(Serfs kneel in fear at feet of Mendo's largest landowner)
Mendocino County’s chief code enforcement officer, Trent Taylor, told the Supervisors last Tuesday that he had investigated Comptche resident Terry d’Selkie’s nuisance complaint about Mendocino Redwood Company’s standing dead trees on property adjacent to hers. Taylor said that he was unable to determine if there was a violation because nobody was home when he arrived and he couldn’t see from her residence which trees were dead; the photos that Ms. d’Selkie provided weren’t good enough, and that he didn’t have authority to go onto MRC property, and he didn’t have the staff or resources to do an full assessment even if he did have permission.
As expected, a parade of locals disagreed with Mr. Taylor’s non-assessment.
Beth Bosk went on at some length about state laws that she thought were being violated until Board Chair John Haschak cut her mike when she refused to stop talking. However, along the way, Ms. Bosk suggested that the simplest way to enforce Measure V if Mendocino Redwoods wouldn’t do it, would be to hire a contractor to go out and cut down the standing dead trees and send the bill to MRC — an option which has been used in other cases and other jurisdictions.
As the discussion reverted again into the pros and cons of standing dead trees, Fort Bragg City Councilman and Fourth District Supervisor Candidate Lindy Peters was among those who strongly pointed out that we live in a democracy and that debate is over, the people have spoken and the Board is obligated to enforce Measure V, adding that MRC’s implied threat of legal action against the County should not deter the Board from enforcing a voter approved initiative.
Supervisor John McCowen, landlord to the Mendocino Environment Center, claimed that Measure V was “self-enforcing” since with Measure V anyone who was burned out of their home due to a standing-dead tree fire could now sue for damages; the County didn’t need to be involved.
Several locals thought that McCowen's statement was not only jaw-droppingly preposterous, but that even if a burned out family tried to sue, they probably couldn’t prove that a fire had anything to do with standing dead trees.
For her part, complainant Terry d’Selkie told the Board:
“I went into the Code Enforcement office to see what the process was to do their investigation. They had called me probably about a week after the last Board of Supervisor's meeting, right before the winter break. I'm a teacher and I had left town for two weeks and I told them I would not be home but that they could probably see those dead standing trees from the road. When I spoke with the gentleman who was here earlier [Code Enforcement’s Trent Taylor] yesterday, he said that it was no secret that MRC was hacking and squirting and leaving standing dead trees everywhere. We see evidence of that. I asked if he saw it when he came out to the road. He said, 'Well, we couldn't really see unless we went onto somebody's property,' as he told you. But at no point did I tell him that the pictures I've provided were not good enough to show where the dead standing trees were. It's pretty obvious there are standing trees there. I told him that if he was looking from the road he probably could not tell which parcel number was which but it was definitely MRC land. So I guess there was some miscommunication there. My complaint addressed the issues we have been talking about. There is an increased risk of wildfire to my home. I took the initiative to make sure I've done fire suppression around my home and on my land. This also lowers the value of my land because of the dead standing trees in my viewshed. And it is my only viewshed. That's what I see, dead standing trees, every time I look out there. The law says they need to be removed within 90 days of the poisoning. If this is not done, what's the penalty and what is the point of the law? Why is there no penalty for breaking the law that is the will of the people? If I break the law, something will happen to me. It's no secret they are violating the law. None of you think it's a secret. It's happening. If this were your land and it was in your viewshed and you looked out into the forest and saw dead standing trees would you be sitting here saying, oh, well, too bad, we don't have any enforcement, we can't do anything? I don't think so. I think you would make sure that something was being done to enforce this law that was voted in by the people.”
An MRC rep, a Mr. John Anderson, told the Board that he was willing to keep talking to the ad hoc committee about the problem, but, of course, wouldn’t commit to anything else, legally or in the woods.
After some more discussion, Supervisor Ted Williams made a motion to direct County Counsel to come back to the board at the next meeting with an "enforcement plan." However, several officials noted that the board's agenda was crowded for the next few weeks and it probably couldn't be discussed until late March. Supervisor Williams reluctantly agreed, "if that's the best we can do."
Williams’ motion was approved 4-1 with Supervisor McCowen dissenting, apparently firm in his belief that the prospect that a burned-out homeowner might sue MRC and their well-funded corporate attorneys would effectively enforce Measure V.