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County Notes (November 18, 2020)

SHERIFF MATT KENDALL STOPPED BY the other day. He said progress is being made on the Crisis Van, aka Mobile Crisis Unit. He expects three units to be deployed eventually, one of which will be on the coast, each unit consisting of a Sheriff’s SUV, a county mental health staffer and a uniformed deputy. 

A COUPLE of experienced Butte County’s Crisis Van program staffers will participate in the hiring process and perhaps conduct some training. Job descriptions “are being written,” and job postings will follow. The units will operate in what Kendall says are the peak hours for 5150 calls, afternoons and evenings. He also expects at least one of the units to be based at the new Mental Health Training Center in Redwood Valley. 

THERE'S been the usual Mendo lag time getting the program underway. It's no surprise that after four months of dithering we're still months away from an operational crisis van. The project is supposed to be reviewed by the Measure B committee in January.

SHERIFF KENDALL also said that he was surprised at the number of evacuees from the Brooktrails “Oaks” fire in September who were in such bad shape that they needed lots of extra help and “lift assists” just to get out of their houses and on the road. Kendall said he thought it had to do with being cooped up without exercise for months. Many of the people who needed help were not that old either, in the 50-60 year old range. But lots more of them needed help than anyone expected. If the fire had been more aggressive, getting the immobile out in a hurry could have been a bigger problem than it was. Fortunately, the Sheriff’s early evacuation order and the slow movement of the fire allowed for an impressively orderly evacuation and no loss of life, no major injuries and only a few structure fires.

SUPERVISORS TED WILLIAMS AND JOHN HASCHAK were guests on Thursday morning’s KZYX “Cannabis Hour” to give listeners an update on the activities of their Cannabis Ad Hoc committee. Haschak uses the words “trying” and “hope” so much that he’s lost most of whatever credibility on this subject he may have had. The host of the show summarized the opinions of the two committee members as “optimism and honesty,” seeming to agree that what Haschak “hopes” will happen or is trying to do is pretty unlikely. For example, Haschak said he “hopes to work through” the roadblocks that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has put up. He added, ominously, especially with regard to their requirement for “sensitive species reviews” for each permit. Haschak said that some lawyers (sic) from the state’s Department of Research and Planning will participate in an upcoming meeting, which will bring “a new set of eyes and perspectives that may be different” in the interpretation of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements currently being required for every — EVERY ONE OF — the more than 1100 pending applications, not to mention the thousands more they “hope” to come in during “phase 3.” Hashak also said he hopes the state extends the January 2022 deadlline on provisional permits after which “ they [the permits presumably, not the applicants] done away with.” Haschak also is trying to increase the size limitations on cooperative cannabis grows, coops being his pet preference for how marijuana should be grown, despite the obvious problems that such undertakings involve — especially with pot growers who aren’t exactly known for sustainable cooperation.

WILLIAMS pointed out that complying with CEQA for an indIvidual permit application will cost at least $15k (probably more if the costs of actual compliance are added to the paperwork requirements). And nobody has the staff necessary to process the applications even if the money could be found. Apparently, the state has found one (i.e., 1) qualified biologist to conduct the “sensitive species revews” that are required. (Not mentioning how many of such reviews the one biologist can handle.) Williams said that Prop 64 more or less assumes that much larger corporate style pot gardens would be able to afford such bureaucratic burdens, but it imposes nearly unattainable burdens on small growers. On top of that, Williams said, even if a local applicant fully complied with everything Mendo currently requires they’d still have to go through a separate state permit process with no guarantee of success. 

“HOW MANY TIMES have we told growers one way and then found out it doesn’t work?” asked Williams. "I feel like I walked outside and fell into a cesspool. … Now we are moving at about 0 mph. The Discretionary (phase 3) model looks better. It would be slow, but at least they’d be moving. Humboldt County is finding out that [processing permits] one by one is a very slow process. If the provisional deadline is extended it would still require more staffing. Humboldt does 70 use permits a year. But we have more than 1100 in line and it would take years. … 

“WE DON’T KNOW where all this will go,” concluded Williams.

WE KNOW. NOWHERE. There are literally thousands of otherwise law-abiding growers throughout Mendo who have no intention of even trying to get legal.

A COUPLE OF DUBIOUS EXPENDITURES are on the Board of Supervisors “consent calendar” next Tuesday. The first one is a RETROACTIVE giveaway to the Ukiah Chamber of Commerce for “Mask Up Mendocino,” a promo aimed at a population already wearing masks. Meanwhile, the City of Ukiah remains the County’s largest covid area by far, mostly due to social gatherings, not businesses. More than a third of the retroactive $92k giveway — $36k — is for “admin” by the woman who runs the Ukiah CofC. They’re also charging $13,500 for printing and graphics, $17,550 for advertising and social media, $17,800 for bilboards, and they’re even charging for “volunteers” (aka “ambassadors”) at $7,000 (which “includes volunteer coordination, community outreach supplies”)

A SECOND consent calendar item expects the Board to rubberstamp giving Trent Taylor, a double-dipping retired Ukiah Police Captain, a three year code enforcement contract for $125,000 per year at a billing rate of $115 per hour. As we've noted before, Mr. Taylor’s primary method of “code enforcement” is what he has frequently described as “self-abatement,” where the pot grower harvests his crop and sells it, thus “abating” it, as opposed to doing the same thing but without “code enforcement” or “abatement” added to the description. 

WHEN TAYLOR was last working for UPD he earned $118k per year. Since he retired after 30 years and probably got at least 2% per year of his base salary, his retirement is at least $70k per year. As the song says, Nice Work If You Can Get It… 

WE WERE NOT THE ONLY ONES who noticed that Supervisor John McCowen was conspicuously missing from the list of participants in State Senator McGuire’s big town hall meeting in Ukiah on homelessnes on Monday. While Supervisor John Haschak praised McGuire for nothing more than being a conduit for almost $11 million in public money to buy an overpriced motel in Ukiah, which is McCowen’s district. And McCowen knows homelessness in the Ukiah Valley like few, if any, inland officials do as he spends hours of his off hours cleaning up after them. The guy knows most of them by their first names. MCGUIRE'S transparent $11-million-plus exercise in self-promotion won’t make much of a dent in Ukiah's street population, if any. Not only are the issues and the meeting centered in and around McCowen’s district, but McCowen has been the acknowledged point person on homelessness in the Ukiah Valley for more than a decade. It’s a further example of how extensively McCowen has been pushed aside by CEO Angelo and her laughably ineffective 31-member axis of Homeless Officialdom. 


CEO Carmel Angelo’s 1st Quarter Budget Report is on next Tuesday’s Board agenda. On the revenue side the CEO says the County expects to get about a million more than anticipated from the cannabis business tax. But that increase is more than offset by departmental overruns and a long list of “funding needs.” 

According to the CEO (we have to take her word for everything since the info in the budget report is selective; not every department is listed), six county departments are “significantly overbudget”: County Counsel ($119k), Elections ($144k), Public Defender ($648k), Alternate Defender ($184k), Sheriff ($828k, Jail ($679k), for a total of $2.6 million. (Probation, for example, a department which has overrun every year in the past especially with its $2.5 million minimally utilized juvenile hall, isn’t even listed.) The District Attorney’s office isn’t listed as overrunning either, although there have been some high profile cases in recent months. But the courts have been closed to various degrees which might have kept the DA’s budget down.)

Alleged reasons for the overruns include the universal catchall Covid (of course), recent salary increases in every department (which should have been budgeted, but apparently were not), wildfires and overtime (mostly in law enforcement). 

No explanation is offered for the overrun in the County Counsel’s office, but it’s likely that the County is paying a lot more than anticipated in expensive outside attorney fees since a number of lawsuits against the County are pending, several of which are from former employees alleging wrongful termination.

There’s several million in carryover from from last year — how that happened isn’t explained and the exact amount isn’t known until all the taxes are in and the bills are paid. But historically, a significant amount of the carryover is put into reserves. Not this year. In fact, reserves will probably have to be drawn down. 

Even so, the carryover is nowhere near enough to cover the CEO’s “funding needs” which total almost $15 million not counting the $2.6 in the six departmental overruns. The CEO doesn’t mention the size of the County’s reserves either, but reserves have already been depleted to some extent in recent years and they’re not likely to increase given the sizable overruns and funding needs.

What about the gorilla in the room, the budget impact of Covid which has cost millions of dollars, a percentage of which is reimbursable? Covid dominates County activities and in the past County Budget specialist D’Arcy Antle has described the covid budget situation as “sobering.” 

Despite the high cost and high profile nature of the County’s covid response going back to March and continuing into the first quarter from July 1 to September 30, CEO Angelo dismisses the entire covid budget picture with two irrelevant sentences: “The first of the regular and frequent updates to the Board of Supervisors began on March 4, 2020. The full fiscal impact is still unknown as the event is still very active. More information will be reported at mid-year as the event continues to unfold.” (Mid-year means the Board won’t get any information on the covid budget until January at the earliest when their options — if there are any — will be limited.)

In her last few reports Ms. Antle’s “regular and frequent updates” have provided little more than the number of hours worked, meals delivered, and motels purchased or rooms rented, with nothing about how much of the sizable cost will be reimbursed or when. When last we heard, the feds were only going to reimburse for covid related overtime, not regular time. There’s probably some wiggle room in how that’s calculated, but when the reimbursement deficit is determined, by the time the Board hears about it in January or February (i.e., “midyear”) — when two inexperienced new Supervisors will be on the Board — there won’t be much that can be done about it.

WHAT NORCAL CANDIDATE SAID THIS: “You have wineries that want to make money, but when you have the land being completely depleted of nutrients and then areas abandoned, that’s not good for the county as a whole”? (Referring to Sonoma County.)

ANSWER: Republican Assembly candidate Charlotte Svolos who was running as a Republican against Assemblyman Jim Wood. Ms. Svolos, a Special Ed teacher from Del Norte County, got about 30% of Mendo’s votes, about the same as other Republicans.

VOTER TURNOUT so far in Mendocino County is up to 68%, which seems impressive until you look back to 2008 when Obama ran against John McCain. In 2008 Mendo’s voter turnout was 80%. That was the year that John McCowen beat Estelle Clifton (54% to 46% in the run-off election) for the Ukiah seat on the Board of Supervisors. Interestingly, we had forgotten that one of McCowen’s opponents in the primary in 2008 (coming in third) was Jim Mulheren, father of Ukiah supervisor-elect Maureen Mulheren. (Too bad Ms. Clifton, a professional forester and land manager with roots in Covelo, dropped out of politics after that race; she would have made a pretty good Supervisor if she had decided to run again. We understand she has since gotten married, had kids, and moved out of the Ukiah district, which is Ukiah's loss. And Carre Brown narrowly defeated Mike Delbar (2,007 to 1,935) in the primary election for the Farm Bureau (aka 1st District/Potter Valley) seat on the Board. (Brown beat Delbar easily in the run-off.)

UPDATED ELECTION RESULTS show Ukiah newcomer Josefina Duenas taking a small lead over incumbent Steve Scalmanini in the Ukiah City Council race. Incumbent Doug Crane was still leading, but the second of two open seats saw Ms. Duenas taking an 81 vote lead over Scalmanini, 1584 to 1503. Apparently, there are still a few late arriving ballots yet to be counted, so the election won’t be certified until late November.

A HUGE UNPAID BACK RENT DEBT is being accumulated by residential renters in California, about $1.7 billion, about a quarter of the national rent debt, according to a recent study by the Fed. An estimated 240,000 California households are behind in their rent at an average of about $7,000 each. The accumulated debt is expected to be higher than that however, because another uncounted group of renters is estimated to have paid their rent by borrowing against their credit cards with its accompanying high interest rates. According to the report, under the state’s eviction moratorium, renters will be liable for accumulated unpaid back rent in March of next year — assuming there’s no nationwide forbearance or subsidies. After March, if nothing changes, landlords will be allowed to pursue back rents in small claims court — itself a slow and by no means guaranteed process, especially when the occupant simply doesn’t have the money — when accumulated back rent could easily be double the current numbers.

IF DEMOGRAPHIC factors are applied, Mendocino County would have about .25% of those 240,000 renters, or 500 or so. The report did not mention commercial renters such as restaurants and other small businesses that are struggling to pay business rents, if they haven’t already closed.

IT SHOULD PROBABLY BE OBVIOUS, but we only realized it recently. How did it come to pass that we have MediCare and MedicAid when, just like now, the insurance companies could have been expected to effectively oppose and prevent such “socialist” programs? Answer: As far as the insurance companies are concerned, the government can have the elderly and the poor — the first group being expensive to care for and the second group having no money to pay for insurance. In effect when those two agencies were born back in the 60s under LBJ, the insurance companies got exactly what they wanted: the healthy, monied age-group in the middle. Then they figured out a way to monetize the elderly with money on top of it by offering “supplemental” programs, just like they could for Medicare for All in the unlikely event it should ever pass. My personal calculator breaks at the thought of penciling this out. But if Medicare for All were modeled after Medicare for Elderly there would still be plenty of business for the insurance companies. And Big Business would be able to rid themselves of job-killing medical insurance costs. 

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