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Off The Record

AMERICANS FILING no tax returns are called Zero-Tax Filers. There are more of them all the time:

1980 ... 21.3%,
1985 ... 18.5%,
1990 ... 21.0%,
1995 ... 24.5%,
2000 ... 25.2%,
2004 ... 32.6%,
2008 ... 36%

2008 being the year the Big Ponz took a Big Bounce, Zero-Tax Filers are undoubtedly now an even larger percentage of the population because more and more people simply don't have the money to pay up even if they were inclined to. 2008, incidentally, was the last year these stats were released.

THE MENDOCINO Coast Recreation and Parks District Board has voted to close the CV Starr Aquatic Center pending a special election to fund it. Fort Bragg's spiffy indoor pool and exercise facility opened in 2009. “The district does not have sufficient capital to continue operating the swimming pool,” said the Center’s Executive Director Jim Hurst. Hurst said the complex has been running a deficit of $22,000 to $29,000 a month. Fort Bragg voters will decide on March 6 whether or not to approve a half-percent sales tax projected to generate some $700,000 to revive the Center. It will close on February 15th pending the election.

FROM Leslie Barkley writing for the Sunday Ukiah Daily Journal as 'Teachers' Voice' “…a search firm dedicated to surfacing (my emphasis) appropriate candidates for school district leadership positions.” Surfacing? Are the candidates drowned? Appropriate? At a time the Super Bowl half time show is considered appropriate by many millions of Americans, this exhausted verb no longer applies as moral yardstick. Leadership positions? We'll be lucky if we get a benign general in this country, let alone an intelligent school administrator in Mendocino County. But then Mendocino County's school leadership passes its deluded days in great lukewarm rhetorical vats of 'forging connections' and 'fostering a sense of collaboration' and 'critical thinking' and 'mentoring' and 'exploring the arts' and 'changing paradigms', dreaming of the day they can finally strap the rest of us to basement chairs and shove bamboo splinters beneath our inappropriate fingernails.

THAT 14-YEAR OLD Santa Rosa girl who died during a sleepover at her home last summer overdosed on GHB, part of a class of “date rape” drugs popular among young people at dance clubs and raves. Takeimi Rao died from drinking a fatal dose of Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid mixed in a soft drink. GHB is popular among the young and the dumb for its euphoric effect. It was classified as a food and dietary supplement and sold in health food stores in early 1990, according to government reports. Within the year it was deemed dangerous and banned for over-the-counter sales.

SMOKE AND FLAMES from Elk. Remember that fire last summer when the rich lady's home burned down south of Elk and priceless painting were destroyed? Now, it turns out, that the Elk Volunteer Fire Department, emphasis here on Volunteer, has received notice from the rich lady's attorney that the Volunteers may be sued for lots and lots. The rich lady's contention seems to be that the Volunteers didn't properly fight the fire. Rumors persist that an indoor grow organized by the rich lady's kids was the cause of the blaze.

RESEARCH by scientists at Humboldt State University and the University of California Cooperative Extension concludes that the onset of sudden oak death in North Coast forests will also help fuel forest fires. The non-native disease, which infested trees in the Bay Area in the mid-1990s, is found in 14 coastal counties in California, from Monterey to Humboldt.

THE DRY WINTER weather has compelled the Sonoma County Water Agency to formally declare the Russian River as “dry.” The overdrawn and perennially embattled river’s winter flow had been considered “normal” before last week. Declaring it “dry” means more water will be stored in Lake Mendocino to ensure sufficient water for next Fall’s salmon run.

VETERANS should beware of Mitt Romney for lots of reasons, especially this one: Romney has announced his phony baloney 11-11-11 plan. It’s not a goofy flat tax plan like Herman Cain's, it’s worse. 11-11-11 was the date Romney proposed doing away with VA Medical and replacing it with vouchers for private insurance. Only Veterans wealthy enough to meet the co-pay required to get private insurance would get healthcare under the Romney Plan. Some 500,000 Iraq/Afghanistan Vets have gotten VA care out of 2.5 million who have been deployed. Mitt’s plan is consistent with the Republican Party line that the sick should pay for their own care and only then at huge profit for other Republicans. Mitt did his bit during the Vietnam War via Mormon missionary work in the Provence wine region of France. In the 2008 Iowa primary season he told a Vet who challenged his support for the Iraq war that while nobody in his family has ever served, “my [five] sons are doing their patriotic duty by working on my campaign.”

A READER WRITES: “I watched the first twenty minutes of the SuperBowl, thinking that they might actually start playing football. But the entire time was taken up with countryfied national anthems, flyovers, and cutaways to a group of bewildered looking jar heads milling about in Afghanistan. They looked more like prisoners than heroes, but the crowd went wild to see the poor bastards. Tuned in for halftime and thought Madonna was going to simultaneously blow Seal Team Six while singing “Like a Prayer". Even our biggest media stars have become caricatures of themselves. But then, so have we."

LAST WEEK TOM BIRDSELL of the Mendocino Coast Hospital District Board of Directors warned that the County’s only public hospital is facing financial hard times. The capable Raymond Hino, Coast's CEO, and the man who restored Coast to fiscal health, said the new crisis has been brought on by “…expenses rising at a faster pace than revenues, rising debt load, the economy and reduced utilization. For the past two years, we have been able to mask poor operating results with non-operating revenue; we can no longer do that. The affect of non-action at this time will be to jeopardize the future of MCDH. We cannot allow that to happen.” A number of hurry-up cost-savings steps are being considered.

FOUR MEMBERS of the California Public Utilities Commission have approved a proposal that “allows” PG&E to charge residential customers an initial fee of $75, plus $10 each month, to opt out of the company's controversial $2.2 billion SmartMeter program. CPUC President Michael Peevey, who drafted this little piece of extortion and functions as spokesman for the power monopoly he allegedly supervises in the public's interest, described the shakedown this way: “We want to empower customers, and we think this a major step to do so.” Some empowerment. At least 150,000 households consider Smartmeters a health hazard or a violation of their privacy and are expected to pay up to get out. PG&E will take in $11 million up front plus $18 million a year from the opter-outters. The meters save PG&E many millions of dollars they once paid human meter readers.

AS PART of the Fort Bragg Police Department’s all-out effort to roll back a gang foothold in the seaside Mendocino County town of 7,000, Alejandro Grijalba, 20, has been sentenced to a year in the County Jail and three years of supervised probation for a felony battery “and attempting to dissuade a witness.” Prosecutors Tim Stoen and Scott McMenomey jointly handled the Grijalba case. Stoen said Grijalba publicly renounced his gang ties during last Friday's sentencing hearing and, further, that Grijalba told Judge Ann Moorman that he intends to have his gang tattoos removed.

JUDGE MOORMAN has had a busy week. On Thursday she put on hold the state’s new rules on grape frost protection until a lawsuit challenging the rules is heard. It’s not as if the “rules” are particularly onerous since grape growers get to write their own frost protection plans, but in the frigid mornings of winter and early spring they often draw on the depleted Russian River and its battered tributaries all at once for frost protection water, thus imperiling fish. In a rearguard effort to protect what’s left of the river as fish habitat, the state has required wine country growers to submit water demand management plans and measure the cumulative effects of their water use on the river.

HOWEVER, MOST NORTH COAST grape growers said they will voluntarily comply with rules designed to protect endangered fish in the Russian River although adoption of the new frost protection rules was postponed Thursday by Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman until a pending challenge to them could be heard. The rules prohibit growers from spraying their crops with water during frost season unless they have submitted plans that describe the steps they will take to protect the battered Russian.

KELLY LYNN LORETZ, 25, of Ben Lomond was southbound on 101 at Santa Rosa on Wednesday afternoon when she suddenly swerved in front of a highway patrol officer who had to brake to avoid a collision. When Officer Brian Hiss pulled Ms. Loretz over and discovered she had multiple suspensions and convictions for driving without a license, he also discovered that Ms. Loretz had an outstanding $100,000 warrant in connection with a November 12th incident in which a Fort Bragg couple who went outside to find out why a neighbor's dog kept barking was pushed back inside and assaulted by three people, among them, apparently, Ms. Loretz. The victims were badly hurt and threatened with further harm if they reported the incident, though they did promptly report it, Fort Bragg police said. Though the victims did not know their assailants, they provided information that enabled police to identify all three. Ms. Loretz is being held in the Mendocino County Jail. The other two mopes are being sought.

IN OTHER exciting highway news, a naked man, hurling himself into the paths of frantically braking traffic, was finally subdued near the Mendo-Sonoma line last Wednesday evening by a half dozen cops. Naked Man was struck by several vehicles after he was first seen dashing into the road at 6:20 p.m. At 6:29 p.m., he was hit by two vehicles and thrown over their roofs. Both lanes of traffic were closed so that the man could be airlifted from the scene. Naked Man, about 40 and a resident of the San Luis Obispo area, was not seriously injured but he was found to be seriously insane.

THE HOPI Indians would appreciate Mendocino County's cliff-dwelling vineyards, especially the one near Navarro called Rhys Vineyards, which is planted on the steepest hillside we're aware of where a vineyard has been attempted. Mendocino County has no grading ordinance. A grading ordinance has been discussed here for a quarter century but never adopted. Sonoma County, where the wine industry also dominates the private economy, has put hillside and hilltop vineyards on hold. Despite a big downturn in the quality booze biz, vineyards continue to be planted will-nilly in areas likely to severely erode or collapse. Sonoma County wants a freeze on hillside plantings until their overall environmental impact can be fully considered.

OPINION as to the effectiveness of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission was rather stridently divided when the group met at the Ukiah Valley Conference Center last Wednesday. The hearing was hosted by the California Department of Agriculture, but the Commission's dubious promo work is mostly funded by local growers and wineries. “The Commission has been hard at work for its members and hopes to continue in the future,” declared Executive Director Megan Metz as she described the “huge success” of Taste of Mendocino in San Francisco, basically a free-booze-for-Frisco event at Fort Mason last year. Arnaud Weyrich of Roederer Estates and Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo is among the dissidents. He says the French-owned enterprises pays $21,000 in annual fees to the Commission. “I believe the commission has not been effective and not a good return on the investment,” Weyrich said, explaining that the Commission has diluted support and funds for small yet strong local groups in Anderson Valley and the other 11 regions of the county. Asked if the newest leadership has improved the Commission's effectiveness, Weyrich said he could only “speak to the past, not the future.” But George Lee, a member of the Yorkville Highlands Growers Association, said all but one of the 21 vineyards and 10 wineries in the Association supported the commission. Mary Elke, also of Anderson Valley said she thought “A vote is the only fair way to learn whether the people paying the taxes are in favor of the Commission.” The dispute seems to be headed for that vote, although growers hope it will be a secret ballot because they fear wineries might not buy their grapes if wineries don't like how growers vote on the Commission which, according to its website, represents 91 wineries and 343 grape growers in Mendocino County.

RETIRED, PRESUMABLY, from an earlier career as a thrice busted pot grower, Don Lipmanson, now functioning as an attorney, is representing Supervisor Pinches' daughter Angela, who is facing cultivation charges.

STATE LAWMAKERS have killed AB 1017 which would have decreased penalties for growing marijuana, or at least allowed DAs some discretion on how pot growers were charged. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), blamed the recent federal crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry for the defeat. Ammiano’s legislation, AB 1017, would have changed marijuana cultivation from a mandatory felony to a so-called wobbler offense, giving district attorneys the option of charging it as a misdemeanor or a felony. The wobbler approach is favored by the DA's of both Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

LAST THURSDAY, Lake Mendocino was stocked with 30,000 rainbow trout for the first time in history. The trout are from the Darrah Springs Hatchery east of Redding, which raises about 800,000 fish a year to be planted in Northern California.

SLOW LEARNER. I first ate at Original Joe's in 1962, and soon after downed my second seminal Frisco meal at what to me was another upscale joint around the corner called Polo's on Mason. The two restaurants were just about identical and, as a starving student, I couldn't afford them very often, cheap as they were. Mostly, I ate at a four-table Chinatown place on Jackson where you could get two pork chops and gravy on a big plate of rice and cabbage for under a dollar. If I timed that meal at about noon, I was good for the day. But I left my heart at Joe's. For many years Joe's was the only place I looked forward to for a meal out. There was the pugnacious Puerto Rican chef behind the sit down counter and a gentlemanly Croatian waiter who always seemed to be there. All the waiters, even the Americans, were old world gentlemanly in their tuxedos and old world manners, but the two people I remember most vividly were the menacing chef and the unperturbable Croat, as natural an aristocrat as you could find. As a kid of twenty-one or so I always sat at the counter where the Puerto Rican, one of three or four multi-ethnic chefs always on duty, randomly ambushed fellow workers and select male patrons — only the males — with sudden barrages of insults and bawdy remarks. He put on quite a show, and must have permanently estranged lots of customers who might put up with him once but never again. He asked me once, “How you doin' with the girls? You know any young ones who want to meet a real man?” Another time I'd come in after some kind of demo still wearing a button that said something provocatively mawkish, like, “Love One Another.” The Chef asked me if I was a communist. I tried an evasively nuanced reply, “Well,” I began, “do you mean in the small 'c' sense...” He cut me off. “You think I have time for your bullshit?” He didn't have time for anybody's bullshit, what with the non-stop demands of his job, but he certainly managed to keep up his bullshit, which he aimed scattershot at everyone within range, including people coming through the nearby door. He was also a great one for looming up in your face with a big roast knife in one hand like he was about to fly over the counter at you if you so much as lifted an eyebrow at him. He got his work done, though, and messing around like that probably helped him make his shift go faster. That guy was there for years, and for years the menu didn't change. They say it still hasn't changed, but you'd have to fight your way through North Beach's shoals of trendo-groove-o's and tourists to find out, and when you get inside you aren't unlikely to be fake-menaced by a knife-wielding chef. Customers at the Old Joe's were regular working people heavy on Chronicle reporters, cops, show biz people from up on Geary, gamblers, and older people who lived in the neighborhood. My daughter called it a “time warp,” and would chastise me, “Not everyone is as tolerant of aberrant behavior as you are.” (Embrace the asylum, I say. Embrace it!) The old Joe's was always busy, but lots of people refused to go there “because of the neighborhood,” which, then and now, can be unnerving, especially for unescorted women and even the escorted ones if they happen to draw the attentions of a terminal. The prison writer Dannie Martin, a bank robber, who lived for a while across the street in a federal halfway house, told me, “I see more crime just looking out my window every day than I saw ten years in the joint.” Taylor near Market got progressively wilder over the four decades I ate at Joe's, especially in the crack years. But Joe's let all kinds of sketchy people in to eat so long as they behaved themselves. Then there was a fire and Joe's closed for a long time before re-opening a couple of weeks ago in North Beach. Sketchy people are unlikely to get in the new place. It's designed like a funnel. You've got to get through the small end to get inside to the big end, and it's already jammed with the instant nostalgics, the people who never went to the old Joe's “because of the neighborhood” but now say, “I loved that place.” Yearning for the old Joe's, and like a fool somehow assuming the new Joe's would be a replica of the old Joe's, I tried to get in Saturday afternoon about 4. “We don't serve dinner until 5,” a black-clad young person chirped as four more metro-sexuals bobbed their heads in back-up. The old Joe's you could get most of the menu any time day or night, 11pm to 4am. I looked around at the new Joe's, and not to be a reverse snob about it, except for the door handles, Joe's was gone. It was all shiny and all shiny people and, taken whole, about as diverse as the Redwood Room at the Clift. I walked around the corner to Cafe Sport on Green where the food is always good and the Mexican waiters slick their hair back to look like the Italians who own the place. I don't think it's changed since the day it opened.

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