LAST WEEK Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) announced that they were celebrating the announcement that The Conservation Fund (along with several other well-heeled environmental conservation groups) has agreed to purchase the 20,000 acre Preservation Ranch property in the Gualala River Watershed in northwest Sonoma County. The Conservation Fund, together with their funding partners — the California Coastal Conservancy, Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the Sonoma Land Trust — will preserve the property as working forest. The FoGR press release singled out “the constructive role played by Sonoma County's Fifth District Supervisor, Efren Carrillo, in bringing about this welcome announcement.”
With the announcement, the conservation groups would be justified in changing the name of the huge overcut timber tract to “Perseverance Ranch,” since FoGR has spent almost 20 years to bring about the buyout and keep the tract from being clearcut, ripped and chopped up into dozens of highly destructive vineyards.
The Property, once owned by controversial Willits timber baron Rich Padula has been through several ownerships since Padula sold it almost 25 years ago on false pretenses (saying there was more timber on the land that even CDF did). Successive owners have tried to cash in on the property with various wine-grape based investment and conversion schemes that depended on the ignorance of investors.
The latest scheme, which involved chopping up the property into vineyards, boutique wineries, McMansion estates, and assocated roads, ponds, fencing, gravel mining and poisons, was arranged by long-time Napa-based finance scammer and scofflaw William Hill (who also owns Philoville Vineyards and its huge “big dig” on Anderson Valley Way) who operates Premier Pacific, which obtained financing from the California Employees Pension fund (CalPERS) by promising big returns on the huge timber-to-vineyard conversion.
Premier Pacific hired some big local guns like legal adviser Eric Koenigshofer, who had been campaign manager for Supervisor Carrillo, in whose SoCo district Preservation Ranch is located. Koenigshofer, a former supervisor in Carillo’s district, also has strong connections with the Sonoma County Planning Commission and was touted as a fixer who could get the scheme approved. But Koenigshofer underestimated the seriousness and dedication of Poehlman and his FoGR group.
In recent years political pressure organized by Poehlman and others, exposed the hazards and damage of Hill’s scam, and raised the estimated cost of environmental and associated studies, which caused CalPERS to back out of the increasingly embarrassing and costly deal by first dumping Hill and his financial outfit as manager of the project in 2011, then, in the subsequent months, arranging and accepting a buyout from the conservation groups.
The permit process and environmental review for the project, officially begun in 2008, ended with news of the acquisition, sparing the public, regulatory agencies, and project sponsors a wasteful long-term struggle over the project's permitting. The mounting cost of studies, estimated last year at more than $2 million, along with the financial risks and political controversy associated with the project likely pushed CalPERS into the conservation sale.
Chris Poehlmann, FoGR president said, “It takes a village to kill a monster like Preservation Ranch. We appreciate the power of many groups and individual supporters coming together to change the politics of destructive land use choices and to provide real citizen leadership. This broad coalition stepped forward to inspire CalPERS to switch from a position of developer to willing seller. And the community inspired its political leaders to take bold steps to protect our forested watershed instead of pursuing speculative, short-term profits.”
“We are also relieved that we are spared a conflict that could have dragged on painfully for years of controversy and political turbulence during environmental review as the Artesa project has,” said FoGR volunteer Peter Baye. “Preservation Ranch's final demise puts the nail in the coffin of a bankrupt business and land use model for North Coast forestlands.”
In their announcement FoGR said they “looked forward to The Conservation Fund's plans for forest restoration, forest and stream monitoring, and management.”
The property was purchased by Hill and his collaborators in 2004 for $28.4 million using CalPERS money. Under the terms of the conservation deal CalPERS will sell the property for $24.5 million, thus not only avoiding an uphill permit and environmental legal battle, but escaping what was probably a money losing conversion scheme that Hill had conjured up. The Conservation Fund will contribute up to $6 million toward the purchase. In addition, the California Coastal Conservancy, will add up to $10 million, Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, could add up to $4 million to the deal, and the Sonoma Land Trust will chip in several more million. Public access “could result from the deal,” said the announcement, but the property would remain in private ownership with limited timber production and it will remain on SoCo’s tax roll.
The Conservation Fund already owns and manages 55,000 acres of Usal Forest in Mendocino County in conjunction with the Redwood Forest Foundation, in addition to the 24,000 acre “Garcia River Forest,” and would use the new acquisition for sustainable timber production and possibly for the sale of carbon credits. The three tracts together would bring the Conservation Fund’s ownership up to almost 100,000 acres on the North Coast, the largest such working forest in California.
The Preservation Ranch property includes ancestral grounds used by Pomo tribes, several of which voiced strong opposition to forest clearance for vineyards.
COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS are warning local restaurants to watch out for scam artists claiming to be health inspectors and demanding money for fees. Environmental Health Division Director Dave Jensen of the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency said he knows of two Ukiah restaurants that reported in February that someone claiming to be a health inspector visited and said the facility owed fees and needed to pay immediately or face being closed down. “Health inspectors do not collect fees in the field,” Jensen said. They also carry photo identification to show they are county employees, and anyone who is asked to pay an inspector on the spot is urged to ask for such identification, or to call the county Environmental Health Division at 234-6625 to verify that a payment is due. “When in doubt, call us and ask,” Jensen said. The scammers also call and ask for credit card numbers to pay the fictitious bill, Jensen said, giving as an example a Feb. 21 case where a restaurant worker got a call from someone claiming to be a health inspector and demanding that she pay a $400 bill over the phone. “We receive funds only through the mail or in our office,” Jensen said. The HHSA's Special Investigation Unit responded to the recent reports, but currently has no further leads in the ongoing investigation, he said. The scammers target restaurants where employees don't understand English well, or “are not likely to want trouble,” according to Jensen. He advises restaurants to do the following: If someone claiming to be a health inspector asks for cash or credit card information, do not comply. If fraud or a crime is suspected, call 9-1-1 to report the incident to your local law enforcement agency. Please do not give out business or personal information over the phone or in person to someone you do not know. Food facility operators can telephone the Mendocino County Environmental Health Division with concerns or questions at 234-6625. (— Tiffany Revelle. Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)
TO THE EDITOR:
I enjoyed Mark Scaramella's breakdown of all the offenses by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Here's a personal anecdote about the time the State Parks and Recreation Commission held a meeting in Fort Bragg five years or so ago.
Local fishermen were angry that State Parks staff were lobbying hard in support of the options for marine protected areas proposed by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Of particular concern to us were the proposed closures of public fishing access at state parks in Sonoma County and Point Arena — State Parks was proposing to shut out abalone divers from some really important sites.
We put out a call for fishermen to show up at the Parks Commission meeting in Fort Bragg's town hall, and ask commissioners why their staff were supporting these closures off state parks along the coast. We hadn't been informed of any opportunity for the public to comment on the Parks Department's position on the Marine Life Protection Act.
The executive director of the Commission called me, and he sounded freaked out. The Commission, he explained, didn't really get into details about specific regulations. They only had the power to approve or amend the management plans for individual parks, and the staff took it from there. He told me flat out that there would be no real discussion at the Commission level about the MLPA. He was right. I testified, I was ignored along with the other fishermen who spoke.
As it turns out, most if not all of the regulations promulgated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation are “underground regulations” — illegal rules set up by staff without adequate notice, public review and discussion.
At the meeting I asked a Deputy Director at DPR if he understood that shutting down shore fishing and abalone diving at state campgrounds like Horseshoe Cove, Fisk Mill Cove and other areas would mean less revenues to the state from campsite fees. “We don't make decisions based on revenues,” he said.
No wonder they don't know the operating expenses of individual park units. These people have their heads in the clouds. The state legislature needs to start holding hearings on how to reform DPR and give its Commission real authority over the staff. Decisions need to be noticed, publicly discussed and voted in.
Jim Martin, Fort Bragg
HEARTENING to see that poaching on the Garcia is finally getting more attention. Saturday’s Press Democrat nicely state’s the problem, the nut of which is jurisdictional. State Fish and Game officers can’t crackdown on poachers without a federal agent being present, and state law exempts tribal members from the state game code so long as they are fishing (gill netting is considered fishing) from tribal lands. Unfortunately for the fish, the Garcia flows between the Manchester and Point Arena reservations. So, despite years of restoration efforts on the Garcia, a handful of tribal poachers, citing pre-Whitey tribal practices, take as many spawning fish as they can muster the energy to take, thus imperiling the entire Garcia fishery.
TWO COMMENTS from Lost Coast Outpost on the suicide of Jeffrey Panutsos, 20, of Eureka:
1. “Before a person, especially a person as young as Jeffrey, commits suicide, I wish they would consider a few other possibilities:
a) If the situation is very, very bad at home, run away. I’m totally serious. There are shelters and good people at them (along with bad people). Some people are awful parents.
b) If you think you are no good, you should know that most people who are not sociopaths occasionally think they are no good. It’s a sign you are normal.
c) If you’re sad about a relationship, consider calling a suicide hotline, one such number is 1-800-273-8255. I can’t convince you, but the impossible-to-take pain will fade over time.
d) If you are hungry and don’t know where to turn, go to a fire station. Just tell the truth.
e) If you think the world is rotten, you can decide to spend a day improving it before committing suicide. That could take any form you like. Choose something you think you might enjoy, but one suggestion is to go to Food for People or another similar outfit and volunteer for a day. You can repeat that decision daily, and change your mind whenever you like.
You cannot change your mind once you’ve committed suicide. (Mitch)
2. “It's probably too early to make any comment other than one of extreme sorrow, but I just gotta say, every single frickin' day it seems I hear of some depressed person on pharmaceuticals losing their love of life sufficiently to do something like this. As I say, I don't know if this was the case here, but it reminds me— please kids, Don't do drugs! Especially the kind that aim to make you an addict for the next 60 years (unless you just off yourself first). If your parents and doctors try to put you on drugs, please ask for help from someone who you know really loves and cares about you. I doubt you could even go to the authorities (CPS) nowadays though—they would just back the docs and the drugs. Again, I don't know if Jeffrey was a victim of this conspiracy against life, or not. I'm just saying it made me think of this issue, especially since I talked with a woman today whose grandchild consumed a whole bottle of her prescribed Zoloft in one sitting and almost lost it all before she was found and hospitalized. Condolences to the family and all who knew and loved this young man.” (Laura Cooskey)