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County Notes (May 26, 2021)

Drought Notes — We have learned over the years not to expect much from local officials on most issues. After all, this is the County that seems unable to produce even ordinary departmental budget reports, even though they’ve been promising them for years. 

Not that many years ago the Grand Jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors, which also sits as the County Water Agency, require all water districts in the Ukiah Valley to install gages on all wells

In their response, the Supervisors agreed that that would be a good idea and that they would enact the Grand Jury's suggestion. 

But that key action which would have paid info-dividends to today and beyond didn’t happen. When, two years later, we asked then County Water Agency Manager Roland Sanford (since fired due to supposed budget constraints) to send us a copy of the order to the water districts. Sanford replied that the Supes had never ordered him to do it. And that was the end of that. (And he hadn’t asked them to.)

In the aftermath of the 2013-2015 drought, the State declared the Ukiah Valley to be a high-risk water area and ordered that a super-joint powers agency be created to “manage groundwater basins, enhance local management of groundwater, establish minimum standards for sustainable groundwater management, and provide local groundwater agencies with the authority and technical and financial assistance necessary to sustainably manage groundwater.” They are also supposed to develop a “groundwater sustainability plan.”

In seven years, they have done exactly none of those things, but they have apparently produced some maps, a highly speculative water model for the Ukiah Valley and a draft of one chapter of the GSP.

It took the new Agency two years just to appoint its members and get their processes in order. Since then they’ve continued to dither, working mostly on that irrelevant computer modeling (still described as “a guess” by their expensive UC Davis consultant). The model is still years away and they don’t have any way to test the model. That’ll probably take another decade or two because they still don’t require gages.)

Now Mendo and especially the Ukiah Valley, finds itself in an unprecedented drought, and despite having wasted those seven years doing absolutely nothing about sustainable water, the agency — currently chaired by former UC Davis grape advisor Supervisor Glenn McGourty who most of inland Mendocino County defers to as a water expert — has finally advanced to the subject of sustainability — of their own funding, not water.

On May 13 the grandly titled “Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency” met again. It would be more accurate to call it the Groundwater Agency Sustainability Agency.

Item 4b on their May 13 meeting was “Discussion and possible direction for the implementation of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan and Annual Groundwater Sustainability Agency Administration Costs.”

One way to fund the agency (it’s been funded by Water Board Grants so far) under consideration is a flat fee for each well which would be imposed on all Ukiah Valley wells. But the flat fee would be on the well, not on the amount of water pumped. (Because they still don’t require gages — duh.)

The other way staff suggested was to impose a usage fee on wells. But again since they don’t have any gages, they can only guesstimate the rate and the revenue — not to mention that during a drought basing their revenue on “usage” is flawed if not useless.

The only person in the Agency’s May (zoom) meeting who showed any sense of urgency was a Sacramento consultant named James Bliss who said he wasn’t there to “consult” at all, but to “evangelize, and promote and urge and cajole” the group to get their straws into the stream of drought money that the state is now allocating. But even Mr. Bliss’s funding enthusiasm was lost on his lackadaisical small audience. The discussion then drifted back into the status of the groundwater model and we couldn’t follow what, if anything, was decided on pursuing the agency’s funding.

Agenda Item 4e sounded closer to reality: “Hear reports on water supplies in the Ukiah Valley Basin and drought mitigation measures in development.”

Nobody had any data about “water supplies” of course. They all “hoped” that the oxymoronic “voluntary restrictions” currently in place might help. They also bemoaned the lack of water everywhere in the county, the apparent lack of public interest in the lack of water — nevermind the lack of leadership on the subject — and an anticipated “notice of water non-availability” from the state. Apparently, despite having some sense of the depth of the problem, they can’t bring themselves to do anything until the state tells them they have to. And the state is dragging its feet too — probably for political reasons.

Local Farm Bureau honcho Devon Jones said it’s likely that when the state finally gets around to issuing formal restrictions, they will only allow a minimal amount of water over public health needs to agriculture, adding, “but a minimal amount is better than zero.” Jones also said that she thinks Anderson Valley ag (i.e., AV grapes growers) is even worse off than Ukiah Valley grape growers because the Ukiah Valley has the federally funded recycled City wastewater “purple pipe” welfare water for grape growers to tap into. Whereas Anderson Valley has no water reservoirs of any kind besides nearly empty vineyard ponds.

No one mentioned imposing restrictions on any water district or town, nor asking the County’s many water districts and towns what their drought plans are or what their present situation is.

Toward the end of the meeting, McGourty announced that he is on the County’s similarly inactive drought ad hoc committee and plans to meet with CEO Carmel Angelo about how to assemble a “drought taskforce.” (The county-wide drought task force idea was brought up a month ago at the April 21 Supervisor meeting when the drought emergency was declared and the ad hoc committee was formed. Despite the declared “emergency,” it has yet to confer with the CEO.)

As Friends of the Eel River Director (and former Petaluma City Councilman) David Keller said recently regarding the continuing delays and avoidance of mandated water restrictions, “We’re starting way too late, and it’s just going to get a lot worse.” 

* * *

Here Comes The PHF 

It might seem like Monday’s giant joint meeting of the Measure B Committee, the Behavioral Health Advisory Committee and the Board of Supervisors is just tripling down on years of inaction regarding the original intent of Measure B.

After all, for going on four years now they haven’t produced much, and putting them all on the same zoom screen doesn’t sound like a formula for progress.

But a look at the materials accompanying Monday’s Measure B meeting agenda item tells a different story.

In an attachment called “Mendocino County Psychiatric Health Facility,” Dr. Jenine Miller, Mendo’s Behavioral Health Director (among other titles), and Mendo’s relatively recent Measure B point person, writes: “While there are multiple services that could be provided at Whitmore; this location is a potential suitable site, pending feasibility study, for a PHF in Mendocino County. Should the Board of Supervisors decide to move forward with the development of a PHF, it is recommended that Whitmore be considered the site for a PHF. The property is owned by the county, was not purchased with general funds dollars, and had some initial review regarding the viability of the site for services. While Whitmore has been review[ed] and considered for a variety of services, it is believed that the development of a PHF is the highest service need for our community.”

The site…”?

Dr. Miller adds, “Whitmore Lane was previously licensed at an OSHPD [Hospital construction standards] level 2 facility, the required level for a Skilled Nursing Facility. In order to use Whitmore Lane as a PHF, the facility would need to meet the current level 5 OSHPD requirements. Based on the age of the facility and changes in OSHPD regulations, a partial demolition of the facility and rebuild would allow the facility to be brought into compliance with OSHPD standards for a PHF.”

(A similar thing could have been said about the Old Howard Hospital before it was sold to a private party before the County or the Measure B people could get their act together.)

Taken in conjunction with the lack of mention of any other option, this Whitmore Lane idea looks like a long-delayed way to take advantage of the county’s covid-driven purchase of the roofless Whitmore Lane building as the path of least resistance to satisfy the pent-up demand for movement on a PHF. Monday’s joint meeting will thus become little more than window dressing for Dr. Miller’s (and CEO Angelo’s) pre-arranged, pre-packaged decision.

Is the conversion of Whitmore Lane into a PHF a good idea? A bad idea? Will the Sheriff respond to the inevitable requests for assistance that these facilities always need? (The property is outside the Ukiah City Limits.) We don’t know. But the whole thing feels rushed under the pressure to get something — anything — done on the long delayed PHF.

Along with this apparent Whitmore Lane-PHF done deal, we also see in the Monday meeting packet an announcement from Dr. Miller that the County has already hired the PHF operator and — surprise! — it’s NOT Camille Schraeder and Co.

Dr. Miller again: “Behavioral Health and Recovery Services released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Operation Services for Mendocino County Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF), Psychiatric Hospital, and/or Psychiatric Unit on September 1, 2020. The RFQ closed on November 30, 2020. A conditional award letter was sent to Telecare Corporation (Telecare) for the operation of a PHF in Mendocino County.”

Dr. Miller goes on to say that Telecare is an Alameda based outfit which has received some of Mendo’s exiled 5150s in the past and by golly there’s no reason they can’t do more of the same on Whitemore Lane.

Telecare is described as “the largest provider of county contracted PHF services in California, with 122 licensed beds. Two additional Telecare PHFs are in development: one in San Joaquin County and one in Kern County [presumably those models of mental health centers in Fresno and Bakersfield]. Telecare also operates nine acute inpatient programs licensed in the State of Washington as Evaluation and Treatment Centers (the equivalent of a PHF).”

Dr. Miller does not say how many bidders responded to her RFQ nor how many bidders there were. Did Camille Schraeder bid? If not, why not? Does Ms. Schraeder know something the County doesn't know about the difficulties of operating a 16-bed PHF on Whitmore Lane?

We do know that Dr. Miller steadfastly refused to allow any Measure B Committee members to participate in the PHF service contract selection. In fact, we have no idea who reviewed the bids, or who selected Telecare, or why they were awarded the contract.

Taken together, the entire presentation on Monday smells like another classic CEO Angelo take it or leave it proposition, with the added weight of the long PHF delay putting anyone involved who may have lingering financial questions or service doubts about the Whitemore/TeleCare deal in the position of looking like negative-thinking obstructionists.

The next step will probably be to ask the County’s expensive Sacramento architectural consultants to design an overpriced, gold-plated (OSHPD) remodel of Whitmore Lane, along the lines of the overpriced, gold-plated Crisis Residential four-bedroom house on Orchard Avenue. (We need spare no remodel expense because, as CEO Angelo frequently points out, the building “was not purchased with general funds dollars.”) And if the price tag turns out to be millions and millions more than anyone expected… Too late, too bad — we’re stuck with Whitmore Lane now and everybody is signed on.

* * *

Audit The Sheriff’s Department?

On the Supervisors’ Tuesday, May 25 agenda Supervisor Ted Williams has proposed Item 6d: 

“Discussion and Possible Action Including Acceptance of Presentation by South Coast Organizing for Radical Equity Encouraging Independent Performance and Fiscal Audit of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, Including Jail (Sponsor: Supervisor Williams)”

On their facebook page the “SCORE” people — anonymous, of course — mention “a few” of the reasons they think the Sheriff’s office needs to be audited: 

The 2014 Neuroth Case when jail staff tried to subdue a tweeked-to-the-max Neuroth — which resulted in a San Francisco awarding the dead man's family a $5 million settlement; and a 2017 case which they say cost a $180k settlement when an inmate died in jail after being tased (we can not find any such case). 

They also claim that because lots of people in jail are not convicted, that lots of people are arrested for “low level, non-violent offenses,” and that lots of money is being spent on jail expansion, that somehow that means the Sheriff is fiscally irresponsible and “doesn’t provide enough info to the Board or the public to justify his requests for additional funds.”

Nowhere on their facebook page do they identify who they are or what their backgrounds are.

The reasons they cite as justification for the audit are simplistic and specious, although their list of items to be audited is impressively detailed, including plenty of interesting but irrelevant questions about jail statistics, probably because the national wokesters provided it to them, assuming they're a plural.

You can read the entire presentation on the Supervisors on-line Agenda.

They vaguely claim that there’s a “Perception of low or no accountability regarding transparency around MCSO funding and management of those funds, leading to fraught community relations. [Examples of “fraught communication relations” beyond themselves would be helpful.]

The also say that “the Sheriff’s $4M budget request to address inland illegal cannabis issues in 2020 did not include substantive data on need.” 

They say, “There seems to have been gaps and inconsistent tracking around use of financial resources, likely pre-dating Sheriff Kendall.” (This is true of all County departments and is unrelated to the Sheriff.)

They conclude by suggesting that the Board “Convene an Ad-Hoc Committee of the Board of Supervisors prior to adopting the FY21-22 budget to review/discuss audit scope recommendations.”

Letters of Support for the audit attached to the agenda suggest that the Sheriff’s budget be reduced in favor of nicer things like education, mental health, better forest management, affordable housing, addiction treatment, etc.

The Coast Democratic Club thinks the audit is desirable because “Such an audit should provide valuable data for decisions on budgeting and allocations of resources. Future decisions on policies regarding law enforcement in the county would then be supported by measurable means.”

The Coast Dems also refer to support from a companion anonymous group called “SURJ,” Showing Up For Racial Justice. Mendo Black Lives Matter agrees with the audit also, with their slogan: “No more budget increases for MCSO.”

* * *

A few reasons not to conduct an audit:

Sheriff’s audits have been conducted before and they don’t produce anything useful or that the Sheriff does not already know.

The Efficiency Audit That Wasn’t (January 18, 2012)

A Brief History of the Sheriff’s Budget (November 25, 2010)

Although compiling some local law enforcement statistics could be useful and interesting, public safety funding and staffing cannot be directly tied to “hard data.” That would be like tying firefighting staffing to the number of fires. Public safety funding is primarily a coverage issue — both geographically and round-the-clock seven days a week. The number of arrests and the number of people in jail do not correlate to coverage staffing.

Although they seem to prefer funding for non-law enforcement helping agency services, the audit advocates show no interest in auditing the School budget, the Mental Health budget, the Behavioral Health Budget, or the Social Services budget, on the apparent assumption that those funds are being efficiently used. But obviously they are not. They also ignore law enforcement’s default response role stemming from the failure of all those millions wasted on unaccountable mental health administration, consultants, and private contractors. Why not audit the Redwood Quality Management Company’s mental health services contract and the County’s top-heavy mental health department administration? How about some statistics about what they do (or more accurately don’t do)?

The increases that the Sheriff wants are mostly related to crime in Covelo where coverage is historically difficult. Does anyone argue that Covelo does NOT need more law enforcement coverage? That statistics would make any difference to that need?

Most of the Sheriff’s budget is salaries, vehicles, pensions and overtime. How do the audit advocates think that should be reduced?

This whole audit idea is fueled by and piggy-backed on media-fueled wokester-related unfortunate events outside of Mendocino County with a simplistic assumption that comparable problems exist in Mendo. Citing a few random incidents and statistics does not mean Mendo is comparable to Minneapolis or Chicago.

Taking money out of the Sheriff’s budget for an unnecessary audit will do nothing to improve the Sheriff’s department.

* * *

Re-Imagining Windmills 

In his first year as Supervisor Ted Williams wanted the County to move to “zero-based budgeting,” a concept which essentially rebuilds a budget from scratch each year on the assumption that such rebuilding magically weeds out unnecessary expenses and ensures that each budget unit is based on relevant annual revenues. 

CEO Angelo offered to explore the concept instead of telling Williams that the idea doesn’t apply to Mendo because Mendo is the tail end of a federal, state and grant funding train that dictates most of what the County does.

In October of 2019 the Supervisors shined Williams on when he put the item on the Board’s agenda by voting unanimously to: “Create an agenda item for November 5 regarding zero-based budgeting, putting public priorities on the county budget; host a workshop at the second meeting in January regarding zero-based budgeting; have the IT ad hoc work with the executive office on budget tracking and department metrics; have each supervisor work in conjunction with the executive office for district meetings on budget priorities, including priorities for the county budget.”

But of course, Mendo being Mendo, November 5 came and went and the item never made it to any agenda and nobody cared, nobody followed up, nobody asked any questions about any of the items mentioned. There was never any “workshop at the second meeting in January regarding zero-based budgeting” or anything else.

Now, Supervisor Williams is back with a revised idea, proposing that Mendocino County “reimagine” its budget:

Item 6c): “Discussion and Possible Action Including Direction to Departments to Work with the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Office Budget Team to Reimagine Budget with Priority on Federal and State Funded Mandates and Local Core Services First. (Sponsor: Supervisor Williams).”

Trouble is, as far as we can tell, the County budget already puts priority on “Federal and State Funded Mandates and Local Core Services First” because the state and federal grantors require that the County provide at least lip service reports to those agencies showing that the “services” were delivered (at least in terms of hours spent, and people attending, etc., if not on effectiveness, which never is a consideration). And the Local Core (General Fund) Services are predominantly law enforcement / public safety which most people would say are and should be first priority.

Williams doesn’t mention which “local core services” he thinks should be moved up on the priority list into first place in the budgeting sweepstakes. So we will have to wait until Tuesday to see what he has in mind, if anything.

* * *

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is consent calendar Item 4j. “Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Colantuono, Highsmith & Whatley, PC in the Amount of $50,000 to Provide Legal Services for the Period of May 1, 2021 Through June 30, 2022.” 

In the attached services agreement we find buried in a stack of legalese that this is another example of the County hiring an expensive outside law firm for defense in a lawsuit. In this case, the Gurr-Borges lawsuit which stems from an alleged County-expedited Fish & Wildlife raid in 2018 when all their pot plants were pulled up from their Ukiah-area property even though they were 1) a permit applicant almost near approval, and 2) not taking any water from the stream that Fish & Wildlife said they were. 

Gurr-Borges claim that they were singled out by then-Supervisors John McCowen and Carre Brown for permit denial via the “opt out” zone that was created in the Gurr-Borges neighborhood under the urging of a Sheriff’s department employee who happened to be a neighbor of Gurr-Borges. Probably, but hard to prove. 

But their case against Fish & Wildlife seems obvious.

Note: Another fifty thou flies out of county coffers to outside attorneys while the county employs, at last count, nine lawyers of its own.

* * *

Also on the consent calendar are two other retroactive items:

“Item 4q) Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Redwood Community Services in the Amount of $695,192 to Provide Emergency Shelter Services Needed to Prevent, Prepare For, and Respond To Coronavirus Among Individuals and Families Who are Experiencing Homelessness in Mendocino County Using Grant Funds Available Through California Department of Housing and Community Development for the Emergency Solutions Grant as Funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Effective January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022.”

And “Item 4s) Approval of Retroactive Agreement with Redwood Community Services, Inc. in the Amount of $152,000 to Provide an Inland Shelter and Day Center to Qualified Individuals in Mendocino County, Effective July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.”

Even though the Board has requested (demanded) time and again that all retroactive items of any significant size NOT be on the consent calendar and at least be explained, the CEO simply refuses, continuing to put them on the consent calendar without explanation. Often the retroactive items happen to be add-ons to Camille Schraeder’s ever-expanding Redwood Community Services list. 

In addition, these “agreements” (i.e., contracts) should obviously be put out to bid or at least accompanied by an explanation for why RCS is the only available contractor.

But as usual, the Board continues to allow CEO Angelo to flout Board direction and ordinary contract procedures month after month after month without a word of complaint.

Instead, we have Supervisor Williams, who at least used to ask a question or two about such insubordination and non-compliance with Board directives, choosing instead to try to reimagine the budget. 

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