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Off The Record

AARON BASSLER'S despairing father isn't alone in his laments at the absence of effective mental health services. In Mendocino County those services, as they affect the most volatile persons, consist of the Mendocino County Jail where inmates see a couple of psych nurses and Dr. Rossoff, Mendocino County's highest paid employee at around $220,000 a year. For someone like Aaron Bassler, a young guy who, before he committed the two infamous murders he's now being sought for, racked up 11 relatively minor offenses spread over almost 20 years There are probably a couple of hundred guys with comparable records in the County. Although Bassler's behavior could be unhinged, nobody pegged him as a potential killer. Fifty years ago he probably would have gotten at least a diagnostic ticket to the state hospital system when his family first noticed he was running off the rails. But that great friend of mankind, Ronald Reagan, closed much of the state hospital system and, ever since, there has been a steady reduction of crucial public services, none more crucial than effective care of the mentally ill.

BASSLER'S a complicated case. He would occasionally veer off the rails — this time permanently — but in between brief stays in the County Jail he lived mostly in the woods not far from his mother's house on Sherwood Road where he grew marijuana and, lately, opium poppies. At the County Jail he was not housed with the 5150s. Out of jail, Bassler was together enough to organize a campsite that he resupplied on a regular basis and appeared to include some impromptu dirt bunkers. If he were completely nuts he wouldn't be capable of the complicated logistics involved in living rough, and when he was by himself, away from the provocations of other people, he seemed to do pretty well. Drugs and alcohol unhinged him, but drugs and alcohol unhinge lots of people. From what we know of him, if effective mental health programs had existed, Bassler might have been required to take stabilizing medication and see a counselor regularly, and if he was lucky he might even have found one who was smart and sympathetic and helpful.

AS WE GO to press this week, Bassler's still in hiding, apparently not far from where he shot Melo, which is only two miles from his mother's house. There was a confirmed sighting Sunday morning. The alarm went up and Bassler ran. Police sent a dog after him and there was some speculation by them that the dog may have bitten Bassler. Whatever encounter there was between the dog and the fugitive the fugitive won because Bassler remains a fugitive.

BASSLER remains hidden somewhere in the immediate vicinity of where he shot Melo, which is within shouting distance of his mother's home. Last week, the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department issued a press release urging media to cease using the term 'manhunt' to describe police efforts to find him. The term unnecessarily frightens people living in the area and, strictly speaking, does not describe what the police are doing. It's not as if they can form a skirmish line and beat the bushes for the guy as if he were a missing child because he's a guy armed with a high powered rifle and, undoubtedly, possesses the high ground and clear fields of fire. The police know where he is, more or less, and they know he's going to have to come out to re-supply. They'll catch him then, hopefully without shooting him. He might be lucid enough to tell us why he felt he had to shoot two men who represented no physical threat to him.

LABOR DAY in 1936 San Francisco saw “sixty thousand workers, under a broiling sun, moving up Market Street in solid phalanxes, endlessly rolling up their strength and purpose before the eyes of a quarter of a million spectators. The parade, the greatest in union labor's history here, was supplemented by another huge procession in Oakland, in which 40,000 marched. It was a spectacle of army proportions and a spectacle of lightness and color, of brilliant uniforms and brilliant floats, of women by the thousands, and for five solid hours it held sway in the Market Street canyons. Leading the parade was a band of 100 pieces from the Musician's Union No. 6, directed by Phil Sapiro, director of the municipal band. The float carried six girl harpists and their instruments and they attracted much attention. Two elephants from the circus marched with the theatrical crafts. The bartenders came into their own and the hand accorded them as they marched was more than a little stirring. The icemen, in their black trousers, black shirts, black caps, white ties and gleaming ice tongs would have melted any housewife's heart. Butchers' Union No. 115 carried off two first prizes. There were the Mayor Rossi trophy for best appearance, and the Judge Conlan trophy for the most original float. The float displayed two horses and a rider made out of beef suet.” (SF Chronicle, September 8th, 1936)

A READER WRITES: “I was a juror on the Deborah Mefferd case. It was as if she was asking us to say, ‘We understand, you are special, you can handle your wine, you see it as food. We will disregard the breathalyzers just for you.’ Her expert witness did nothing for her case really, and her husband offered the same defense. ‘We all drank wine, I did not keep track.’ She did not seem impaired when all five of them drove away, according to the husband. She plead not guilty to driving while under the influence, but openly admitted to drinking and then driving. Not even a hint of humility. More like, What a big annoyance. There was hardly any disagreement among jurors. One person questioned the 0.15 charge, if the machines could have been off a tenth or so, but then realized the tests were an hour after the initial stop, and that ended any doubt. One correction: the jury was out for about an hour and a half, not a day and half. The deliberations would have been wrapped up sooner, but a lunch break took it a bit longer.”

THE SUPERVISORS DON'T meet again until next week, but their prolonged summer vacation hasn't stopped Supervisor John McCowen from getting to work on pot dispensary regs. As it stands, all a dispensary needs is a business license to set up shop. McCowen has scheduled the first meeting to discuss regs for this Friday, September 9, from 2-4pm in Conference Room C of the County Administration Complex at 501 Low Gap Road in Ukiah.

McCOWEN probably hopes that the draft regulation he assembled in 2009, combined with snippets from last year’s Grand Jury report on the subject, and perhaps a nod or two to the public, will produce something the Board can vote on. But neighboring counties have taken years to prepare pot dispensary ordinances, and McCowen himself is viewed skeptically by the marijuana community for his outspoken anti-pot campaign to pass Measure B, a measure which was not only misdirected at the small growers, but which was also subsequently made moot by the California courts and, later, by DA David Eyster who prefers streamlined plea deals, fines, and fees for the little fish rather than running them through the costly court process.

AN INTERESTING FACT emerged from the Supe's recent decision to re-zone the abandoned Thomas Pear Shed at the south end of Ukiah from ag to commercial-industrial. The shed (actually several large buildings) is large enough to house a dirigible or two. It became the property of the Savings Bank of Mendocino a couple of years ago when the Thomases went belly-up. Since then, the Savings Bank and several local realtors have tried to market the shed and its accompanying collection of warehouses and sheds as some kind of ag enterprise — e.g., a winery or at least a decent sized wine storage facility. No dice. The local wine industry, suffering from more than their share of the prevalent economic pressures, expressed zero interest, lease or buy.

BUT THE PEAR SHED complex does have some commercial-industrial potential, being near the railroad tracks, and has a decent amount of industrial infrastructure in place. So the rezone decision on Tuesday, August 23, was pretty routine. An application to convert the property to a recycling center was submitted to County Planners earlier this year, but was deemed “incomplete.” At the time that application was submitted the property was still zoned “ag,” so it couldn’t even be considered. Presumably the recycling op permit will now be resubmitted and a lengthy permit process will begin. Some neighbors (and County officials) are already on record as being very worried about any (“noise and smell”) that might accompany the operation. We’ve also heard that other local recyclers and composters will be very interested in how much volume the new facility might remove from “their” waste stream.

MENDO doesn’t lack for commercial industrial property — the old Masonite site comes immediately to mind. What it lacks is people capable of getting anything of any size off the ground. Paralysis seems to have coincided with the arrival of great flocks of busybodies, many of them self-certified experts of one kind or another, beginning in the late 1960s. Then came the armies of jive-o consultants with plenty of public money and gullible supervisors to pay them. The consultants’ finest hour, 20 years worth of finest hours as it turned out, was the update of the County General Plan and a couple of years later, the Ukiah Valley Area Plan. After literal millions of dollars spent on consultants it was impossible to tell how the updates differed from the original plans — in some ways they was clearly worse. And here we are. Anything proposed by persons the BBs view as uncool — basically everyone who doesn't live on the west side of Ukiah — can count on human wave attacks of opposition. Anything the BBs propose goes nowhere because the BBs are strictly theoreticians, not doers. And here we are in a perfect state of civic entropy.

BUT THESE DAYS, “economic development,” as it’s euphemistically referred to by those who bemoan its near disappearance, is more or less stymied by a variety of factors: credit is hard to get, business overall is down, new generations of businessmen suffer from high school graduates who lack even minimal skills, new rules and regulations do indeed make the process more time consuming and costly, and last, but far from least, the County is nearly incapable of competently and efficiently handling a mid-sized or large-sized permit application — a state of local affairs which the so-called “anti-growth” forces in the County could never have achieved on their own, even in their dreams.

A TYPICAL example of this situation came and went with the proposal to develop a gravel mining operation on Grist Creek outside of Covelo. The County first determined — in their typically contradictory way — that “Although the project, as proposed, could have a significant effect on the environment, there will not be a significant effect in this case because mitigation measures for the project will reduce potentially significant effects to less than significant level. Therefore it is recommended that a Negative Declaration be adopted.” The applicant, a Mr. Stephen Evans-Freke, buttressed by the County’s breezy opinion, assumed his project would sail through with minimal bureaucratic delay.

THAT IMPRESSION LASTED less than a month. Within weeks, a posse of Covelo neighbors organized opposition to the gravel mining proposal on the no-brainer grounds that the County was not going to require the obviously required EIR.

THE POSSE submitted a big collection of letters to the supervisors demanding an EIR. If the Supervisors agreed with the Planning Department's and the Planning Commission's nutty finding that no EIR was needed, opponents would sue with a high likelihood of winning. Now fully aware that he was in for a long, costly fight, Mr. Evans-Freke had his agent, Ukiah Engineer George Rau, simply withdraw the application: “On behalf of Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC, this letter is to request that the referenced project be withdrawn from further consideration by Mendocino County.”

REFERRING to the applicant and his supporters, one member of the opposition wrote: “These people are petty tyrants not needing the money, but who want to insure another century of abuse of the land by the moneyed few. The red race held Mendocino County for 80,000 years. The European Barbarians trashed the land in 150 years. Don’t give these despoilers another run of unbridled personal liberty at the expense of all other living things.”

ANOTHER longer hand-written comment said, among many other things, that “Covelo is tired of plans that sound good on paper but don’t go anywhere, then leave the locals to pick up the pieces.”

YET ANOTHER: “We have had enough of ‘Good Ole Boy’ projects! Business as usual [Nazi symbol]. Many people are trying to encourage sustainable organic agriculture, NOT more abuse by the usual crowd of rapists!”

ANOTHER: “The owner of the land is an absentee landowner; he is not part of this community. He has not been to community meetings, he has not contributed to the debate. It’s obvious he doesn’t care about Covelo nor our way of life. This project will change that forever. I’ve been fortunate to talk with old timers like Richard Wilson and he tells me that this has been a constant battle: outside money trying to come into the valley [Round Valley] and significantly impact the environment without foresight or care except for profit. We, the community, are delegated [sic] to stopping this.”

MOST of the relatively brief letters in support of the project said that Mr. Evans-Freke and his partner Mr. Hurt were nice people and that the project would create jobs.

THE RECALL ELECTION of the Point Arena City Council was last Tuesday. All four present councilmembers lost, most by over 60% against. Mayor Lauren Sinnott is out, as are councilmen Joe Riboli and David Ingham. Councilmember Eloise Oropeza had resigned previously. Trevor Sanders, Brian Riehl, Lloyd Cross and Doug Burkey will take their seats in a few weeks. Two of the newly elected insurgents are former councilmembers. 255 votes were cast.

THREE SURGEONS were discussing who makes the best patients to operate on. The first sawbones said, “Electricians are the best; everything inside is color coded.” The second doctor said: “No, I think librarians are, everything inside them is in alphabetical order.” Another doc said he thought plumbers were the easiest: “There are no leaks and flows and pressures are always clear.” The fourth surgeon trumped his two colleagues with, “You're all wrong, politicians are the easiest to operate on. There's no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains, and no spine, plus, the head and the butt are interchangeable.”

THE LA TIMES became the latest major news outlet to pick up the frost protection story. In her piece, “Wine vs. Salmon: Water Wars Hit Sonoma County — Vineyards' water use threatens endangered fish, authorities and environmentalists say,” reporter Jacoba Charles quotes National Marine Fisheries Service scientist Brian Cluer: “There are a lot more grape vineyards than there really is water for,” adding that, “The acreage planted in vines has increased as much as 50% in some parts of Sonoma county over the last decade,” and Cluer said the county was still issuing permits for new vineyards without requiring proof of an adequate water supply. “It’s a water-scarce area… And permitting and regulation hasn’t addressed that. It’s been a big mistake.”

MS. CHARLES also reported that “in the last three years, the Fisheries Service has documented more than 60 vineyard-related deaths of juvenile coho, an endangered species, and steelhead trout, a threatened species, in three streams. It estimated that in one of the events more than 25,000 fry, or baby fish, were probably killed. Sonoma County enacted an ordinance last year that asks vintners to register with the county if they use water from streams, but it imposes no limits on such use and allows landowners to monitor stream flows themselves. The State Water Board is now preparing to step in with much stricter rules to protect fish. The proposed rules, along with sporadic efforts to sanction vintners after the fact, have met with vociferous objections from an industry that views itself as environmentally conscious.”

MS. CHARLES’ report has the usual objections from wine industry spokespeople saying that their voluntary efforts are more than enough.

BUT NOWHERE in her lengthy report does Ms. Charles mention any wine people claiming what the Mendocino Board of Supervisors recently claimed: that the attempt by NMFS, the Water Board and some small local environmental groups to save the endangered fish via modest frost protection rules is a giant conspiracy to put the wine people out of business.

A DISPUTE of sorts has arisen among local officials and some landowners about the advisability of carrying a gun into the forest these days, especially during the fall pot season. Mendocino Drug Task Force Chief Bob Nishiyama told the Ukiah Daily Journal last week, “For a private company to send an unarmed person to do the [law enforcement] job, that's taking a risk. But I understand that the community is sick and tired of dealing with it, and of law enforcement not having the resources to respond.” Asked if he recommends that private citizens search for marijuana gardens, no matter how qualified they may be to do so, Nishyama said, “Do we have a choice?”

BUT GUALALA REDWOODS long-time chief forester Henry Alden told the Independent Coast Observer last week that carrying a gun (particularly one that can be seen) into the forest is asking for trouble. Alden said the safest thing is to not carry a gun and get out of Dodge at the first sign of marijuana growing in the area. Then report it to law enforcement.

KZYX Program Director Mary Aigner sent the following email out to selected listeners last week in the days immediately following the murder of Fort Bragg Councilman Jere Melo: “I’ve been working for the last few days on producing a show with Richard Miller for Tuesday morning on the failure of the criminal justice and mental health systems in Mendocino County to take the steps that could likely have prevented this tragedy. Tuesday morning, we’ll have a board member from the Treatment Advocacy Center on to discuss the legal steps that are available through what is known as Laura’s Law in California that mandates needed treatment for people with serious mental health disorders. In California, counties are required to independently adopt the law. So far, it’s only been adopted in Nevada County, where the murders occurred that spurred the law. See the attached press release for information about the costs of mandated mental health treatment versus the costs of incarceration. All in all, it’s a tragedy and a travesty. However, it is also an opportunity to make long overdue corrections to the criminal justice and mental health systems.”

YO, AIG! It's an old problem in Mendocino County and everywhere else in the state. It didn't just pop up with Mr. Bassler. At this time there is no money to pay for mandated anything, and our spine-free political class isn't about to raise taxes on the people who fund them. We used to have a functioning mental health system. Reagan destroyed it when he was governor with the big lie that the mentally ill could more humanely be cared for in community-based group homes via the new psychotropic drugs. There were no community-based group homes, and there was no one to see to it that the mentally ill took the meds that made them or less competent. Why, Mares, we even enjoyed a multi-faceted state hospital at Talmage. Many of the people the Sheriff now cares for would, 50 years ago, be trundled off to Talmage for systematic evaluations and treatment in a non-jail setting. Reagan closed most of the state hospitals and the mentally ill to this day have been the responsibility of law enforcement, as Sheriff Allman can tell you.

NORM de VALL sends along the protocol for even talking to His Majesty's — our alleged Congressman — chambermaid. “This is simply disgraceful coming from a so-called public servant. A couple of years ago I went in person to Nancy Pelosi's office in SF fed building to help sort out a friend's passport. A very smart lady took me into her office, I told her what the snag was, and by the end  of the day my friend had her papers. To see Thompson himself you'll need to own a winery, and even them you'd better bring along a nice cash donation. We've so often heard ‘Write your Congressman,’  but nowadays that is not so easy (especially if you don't have a Social Security card). The following is now the required (minimum, I'm sure) to try to get a specific answer to a  question.”

de VALL includes a copy of the congressman’s ADVOCACY AUTHORIZATION form which requires anyone seeking his help to provide more personal information on themselves than Homeland Security would require of an asylum seeker. The new form requirement notice is signed by Heidi Cusick Dickerson, Mendocino County District Representative,  Congressman Mike Thompson. PO Box 2208, 430 N. Franklin St. Fort Bragg, CA 95437. 707-962-0933; fax: 707-962-0934.

A COUNTY INSIDER, responding to our item last week about the sloppy negotiations (and associated costly delays) between the County’s one remaining (and largest) bargaining unit, the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), writes: “No one disputes that the County reached a tentative agreement with SEIU for a 10% cut in hours - instead of a straight 10% cut in pay, like the other bargaining units got.  But the deal was predicated on the cut in hours equaling the savings from a 10% cut in pay. But the union immediately backed away from an across the board 10% reduction in all accruals and benefits, so the details they presented to their membership for a vote were never agreed to by the county, and did not equal a 10% savings. The union says they have not been stalling negotiations, but who has benefited by a year's delay? The county has lost out on $1.5 million in savings, while everyone in SEIU has been taking home their full pay check.”

THAT’S PROBABLY how the County sees it. And the math is also probably right. But it doesn’t explain why the “tentative agreement” the County had with the union wasn’t explicit on the issue of exactly what was cut and how much savings had to be achieved. The County could have proceeded with announcing layoffs months ago to force the union back for clarifications of what the written offer was versus what the union membership may or may not have been told or provided. Again, as long as this stuff isn’t written and clear, we’re not surprised that negotiations have stalled.

OBVIOUSLY, based on what CEO Angelo reported at the last Supervisors meeting, the County is now proceeding with serious layoff plans. But if the County is losing something like $20,000 a week from unrealized salary reductions, why wasn’t this issue re-introduced? Why did the union’s premature vote stall the process? We haven’t even seen the issue on the closed session agenda for weeks.

AND THIS JUST IN from Norm de Vall: “James Bassler, father of alleged murderer/fugitive Aaron Bassler, will be interviewed on The ACCESS Program this Friday, Sept. 9 at 9an on KZYX. On September 16 we will interview the Director of the Mendocino County Mental Health Department.  Please join us.”

One Comment

  1. September 11, 2011

    I’m not sure whether the old Thomas place’s being big enough for a dirigible or being near the railroad tracks leads to the better future transportation option.

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