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County Notes (September 23, 2020)

According to a detailed Sheriff's budget breakdown for this fiscal year (July 2020-June 2021), the largest expenditure besides base salaries is the County’s contribution to law enforcement retirement. The base department salary budget is about $8.1 million, the county contribution to law enforcement retirement is a little over $4.1 million. On top of that there's another expense line item of about $1.8 million entitled “County contribution retirement increment,” bringing the retirement cost in the Sheriff's budget to almost $6 million or about 75% of the base salary cost. 

Another interesting line item in the Sheriff's budget is the overtime budget. Overtime cost about $1.8 million two years ago and about $1.4 million last (fiscal) year. But the Board budgeted only about $750k for OT this year knowing full well that won't be anywhere near enough — besides the usual high-profile crimes that always come up causing overtime, there's the unprecedented wildfires that the Sheriff's department has to deal with (and will clearly continue until the fire season ends). Some of that OT may be reimbursable under emergency declarations, but you'd think that closer attention would be paid to this line item since it's going to require some very creative bookkeeping to balance. 

The Sheriff's department gets almost $7 million a year in outside (non-general fund) revenues, mostly from the Prop 172 law enforcement sales tax increment (also expected to be lower this year than budgeted) and state realignment funds. But the County general fund has to pick up the rest at about $14.5 million — which includes the $6 million in retirement contributions — (plus whatever large overtime overrun there is). 

The Sheriff's budget summary, a fairly clear and understandable chart, is in stark contrast to the departmental summaries found in the County's giant budget book, which are intentionally obscure and unreadable, larded as they are with jargon and abbreviations and grant breakouts that nobody can understand. Which is good for the obfuscating departments, of course, because it makes even the most basic oversight impossible. 

The Mental Health budget is now more than a whopping $33 million. $19 million of that goes to Camille Schraeder’s Redwood Quality Management Company for mental health “services.” (Nobody ever even asks what happens to the other $14 million.)

As usual, these Mental Health budget items are not broken down and there’s no way to determine how they’re arrived at, even though they are obviously a total from a large number of components because the numbers are specific down to the exact dollar amount.

Here’s the long anticipated agenda item Supervisor Williams mentioned Thursday that would be on the Board’s agenda for next Tuesday regarding what to do with the County’s failed pot permit program:

Item 6b: Discussion and Possible Action Including Direction to Staff on Cannabis Cultivation Permitting Priorities Including, but Not Limited to: County Counsel Analysis of State CEQA request, Digital Portal, Cost Recovery for Work Outside of Application Scope, Interagency Biologist Agreement, Publication of Cannabis Cultivation Guide, Plan for Staffing Increase or Consultant RFP Request for Proposal (RFP), Equity Grant Program Update, Notices to Correct Applications, Request Provisional License Extension from California Department of Food and Agriculture, and Schedule Special Board of Supervisors Meeting for Cannabis Cultivation Phase 3 Zoning Table and Permitting Model
(Sponsor: Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee (Supervisors Haschak and Williams)) 

Recommended Action:
Direct County Counsel to opine on whether County has already met the requirements of CEQA in regards to Cannabis Cultivation permitting And whether State's demand for “Appendix G” is a legally supported county obligation and report back within 30 days; 2) Direct the Executive Office and Planning and Building Services to engage with Information Technology consultant to develop a fully digital submission portal capable of instantaneously generating accurate status reports for staff, applicants and the public; 3) Direct Planning and Building Services to implement cost recovery for staff time allocated to cannabis cultivation development discussions beyond existing application scope; 4) Direct Planning and Building Services to engage in an interagency agreement with California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a biologist to assist with Sensitive Species and Habitat Review; 5) Direct Planning and Building to publish and maintain a Cannabis Cultivation Guide, including flow chart, on website; 6) Direct Planning and Building Services to develop a staffing plan to complete processing of Cannabis Cultivation applications within six months or an RFP for outside contractor if county lacks feasibility to perform; 7) Direct Cannabis Program Manager to prepare Equity Grant Program plan presentation; 8) Direct Planning and Building to generate Notices of Correction and establish processing priorities; 9) Direct Executive Office to add Provisional License extension to legislative platform and Direct ad-hoc to engage with RCRC, Assemblymember Wood and Senator McGuire for support; and 10) Direct staff to schedule Special Board of Supervisors Meeting for Cannabis Cultivation Phase 3 Zoning Table and Permitting Model. 

Translation: Never happen. Nothing can be done. The program is unrepairable and doomed. (Note that the item does NOT request an estimated cost of the many proposals mentioned or who would pay for it/them.)

From over here in Boonville, all we can do is read the marijuana leaves being dropped randomly in the vicinity of the “ad hoc committee” charged with attempting, yet again, to repair Mendo’s unrepairable pot permit program. As best we can tell the John McCowen-Ted Williams Supervisor bloc wants to scrap it in favor of some kind of “use permit” model which would probably be an improvement — but what to do with the more than 800 current applicants already in the system under the old regime who have paid a lot of money to get very little? The Supervisor John Haschak-Carre Brown-Dan Gjerde bloc apparently thinks that the existing wreck of a program can somehow be salvaged. The ad-hoc committee is made up of Haschak and Williams. 

After we posted Jim Shields “wishful thinking” report about the pot ordinance last week (which itself followed our transcription of Supervisor Williams comments about the program at the last board meeting — “Mendo We Have A Problem”), Williams commented, “Realistic next steps to cannabis permitting will be on the 9/22 agenda.”

And indeed they were duly posted on 9/22 as expected, although how anyone could call it “realistic” is beyond us:

Later, Williams added, “Solutions are simple. Determine how much time is needed to process applications and staff appropriately. Or, pull the plug, but don’t say we’re going to get it done without adequate resources.”

We commented, “Note that the agenda item does NOT request an estimated cost of the many proposals mentioned or who would pay for it/them.”

Williams replied, “Applicants, I would presume. 30k+ hours of contract planners will run in the millions. If applicants don’t pay and the county cannot, let’s affirm our intention to pull the plug, but please, can we be realistic? A permitting process without staffing is like firefighting without firefighters.”

Applicants? Not likely. They’ve already paid millions for mostly nothing permit-wise.

A reader who has been following the pot permit program problems commented: 

“Most of the Agenda Item's references to CEQA matters are all due diligence items the county should have performed 4 years ago when they began the whole ordinance ordeal. A quick review of the legislative history of state legislation plus the actual statutes themselves confirm that the state has the legal authority to impose all the various “environmental” protections and procedures now under county review. Haschak is holding on tight to the existing failed ordinance because of pressure from Willits Environmental Center and growers currently trapped in the application process. McCowen will hold on equally tight to moving ahead with the ‘state option-land use’ [i.e., “use permit”] proposal. Either way, CEQA compliance will not change but the latter proposal will eliminate all the convoluted, unfathomable rules and procedures found in the existing ordinance.”

So what to conclude? 

In previous meetings, Williams has said he's trying to support “board direction” (i.e., Gjerde, Brown, Haschak) to try to make the existing program work. 

But given all the staff work Williams says will be required, he seems instead to be trying to demonstrate how impractical continuing with the current program is by showing the rest of the Board what it would take in hopes that they'll realize how ridiculous it is — what one might call a “rope-a-dope” (ahem) strategy. We suspect his reference to a “simple” solution was sarcasm: Yeah, right: just hire a few dozen planners nobody can find or afford and everything will be fine. 

The program seems unsalvageable at this point. Most Mendo growers aren't paying attention to any of this; they're just growing their pot in smaller gardens in more places with bigger plants and selling it at the higher black market prices while they can. The “legalized” program is irrelevant to them. 

Will the Williams rope-a-dope approach work? Will at least one of his colleagues in the keep-the-program bloc see the light? We don’t see how anyone could support the impossible staffing requirements Williams describes. But Haschak and Co. have proven to be intractable in their support of the current approach and its captive applicants even though Haschak agrees that getting them — not to mention the rest of Mendo’s thousands of growers — to full permit status requires more staff and money than anybody has. And even that does not offer a guarantee of a permit.

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