Deja Vu: After expressing the now common frustration at the lack of significant progress on the Measure B Mental Health facilities and services initiative of 2017, the Supervisors voted to keep doing what they have been complaining about by putting off any direction to staff for another month after Project Manager Alyson Bailey assured them that she’d have “more information” about the costs of construction and operation of the major components of Measure B activity: The Psychiatric Health Facility, the Crisis Residential Treatment Facility, and the “Regional Training Center” in Redwood Valley. Supervisors Ted Williams and John Haschak, the Board’s Measure B ad hoc committee — posed a series of questions to Ms. Bailey regarding gaps and inconsistencies in her “Draft Strategic Plan” which the Board expects to be answered next month. Mental Health Director Jenine Miller said that a 16-bed PHF is “the most cost efficient” even though Mendo seldom has more than eight people in out of county facilities at any given time. She also said that she expects the entire PHF to be privately operated, since other PHFs in the state are privately operated, such as Mendo’s controversial former service provider Ortner Management Group (OMG!) in the Marysville area. Dr. Miller believes that a PHF can be operated without additional Measure B funding “if it’s managed properly” by making sure that clients are reimbursable before they enter and proper billing is done and paying patients are taken in from other regional counties. (Never mind that most of Mendo’s mentally ill are not reimbursable, i.e., not “severely mentally ill,” and thus will not be accepted or treated by such a PHF without significant additional and as yet unidentified funding.) The Board expressed some skepticism about this idea of self-financing, but didn’t really object. Instead, they directed Ms. Bailey to come back to the Board next month with better numbers — several pending requests for bids are due for responses soon — so that the Board can … Well, they seem to prefer prioritizing the PHF, the CRT and the training facility. Supervisor Carre Brown had no idea what to do other than her standard non-advice: “We just have to move forward” — meaning that there’s a good chance the Board will “move forward” in knee jerk fashion more out of frustration than practicality and rush into something that’s more in tune with other Measure B activity: Late, way too expensive, and too big.
At last week’s Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Ted Williams updated his colleagues on the status of his Cannabis Ad Hoc group’s weighty deliberations:
Williams: “Supervisor Haschak and I are on the cannabis ad hoc committee. I would like to tell you it's going well and we are making progress. But the progress we are making is documenting impossibility. I think there is more urgency for the next step. We are still trying to work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to find a solution. One has not been found yet. I think there is a very small chance that we are going to find a way to get state licenses awarded and Phase 3 may be a shorter path.”
Supervisor Haschak replied: “With the cannabis — I still — Well, Supervisor Williams and I and County staff have a meeting with the people at the California Department of Food and Agriculture on Thursday and we are also bringing in the Office of Research and Planning, or Planning and Research, which is the clearinghouse for the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). Hopefully they can bring in a new outlook or point of view on this and help us. Because it seems like we've been kind of at loggerheads for a few meetings. Hopefully we will be able to look at this with some new perspectives because, like Supervisor Williams says, we are not making the progress we were hoping for.”
And that was it for the cannabis committee status report.
Supervisor Williams also commented on Measure B, the 2017 measure that imposed a half-cent sales tax for Mental Health and Drug Addiction Facilities and Services.
Williams: “On Measure B, we are coming up on three years. We don't have a credible plan at this point. We don't have cost estimates. We are working almost every day on trying to get clarity and it's just troubling. We are about where we should have been three years ago. I think we need to step back and instead of just looking at the small details, look at the big picture — just organizationally. This model isn't working.”
Williams continued, “I think the crux is we are overwhelmed by detail to the point that the detail has obscured the overall situation. The overall situation is the voters passed Measure B three years ago. We didn't have a financial plan at the time it was put before voters. Three years later we don't have a financial plan. We don't have a strategic plan. We don't really know what we're doing. The arrangement of the 11 member oversight committee and the Board of Supervisors is not working. If we can get into detail here I have a list of questions. It's really nobody's fault except the overall arrangement isn't working. It needs a rework. We need to rethink how we are doing business here. People expect the promises made by Measure B will be fulfilled. I don't see us moving in that direction anywhere near quick enough.”
LAME DUCK Supervisor John McCowen agreed, saying he thought the primary goal of Measure B was the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF, or “puff”). McCowen also noted how the County has been hoodwinked into spending $5 million on a Crisis Residential Treatment facility, which is a lower priority than a PHF because, as McCowen noted, “we have the lure of this $500,000 grant from the state.”
In their typically wasteful manner, nobody anywhere in Official Mendo — Supervisors, Measure B people or staff — have ever questioned how much it will cost to run the CRT nor did they wonder if it was a good idea to proceed with the gold-plated $5 million project when they accepted the $500k from the state, which had imposed an artificial deadline if Mendo took the money. As a result they’re now committed to the CRT construction and operation before even addressing what they all now say is the top priority: the PHF.
To make matters worse, Mendo’s Mental Health Director, Dr. Jenine Miller, says that the PHF has to be a large new facility with 16 beds because 16 beds “is more cost efficient.” Never mind that nobody has any idea what it will cost, whether it can be staffed, and who will be “served” in it.
For now, Dr. Miller says the PHF can be operated without a subsidy like other private facilities around the state because the PHF will only accept paying customers — i.e., the same “severely mentally ill” people now sent out of county. Which means there will be no — zero — new services for anybody, a complete abandonment of the intent of the voters who expected not just that a PHF would be built, but that there would be at least some attempt to address the free range drunks, druggies and crazy people now appearing on a daily basis in the Booking log.
If Mendo continues with the overpriced CRT as they seem poised to do, and then, out of frustration for having made no progress on anything else, decides to rush into building a big new PHF at whatever gold-plated price the Sacto architects “estimate,” there will be next to nothing left for improved services or other less costly facilities like supportive housing or long-term assistance.
Measure B Project Manager Alyson Bailey confirmed that this is the direction she prefers when she told the Board, “We have Nacht & Lewis [the costly Sacto architects working on the overpriced CRT], we could just give them a budget and tell them we have $12 million to spend and that includes contingency, can you come up with a plan to do that for us?”
Ms. Bailey offered nothing to justify the $12 million she just plucked outta the air. And none of them ever mentioned that in fact the most cost-effective way to get a PHF going is to have the Adventists proceed with their earlier informal offer to convert their old emergency room into a PHF for minor remodeling costs.
Supervisor Haschak arbitrarily jacked the cost of a new PHF up even further: “I think having the strategic plan but also having the finances and backing up that strategic plan and having that laid out so that if we know that the PHF is going to cost $16 million and we have that information and we can rely on that information. If we think that the training center is going to cost $500,000 we need to know what those numbers are, but so far the budgetary presentation is not acceptable.”
But, of course, it IS acceptable because that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Which Williams confirmed: “We have started on a CRT and now we're saying that the PHF is the number one priority. Or maybe the PHF and the training center. Those two will be an ongoing expense and significant one. Given that we don't know what it will take to operate a PHF, we may have to subsidize that. We don't have a contractor telling us they can operate a PHF at no cost to the county. We could find ourselves in a predicament where we have spent our ongoing revenue on supporting a CRT and we can build a PHF but we cannot operate it. Shouldn't we figure that out first? What does that mean for the priorities? I know there will be resistance to halting the CRT. But by not halting it we are saying the CRT is the number one priority.”
The odds of “halting” the CRT — which is nothing more than a multimillion gift of taxpayer money to Camille Schraeder’s Redwood Quality Management Company — at this stage of the game are zero.
Supervisor McCowen then made a motion “to continue further discussion to the first meeting in December asking that staff bring back additional information relevant to the construction and operation of the psychiatric health facility, crisis residential treatment center and training center and any additional financial information is available related to the operation and construction of the facility.”
This further delay passed unanimously.
Mendo Bans Flavored Tobacco Products
The following innocuous sounding item was on last Tuesday’s board agenda:
“Item 5b) Discussion and Possible Action Including Introduction and Waive First Reading of Ordinance to Repeal and Replace Chapter 6.20 of the Mendocino County Code Regarding Licensure of Tobacco Retailers (Sponsors: County Counsel and Health and Human Services Agency)”
The attached summary was clearer:
“ORDINANCE REPEALING AND REPLACING CHAPTER 6.20 OF THE MENDOCINO COUNTY CODE REGARDING LICENSURE OF TOBACCO RETAILERS— This ordinance repeals and replaces the Tobacco Retail Ordinance in Chapter 6.20 of the Mendocino County Code. The proposed changes were made to ensure consistency with recently amended state laws; including minimum age restrictions; a revised definition of Tobacco Product to include Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)”, and the prohibition of the sale of Flavored Tobacco Products, which appeal to youth and make it easier for them to begin using tobacco products. Additionally, changes were made to clarify grounds for suspension, termination and revocation of licenses, administrative fines for violating tobacco-related laws, and appeal procedures.”
The board heard testimony from the Public Health staff and interested locals that over a third of local retailers visited by a teenager trying to buy tobacco failed to ask for ID. But since it was just a “survey” no action was taken against the clerks or the stores.
The issue arose because a state law signed in August bans the sale of cotton candy vape, tropical fusion cigarillos and menthol cigarettes and other assorted nicotine delivery systems in California as of January.
These poisons have proved quite seductive to the young, as have all manner of items that remain legal.
Supporters of the ban have tried before to save the young ‘uns from themselves and failed, the marketers of the insidious things being quite good at lobbying, not to mention well financed. This summer, the bill was helped along by what was described as “skyrocketing vaping among teens, several marijuana vape-related deaths last year, concerns about respiratory health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortened legislative session and a supportive governor.”
Senate Bill 793 bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products – from bubblegum to mango to menthol. The prohibition includes pods for vape pens, tank-based systems, menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It initially included premium cigars and hookah tobacco, but those were later exempted from the proposal, probably because chronological adults use them.
Retailers will be responsible for adhering to the ban by stopping the sale of flavored tobacco by January of 2021.
Last Tuesday, Laytonville High School Principal Tim Henry supported the ban:
“This was a huge issue last year when we still had kids in school. It's very important to ban these flavored tobacco products because the kids just like the taste of them, and then they get hooked on them and they can't stop using them and they have to leave class just to get their fix. It's really addictive. I have pictures here showing a whole basket of confiscated devices, everything from cool melon, banana ice, sour apple, gummy ring… These disposable products are being sold in larger communities like Willits and Ukiah in bulk. I'm told that people who are over 21 go and buy these in large amounts and then send them to middlemen at the high school who double the price on them and make a little money and have a few of these devices for themselves. Each one of these little sticks contains up to 300 puffs which is equivalent to several packs of cigarettes. Sometimes the kids will go through a couple of them a day. We have had kids get so spun out that we have had to seek medical attention. It's very dangerous and we need to ban all flavored tobaccos. The stores don't sell them to people under 21, but near peer people can go and buy them and redistribute them. We need to get these things out of the county and keep them from being sold. I understand that they only do these enforcement stings twice a year. That seems infrequent and predictable. We need to see more enforcement more often. If they've been there a couple times already, they know there won't be an issue for a while. Some of the shops I've seen seem a little shady. We need to stay on top of those. We have done surveys with our students and we found out that a majority of our students were using these things. Many, many students were using them on a regular basis. Last year we found that at one particular grade level 90% of the students had tried it. That's a mind blowing figure. This is a very big issue and it has become common. It hasn't been in my face this year because of distance learning. So I'm not in touch with what's going on out there and whether teens are still consuming these products. I have no way to say. But this looks like a very good ordnance and I hope you pass it unanimously.”
And the supervisors did pass it unanimously, not that they had any choice. The Governor signed the statewide ban on retail sales of flavored cigs and e-cigs in August and it will take effect on January 1, 2021.
It’s hard to argue against it, although, as Principal Henry mentioned, enforcement does present problems if the things are as popular as he says they are. The Board passed the ordinance without anybody raising the crucial issue of enforcement.
The best Mendo could offer on Tuesday was Supervisor Williams’s remark that “I hope our sheriff does follow up. The results are truly unacceptable.”
But the “California Statewide Law Enforcement Association” raise the issue of enforcement back when the bill was first presented. And they make at least one good point.
Re: SB 793 (Hill): Flavor Ban – OPPOSE
Dear Senator Hill [Jerry Hill, the bill’s primary sponsor] and Members:
The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and others are writing today to, respectfully, indicate our opposition to your SB 793. Law Enforcement Associations have for some time opposed tax increases and bans in tobacco. We have found they increase revenue to the cartels and illegal operators which fuel their nefarious activities (Drugs, Human Trafficking, Laundering, Etc.).
While we are sure your goals are well intended, the 100% ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco (exception for hookah) products to adults makes impracticable sense and it will multiply an already large illegal market in California, reward criminal smugglers, and cost California businesses, workers, and taxpayers billions of dollars.
Banning Flavored Products Will Further Criminal smuggling and tax evasion problems:
California is the second most prolific state for cigarette smuggling today. It’s number one from a revenue impact perspective.
California has a massive illegal market. Today about 45% of all cigarettes consumed in California are smuggled in from elsewhere, draining more than $1.85 billion in tax revenues and undermining tobacco regulation. We have less and less federal, state, county and local peace officers for interdiction in this area when so many larger issues are pressing and at government’s request.
Banning flavored tobacco products – including menthol cigarettes – will not end the sale of these products in California. It will simply mean (as with tax increases) criminal networks – already smuggling and dealing illicit products to California – will feed the demand, and continue to do so without paying taxes, without checking ID, and without following any other rules or regulations.
Why make the crime and the contraband problem in California worse? Why continue to strain law enforcement at the worst possible time as a practical effect?
SB 793 puts at least $407 million at risk in state and local tax revenue over the next two fiscal years, according to the state, and over $1 billion over four years when fully implemented. We have law enforcement defunding discussions of bona fide union members plus strained and depleted budgets at all levels of government. This is at a time when California state and local governments are dealing with projected budget shortfalls due to the COVID 19 pandemic and cannot afford more cuts or decreases.
The Tax Foundation expects higher revenue losses, with just the banned cigarettes products resulting in state revenue reductions of nearly $1.8 billion over four years. The impact on state programs that benefit from just cigarette excise tax revenue could be disruptive.
In addition to the state cigarette excise tax revenues, the proposed flavor ban would also reduce excise tax collections from other tobacco products and the state sales tax applied to the purchase of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Including the loss of these revenue sources, if all flavored tobacco products are banned in California, the state risks the loss of billions in revenue moving forward. This decline in resources could mean either cuts in government services or further tax increases.
Please join with the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association and Oppose SB 793.
Sincerely, Alan Wayne Barcelona,
Statewide President, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA)
However, the CSLEA didn’t offer any alternatives to curbing the sale and use of the damn things, and we don’t agree with their arguments about loss of tax revenue impact — why should tax revenues depend on the sale of poisons?
Where are the old-fashioned tobacco haters who sued big tobacco, who ran effective ads on the deadly effects of smoking, who campaigned in classrooms?
We wonder if Laytonville’s Principal Henry will be back with a new survey of his students next year after the ban kicks in to see if it has made any difference besides lowering sales in local stores? Or if anyone will report on enforcement and citations? If history is any guide, no one will care. We passed the ban like we had to and we’re doing a great job! We’re done! Back to Measure B!
Calling Councilman Norvell
Fort Bragg City Councilman Bernie Norvell has posted two recent comments/essays which in part touch upon what we’ve been trying to push for literally decades, going all the way back to the tragic death of Marvin Noble in 1998: A mental health crisis van.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Norvell wrote:
…“The need for social services, unfortunately, does not occur only during regular business hours. Certainly not today during shelter in place (SIP) times. Suicides are up 40% in the county over the last seven months. When we look at how our current system is structured, we may find that law enforcement is the default call, not by choice. However, in our real world, the professionals who are trained and paid to handle the non-criminal calls, like Uncle Fester, are often called after the fact (meaning after law enforcement) to come in and evaluate.
“We want de-escalation in the Uncle Fester situations. We all agree he shouldn’t be headed to jail, but we are not putting the correct social service workers in first. The current system is not working and most if not all would agree with that assessment. If the plan is to take money away from law enforcement because we shouldn’t be paying them to do the social work, I have good news for you, we aren’t. They do it by default.
“So, does law enforcement need more money to do their jobs? I don’t know. The sheriff makes a pretty good argument for it. I am certain giving them less will not solve any of our problems. Perhaps we should take a harder look at who we are paying to do what.”
Then, a couple of days ago Mr. Norvell wrote about recent police department calls in Fort Bragg,
“This is literally everyday. Now add in that 75% of their calls are transient or mental health related . If we reduce their [the Police Department’s] budget there is only one place the cuts will come from, staffing. This does nothing to remedy our problem. The calls for service will not decline, only the number of available officers to respond. Perhaps the county should look at modifying mental health contracts to cover the entire gamut. The COC [Chamber of Commerce] could look at investing into working with law enforcement by placing social workers in with the departments. LE [Law Enforcement] are not social workers. Continuing the same old same old by throwing more money at it has never worked. Maybe we need more money in law enforcement or mental health. I don’t know. What I do know is, what we are doing isn’t working. Let us not be afraid to admit we chose the wrong path and choose another direction. The first thing we need to do to get ourselves out of a hole is to stop digging.”
Further back — pre-covid — Mr. Norvell was a key figure in calling on the County to provide better reporting on the effectiveness of Mental Health Services.
But Mr. Norvell does not specifically mention Measure B which was supposed to do more or less what he’s talking about and he makes no mention of the County and the Measure B committee’s decision to fund a mental health crisis van. Yet, being a reasonably well-informed local politician, it’s likely he does know about these recent developments. So why not mention them? Especially when they bear so directly on his views about the roles of law enforcement and social services in mental health responses.
In fact, Sheriff Matt Kendall has been working on getting the now-funded crisis van going in Mendocino County. But we suspect that the main reason it has not already gone into service is the usual obstructionism from the very staff that refuses to provide reporting and staffing to the kinds of calls Mr. Norvell is talking about.
As far as we know, current plans for the Crisis Van “pilot project” (apparently two of them are funded, but we’re not sure) are for a standard 8-5, five days a week conventional arrangement, and only for inland calls. Sheriff Kendall has researched the highly effective and in-place protocols being used in Butte County and has dispatched members of his staff to visit Butte County and borrow as much as possible from their experience.
When they funded the Crisis Van, the Measure B Committee said they’d evaluate the progress in six months, i.e., in January 2021. But so far nothing much has happened. Nobody has put the procurement of any vehicles on any agenda. Nobody has scheduled any crisis van training at the new Training Center in Redwood Valley. No new job classifications have been prepared. No crisis van positions have been advertised in any help wanted ads. Nobody on the Measure B committee has asked about progress and preparations for the January review. They seem more interested in “strategic plans,” than in doing something about the problem Mr. Norvell rightly focuses on.
We doubt that Sheriff Kendall has had much success in getting this important and funded project moving forward.
We assume that the problem is in the very same unaccountable agency that Mr. Norvell is referring to when he casually suggests “placing social workers in with the [police] departments.”
So we suggest Councilman Norvell take his ideas and priorities a couple of steps forward by:
Asking his Fort Bragg Measure B rep, Mark Mertle, to get on top of the Crisis Van project because Fort Bragg needs it right now.
Asking his fellow Councilpersons to re-visit their still unresponded-to mental health services effectiveness reporting request.
Asking Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty to make sure Fort Bragg is part of the Crisis Van service area.
Telling the County — the Supervisors, the Sheriff, the Mental Health department, etc. — that a crisis van that only operates during weekdays out of Ukiah is not much of a crisis van. Instead, set them up like an ambulance (which they more or less are) and have them be an on-call service carefully integrated with the 911 system.
Otherwise, Mr. Norvell will just find himself writing another essay in a few months on why cops are still stuck dealing with mental health calls all by themselves.