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Off The Record

BONES ROADHOUSE in Gualala is the South Coast's most popular restaurant. Bones has been the South Coast's most popular restaurant for a long time. Its proprietors, Tom and Mary Thomas, besides employing people in an area where employment at fair wages is scarce, the Thomas's do a lot of community good apart from their restaurant.

AND THEY'RE BEING BLED to death by a vindictive character named Erik Price who won a fluke judgment against the Thomas's in the arbitrary courtroom of Sonoma County judge Elliot Daum.

MENDOCINO COUNTY remembers Bones before Bones burned down in an arson fire that turned out to be wildly fortuitous from Erik Price who just happened to build his own ocean view restaurant on the site of the old Bones.

MEANWHILE, a new Bones arose down the road and again became the South Coast's premier eatery, especially for locals, and reopened in possession of the liquor license owned by Price. Price wanted it back for his new restaurant, and sued Bones to get it. Bones sued him back. But when the legal dust had settled Price had won a judgment for almost $80,000 and the liquor license.

THE THOMAS'S are working people. They were already lawyered-out trying to defend themselves against Price who, incidentally, is funded by his wealthy parents.

BONES said they couldn't pay and wouldn't pay Price, and who can blame them when you look at the chronology of events: Bones is wiped out by a fire of mysterious origin. Price builds a restaurant on the site of the fire. Bones goes into business down the street. Price's restaurant is unsuccessful but so heavily subsidized it stays open. Down the street, the new Bones is thriving. Price sues Bones. Bones can't pay. Price begins raids on Bones on busy weekends that take all the cash on the premises, just like a stick-up man who never leaves. The raid bandit is appointed by the court. He's called a Gatekeeper. Mr. Gatekeeper is seen enjoying a free steak down at Price's otherwise empty restaurant. The raids on Bones continue right up to this past weekend. Bones is barely hanging on. Price is legally empowered to strangle a rival business to death? Something's very wrong here.

LAST WEEK we reported that several well-known residents of the Mendocino area had been arrested on Thursday, November 8th by a DEA-led task force that included U.S. Marshals with back-up from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department. Taken into custody were John Paul McMillon, his wife Erin Keller; Jeff Wall but not his wife Amy; Hank McCusker; and Rick Smith. James Soderling, 42, and Sarah Soderling, 34, of Fort Bragg, were arrested in July along with 43 Kansas-based people, now supplemented by the Mendocino-based persons named above. McMillon and his wife, Erin Keller, are firefighters and EMT's with the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department. McCusker is a former Mendocino firefighter; Wall is described as a fire marshal. The Mendocino County defendants, except Smith, have entered not guilty pleas. (Smith's status is not known.) Soderling, McCusker and Smith remain in custody; the others have been released on bail.

THE ARRESTS of the Mendocino people began with a huge DEA bust in Kansas on July 12th of this year. The feds in Kansas City, Kansas, issued a lengthy press on those arrests, stating that the investigation had begun in 2005. “35 defendants are charged in a federal indictment unsealed here today alleging they worked for a drug trafficking organization that distributed $16.9 million worth of high-grade marijuana and cocaine in Johnson and Douglas Counties, First Assistant US Attorney Mike Warner said today. The 101-count indictment alleges that defendants Los Rovell Dahda, 30, Lawrence, Kan., and Chad Eugene Bauman, 33, Lawrence, made millions as the leaders of a drug trafficking organization that operated from 2005 to 2012. Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to order more than $16.9 million in cash and real estate that were proceeds of the crimes to be forfeited to the government. The indictment includes allegations that the defendants laundered the proceeds of their drug operations through unlawful financial transactions involving businesses, real estate and personal property in Lawrence, Topeka, Iola, Kan., Gladstone, Mo., and elsewhere...”

“ELSEWHERE” has turned out to be the Mendocino Coast. James Michael Soderling, 42, of Fort Bragg, and his wife, Sarah Soderling, 35, were among the July arrests in Kansas City.

BECAUSE WE'D MISTAKENLY included Amy Wall as among those arrested, we took the usual anon shots at us for “lying” and for being “irresponsible.” I know it's difficult for many victims of the local schools to make even the most basic distinctions, but an error is not a lie. A lie is a deliberate fabrication. An error is a mistake, inadvertent. I got one name wrong and one relationship wrong based on the information I had at the time. Within minutes of learning that one name and one relationship were incorrect, I made the on-line change. Unfortunately, the print version of the AVA was already out there with the two errors. I apologize to Mrs. Wall for including her name among the arrested.

THE MOST ANNOYING call about the erroneous inclusion of Mrs. Wall among the Coast bustees came from a pompous, blustery lawyer named Jeff Wozniak. He characterized the error as “irresponsible.” It would have been irresponsible not to correct the error, Woz, get it?

ALL OF THIS SAID, and like most people, I don't like the way the feds operate in Mendocino County, and I certainly don't approve of the way they've handled this particular raid, swooping down on long-time residents and, without so much as a press release, hustling them off to prison in the Bay Area. It's all too much like CIA “renditions” of alleged terrorists.

TRIVIAL THOUGHT from a small mind: Are you as irritated as I am by the ponderous rhetorical style of our leaders? Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta are the worst offenders. The simplest statement is punctuated with long ahhhhhs, as in, “We, ahhhh, expect, ahhhh, the, ahhhh, peace, ahhhh, process to be, ahhhh, successful.” That kind of thing. I understand that as a nation we're seriously on the skids, that the people we put in high position anymore are a collection of idiots and hustlers, but still..... They, ahhhh, oughtta, ahhhh, be able to, ahhhh, talk.

THE COUNTY has reached a settlement with the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) regarding the $123,000 fine levied against the County by Chris Brown, the head of the AQMD. In announcing the fine back in January, Brown sent a letter to County CEO Carmel Angelo, telling her she had 30 days to address the violation or pay the fine, implying that the situation could be resolved without going outside the County. Except Brown immediately turned the case over to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for further action, meaning there was no way to avoid a huge public black eye for the County.

THE UPSHOT, as reported by Tiffany Revelle of the Ukiah Daily Journal, (the County never issues a press release for these things; someone has to dig out the facts) is that the fine is reduced to $25,000 which is suspended for two years, which means it will go away if the County does not screw up another remodeling job in the meantime. The County also has to reimburse the AQMD for $8,957.50 in legal fees. One wonders what legal fees the AQMD had just for writing a letter? Unless the rumors are true that Brown, fearing for his job, hired an attorney to seek “whistleblower protection” from his bosses, the Supes, whom he had just stuck for a huge fine.

BROWN CLAIMED the County had not properly tested for asbestos and did not properly notify the AQMD before remodeling the old Mental Health offices, the future new home of County Planning and Building Services. The remodeling, begun last December, was one of several projects undertaken to comply with the Board of Supes decision to consolidate all County operations into County owned buildings. The County once had a workforce of over 1,500 employees, but with state cutbacks and other loss of revenue, the County workforce has fallen to around 1,000 employees. In one of those “duh!” moments, instead of paying rent on half-occupied privately owned leased space, the County realized it would be better to combine the workforce into half occupied County-owned buildings. Everyone thought this was a good idea except for the employees who would have to move and Supervisors Smith and Hamburg, who succeeded in delaying the move out of the Affinito building in Fort Bragg for over six months, while the County continued to pay $25,000 a month in rent to the Affinitos.

BUT OVER IN UKIAH, it was full speed ahead with the General Services Agency (GSA) plowing forward, with or without those pesky notifications to the AQMD and the required asbestos samples. Complaints first surfaced with Planning and Building employees complaining to AQMD that the construction next door to their present digs was exposing them to hazardous dust and who knows what. Chris Brown is said to have notified GSA that they, a County agency, had to notify him, another County agency, before they could continue to work and that they had to supply test results for asbestos. These requirements are typical of the duplicative and wasteful regs that private individuals have to deal with all the time, but at least Brown was applying the same standards to the County (even if it was his employer). But the whole thing should have been unnecessary because the building was thoroughly tested and inspected about 20 years ago when the former Community Hospital was transformed into the County Administration Center. (Yes, before Obama care there was a County owned hospital right there in Ukiah — and going back another generation or two, there was a “County farm” right next door to it where the indigent, elderly and infirm could reside, helping with farm chores if they were able, along with jail inmates with trustee status).

THE ONLY ASBESTOS in the building, as verified during the earlier remodel, was contained in the floor tiles, and in pipe and duct insulation. Asbestos is not a threat unless it is “friable,” which means it is loose and subject to going airborne where it can be breathed deeply into the lungs where it lodges, providing a constant source of irritation that can lead to cancer. But in stable form (like floor tiles or undisturbed pipe insulation) it poses no threat. And the County asbestos was not going to be disturbed during the remodeling, therefore, it was no threat to air quality or public health.

GSA PROMPTLY BLEW OFF the warnings from Brown and kept working. Brown is said to have made several attempts to get the attention of GSA, but to no avail. Brown's error, if any, was that he did not notify CEO Angelo, or any member of the Board of Supervisors (who sit as his governing board), prior to assessing the infamous $123,000 fine and firing it off to the EPA. But Brown is known to be jealously protective of AQMD's status as an independent agency chartered by the state to enforce air quality regs. And Brown quickly bristles at any challenge to his authority, whether real or imagined. Brown works well with others as long as everything goes his way, but he has been known to loudly threaten the people he regulates if they question his directives.

BROWN is also known to have clashed with the County bean counters over momentous issues like what color car he could drive. The County has a standard policy that all County owned vehicles are white, which requires the least air conditioning during the hot summers, thereby providing for maximum fuel efficiency. Increased fuel efficiency, which results in reduced Green House Gas emissions, should be important to an air quality guy. But Brown, feeling his oats as an independent agency, insisted on his right to have a blue car. Brown is also known to have felt slighted when the County Water Agency was largely gutted and the remaining duties were assigned to Planning and Building (which seems like a more logical fit than Air Quality). Further, Brown was rumored to have felt doubly slighted when Nash Gonzales departed as Planning Director and no one thought to consider Brown for the post. Brown, apparently feeling underappreciated and disrespected, determined to hit the County with a huge fine as a way of getting their attention. Mission accomplished, but at what cost?

WHAT STARTED as a minor turf war between GSA and AQMD escalated into a front page story that made it look like the County was acting irresponsibly and putting its own employees, contractors, and the public at risk. And instead of being resolved reasonably at the local level, Brown tossed it to the EPA, which probably squandered more than the original fine amount on their investigation, before walking away with a hand slap settlement. All because high level County employees could not figure out how to work together. And Brown has probably permanently damaged his reputation with his employers (the Supes) and the CEO.

JASON FRICK, 38, of McKinleyville, is the only inmate committed to state prison for twenty-five years to life out of Mendocino County who is eligible for a new sentence, said Mike Geniella, spokesman for Mendocino County DA David Eyster. Frick received 25 to life last year in connection with a standoff with Mendocino County SWAT officers after which he pleaded guilty to possession of pipe bombs and being a felon with a weapon. At the time of his arrest, Frick was a fugitive from Humboldt County where he was wanted on suspicion of assault, stalking, burglary, drugs, and having a gun in a school zone. In the Mendocino County episode, Frick deployed a homemade bomb to keep officers at bay for 11 hours and, at one point, fired a shotgun into the ceiling of the Brooktrails house where he was holed up. While Frick has a right to seek a reduction, prosecutors believe his sentence was fully litigated and don’t expect a change in the end result, Geniella said.

FROM THE GUARDIAN: “Philip Roth has recently turned his attentions towards trying to persuade Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, to let him adjust an inaccurate description of his novel, The Human Stain. He wrote an open letter to Wikipedia in September after it refused to accept him as a credible source for the inspiration behind the book.”

INTERESTING NEW WEBSITE at Affiliated with the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, it contains, among other things, some illuminating podcast interviews with men who are homeless.

THE FINAL BUDGET for Mendocino County, Fiscal Year 2012-2013 has now been posted online, and can be found here.

WE CAN LEARN from this guy, Gabriel Cassin, Mendocino County's happiest drunk on Friday, November 16th, the day he was corralled by the Ukiah PD.

A CITY RESIDENT writes of the drug/drink homeless in San Francisco: “This problem will continue to be the burden of those who work in the City and the tax paying citizenry of San Francisco so long as SFGov and the homeless pimps continue to endorse this behavior as part of promoting the ‘homeless lifestyle.’ Nothing will change because those who are in charge and those that support them would rather adopt a ‘best remedy to the homeless problem is to allow them freedom to do whatever they want, wherever they want’ attitude. That goes a long way to appease the white-guilted, self loathing, hand wringing Progressives so long as you keep them out of Pac Heights, Cow Hollow, Presidio Heights. Funny how SFGov enforces animal waste laws with such fervor but refuses to do anything about homeless taking steaming dumps in private doorways and public use areas. Want to know why? You can't fine the homeless because there's no money in it. Just like street crime. Can't keep the city coffers filled scooping human poop or chasing after a car thief when you can line up patrol cars along corridors where parents drop their kids off at school and rake in $500 a pop for a ‘California Stop’.”

HERE IN MENDOCINO COUNTY we have the rural version of the same problem which, of course, you do not see on the Westside of the County seat where many of the County's shot callers live. As in San Francisco, a full-time drunk or drug addict can get fed every day in Fort Bragg, Willits and Ukiah while pursuing his or her true avocation, which is to obliterate him or herself via mind-altering substances. I'm not saying shut down the local soup kitchens; what I'm saying is that this County's lavishly compensated judges and our well-padded Board of Supervisors should take specific local steps to get the chronics off the streets.

I SUGGEST a modern version of the old County Farm, a fenced-in, secure area where, for example, the people pictured below would be housed for periods ranging from three months to a year during which the chronics would be compelled to work every day under supervision while they received counseling aimed at cleaning them up.

THE AUTHORITIES, of course, will say there's no money, but the weekly arrests of about 30 of the same public drunks and the same old crankers are apparently presumed to be cost-free. Toted up, the expense of transportation, a couple of days in the County Jail, court appearances, and the rest of our present catch and release program, the cost of futility is considerable. And cruel to the drunks who are now permitted to slowly commit public suicide. And unfair to the public who've lost the safe use of public space.

THE TWEEKERS? They should be prosecuted to the max and incarcerated for much longer periods of time, and they, like the drunks, should be required to work every day on supervised public projects. If the tweeks were put away for a while maybe the tweek dealers would give it up, or at least scale back for lack of customers. As it stands, there are no meaningful sanctions against either end of the methamphetamine business. And they're everywhere, as are the drunks.

IT'S TERMINALLY CYNICAL of the County's judges to keep running these people through the system, and it's just dumb and irresponsible for the Supervisors to continue funding, and partially funding, failed rehab strategies via what's left of the Mental Health Department.

FRED GARDNER WRITES: “It all makes sense now. Gay marriage and marijuana being legalized on the same day. Leviticus 20:13: 'If a man lays with another man he should be stoned.' We've just been interpreting it wrong all these years.”

WE LEARN from Justine Frederiksen of the Ukiah Daily Journal that Norm Hudson, the contractor hired by the owner of the long-neglected Palace Hotel, is offering tours every Friday (10am) of the ghostly old structure, less ghostly since Hudson commenced work on it for owner Eladia Laines. Moreover, Hudson told the reporter, a 70-pound Remington bronze sculpture of a cowboy on a bucking horse would be arriving at the hotel Friday, courtesy of the Frederic Remington Museum in Ogdensburg, NY. “Hudson said the museum is sending the sculpture to the hotel along with two more paintings to join one already displayed in the hotel's office at 275 N. State St.” How exactly the art figures in the restoration project was not revealed. The Ukiah City Council has been pressuring Laines to either make visible progress towards restoration of the Palace or the City will abate the property. Laines lives in Marin and has said she is trying to clear title to the structure but, as is evident from her hiring of Hudson, she does seem to be making a genuine effort at rehab while becoming sole owner.

SEVERAL COAST COURT WATCHERS on the Coast have told us that they just don’t believe the Court’s financial numbers about how many cuts they’ve already made and how many more they have to make. One of them commented that there’s so much money in the court and judicial system (even before Proposition 30) that there’s got to be unaccounted for and misaccounted for money sitting around, not to mention money that’s “programmed” for unnecessary or postponable things. There’s at least as good a chance that the State court system has millions squirreled away somewhere as there was with the State Parks Department and either they can’t find it because they’re incompetent, or they don’t want to find it because they want to close down outlying courts by saying they can’t afford them. Maybe Governor Brown should find another retired Marine Corp general to take over Court Administration.

AND SPEAKING of the indefensible raid by their eight majesties of the Ukiah-centric Superior Court on the Ten Mile Court, why haven't we heard from Ten Mile's presiding judge, Clay Brennan? One reason for Brennan's silence probably has to do with the fact that Brennan lives in Ukiah.

ACCORDING to an announcement signed “Beacon Staff” or “Advocate Staff,” depending on which of the interchangeable papers you were reading, Connie Korbel is retiring as editor of the two weeklies as former editor Kate Lee bounds out of retirement to take Korbel's place. Before she was appointed to babysit the Beacon-Advocate, where the editor's function is to ensure that nothing is printed that will disturb the children, in other communities known as adult readers, Ms. Korbel was editor of the Mendocino Art Center’s newsletter where no mention of the controversies raging among the chipmunk painters ever, if she could help it, got before the pesky public. As a reporter for the Advocate, one of Ms. Korbel’s beats was Coast Hospital where she faithfully regurgitated everything the Hospital's profligate former administrator, Bryan Ballard, handed her. Ballard was eventually fired, but not before he did lasting fiscal damage to the institution. Both the Beacon and the Advocate are owned by the Media News Group chain which also owns The Willits News and the Ukiah Daily Journal, both of which serve their communities with incomparably better newspapers.

THE UNEASY MARRIAGE of Willits' Frank R. Howard Foundation and the Adventist hospital octopus has Willits worried that maybe their marriage wasn't a good idea. Wednesday night, the Willits City Council voted unanimously, reported the Willits News Linda Williams, “to work collaboratively with local hospital staff to maintain the historical financial and medical success of Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital.” Local medical staff, and Foundation members, are apprehensive that the Adventists are rapidly developing a “corporate,” top-down management scheme that leaves the locals out of the decision-making process as the locals erect a new hospital. The Adventists didn't condescend to attend the packed house meeting. There is also apprehension that the Adventists' for-profit chain is eying Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg.

NORMAN HALLAM, 79, passed away Monday, Nov. 12th. He served the Mendocino County Library system for nearly 30 years. Mr. Hallam was the Head Librarian when the Ukiah Library was relocated to its current site in the early 1970s. Mr. Hallam was also an active member of Rotary and at the United Methodist Church since 1970. Mr. Hallam was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley Hallam and niece Terri Calkins (nee Halvorson). He is survived by his sister, Sidney Hallam (Dick Barnum), sister-in-law Sandra Halvorson (Roger Gabriel), nephews Mark Halvorson (Ann), and Glen Halvorson, Cory Brown (Debbie) and Chris Brown. His family is grateful for his amazing kindness and warm humor. A memorial service will be held at the United Methodist Church at 270 N. Pine Street Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2:30pm.

RECOVERY?: “Is this the lousiest recovery of all time? Check it out: The number of people currently on food stamps in the US is at a record-high of 47.1 million. That’s more than twice as many recipients than in 2007 when the crisis began. And the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has skyrocketed, too. It’s gone from 12.3% in 2006 to 16.1% today. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 50 million people in America are now living below the poverty line. In other words, if you’re poor in America your numbers are growing and things are getting worse. Some recovery, eh?” (Mike Whitney)

MINDY KITTAY, Mendocino County’s New County Librarian, To Come Aboard On December 9th. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors recently announced the unanimous appointment of Mindy Kittay as the new Mendocino County Librarian/Director. Ms. Kittay comes to Mendocino County from the Rangeview Library District in Thornton, Colorado, where she was the Finance Director for the Anythink Library District, which was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2010. Ms. Kittay earned her Masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas, and a BS in Business Administration from Regis University. She brings to Mendocino County a wealth of experience and creative ideas to serve the diverse needs and interests of our Mendocino County constituents. Ms. Kittay is known for her contribution in transforming a failing library system in Colorado into a library success story, which was the featured cover story for Library Journal and the LA Times. “The Board of Supervisors is pleased to welcome Mindy Kittay, who rose to the top from a strong field of candidates, as our next County librarian. Mindy comes from a well respected and award winning library district known for its customer service and innovation. We join with the Library Advisory Board, our dedicated staff, and our volunteers in welcoming Mindy to our community, and we look forward to improved and innovative library services countywide,” stated Board Chair John McCowen. Added Kittay, “I am delighted to join the Mendocino County community and am eager to explore the beauty of Mendocino County. I look forward to developing community relationships to foster creativity and innovation in serving our patrons and leading our libraries into the 21st century.” Ms. Kittay will begin her new assignment on December 9, 2012. — Carmel J. Angelo, Chief Executive Officer

MENDOCINO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY David Eyster, Sheriff Tom Allman and the police chiefs of the county’s three major incorporated cities have formally announced their opposition to each of the judges of the local Superior Court regarding their controversial plan to curtail court services on the Mendocino Coast. The county’s top law enforcement leaders believe the cutbacks planned for the Fort Bragg-based Ten Mile division of the Superior Court are contrary to the needs of public safety on the coast, and place increased and unfair burdens on coastal residents. Their letter reads as follows:

“DEAR JUDGES of the Mendocino County Superior Court: Speaking publicly as Mendocino County’s unified law enforcement leaders, the three Chiefs of Police, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney respectfully assert that the budget and service cuts you are “proposing” for Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile division of the Superior Court are (1) contrary to the needs of public safety on the coast, and (2) place an increased and unfair burden on coastal residents needing access to our local criminal justice system. Your Honors, we believe your plan to take away all felony matters, all juvenile hearings, all jury trials, and all cases in which defendants are held in-custody is ill-advised. Such cuts will have a much greater budgetary impact collectively on the Fort Bragg Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol, State Parks, Fish and Game, and the District Attorney’s Office than the amount of money you hope to save. Victims, witnesses, jurors, business owners, and other interested coastal residents who already have difficulty attending court proceedings in Fort Bragg due to limited transportation options and work obligations will now be forced to undertake an even more daunting and arduous trek — both in terms of time and expense — to the crowded Ukiah courthouse, assuming you go forward with your plan.

“WORKING TO PROVIDE adequate police services despite staffing shortfalls, the Fort Bragg Police Department may be the most impacted law enforcement agency, starting January 1, 2013. Your plan will result in a diminished police presence on the streets of Fort Bragg because the FBPD officers will now be spending many more hours driving over the hill and waiting around in the halls of the Ukiah courthouse for their cases to be called. Currently, these police officers continue to patrol the streets and respond to calls for service in Fort Bragg while they wait to be called to the Ten Mile courthouse to testify in felony cases, juvenile hearings and jury trials.

“THIS PUBLIC SERVICE-ORIENTED compromise works well when the courthouse is within a few minutes drive time; it fails when the courthouse is 90 minutes away (one-way)! None of the coastal law enforcement agencies could anticipate and budget for the increased time and effort your plan will unilaterally cost each agency.

“EACH OF US UNDERSTANDS that difficult decisions must be considered when budgets are cut. We have all been required to do this within our own organizations. Yet, we have all reorganized and absorbed our respective budget cuts while keeping the public’s interest and their safety foremost in our minds. Again, the service cuts you seek to impose on the coast is a bad plan, makes the courts less accessible to a large percentage of local residents, and hurts more people than it will help the Superior Court’s bottom line. Judges Henderson, Mayfield, Nelson, Behnke, Brennan, Moorman, Nadel, and Riemenschneider, please make your budget and service cuts in Ukiah, if that is what you believe needs to be done, but leave Fort Bragg’s Ten Mile Division of the Superior Court alone so it can continue to be a full-service court doing the important and full-time business of the people who call coastal Mendocino County home. Signed: District Attorney David Eyster, Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry, Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas D. Allman, Ukiah Public Safety Director Chris Dewey, Willits Police Chief Gerry Gonzalez.”

THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS called a special meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 20, for a closed session item concerning a lawsuit filed by the Masonite Corporation objecting to approval of the Kunstler Ranch gravel mine operation proposed by Granite Construction Company. Masonite, which owns adjacent property, is suing the County, the Board of Supes and Granite Construction complaining the EIR for the project was improperly approved. The gravel mine would be an open pit, or terrace mine operation, on 65 acres just downstream of the confluence of the Russian River and Ackerman Creek, which Masonite describes as “a highly sensitive resource that floods regularly.” Masonite says “the river and creek provide spawning and migratory habitat for salmonid species threatened with extinction.”

MASONITE, not previously known for its environmental ethic, claims that “Masonite's property, located immediately adjacent to and downstream of the proposed mine, will be exposed to the mine's substantial and adverse visual, noise, dust, traffic, water quality and flooding impacts throughout its expected twenty years of operation.” Masonite claims the project will damage water quality and result in the loss of 45 acres of prime ag land. Does anyone really believe that Masonite gives a bleep about visual impacts, noise, dust, or pollution, given the corporation's 50-year local history as the premier polluter and destroyer of quality of life in the Ukiah Valley?

BEFORE IT WAS PURCHASED and torn down by Developer's Diversified Realty, aka DDR, (which unsuccessfully sought to develop a mega mall at the site), Masonite was arguably the largest and ugliest visual blight on the landscape. And the greatest polluter, with the infamous “Masonite plume” blanketing the Ukiah valley with an airborne toxic stew 24 hours a day. Masonite is widely believed to have buried quantities of toxic and hazardous waste on the property. Back in the fifties and sixties, Masonite discharged toxic pollutants directly into the Russian River, resulting in sizable fish kills for miles downstream. And everything from tires to dioxin-contaminated transformer oil was burned in the infamous Masonite boiler. In the years before the plant was shuttered, toxic emissions from their molded door line were traced to at least one death due to the hazardous air quality impacts. And the adjoining Masonite lands, themselves zoned industrial, are home to the highly contaminated “Masonite ponds” which stored the water used in processing Masonite, a product made by cooking and pressing together wood chips mixed with toxic chemicals and glue.

MASONITE CLAIMS the county didn't properly comply with California Environmental Quality Act requirements by failing to adequately evaluate the impacts of the mining operation and to notify the public of those impacts. Masonite is asking that the County's approval of the project be set aside. Granite Construction Company, in responding to the lawsuit, says the land is zoned for industrial use and that extensive mitigations for the water quality impacts and other concerns have been approved. In fact, a host of federal and state agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, have all signed off on the project, based on extensive mitigations that they have required.

RUSSIAN RIVER KEEPER, another environmental shakedown organization somewhat on the order of the notorious River Watch (which made a fortune suing public agencies for minor technical violations) was a party to the lawsuit, but is rumored to have settled out of court in return for an undisclosed amount of attorney fees, leaving the two corporate behemoths, Masonite and Granite, to battle it out. And what does Masonite, (which obviously has no legit environmental concerns) really want? The smart money says that Masonite is using the lawsuit to try and force Granite to buy the adjoining Masonite parcel, including the site of its polluted ponds. For decades the local Chamber of Commerce maintained signs welcoming travelers to “Ukiah — Home of Masonite.” But for Masonite, if they can force Granite to buy the remnants of their local toxic holdings, it will be Ukiah in the rearview mirror with no looking back.

WILLITS IS FACING an unanticipated $5 million balloon payment owed to the bond hustlers who organized the money for Willits school construction and remodeling via their Measure B. Willits property owners are now on the hook for much more in property taxes over a much longer period of time than voters likely would have approved if they could have foreseen the criminal-quality negligence of the Willits School Board in entering financial deals they didn't understand.

INTERIM BOARD CHAIR Cynthia Carni read a statement at this week's meeting of the Willits school board that said, in essence, “We've been duped.”

NOT THAT WILLITS is alone in school bond dupedom. A recent article from Bloomberg News explains that lots of school districts have been hustled: According to a September story, “California Treasurer Bill Lockyer will push for limits on bonds that have saddled school districts with debt payments as much as 10 times the principal and seek to ban those maturing more than 25 years in the future.... Fifty-five California school districts issued such bonds last year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Poway Unified School District in San Diego County deferred all payments on $105 million in bonds until 2033. By the time they mature in 2051, the district will have paid $1 billion in interest.... School districts across California have used the late-maturing bonds, many with balloon payments, to build and modernize facilities as declining property values reduce their capital. The zero-coupon notes yield more than coupon bonds to compensate investors for the longer holding period before they receive any income....”

A READER WRITES: “A lot of folks in the north county never got their Voter Guide booklets from the state for the recent election. (The only person who got one in my hood is registered Republican.) I called the County and they said it's a State publication, they know nothing about it, nor did they know to whom I should place my next call. So, I rang up the State Directory who's operator connected me to the Elections Dept. where I described the problem to a young man who had no idea what to do with the info. I encouraged him to take down my address and pass the info on. When I hand delivered my mail-in ballot to Laytonville, I told the poll workers, who also had no helpful comment, but, a woman who was there to vote chipped in that she hadn't received a Voter Guide either, but, her husband had so they shared. Somebody suggested I contact Wes Chesbro's office, so, I guess that's my next move. We all got our Sample Ballots and Ballots from the County just fine. You heard anything about a screw up in Sacramento?”

COMMENT OF THE DAY: “Israeli apologists justify Israeli aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people who possess a well-trained army with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, and lethal — and illegal — phosphorous munitions. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel's recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated. Sorry, but this does not meet the criteria for defense. Even if it did, the concept of proportionality of response renders Israel's actions morally reprehensible as well as in violation of international law.” — Ed Watters

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