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Mendocino County Today: September 27, 2012

AS PREDICTED, Mendocino County Superior Court judge Ann Moorman has tossed the state's feeble attempt to regulate wholesale water plunder of the Russian River by Mendocino County's grape and wine industry. Judge Moorman said the state rules, which allowed the industry to write their own guidelines for frost protection, were “constitutionally void” and “invalid,” adding, “There is not substantial evidence in the record to show the regulation, as enacted, is necessary.” Except a hundred yards of dead fish in a dry river bed, as has happened when the industry, late spring, all pumps at once from the already severely overdrawn Ukiah and Hopland stretches of the river. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors is silent on the water issue. No word on whether the State Water Board will appeal the ruling as yet.

OFFICIALS SEIZE LESS California marijuana, see more crops on private land. Law enforcement estimates 1.5 million outdoor plants will be eradicated this year. By ANDREW BECKER (

As California's outdoor marijuana growing season nears its end for 2012, drug officials are reporting a sharp decline in crop seizures for the second year in a row. The latest figures show that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are on track to eradicate an estimated 1.5 million plants from outdoor gardens – mostly on public land – down from a decade high of about 7.3 million plants in 2009. This year's seizures would be the lowest since 2004, when a little more than 1.1 million plants were eradicated, according to Drug Enforcement Administration statistics. Some attribute the drop to a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries and illegal grows on public land and political losses in California, such as voters’ defeat in 2010 of the pro-legalization Proposition 19. At the same time, fewer counter-narcotics teams hunted for California pot this year due to the elimination of a three-decades-old state eradication program. Others say growers have retreated to smaller garden plots on private land and gone back underground to wait out what legalization advocates have deemed the last throes of prohibition. They also point to a glut of marijuana that depressed wholesale prices and burst the state’s so-called “Green Rush” to capitalize on the relaxed attitudes toward the drug. Tommy LaNier, director of the National Marijuana Initiative, a program funded by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said law enforcement officers and agents had a hard time locating grows this season, even though they spent the same amount of flight time as in years past searching for plants. Fewer plants also have been taken out of Oregon and Washington, two states that also have seen large numbers of illicit gardens in past years. “There’s a significant downtrend in cultivation activities,” LaNier said. “There’s been a huge impact because of what we’ve been doing the last six years. We’ve come a long way.” A confluence of other factors might have contributed to fewer plants this year, including weather, improved intelligence gathering and investigative efforts, more tips about illicit marijuana gardens from the public, and concerted efforts to prosecute growers, which didn’t occur five or six years ago, LaNier said. LaNier also highlighted the use of intelligence analysts and informants to target marijuana gardens on public land. The US intelligence community has helped track money that moves across the southern border and people who are entering the United States from Mexico who are involved in cultivation, he said. Lawmakers in Washington have turned their attention to marijuana being grown on public land by foreign nationals. US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-chairwoman of the Senate drug caucus, held a hearing on the issue last year, while US Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who sits on the House intelligence committee, pushed for more involvement and coordination from the director of national intelligence and other intelligence agencies. While more federal attention has turned toward California’s outdoor pot industry, the state’s 28-year-old Campaign Against Marijuana Planting did not operate this year after funding was slashed last year. Gov. Jerry Brown effectively shuttered the state Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which oversaw the program and eradication teams in five regions in the state. In the absence of state funding, a consortium of federal agencies, led by the DEA, banded together to support three units of the Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team, as the new program is known. State Department of Justice spokeswoman Michelle Gregory said that as of last week, the eradication and reclamation teams, which focus on both destruction of illicit gardens and environmental cleanup, this year have destroyed 959,144 plants from 215 sites, more than half of which were found on national forestland. Dale Gieringer, the California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which has titled its annual conference next month in Los Angeles “The Final Days of Prohibition,” said that other than a brief period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the annual eradication campaign didn't have a huge impact on marijuana production. The same might be true for recent efforts, he said. He said growers have improved their techniques to avoid detection, with some turning to smaller patches and even using Google Earth as a tool to help improve concealment. “All I can look at are prices and availability on the ground, and I really haven’t seen any impact,” he said. Kym Kemp, a blogger and radio host who follows the Humboldt County marijuana scene, said gardens are getting larger in her area. But there still have been big busts this year, including a multi-agency operation dubbed Mountain Sweep, which netted more than 1 million plants in seven Western states. The DEA estimated the value of the seized marijuana was more than $1.45 billion, according to the US attorney’s office in Sacramento. About two-thirds of those plants were found on public land, including more than 500,000 in California. As law enforcement has squeezed growers on public land, officials have seen them migrate elsewhere, often to where they can exploit the state’s permissive medical marijuana law, officials said. “There is other stuff that is happening,” said William Ruzzamenti, who directs the federally funded Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “My honest opinion is that there was just as much growing this year as last year. But we’re just not getting it.” Increasingly, growers are moving out of state, to places like Nevada, southern Utah, Wisconsin and North Carolina, often growing closer to drug markets, he said. In California, Ruzzamenti said there’s been a transition from illicit gardens on public land in the Sierra Nevadas to the valley floor in Fresno and Tulare counties to even more remote plots on private land in Northern California, where growers operate “under the pretenses of medical marijuana.” “In Trinity and Siskiyou (counties), the situation is just ridiculous,” he said. For years, Trinity County, Humboldt County’s eastern neighbor, has attracted growers from around the country with its sparse population and amenable climate. But local law enforcement says the region has seen a recent explosion in marijuana gardens on private land, as growers have moved off public land. Many cite Prop. 215, the 1996 voter-approved law that allows marijuana cultivation and use for medical purposes. “The number of private grows we have is astronomical. It’s a huge problem,” said Chris Compton, a detective with the Trinity County Sheriff's Department. “It's not a secret what we have going up here.”

THAT SMOKE at the north end of Anderson Valley and most of the Ukiah Valley is, according to Mendocino County Air Pollution Control Officer Chris Brown, coming from wildfires burning tens of thousands of acres of forest land in central Washington and Idaho.

THE ELK COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, which oversees local tax assessments for its fire department, has never held an election since its inception some decades ago. The original board was appointed by the county supervisors (circa Norman de Vall era) and since then board membership passed on from friend to friend (the Acker downtown coalition) And in other politbureau news: The Harbor House, the flagship B&B of Elk is owned by mainland Chinese investors through an SF holding company who purchased it from its previous owner, a rather patriotic Republican from Texas. $4 million.

GOVERNOR BROWN has signed several bills aimed at full funding for keeping state parks open and ensuring that there won't be a repeat of state officials suddenly “finding” the $54 million State Parks had deliberately squirreled away earlier this year. It was the Parks deficit caused by the hidden money that inspired a statewide movement to keep the parks open and to prevent them from being raffled off to private businesses.

TAKEN TOGETHER, the bills establish a two-year moratorium on park closures, provide about $30 million in funding and give the department that manages California's 278 state parks new means for raising outside money.

IT'S HIGH ANXIETY TIME here in the Redwood Empire as the region's number one cash crop is harvested, trimmed, packaged and, as thousands of growers keep their green thumbs crossed, soon sold for big chunks of cash money. If, that is, they can elude raids by an array of local, state and federal narcs who increasingly seem to be working independently of each other, and if they can fend off the many small groups of armed thugs who cruise the Emerald Triangle this time of year looking for easy targets. Or tough targets. As a thug once explained to me when I pointed out that most growers are armed, he replied, “You don't think we've got guns?” The hazards of confiscation and robberies added to this season’s large-scale fires that presumably wiped out any number of large scale grows in the Mendocino National Forest, have the price per pound back up around $2,500, at least that's what we're hearing in Boonville, the Anderson Valley being home to at least several hundred pot plantations.

ODD GOINGS ON at the Humane Society's Mendocino Coast animal shelter. When two cats, Frankie and Mow, were discovered missing, the Shelter filed a theft report with the Sheriff's department, and the next thing she knew, 78-year-old Lizette Weiss, a volunteer at the Shelter, was accused of cat-napping. Ms. Weiss describes what happened:

“Dear Sheriff, For the record, I don't have the cats and don't know who does.

September 4, I had an unpleasant visit from a sheriff's deputy … who accused me of stealing cats from the Humane Society's shelter. His manner was intimidating and threatening. I told him that I knew the two cats in question: Frankie and Mow, both females. I truthfully said I do not know who has the cats. I invited him into my home and introduced him to my cat. I also told him it was inhumane to release domestic cats into the (woods) to be preyed upon by … wild animals and for them to prey on the birds in the forest. The officer told me he would not stop looking until those cats were found and that the person who stole the cats would go to jail.

I have volunteered at the Shelter for more than a year and a half to socialize cats who are waiting for homes. I have been quite dependable, coming every Monday unless I was ill or out of town. I have told staff about problems I found with the cats (worms, coughs and upper respiratory illness, skin conditions, hairballs and cats throwing up for unknown reasons).

Since the Humane Society released these cats into the wild, there has been a flurry of letters to the editor on this subject. The e-mail circuit has been kept busy with ideas for making the Humane Society more open to the community and to suggestions for democratizing its operations. This is particularly important since the group receives $2500 a month in taxpayer funds from the City of Fort Bragg, leases public land where the shelter is located for $1 a year, receives City dog license fees, and enjoys many thousands of dollars of donations from the public. The public also supports the organization by shopping at its resale shop, The Ark.

On September 10, I went to the shelter for my regular stint socializing cats. First I found two dogs running unleashed in the area holding the outside cats' feeding station. So much for taking care of the outside cats, euphemistically called 'barn cats' by the shelter (although there is no barn for them to find safety in). After I signed in, Sharon Felkins, the Humane Society director, told me I was no longer welcome at the shelter and to leave immediately and never come back. I asked her why and she said, ‘You are a troublemaker.’ I also asked her who made that decision and she told me the board of the Humane Society (only one of whom I have ever met) voted unanimously. There is no way to know if this is the case as the staff has a long history of being ‘veracity challenged.’

She said she had called the Mendocino Sheriff to report the two outside cats had been stolen and had given them my name and address. I told her that I did not appreciate being called a thief and that she had no right to do so and had overstepped the bounds of normal behavior. One has to wonder why the Sheriff would feel an animal abandoned to its fate in the wild could be ‘stolen.’

I left the shelter when Sharon Felkins (picked up the phone to call) the Mendocino Sheriff to have me forcibly removed. I left for my own health and mental well-being … (but) of equal importance, I feel that public safety personnel are a very scarce resource. I feel this resource was being employed in a frivolous manner to assert one person's sense of importance.

The Humane Society, as a 501(c)(3) charity, has a board of directors that currently has six regular members, four of whom are two married couples. Sharon Felkins and Alberta Cottrell also serve on the board. (It is highly) irregular to have two paid employees serve on a policy board since their work is overseen by the board. It is like having a boss boss herself. This is a situation that … has led to an abuse of power. The board could have a total of eleven ‘'regular’ members which would make it more representative of the area it serves and less like a ‘private club.’

The Mendocino Coast Humane society is not a small operation. They reported to the IRS on their 990 form for the year 2010 submitted this past February that they had a total revenue of $477,000 and assets of just under $789,000. For this small community, this is quite a large charity. Yet the Humane Society keeps asserting that it is a private organization and they certainly strive to keep their meetings and deliberations private. As near as observers can tell they have not held a public meeting in more than nine years. When questioned they assert that the last meeting they held, the public complained and criticized (them). You think?!

I wish I had a solution. I feel sad that the cats, who craved my attention when I visited, no longer have … volunteers to pet, groom and play with them. In good conscience, I could never recommend the shelter as a place to volunteer as it is hostile and unpleasant to spend time there if one is at all sensitive to normal human interactions. Simple things such as saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to a visitor are in short supply. There is no sense of collaboration with the volunteers and woe beware the individual who disagrees with any decision or points out a problem situation.

I could have written about these problems months ago but did not because I know good hearted people are trying to come up with ways to make the Humane Society more humane. Frankly, with the present leadership, I doubt it is possible.

Lizette Weiss Fort Bragg

(According to the Sheriff's log, animal welfare advocate Carol Lillis also received a visit from a Sheriff's deputy on Sept. 4th, but was not home to receive him.)

COMMENT OF THE DAY: “‘The police can see the defeat in our eyes. They know they've beaten us,’ an Occupy Wall Street organizer told me a few days after the 2012 May Day demonstration that marked the movement's fizzled attempt to stage a spring resurgence. ‘They used to look at us as adversaries. There was a certain respect. Now we're objects of contempt, an excuse for them to get paid overtime. A safe, live-action game.’ This account of Occupy's self-image was telling. In the space of seven months a galvanizing national protest movement had dwindled to the status of a policing problem before disappearing almost entirely from public view. Part of the blame can be attributed to Occupy itself; its inviolable purity of principle (‘We don't talk to people with power, because to do so would be to acknowledge the legitimacy of their power’) eventually became its own form of corruption. More established left-leaning organizations that sought to support Occupy Wall Street were regarded by many in the movement with suspicion, if not outright paranoia. In April, Adbusters, the anticonsumerist magazine that put out the original call to occupy a space near Wall Street in the summer of 2011, sent out an e-mail blast identifying, The Nation magazine, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream as the most dangerous threats to OWS's survival. This ‘cabal of old world thinkers of the old left,’ as Adbusters put it, with its ‘insidious campaign of donor money,’ was on a mission to defang OWS and turn it into a handmaiden for President Obama's reelection campaign.” (Michael Greenberg, New York Review of Books)

THE EIGHTH ANNUAL Gualala River Run and Walk, on Saturday, October 13, 2012, begins at 8:45 a.m. at the Gualala Arts Center. Choose between a 5K (3.1 mile) and 10K (6.2 mile) run, or a 5K Fun Walk. Mile markers on the course accurately measure times and allow runners to monitor their paces. Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals will be presented to 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in nine age categories in the 5K and 10K races. Fees for adults are $30 for the 5K and 10K runs, and $25 for the 5K Fun Walk. Youth, younger than 18, are $10 for all events. Teams of 5 people or more receive a 20% discount. Each team member must wear their GRR 2012 commemorative T-shirt, this year designed by Point Arena’s Steve Oliff, included free with registration. Registration forms and details are available on the Action Network website at, online registration at or Day of registration is available inside the Gualala Art Center.

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