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Mendocino County Today: August 12, 2012

FRIDAY'S LA TIMES editorialized that Arcata's panhandling ordinance, enacted in 2010, “…is too broad and too punitive, emblematic of the excesses that many municipalities succumb to in confronting the unsightly but all too human problems associated with panhandling.” Like LA is in a position to lecture anyone on civic strategies.

IF THE ORDINANCE is too tough, if the Arcata cops are hassling outtathere the slobs, dope heads, drunks, and crazy people hanging out at the Arcata Plaza, could have fooled me. Last time I drove through post-ordinance there seemed to be more of them than there were pre-ordinance. That said, so what? Walk on by. If you're the one in a million who happens to get jumped and injured chalk it up to bad luck. Given the choice of running a gauntlet composed of people who look like Mitt Romney or one composed of Arcata Plaza people, I'd choose the Plaza skells.

WE USED to have a street person in Boonville. When he briefly had a girlfriend we had two street persons. But she drank herself to death and he stopped drinking altogether, got himself an apartment in Fort Bragg and hasn't been seen on the street since.

THERE ARE LOTS of street people in Ukiah, a platoon of them in Mendocino, what seems like a regiment of them in Fort Bragg, very few in Willits because Willits is short on food kitchens. The Gateway to the Redwood Empire functions only as the gate to points north and south. No succor there. In Ukiah and Fort Bragg the police spend a lot of time responding to complaints about transients and/or the homeless as they're non-specifically euphemized. No one in local public life or the local media, save Tommy Wayne Kramer, dare describe street people broadly as bums. Which is what some of them are. Most, however, are chronic drunks, drug cripples and crazy people, or anti-social to the point where their public behavior, and it's all public because even if housing were available they're unable to reasonably inhabit it, is so offensive it's unfair to the neighborhood to shelter them. Ms. Kelisha Alvarez of Ukiah, the 400-pound rambling wrecking ball, is Exhibit A of the last category. She's not officially 5150 but she's beyond any known social pale.

CHRONIC DRUNKS, non-functioning dopers and crazy people used to be taken care of on the humane assumption that they could be re-tooled back to civility for their sakes and ours. But what we have now, thanks to the Romney-brains, and as seconded by the Obama “liberals,” is open air asylums, which make “the commons” a lot more exciting than they used to be, but a sad commentary on how far we've fallen as a society.

THE UKIAH HYPOCRITES clustered around the Methodist Church who feed only the sober, most presentable street people a couple of times a week on the understanding that they get the hell out of the Westside before the sun comes up are a handy metaphor for the mentality that gets in the way of the politics of actually doing something helpful for people unable to help themselves. There's a whole industry of obstacle parasites in San Francisco clustered in the good jobs at non-profits. Every time someone says “compulsion” or “mandatory” here come the phonies, many of them paid, to scream, essentially, “The homeless have the right to die on the streets.” The larger society, half of which is now gearing up to pretend there's an essential difference between Romney and Obama, has largely bought the huge lie that there's no money to do anything about much of anything except kill Mohammedans. What we've achieved is a sort of social gridlock, a perfect social entropy, a society of unaffiliated Thanatoids.

ACCORDING TO THE FRESHLY RELEASED Mendo crop report for 2011, wine grapes were the County's top earner, again coming out ahead of timber. Timber production took a dramatic dive in 2001, and plummeted again in 2009 when the Second Great Depression began. Timber recovered somewhat in 2010 and 2011 but it’s still at historically low value levels of $59 million in 2011. Grapes sold for a total of $72 million, a figure that does not include retail wine production.

PINOT NOIR was by far the most valuable wine grape, although the most Mendo acreage, by far, is planted in chardonnay. Pinot grapes sold for an average of $2500 a ton, other varieties went for between $850 and $1300 per ton on average. Chardonnay sold for only $1,050 a ton.

CHARDONNAY produced at almost four tons of grapes per acre, Pinot 2.5 tons per acre. In the much warmer Central Valley, Concord, Thompson seedless and other high-volume wine grapes can produce upwards of 20 tons of grapes per acre.

OTHER MENDO AG PRODUCTS include pears, cattle, milk, pastureland (i.e., grazing permits), and nurseries. There were 88 acres of olives and 41 acres of walnuts in commercial production. 9200 head of sheep and lambs and 1500 four-footed pigs remind us that a few traditional ranchers hang on. “Miscellaneous livestock” was described as goats, pigeons, poultry, rabbits, turkeys, bison, and in a surprise to us, farmed fish. (Where is fish farmed? That place on the outskirts of Fort Bragg that stocks ponds?) Including the farmed fish, all of these enterprises were valued at about $800,000.

MENDO PRODUCERS sold almost $5 million in milk. Wool came in at about $67,000. About $900,000 worth of Mendo-grown vegetables was sold, plus $11 million in “field crops,” mostly hay and whatever Doug Mosel's got going.

COMMERCIAL FISHING reached a ten year high in 2011 of almost $12.5 million with the primary commercial fish production being sablefish, Chinook salmon, red sea urchin, and Dungeness crab.

THE COUNTY’S largest cash crop is, of course, marijuana, but it officially doesn't exist so far as the annual Ag Report is concerned. (A Mendo Ag Commissioner was fired years ago for including an estimated value of the pot crop.) The extent to which marijuana dominates local politics isn’t entirely clear, but it occupies a lot of public discussion with all five members of the Board of Supervisors on record favoring its legalization. Wine and wine grapes are assumed by the Supervisors to be a wonderful thing.

JUDGE REJECTS North Coast Rail Authority’s efforts to avoid legal review of its Environmental Impact Report in Superior Court in Marin County. On Friday, August 10, 2012, Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D’Opal rejected the latest effort by the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA) to delay and avoid legal review of their defective Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for restoration of freight rail service. Friends of the Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) is pleased that NCRA’s latest legal gambits have again been turned back by the courts. NCRA had claimed that trial in Marin County would be prejudicial against NCRA, and that NCRA was not “situated” in Marin County. FOER’s Bay Area Director David Keller stated, “We hope that the Board of Directors of NCRA, a publicly-owned and operated agency, will cease its efforts to delay justice, and allow the CEQA cases to be heard promptly and fairly in Marin County Superior Court. We will not allow their maneuvers to prevent judicial review of the defective EIR. We want the railroad to operate legally, clean up their toxic wastes, avoid future damages to the Eel River, and be responsible to the environmental standards set by law and expected by the citizens and taxpayers of California.” In rejecting NCRA’s motion to transfer the case out of Marin County’s courts, Judge D’Opal stated clearly that NCRA’s Board of Directors includes Marin County members; that NCRA conducts meetings and provides service in Marin County; and that the exercise of NCRA’s powers affect Marin County and its residents. Thus the trial of these cases is properly located in Marin County and should proceed. In cases filed in summer of 2011, FOER and CATs challenged the accuracy, completeness and legality of NCRA’s EIR. NCRA’s EIR minimized and ignored the environmental impacts of their plans to rebuild the largely defunct Northwestern Pacific rail line through the Eel River Canyon by analyzing the impacts of only a smaller portion of their overall project. Since then, NCRA has repeatedly maneuvered to delay or avoid legal scrutiny of their decisions, thus delaying justice and avoiding accountability. NCRA has the normal legal requirements to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a state-created and taxpayer-funded public agency proposing projects with potentially significant environmental effects. Further, NCRA specifically promised the California Transportation Commission that it would comply with CEQA when it accepted a grant of more than $3 million of taxpayer money to conduct the environmental review. Amazingly, however, NCRA now claims that it has no obligation to comply with CEQA. After dragging this astonishing claim into federal court for many months of expensive delay, the federal court rejected NCRA’s argument without a hearing, sending the case back to state court. Judge D’Opal has clearly rejected NCRA’s groundless attempts to again delay the case. Now, however, continuing their baseless efforts to stall and obstruct justice yet again, NCRA is planning to appeal the judge’s decision in the California Court of Appeal. For more information, contact David Keller, Friends of the Eel River, (707) 763-9336 or Jaclyn Prange, Shute Mihaly & Weinberger, (415) 552-7272.

JUST IN from the Eel River Recovery Group: At the same time the Eel River Chinook salmon run is resurging to levels not seen in 50 years, stream margins in dry years are becoming toxic to humans and animals due to blue green algae blooms. Although toxic conditions have not formed since 2009, eleven dog deaths have been documented by the Humboldt County Department of Public Health (HCDPH) that are attributed to toxic algae dating back to 2001, mostly in the South Fork Eel and lower Van Duzen River. Citizens of Fortuna and Redway expressed extreme concern about the public health risk posed by toxic algae at community forums in early September 2011 sponsored by the Trees Foundation. In response to this community need and others, the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) was formed and citizens are currently monitoring different river reaches as an early warning system to protect public health. The toxic algae problem is relatively new to the Eel River, but it is not unique in the region. It seems that water bodies out of ecological balance are subject to colonization by toxic blue green algae throughout the West. The Eel River toxic species are Planktothrix and Anabaena that can create neurotoxins that are fatal within minutes to dogs that play in algae blooms in stream edges and then lick their fur. Toxic algae does not form in all years and it looks like we may avoid the problem in 2012 due to late rains and a cool summer, but ERRP volunteers are surveilling conditions on the Van Duzen River, South Fork and lower Eel River. Volunteers are taking pictures of locations that have been known to form toxic conditions and automated temperature sensors are being placed nearby. The hope is that a relationship between ambient stream temperature and development of toxic conditions can be established as part of an early warning system. Water temperature sensing devices used in 2012 are on loan to the ERRP from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Mendocino County Water Agency. The ERRP is working with the Humboldt County Public Health and contact is made if conditions become threatening or if there is any evidence of toxic exposure of pets or people. The toxic species often are intermixed with other algae species and can only be identified with magnification. They County and State do not currently have a budget for testing for toxic algae except in emergencies, such as when dogs die. ERRP may try to help get grants so we can help the County to get more and better toxic algae data. In the mean time the best strategy to keep pets and children safe is to avoid contact with stagnant stream margins that have algae abundant blooms. It is assumed that nutrient pollution reduction and water conservation are needed to lessen toxic algae risk and to restore the Eel River’s ecological balance. Speakers at the ERRP sponsored a Water Day forum this past May 6 discussed ways to cut down on pollution and agricultural water use and grant funds are being pursued to promote more widespread implementation of the recommended strategies. The ERRP operates under the umbrella of the Trees Foundation and the 2012 monitoring program is sponsored by a Rose Foundation grant as well as a private donation. The project also includes citizen assisted temperature trend monitoring of streams and fall Chinook salmon counts. More volunteers are needed and those interested can contact ERRP volunteer monitoring coordinator Patrick Higgins, at (707) 223-7200. See for more information.

 = = = = = WEEKEND REPOST of Yesterday’s Items = = = = =

 = = = = = (for those who may have missed them) = = = = =

COAST HOSPITAL STAFF told the Hospital Board at its July 26th meeting that the 3% raise agreed to in their existing contract which was recently reinstated when the employees’ union lawyer wrote a letter to the hospital saying not paying it was a possibly illegal “unilateral” action, will cost about $650,000. In “return,” the union will “work with” Hospital management to lift Coast from fiscal peril, perhaps by reducing their employee health insurance costs.

WE’VE ALWAYS WONDERED why the Hospital can’t provide at least some healthcare to their own employees without routing care through a private insurance that Coast has to pay the usual exorbitant middleman fee to. Whenever we bring this question up we’re told that it’s not an option because insurance companies won’t cooperate. The contradiction that a Hospital can’t provide healthcare to its own employees without an insurance company taking a rake off is probably the best indicator of how screwed up US healthcare/health insurance is these days.

HOSPITAL CEO Ray Hino told the Board late last month that he was “very pleased” that the union was willing to discuss healthcare benefits. “I feel it is our best opportunity to work together between our hospital, major creditors and labor union to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement that will allow us to resolve some of our financial issues.”

“MAJOR CREDITORS,” besides the employees, would be doctors, equipment and service providers and pharmaceutical companies. Exactly how the Hospital will “work with” them is unclear, although in the past Hino has said that he intended to review the Hospital’s contractual arrangements with its physicians. The fact that there has been no report of any savings in those contracts probably means that the doctors have not cooperated in solving the Hospital’s “financial issues.” The equipment suppliers historically have not been willing to reduce their charges, but sometimes they will allow the Hospital to delay payments. And Pharmaceutical companies? Don’t ask.

ACCORDING to Coast Hospital’s financial manager, Wayne Allen, total revenues are up a bit from last year but costs — including the aforementioned health insurance for employees — rose more than revenues by several million dollars with the imbalance expected to continue. Why? Inpatient admissions have decreased, a nice way of saying that more and more people don’t have insurance and can’t afford hospitalization, pharmaceutical sales are down because people can’t afford as much medication, and Medicare reimbursements are expected to decrease.

THE PICTURE IS GRIM for Mendocino County's only publicly-owned medical center. The Hospital Foundation, a fundraising non-profit that provides occasional infusions of cash might produce some more money but Mendocino County's countless array of non-profits are, at this point in our imploding economy, competing for a disappearing donor base. No one is talking about a new bond issue or a ballot measure to increase the Hospital District’s parcel fee, an option often discussed a few years ago when the Hospital faced a budget gap arising from profligate management practices. Perhaps in the present economic climate, management has calculated that an increase in the Hospital's parcel tax would be unlikely to pass, although voters approved a small boost in local taxes to fund the much less crucial CV Starr Rec Center.

MENDOCINO COUNTY regularly bemoans its lack of any discretionary money for such things as adequate adult mental health services at the County Jail, to name one service we're doing without that ultimately drives up public costs to everyone.

BUT THERE ALWAYS SEEMS to be plenty of public money for more bureaucrats, and assistant bureaucrats. On Tuesday, the Supervisors are poised to approve a $66,000 job for an assistant to their recently hired Retirement Administrator, Richard White, a retired Orange County Sheriff’s sergeant and former bigwig with the State Association of Retirement Systems. Mendo's great Retirement Administrators of yesteryear did without assistants.

SGT. WHITE, with the approval of his captive Retirement Board, thinks that even though Mendocino County is broke and the County’s Retirement System has lost tens of millions in total value and investment returns, he needs the County to pay someone $66k a year to “prepare and maintain reports such as annual financial statements, the annual Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR), and annual State Controller’s Office report; coordinate with the independent financial auditor; monitor investments; assist the Retirement Administrator with development of financial and accounting policies and procedures; etc.”

WHICH READS like came directly from Sarge's own job description, the one that pays him something like $165k a year plus the usual generous array of perks, a pay package that comes on top of whatever retirement he’s already drawing as a retired cop.

AND YOU THOUGHT you were paying too much for former Retirement Administrator Jim Andersen? (You were, of course.) ANDERSEN, natch, is still on the County’s payroll too, but as a “consultant/advisor” to Sarge. Calling John Sakowicz! Calling Ted Stevens! Calling Deputy Craig Walker. Whazzup with this? State Parks and Recreation?

THE MOTHER OF ALL SCREW JOBS is underway in Gualala. To simplify without over simplifying, when the highly popular Bones Road House and Restaurant burned down in September of 2009, Bones, aka Mike Thomas, had a liquor license he’d leased from the family of Eric Price.

THE FIRE, to put it gently, was suspicious, and it became even more suspicious when Eric Price, funded by his wealthy parents, built his own restaurant on the site of, you could say, Mike Thomas’s Bones. You could also say that Price’s restaurant and the accompanying motel he erected are as unpopular with locals as Price is himself. Locals are critical of everything from the food at Price’s Shoreline Restaurant to the architectural aesthetics of the thing. And then they assess Price’s unfortunate personality, which South Coast people characterize as rude, arrogant, ruthless, and at least partly chemically enhanced in a way that doesn’t make Price, a veteran of drug and alcohol rehab programs, any more beguiling.

MIKE THOMAS is a long-time resident of the area. He's highly popular with locals not only for his personal charm but for the quality of his enterprise. He’s also one of these essential community guys who quietly does a lot of good for people apart from employing 23 of them. The South Coast is unanimously in support of Thomas and hopping mad that he's clearly the victim of, in Thomas's description, “a demon.”

THOMAS managed to get a new Bones Road House and Restaurant up and running only to be slowly garroted by Price who clearly resents the popularity of Thomas’s revived business, which is in direct competition with Price's, especially for local business upon which local businesses depend, especially in the non-tourist winter months.

WHEN THOMAS RE-BOOTED BONES, Price said Thomas’s liquor license had reverted to him and his parents. Logic would indicate that the license went on hold while Thomas re-built. But Price insisted the license had reverted to his family. He went to court and somehow won a judgment against Thomas, a very large judgment which, with the usual attorney's fees, interest and mysterious add-ons, has driven the judgment from $80,000 to $214,842.98. That amount is impossible for Thomas to pay. That amount would be difficult for most Mendo businesses to pay, impossible for Thomas as he rebuilds after that Price-convenient fire put Thomas out of business in 2009.

VIA A THUGGISH LEGAL STRATAGEM called a “Keeper's Levy,” good for eight-hour periods on a day-to-day basis, a posse of deputized till tappers has twice now swooped down on Bones and grabbed all the money in the till, $529 on their initial raid, another $430 the next day. Price is rumored to observe the badged till tappers as they looted his rival’s business in a way that's designed to put Thomas out of business, not recover money owed.

IF THESE “KEEPER'S LEVY” RAIDS on Bones continue on a regular basis, Thomas will be put out of business, which would suit Price just fine. To that end Price's Keeper of the Levy has court-ordered Thomas's books and bank records. Price just might wind up with the guy's shoes and socks.

COULD MENDOCINO COUNTY be fracked? And if it were fracked, what the frack would it be fracked for? Since most of the County is owned by either the Mendocino Redwood Company or the government, these two entities would own the rights to most of whatever's down there. And what is down there? Way back there were some smallish copper mines, one of them lying in the canyon between the Feliz Creek headwaters and Yorkville's Y Ranch. But that was surface mining. In Covelo there was some rock (jade?) and coal mining done by Italian nationals before World War Two, hence a few Indians named Gino and Carlo. We know that there are hot water springs here and there which, I suppose, might be tapped for energy as they are at the Geysers in Lake County. But Mendo's hot water springs seem awfully small compared to the whole area of them in Lake County. And we know there are oil deposits in the Pacific vastness off Point Arena and Elk. But those deposits aren't commercially attractive, are they?

WHEN I ASKED former Supervisor Norman deVall about what might lure large-scale extractive interests to Mendocino County, he replied, “The most interesting map I ever saw in the Planning Department was of the County showing hot water springs. The Anderson Valley is ringed with warm water sources. Add to that the Manchester Anticline just to the west and that the largest limestone deposit (limestone=cement) in California is on the Greenwood-Philo Ridge Road and you have the next economic era. I have no doubt that we're on top of ‘natural’ gas fields and hydro-petroleum. A few years ago I met up with some petro geologists chipping away at the cliff edge in Point Arena Cove who showed me what they were looking for: oil. During WWII Atlantic-Richfield drilled for oil at Point Arena and developed a producing well. But history has it that it was so laden with sulfur that it wasn't put into production. I've also heard that oil deposits have been found leeching into Wages and San Juan Creeks on the northcoast. We would do well to pass an anti-fracking initiative in the County.”

One Comment

  1. John Sakowicz August 13, 2012

    The Mendocino County Today blog writes…”AND YOU THOUGHT you were paying too much for former Retirement Administrator Jim Andersen? (You were, of course.) ANDERSEN, natch, is still on the County’s payroll too, but as a “consultant/advisor” to Sarge. Calling John Sakowicz! Calling Ted Stevens! Calling Deputy Craig Walker. Whazzup with this?”

    Rest assured, I’m on it!

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