DIRTGATE GETS DIRTIER. The Mendocino Transit Authority, aka Ghost Bus Inc., is building a kind of Taj bus barn and fancy offices for the agency's seldom seen boss, Bruce Richards. During construction, MTA arranged to have a bunch of fuel-soaked earth trucked as clean fill to the Ukiah Fairgrounds. The following letter, by Richards' primary gofer, was sent to the Ukiah Daily Journal: “I would like to take this opportunity to reassure our community that the MTA Board takes very seriously the soil issue reported on in your story of March 24. We have been reassured by the test data that it does not pose a public-health concern. The hydrocarbons found in the soil range from high in some areas to low in others, and independent engineers have stated that the probable source of the contamination is from the asphalt overlay that was in place for decades. While the MTA was not responsible for the original decisions that led up to this problem, we have been proactively working with the Fairgrounds administration in order to bring about a quick resolution. A workplan has been submitted to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, with a completion date of April 6th for the remediation work. We regret any concern this issue may have caused, and hope that the trust and support of our community will continue. — Jim Mastin, Chairman, Mendocino Transit Authority Board.”
THE UPSHOT? 2,500 yards of MTA—contaminated dirt will be hauled from the Ukiah Fairgrounds to Outtahere beginning Monday, Outtahere being the landfills at Novato and Vacaville where the soil will be deposited at about $20 a ton.
RICHARD, as mentioned, is building himself a combined new bus barn and admin structure at the MTA bus barns on deep South State Street, Ukiah, hence the dirt removal. Richard's bus “system” is heavily tax-subsidized and irrelevant to most Mendocino County working people because it doesn’t run to and from Ukiah at normal work hours. For example, the bus departs Boonville after 10am and returns from Ukiah at 4pm, handy for the retired and the local leisure class but inconvenient to the employed. If the bus left the Coast at 6am and Ukiah at 6pm more people would ride. But the MTA, like several other County bureaucracies, especially the school bureaucracies, has itself as its first and only priority.
“TRUST AND SUPPORT”? Mastin says, “The MTA was not responsible for the original decisions that led up to this problem.” Oh really? Then who was? And if it wasn't the MTA, why did the MTA submit a workplan to fix it? Why didn't the (unidentified) original decider do submit the workplan? (There might be a reason, but we're left in the dark.) And Proactive Mastin “regrets any concern this issue may have caused”?
MARCH HAS BEEN a rough month for Mendocino County senior citizens. First we had the tweeker kid who beat up grandpa, then dragged gramps out a country road behind a pick-up and heaved the old boy over the side.
THEN, LAST FRIDAY, the Fort Bragg cops can’t help but see a guy driving “at a high rate of speed” through town. The speeding driver soon runs off the road north of Fort Bragg where the CHP discovers him and his elderly mother in the wreckage, both of them injured severely enough to get themselves an emergency airlift to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
THIS STORY gets worse. Back on January 7th, Fort Bragg Police were summoned to a home on Corry Street where “an elderly female identified Buckner as her caregiver. The investigation revealed that the elderly female might have been sexually assaulted and held inside the residence against her will. The female victim was taken to the Mendocino Coast Hospital for treatment of her injuries by the Fort Bragg Police Department.”
BUCKNER was subsequently arrested for alleged attempted rape, false imprisonment and elder abuse, but charges were dropped “for insufficient evidence, relating to the victim's mental health and other issues.” The victim’s mental health? If the old lady gets any crazier she’ll be dead. Anybody want to bet that Devoted Son has a tweek prob?
SAN FRANCISCO DA George Gascon threw a scare into the city’s stoner community last week when he said he intended to prosecute a woman arrested while delivering pot to a medical marijuana dispensary. Gascon declared that since marijuana is illegal, the delivery lady was breaking the law and he intended to prosecute. The city’s half a million stoners, er, patients, launched an immediate mass spaz, and by Monday the DA was issuing A weasel-lipped statement about how he and the delivery lady’s attorney, Terrance Hallinan, “had agreed to a two-week continuance for the purpose of reassessing the appropriate next step.”
POET ADRIENNE RICH, a true “giant of American poetry,” died March 27, 2012, at the age of 82 in Santa Cruz from “long-term rheumatoid arthritis.” Perhaps her most famous poem was:
DIVING INTO THE WRECK
16 May 1929- 27 March 2012
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it’s a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.
I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
you breathe differently down here.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who finds our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
CHRIS DIAZ of Mendocino and Amarillo, a medicinal marijuana advocate/patient, has been sentenced to three years in Texas State Prison. Diaz, 21, was arrested in Brown County, Texas, in June of 2010. There followed a series of headline events that culminated in Diaz’s extradition to Texas from Mendocino County. Thursday, Diaz pleaded guilty to possession and one count of “bail jumping.” There was widespread concern that Diaz would get the Texas maximum for the combination of drugs and the bail violation, which is life in prison. Considering all the woofing over the case, the kid got off light.
SUPERVISOR JOHN PINCHES was in Orinda Thursday morning when the California Transportation Commission approved $135.5 million for the Willits Bypass, and I defy anyone to add up the figures here, as millions from this pot of money and millions from that pot of money are diverted to build less than six miles of very narrow freeway by driving pillars into very slippery terrain. (And no off ramps at Highway 20.) Work won’t begin for another year but site prep is likely to commence soon, funny money or no. The Willits Bypass was first discussed in 1955.
WILLITS MAYOR Bruce Burton recently told the Press Democrat, “I think it’s going to give the city back its downtown.”
MAYBE BRUCE, but to get even a semblance of the old Willits back you’d have to bulldoze the five miles of architectural blight prior to what was once Willits’ graceful little town center with its park and band shell, and the stately homes of the local burghers arrayed around it. Those days ended circa World War One. Old Willits is presently concealed at the north end of several miles of unplanned sprawl, and we note here that the Willits website features a generic meadow as its logo, suggesting that Willits presently has no settled areas it cares to boast to the rest of the world.
UKIAH’S BYPASS has been in place for years but the town has only grown steadily more squalid. Cloverdale to the south, partially blighted by the sprawl afflicting Willits and Ukiah, has nevertheless managed to create an attractive central area, as has Fort Bragg, but Willits and Ukiah aren't coming back.
ANOTHER GOOD WRITER is gone. Harry Crews, a tough guy Southerner who wound up a college professor, an evolution that seemed to bland When he was still drinking, he once said, “If you're gonna write, for God in heaven's sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you've been told.” That quote pops up everywhere.
BUT THE MARKET for what we might call literary and journalo transparency in the Crews sense, has always been pretty small, but never smaller than it is now, as a glance around NorCal reveals. The San Francisco Bay Area alone seems to be home to at least a hundred thousand writers, editors, investigative reporters and so on, but you can go for months without reading a single arresting line from the whole grant-gobbling, tenured mob.
OF COURSE I bought a mega-mil ticket, you didn’t? Odds shmods. A buck for a chance at half a billion? I’ll take it. I love how everyone says pretty much the same thing about what they’d do if they won. “I’m gonna quit my job and take an ocean cruise.” And variations thereof. Me, I’d have a few people knocked off, shut down Ukiah, exile Thompson and Chesbro to a non-English-speaking country, privatize the MTA, convert the Eel River Canyon rails to trails, and buy the Press Democrat so I could personally sack every person in the building.
THERE ARE 12 candidates for the reconfigured 2nd Congressional seat that now runs north from Sausalito to the Oregon line. That eclectic dozen includes two sacrificial Republicans, a pot doctor, an Earth First!er, three crazy people, and a Marin County multi-millionaire inspired by an Indian guru. The favorites are three: an incumbent assemblyman named Huffman, the millionaire with the guru who hopes to buy herself the seat and, of course, Norman Solomon, the people’s choice if the people knew what was good for them and those same people ever bothered to vote. Phil Donahue and Sean Penn are beating the drums for Solomon, while that Grateful Dead character, Mickey Hart, is for Huffman. If celebs are the standard, give me Donahue and Penn. I spent a painfully woo-woo afternoon at Carlotta back in the day where Jerry Brown and Hart were featured. Brown, a rolling political disaster for fifty years now, pretended to be an environmentalist that day. Then Hart had everyone stand and grasp the hand of the person on either side while he beat on a drum to put us “in touch with the pulse of the universe.” Hippie! The beast that won't die!
KPFA ANNOUNCED last Saturday “benefit for BACH, the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, “ an ongoing scam consisting solely of a woman named Karen Pickett and, I believe, Darryl Cherney. Nevermind that Headwaters was “saved” years ago when the great woods warriors signed off on a deal that gave Maxaam's Charles Hurwitz a half-billion dollars for 9400 acres of Redwood forest. (53,000 an acre.) Pickett operates out of Berkeley where she also functions as front person for the phony Trees Foundation, Earth First! (which seems to consist of herself and Cherney these days), the Ecology Center, and EPIC out of Arcata, an adjunct of the Wes Chesbro wing of the Democrat Party. Where does the money go? You just try to find out.
WE'RE PLEASED to note that the Department of Fish and Game is reminding the inland wine gentry that “notification for a Lake and Streambed Aleration Agreement (LSAA) pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 1602 is required before substantially diverting water from a stream.” Which is seconded by State Water Control: “ …to avoid stranding of salmonids during frost events.” In other words, you can’t suck up all the water in the river to frost protect your grapes.
A THOUSAND marijuana plants, $30,000, a hundred pounds of processed bud, two guns, and some 60 gro lights were seized Thursday in the 1300 block of Hastings Road, Ukiah, and from another address in Calpella. The usual array of local cops comprised the raid team. They arrested Jedaiah (sic) Black, 36, of Ukiah when he drove up to his Hastings Road business. An associate of Black’s is being sought.
THIS RAID, like many others these days, is a mini-bonanza for Mendocino County as it funds a lot of law enforcement stuff the taxpayers would otherwise be stuck paying for. The confiscated $30,000 cash will go to local law enforcement under DA Eyster’s policy of trading cash and goods seized in drug raids for misdemeanor charges, although the ethics of a DA selling gro lights might need some fancy euphemizing. If the bustee doesn’t want to play tradesies, he can take his chances on a trial where, after much more expense to him in legal fees, he’ll probably lose and pick up a felony in the bargain. Eyster’s way spares the defendant the felony conviction if he pleads out and gives up the money and re-saleable property seized when he was busted, and it spares the taxpayers the expense of all the costs associated with lengthy legal processes.
HIGHWAY 128 near Cloverdale at Cooley Lane was closed Saturday morning about 7:30 a.m. when a huge fir fell across the road, taking live power wires with it. CalTrans said 128 would probably stay closed until midnight. A late-season pounding rain driven by heavy winds brought the tree crashing down.
EILEEN MITRO is the Mendocino County coordinator for the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act initiative, which needs a half-million valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. If the initiative passes, foods containing genetically altered ingredients would have to say so on their labels. It almost goes without saying, that the initiative is popular in Mendocino County, and you can find qualifying petitions anywhere My Body, My Temple types gather.
TUNE THIS ONE IN: Sheila Dawn’s nifty little film on foreclosures on Mendocino Coast TV’s channel 3, on Wednesday, April 4th at 7pm. Ms. Dawn’s piece will soon be on-line at mendocoasttv.org.
THE FORT BRAGG Advocate made a “news” item on their website last week by simply posting a link to the Coast Hospital’s website’s agenda page — no fuss, no muss. One of the Hospital policies to be discussed is “Observation Patient.” Really? Live from the emergency room? Then there's “Financial Performance Improvement Plan: Mr. Raymond Hino, CEO.” Which, given the precarious state of Coast Hospital finances, is undoubtedly the heart of the meeting, but you'd never know that from the Advocate’s “news” link. Next week we’re looking forward to a “news” link to the Board minutes — especially the “nothing to report” items as the trustees, fresh blood dripping from their clothes, emerge from closed session.
TAKE BACK OUR FORESTS, an educational forum convened Friday night at Fort Bragg's Cotton Auditorium, was sponsored by the newly formed Jere Melo Foundation. Melo, a forester, was shot to death last year by a deranged young man named Aaron Bassler on property managed by Melo. Bassler had been growing, or attempting to grow, opium poppies at the site when Melo fatally encountered him.
SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE attended Friday night's forum. Keynote speaker Congressman Mike Thompson lamented the illegal marijuana grows on public and private property throughout Mendocino County. The Congressman's address followed a short video that documented the widespread environmental devastation caused by trespass marijuana grows, not that some non-trespass growers are any more conscientious. The video, apparently shot northeast of Westport, featured an illegal water diversion and impoundment, the apparent toxic pollution of streams and the environment, wildlife killed by grower pesticides, large-scale land clearing and erosion, and several tons of plastic pipe and garbage left behind by the growers.
SHERIFF TOM ALLMAN & Tommy LaNier, Director Of The Obama Administration’s National Marijuana Initiative, led a panel that also included Chris Kelly, Program Director of the Conservation Fund, and Bruce Hilbach-Barger, a representative of the Willits Environmental Center. When event MC Lindy Peters invited the panelists, starting with Allman, to take two minutes each to give their perspective on the issue, Allman drew a laugh by exclaiming “Two minutes? I thought you said ten!” and then proceeded to take the better part of ten minutes.
ALLMAN DREW APPLAUSE when he made reference to the 40 miles of black plastic pipe removed from the forest during last summer's Operation Full Court Press to eradicate commercial marijuana in the Mendocino National Forest. Allman drew another round of applause when he pointedly thanked by name three members of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors who voted to sponsor the forum. Allman's reference, and the applause, was a not-so subtle rebuke of the two supervisors, Hamburg and Pinches, who voted against supporting the forum; the two no votes maintained that the root of the problem is the fact of the drug's ongoing illegality.
TOMMY LaNIER, An old-school drug warrior, who still seems to think the failed War On Drugs can be won, explained that his role was “coordination of nationwide market disruption.” LaNier, Director of the White House funded National MJ Initiative, called for doubling the penalty for growing dope, added enhancements for trespass growing on federal property and streamlined cross-deputization of local, state, and fed narco cops. He said his role was to “target the most egregious individuals” and “go after major trafficking targets that operate across the nation.” It was LaNier, Obama's federal pot czar, who most likely ordered US Attorney Melinda Haag to take down the Mendocino County marijuana cultivation program that provided permits to grow 99 plants inspected by the Sheriff's Office. LaNIER never reconciled how taking out 99-plant growers operating in full compliance with state and local laws squared with his stated purpose of going after major traffickers. In fact, the black market price has reportedly increased as a result of the fed campaign to drive medical marijuana back underground.
CHRIS KELLY, from the Conservation Fund, which manages timberland in the Gualala area, said they had to abandon a timber harvest plan because of a trespass marijuana growing operation.
BRUCE HILBACH-BARGER, from the Willits Environmental Center, who has helped organize clean-ups of several grow sites, mourned the loss of favored back country sites, now off limits to ordinary citizens because of the fear of pot-related violence. He also raised the threat of extinction to the summer steelhead population in the Eel River because of widespread water diversion and pollution.
WHEN ASKED what one piece of legislation they would most welcome, the panelists, except for Allman, dutifully called for more laws, more penalty enhancements, and more federal prosecutions. Alllman remained uncharacteristically silent as the obvious solution of ending federal prohibition hung in the air. Allman had earlier said “CAMP Days” would be curtailed this year but held out the promise of another major operation to target trespass growers on public lands. (CAMP is the state funded Campaign Against Marijuana Planting which has had its funding drastically cut in the last year). Allman probably avoided mentioning the federal elephant of prohibition because any hope of repeating last year’s major campaign depends upon funds from his co-panelist Tommy LaNier, Pres. Obama's top pot cop.
DESPITE THE PRESENCE of Obama’s Top Weed Cop, the forum lived up to its billing as an educational forum designed to raise public awareness of the environmental devastation caused by trespass marijuana growing operations on public and private lands. MC Lindy Peters, who served with Melo for twelve years on the Fort Bragg City Council, made it clear in his opening remarks that the Jere Melo Foundation took no position on marijuana, medical or otherwise, but was only interested in stopping the violence and environmental damage caused by illegal trespass growing operations.
SHERIFF ALLMAN and La Nier led a panel that also included Chris Kelly, Program Director of the Conservation Fund, and Bruce Hilbach-Barger, a representative of the Willits Environmental Center. When event MC Lindy Peters invited the panelists, starting with Allman, to take two minutes each to give their perspective on the issue, Allman drew a laugh by exclaiming “Two minutes? I thought you said ten!” and then proceeded to take the better part of ten minutes.
ALLMAN DREW APPLAUSE when he made reference to the 40 miles of black plastic pipe removed from the forest during last summer's Operation Full Court Press to eradicate commercial marijuana in the Mendocino National Forest. Allman drew another round of applause when he pointedly thanked by name three members of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors who voted to sponsor the forum. Allman's reference, and the applause, was a not so subtle rebuke of the two supervisors, Hamburg and Pinches, who voted against the forum, mocking it as a continuation of the failed war on drugs.
TOMMY LA NIER, an old school drug warrior, who still seems to think the war can be won, explained that his role was “coordination of nationwide market disruption.” La Nier, Director of the White House funded National Mj Policy Initiative, called for doubling the penalty for growing dope, added enhancements for trespass growing on federal property and streamlined cross-deputization of local, state, and fed narco cops. He said his role was to “target the most egregious individuals” and “go after major trafficking targets that operate across the nation.” La Nier, Obama's federal pot czar, most likely ordered U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to take down the Mendocino County program that allowed permits to grow 99 plants inspected by the Sheriff's Office. La Nier never reconciled how taking out 99 plant growers operating in full compliance with state and local laws squared with his stated purpose of going after major traffickers. In fact, the black market price has reportedly increased as a result of the fed campaign to drive medical marijuana back underground.
CHRIS KELLY, from the Conservation Fund, which manages timberland in the Gualala area, said they had to abandon a timber harvest plan because of a trespass marijuana growing operation. Bruce Hilbach-Barger, from the Willits Environmental Center, who has helped organize clean-ups of the grow sites, mourned the loss of favored back country sites that regular people could no longer visit because of the fear of pot-related violence. He also raised the threat of extinction to the summer steelhead population in the Eel River because of widespread water diversion and pollution.
ASKED what one piece of legislation they would most welcome, the panelists, except for Allman, dutifully called for more laws, more penalty enhancements, and more federal prosecutions. Allman remained uncharacteristically silent as the obvious solution of ending federal prohibition hung in the air. Allman earlier said “CAMP Days” would be curtailed this year but held out the promise of another major operation to target trespass growers on public lands. (CAMP is the state funded Campaign Against Marijuana Planting which has had its funding drastically cut in the last year). Allman probably avoided mentioning the federal elephant of prohibition because any hope of repeating last year’s major campaign depends upon funds from his co-panelist Tommy LaNier, Pres. Obama's top pot cop.
THE FORUM lived up to its billing as an educational forum designed to raise public awareness of the environmental devastation caused by trespass marijuana growing operations on public and private lands. MC Lindy Peters, who served with Melo for twelve years on the Fort Bragg City Council, made it clear in his opening remarks that the Jere Melo Foundation took no position on marijuana, medical or otherwise, but was only interested in stopping the violence and environmental damage caused by illegal trespass growing operations.
WHEN MADELEINE MELO was introduced for closing remarks, the crowd rose for a sustained round of applause that reflected the love and respect that the community of Fort Bragg holds for Madeleine and her murdered husband, Jere. The Melos were both deeply entwined in the fabric of their community and Jere's absence leaves some gaping holes that others are scrambling to fill. Madeleine, initially overcome by the standing ovation, took a minute to compose herself before speaking in a clear, forceful voice about the depth of the problem and the need to take action, reading a statement from a colleague of Jere's that illustrated his commitment to protecting the forest whether it was single handedly cutting a fire line or piling his truck high with trash he personally hauled out of the forest. After detailing Jere's personal commitment “to take back the forest,” Madeleine ended by challenging the crowd “What will you do?”
NOTHING. Because there is nothing that can be done short of legalization. Do the math. Mendocino County is 3500 square miles with maybe 200 total cops from all the in-County jurisdictions, with only a small portion of them devoted to ferreting out dope. Too large a landmass, too few cops multitudes of growers.
BROOKTRAILS has been a rolling scam for 50 years with thousands of unbuildable lots that keep getting recycled to new generations of unsuspecting buyers. There are only 24 water hookups available (at a mere $24,000. each!) for over 4,000 vacant lots. The postage stamp sized lots are too small for a well and septic system, which means without water and sewer the lots are unbuildable. New buyers eventually catch onto the scam and walk away from the property, which ends up being put up for auction by the County to satisfy the back taxes. The way the scam has always worked is that the speculators who sold the lots in the first place are the ones who buy them relatively cheap at the tax sale. The County gets paid back with interest for the money it paid out in taxes and the speculator re-markets the unbuildable lots to a new generation of suckers.
SUPERVISOR McCOWEN OBJECTED to the scam last year, arguing that the County needed to do more to alert prospective buyers to the true condition of the lots, otherwise the County was complicit in the scam. McCowen's objections fell on deaf ears as his colleagues approved the on-going scam on a 4-1 vote. Except the Brooktrails lots did not sell. The Board, again on a 4-1 vote, recently approved 74 Brooktrails lots for this year's auction, including the 40 that did not sell last year.
THE DISCUSSION OF “DE-TEETERING” BROOKTRAILS was before the Board last week at McCowen's initiation. Under the Teeter Plan, the County pays the school districts, special districts and cities in advance for all the taxes and assessments owing on a property. If the taxes are paid late, state law allows the County to tack on a 10% penalty charge and 18% annual interest until the taxes are paid up. If the taxes aren't paid for five years the County can sell the property at auction. Only now the Brooktrails lots that go to auction aren't selling. Thanks to the excellent reporting of Linda Williams in the Willits News, it has been revealed that the Brooktrails lots not only pose a moral dilemma for the County, but a financial drain as well.
THE COUNTY HAS PAID OUT $250,000 for the 74 Brooktrails lots up for auction next month. If the lots don't sell, which seems likely, the County will not get its money back. And of course it will not get the penalties and interest that should make the Teeter arrangement profitable. And because the deadbeat owners still hold title to the properties, the County can't even cut its losses by giving the lots to Brooktrails. All the County can do is pay out another year's worth of taxes and assessments — which represents money paid out that the County is unlikely to ever see again.
BUT THE 74 LOTS are just the tip of the iceberg. A total of 614 lots are currently delinquent one or more year's worth of taxes, which means there are another 540 currently working their way toward auction, including 150 or more owned by the Deerwood Corporation, which is controlled by Ukiah octogenarian Tom Porter, who has profited handsomely from selling and re-selling the Brooktrails lots over the years. But now he is letting his properties move toward auction, having failed to pay the taxes for three years and counting. By the time they qualify for auction the Deerwood Corporation lots alone will represent roughly $500,000 that has been paid out of the County General Fund. Porter says he has no intention of letting his lots go to auction and will catch up the back taxes “as soon as he sells a few lots.”
BROOKTRAILS GENERAL MANAGER Mike Chapman came forward during public comment last week to point out that Brooktrails contributes a significant amount to the County's overall property tax, that for years it was used (fraudulently, we might add) to bolster the County's claims to have land available for low income housing, and that Brooktrails, in keeping with the County approved Brooktrails Specific Plan, which calls for 4,000 lots at buildout, was reducing the number of lots by merging some of them. But reducing the total number of lots down to 4,000 from today's 5,500-6,000 would mean there would still be only 24 water hookups for more than 2,500 lots. Brooktrails Property Owners Association President (and former Brooktrails CSD Board member) Ginger Polson then made a rambling presentation to the effect that neither Brooktrails nor the County had done enough to comply with the Specific Plan.
COUNTY AUDITOR/CONTROLLER Meredith Ford, recently back at work after an extended absence to battle an unspecified serious health issue, came forward to ask that any consideration of de-Teetering Brooktrails be put off for another year, claiming that she lacked the staff to do the necessary analysis. County Treasurer/Tax Collector Shari Schapmire seemed to fall in line with the need for delay, but not as positively. When McCowen cited statistics on the progression of Brooktrails lots that failed to sell at auction, Schapmire wanted to know where he got his info. When McCowen cited the Willits News, Schapmire said she could not confirm those numbers. The fact that a County Supervisor needs to rely on newspaper reports is a red flag in itself and underscores the failure of the County's leading financial honchos to keep the Supes informed about critical financial info like the mounting General Fund payout for Brooktrails lots that can't be sold at auction. But these are the same people who mismanaged the Teeter Plan from the beginning and conspired to divert non-existent “excess earnings” out of the retirement fund.
AREAS LIKE BROOKTRAILS that have a tax delinquency rate greater than 3% can be removed from the Teeter Plan following a public hearing. Schapmire, apparently taking another stab at derailing the issue, pointed out that other areas in the County exceeded the 3% threshold. McCowen responded that only Brooktrails had a problem with tax delinquent properties not selling at auction, meaning it was only Brooktrails that was tapping into the County General Fund without payback. McCowen suggested setting the public hearing for two months in the future to give staff time to do whatever analysis they thought needed to be done. CEO Carmel Angelo and Kyle Knopp, the executive office budget manager, volunteered that they would get the Auditor whatever help she needed to get the job done. The Auditor, still fragile from her recent medical ordeal, struggled to maintain her composure as she offered additional reasons why she simply could not do the analysis, no matter how much help she had. And despite what they say in public, it is a poorly kept secret, dating back to former CEO Tom Mitchell, that the Auditor and the Executive Office are constantly sparring over control of the budget information, with the (elected, semi-independent) Auditor always bringing info in at the last minute without any opportunity for prior review by the Executive Office.
MCCOWEN commented that much was already known, including the $250,000 General Fund hit from the 74 lots going to auction next month. Dismissing the vague suggestion that keeping Brooktrails in Teeter may be a net benefit to the County, McCowen said he wasn't just worried about the 74 lots going to auction this year, but the total of 614 that were currently in arrears and the 4,000 that could wind up bleeding the County dry once the pool of suckers willing to buy the lots dries up.
SUPERVISOR HAMBURG said he would certainly have to accept the Auditor's statement of what was possible, and advocated for putting the issue off until August 15. Supervisor Pinches, apparently trying to end the seemingly endless back and forth about timing, made a motion to that effect, quickly seconded by Hamburg. Once it was clarified that delaying action to August 15 would keep the County on the hook for another year with further General Fund outlays, Pinches withdrew his motion. Following additional assurances that the Public Hearing could be postponed if the mysterious analysis called for by the Auditor was not ready, the Supes voted 5-0 to set a Public Hearing on de-Teetering Brooktrails for May 22.