DROUGHT? WHAT DROUGHT?
Acting like a senior member of County staff, Supervisor Glenn McGourty conducted his own “Workshop on Water Supply Conditions in Mendocino County” on Monday. McGourty spent upwards of two hours with Powerpoint charts and graphs and hosted several local water experts which he chose and introduced to convince his colleagues that — surprise! — we’re in a drought. In fact, it’s so bad that the Redwood Valley Water District — historically the last in line for Lake Mendocino water — has shut off all of its ag customers, some 200 of them, in late March for the year, telling them they’re on their own for water. McGourty, probably worried that something like that might be imposed on his Potter Valley vineyard constituents/voters, proposed that the County approve a toothless “drought preparedness campaign” to urge voluntary water conservation, conspicuously avoiding even the mention of a drought declaration like the one the County made in 2014 when the drought was less serious than it is now.
All through the presentation the Board and staff deferred to McGourty as the point person and pseudo water expert. In theory the workshop was the product of a water ad hoc committee of McGourty and Supervisor Maureen Mulheren. But McGourty hogged the discussion and the Board deferred to him time and again as if he was some kind of professional water expert. In fact, he’s an expert on water for grapes, but not much beyond that. Supervisor Mulheren wasn’t even invited into McGourty’s presentation until the end and then only as an afterthought. She had nothing to add.
At the end of McGourty’s presentation proving the unprecedentied seriousness of the drought to anyone with lingering doubts, Calfire’s Mendo Unit Chief George Gonzalez was the only person in the room who seemed to understand the depth of the current water problem. Gonzalez informed the Board that “there’s a dire need of a drought declaration. You need a task force approach. A drought emergency should be declared.”
But despite that authoritative unvarnished recommendation, McGourty was reluctant to even consider it, saying he was worried about vague “unintended consequences.” (Like ag water restrictions.) McGourty preferred a more “collaborative” approach where drinking water and ag water are all drinking out of one big happy, if nearly empty, punchbowl and grapes aren’t singled out for the enormous water consumers that they are. Never mind that historically most Mendo grapes have been — and a few still are being — dry farmed, albeit at less tonnage.
McGourty noted that Governor Newsom has not issued a statewide drought emergency yet because he may be too busy with other crises, including the pandemic and his own possible recall. “A drought emergency is on the horizon,” conceded McGourty, “and we can come back to this within the month,” but, of course, not setting a date.
The Board then unanimously took McGourty’s lead and approved his Drought Preparedness Campaign which involves asking a non-County Agency, the Resource Conservation District, to develop inconsequential conservation suggestions like not running the water while brushing your teeth.
Supervisor Dan Gjerde’s only contribution to the subject was to almost irrelevantly suggest that the County “develop drought projects that can be funded by grants.” Unlikely as that is, even if any such projects could be developed it would be years before they’d make any difference to the ongoing drought.
In 2014 the drought declaration required that all the water districts in the unincorporated areas of the County prepare their own conservation proposals and submit them to the County Water Agency. But thanks go McGourty that essential declaration is still weeks if not months away.
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One week after Supervisor Glenn McGourty declined to persuade his colleagues to declare a drought emergency, the Board has reversed course and put an item on the agenda to do just that. Last week McGourty said that simply asking the Resource Conservation District to prepare a “Drought Preparedness Plan” was all that was needed even after CalFire Mendo Unit Chief George Gonzalez said there was a “dire need” to declare an emergency.
What could have happened in the intervening few days to change McGourty’s and the Board's opinion? After running down the usual dire statements of the obvious, the answer may be in the wording of one of the whereases:
“WHEREAS, Ukiah Valley vintners and farmers depend on water from Lake Mendocino for frost protection and watering of livestock, and, given the critically low levels of Lake Mendocino, water supply for these purposes is short, placing the local economy in a state of dire emergency if water runs out…”
This would be the first time in Mendo history that “Ukiah Valley vintners” are specifically named in an emergency declaration. Wine may not be an essential commodity, but they sure do qualify as a significant part of the local (tax paying) economy.
The declaration focuses entirely on “the local economy,” not on conservation in any way. A normal drought emergency declaration would require all County water districts to prepare or implement essential conservation plans and options. Instead the focus on the economy means that Mendo is positioning itself to be eligible for low-interest loans and bailout money for said “vintners” et al based on the economic impact of the “dire emergency.”
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ITEM 5f on Tuesday’s agenda sounds a tad late:
“Discussion and Possible Action Including Approval of Use of Measure B Funds to Hire a Consultant to Provide the Mental Health Treatment Act Citizen's Oversight Committee with a Performance Management Plan, that will include a Comprehensive 5 Year Strategic Plan with Action Plan Timeline and a Detailed Financial Plan (Sponsor: Health and Human Services Agency)”
There are several bad assumptions here. 1. It’s three years late and will take months if not years to prepare and there’s still no deadline on when the “Performance Management Plan” will be completed. 2. It assumes that there are clear performance objectives that can be managed. 3. It assumes that the lethargic Measure B committee is capable of managing that performance. 4. It ignores the fact that the $60,000 Kemper report already exists and has been ignored for over three years, yet somehow now a new one with maybe a bit more detail will be implemented? 5. It fails to address the non-reimburseable street crazies and addicts who the public assumed would be the main purpose of Measure B. 6, It does not mention a single existing option that should be considered and/or included.
An on-line agenda commenter named “S.Lodge,” observed:
“Several years into funding the lack of progress is very disappointing. Seems like the PHF could have been prioritized using the offer of space from Adventist Health. Mobile units exist elsewhere and could have been in place by now to lighten the load of police and others. We voted this in to provide real mental health services but the priority appears to be acquisition of real estate which is not helpful right now to the folks needing immediate service/treatment. Where are statistics showing the number of people helped and in what way? Stats showing number of people gotten off the streets or hospital stays lessened? Reduction in referrals to police for intervention? At this rate we should look at rescinding or recalling Measure B and start over with a better plan. We could build on programs and practices that have proven effective elsewhere instead of trying to create some new and supposedly better system in our county. — S. Lodge”
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PERHAPS the dumbest, albeit minor, item is Item 6c:
“Discussion and Possible Action Regarding the Process for Selecting a Facilitator for the Development of a Strategic Plan (Sponsors: Supervisor Haschak and Supervisor McGourty)”
Mendo has spent literal millions developing a General Plan with an overview which should be the County’s “strategic plan.” They’s spent hours and hours blathering among themselves about the supposed importance of a “strategic plan.” And now here go McGourty and Haschak proposing that they spend money and time with a “facilitator for the Development of a Strategic Plan.”
Even the wording is dumb. Facilitators are the types of people who stand in front of the lib-labs and ask them to form cute little subgroups and write down their precious thoughts about what a “strategic plan” might look like, in their own limited opinion. Then the facilitator gathers up all the little jottings and writes them on chart paper (or the electronic equivalent). Then the facilitator ask the collected lib-labs to rank their jottings. Then the facilitator hands the ranked jottings back to people they just “facilitated” and declares they now have some inkling of what they should put in the “strategic plan.” Nevertheless, converting the jottings into even the usual bureaucro-blather-filled “strategic plan” is still months if not years away, of course. And like every other Mendo Plan it will collect dust and never be referred to as events and technology and budgets dictate most of what Mendo does. The idea that a tiny little, low-in-the-pecking order entity like Mendocino County needs, much less could follow, a “strategic plan” is just plain silly. They can’t even prepare a mental health plan or a meaningful budget vs. actual chart for the tasks their already responsible for, or a workable marijuana permit program. But here they are proposing a facilitator for a strategic plan?
Most of Mendo’s functions are mandated by Federal and State Law. In addition, most of the offices have limited staff to deal try to keep up with what’s presented to them, no options at all. In fact, over 95% of Mendo’s operations would be unaffected by whatever the Board and their useless “facilitator” might dream up.
Mendo should “plan” for nothing more than to try to put good management in place (which they can’t seem to do at present), and simply survive the pandemic, the drought, the wildfires, the power shut-offs, the ridiculous turnover in top management, and the upcoming replacement of the CEO by someone with a cooler head. If that happens — what are the odds? in the single digits? — then and only then should the board even consider facilitated fantasy discussions about “strategic plans.”
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ON LINE COMMENT TO THE SUPERVISORS, RE: PG&E DISASTER SETTLEMENT MONEY:
Spending this money needs to be very closely related to the losses suffered and safety improvements for the future — not loosely linked funding for various county departments. Redwood Valley and Potter were hard hit. How about improvements to Tomki Road north so there is a more accessible alternative route out of the valley? Might be a similar need for Potter Valley. Upgrades or improvements for the various responders to fires? Better warning systems? Funding to Fire and Sheriff departments? Assistance to people burned out but without funding to rebuild? I'm sure there is a long list of problems discovered during the past fires that need to be addressed.