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County Notes (May 20, 2020)

CEO Takes Umbrage; Health Officer Peeved

At their Tuesday Board of Supervisors meeting Supervisor John McCowen noted that the Shelter in Place was taking a significant toll on local small businesses. “Every day of this dooms another small business,” said McCowen, adding that there should be “more of a sense of urgency.” 

Health Officer Noemi Doohan replied that she was “working every day” and had taken no time off, and that she was “surprised” at McCowen’s statement implying the standard “whenever” mentality had infused the County’s bureaucracy while locals were hurting. Doohan said she thought her latest Shelter in Place Order had already opened things up a good bit. “Let’s see how that goes,” said Doohan. “This gives people time to prepare for re-opening” — a reference to a hoped for further relaxation of the Shelter in Place in two weeks. However, that next phase of re-opening requires that the County demonstrate that a series of preparatory requirements be met first, a process the state calls “attestation.” 

McCowen then proposed: “I would like the Chairman of the Board to direct the CEO to assure that the Public Health Officer has all the resources she needs to complete attestation process [a certification process required by the state to make sure the County is ready to open up more businesses]. We have identified a number of tasks that need to be completed. Let's make sure something isn't getting done because no one has time to do it. I would hope we would be able to give that direction.”

Board Chair John Haschak: “Is there any objection to that direction? … Hearing none, I think we can give that direction to the CEO.”

CEO Angelo then took a page out of President Trump’s playbook and turned this ordinary question into a grievance.

CEO Carmel Angelo: “Chair Haschak?”

Haschak: “Yes.”

Angelo: “This is the CEO. [They were on zoom so Angelo had to id herself.] I would like to weigh in.”

Haschak: “Yes.”

Angelo: “I'm curious if Supervisor McCowen and the Board really think that that is something you would have to direct me to do? I wouldn't just, after 13 years, know to do that on my own?”

[Long silence.]

Haschak: “So it's— I will take that to mean— The CEO is going ahead and will be doing that.”

[More silence.]

Haschak: “Supervisor McCowen, did you have some questions then?”

McCowen “The only reason I thought it necessary to bring that up — and I don't question the CEO’s commitment to fulfilling Board direction — I did have a concern that the attestation process, the mechanics of assembling the documents, were kind of being represented to be more complicated than I think it is. I think it's getting the right information from the right people and putting it into the state-mandated form. So thank you.”

Later, McCowen couldn’t help getting the last word. After describing the state’s consultation and technical assistance process during the “attestation,” McCowen added that he “hopes things move as fast as possible. In my world, that would already have been done. Hopefully that can occur soon.”

The State’s Grim Budget for next fiscal year (July 2020 to June 2021) has a series of triggered cuts that would kick in if the feds don’t come through with the hoped for subsidies. (Trump has threatened to withhold some of it.) Mendo, of course, blithely assumes that it’ll all work out and most of the Covid expenses will be reimbursed and the economy will suffer a dip, but will recover in a year or two or three. As a result Mendo’s budget planning has not shown the kind of difficulty everyone in the real world — including the State of California itself — expects. Here are a few (annotated) notes from a recent CalMatters summary of the state’s FY 2020-2021 budget: 

“Public employee pensions have reported record losses. That has local officials fearful of service cuts, layoffs and even bankruptcy because state and local governments are obligated to contribute more — even when they have less. CalPERS, for example, shed $69 billion as the global financial market recoiled from the pandemic.”

NOTE: Mendo’s separate pension fund (not part of CalPERS) has probably taken a similar hit which may put a substantial burden on the County’s General Fund to make up the stock market losses.  

“State government employees would see their salaries cut 10% or their unions would negotiate equivalent reductions.”

NOTE: Nobody in Official Mendo has mentioned salary cuts, even though we strongly suggested that the Supervisors and the CEO should take immediate salary cuts back to 2008 levels to demonstrate leadership in advance of the coming revenue shortfalls.

“The Newsom administration projects 24.5% unemployment, a 21% decline in new housing permits and a nearly 9% drop in California personal income for the fiscal year starting July 1.”

NOTE: Mendo hasn’t “projected” anything but a minor decline in sales and transient occupancy taxes followed by a steady upward recovery starting in 2021.

“About 26% of Newsom’s budget solutions rely on cuts he said would be eliminated if enough federal aid comes through.”

NOTE: Wouldn’t it be prudent for Mendo to prepare a budget for FY 2020-2021 based on a similar approach, then restore the tentative cuts with whatever comes in from the state or the feds?

NOTHING WRONG with focusing on the phased lifting of the Shelter In Place and continued containment of the infections in Mendocino County. But, unlike Fort Bragg which has tried to get ahead of an obvious looming budget gap, Mendo’s budget team hasn’t even been asked to sharpen their pencils or put on their eyeshades.

“Visit Mendocino” Wants Mendo To Pay “Visit Mendocino” To Encourage Visitors To Visit Mendocino While Mendo Tells Visitors To STAY AWAY From Mendocino.

A report from the Lodging Association’s Business Improvement District (BID) in next Tuesday’s Supervisors agenda packet makes no mention of the significant impact the corona virus is having on Mendocino County’s tourism industry, even though it’s common knowledge that the industry is basically shut down until further notice and the County doesn’t want anybody visiting, much less “promoting” the idea of inviting visitors. Nor does the report mention the County’s recent deferral of the BID tax and transient occupancy (Bed) tax, generously allowing the dormant lodging industry to keep the taxes and fees which the County would turn around and pay for Visit Mendocino.

Why? From the report:

“It is important to note that this report was produced during an unprecedented time in history. At the time of this writing, Mendocino County and the rest of the world are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is uncertain just how much of an effect this pandemic will have for the residents, businesses and economy of Mendocino County. This report is being submitted with no adjustments to the strategic direction, operation or budget due to the pandemic. Adjustments will be made but, not until such time that the pandemic has passed, and the economic damage can be quantified. Respectfully, Marcus Magdaleno, BID Advisory Board Chair”

The report’s silence on the local Lodging Industry’s Problem That Can Not Be Mentioned Now may be related to their hope that nobody will notice that they still want all the “promotional” money they’re accustomed to getting despite the County having gone so far as to post “no visitor services” on the roads entering the County.

The report notes that:

“In FY 2018-2019 the Mendocino County Tax Collector recorded total BID assessments in the amount of $970,404 to provide services, activities and programs on behalf of the District. The Budget contained in this BID Annual Report is based on actual FY 2018-2019 BID assessments. The county matching funds for the same period are $485,202.”

This nearly $500k is separate from the direct funding the County also gives to Visit Mendocino from the transient occupancy tax.

There’s an accompanying item — on the Consent Calendar (!) — to give the tourism promoters almost $1.5 million to encourage people to “visit Mendocino.” 

Item 4x) “Approval of Agreement with the Mendocino County Tourism Commission for the Services, Activities, and Programs of the Mendocino County Lodging Business Improvement District (BID) in an Amount Estimated at $1,425,000, for the Term of One Year, Commencing on July 1, 2020 and Expiring on June 30, 2021. Recommended Action: Approve Agreement with the Mendocino County Tourism Commission for the services, activities, and programs of the Mendocino County Lodging Business Improvement District (BID) in an amount estimated at $1,425,000, for the term of one year, commencing on July 1, 2020 and expiring on June 30, 2021; and authorize Chair to sign same.”

We’re used to seeing weird items in the Board’s agenda almost every week. But the level of contradiction and tone-deafness of this one is downright mind-boggling:

• The gall of the industry reps to even ask for all this money now by simply saying they’ll take it and then figure it out later while the County faces major revenue shortfalls.

• The idea that Visit Mendocino wants all this money for themselves to do something in opposition to a Health Officer order and not to the struggling lodging businesses they allegedly “promote.”

• The handing over of large sums — on the CONSENT CALENDAR — to a group which presumably encourages people to violate the Health Officer’s Shelter In Place Order.

• Compounded by the fact that the County apparently intends to hand over money they’ve already told the industry not to send in to the County, digging an even deeper budget hole! 

This will be a revealing test of the extent of control and influence the wine/tourism promotion mob has over Official Mendo. Will any of the Supervisors express any skepticism about this incongruous “business/funding as usual” report while the County is actively trying to DIScourage tourism? Will anyone ask why such this outrageous request is even on the agenda, the “consent” agenda for cripe’s sake? If history is any guide they might nitpick it a bit, then blithely hand over the money anyway on some flimsy excuse about the industry’s virus woes — woes that “Visit Mendocino” has chosen not to even address.

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