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Mendocino County Today: September 9, 2012

NORTH PASS FIRE UPDATE, as of Saturday, September 8, 2012. CalFire reports that the North Pass Fire remains at 41,983 acres.  Containment is steadily increasing and is now at 81%.  Firefighters continue to strengthen and widen the fire lines around the fire. The fire is now completely surrounded by lines. The lines have been built by firefighters or created by the fire burning up to roads or rocky ridges or riverbeds. Firefighters continue to improve the lines and mop up interior hotspots.  There is some heat remaining near Uhl Peak on the southeast fire perimeter; all other hotspots are well inside the fire perimeter. Good progress has been made on chipping and suppression repair along Mendocino Pass Road. This road is expected to be open to the public tomorrow. Smoke from two fires south of Covelo has been moving north and impacting air quality in towns around the North Pass fire. Evacuations have been lifted for the majority of the Bauer Ranch subdivision. The damage assessment has been completed. An additional ten structures were found for a total of 26 structures destroyed in the North Pass fire. Hunters, please note that the Mendocino National Forest has a Forest Closure Order in the fire area.

NO SOONER does the North Pass fire appear under control than another fast-burning fire has started about eight miles east of Ukiah near the Lake County line near Cow Mountain called the “Scott’s Fire.” As of September 8, CalFire reports that it has already reached 1600 acres and is only 5% contained. They hope to reach full containment by Wednesday, September 12. The cause of the Scott’s Fire is still under investigation. 68 fire engines, 15 crews and eight bulldozers are on the ground with eight water tenders (including a water tender from Anderson Valley), along with three air tankers, and three helicopters. A total of 541 firefighters are on scene plus more as they become available from the North Pass fire. The Scott’s Fire is a fast burning, intense fire in very steep and inaccessible terrain similar to the North Pass fire. If the winds pick up, there’s a possibility of structures being threatened to the east, but no evacuations have been ordered so far.

BILL TAYLOR WRITES: Four items of possible interest:  1. Inland Summer Salads class is Sunday Sept. 9 from 12:30-4.  Meet us at the Redwood Valley Farmers' Market at Lion's Park, about a half-mile north of downtown Redwood Valley on East Road.  We will depart at 12:45 for a carpool/caravan to the farm on Laughlin mountain where the class will take place.  If you are running a few minutes late, we will look for folks at the West Road exit at the junction of West Road and North State St.  If even later,call our cell at 707-272-1688 for gate codes.  The class will include a tour of 35-40 salad plants (herbs, flowers, greens) in Floodgate Farm's plantings, with growing information and medicinal properties of each plant.  Students will be able to taste each one and as we go we'll gather a bit for a salad we will share at the end.  We will also cover seed saving and provide seeds for select plants.  The class ends with a potluck which will include salad, a green smoothie (which we will also gather during the class), homemade kimchee, a bread or other homebaked item, along with anything students bring to share.  We provide informational handouts and lots of opportunities to ask questions.  2. Inland Fall Salads class is Sunday October 28 from 1:45-5pm. Same format as the Sept 9 class, except we will meet at 1:45 at West Road and North State St., just east of the West Road exit off of US 101 in Redwood  for a carpool up the mountain. 3. Floodgate Farm CSA shares are available: 20 weeks for $300 (bag) or $600 (box).  There will be midweek pickups at the farm or the West Rd exit.  Each bag or box will include greens, salad mix, kale chips, tomatoes (fresh or dried), potatoes or sweet potatoes, and a few special surprises.  We anticipate the 20 pickups to be 4 in October, 4 in November, 3 in December, 2 in January, 3 in February, and 4 in March.  The farm will invest your prepaid share in expanding our beds and keeping us going in bringing you vibrantly healthy food. 4. Please remember to vote.  Even if there is little difference between the candidates, the better one makes your advocacy work for what you believe in that much easier.  Remember that the power is the people's when we claim it.  In addition to candidates running, Measure 37 will require labeling of genetically modified ingredients in food and will help us make healthy choices, as nutrient labeling now does. It will not make food expensive as the GMO corporations will claim. It will help efforts in other states so the labeling can go nationwide.  There are also initiatives in many places supporting the end of corporate personhood (measure F in Mendocino County).

THIS TUESDAY, the Board of Supervisors will consider sending the following letter to Governor Brown: “Dear Governor Brown, On behalf of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, we urge you to sign AB 1492 as adopted by the State Legislature. California landowners abide by some of the most stringent environmental and timber harvest regulations in North America and are subject to regulatory costs that far exceed those in neighboring states and countries. These factors hinder the competitiveness of local timber producers and contribute to the fact that 70% of lumber consumed in California is being imported from out-of-state. As the Department of Finance and regulatory agencies continue to seek full cost recovery through increased fees, California is becoming increasingly non-competitive for timber and lumber production with a consequent loss of living wage jobs and state and local revenue. These factors reduce funding that is needed to maintain the integrity of the regulatory process and also reduce the incentive for timberland owners to practice optimum environmental and forest management. AB 1492 will help reverse these trends. AB 1492 will fund the THP regulatory program based on the consumption of lumber and other wood based construction materials; extend the length of a THP to five years with one two-year extension; and require that damages from wildfire liability sought by public entities be quantifiable and reasonable, while still allowing full cost recovery for environmental damages and fire suppression costs. AB 1492 will also provide a source of funding for public agencies, non-profit organizations, and tribes for use in fire protection and suppression and timberland restoration projects. AB 1492 is the best way to provide the necessary funding to implement California’s environmental standards and enhance forestland restoration without further disabling the ability of local timber and forest product producers to be competitive in a global marketplace. AB 1492 does not dilute or roll back regulatory requirements or environmental protections, but instead provides adequate funding for implementation of existing requirements. Page 2 of 2 September 11, 2012 AB 1492 is an important component of re-invigorating Mendocino County’s historic resource based economy by leveling the playing field for California produced timber and timber products. In conclusion, we urge your signature on AB 1492 and thank you for your leadership role on this important issue. Sincerely, John McCowen, Chair Mendocino County Board of Supervisors”

THE REDWAY-BASED Environmental Protection and Information Center (EPIC) opposes the bill. “Stop AB 1492 -- Timber industry giveaway restricts the public’s rights and saddles Californians with an unnecessary tax — Please contact your California State Senators, Assemblymembers and Governor and urge them to vote NO on AB 1492.  This embarrassing piece of legislation is poised to fly through the California legislature this week without any substantive debate whatsoever.  It is clearly a cynical attempt by wealthy timber barons at Sierra Pacific Industries and Green Diamond Resource Company to hoodwink the public into paying for damaging logging plans and to tie the hands of prosecutors that attempt to bring claims against the timber giants for causing forest fires that threaten communities and California’s public forests.  Please take action now and tell the governor and state legislators to vote NO on AB 1492!

WE FOUND this unsigned editorial in the Republican leaning Redding Record Searchlight: "Howard Jarvis vs. Paul Bunyan — It's No Contest. September 5, 2012 — North state Republicans will orate till their vocal cords cramp about the need for the state to ease regulations, streamline government and curb predatory lawsuits to improve California's business climate in general and the prospects of rural resources industries in particular. Yet what do they do when presented with a bill that does all that, yet includes a trivially modest tax increase to pay the cost of legally mandated state environmental protections? Well, if it's a tax increase, they vote no. End of story. Now-former Sen. Doug LaMalfa, Sen. Ted Gaines, Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman Dan Logue — who all style themselves friends of the timber industry — all opposed Assembly Bill 1492 despite urgent pleas for help from that very industry and the support of conservative-minded business groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation. When it came to a choice between helping their districts' vital industries and budging in the slightest way on their ‘no new taxes’ stance, their constituents never had a chance. The bill ultimately did pass, thanks to a handful of Republicans from Southern California who have far fewer if any constituents with timber-industry ties but who know a good deal for business when they see it. Yes, California's taxes run high. No, Republicans especially shouldn't casually vote to increase them. Their resistance in the face of constant Democratic demands for more is a healthy check for taxpayers. But this ‘No’ vote isn't sharp-eyed skepticism, it's blind ideology. AB 1492 improves the timber-harvest rules to streamline bureaucracy and will dramatically curb loggers' and landowners' vulnerability to multimillion-dollar lawsuits like those by the U.S. Justice Department that in recent years have sought wildfire-related damages far in excess of actual firefighting and restoration costs. No GOP lawmakers opposed those provisions, though environmentalists and the Obama administration did. (Democrats have their faults, but they can and do buck their base and compromise for a common-sense reform — imagine that.) Even the tax, the hangup for Republicans, is good policy. Environmental reviews of timber harvests have always been paid for mainly by the state's general fund — that is, the taxpayers at large. Some environmentalists and budget-cutters have long argued for pushing those costs onto the timber companies themselves, on the theory that they get the ‘benefit’ of tough scrutiny over cuts' effect on the environment. Such a steep increase in timber-harvest fees, however, would render struggling California timber companies even less cost-competitive, compared with rivals in Oregon or Canada. The tax — 1% of the retail cost of finished lumber, wherever the logs were cut — won't level the playing field, but it at least won't tilt it further against California companies. And for that matter, letting consumers see — on their receipt from the lumber yard — the cost of environmental protections is a healthy reminder that those costs exist. Just cut the regulations then, some conservatives argue. Well, the state has already trimmed enforcement budgets, prompting credible threats of environmental lawsuits that would tie up timber harvests in court for who knows how long. And again, AB 1492 does ease procedural hurdles. As for the underlying state laws protecting endangered species and streams' water quality, what experienced lawmaker thinks the California Legislature will roll them back? Or that California's voters want them to? Politicians can make all the speeches they like, but in the meantime businesses have to operate in the real world. If your ideal representative opposes any tax increase for any reason under any circumstances, LaMalfa, Gaines, Nielsen and Logue — who will all be up for election in November — are your men. They've proven that's their priority even over the needs of their constituents and supporters. That's the fruit of two decades of "no new taxes" pledges. But at what point will Republicans realize that they need representatives who can do more than one thing?”

SO WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THIS? It looks like the bill is an attempt to lower THP costs over the long term by letting them apply to longer periods (from two years, up to five years) and it imposes a sales tax increase on retail lumber to partially fund some of the CalFire THP review process which will help balance the State’s General Fund budget. And it pits the Timber Industry Republicans against the No Tax Republicans. Mendo will probably see a net economic benefit, but housing costs will probably be bumped up a bit as the lumber tax kicks in. All in all, we agree with the Mendo Board of Supes: Given the state’s (and the County’s) budget problems, it’s probably helpful to the local timber industry without doing much serious harm to the environment.

A READER WONDERS at Brooktrails' endlessly churned, forever unsalable nearly vertical, waterless lots: “My memory of your coverage of the convoluted tax history of Brooktrails leads me to think it was the Major’s work. I can’t really figure out how, but the delinquent tax list in Wednesday’s UDJ might shed some light. This list, pages 12 and 13, shows parcel number, name and amount for taxes in default on July 1, 2009 (that’s the first mystery if not a misprint). Most are single or a couple of parcels per person, but there is one entry of about 100, in the $2000-3000 range for a total of maybe $300,000. A little research shows books 96-100 to be Brooktrails, Peggy and Thomas Porter to be realtors from San Ramon and at least some of the parcels to now be still in default but by smaller amounts. I am wondering if, besides being a muddle, there have been loopholes discovered that are being exploited. Now back to today’s longer-than-usual ‘Mendocino County Today.’ Still very much enjoying the web AVA.”

A TRICKY FELLOW named Tom Porter owns hundreds of Brooktrails lots. He has always been one of the principle buyers of Brooktrails' properties at auction and has been churning the lots, selling them to new unsuspecting suckers, often with Asian or Hispanic surnames and addresses in the Bay Area or greater Los Angeles. Urban buyers of unseen rural lots that seem like a bargain tend to think water comes out of a tap. When they find out they can never get water and sewer hookups to their country lot northwest of Willits they quit paying and the lots go into foreclosure where, until recently, Tom Porter (who himself lives in Deerwood outside of Ukiah) would buy them back cheap and sell them to the next unsuspecting dupe and the cycle would repeat. But lately, with the economy in freefall, fewer and fewer suckers, er, buyers, are willing to buy cheap country lots, no questions asked. So even Tom Porter has quit buying the lots at auction. He has also quit paying his taxes and assessments on those lots he still owns and can’t sell. It’s hard to get a specific fix on how many lots he owes back taxes on but it looks like he owns about 400 of which maybe a hundred are seriously past due (there are time delays built in to the tax collection system to give people in arrears an opportunity to avoid foreclosure, hence the 2009, or earlier, dates) in tens of thousands of dollars worth of property taxes. Porter has told the County that he will not let them go to foreclosure auction (exactly how he’ll avoid this is unclear — maybe he’ll pay a minimum tax on some kind of negotiated pay schedule), so the back taxes, plus fees and interest are piling up. But at 10% penalty fee and 18% annual interest, that is an expensive way for a sophisticated player to borrow money. The County lists what he owes as receivables, but the County may have to go to court to try to get Porter to actually pay. And since Mr. Porter is an octogenerian now, his heirs will be stuck with the final bill or the County’s tax liens may get paid when his estate goes through probate after he dies. Either way, Mendo’s probably not going to get the money back for quite some time. Meanwhile, under the Teeter Plan, the County has already advanced the basic tax money (that they don't really have) out to local special districts (including a large portion to Brooktrails) in the hopes of getting it back with penalty and interest. Until recently, as long as the economy limped along enough for the lots to sell at auction when the County got its back taxes, fees and penalties back, the Teeter Plan basically worked. But now that the lots are not selling, the Teeter Plan’s Achilles Heel has been exposed. Look for Tom Porter’s name to appear on lots of lots for as long as he lives.

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