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Supervisor McCowen Exits without a Single Whereas

We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge Supervisor John McCowen’s final board meeting on December 15, 2020.

Appearing via zoom at the Tuesday Board meeting, Mendo’s alleged state reps, Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblyman James Wood, offered conventional bland approval of McCowen and fellow retiring Supervisor Carre Brown.

Brown had received her own public going away gift when she was “honored” earlier in the month by the State’s Rural Counties Association and a farewell tribute by unofficial county press rep Karen Rifkin who technically writes “for the Ukiah Daily Journal.” 

McCowen didn’t get any of that, just the disembodied comments from fellow pols who obviously don’t pay much attention to the quotidian goings on in Mendocino County. 

The praise offered for McCowen’s 12 years on the Board was not exactly effusive, but the garrulous son of Ukiah did get those rote zooms from Healdsburg's dynamic duo, Wood and McGuire. Congressman Huffman also checked in with a pre-recorded Adios. McGuire cited McCowen’s “hard work and dedication” but offered no specifics besides McCowen's non-supervisorial river clean up efforts.

Fellow Supervisor Dan Gjerde roused himself from his usual silence to cite McCowen’s tenure back before Gjerde's taking a seat on the Board when McCowen and his fellow Board members were tasked with signing off on CEO Angelo’s many budget cutting measures in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

At that time McCowen also lead the charge to reform Mendo’s “Teeter Plan” (mis-)accounting which had accrued a large deficit as Mendo’s crack budget team didn’t put the property tax penalties and interest back into the fund, instead using it as a budget balancing slush fund. 

Leveraging the fine reporting of then-Willits News Editor Linda Williams, McCowen also helped expose the related Whitewater-style scam that arose whereby repeatedly foreclosed-on unbuildable Brooktrails lots were creating a large backlog of unpaid back taxes and penalties and interest.

McCowen was also one of the three sitting Supes in those days to take a voluntary 10% pay cut. McCowen, to his eternal credit, didn’t like having defend the pay and hour cuts the Board and the CEO were imposing on County staff while then-Supervisors David Colfax and Kendall Smith steadfastly refused to reduce their own salaries and benefits while chiseling on their travel allowances as noted by the Grand Jury.

In what to us was McCowen’s finest hour, back when Supervisors were allowed to put their own items on their meeting agendas without approval from the CEO, McCowen had staff prepare five salary and benefits summaries for the five sitting Supervisors, including the pay and benefits of the famously irritable and salary-obsessed fifth district Supervisor David Colfax.

When the item came up for discussion, Colfax erupted into an even frothier version of his standard streams of invective, attributing McCowen’s simple budget-related agenda item as a cat’s paw by Colfax’s perceived enemies: The Ukiah Daily Journal, the Grand Jury and (indirectly) yours truly.

Colfax: “The problem I have is once again joining with the Ukiah Daily Journal and certain segments in the County that are fascinated, intrigued by the abuses, perceived or otherwise, including the Grand Jury in that at the very top of the list. I am sick and tired of taking CRAP from these people and these organizations! And for you to come on the board after, what is it, eight and a half months now? And to join in that kind of fascination with this is just filthy. I agree with you if you have genuine interest in this. Rather than grandstanding your willingness to give up, oh, five, ten, fifteen, twenty percent of your salary for which you have made no effort to make sure that this board is adequately compensated for the work that members of it do, and we do earn our money. But perhaps your circumstances are different from other people's circumstances so it's really a bit petty, a bit of a pet peeve of a concern in my opinion, of having made no effort as a Supervisor to get increased compensation. I ran on a platform eleven years ago saying we need to increase the compensation of members of the board of supervisors. And that has been opposed by some of the worst elements in this community for all those years. Now, bottom line, and my reason for raising this, the clerk of the board has done a good job of presenting this information. I'm requesting the CEO's office, since Mr. McCowen has made this request of our Clerk to do this, I want to see the exact same document for each and every member earning more than members of the Board of Supervisors. By name! Now, do you have any problem with that? [Silence.] Sure you do! Because we're not going to put names on it. We're going to have positions. But when you go down and you start talking about the great benefit that I have for my, uh, for paying contributions, uh, to pay for my contribution to employers insurance of $11,000 which takes my money up to a certain level, that's not my income, that's the county's charge of doing business, the cost of doing business! So some of these numbers are not accurate, they are not more accurate, Supervisor McCowen. They are misleading. But I will accept the fact that there's a format that's been presented and is now part of a public document that has me just absolutely outraged! That addresses five members of the Board of Supervisors. But it somehow is not addressed to the people who in my opinion, and this is not my 60th birthday, by the way, so I can take off a few weeks. But it infuriates me that this would go forward without any effort made to run it by, and to do so in the name of members of the Board of Supervisors. One supervisor apparently requested this. And yet it has real implications for this whole organization. Make sure we get it out there and quickly in the same format for those who in my opinion are grossly overpaid in this organization. And it's not the members of the board of supervisors! So I think that it's a pet peeve [shaking angrily]. I'd rather see you work in behalf of advancing the interest of the members of the Board of Supervisors. Moving us up to below the median salary for this organization. To perhaps just what the ordinary employee in this organization gets. Then I would have more respect for your fascination with this. Frankly, I consider this another element of the grandstanding you've done since being on this board with these items, and I don't, if this is taken as personal, and overreactive, I've had too much of an investment in this organization and wasted too damn much time bickering over a crappy salary connected to a not terribly rewarding job. … I don't like having my contribution to workmen's compensation added into the line item about [illegible] out of this organization. That's not what it's all about at all! It's what I see in my paycheck. It's not terribly, terribly exciting to put it very mildly.”

It wasn’t long after his rambling righteousness that Supervisor Colfax, having accomplished nothing in 12 years on the Board besides raising his own salary and defending it against the likes of the Grand Jury, et al, realized he’d probably made himself un-re-electable, and announced his retirement from the Board of Supervisors. Thus demonstrating the power and importance of Supervisors being able to put their own items on the Board’s agenda.

And for that, we salute Supervisor McCowen. (Setting aside McCowen’s unfortunate lead role in the failed pot permit program which he belatedly abandoned.)

Supervisor McCowen also gets praise from here for what was NOT offered on his final day as Supervisor. Nobody prepared the pro-forma whereas-riddled Proclamation for Supervisor McCowen, which means he was probably not well-liked by CEO Angelo and her cowed staff — a clear accolade for McCowen, since being Supervisor is not supposed to be a popularity contest (except maybe every four years). In fact, CEO Angelo said absolutely nothing during the entire send offs of McCowen and fellow outgoing Supervisor Carre Brown.

One wonders at the protocol thinking for the McCowen-Carre Brown departures. Carre Brown gets an entire County-sponsored farewell article in Mendo’s only daily paper and probably an upcoming Farm-Bureau sponsored ceremony of her own:

But McCowen, being in disfavor with Ms. Angelo for occasionally trying to hold her to account on her unfulfulled promises, and also being a man, and Carre being not only a woman but never one to question the CEO's Agenda, whatever it might be, so long as it didn't jeopardize Potter Valley's eternal access to cheap water, it simply wouldn't do to Whereas Carre Brown with John McCowen sitting right there and not getting at least one Whereas.

While we would take such a snub as a positive, CEO Angelo’s refusal to offer even an insincere “We enjoyed working with you” for either of them was a final insult from the famously ill-tempered CEO, but a tribute to McCowen's conscientious, if sometimes errant, years as a supervisor.

Mendo’s Cannabis Ad Hoc Committee consisting of Supervisors John Haschak and Ted Williams met on Wednesday, Dec. 16 in their continuing seemingly impossible quest to not only untangle the current 1100 or so applicants (aka “the queue”), but figure out how to get Mendo cultivators legal under the state’s stringent guidelines by the end of 2021 which require a “sensitive species review,” and an individual “CEQA” (i.e., Environmental Impact Report) report on each application. The state pot bureaucrats have said they might consider extending the Dec. 2021 deadline after which pot growers will need a state permit to grow legally and the County permits will expire and will not qualify. But the State bureaucrats have also told Mendo that they expect Mendo to make progress in bringing their applicants up to state requirements in the mean time, both current and new applicants. That’s proving to be very difficult and expensive and time consuming. Not only is the paperwork for the current applicants in disarray, but even if it’s repaired and made complete, there’s still not much chance that a permit will be issued.

Here’s Supervisor Williams, as usual bluntly bleak, about the current pot permit situation:

“I have heard that the staff estimate is that if we get everything in [Ed note: So far the response rate on receiving documentation requested is in about 10-20%], we might be able to process maybe 10 or 15% of the 1100 in the queue. That's part of why I'm not terribly excited about Phase 1. Most folks are going to end up back in the illicit market or shut down. Staff walked us through that pilot program of 20 that we did. There's all sorts of reasons. Drying sheds built without permits, plot plans not matching, Ag ponds put in without permits, electrical work done-no permit, permits not finalized, clearing on satellite images shifting from one year to the next and getting larger… On any one of those issues, if a planner writes it up and submits it to the state they are going to point out that this is not in line with our own ordinance. Arguably it's not. It creates a predicament. We can't expect a planner to sign any site-specific CEQA document if it's not complete or if they don't think it's in line with our county permit. It surprised me just how many out of the random sampling are seemingly not in line with County ordnance. It's open for discussion as to whether some areas of that ordinance are just too stringent and we are holding people up. But there's also elements of where cannabis cultivation is like agriculture and one year you plant in one area and do the marketing and then weather conditions and rotating crops and so forth cause you to decide to move the greenhouse or modify the greenhouse or change the garden slightly. If you filed two or three years ago your application may not match what's on the ground now. Of course the satellite images are going to be used to match up and if it doesn't match your previous application or our ordnance your application fails. That's part of why we are requesting data. Part of it is because the County lost it. The County has lost some paperwork for various reasons. Some of the incoming data went to an e-mail for an Ag employee who is no longer with the County. Trying to find that in an old email box somewhere and cross-reference it takes more time than asking for that again. So the county likely has lost some information, but it's a matter of after two or three years in the pipeline cultivators had changed. And it's completely understandable why they changed. It's probably how they worked since they started cultivating. It's not exactly the same set up every year. But unfortunately for CEQA purposes the documentation needs to match what's on the ground.”

As we have asked before, can anyone imagine what would happen if even part of this was required for grape growing? Which arguably has more impact on the environment given the much large acreages, pesticides applied, water usage, etc.? Answer: Never happen. Just over ten years ago, the Supervisors overrode their own planning commission to declare that grape growers didn’t even have to show proof of water availability for NEW vineyards, much less the ones now in place.

Nicole Elliot

PS. The pot permit situation has become so bad that Supervisor Haschak said that he’s had to consult with, among several others, 34-year old Nicole Elliott, Governor Newsom’s new “Senior Advisor on Cannabis,” a fancy Sacramento position which pays a base salary of $150k plus generous state benefits. 

Supervisor Haschak didn’t bother to mention whatever wonderful advice the Governor’s pretty young advisor offered to help Mendo out of its predicament. 

Oh, and Ms. Elliott happens to be the wife of — guess who? — Jason Elliott, Director of Executive Branch Affairs, for the Governor. Previously, Ms. Elliott was cannabis czar for the City of San Francisco. Before that she held various silly non-cannabis administrative positions in San Francisco like “Director of Appointments,” and “Deputy Board Liaison” which of course qualified her as the Governor’s top cannabis advisor.

Slo, Slower, Slowest

Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting, Tuesday, December 15, 2020, public expression by David Ayster:

Scrolling through social media last Thursday, December 10, I came across a lengthy post on the Facebook page of our District Attorney's office describing a man who had pled guilty to a crime as “obviously a slow learner." And I read that the man had "been in hot water with the law previously." I saw the exact same piece in the Anderson Valley Advertiser on December 12, two days later. In both cases it was unsigned. Is this a case of an unattributed article in a local paper being used as a press release or was it a press release created by the District Attorney's office? I'm confused. Why would insulting commentary on a person be allowed on county social media? Is this typical social media output by county departments? An antiquated phrase like "been in hot water with the law" reads like something I would see in the gossip pages of a certain local paper. But a man being called a slow learner is just insulting. I found on the District Attorney's county webpage this statement: "At all times the mission of the District Attorney's Office is to carry out the law in a fair, evenhanded and compassionate manner." With no one signing that embarrassing Facebook post who are we to think is responsible for it? Who approved it? Who is accountable? Can we no longer rely on our elected officials or county employees to show respect for the public? Even the people who have “been in hot water"? We don't know who wrote, edited or posted the essay. But I think someone should have been advised to think twice before pressing send on it. If it's an article from a local paper there should be a link to the local paper with the author's name attached. If it's a press release, I will just say that this is 2020 not 1920. It's a bad look. It's harmful to public relations and I think this county can do better. No one is served well by anonymous, insulting essays being posted by the offices of elected officials posted on social media. Does the county have any control over social media used in their name with public money? Does the county have clarity on social media usage by the different offices? Is there a clear policy regarding the county’s expectations with departments’ use of social media. Many county departments have Facebook pages. Does each department have clear policy? A step toward accountability would be for the county to require that every social media post being sent out by a county office be identified by the author. I am asking the board to consider mandating personal accountability on the official social media accounts run by a county offices. If someone were held personally responsible for social media posts it might improve the content of Facebook pages and other social media of county offices. In the meantime I think an apology is necessary.

Supervisor/Chair John Haschak: Thank you for those comments.

Mr. Ayster is a Fort Bragg resident who is an owner of a cannabis retail outfit called “root one botanicals” which produces medicinal cannabis concentrates. In 2016 he was reported to have told the Fort Bragg City council that he was concerned that a proposed cannabis dispensary ban perpetuates a stigma surrounding cannabis and its use. 

The original District Attorney press release 

Cannabis Licensing Cheat Convicted, To Surrender In February To Do Time

UKIAH - While California laws have in recent years evolved to allow for the licensed cultivation, distribution, sales, and use of cannabis, there are still those out there not willing to play by the rules and, instead, circumvent the legal marketplace in favor of the ever-present black market. 

One such scofflaw, defendant Zachary Pierre Brown, 41, of Ukiah, had his day in court – again -- Wednesday. Brown was convicted by guilty plea on Oct. 23 and this week he was back in the Mendocino County Superior Court for his post-plea formal sentencing hearing. 

zachary brown

Brown stands convicted of maintaining a location for the unlawful cultivation of non-licensed (illegal) cannabis, a felony. When all was said and done, the Court placed Brown on 36 months of supervised probation and ordered him to serve 180 days in the Mendocino County Jail. 

While on probation, the defendant cannot possess more than eight ounces of medical cannabis, assuming he has first obtained a written medical recommendation from a license California physician. 

In accepting probation, he also has agreed to a 4th Amendment waiver (search clause), testing, 200 hours of community service, a $2,000 penal fine, and other terms, and conditions. 

He will not be allowed to cultivate or otherwise be involved in the sales of cannabis -- legal or otherwise -- for the term of his probation. 

Brown was also ordered to have prepared and to pay for an environmental remediation plan to be presented to biologists with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Once approved, the defendant has been ordered to pay to have that approved clean-up plan executed to the satisfaction of the biologists at the Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

As documented by law enforcement and reiterated in the Probation Department’s sentencing report, Brown was operating a commercial plant nursery on Boonville Road, selling unlicensed cannabis clones for a profit to interested buyers. 

Operating under the name “Phresh Start,” the defendant told law enforcement that he did not like doing business with trimmers and marijuana bud dealers; that he would make more money by simply raising and selling starter plants (clones) in the black market. 

During the January 2020 search of the defendant’s property, 5,050 cannabis plants and 23 pounds of processed cannabis were seized. 

Law enforcement agents from the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force, assisted by deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, wardens and environmental scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and soldiers from the California National Guard, obtained and served a search warrant to conduct an environmental investigation of the location relating to unlicensed cannabis cultivation. 

As anticipated during that investigation, the search party found multiple environmental violations of law all relating to the defendant’s on-site commercial and unlicensed factory operation. 

At the time of the search, the defendant was also still on an informal grant of probation, having been earlier convicted in the Mendocino County Superior Court of misdemeanor domestic battery and DUI. That probation was terminated Wednesday as unsuccessful and the defendant was ordered to serve an additional 40 days in the county jail for having violated terms of his probation, that violation time to be served consecutive to the cannabis time.

Obviously, a slow learner, defendant Brown was also convicted in the Mendocino County Superior Court in 2017 of a misdemeanor marijuana offense. He was on court probation for two years for that conviction, an informal probation that expired in March 2019. Less than a year later, he was back in hot water with the law because of his continuing involvement with black market marijuana.

The attorney who handled the prosecution of this defendant is District Attorney David Eyster. Mendocino County Superior Court Presiding Judge Ann Moorman sentenced Brown. 



HHSA maintained public assistance benefits, including CalWORKs, CalFresh, and Medi-Cal for 39,257 County residents.” (Mendo has less than 90,000 residents, according to the census.)”


“HHSA provided payments of $66,021 through the CalWORKs Housing Support program to continue supporting 38 families in interim or permanent housing in the month of November 2020.”

(From the CEO’s December 15 report)

THIS ODD ENTRY appeared in the minutes of the November 18, 2020 Measure B Committee meeting: “PUBLIC EXPRESSION: Jonathan Davis singing ‘Gonna Take a Lot of Love’ by Neil Young.”

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