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Mendocino County Today: May 18, 2012

THE GRAND JURY REPORTS are out. We haven’t read the whole thing yet but we did read three areas the GJ reported on, the gist of which are these three gists:

THE COUNTY’S retirement system remains precarious with an unfunded liability of $124.9 million, up from $91.7 million last year with a larger obligation trending upwards of the $124.9 mil. “In reviewing 2011 retiree benefits, it was found that many retirees are receiving almost as much, if not more, in retirement pay than when they were actively employed by the county….. but the County bears the burden of its vested entitlements.” The GJ says “poor record keeping and financial planning by the retirement adminstration and the County, compounded by the market downturn, created a large, unfunded pension liability.” The Jury suggests that the Supervisors should have kept employee benefits within reason while the retirement administration could have been composed of more capable people who fully grasped that if more retirees are making more in pensions and bennies while living longer with their accumulated monies being largely invested in the great crap shoot of the stock market, the whole works can go blooey if the economy goes blooey, which it obviously will continue to do.

COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH is doing what it can to beat back the ever rising tide of local mental illness, but its much reduced staff is not large enough to meet the increasing demand for professional help. The GJ cited the Sheriff’s Department, where the most volatile of Mendocino County’s mentally ill are confined, for doing what they can in circumstances not designed to enhance mental health.

AND WITHOUT MENTIONING by name Dr. Lois Nash and the irresponsible members of the Ukiah School Board who hired her as superintendent and continued to support her when it was evident she was (1) either at her home in Los Angeles (2) en route to her home in Los Angeles (3) incompetent when she was at her desk in Ukiah, the Grand Jury found that Ukiah Unified has not been well-managed. Nash also ran up almost a million dollars in district legal fees, referring even the most routine matters to the bumbling legal consortium based in Santa Rosa that handles all legal matters for all Mendocino County’s school districts in a public-private sweetheart deal which itself ought to be investigated by the Grand Jury.

THIS JUST IN. Varoom! Varoom! Car racing can begin at the Ukiah Fairgrounds. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board declared Wednesday: “The soil removal from the Ukiah Fairgrounds has been completed in accordance with the March 8, 2012, directive from our office…. The soil was contaminated with diesel and motor oil and was removed from the fairgrounds (between the dates of April 2 to April 7), and on April 18 and 19, Approximately 5,000 cubic yards of soils were removed and either disposed of at the Redwood Landfill in Novato, or the Recology Hay Road Landfill in Vacaville.” Which was the whole of it. The question remains: Who made the deal to haul it from the Mendocino Transit Authority at the south end of Ukiah to the Speedway at the north end of Ukiah? Removal of the soil to Novato and Vacaville has cost many thousands of dollars, and either the feckless management at MTA or the seemingly bewildered management at the Fairgrounds is responsible.

TWO SAN FRANCISCO abalone poachers were convicted last week after a three-day jury trial. Coast-based Fish and Game Warden Dan Powers, an expert in the many clever forms of poaching that ab-lovers have developed over the years was the sole prosecution witness. Using binoculars Powers observed Hou N. Huang, 47, of San Francisco, diving for abs, coming up with an ab 14 times. He then observed Huang put nine of the biggest and best abs in a dive tube and toss the rest, an illegal tactic known as “high grading.” Huang then swam over to Hong Mei, 39, also of San Francisco, and gave him five of the nine. Then the two swimmers swam behind a rock, emerging a few minutes later with an unidentified woman. The nine abs had magically been divided into three for each poacher (the legal limit if done correctly). When Powers approached the trio back on land, they had three each and tried to pass them off as legal. The pair’s defense lawyers for Huang and Mei argued that Mr. Powers couldn’t have identified them positively from 130 yards with all the other (Asian) poachers ab divers in the area. But the jury didn’t buy the misidentification gambit and convicted both men of poaching. Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Court Judge Clayton Brennan sentenced Huang to 24 months of court probation, 15 days in jail, court fees, a fine of $2,545, plus forfeiture of his dive gear and the seized abalone. Mei also got 24 months probation, but lower fines and jail time. Their dive gear was also confiscated.

THE DEFENSE argued, basically, that Powers couldn't tell one Asian from another which, sad to say, is a common assumption among both Asians and pale faces but one that applies so infrequently among individuals of both races as to be untrue as a reliable stereotype. It is, however, a prevalent mis-assumption among the more primitive sectors of the Mendo population that Asians are the most dedicated poachers. I believe the stats show that white poachers still lead the way. In any case, there are simply more people of all races in pursuit of a resource that seems poised to be fished to extinction.

STATE PARKS wants to charge visitors $8 a day for simply parking, far too much for either persons on fixed incomes or those many who live with the wolf permanently at their door, if not sitting down with them to dinner every night. The fee would apply at Mendocino Headlands, Point Cabrillo Light Station, Van Damme State Park MacKerricher State Park, Jughandle State Natural Reserve, Point Cabrillo Light Station, Mendocino Headlands, Big River Beach, Montgomery Woods, Van Damme State Park and Manchester State Park. Parks hopes to install self-pay stations at the County’s beaches and parks by this summer, which they tried to do in Sonoma County in 1990, immediately inspiring large-scale “Free Our Beaches” protests. The parking fee proposal would, however, allow state park districts to keep half of the revenues, a move unlikely to mollify the thousands of people forced to pay $8 for the simple pleasures of gazing upon unspoiled vistas.

STONED DOGS? An odd and perhaps unfounded story in Thursday’s Press Democrat by Glenda Anderson claims local veterinarians are regularly treating dogs for marijuana overdoses. Cats, too, but not as many, have turned up at the vet’s offices seemingly under the influence of mind-altering substances. But cats behave like they’re loaded anyway, as do dogs much of the time, so who can tell for sure? “Animals, mostly dogs,” Glenda writes, “are being brought staggering into veterinary hospitals high on pot, a toxic and potentially lethal condition. Sometimes they're just sleepy, disoriented and unable to control their bladders. Other times they're vomiting, having seizures or are comatose. Veterinarians at Mendocino Animal Hospital usually see two or three cases a week but last Friday alone had three, said Dr. Jennifer Bennett.” Reports of dogs loaded on pot are even more numerous in Humboldt County, the report claims, with one woman claiming her dog at Arcata Plaza (HumCo) fell unconscious following a single affectionate pat on the muzzle by one of the grunges who inhabit the Plaza. All this bears further investigation, and I know just who to call: “Pebbles Trippet? Dr. Courtney? White courtesy telephone, please.”

THE WINE PRESS is full of alarmed accounts of a looming grape shortage in a context of growing demand for the sunshine state’s wines as the overall cost of making the stuff steadily increases. Vineyards can’t get enough nursery stock. Same-same in Mendo, from what we can gather.

THE AVA’S SAN FRANCISCO DISPATCH has now gone missing two weeks in a row as the US Postal Service moves ahead with plans to close dozens of mail processing centers, including the one at Petaluma where our papers are routinely lost. We expect them to get lost more often when Petaluma closes and all our papers are sorted at the mammoth East Bay postal center. In February, the Postal Service announced it will move all North Bay mail processing from Petaluma to Oakland, eliminating 228 jobs at Petaluma.

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