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County Notes (May 27, 2020)

As predicted, after a few nitpicks about the funding and sequencing, the Board rubberstamped handing over about $1.5 million to “Visit Mendocino” to “promote” local tourism right in the middle of a County Health Officer’s report that specifically discourages visiting Mendocino. (Details to follow,)

Returning from closed session last Tuesday evening, the Board of Supervisors announced (via County Counsel) that they had declined to hire Dr. Joseph Iser from Las Vegas as “interim” health officer to replace Dr. Noemi Doohan of San Diego. No reason was given, but observers assumed that the Supervisors were worried how effective Dr. Iser could be in the high-profile position given the unrefuted misconduct allegations that preceded his Las Vegas retirement. Newly designated County Counsel (formerly “interim” County Counsel) Christian Curtis said that the Board had directed the CEO and Dr. Doohan to contact the State Public Health department to arrange for “mutual aid” coverage of the Public Health Officer role — apparently, there are no other candidates for the County position and the state will be asked to loan someone to Mendo for the time being, perhaps sharing a neighboring county’s health officer.

The agenda item about a report on Measure B turned out to be a discussion of whether the County can afford to build and operate the three primary facilities the Measure B was focused on: (locked) Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF), Crisis Stabiliztion Unit (CSU) and Crisis Residential Treatment (CRT). CEO Carmel Angelo put it as bluntly as we’ve ever heard it when, referring to the PHF, she said, “It is unfortunate that public has the perception that the government gave them that we could build this building and operate it.” Angelo said she didn’t know where the numbers came from that resulted in the estimated $38 million that the Measure B half-cent sales tax was expected to generate in its first five years (after which it is reduced to a a one-eighth-cent tax). Angelo also noted that sales tax revenues have taken a sizable hit with the corona virus downturn, further jeopardizing the completion of these facilities.

The agenda item had requested that a full-time “analyst” be hired to assist newly appointed Project Manager Alison Bailey along with two part-time (shared-time) administrative positions. But Supervisors Haschack, Williams and Gjerde were reluctant to approve the new positions with Williams saying he’d go along but only if the staff promised to produce a “business plan” showing how the three primary facilities could be built and staffed with existing plus Measure B funds.

At one point Board Chair John Haschak seemed exasperated about how much staffing was being added to the Measure B project saying, “We could start with a half-time analyst, see how it goes, see what they find out with the business model, and proceed from there. And if we find out that a half time position isn’t enough then we can beef it up. But if it is, and we get this business model and and we find out that we are really in, um, uh, you know, bad straits, and we’re spending money on program directors and project analysts and construction managers and consultants, then we re-evaluate.”

Mental Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller said that Mendo couldn’t run all three facilities without partnerships with neighboring counties. “On our own? No,” said Miller. “Two is possible. One is easy. But we need a regional model.” Miller said her staff could dig up some earlier incomplete reports from 2016 and 2019 and check with other counties and see if they can come up with some kind of budget numbers.

Complicating the planning is the $500k state grant that can only be used as part-funding for a crisis residential unit on Ukiah’s Orchard Street. The state has set an arbitrary deadline of having something built and operational by November of 2020 as a condition of their funding. And this gives the Measure B staff extra ammo for their arguments for ever more staff — even if the staff and consultants end up spending a big chunk of the Measure B money on top of the crisis residential facility, leaving not enough money for the other one or two projects.

Further complicating the funding picture is the extent to which the County’s existing Mental Health and Drug Treatment funding could help sustain the Measure B facilities. For example, how much of the $20 million per year or so the County gives to the Schraeders could be used to staff a Measure B building? How much of the existing out-of-county placements at $1000 per day could be re-routed to local facilities at much lower costs?

After a long discussion the Board approved a half-time “extra help” position to assist Project Manager Alison Bailey with the semi-promise from Dr. Miller that she would assemble the prior reports and cobble together some kind of “business plan.”

The question about last month’s Measure B committee’s controversial recommendation to divert $1 million Measure B dollars to subsidize existing Mental Health services didn’t even come up. Apparently, the Mendocino Community Foundation — which CEO Angelo had assumed would handle the disbursement of the $1 million — declined to participate, which has left that particular boondoggle dangling. Project Manager Bailey said Tuesday that her next task is working on a request to hire a “construction manager” for the Orchard Street project which is being rushed through because of the artificial deadline imposed by the state grant. (If anybody thinks those state demands and deadlines have any teeth, they need look no further than the state demands imposed on Coast Hospital as part of their loan terms — which were never enforced and which Coast Hospital never paid back. The state bureaucrats are not going to pull the plug on a measly $500k just because the Crisis Residential Treatment facility is running late — as in all probability it will.)

McCowen’s Belated Pot Epiphany

Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors discussed the scheduling of “Phase 3” of the county’s failed cannabis permit program. Supervisor John McCowen wanted to schedule it as early as possible, preferably June 2. But Supervisor John Haschak, who became the County’s one-person cannabis ad hoc committee by default when Supervisor McCowen resigned from it, wanted to take more time for preparation and public input and schedule the talk for sometime in July.

Supervisor Ted Williams tried to clarify the scheduling problem: "I think you [Haschak] are talking about continuing the ad hoc’s work, the recommendations that were given in February. I think what Supervisor McCowen is talking about is scrapping the entire [cannabis permit] ordinance including those [Haschak’s ad hoc committee recommended] changes and starting fresh with a more lightweight version that would cut down on staff time and would enable revenue recognition. If that's right, I don't want you to waste your time as the ad hoc bringing changes forward that are about to be deprecated [sic] by a new trajectory."

Haschak: "I think we need an open democratic process and the work of the cannabis ad hoc needs to be considered too."

Williams: “We have an ad hoc that is just Supervisor Haschak. We have Williams and Gjerde still on an [cannabis] economic development ad hoc although we could probably wind that down. We have Supervisor McCowen on a non-hoc [sic; i.e., his own separate one-person committee]. Supervisor Brown is the only one here with the wisdom to stay out of the cannabis ad hocs. It seems like we have multiple people running in different directions with incompatible changes."

Supervisor McCowen: “Supervisor Williams has correctly characterized things. I do propose repealing the current ordinance and letting the state issue permits for cannabis cultivation with the county focusing on the land use regulation and the zoning code. It would be streamlined. It would stop the endless churning that is continually going on. … The item that I have prepared is complete as submitted."

The board ultimately decided to consider McCowen’s streamlining proposals at their June 9 board meeting.

If McCowen’s description of his proposal is correct, we don’t know why he spent three years defending the “endless churning” that only got a small number of pot growers applying, but which cost the county way more money than it brought in. Perhaps when McCowen presents his proposal next month we’ll find out what took so long and what’s behind this long-overdue re-start of the cannabis permit program. The only remaining question is: Is it too late?

Measure B: Where Good Ideas Go To Die 

Let’s review the proposals arising since the passage of Measure B offered either by the Measure B Committee or the Supervisors. Most have disappeared; all remain undone.

• The Supervisors and the Measure B Committee have passively gone along with a state-grant-driven project to expand the Schraeder’s privatized operation on Orchard Street, knowing that letting his happen first will probably mean no Psychiatric Health Facility, the primary purpose of Measure B. 

• They have purchased and started to remodel a Training Center in Redwood Valley but even this simple task is still far from complete. And more Measure B money has been spent hiring more and more consultants, managers and admin staff, all of this without any objective progress in three years.

• There’s still no response to the City of Willits’s letter asking whether the County intended to follow Willits’s planning regs for any facility in Willits.

• There’s no independent estimate of the cost of remodeling Old Howard Hospital into 1) a PHF, or 2) a smaller Crisis Residential Treatment satellite facility. Although nobody liked Margie Handley’s private cost estimate and the site is still under consideration, nobody has asked for an independent estimate of putting the old building to use for the north County, although the need for the independent estimate was agreed to early on.

• Supervisor Williams’ repeated requests for a “Business plan” for operating whatever facilities are built remains elusive and has been due for more than a year now, and even that was late.

• The Kemper Report’s recommendations and associated cost estimates have been shelved, even though everyone involved praised the report as the best summary of the situation they could possibly have.

• After saying at least twice that a Crisis Van proposal from the Ukiah Police Chief modeled after the Eugene, Oregon “CAHOOTS” program should be pursued, no one even asks who’s working on it.

• Early on the Committee voted to re-institute the widely praised MOPS (Mobile Outreach Van) program, but even with the supplemental Measure B funding the MOPS program has floundered with minimal staffing since one of its senior proponents retired a couple of years ago — and nobody, including former Sheriff Allman who was largely credited with starting the MOPS program, has raised the issue since the Measure B Committee voted to provide more MOPS funding.

• Although the least expensive, fastest and simplest way to provide Crisis Residential or Crisis Stabilization facilities is to remodel an existing building or house, the Committee has chosen a much more expensive gold-plated ground-up project on Orchard Street which will involve expensive, out-of-county architects and years of construction.

• Although local Adventist CEO Jason Wells offered to remodel their Willits and/or Ukiah emergency rooms into a PHF, and the Supervisors wanted that proposal to be pursued and costed out, nobody has yet officially asked the Adventists for a cost estimate.

• We still await County Counsel’s ruling on the legality of partnering with Adventists for Measure B facilities.

• Several committee members have offered to work with Mendocino College to explore the creation of a psych tech training program to help staff the Measure B facilities, and all involved know that such a program is the only way the Measure B facilities could be staffed, but nobody has even begun that conversation.

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