Early in last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Fort Bragg, Supervisor Dan Hamburg declared, “I’m stepping down from the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance Committee. I’m doing that out of an abundance of caution just out of concern about the appearance of a conflict of interest because I did learn that my daughter, who’s a Taurus and goes her own way, decided that she wants to explore opening a dispensary herself, so I thought that was a good way for me to exit the committee before its first meeting. So one of the three of you will get to be the lucky one to join Supervisor McCowen on the ad-hoc [ordinance drafting committee].”
Supervisor John Pinches, echoing his more or less libertarian attitude on the subject of marijuana, quipped, “We already have a dozen of them [dispensaries] in the county now. Why are we worried about regulating them?” (Pinches had voted in favor of drafting dispensary regulations a few weeks ago when McCowen and Hamburg were first appointed.)
Hamburg laughed. “It’s off my plate now. I will still participate at the Board level. But I think that being part of the drafting of the ordinance is, all things considered, not a good idea. So I’m stepping down.”
But Hamburg’s continuing to participate “at the board level” also gives the appearance of a conflict of interest because, for example, what if someone suggested that the County impose a moratorium until the rules are approved? If Hamburg voted Yes, he’d be holding up his headstrong daughter’s project. If he voted No, he’d be accused of trying to make it easier for his daughter’s dispensary to get started before any rules are in place.
In effect, Ms. Hamburg’s application for her Boonville pot dispensary has shot her father in his Supervisorial foot; it has removed the Pot Brigade's most pot-friendly Supervisor from the rule drafting process. And if Hamburg takes the next logical step and withdraws from regulation votes “out of an abundance of caution,” he will also have been taken out of the dispensary regulation business altogether.
County Counsel Jeanine Nadel added, “It will come back to the Board as to whether you want to continue with the ad hoc or just allow a board member to bring a proposed ordinance on his own. Or her own. That’ll get to the board, I think, on the 23rd of August.”
In other words, Supervisor McCowen, who’s taken more than his share of criticism from the Pot People over his role in the preparation of the County’s bureaucratic pot cultivation rules, is now in the catbird seat, pot-wise. He might well get the assignment to draft the rules by himself. Which could also give him bragging rights in his next campaign for Supervisor.
After all, no one has suggested that the Board pass the bong, er, pot regulation drafting task, to the Planning Commission where it rightly belongs as Humboldt County has done, because it’s almost entirely a planning-zoning-permit issue.
So it wasn’t surprising to hear McCowen conclude, “It’s unfortunate that… I understand the reasoning, I think it’s an appropriate action to take, and I think that you bring, obviously, a wealth of experience and perspective to the issue and it would have been a good balance that I think would have been well-received in the community, but we’ll carry on.”
“A good balance”?
Does McCowen consider himself to be the opposite of Hamburg on the pot dispensary question?
And “we’ll carry on”?
Does McCowen expect to be the sole drafter of the pot dispensary rules?
Did Laura Hamburg intend to put her father in a difficult position and force him to withdraw from the rule-drafting committee? Ms. Hamburg’s not naïve. She’s got a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in journalism degree from UC-Berkeley. She must have realized the likely problems her pot dispensary application would cause. Yet she chose to proceed anyway.
Is it the I Ching or Gypsy Julie that tells us Tauruses are bull-headed?
* * *
Almost two hours of public input was taken from Coast residents on redrawing the Supervisorial district boundaries consistent with 2010 census numbers.
One of the two maps the Supes-appointed Citizens Redistricting Committee recommended was one which puts the “town” of Mendocino into the Fourth District with Fort Bragg, a proposal based on the obvious fact that Fort Bragg has now morphed into tourist dependency like Mendocino, timber and fishing having collapsed as major employers.
Most of the 20 speakers in Fort Bragg last Tuesday were opposed to consolidation, saying irrelevant things like “Mendocino is the cultural hub of the south coast.” Others said that putting Mendocino in the Fourth District with Fort Bragg would lower the percentage of coastal residents in the Fifth and shift the political balance to “ag” — grapes, timber, livestock — which Coastlib, except for grapes, views with alarm.
Basically, much of the present 5th District, the Hamburg sectors, simply want to preserve the 5th for people like themselves, i.e., trust funders, old guard pot farmers, time capsule hippies, miscellaneous hill muffins, cash and carry "progressives," Obama-maniacs.
There will be one more public hearing on the subject this week (August 23) and then in September the Board will vote on their preference. It’s pretty obvious that Hamburg and Smith will prefer something like the “less change” option to see that their seats remain securely in the lib-lab political box. But there’s some doubt about what the three inland Supes — Pinches, Carre Brown, and McCowen — will do.
This exchange between Supervisor Pinches and the ambidextrous coast activist Beth Bosk pretty much sums up the meeting:
Pinches (to Bosk): “I’ve heard several people comment about how you want strong support of coastal issues. So how come you oppose the map that shows you have three coastal supervisors? [the map that puts Mendocino in the Fourth District.] This is the first time in history that Mendocino County has a chance to have three coastal supervisors instead of two coastal districts. And yet I hear a lot of opposition to that.”
Bosk: “Because, John, you don’t live on the Coast.”
Pinches: “This is not about me, Beth. This about the redistricting process.”
Bosk: “This is because if so many people come from…”
Pinches: “Answer my question. Why are you opposed to having three coastal supervisors?”
Bosk: “Because right now the coastal supervisors speak in concert whenever we are assaulted or threatened by the forces outside our, our, our county, and it’s been that way for quite a while and it doesn’t make a difference whether they were liberal or progressive or however they identified themselves or others identified themselves because they live in this place and they face the devastation of offshore drilling or they have to face the Navy having to face new phosphorous in our sky…”
Pinches: “So what you’re saying is …”
Bosk: “What we’re saying is that place matters.”
Pinches: “You’re afraid of that third Supervisor might not having views in sympathy with yours.”
Bosk: “Right. And …”
Pinches: “Ok. That’s all I need to know.”
Bosk: “And in terms of how you felt about the Navy’s proposal and were willing to turn it over to the two coastal representatives, but were you a coastal representative, I don’t think you would.”
* * *
A seemingly minor matter blew up when Supervisor Pinches made the mistake of reading the fine print in Congressman Mike Thompson’s proposal to give huge conservation easements to Big Timber — H.R. 1982, the Community Forestry Conservation Act of 2011 — which was up for a routine Board letter of endorsement. (Conservation easements, as we’ve pointed out many times before, are a pseudo-environmental scam which allow the wealthy to get big tax breaks for not exploiting lands which they had no intention of exploiting anyway.) They're simply one more tax break for the rich.
According to Thompson, “H.R. 1982 has strong support from the Sierra Club, the timber industry and the carpenters’ union. (The carpenter's union, incidentally, in this area, is about as progressive on the issues as, say, the Pacific Union Club. In fact, the Club is probably to the left of the carpenters on most issues.)
"The passage of H.R. 1982, will result in potential economic stimulus options that can restore jobs to Mendocino County residents,” Thompson said.
Pinches read the fine print out loud (putting on his glasses, squinting, and craning his neck in the bad light): “Income gains, deductions, losses or credits from a qualified harvesting activity conducted by a qualified organization shall not be subject to tax or taken into account under Section A of the IRS code.”
Pinches commented, “So the way I read that, it’s an exemption from income tax. I can see why the large timber companies can be for this because they can basically get the federal bonds, $3 BILLION worth of this — $3 billion for bonds. They can buy these bonds and then they can buy themselves out and corporate officers can retain 25% ownership and still be involved in this. Once they buy it out and put this in conservation and give us, maybe, the right to put these parcels in to easements… Which is what’s going on right now in some areas. But then they can harvest it forever [“sustainably,” according to the bill] with no taxes or anything! To me this is a prime example of corporate welfare! At its height! There are other sections in here, but that’s kind of the gist of it.”
Pinches had it exactly right.
The Laytonville cowboy also complained that the County might be deprived of property taxes if the conservation easements are taken out of the tax base. “How does this organization [Mendocino County] sit right here without taxes to support it? The income tax? That’s how the federal government operates. This is going to allow corporate officers, so long as they don’t own over 25% of it, to be involved in this scam, there’s no other way to put it. It’s got some real problems. I can’t support it.”
Most of Pinches colleagues agreed that at least the Congressman ought to make sure that the County will not be deprived of their timber-related tax base.
Except Supervisor Smith, of course, who used to be Thompson’s congressional aide. She rushed to her former boss's side.
Smith: “Our congressman understands the value of the bipartisan nature of this. Mr. Thompson didn’t know anyone who was against it.”
Pinches: “No wonder they’re all for it. There’s an acorn for every pig in this!”
Smith, missing Pinches' points entirely, insisted that the scam is optional, no one’s being forced into it: “It states here that forest conservation bonds are an innovative tool that enables the forest conservation and timber industry communities to join together to purchase working forests and prevent their development and increase the level of environmental protection. So clearly, Congressman Thompson wouldn’t have brought this forward unless he had very solid support from, well in this case, both sides of the aisle, but also from very, very diverse communities of interest that support this.”
Thompson brings forward what he's paid by the well-funded interested parties to bring forward.
Pinches: “This takes $3 billion taxpayer dollars to put into this to sell these bonds. That’s fine. How would that money get put back in the treasury down the road? Not through property taxes and not through yield taxes. It comes back through income taxes, long-term income tax. So to put in the same bill that they’re exempt forever from income tax — that’s no way to go! This is maybe a good deal for some large timberland owners. It’s a good deal for the conservation groups. It’s great. I applaud Congressman Thompson for the conservation. But I don’t think he’s looking at the long term of where this money comes from — not yield or property taxes, but income taxes. There has to be a way to put this money back in. When you exempt these organizations from income tax… Think about that! It’s a system where large landowners are exempt from income tax! I don’t understand it. The Democrats say the rich should pay more. But this makes them pay nothing! If you own 100,000 acres of timberland, you’re not exactly broke.”
Supervisor McCowen got it: “Where do I apply for my foundation?”
Thompson’s local gofer, wine-writer-turned-congressional-aide Heidi Dickerson, promised she’d get back to the Board with the Congressman’s response to the question about whether County property taxes are in jeopardy.