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Off The Record

OPERATION FULL COURT PRESS, the multi-agency, three-week-long pot raid on the Mendocino National Forest was, insiders say, “pretty much a big dog and pony show. Not much in the way of serious arrests. We probably temporarily scared away a lot of growers and by removing a certain amount of infrastructure we probably disrupted a lot of growing operations. But it's hard to quantify the effects. I would imagine that many of the growers will simply move their operations somewhere else if they haven't already. But the grow sites really do get trashed. They make the worst logging jobs look good.”

THE MARIJUANA LAWS are now so many and so contradictory, and so many people depend on pot for their livings, that a perfect entropy seems to have been achieved. State and local laws permit the industry in more or less limited form, depending entirely on county policies, while the feds remain zero tolerance, meaning that raids and “interdictions” at all levels of government by all manner of police agencies remain crucial to keeping prices high enough to draw ever more persons to the production side of the business. And there’s the irony. The numbers of persons on both sides of the law making their livings from marijuana is now so large that there’s a huge built-in resistance to legalization, the only possible way to eliminate the arbitrariness of marijuana enforcement.

AND PURELY ARBITRARY arrests and sentencing continue as the love drug norm. Prominent pot people are especially imperiled, as the case of the legendary Lake County grower, Eddie Lepp, makes clear. Eddie did a huge in-yer-facer grow visible from Highway 20 for which he is paying with 10 years of his life in the federal pen while the more furtive gun boys of the industry grow just as much on public and private land but go unapprehended and, when they are apprehended, either often go unprosecuted or unsuccessfully prosecuted. The idealists of the marijuana movement like Eddie Lepp are the easy targets, and the feds don’t hesitate to target them because they’re so easy to take down.

DAN HAMBURG on the Mendo Coast listserve: “I did not and do not oppose Full Court Press, but if you read Carole Brodsky's article (in the AVA) you'll see that the funding for this effort and future like efforts is sketchy. For example, you may have heard that the state is discontinuing their Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) due to lack of money. I was told by John De Luca, State Parks Peace Officer Superintendent for the Mendocino District, that due to lack of officers in our county's state parks, marijuana growers are setting up shop there. My point at last Tuesday's board meeting was not to oppose Full Court Press, but to state the obvious (at least to me) that the war on drugs, and particularly the war on marijuana, is “unwinnable” (like most wars the US blunders into these days). It's fine to “clean out the national forest” but the problem will just move elsewhere. I find Rep. Thompson and other federal officials, who are unwilling to work to change the classification of marijuana off of Schedule I, and who refuse to join efforts led by reps like Barney Frank and Ron Paul to end the charade, hypocritical on this issue, eager to take bows and heap accolades but unwilling to risk even a cent of political capital to move the laws in a more sensible direction.”

WHENEVER a legislator proposes anything to do with reducing illegal immigration, the Northcoast’s Wine People immediately appear in full alarm mode in their public relations arm, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. And there it was in Friday’s Press Democrat by industry steno Martin Espinoza: “A Republican proposal in Congress to require all employers to electronically verify the legal immigration status of workers is sending chills through the North Coast farm industry, which relies heavily on both legal and illegal immigrants…” SoCo Farm Bureau stalwart Steve Dutton said that such a law would be devastating to the economy of Sonoma County, neatly conflating the health of the local economy with the ability of the wine industry to rest on the exploited shoulders of immigrant labor. “The wine industry alone contributes $10 to $12 billion to the local economy,” declared Lex McCorvey, executive director of the SoCo Farm Bureau, before adding that there were a few other ag enterprises but none as mighty as jive juice. United Farm Worker union spokesman Casimiro Alvarez said that he estimates that about 70% of the area’s agriculture workers are undocumented, and that for every 20 workers, “only a handful are working legally.” Wine guy Dutton said that he tries to hire farmworkers legally but the process is “cumbersome” and “inefficient.” The Farm Bureau’s McCorvey complained that “The whole issue has been politicized to the point where agriculture and our food supply will be collateral damage from a poor political process.” Wine isn’t food, Mexico isn’t Canada, the political process is weighted 99-1 in favor of the jeffes, and nothing is likely to change things so workers get a fair shake, legal or illegal.

JOE WILDMAN DENIES ALL: “I wouldn't know if I didn't read the AVA, but so far nobody has tapped me to replace Jackie [SEIU] in Mendocino County. If offered though, I would be wise to take it. When the international sent me to Mendocino County in 1993 on a six month contract to secure the first MOU, a wise older colleague of mine said, ‘You don’t take an assignment like Mendocino County at the height of your career — you start there or you finish there.’ I didn’t listen to him then (what’s six months?), but with the height of my career behind me, this is where I plan to spend my twilight years anyway - with or without that job. I hope my current employer at SEIU Local 1000 doesn’t read the AVA. I hope the leaders at SEIU Local 1021 do read the AVA and that they believe everything you write.”

CRAFT DISTILLERS of Ukiah, makers of justly famed Germain-Robin brandy, announced recently that they are producing a clear wheat whiskey called “Low Gap,” and they don’t mean the pruno brewed at the nearby County Jail on Low Gap Road. No sir, the Germain-Robin brew is distilled in the company's antique still in Ukiah’s west hills, and “Batch 8” of the stuff is now available to the likes of us, brothers and sisters, at least those of us who will shell out for high end booze. Spokesperson Ansley Coale, who seems to have spent a little too much time reading wine prose, said that “Low Gap is a light, flowery, delicately fruited whiskey of unusual elegance, complexity and length,” but is made out of “hard wheat.” Later this year the company plans to release a Low Gap clear corn whiskey.

THE TOWERING ROCK formation on Highway 101 between Hopland and Cloverdale has been renamed “Frog Woman Rock” by the state’s Historical Resource Commission. The rock outcropping has been known for years as Squaw Rock. The Hopland Band of Pomo Indians had lobbied hard for the change on the grounds that “squaw” has demeaning historical connotations although no one knows the precise etymology of the term. Eric Enriquez, our primary Pomo correspondent, commented last week, “If there was an ugly name for your mom, you wouldn't want things called that either. We always called it 'Grandpa's Nose,' which I think would have been a better name.”

PAT KOVNER reminds us that the editor of this fine publication will appear at the Willits Library at noon next Wednesday (the 17th) to harangue the unwary on a subject he vaguely defines as “how the deterioration of American lit has like kinda like helped dumb down like everything, dude.”

IT’S GONE UNREPORTED but the Harrah-Handley ranch at Hearst east of Willits was visited recently by a drug task force team. The main house and two adjacent structures were searched and several persons taken briefly into custody as their medical marijuana cards were compared to the number of plants discovered on the ranch. The Handley ranch at Hearst is directly across the river from Emandal also known as “A Farm On A River.” Emandal is owned by Tamara Adams, whose preferred title is 'Keeper of Emendal.’ ‘Farm On A River' often provides a rural camping experience to schoolchildren but is better known locally as the site of the annual drunken debauch of the Mendocino County Bar Association. Tamara and Clive Adams, (deceased) were married by the Rev. Jim Jones, a grisly post-marital fact shared by quite a few Mendo couples who seldom advertise the fact.

THE UKIAH WASTE HAULER, C & S Solutions, has submitted a project to the County Planning Department to convert the old Thomas pear sheds, located south of town on Taylor Drive, to a metal recycling and composting facility. C & S has an agreement to purchase the property contingent on the zoning being changed to industrial from agriculture. The company currently operates a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) on North State Street and at the Ukiah Solid Waste Transfer Station, also located on Taylor Drive. The company processes scrap metal at the overcrowded Transfer Station. C&S also wants to develop an alternative to hauling green waste to Cold Creek Compost, Martin Mileck's all- purpose Potter Valley compost operation that converts industrial scale ag waste, including manure, grape pomace and thousands of dead chickens, into soil amendments.

THE COMBINED METAL AND COMPOSTING OPERATIONS would be conducted inside the cavernous pear packing and cold storage sheds. The pear sheds were foreclosed on by the hometown Savings Bank and the adjacent housing was foreclosed on by an out of area lender. The noise of the metal processing operation will be largely confined to its indoor space, but residents of the area can only hope that the composting operation is not so odiferous as to become unpleasant.

THE UKIAH WAL MART is seeking approval to expand its existing Ukiah operation to accommodate a food center, which will put WalMart, with its low wage workers, in direct competition with the Ukiah area supermarkets whose workers are mostly unionized. The draft EIR has dismissed claims that the expanded WalMart might be blight inducing by putting one or more of the existing supermarkets out of business as “less than significant.” Local observers think the markets likely to fall to an expanded WalMart are either Raley's or Lucky's. The non-union Food Maxx, located in the same shopping center as WalMart, is also likely at risk. The close of public comment on the project is August 18.

UKIAH’S WAL MART doubles as a sort of homeless transit center. There are always shoals of capitalism’s casualties shuffling around the vast parking lot’s perimeters. On a recent early Sunday morning expedition I paused at an exit where a family of five was arrayed — Mom, Pop, two sturdy small boys of about eight who may have been twins, and an infant asleep in the arms of Mom. Pop held a cardboard sign that said “Help.” Mom held the baby and a pack of Marlboros, one of which she was smoking. Money management priorities occurred to me but I helped, and the instant I’d forked over, and just as Pop was God blessing me one of the boys shouted, “How much?”

THE GRIST CREEK GRAVEL MINING OPERATION proposed for the valley floor of Covelo, has been appealed to the Board of Supervisors. Locals have expressed the usual concerns about noise, dust and traffic circulation. The project would indeed dramatically increase heavy truck traffic on Highway 162, the winding two-lane road that provides the only way in and out of the valley for most people. Concerns have also been raised about the hydrological effects on neighboring wells and groundwater by creating a large lake as a result of excavating the gravel. The neighbors are also concerned because the proponent of the operation has a history of operating in violation of previously approved use permits for the site. The appeal, which has strong support within the Covelo community, is expected to appear before the Board of Supervisors within the next few weeks.

THE HARRIS QUARRY EXPANSION AND ASPHALT PLANT at the Willits Grade has been pushed back again, this time at the request of the company. Opponents, who have been watching the project like proverbial hawks, implausibly complained that they didn’t have enough time to study the project. Harris nevertheless requested a 45-day extension of the public comment period and the County Planning Commission agreed. Harris has a history of violating the annual extraction limits and earlier agreed to pay a $200,000 fine to settle the violation with the county. They are seeking to expand the quarry operation and also construct an asphalt plant that would be approved to operate at night for 100 days a year.

THE OPPOSITION HAS FOCUSED on noise, air quality, water quality, increased truck traffic, scenic impacts, and the general destruction of the quality of life for surrounding residents. The project would have numerous heavy trucks turning in and out of the existing access road near the top of Ridgewood Grade. The company has agreed to construct acceleration and deceleration lanes, but opponents say that won't do enough to mitigate the safety impacts of slow moving trucks crossing the highway and slowly getting up to speed. One of the biggest impacts is likely to be the noise and glare of nighttime operations in an area that currently pretty much goes dark when the sun sets.

THE LOCAL CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY is in favor of anything that will provide competition to Granite Construction Company, which currently has a near monopoly on local asphalt and concrete production. Granite has taken advantage of its hegemony by jacking their prices up as high as the market will bear. Without serious competition Granite will continue to ride high, if not roughshod. The opposition to Harris’ proposed expansion at Ridgewood is well-organized and well-funded, having hired several experts to submit comments to the draft EIR on various topics. Following Planning Commission consideration, the project will go to the Board of Supervisors. Approval, if that’s what the Supes do, is sure to be challenged in court.

THE FIRST ANNUAL GAIA FESTIVAL went off successfully at the Black Oak Ranch north of Laytonville this past weekend. The event was conceived as an alternative to Earthdance which is being moved to the Solano County fairgrounds in Vallejo after about a decade or so at the Black Oak Ranch where it wore out its welcome. Among the attractions at the Gaia Festival was a “Cannabis Forum” featuring Sheriff Allman and District Attorney Eyster. (Gaia, for those of you who tuned in late or never tuned in at all, is a British philosopher named Lovelock’s term for the earth, the idea being the earth as a single entity. Lovelock has come out in favor of nuclear power which, when it goes haywire, is a major kick to Gaia’s pills, but his Gaia concept of “oneness” has always had huge appeal to hippies, hence their adoption of tie-dye uniforms back in ’67.) Allman updated the crowd on Operation Full Court Press, the multi-agency effort to stamp out illegal pot grows in the Mendocino National Forest. Allman’s presentation may have confused a crowd devoted to weed as a way of life. Allman’s final total reported that some 632,000 plants had been pulled up, $28,000 in cash, 38 weapons, 20 vehicles, seized, and 132 people arrested. Of those, 118 were booked on various federal and state charges including weapons, marijuana and immigration violations. 14 were detained on immigration hold status only. 35 mini-dams were destroyed, 40 miles of pipe was removed as was 51,000 pounds of trash, 5,500 pounds of fertilizer, 150 pounds of pesticides. Cleanup, the Sheriff said, will likely continue for some time. About a third of the illegal grows were on BLM land, most of the rest were in the Mendocino National Forest.

THE UKIAH VALLEY AREA PLAN (UVAP) staggered to the finish line last week on a series of split votes. The final EIR and Mitigation Monitoring Plan was approved 3-2 with Supervisors John Pinches and Carre Brown dissenting. Pinches was not happy that the industrial zoning for Masonite was being retained. Pinches was in favor of “Measure A,” the initiative written by Developer's Diversified Realty, the property owner, that would have let them do just about anything they wanted at the site with no EIR and no significant environmental review or mitigations. Brown was unhappy that stream setbacks for development would be imposed to belatedly protect the already degraded Russian River and its valley tributaries. Brown was unpersuaded even after Supervisor McCowen, who always rises to the defense of the noble Sons of the Soil, helpfully clarified that the setbacks would not apply to existing agricultural operations.

THE UVAP itself was then approved on a 4-1 vote, with only Pinches dissenting. Supervisor Pinches, whom we generally agree with, never misses an opportunity to equate DDR's proposed mega mall with economic development despite numerous case studies that show malls, particularly malls anchored by low wage operations like WalMart, have been devastating to the economy and culture of small town America. Ukiah, where there is no culture other than its three bookstores, would not suffer noticeably if its entire downtown were rolled up and stuffed in a storage locker. But Measure A that would have permitted a huge mall at the old Masonite site north of town, and would have also sidestepped any and all meaningful review, was a bad idea in a precedent-setting way.

THE BOARD VOTED UNANIMOUSLY, as part of the UVAP approval, to rezone several properties to satisfy the requirements of a law suit brought by Legal Services of Northern California challenging the County Housing Element. The lawsuit claimed the County was not doing enough to promote construction of low-income housing. The lawsuit will not result in construction of any housing, but the legal fees extorted from the county are an important part of funding the agency. The other main function of the local legal services office seems to be coaching tenants on how to avoid paying the exorbitant rents demanded by Ukiah's ruling class for sub-standard housing.

WITH THE UVAP out of the way, the Board can now turn its attention to the Mendocino Town Plan which was adopted deep in the last century and which is about 25 years overdue for its five-year update. The same scenario that played out with the General Plan and the UVAP can be expected to repeat itself, with wealthy landowners pushing forward projects for their own benefit. A small but vocal minority of Coast romantics will, of course, argue against any change. The old buildings of Mendocino Village present a famously scenic backdrop and should be preserved, but Mendocino as a working town died many decades ago, sometime after the last shift shut down at the local mill. The shops exclusively cater to the visiting “tourons,” as the locals refer to the visitors who keep the Mendocino Coast alive. But none of the people who work in the service industry can afford to live in Mendocino. And Dick's Place, the throwback tavern on Main Street, is the only place in town where working people can still feel comfortable.

OL’ FLYNN WASHBURNE has been rounded up. Flynn, 51, knocked off Ukiah’s Bank of America a couple of weeks ago where he made his get away on an old bicycle. Back in Fort Bragg, where he was inevitably snagged Monday but not before he’d robbed Cheshire Books. Cheshire Books? At gunpoint? Yes, Cheshire Books at gunpoint, as John Dillinger rolls sleeplessly in his grave wondering what has become of his time honored trade. (See letter to the editor.) Flynn pulled the wildly disparate heists without bothering to disguise his readily recognizable puss. He’s looking at an automatic ten years for using a gun in the commission of a robbery — two robberies.

A WILLITS KID was one of the Seals killed last weekend in that helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Jesse Pittman, a former firefighter from Willits, who graduated from Willits High School in 2002 vowing to become a member of the elite combat force, was among the thirty Seals killed when the Taliban shot down the helicopter carrying them. Pittman worked two seasons for Cal Fire before joining the Navy where he subsequently managed to endure the rigorous Seal selection process.

SEIU, THE ONLY BARGAINING UNIT that has not reached agreement with the County, has been uncharacteristically silent for the last couple of weeks, with no one coming forward to address the Board of Supervisors during public expression. Previously, Jackie Carvallo, the union rep, or various members of the union bargaining team, or the rank and file, could be counted on to urge the Board to accept “our agreement” that the union said both sides had agreed to. But the latest update from the union, issued a couple of weeks ago, made clear that significant issues, of the legal type, still exist between the union and the County.

THE SEIU LEADERSHIP previously announced “we have a deal” and insisted on having the rank and file vote on it, even though the County publicly notified the union that no agreement had been reached and a vote was premature. The union chose to go forward with the vote and has since tried to pressure the County into making concessions in the boardroom that could not be won at the bargaining table. The tactic appears to have stalled, as the Board sat stone faced as the employees urged them to approve the agreement that had not been agreed to.

SEVERAL DOZEN SEIU COUNTY WORKERS rallied at the Courthouse last week in solidarity with the Superior Court workers, who are also represented by SEIU and who are also facing pay cuts. The rally in support of the court workers stood in odd juxtaposition to the union's silence on the County agreement that seems to be slipping away. Jackie Carvallo, the union rep recently promoted by the union to a new position is Sacramento, is reported to have already moved to Sacramento, leaving a void in the local union leadership. The union might deign to explain why, in the middle of negotiations, its negotiator abandoned its Mendocino County workers. But SEIU, whoever’s calling the tune there, may be looking for a face saving way to explain to their members that they had them vote on an agreement that was not agreed to and that there are several outstanding issues that are still unresolved.

SEIU CAN BLAME THE COUNTY, but without an agreement, the employees represented by SEIU could be faced with a unilateral pay cut of up to 15%. And every month that drags by without an agreement increases the odds that SEIU will be looking at closer to a 15% cut instead of the 10% reached by everyone else who came to agreement in a timely manner.

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