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Off the Top (Nov. 12, 1997)

MENDO COUNTY’S liberals must have been too busy thinking globally to act locally election day. Except for David Colfax’s easy return victory to another four years on the Mendocino County School Board, the rightwing kept control of the Mendocino College Board of Trustees, the Fort Bragg campus of College of the Redwoods, the Fort Bragg School board, water boards here and there, and  Hopland’s CSD. Here in Boonville, two millionaires — one of them a recent transplant who has never attended a school board meeting — joined a third rural plutocrat on a school board dominated by teachers and their families and friends. The funding units, er, students, were not an issue in the elections. 

22% OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS turned out to vote. Fort Bragg teachers, led by Mark Bibbins, the principal of Dana Gray School, unseated Sally Bates. Fort Bragg’s edu-bloc perceived Bates as the trustee most responsible for the recent board decision to fire district superintendent, Tony Sorci. FB’s mediocre cadre of teachers like Sorci because Sorci is a mutual back scratching kind of guy. In the previous FB school board election, Bates racked up the highest vote totals in recent history because she was seen by the edu-bloc as simply another auto-vote for them and for their padrone, the superintendent. The County’s teachers, the constant din of “We Love the Kids” rhetoric aside, vote for the candidates who can be depended upon to (1) not criticize them and (2) not interfere with administrators tolerant of mediocre educational performance. The libs didn’t show to vote. 

SALLY BATES was replaced by a Georgia-Pacific bureaucrat named Allen Overfield. Overfield had said at a candidates’ night that he was opposed to unions, a stance which didn’t bother the teachers’ union because they’re a union only in the sense of annual agitation for more for them. The Fort Bragg schools are short of textbooks, classrooms are in a state of poor repair, academically-oriented students flee to Mendocino High School, while the district invests heavily in fringe benefits for members of the school board, sod for the football field and attorneys to defend their bungling administration. FB parents and students have lost their most effective voice with the loss of Sally Bates. The libs didn’t show to vote.

THE COAST REC BOARD re-elected incumbents except for Mendocino’s Maggie O’Rourke who represents Mendo Villagers unhappy with the way the Rec Board manages the Village’s Friendship Park and adjacent property. Roanne Withers, who has successfully sued the municipal slow learners of Fort Bragg five times over development projects approved outside prevailing planning rules, did not win a seat on this locally pivotal board. The libs didn’t show to vote.

COLLEGE OF THE REDWOODS, run out of Eureka, elected insider Leslie Lawson to its board of trustees, passing over independent candidates like Bob Fowler and even John Fremont. Second place vote-getter Fremont seemed sidetracked onto other issues all of which stem from the fact that COR Fort Bragg should be its own entity, not merely an extension of the central campus at Eureka. The libs didn’t show to vote. 

AT MENDOCINO COLLEGE, the reform candidacies of Lynda McClure, Lou Fortin and John Spanbauer were narrowly beaten back by a late vote from Lake County whose vast expanse comprises part of the Mendo-Lake inland college district. The re-election of trustees Lemke and Pauli means job security for college prexy Ehmann, a barely literate oaf who has promoted his supporters, starved classrooms to feed the college’s sports programs (the campus priority), gone after the rare critic with a veritable Third World blatancy, and has engineered sales of valuable real estate adjacent to the campus without putting the sales through the usual public approval process. The libs didn’t show to vote.

THE FRIDAY following the election, Ehmann, wasting no time getting revenge against dissidents, announced that his primary on-campus critic, Susan Bell, the school’s dean of instruction, would be offered a restrictive one-year contract instead of the unconditional two-year contract Bell has enjoyed at the college for 12 years.

ONE OBVIOUS EXAMPLE of why it’s important to contest local elections is WATER. It’s getting scarce in Mendocino County, but all the relevant elected bodies are entirely in the hands of the exploiters and the developers. As the degradation of the Russian River becomes evident even to the unseeing and the self-interested, the state reacts by taking the first steps to study what is obvious — that the 110 miles of the Russian River is now almost fish free, wineries are taking even more of its depleted waters (which in any case mostly derive from the diverted Eel), gravel extractions have seriously damaged the Russian in the Healdsburg area, and that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, rather than force developers to slow down for lack of water and sewage infrastructure, have further damaged the Russian by using it as an impromptu leech field. Community water boards the length of the Russian River are in the hands of large scale ag and development interests, the two often being interchangeable. Has an environmentalist ever even run for election to a Mendocino County water board?

IT COULD HAPPEN HERE: From the San Rafael Independent Journal of November 1st: “Everyone is invited to attend a ‘Clown Worship’ at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer at 10 a.m. tomorrow in San Rafael. Wally the Coach, the Rev. C.H. ‘Skip’ Fotch will mime the story of Jesus and the Last Supper. The liturgy allows each individual to focus on their unique spirituality.”

PEPPER SPRAY. Having been denounced by the whole country, including an editorial in the New York Times of November 4th, Congressman Riggs and the Humboldt County police have resorted to the vaguest of justifications for their now famous teenage torture sessions. The police say a preponderance of calls to a Eureka radio talk show not only supported use of pepper spray but supported use of pepper spray on non-resisting protesters in the manner the Humboldt police had applied the chemicals — daubed straight into the eyes of the young female victims. If the demonstrators had been pepper sprayed and scalped it’s likely the Eureka approval ratio would have remained the same because there aren’t any talk shows north of Garberville undominated by the fascisti. Riggs also has said that a couple of demonstrators wore bandanas over their faces when they walked into the office, thus terrorizing office staff. But the video showed office staffers placidly looking up from their work at the spectacle presented by the low key occupation of Riggs’ Eureka headquarters then shows one of them calmly locking the door from the inside and calling the police. Riggs’ staffers handle terror with impressive aplomb. 

NORTH OF KMUD (Garberville) there’s no audio media. KHSU out of Humboldt State offers no local talk — only NPR and music. But then Arcata and its university have never been even faintly liberal unless you consider a few tame Greenies on the town council, a plaza teeming with bums and Dan Hauser evidence of liberalism.

STATE SENATOR Mike Thompson, ever the opportunist, road down out of the hills three full weeks after atrocity number two to announce that he’d asked state attorney general Dan Lungren to investigate the pepper spray episodes. Predictably, Lungren said he wouldn’t look into the matter because the FBI was already covering up, er, investigating the case. Thompson said he would do his own investigation, his run for Congress being only a year away and with the winds of public opinion whistling his way. The senator, who has never said a single word about Headwaters — or corporate timber practices generally — boldly declared that he thought the chemical attack on unresisting teenage girls was going a little too far. But if the police had maintained the required three foot distance.....

WITH A HUGE CASH JUDGEMENT now inevitable against Humboldt County for the cretinous behavior of its police,  the question is what affect the pepper spray incident will have on the struggle for Headwaters. Will the deal worked out by the Clintonites for the smallest number of acres proceed or will the martyrdom of the pepper sprayed somehow focus attention on the necessity of saving all of Headwaters? 

SATURDAY’S land-use planning conference in Ukiah managed to avoid the fundamental issue of the County’s forthcoming general plan update, to wit the usual forces of greed and destruction — real estate sales people and chamber of commerce types, especially those inland — want to rezone the County into smaller parcels. With his usual precision, Ray Hall, the developer-friendly incompetent who has been in charge of County planning and building for nearly two destructive decades, says the general plan update will cost “somewhere between $500,000 and $3,000,000.” The land-use battle to come will be about rezoning various areas of the County to accommodate Ukiah-style tracts; the real estate mafia’s arguments will be couched in arguments about how smaller parcels will make it easier for working people to buy in.

IT’S TRUE that working people are priced out of much of the Mendo housing market, but working people are priced out everywhere else, too, given all the givens of contemporary capitalism. Present zoning in the county gives us lots of open space but also has created a situation where only the wealthy can buy, say, the typical available forty acres then build on it. The entire Mendocino Coast — Boonville westward — is now a virtual preserve for KZYX listeners and other undesirables. 

WHEN I BOUGHT The Fort in 1972, I got it for a thousand dollars down swindled out of credit cards at a price of $23,500. The last time I refinanced to keep this marvelous publication afloat, the appraised value of our half acre was $250,000. I wanted to grab every penny and move the whole operation to Covelo and far away from the wine plague but was firmly discouraged by my better half. In the early 70s better funded people, many of them so-called hippies, were able to buy logged over parcels with water on them very cheap. $20k on generous terms from the usurers  could get you 40 acres in the hills. That unique market prevailed until the end of the 70s. Since, the only new housing built in Anderson Valley has been palaces for NPR types on large parcels in the hills to the point where Boonville is now indistinguishable from the more prosperous areas of Marin County. Anderson Valley, like all the beautiful, temperate places of the world, is being destroyed by the rich — the boring rich at that. If the monied invaders were aristocrats who brought some culture with them, well, they might be tolerable. But these people are animals! Animals, I tell you!

FIRST DRIVE ‘EM NUTS, then kill ‘em. The 5th murder this year has occurred in Pelican Bay’s universally condemned torture chamber known as the SHU, or Special Housing Unit, where the state’s most volatile inmates are now bunked two to a cell. 

NOTE TO KAREN OTTOBONI at KZYX. Leo Somersall has been charged with a jail house rape. If KZYX talk show hosts and hostesses bothered to read the local papers they’d know that. A caller to Ottoboni’s talk show Tuesday morning said he’d heard the cops were again covering up an atrocity. Liberals have been sidling up to various AVA staffers for two weeks now to whisper that the Sheriff’s Department is covering up a jail house rape. They aren’t. The case has been out there in public. Incidentally, and for the benefit of the data banks of the willfully uninformed, the unit where tough guys are held in the County Jail has a video monitor capable only of watching B Unit’s day room and hallway. Bad things can and do happen in the cells off the hallway where there is no surveillance. Bear Lincoln, for instance, had every reason to fear for his life because he was housed in B Unit for two years. But the primary reason why more bad things don’t happen in the Mendocino County Jail is because most of the jailers are decent human beings, far more honest and reliable than the typical member of the County’s self-appointed and self-ratifying human rights group, for instance. There are also fundamental political divisions in the Sheriffs Department which make atrocities and cover-ups impossible to hide. Too many cops inside the department wouldn’t go along. 

OTTOBONI also devoted a good part of her allotted 30 weekly minutes on KZYX to a chat with Tom Mason, a Ukiah defense attorney who magically just lost the well-known Hell’s Angel case involving a defendant named Lester. Mason told Ottoboni he was puzzled at the jury finding Lester guilty of second degree murder in a case which relied entirely on testimony of jail house snitches themselves doing long stretches in prison. Two previous Lester juries had hung. The case was replete with reasonable doubt, to put it mildly, but Mason’s own inarticulate defense was most to blame for losing the case. The guy is dumb and he can’t talk. Otherwise, he’s a good lawyer. By contrast, Big Sue, ace prosecutor, simplified the case to put the Hell’s Angels themselves on trial, emphasizing their alleged rituals and personal outlaw behavior (no worse than a gang of rampaging Shriners out on the town), implicating the former Hell’s Angel Lester by association because he had once been a member of an unwholesome gang. She wisely ignored arguing the actual evidence against Lester, being content with an indictment of the Hell’s Angels and a reiteration of the details of the particularly gruesome murder of a Fort Bragg family relocated to Fort Bragg to elude their former associates among Bay Area motorcycle gangsters.

THE PERSON Massini alleges actually cut the throat of the youngest member of the Grondalski family in Fort Bragg is a Hell’s Angel named Charles Diaz. Diaz goes on trial in Ukiah soon. He is alleged to have been Lester’s accomplice in the murders of the four Grondolskis. Diaz has been out on bail even though the allegations against him are about as bad as allegations can get. Massini says he cut the little Grondolski girl’s throat. Massini recently offered the alleged knife man a deal that would have had him pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for time served. Diaz turned it down. Now see here. If this person and his now convicted alleged cohort, Lester, murdered a whole family with Diaz cutting a child’s throat, where does the Mendocino County DA get off offering the guy freedom for time served? What kind of cockamamie case is this to begin with? 

THE AVA’S SPECIAL edition of Jeff Costello’s Redleg Boogie Blues is selling well. So far, we haven’t had a single complaint about it. To the contrary, many people have told us they think it’s a bargain at $3 on the stands, $5 by mail. The typical AVA subscriber would enjoy Jeff’s reminiscences about rock and roll in the Bay Area in the days the music still had some integrity, and just as many would enjoy his account of the unique Sausalito houseboat scene before the yuppos sold off the waterfront to the kind of Tidy Bowl bohemians who occupy it now. So pony up, folks.

THE AUTHOR WRITES: “This card comes courtesy of the dozens of mailing lists I’m on because of taking ‘free’ issues of Utne Reader and The Nation. Every PC and liberal organization in the USA is now hitting me for donations. Literary truth note which ties Redleg Boogie Blues to Pynchon: Vineland contains a reference to a band called the ‘Revolting Tones,” which as you may recall was a Redlegs alias mentioned in one of the posters not included in the special Redlegs issue. I took a sample issue to the local ‘funky’ bookstore and they refused to carry it. Remember this is a town (Port Townsend, Wa) that pretends to be hip and embraces local writers as long as the material falls within locally-approved guidelines: ‘Gentle Mountain Crystal Fish-Bear submits to the Goddess of Dried Flower Stalks.’”

ATLAS SIGHS: A friend called the MEC the other day, beginning with a merry, “Hi! How’s it going?” The kid on the other end at the MEC sighed a martyr’s sigh and said, “Well, considering that the planet is dying, not too good.” Put the globe down and rest awhile, kid.

THE CALLER went on to ask if she could get a list of local activist organizations which she wanted to peruse to find one to suit. Atlas sighed again. “Well, gee, I’d have to check with the bosses on that one. And, er, I doubt it.”

THE MYTH among lots of activists is that the entire police apparatus of Western Capitalism devotes full-time attention to them when in fact all that’s necessary to  make sure no serious political threat is ever poised against the extractive industries is for the extractive industries to simply fund a couple of environment centers and their key activists. For a couple thousand dollars a month ten or so unpleasantly crazy people will wreck for a long time whatever progressive momentum begins to roll. Mendocino County serves nicely as Exhibit A.

THE COASTAL COMMISSION voted 7-1 for Warner brothers to make a movie called “Practical Magic” on the Mendocino Headlands, nominally a state park. The 5th District’s environmental supervisor, self-described global healer Charles Peterson, paved the way for the decision.  Practical Magic is described as “a romantic comedy about a family of love-starved witches.” A laff riot, you could say, or a movie by and for morons, and either way you’d have it right. (Is the AVA the only entity to object to this project on the grounds of bad art?) Only the Commission’s rep from the Monterey Carmel area, where film companies are banned from the most scenic areas, voted against Warner. 

BEHIND THE SCENES, Commission member Mike Reilly of Sonoma County (a Mike Thompson-Strom-Hauser type) called Rachel Binah, Mendocino b&b proprietor and chair of California’s Democratic Party environmental committee, to ask Rachel what she thought about turning over the Headlands to the schlockmeisters for half the coming year. Rachel told Reilly most people were all for shlock, neglecting to clarify that the money the movie would bring to town would all fall into the pockets of her preferred rentier class. The people having thus spoken, Reilly voted for the movie.

ANOTHER IRONY of the movie controversy is that the Mendocino Village Historical Review Board, a group known to oppose the tiniest architectural departure from what they insist is pure Mendo, has approved use of the Headlands for Practical Magic even though the project stomps the fragile flora, disrupts its fauna, will radically alter the village’s panorama for six months, and seems likely to injure for several years the natural world it will intrude upon.

THE PEOPLE for the movie are people like relative newcomer Jim Hay, president of the Mendocino Chamber of Commerce, exactly the people who have converted Mendocino Village from a coherent little town to a grotesque sprawl of junk shops among which bored consumers wander slurping ice cream cones. Hay and company would nuke the Headlands if they thought (1) they were exempt from radiation sickness and (2) there was a few bucks in it for the scented soap motel operators who comprise the bulk of the chamber’s membership.

WITH L-P on the way out of Mendocino County, and G-P rumored to be packing its bags, real estate interests are lining up to get their hands on G-P’s invaluable acres of ocean front at Fort Bragg. Plans for the development of the property are already being discussed by the Fort Bragg City Council.

THE RECALL OF FB City Councilman, Darrell Galli, is on life support machines. The only spot in town where a disgruntled voter can sign a Recall Galli petition is Jack Azevedo’s Gas ‘N Grub north of town.

AZEVEDO, one-time viable candidate for supervisor until the AVA revealed his crude anti-Semitism and printed Azevedo’s special enemies list — Jews, homosexuals, liberals, and incongruously, members of Fort Bragg’s Masonic Lodge — has launched a radio campaign to get McGuffy Readers into the public schools. The prob is that deep into the post-literate age it’s unlikely that most KDAC listeners themselves can decode the Readers which are replete with long passages from literary greats reprinted for the pleasure of 19th century 6th graders. 

SORRY to hear that Richard Johnson, indefatigable publisher of The Mendocino Country Environmentalist, has been slowed by heart problems of the mechanical type — there’s never been any metaphysical problem with RJ’s ticker in the two decades he’s been on the front lines and on the right side of every issue facing the Northcoast. Richard was hospitalized in October for two weeks. He’s up and around again but has had to scale back his daily activity. 

THE AVA continues to appeal the convenient sequestration of Judge Vince Lechowik’s ongoing divorce case. We’re at the appellate level and fully expect to have the judge’s files opened.

THIS COULD BE very interesting: Gualala Redwoods plans to log 217 acres of redwoods in the very center of Sea Ranch. The opposition is mobilizing and will be formidable considering that Sea Ranch people have the means and the know how to stop whatever it is they don’t like.

ANY PUBLICATION but the Press Democrat and this headline would be a joke: “Television’s finest news hour: ‘Meet the Press Turns 50.” There it was in last Sunday’s typically bizarre amalgamation of press releases, wire service stories, badly written accounts of local events, and maudlin opinion columns by the paper’s resident thumbsuckers.

LOST in the flood of atrocity stories coming out of Humboldt County these days is the case of Andrew Daunis, the young Headwaters protester defended by Don Lipmanson. Daunis was arrested by a legendarily nasty Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputy named McCollister two years ago when McCollister claimed Daunis assaulted him when he inexplicably charged the officer. McCollister was not injured in the incident because it didn’t happen. The only people who say Daunis did run at McCollister are a couple of his fellow officers. Protesters say Daunis is completely innocent of the charges against him, but Terry Farmer, Humboldt’s DA, for reasons known only to him, is carrying the felony case forward. Included among McCollister’s other law enforcement triumphs are an attack on well-known enviro and pacifist Richard Ginger and the shooting death of a Black man in Hoopa some years ago. Among enviros, McCollister is known as the nastiest Humboldt cop, nosing out a character named Jimenez for the worst of the worst honors. McCollister, tellingly, is in his 50s but has achieved no rank in the department, apparently having been marginally acceptable his entire career. Daunis is just about to go to court on felony charges of assault in Humboldt County. 

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