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Mendocino County Today: June 22, 2012

FOOTNOTE to the discussion about Sheriff Allman’s recent request and approval to allow Studio Lambert to film a reality series with the Sheriff’s marijuana eradicators. Former Third Party Inspector for Mendo’s now dormant pot permit program Julie Carrera told the Board that her former pot growing permittee-clients were against the idea because: “they are in great fear of any kind of media coverage of marijuana. They feel that the 9.31 program [Mendo’s medical pot permit program for collectives and cooperatives] was kyboshed because of the media coverage and they do not want to see any kind of media coverage in their industry right now. It somehow puts them in the line of fire of the DEA more if you [allow it].”

ON THE OTHER HAND, the “kyboshing” of the 9.31 program may have had more to do the activities of some of the larger pot collectives and dispensaries in the years leading up to the Obama administration’s apparent policy reversal.

CALIFORNIA WATCH (a KQED/Center For Investigative Reporting joint project) posted a story on Wednesday based on financial records they obtained for a large Bay Area marijuana dispensary called the Berkeley Patients Group for 2008 and 2009. According to CW reporters Michael Montgomery and David Downs, BPG reported gross sales of over $16 million in 2008 and 2009, and registered a net income of “more than $100,000.” But that was after about $1 million in salaries to their executives, a practice common to non-profit organizations which have access to large enough revenue streams. Defenders of BPG’s finances say that such dispensaries have to charge “market prices” (e.g., black market prices) because their business involves unique costs, extra security and other problems and requires a lot of high-priced staff to run (i.e., them). “The biggest portion of the group’s operating expenses went to labor costs,” reports Montgomery, “which totaled $3.3 million in 2009, including more than $911,000 paid to co-directors Deborah Goldsberry, Etienne Fontan and Tim Schick.” And, “…much of Berkeley Patients Group's income from lucrative pot sales went to growers, staff salaries that included nearly $1 million for top executives, advertising, security, accountants and attorneys and a host of other operating expenses. Smaller expenditures included $39,916 on ‘decorations and ambiance’ and $2,481 for softball.” Two of the best years for Berkeley Patients Group were 2008 and 2009, when it recorded $17.4 million and $16.4 million, respectively, in total income “from the distribution of marijuana buds, edible products infused with pot, as well as seeds, clones and other items … According to company documents, the cost for goods sold was about $10 million in 2008 and $9 million in 2009, leaving a gross profit margin close to 40%." And, we can probably assume, the prices paid to vendors and suppliers were artificially high as well. “In May, the group abruptly closed its storefront operation on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley after federal prosecutors threatened to seize the property from the landlord, David Mayeri. In a letter to Mayeri, US Attorney Melinda Haag cited violations of federal law and the dispensary’s proximity to two schools. Haag did not explicitly accuse Berkeley Patients Group of acting as a front for drug traffickers, and no criminal charges have been filed in the case.” (Full story at:

BACK TO STUDIO LAMBERT. Bill Pruett, series producer, described his project to the Board as a six-part series of hour-long segments “devoted to a 360 view of the Emerald Triangle marijuana eradication and growing proliferation in this area.” “We want to tell the very important story about America being at war with itself,” said Pruett. “Our public lands, your public lands are under siege. The children that I raise are growing up in this world uncertain and unaware of where they can go to fish, hunt, hike or camp because the places that I told them about when I was a kid growing up are no longer accessible, no longer safe. … This documentary will ask the right questions: How can anywhere between $1.5 billion and $6 billion worth of marijuana come out of one small region of northern California and yet you [the County] can barely pay your bills? … There are real issues concerning the medicinal value that need to be considered as well, but we want to make a strong statement about what’s rightfully ours and what’s being taken away.”

A LITTLE NOTICED Grand Jury report released last month says the Ukiah City Council and City staff badly botched their garbage hauling contract, resulting in unreasonably high garbage rates being charged to Ukiah residents. “The story of the city's garbage contract with C&S Waste Systems is a saga of: Apparently careless city procurement practices; A relationship between the new contractor and the old contractor; Restricted public access to government decision-making; Weak City Council oversight; Less than adequate City Staff work; Apparently out-classed City Negotiators; Allegedly hidden business transactions. All of these actions or inactions have translated into higher costs for the residents of the City and the City ratepayers.” The report notes that the GJ got lots of complaints about the garbage hauler contracting fiasco, many of which turned out to be valid. The Grand Jury listed an unusually high 46 (mostly negative) findings. The GJ’s six recommendations are that the Ukiah City council take another look at their garbage contract — primarily “determine if…” and “conduct an investigation into…” The report concludes with a recommendation that the City Council “determine whether the City's contract with C&SWS can be voided, or any other any legal action taken, after the City's investigations noted above are completed and fully evaluated.”

THE REPORT mirrors and buttresses remarks made months ago (before Ukiah signed the garbage hauling contract with C&S Waste Solutions) by Ukiah Daily Journal Editor K.C. Meadows (and others). Meadows’ sensible and pointed criticisms not only went unheeded by the City Council, but were actively argued against by several individual members of the City Council. (Councilmember Mari Rodin actually claimed that Ukiah had a “newspaper editor problem,” not an inept-self-adulating Councilwoman problem.) But at this point it’s hard to imagine the same City Council members who defended the bad garbage contract reversing themselves and revisiting the contract now based on the Grand Jury recommendations — after the city’s garbage hauling contract has been signed — since the results of any investigations would only make the City Council look worse than they already do. Ratepayers may have grounds for a lawsuit, but they would probably have to organize into some kind of class action and the City or its insurance carrier would get stuck with the bill which wouldn’t help the ratepayers anyway. Cold Creek Compost in Potter Valley (which appears to have been aced out of a lot of Ukiah’s greenwaste stream by the questionable contract) may have grounds for a suit as well. Meanwhile, Ukiah residents are obviously being ripped off by Ukiah’s garbage hauling contract rates and a majority of their badly out of touch City Council. (The full report is available on-line at the County’s Grand Jury webpage.)

A FORMER MARINE READER writes: “A guy was driving around the backwoods of Tennessee when he saw a sign in front of a broken down shanty-style house: ‘TALKING DOG FOR SALE.’ The visitor rang the bell and the owner appeared and told him the dog was in the backyard. The guy went into the backyard and saw a nice looking Labrador retriever sitting there. “You talk?” the visitor asked. “Yep,” the lab replied. After the guy recovered from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he said, “So, what's your story?” The Lab looked up and said, “Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA and they had me sworn into the toughest branch of the armed services, the United States Marines. You know one of their nicknames is ‘The Devil Dogs.’ In no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders; because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But the jetting around really tired me out and I knew I wasn't getting any younger. So, I decided to settle down. I retired from the Corps — eight dog years is 56 Corps years — and I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of civilian medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired.” The visitor was amazed. He went back in and asked the owner how much he wanted for the dog. “$10,” the guy replied. “What! Only $10?! This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?” “Because he's a goddamn liar. He never did any of that stuff. He was in the Navy!”

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