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County Notes (February 17, 2021)

Mendo’s Vaccination Cluster-Bleep

At last Tuesday Board meeting, Supervisor Ted Williams asked if there was “general board support” for “publishing on a daily basis how many vaccines had taken place by provider.” His colleagues all agreed.

County Budget Officer/Deputy CEO Darcie Antle, however, did not: 

“We are establishing a connection with our clinic providers and we can certainly work with them to get that data. It's not going to be this week but it is a goal that we can do. That's the goal of the state once they moved to this third-party administrator. If we can get our data lining up and matching with them and making sure that our clinic providers are reporting into ‘TERIS’ (?) -- We are reporting into ‘TERIS’ then we should be able to get to that report as well as “vaccine finder” which is another software that the state has out there for us to enter into the data inventory but it has not been distributed out to our clinics. We began working with them yesterday to get them signed up into Pathfinder (?). But again we can manage what you are talking about. But give us a few weeks and we will get there. Maybe it will not be every day, but we can do it, you know, three times a week or something to that effect.”

Williams volunteered to simply call the clinics and hospitals and ask how many they vaccinated and provide that easily obtainable info to Public Health. “A few weeks is a long time,” said Williams. “We have 90-year-olds driving across the county in some cases three or four hours and waiting in line because there is a panic about they’re not going to get a vaccine. Just being able to show the data that we are increasing [vaccinations] and we are applying everything we get from the state and the situation will only get better— I think it will reduce some of that stress. I would rather not wait a few weeks. I don't want to put undue pressure on staff, I know there is a lot of number one priorities and this may not be the top number one priority. But I'd be willing to take it on.”

Supervisor McGourty agreed with letting Williams do it by himself, “I like the idea of a daily update but I don't want our staff to be distracted or stressed.” (How a dozen phone calls a day might “stress” the poor dears was not discussed.)

Williams accepted the task, whatever it turns out to be: “OK.” 

Supervisor John Haschak then asked a question many Mendolanders have asked: “With all this talk about ‘sign up genius’ and ‘my turn’ and ‘vaccine finder’ and ‘vaccinate Mendo,’ I hear people asking, What do I do? Is there a phone number? What's the simplest way to sign up for a vaccine?”

Mendocino County’s high-paid Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren launched into another of his rambling non-answers: “Your group will contact you and we are keeping track and they are telling the vaccine events for the people coming in so that for example when it was teachers, the schools put together lists and prioritized them whether it was going to be face-to-face teachers for the younger people first versus maintenance people were all along. But they gave us those lists. It's happening with other workgroups as well. Some of the agricultural employers are also doing that. Where it begins to break down is over 75 age groups. We are trying to get going, I think it is working, the Adventist Hospital and the various clinics can search their own electronic medical records and pull out lists of people that may be eligible and they would call them in and have them come to their events which happen pretty regularly. The exception is those people who are patients of physicians who don't distribute the vaccine and don't intend to distribute the vaccine. We have encouraged them to put their lists together and send them over to Adventist Health clinic and they have agreed to invite them to their clinic. It takes a little bit of time to get those list together. If we have an open clinic or an open event and people just stream in there will be a lot of disappointment. if it’s an event at the fairgrounds elderly people are going to have a problem getting there and getting across to the appropriate place. We are trying to provide those people who are eligible for the vaccine by virtue of their age and those go to their medical providers and medical providers should be calling them in when they are eligible and those who are at risk and are eligible because of their employment, their employers will bring them in. So that's how we are trying to do it. There is a call center line if all else fails — not if all else fails but it's 472-2663. but it's probably best for folks to call their provider and be patient — if they are members, or if their providers are not clinics or the Adventist health clinics and hospitals -- those entities will be calling up their patients who qualify and they are getting that off of their electronic medical records.”

Instead of saying, “That’s not an answer, Doctor,” Supervisor Haschak replied, “Ok.”

Anna Stockel, public comment: “The disclosure of information is very frustrating. I am happy to hear what was discussed in the meeting but not with the result. The board of supervisors complained endlessly about the state not disclosing data but quite frankly Mendocino County is not doing much better. I tune into these meetings to get more information. I find it disappointing that Dr. Coren's report is straight out of the national news and he never has a professionally formatted report with graphics. It seems like he is just winging it every meeting. I am not a doctor, but I could have given the same report. I also don't understand why the CEO or Dr. Coren are not on the phone trying to get vaccines to Mendocino County. It doesn't seem like he has any involvement whatsoever. Supervisor Williams is and has been carrying most of the load on Facebook. He hit the nail on the head with his earlier comment on this. We all appreciate his efforts. But it is still difficult to get answers to specific questions. I almost fell over listening to this meeting and hearing that daily updates to the public would be a distraction to staff. I don't know what you're thinking! I have seen questions from people in their 70s and older who don't know how to get vaccines going unanswered. This seems to be a job for Mendocino County Public Health. Why did they not disclose the Fort Bragg restaurant outbreaks for many days until they had already been dealt with and the restaurants were reopened? We needed to hear that information as soon as you heard it. Vaccination information should be available to us in the same format as the graphic that come out with the patient data every day. We need a stacked bar graph to see who is getting vaccinations and whether they've had one or two and by what demographic. We want to see high risk and front-line workers, but we also want to see the demographics that are keeping us in the purple tier and keeping local Mendocino business owners closed and keeping our students out of school. And a last question I can't get answered: How is all this information being given to the people who don't have access to Zoom and Facebook and the Internet? I can't get answers to that either. It's been a exercise in frustration trying to find out what's going on.”

There were then a few moments of silence, perhaps in inadvertent tribute to prior boards from the 50s and 60s who would have demanded proper answers to pertinent questions about an ongoing crisis. Then more silence, and more silence…

Finally the Board Clerk announced: “This concludes public comment for this item.”

Board Chair/Supervisor Dan Gjerde, without even the usual minimal courtesy of “thank you for your comment,” chirped up with, “Okay! All right! Well, that takes us to item 5d.” None of the other Supervisors said a word. 

Betsy Cawn Comments on the vaccination sign up mess:

The results of my attempt to sign up for “vaccine information” from the State’s new centralized tracking system, “My Turn,” were not pleasing. The user is initially invited to find out whether they are “eligible,” by filling in fields in an automated survey. Minor confusion appeared on the first “page” of the survey, where I was required to select an employer (from a list of various choices). I am not “employed” — having my own full time public service enterprise that rewards me with not one dime, and depending on my retirement income for sustainable living.

To resolve that “employment” question, I called the toll-free phone number and, after stepping through the instructions (if this, press that, etc.), spoke with a pleasant person who directed me to select “other.” Okay, on to the next “page,” where I entered my email address but could not supply a required “mobile phone” number. My second call to the toll-free number resulted in an impasse — the second pleasant person who answered could not find a way to get around the automated survey’s requirement that the field be filled in, and was not sure what to do to help me. I finally suggested that we give up on that pass, and ended the call.

My next action was to report all that to the local Public Health Department (Lake County, in this case). Less than an hour later, a press release was issued by the Lake County Administration, providing a local online registration hyperlink, with the additional message: “Residents 65 and older who do not have the ability to schedule online can call 707-993-4644 for assistance. Staff at this number do NOT have access to any additional appointments. Do not call this number if appointments are filled.” There is another option for educators or healthcare providers who “missed earlier opportunities” to sign up with the local Public Health Department, which will contact them “when a spot is available.”

Nothing I have found so far indicates that there is a “coordinated” system, anywhere. Anecdotal stories abound on Facebook, of individuals getting themselves and their family members vaccinated, so the system is working at some level, right?

James Marmon Adds:

Here in Lake I’ve been trying to get a vaccine appointment for my 89 year old mother and my 70 year old brother with COPD. I also fall in the at risk group by being a fat bastard over the age of 65. There’s too much competition and the appointment slots fill too fast. Why in the World is Lake County making us compete with “healthy” farm workers, food workers, educators, and care givers who have been placed in the same tier as us.

I’m about ready to start stirring up some shit here, I almost called into the BoS meeting yesterday.

We just noticed, belatedly apparently, that Mendo’s Public Health Officer Dr. Coren, who has his own consulting co-public health officer from San Diego, Dr. Noemi Doohan, now also has a Public Health Public Information Officer, Ms. Ashley Toxqui-Martin, helping him. Ms. Toxqui told Thursday that Mendo’s 40th death due to covid was “a grim milestone for our community,” which it is, of course, but apparently too grim for Dr. Coren to announce himself. Fortunately, Ms. Toxqui-Martin is on staff to help. After all, with the County’s many public information officers and social media consultants and so forth, we’re all very well informed about the virus and the vaccination rollout, especially those grim milestones.

Direction Was Given To Staff

On Tuesday, the Supervisors had a largish seven-item closed session agenda which was scheduled to take a whopping three hours. Instead, they remained cloistered for over 4.5 hours. As best we recall, that’s a record as the longest closed session in modern Supervisor history.

The first closed session item was the CEO Evaluation. 

Background: In October of 2018, CEO Angelo gave herself a giant raise plus a four-year contract in a rigged meeting that she herself orchestrated which guaranteed her four more years (ending in October of 2022) at a guaranteed salary and benefit increase starting with raise to $195k per year base salary then increasing annually to $220k per year in the fourth year. At that time, Supervisor John McCowen, who later became openly frustrated at CEO Angelo’s constant foot dragging on, if not downright quashing of, many board directives, praised the CEO for essentially being CEO and lame (duck) Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who, soon after the CEO raise, went on mental health leave then high-tailed out for Oregon when his health care bennies ran out, called the unprecedented $200k per year giveaway to Angelo a “bargain.” 

All the Supes who rubberstamped Angelo’s raise and contract back then are gone now except for Dan Gjerde. Yours truly had submitted a critical assessment of the CEO for last week’s closed session (reprinted in these pages) which we’d like to hope was at least considered in the over-long closed session. However, after over four and a half hours, Board Chair Gjerde emerged in virtual form to announce that for all seven closed session items: “Direction was given to staff.” 

The CEO’s “evaluation” is a secret, of course, because she’s an “employee,” you see, and such “personnel matters” are top secret because we can’t have the rabble involved in the evaluation of the most important public “employee” in the County. It doesn’t matter what the Supes evaluation was anyway because even if the new Board grumbled and griped (courteously and on tippie-toes, of course because they know they don’t dare get on the CEO’s wrong side), Angelo’s sweetheart contract guarantees her raises until October of 2022 as well as the subsequent enormous pension she’ll get for as long as she lives after she retires. (Assuming she’s smart enough to max out her pension, she’s on track for a pension based on 30-years employment at 2.5% of base salary per year which would come to 0.025 x $220k x 30 = $165k per year. More if she can come up with some kind of medical or stress condition and/or arrange for a post-retirement double-dip consulting job when she moves back to San Diego.)

One of the items on Tuesday’s lengthy closed session agenda was entitled: “Public Employee Appointment – County Librarian.” Which you’d think would be a simple rubberstamp if it was on the agenda that way and since Mendo’s Library webpage already announces that a woman named Deborah Fader Samson, formerly of Tuolomne County (a victim of budget cuts, it seems), formerly of Albuquerque, is Mendo’s “Cultural Services Director / County Librarian.” Last year former County Librarian / Cultural Services Director Karen Horner simply up and vanished without notice — no presser, no “social media,” nothing — like a lot of CEO Angelo’s top henchpeople lately, come to think of it — and ended up as a librarian in Wyoming, far away from Mendo and CEO Angelo. Did the Board have some problem with making Ms. Samson’s position official? Did they express skepticism about the CEO’s chosen librarian? All we were told was,”Direction was given to staff.”

The Supes were also scheduled to discuss two apparent wrongful termination lawsuits, one the well-publicized suit filed by former Public Health Director Barbara Howe; the other a newer one filed by former Deputy Board Clerk Meribeth Dermond (an employee of Board Clerk/CEO Angelo). Maybe the new supervisors needed extra time to explore the ugly details of those cases. All we know is: “Direction was given to staff.”

We doubt the other items in closed session — labor negotiations of some kind and a possible upcoming additional lawsuit (the always ominous sounding “pending litigation”) — took much time, but even on those all we were allowed to know was, “Direction was given to staff.” 

TRANSPARENCY? Hell yeah, we say how important that is all the time, unless we have to protect our overpaid selves, then the subject is managerial bungling, er, “a personnel matter.”

The Retroactive Attempt To Retroactively Deal With Retroactive Contracts

At last Monday’s (February 8) General Government Supervisors standing committee meeting, the subject was “Agenda Item Quality.” 

Supervisor/Committee Chair Ted Williams asked CEO Angelo what she thought about the retroactive contracts that are presented to the Board for rubberstamping.

Williams: “Should we be looking at why retroactive contracts are being brought to the board? I understand that in HHSA a lot of times we don't know until after the fact just the convoluted nature of state and federal financing of human services. What about some of the other departments? I see there's an item on tomorrow's (February 9 Supervisors) agenda, there is a retroactive agreement. Should this be happening? Or should we bring a recommendation back to the full board that we don't want to see retroactive contracts except where it saves the county money in very specific narrow areas?”

CEO Angelo: “Retroactive contracts are something that has been problematic not only here but other counties as well. This board has given direction on retroactive contracts. A contract that would normally go on the consent calendar may go on a regular agenda because it's retroactive. And the reason that it's retroactive does not appear to be substantial enough. So that department does have to speak with the board about why the contract is retroactive. Maybe that's an area that we certainly could look at before we get into individual departments— retroactive and what the reasons for retroactive are. Many times when we are negotiating a contract and it takes a little longer to negotiate -- I think the retroactive contracts -- what the board said last year, there was some validity there. When you get a retroactive contract essentially you -- you know, you basically just rubberstamp it because the contract is already in place. A large contract, let's just say like RCS (Camille Schraeder’s Redwood Community Services), that has provided services for over 20 years, something like that may take a little longer to negotiate and it comes in retroactively, but we know that they will still get the contract because they are the only service provider. It would be a good idea to focus on what a retroactive contracts is and why it's retroactive, what that means, and are there ways to mitigate that. … For the next meeting, I would like to bring in a small group of department heads that consistently have multiple contracts that are retroactive. I want to make it clear though that there are ways to approach this. This is not a public shaming of the department heads because they have a retroactive contract. Let me be real clear. There are times that something happens and you just can't help it. You get money or whatever.”

“You get money or whatever”? That’s the reason for retroactive contracts presented to the Board? “Oh! Look! Money! Hurry! Spend it! Fast! Ask the Supes later! They’ll approve it. They always do!”

Deputy CEO Darcie Antle: We do have an enorm— an unusual amount of retro [sic, now it’s so common it’s got its own shorthand: “retro,” as in “Looks like this’ll have to be another retro for the Board.”] this year in particular. The pandemic and emergencies, we are always going to have retro contracts. But also the workload that has been placed on the department, and in particular HHSA this year, we are seeing a few more retros in that area. We worked really hard last year to clean it up but the pandemic has caused some more delays this year but I think we can get back on track.”

Ms. Antle “thinks” they can get back on track. Some serious commitment there.

Supervisor Mulheren then asked for more information to accompany the agenda items in general — “Not to publicly shame anyone, of course,” she felt obliged to add. Oh dear, no. We’d never want to “shame” staff by asking for more information with agenda items. 

They finally boldly decided to request: “Staff to return at the next General Government committee meeting with additional information and department heads to dialogue with the committee around the quality of the agenda summaries.”

And after the dialog, we’ll meet again and “try” to “think” about “cleaning it up” a bit. But be careful because staff is under great strain and has so much work to do and they’re easily upset.

Williams and probably everyone else at the County Admin Center has probably forgotten about CEO Angelo’s formal declaration in her CEO Report of October 3, 2017:

“Retroactive Start Date Contracts Require Board Approval.— On September 27, 2017, a memo was sent out to all Elected Officials and Department Heads reminding them that all contracts must adhere to Mendocino County's Purchasing, Leasing & Contracting Policy, Policy No. 1. Effective immediately, any contract that has a retroactive start date will need Board of Supervisors' approval, regardless of the dollar amount of the contract; and requires noting ‘Retroactive’ on the top of the routing sheet.”

So CEO Angelo knew that this was a problem which needed attention more than three years ago.

In June of 2018 Acting HHSA Director Ann Molgaard told the Board, “I do realize that this is quite a consent calendar and this has to do with the fact that an edict came down from our former chair of the board of supervisors [i.e., Supervisor John McCowen] that there will be no retroactive contracts. So we have worked very hard. … The fact that they are all being done in the month of June is what is different. I see that that is kind of overwhelming. But we can certainly come back and give more detail on anything that you would like.”

So Molgaard also knew that there was an “edict”that the Supervisors had ordered that “there will be no retroactive contracts.” 

Of course, there have been plenty of retroactive contracts since then, many of them sizable and many of them on the consent calendar. 

The Grand Jury noted a version of this problem back in 2018 as well. “The BOS Consent Agenda often includes items of a controversial nature, for example, salary increases and cost overruns. This routine inclusion of controversial items in the Consent Agenda prevents debate and public input. While a supervisor can pull any item from the agenda, it would be more efficient to simply follow the established guidelines that determine which items should be included and which should be excluded.”

The fact that CEO Angelo thinks that asking Department heads to explain retroactive contracts might amount to “public shaming” and that Supervisor Mulheren felt obligated to repeat it shows how sensitive these poor babies are to even the most ordinary of inquiries.

But the problem is more than just retroactive projects being presented to the Board after they’re already awarded. It goes to the deeper problem of a complete lack of Board and public involvement in the contracting process. For major projects and contracts, the Board and the public should be involved in the scoping of the project/contract, how it’s packaged and segmented, what services should be included and when and where the work should be done. As it is, contracts, retroactive or not, are just plopped on the agenda as is for automatic approval, with no options offered and no time for reconsideration. 

A perfect example is the secret activity going on now for services at the gold plated Crisis Residential Treatment house on Orchard Street next door to the Schraeder’s Redwood Community Services offices. When this last came up at the Measure B meeting, Mental Health boss Dr. Jenine Miller dismissed all questions, even a question about how many bids they got, saying that they were still “negotiating,” presumably with RCS so nothing could be disclosed. But nobody has even seen what services are being planned or why there’s so much secrecy. Soon, the Mental Health staff will present this contract, like all the others, as a package deal for Board approval. The pitch will include a short deadline which will require Board approval right away, they’ll insist, to meet the late fall start date the state demanded when they agreed to provide $500k of the $5 million they’re spending. The Board will not only approve it, but they’ll thank staff for all their great work.

PS. We also couldn’t help but notice Deputy CEO Antle’s on-the-fly backtracking on the number of Mendo’s retroactive (“retro”) contracts in the last year. First she said the number was “enorm—” before quickly swerving to “an unusual amount” and then a few words later it was “a few more retros.” So obviously, they’re not paying attention to them; it’s just another casualty of that handy all-purpose excuse: “the pandemic and emergencies” and the associated “workload that has been placed on the department.” Never mind that the problem went unaddressed years before the Pandemic and Emergencies excuse arose.

Will Williams and Mulheren succeed in reforming the retroactive contracting problem? Of course not. They’ll dialog and analyze and prioritize… The only way this problem could be solved is if the Board took the position that Pope Francis did when he first became Pope and discovered that work was being done at the Vatican without proper contracting procedures. Pope Francis simply declared, in that case, “WE DON’T PAY.” If the Supes simply denied a couple of the inexcusable retroactive contracts or refused to pay for work they hadn’t approved, rather than grumbling but rubberstamping them as they always do, this nonsense would stop immediately. But they never have.

On Line Comments: 

• Dora Briley: The County instituted a new contract software program called Cobblestone, it made things a little faster and mostly paperless. It is suppose to provide detailed reports, I’m sure one could track retro items with Cobblestone. I always thought it would have been great to have it tied to the MUNIS fiscal system so that the fiscal aspect of contracts could be better monitored, but alas it is not (or wasn’t by March 2020 when I retired). I always wondered why the County had so many computer programs that were separated from each other when it seemed that if they worked with each other it would be more efficient and give a better overview of the whole picture. Silly me.

• David Jensen: To really understand the issue of retroactive contracts, look closely at the county’s Byzantine contract development and approval process. Track the inexplicable time from initiation to approval. There you will find the real problem. They use canned language with fill-in-the-blanks entries for names and numbers. Then comes the glacial review process. As Environmental Health Director, I would wait for contracts to be approved, then have to resubmit them for reprocessing because the effective date had passed, hence it had become “retroactive.” Approval by County Counsel was the purgatory where they lingered longest. If the process is not corrected, the problem will continue.

We were not surprised that the Supervisors approved about $10k in retroactive Albion-Little River Fire District parcel taxes to the Calverts at last Tuesday’s Board meeting. 

“Recommended Action: Approve Tax Refund Claim in the amount of $4,220.40 by Karen A. Calvert, pursuant to Revenue and Taxation Code sections 5096 and 5097, regarding certain taxes paid to the Albion Little-River Fire Protection District.” (Plus another similar slightly larger one for Mr. Calvert.)

The wealthy Calverts, like the even more wealthy Fisher family, owners of Mendocino Redwoods, had piggybacked on a Mendocino Redwoods appellate court ruling that said their parcels were “commercial” and not strictly in the Albion-Little River Fire District and therefore they paid an expensive lawyer to get their money back from the big bad over-reaching government — i.e., the Fire Department they depend on to respond to their parcels in an emergency. As Albion-Little River Fire District Attorney Terry Gross noted in her letter to the Supervisors, “When the 911 dispatch call comes, local fire districts do not know the zoning of the parcel, simply its location. They are the first to show up at the site, prepared to suppress the fire or rescue the injured or contain the fire until additional help arrives, regardless of the parcel’s zoning. By excluding commercial timberland from the local district tax, the costs of maintaining equipment, training and keeping these volunteer individuals safe is borne by the remainder of the residential and other property owners in the district. This is true even though most of the property lying within the district boundaries is commercial timberland. Today, volunteer districts are even more pressed, given the heightened fire season and the unavailability of the State to respond to local fires.” (Not to mention other emergencies and incidents such as missing persons, accidents, medical calls, etc.)

We were surprised, however, that nobody brought up what the Anderson Valley Community Services District does for rural properties in their response area, but outside their official district boundaries. The AV CSD politely notifies these neighboring parcel owners (several dozen in Anderson Valley) that since they are not taxpaying members of the district, they are liable for a bill for any response on their property. We called the always approachable Ms. Gross and suggested the Albion-Little River District send similar letters to their out-of-district but in-the-response area parcel owners out there and Ms. Gross said she’d follow-up. Which we’re sure she will. Hopefully, the Calverts and MRC will think about more than just their own petty financial interests and chip in for some de facto insurance as their fair share of the VOLUNTEER firefighter department’s expenses, a department that has to respond when the call comes in.

Drought? What Drought?

California's rainfall is at historic lows. That spells trouble for wildfires and farms. “Northern California remains stuck in one of the worst two-year rainfall deficits seen since the 1849 Gold Rush, increasing the risk of water restrictions and potentially setting up dangerous wildfire conditions next summer. The current precipitation is only 30% to 70% of what the state would expect to have seen during a normal year — with no more big rainfall events on the horizon for February. 

(London Guardian)

Last week, KZYX’s environmental reporter, Lana Cohen, began her report with a true statement: “In the past, there was no ground water regulation in the Ukiah Valley.”


The Grand Jury has made several tentative attempts to draw attention to the Ukiah Valley's ominously unaddressed and unregulated water situation, suggesting, among other things, that gages be installed on pipes and pumps, mostly for vineyards, and that the Ukiah Valley’s many competing little water districts be consolidated. 

The buccaneers of the wine industry said no, and the over-lawyered water districts would not agree to consolidation.

But then Ms. Cohen’s report abruptly veered off into optimism unsupported by fact.

“That is about to change. Regulation is on its way.”

Uh, Ms. Cohen, the Water Board’s 2010 order for the grape growers allows them to prepare their own plans for pumping frost protection water. But that was too much “regulation.” The grape growers even sued to stop self-monitoring! And Judge Moorman ruled for the growers, of course. The state appellate court overturned Moorman, the upshot being that the poor beleaguered grape growers were forced (allowed) to simply document what they were already doing and try not to turn on all their frost water pumps at the same time.

That “regulation”?

You might think that since NorCal is in what Ms. Cohen conceded was an “historic drought” that some kind of sane “regulation” might indeed be worth considering.

But what kind of “regulation”? 

The latest, according to Ms. Cohen, is California’s “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act” passed back in 2015. (And if it seems like that particular “regulation” is only now, more than six years later, finally even being considered, you get an A in Mendo Timeframes 101.)

Ms. Cohen said that “Ukiah was one of 94 basins at risk of overdraft,” and that the 2015 Act required Ukiah “to create a plan for the Ukiah Basin. For four years they’ve been gathering information, getting organized and trying to figure out what Ukiah Valley needs.”

Four years “trying,” but apparently not there yet.

In the wake of the 2015 law, Mendo set up a Groundwater Management Agency which, as we have noted previously, is dominated by wine people and their gofers.

That “Agency,” Ms. Cohen said, is “working with local politicians, stakeholders, interested parties and engineers to answer important questions abut how much water can be used without overdrafting the basin, how much irrigation can be done, how much water can be supplied to urban areas, how many people and communities can be supported? And how to maximize the water availability with water supply and demand management.” 

“Local politicians, stakeholders, interested parties and engineers…” translates as the local Cheap Water Mafia. No skeptics, no neutrals, no members of the public need apply to answer these critical water questions.

Years ago the Cheap Water Mafia led by then-UC Extension advisor and now-Supervisor Glenn McGourty did what they called a “study” of the Navarro River basin. That “study” involved simply asking a few grape growers what they thought of their own water usage, then putting the growers' self-serving answers into a few charts and graphs and concluding, voila! No Problem! Plenty of water! And we’re really really good stewards of the land and water and how could anybody think otherwise? (see: "Grape Growers Congratulate Each Other" August 13, 2014)

FAST FORWARD: Newly elected Supervisor Glenn McGourty has replaced Cheap Water enforcer, Carre Brown, and is in now charge of the Ukiah Valley Ground Water Sustainability Agency.

McGourty knows that in Mendo there’s no history and the grape growers can claim whatever they want to claim without fear of contradiction. McGourty invoked a version of Big Timber’s tried and true “talk & cut” tactic back in the 90s when the timber companies agreed to go to endless meetings with self-important enviros and talk and talk and talk about logging reform while continuing to clearcut as fast as they could. 

With McGourty’s Cheap Water Mafia the tactic can be called “talk & pump.”

McGourty told Ms. Cohen that despite the evidence to the contrary, there’s no real water problem in the Ukiah Valley. 

McGourty: “The Agency is developing a plan and the first part of that is determining where the boundary is and the condition of the aquifer beneath the Ukiah Valley. Our initial results indicate that it’s a pretty good basin, there’s a fair amount of water down there. We don’t know for sure, but we think there’s about 200,000 acre feet which is about double the size of Lake Mendocino. The water levels appear to be very stable and they don’t seem to be differing much as we go from season to season. So we’re trying to understand how the system works. We are supposed to monitor water levels and understand what makes the water levels go up and down and how much water is being extracted and how to monitor that.”

Of course, “how to monitor that” is already well known and well documented: Gages on every commercial and ag pump and pipe would do it. In fact, the Supervisors once asked their then-Water Agency Chief Roland Sanford to draft a gaging ordinance in the wake of one of several Grand Jury inland water recommendations since the Board of Supervisors is also the County Water Agency (not that they act that way). 

Sanford ignored that request for a couple of years, citing higher priority tasks, and then the year after Carmel Angelo became CEO Sanford and his tiny “water agency” was eliminated — budgets were tight, you see. 

No gaging ordinance ever saw the light of day.

Now we’re apparently supposed to believe that “regulation is on its way”? Not if Mendo can help it. Drought or no drought. The only question is, How soon will Ms. Cohen return to the subject and report again that McGourty and Co. are still talking about the problem and “trying to understand how the system works”?

One Comment

  1. George Dorner February 18, 2021

    Thank heavens I am getting my covid vaccination through the Veterans Administration. With all its drawbacks, the VA gets the job done–unlike Mendocino County.

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