…(And neither are the Supervisors)
The Supervisors made it quite clear Tuesday that they care more about water financing than they do about actually delivering water to the Coast, many areas of which have gone dry, and have no viable reliable source from which to buy it in bulk.
After a long discussion of how much to subsidize the as-yet undelivered water, Mendo’s newly promoted and highly paid General Services Director Janelle Rau, tried to warn the Board that there are some major problems in getting water to Fort Bragg — this leg of the trip is called “long haul” — where, it is hoped, it could be processed through Fort Bragg’s water treatment system and then sold to private haulers for delivery to water-deprived residences and businesses.
Rau: “Since the declaration of the drought emergency, the [County’s] logistics team has been actively looking for haulers for potable water. We have had one qualified hauler that has been responsive. we have used phone calls, public service announcements, press releases, and we will do a formal press release once we get through the emergency process. The one hauler that was qualified and did respond was from out of the area. So the costs that we are talking about I think they were preliminary. But the reality is that you are going to see that a lot of these haulers that are local are either not qualified, not certified or simply not interested. We will continue to do our best. We will continue to go through this. But I just want to make sure that we are being as realistic as we can in how we are going to address this. I don't know what the costs are but with an outside hauler such as the one we heard from, we must assume that there will be a per diem cost for the drivers as well. And with the gallons that we are talking about, we only have one hauler right now and only a certain amount of trucks that are available and how many gallons they will be able to transport.”
In the only Board response, Supervisor Ted Williams asked, “What would it look like if we were to lease a couple of potable water trucks and use our Department of Transportation crew for hauling?”
(“A couple” is a lot lower than the estimated ten trucks a day that was previously planned.)
Transportation Director Howard Dashiell replied: “I will see if such trucks are available for lease. I know some of the larger tankers require a tank endorsement [on a commercial driver's license]. I'm not sure our drivers would immediately be able to drive them.” Then, in a typical Mendo non-response, he added, “But I can start looking at that.”
Quite a commitment there, especially since this is an “emergency.”
And that was the end of the delivery discussion as the board went back to discussing subsidies, percentages, grants, funding categories, the use of the transient occupancy tax and other subjects which will be irrelevant if they can't find any haulers.
Our sources tell us that finding haulers is even more difficult than Ms. Rau and Mr. Dashiell suspect. Right now, with the fires raging in Northern California, CalFire is hiring every legitimate hauler (truck and driver) they can get, and they pay top dollar. (CalFire does not have very many water tenders, relying mostly on private contractors.) In addition, the wine industry, which might have some suitable tanker trucks, is in the middle of harvest season. And this area's innumerable pot growers are presently paying top dollar for water delivery as well, if they can get it, legal or not.
If the County can’t find haulers to deliver the water, the water hauling program is DOA and the leadership should admit it up front and not keep giving Coast people the false hope that water is on the way. Short of something like a County takeover of the wine industry’s trucks, or the Governor ordering in the National Guard to deliver water, we don’t see much chance of the County delivering on its liquid promises this year.
Instead of discussing the problem of actual delivery, as Ms. Rau had suggested, the Board ended up voting to subsidize the still problematic water deliveries to the tune of 100% of the shipping cost to Fort Bragg for domestic shipments and 80% of the commercial costs. (End users would still have to pay for delivery from Fort Bragg to their tanks.)
We were joking the other day when we suggested that visitors be required to haul their own water in their combat-size SUVs on their weekends in Coast spas and B&Bs. But now, after listening to Tuesday’s Board discussion and lack of focus on the actual delivery, we think it’s time for Visit Mendocino and the rest of the coast tourism industry to make a formal declaration: “Come to Mendocino — But Bring Your Own Water Cooler, We’re Out!” (Then in the fine print add: “Also be prepared for ocean bathing in between ice cream cones and lattes.”)
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SUPERVISOR MAUREEN MULHEREN posted the following board agenda item and comment on her website/update page on Wednesday:
“6d) Discussion and Possible Action Stating the Board’s Intent to Address Government Code Section 29121 through the Budget Process and Mitigate Unnecessary Concern that Impedes a Department Head, Appointed or Elected Official’s Ability to Perform their Duties (Sponsor: Supervisor Mulheren) Recommended Action: Provide direction to Department Heads and Elected Officials that it is not and has not been the policy of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to hold officials personally liable for budget overages that result from duly authorized expenditures, variations between actual and projected revenue, and other issues routinely addressed through quarterly budget adjustments.
Mulheren Comment: “Unanimous approval. CEO report will include a monthly financial report after the close of this fiscal year.”
SO THE BOARD, with Ms. Mulheren’s prodding, has backed off their silly threat of charging department heads, including the Sheriff, personally for ordinary budget overruns. That’s nice. It only took three months to “mitigate” this unnecessary “unnecessary concern” which never should have come up in the first place and which is still playing out in court. But the Supervisor’s concluding comment that the CEO report will include a monthly financial report “after the close of this fiscal year” means not until some unspecified time after July of 2022! Considering that CEO Angelo plans to retire on or before October of 2022 (probably before since she can take accumulated vacation and any other accumulated time off), this claim is so transparently preposterous that it should embarrass anyone who posts it.
Where Have All The Deputies Gone?
Item 5h) on last Tuesday’s Board agenda was this innocuous-seeming item: “Allocate and approve funding request for up to $1,000,000 for additional mental health crisis responders to respond to mental health crisis calls for services; and recommend the appropriate budget unit and line item that funds will be received from if request is approved.”
The next day Supervisor Maureen Mulheren, perhaps a bit disoriented by agenda-speak, commented on her Supervisors website/update page, “Trying to leverage a partnership with the Sheriff's Office and BHAB [Behavioral Health Advisory Board] to get responses to Mental health Patients the support that they need, possible to be reimbursed due to covid needs from the State, need to seek mutual aid to try to get reimbursement.”
Which hardly does justice to the problem faced.
Attached to the item was this letter to the Board from Sheriff’s Captain Greg Van Patten:
The Sheriff's Office has implemented weekly COVID-19 testing of all our employees beginning this week. We currently have twenty-three (23) working Patrol Deputies county-wide whereas at full staffing we would have forty (40) working Patrol Deputies.
We are anticipating even more staffing shortages due to the weekly testing which could result in Patrol Deputies being required to isolate for periods of at least 10-days with any positive test, even if they are vaccinated or asymptomatic. This is taking into consideration the recently reported COVID-19 surge among the Mendocino County population.
As a result, we are going to be forced to reduce some services to ensure that we have the ability to provide public safety to immediate situations threatening the life and safety of the community. These types of situations are related to fire response, crimes against persons, and statutory services required of the Sheriff as examples.
Beginning today, the Sheriff's Office will not be responding to Mental Health related calls for service unless there is an immediate life-threatening situation to the public beyond a person just being suspected of having a Mental Health related crisis.
These types of non-life threatening situations will be directly referred to Mental Health for response.
We will respond to non-life threatening Mental Health situations only if it is a dual response like what we are currently doing with the Mobile Crisis Response Team model.
Please let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as to the content of this email. Respectfully,
Gregory L. Van Patten #1184
Captain - Field Services Division
Public Information Officer
The Board discussed the bad news for 15 irresolute minutes.
While the Supervisors continue their slo-mo trainwreck dispute with the Sheriff and his (mostly overtime) budget gap, they seemed quite amenable to throwing $1 million from some unidentified place in the budget at the Mental Health department for more crisis response staff.
At one point Supervisor John Haschak asked what was taking so long to fill the other two Crisis Van slots that Measure B and the Supervisors authorized A YEAR AGO but never followed up on.
Instead of answering the question and admitting that they never do anything in a prompt manner, Mental Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller told Haschak that they have had one crisis responder on duty (for about three months now) and two more are in the pipeline, but offering no date for when the fresh hires will start responding.
Sheriff Matt Kendall told the Board that his patrol staff was depleted because 1) there have been more than the average retirements in the last few months, 2) seven deputies are out on injury status, some of them with serious injuries (you think wrestling drunks and tweekers is light duty?) with a doubtful return to full duty, and 3) the North Coast’s police officer training program was shut down due to covid and the pipeline for new deputies has nearly dried up, although one or two new officers are in recruitment at the moment.
The Supervisors seem to think that just giving Dr. Miller $1 million will magically fill part of the gap that Captain Van Patten is talking about with mental health calls. But the record shows that getting the Dr. Miller and the Mental health staff and the even slower Human Resources Department to move on these priority tasks in a manner indicating urgency seems beyond them.
Supervisor Ted Williams thought the Sheriff should ask for “mutual aid” from the state to fill his patrol gaps. Sheriff Kendall replied that all available mutual aid is already committed to other emergencies, primarily the fires now burning up huge swaths of Northern California.
We have our own proposals to narrow the gaps in the Sheriff’s patrol division. First, borrow several of the DA’s seven senior investigators, all of whom are experienced cops, to fill some of the Ukiah-area slots on a temporary duty basis. Second, if deputies can simply stop responding to most mental health calls, they can also stop responding to calls for the many “failures to appear” (unless another crime is involved) which is nothing but a glorified taxi service for the County’s nine judges. Third, have the Probation Department do their own probation violation calls (again unless another serious crime is involved).
Then, if the County can somehow manage to fill a few mental health slots with their new found $1million and provide a vehicle or two to those staffers, they might be able to get by until the winter when, hopefully the fires die down and the situation returns to … Well, whatever it can return to.
PS. A local woman has had to call 911 several times on a mentally ill man who has been camping on her property regularly over the last few months. The man refuses help, but she understandably wants him outta there. The last time she called 911 the dispatcher jokingly asked the woman if she wanted to apply for a job. They’re hiring!
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Ukiah To Take Russian River Water For Fort Bragg
by Justine Frederiksen
To carry out a plan to provide water to the Mendocino Coast, city of Ukiah staff announced this week that they will likely pull water from the Russian River once a week.
“I’m going to work with my staff and Josh Metz with the county of Mendocino on the amount of daily gallons that will involve, and the best way for us to produce that water,” Sean White, director of water and sewer resources for the city of Ukiah, told the Ukiah City Council during its meeting Wednesday, referring to a plan to make water available to coastal communities such as the Village of Mendocino, where many residents’ wells have run dry.
In late August, a Mutual Aid Agreement was approved by the Fort Bragg City Council, the Ukiah City Council and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors that will have the city making water available for haulers to drive to Fort Bragg. Ukiah City Manager Sage Sangiacomo said Wednesday the agreement “is currently being processed, but will be in full effect.”
Perhaps the most controversial part of the plan is that the city said it intends to violate curtailment orders imposed by the California State Water Resources Control Board by diverting water from the Russian River, and that it may incur fines for doing so. However, White said earlier this week that the city was willing to take that risk because the “water is sorely needed and someone needs to provide it.”
So far, White told the City Council that his staff will be using its existing equipment to pull water from the river “16 hours a day, one day a week, then putting that water into storage and drawing off of that for seven days.”
As for providing water to the city’s customers, White said his staff has been depending entirely on its wells for some time, and “we have not diverted from the river except for a brief moment to fight the fire adjacent to our facilities,” referring to an arson fire that started near the city’s Water Treatment Plant near River Street earlier this summer.
“This week we produced a total of 33 million gallons of water, 22 million from ground water and 10.6 from recycled water,” White said. “All of our wells are still stable, with the draw down ranging from two feet to eight feet. And for a year like this, that is remarkable.”
When asked for more details on the “draw down” by the wells, White said “Well 4, which is producing most of our water right now, is now (down) five feet more than it was at the beginning of the season, Well 7 is just a little more than five feet, Well 8 has only drawn down two feet, and Well 9 has drawn down the most at eight feet. And all those are well within the range we see in a typical year.”
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ms Note: If Ukiah is going to provide untreated river water to Fort Bragg via their treatment plant, why does the County require haulers to be licensed and qualified to haul potable water? They might have a better chance of getting haulers lined up if they removed that requirement.