNESS: I believe Martin v. Boise requires that the homeless be offered a place to sleep. It seems there are many laws from zoning open fires, etc.) to "no day camping" to "no use of tent outside designated campgrounds" which the BOS could enforce. I think the real issue is that jail is expensive and doesn't solve the problem. They should set up camp grounds, start processing people and determine where they should go. If a person has a job, help them find housing and give a housing subsidy. If a person is mentally ill, get them into a stable, mental services environment. If they are on parole, they need transitional housing. All of this should be tracked in a state or 9th circuit database so government officials can see A) what causes homelessness, B) what services are needed and C) who has received what in terms of tax-payer funded services. In that way, someone can't turn around and sue because they've either been offered and/or received service and it's been documented. In addition, I would suspect that a certain portion living on the JRT already receive benefits whether it be SSI, disability or unemployment. In a sanctioned camp, a counselor could assess what money the person already receives and if they could potentially afford their own housing in a shared-house, an official campsite or RV park or in a less expensive area. The real issue is that California and the other 9th Circuits states are being forced to provide a social safety net for the country. 25% of the nation's homeless live in California. In Sonoma County, there are 3,000 homeless people. In comparisons, there are 639 in the entire state of Wyoming. Wyoming's GDP is $34.4 billion. Sonoma County's $26.3 billion. In this scenario, when someone in Sonoma County pays their state and local taxes, a portion of it goes to provide social safety net services for the 3000 homeless people living in their county. A Sonoma County resident also pays federal taxes; federal programs are supposed to pay for the common social safety net. In this way, Californian's end up with a portion of their local taxes going towards programs which do not directly benefit them in the same way that funding for public schools, well-maintained parks, good roadways, public transportation creates a common community benefit. If we have to pay to service the needs of the country's homeless, we won't have money to run our state or our local governments. The ability to fund our infrastructure and public sphere is going to be impaired if we are also required to fund services for all the homeless people that live in California. The 9th circuit ruling does not have any financial limits on it; theoretically if every homeless person in the US moved to California, we'd be required to shelter them. That's going to drive a death nail into California's heart.

[3] So my toaster finally died. I went on Amazon to order a new one. There’s a shitload of toaster manufacturers. I found that the vast majority of them are in China. Curious, I began reading reviews from actual purchasers. It seems the China-made toasters look sharp, some even work well, but the one thing they have in common is they last only for a year or two. In contrast, I went to another site that sold refurbished American-made toasters from 100 years ago; they still work.

Toaster sales are a very minor fact of life, but my two points are that this is an example of how far we have fallen, and how we are consistently willing to put up with inferior quality. It shows in our politicians, too.

One Comment

  1. Frances Tompkins May 13, 2021

    I am the mother of William Alton Vargas. My husband Tim and I met with Bruce Anderson a few years ago in his Boonville office; he liked Bill’s writing style and content. I now have Billy’s writings that he sent to me over the last two years, more than four thousand pages, an entire file drawer dated and organized. If you are interested, I will email a copy of his introduction to the autobiography. Let me know the email address.

    Frances Tompkins
    PO Box 135
    San Juan Bautista, California,95045
    Home 831.623.4259 / Cell 408-691-8772

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