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Off The Record

ABOUT 75 PEOPLE opposed to Caltrans’ plans for a bypass around Willits responded to a “high alert” call from Save Little Lake Valley to show up Monday morning starting at 7am at the tree-sit site off Highway 101. There was no law enforcement presence at today’s rally. New Santa Rosa contractor Atlas Landscaping did come to work around 8 am, Sara Grusky of Save Little Lake Valley told Willits Weekly, attempting to remove brush along a new section of the fenceline with a tractor/chipper, but about 10 protesters, quote: “decided not to let the work proceed,” Grusky said. After about a half-hour of no progress, Atlas workers left for the day, leaving their equipment behind. This was the first time, Grusky noted, that CHP officers did not show up while protesters were attempting to stop work they say is illegal – for one reason, because proper bird surveys have not yet been done, as required by the Migratory Bird Act. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Sacramento communications director emailed Willits Weekly Monday, in response to an inquiry, that Fish & Wildlife had accepted Caltrans’ revised bird protocol on Friday. Caltrans told the media earlier last week they already had approved protocols. Save Little Lake Valley is telling supporters to remain on “high alert” all week. “The most important thing,” Grusky said, “in order to be sure that Caltrans and their contractors do not cut down trees is to show a strong presence every day this week. Caltrans is eager to get the trees down before more birds are nesting and laying eggs,” Grusky said, because of the strict protections required under the Migratory Bird Act. The “Warbler's treesit shuttle service” will be operating every morning this week, starting at 7am in front of Bountiful Gardens at the Evergreen Plaza. An email and Facebook message that called for an “Occupy style camp” starting Sunday night at the tree-sit was not sent out by Save Little Lake Valley and did not result in an influx of campers. A message posted Sunday on Save Little Lake Valley’s Facebook page read: “Save Our Little Lake Valley and The Warbler’s ground support squadron are not planning an Occupy-style encampment at the tree-sit at this point.”

— Jennifer Poole, Willits Weekly,

A 74-YEAR-OLD MAN appeared in the parking lot of Coast Hospital last Sunday morning where he placed a 911 call at exactly 9:45 to announce his death. Two nurses standing outside the hospital heard a gunshot. They ran inside, and the hospital immediately went on emergency lockdown. Officers from the Fort Bragg Police Department soon found the man where he said he would be, in the bushes beside his vehicle in the parking lot, a .38 revolver on the pavement. Carried alive but just barely into the nearby emergency room, the suicide breathed his last. He has not identified but assumed from identification found on him to be a long-time resident of the Mendocino area.

JOHN COATE, the boorish station manager at KZYX, Mendocino County's pseudo-public radio station, accosted reporter Sheila Dawn Tracy after the recent board meeting to insult her directly about her reporting. Mr. Charm apparently doesn't like Ms. Tracy's work, although she's been more than fair to the marginally competent oaf. During the meeting, Coate had made faces and otherwise insulted Ms. Tracy while she spoke. The station's board of directors seem to find this kind of thing acceptable while they wonder why KZYX is dying as more and more Mendo people turn to KMUD next door in Humboldt County for their audio news and entertainment.

HARMEET DHILLON, of San Francisco and the Sea Ranch, has been elected as the first woman and the first Sikh to serve as vice-chair of the California Republican Party. Dhillon, who is an attorney and owner of the Sea Ranch Woolworks yarn company, hopes to use technology to modernize the party's voter registration and outreach efforts. Good luck with that utterly futile quest. Anyway, She of the Golden Sword was elected with 80% of the votes at the state party's spring convention, but not before she was described as a “Taj Mahal princess” by the president of the San Bernardino County Republican Women. Undeterred, Dhillon, who clearly understands that dumb, mean white guys can't survive as a political party unless they include other ethnics of comparably limited understanding, was quoted in the Independent Coast Observer as saying “There's been a lot of mudslinging in this campaign, frankly, and I think the more we try to shun people and ostracize people because they may not agree with us 100 percent, that's why we're at 29.3 percent voter registration in this state.” Dhillon plans to broaden the Republican Party to include voters of Asian, Hispanic and Latino heritage, citing Texas as a successful model of Republican outreach to minority voters and office holders. Dhillon, who advertises her legal services in the ICO, claims that her law partners “have won international acclaim...particularly for our pro bono civil rights work on behalf of discrimination victims, refugees, and domestic violence victims. It is our honor to give back to the communities we serve.”

A SOUTH COAST man named Leonard Bean was arrested in Fort Bragg the other day with a load of guns in his Beemer, guns belonging to another South Coast guy widely known as “Gun Gary.” Gun Gary was in the news a few years ago when his son alleged that Gun Gary had worked him over to persuade the kid to enlist in the military. The kid complained, and Gun Gary had to 'splain to the authorities why he'd done it. Gun Gary seems to be a throwback kinda dude, unaware that force and violence, last appropriate as a military recruiting method in 1955, did not apply in the new millennium. Gun Gary had his arsenal stored in a Fort Bragg locker when the locker was robbed by...Well, Mr. Bean had the guns in his car so he would seem to be the perp.

THE POINT ARENA RECALLERS seem to have inadvertently offended City Attorney Joe Brecher to the point where he submitted his resignation. According to a story in the ICO, Brecher's contract is up for renewal. A committee of the City Council spoke with other attorneys and cities about what their attorneys did and at what cost. Brecher concluded the City was looking for a new lawyer and submitted his resignation. A round of finger pointing then ensued, followed, according to the ICO, by a discussion of “whether or not the attorney, who is contracted, falls under the definition of employee. There was no resolution.” The recallers recently paid off the former City Administrator, who served at the will of the Council, but who sued when she was terminated. City Attorney Brecher advised the Council that as an at will employee, the City Administrator could be let go at any time and that her lawsuit was groundless. The City Council ignored their attorney's advice and voted in closed session to pay the former City Administrator $90,000, reportedly cheering and clapping once they made the decision. Now the Council can't decide whether or not Brecher is an employee, although the fact that he serves by contract should be their first clue that he is not an employee. His letter of resignation should be the second clue. It may be that Brecher has grown tired of working with a group that routinely ignores his advice. A motion to accept Brecher's resignation failed on a 2-3 vote. The Council then decided to schedule the issue for closed session and invite Brecher to attend.

MENDO FUTURES, one of scores, if not hundreds of do-gooder groups that fly below the radar in Mendocino County, has issued a letter to “Our Friends and Supporters” to update them on their work. Mendo Futures, now in its seventh year, offers Facilitation Training for Chaotic Times, which serves as the primary fundraiser for the group. The class, taught by Mendo Futures co-founder Steve Zuieback, has been taken by Ukiah City Manager Jane Chambers and Councilmembers Mari Rodin and Mary Anne Landis. (Natch!) Chambers recently tried to condense Zuieback's six month course into a one hour presentation to the City Council. By the time Chambers finished describing the “process enneagram,” the sane people in the room realized that the city had indeed been taken over by lunatics.

JUDITH HARWOOD, of the Harwood's of Laytonville/Branscomb, seems to be running the day to day business of Mendo Futures, which says it has “shifted its approach from creating and running its own projects to providing facilitation and consultation support to already existing efforts in the County that are consistent with Mendo Futures values and principles.” Quick, for a free facilitation training, name one, only one, project that Mendo Futures has created and operated. For a free consultation and bubble bath, recite Mendo Futures “values and principles.”

MENDO FUTURES spent much of 2012 working with inland Mendo's helping professionals to “redesign” mental health services in Mendocino County, now mostly provided by the Sheriff at the Mendocino County Jail where reality therapy is the strategic model. Mendo Futures says its “collective vision includes the integration of behavioral and mental health, a no-wrong door client-based approach, guiding each client through the full swath of services from health care to housing.” The Coalition for Mental Health Planning, as it called itself, brought together providers from a range of different, and even competing organizations, to collaborate on a response to the county Request For Proposals (RFP) to contract out all county-provided mental health services starting in June of this year.

AMONG THE GROUPS apparently were the warm-wonderfuls clustered like fruit bats on year-old bananas at the Ukiah Community Center, Ford Street Project, Redwood Children's Services, Tapestry Family Services, Mendocino County Youth Project, Manzanita Services and others too numerous, too depressing to list. Susan Era, (How Can I Miss You, Baby, If You Won't Go Away) who retired after thirty years of service with the County, was the facilitator for the group trying to design a response to the RFP at the same time that the RFP was being written. In addition to some combination of the above groups, proposals were submitted by several bands of wacks from out of the area. County mental health staff has reviewed the proposals, conducted interviews and is expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Supes sometime in the next month or two. Meanwhile, as previously reported, SEIU, which represents the mental health employees, has filed a lawsuit to try and block the county from contracting out for mental health services. SEIU claims that the county is doing a wonderful job and sees no reason to change. We understand that SEIU does not want to lose any dues paying members, but the failed mental health “system” in Mendocino County has been on life support for years. Mendo Futures also claims to be working on Local Food, Economic Development and Biomass Utilization

A READER WRITES: “I'm not the savviest bloke on the block, but I do have a fairly well developed ability to understand people’s viewpoints, even if they are opinions I disagree with. I have to admit I'm flummoxed by your occasional screeds regarding the North Coast alternative-progressive-boomer community et al. To be sure, I'm as pissed as you are at the hypocrites — I mean, the former “idealists” who are now riding the establishment gravy train rather than sitting on the tracks to block it (or blowing up the tracks.) But I cannot grasp your references to “suffocating smugness” and “architectural exhibitionism.” Is everyone up here a phony, in your view? I'm sure there are many, but there are also many sincere, hard working people who are trying to eke out an existence completely separated from the capitalist, national security, self-deluded establishment. It ain't easy, either. You want smug? Let's you and I take a drive together some afternoon through Mill Valley and Corte Madera and let us count the shiny new Land Rovers parked in front of Starbucks, all of them with “Save the Rainforests!” bumper stickers. When I see your comments, I'm reminded of a line from the movie “Shoot The Moon.” Albert Finney and Diane Keaton are a yuppie couple on a fast track to divorce. In one scene they are driving into S.F. to a yuppie soiree when Finney's character, after quietly staring out the window, blurts out sarcastically: “This place could die of quaint.” (And he was speaking of San Francisco!) To be honest, that line occurs to me more than infrequently when I visit Mendocino, town of. Could it be you are frustrated that people are tending to their cute gardens in front of their cute cottages instead of storming the barricades of the power elite? Could it be you think the prevailing attitude is: I'm special because I live here and you don't? What is not happening in these communities that you wish to see happen? Or, have you lost hope, my man? Have you somehow concluded that people don't have the smarts or hearts to turn this foundering ship of state onto a better course? Whatever the reason, perhaps we can discuss this more over coffee sometime. (For what it's worth, I think there's a major shit-hitting-the-fan collapse just down the road that will finally shake millions out of their complacency and self-delusion.”

THE AVA REPLIES: We agree that the economy is headed for a major fall, but Lilliput is our focus, specifically Mendoland. There are a lot of libs in Mendocino County, and a lot of libs everywhere who call themselves 'progressives,' meaning, I think, they consider themselves either to the left of the mainstream Democratic Party or just too darned cool to be regarded as a mere liberal. Mendocino County is seldom progressive, as the County duly demonstrates every election, most recently when we went for More of the Same Huffman over the genuinely progressive Solomon. There are, of course, residual Occupy people based on the Coast who deserve congrats for their efforts to establish a people's bank, but other than that nothing in any way progressive — check that, the County's aborted dope policy was kinda progressive — happens here. A local example of everything the libs touch turning to ca-ca is our cringing public radio station afraid to do regular call-ins, afraid to do a local news show, afraid to allow local people to talk local. Contrast KZYX to KMUD in Garberville, a great little station and a progressive one into the bargain. If Mendo were remotely “liberal” it would press to eliminate First 5 and re-direct its million a year directly to childcare vouchers for single mothers; advocate (i.e., circulate a ballot measure) calling for living wages in all county contracts; demand that the Board of Supervisors get real monthly status reports from each department and make sure those reports become part of the public record; pressure Hamburg, Mr. Mendolib Himself, to make good on his campaign promise to give local contracts a 10% preference rather than the measly 5% they get now (which never even comes up because most local businesses don’t even know they get a preference); pressure the Board to use at least a portion of the County treasury for local small businesses and start-ups that meet pre-set realistic criteria and award them the loans in a public process; demand that the Board enact a grading ordinance, even a weak one like Sonoma County's or Napa's. And that's just for starters. Fact is, Mendo’s history of “movements” is mostly self-serving such as the Class K ordinance to legalize hippy shacks way back when the present occupiers of our public apparatuses were running around naked in the woods. More or less lately we had the GMO ban to keep frankenfoods out of our precious little bods and, of course, the semi-deregulation of Mendolib's drug of choice, marijuana via Measure G. There were also long ago battles to resist offshore oil, scale back the forestry overcut, and outlaw aerial spraying, but that was years ago and most people, liberal or not, approved. Their constant din of pious rhetoric aside, Mendolib is about as progressive as Bill Clinton and will, of course, delighted to send Hillary to the White House when O'Bummer finishes his disastrous eight years. Real change here, there and everywhere will occur when working people finally realize how thoroughly screwed they are and abandon the two-party beast that serves the oligarchy on whose behalf Republicans and Democrats run the country. To conclude class, Mendocino County is about as “progressive” as Obama, which isn't even liberal.

THE GREATER UKIAH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE held its annual awards banquet before a packed house at the Saturday Afternoon Club in Ukiah last Saturday. DA Dave Eyster was the MC and, to no one's surprise, Eyster's “surprise co-MC” turned out to be none other than Sheriff Tom Allman. Mendo's two top cops have a pretty good stand-up going: “We have a strange and unique relationship,” Eyster said. “He's strange and I'm unique.” And so it went throughout the evening.

A LOT STRANGER were the Chamber's awards. Business of the year came down to a battle between the Super 8 Motel, the local franchisee of a national hot sheets chain, and Coldwell Banker Real Estate, another chain franchise. Super 8 won by a whisker. Crush Italian Steakhouse (which went into the space on Airport Park Boulevard formerly occupied by the now defunct Branches), won new business honors, nosing out U Top It frozen yogurt. At which point we begin to realize that there really are no businesses in Ukiah in the traditional sense of providing livable wage jobs. Restaurants, chain real estate offices, and chain motels are not exactly the foundation of a thriving local economy. What's next? A civic beautification award to the new Arco station on Talmage Road?

THE AWARD FOR NON-PROFIT of the year came down to a contest between the all-female Mendo Mayhem roller derby team and the mostly male Employers Council of Mendocino County, a rich boy advocacy club that agitates for no government unless it benefits them. The Employer's Council won out over the derby dollies.

THE GREATER UKIAH VALLEY is home to scores of worthy non-profits, albeit non-profits that pretty much serve the people who staff them, but the Chamber chose to honor an ultra-conservative claque of Limbaugh-inspired wanks clustered at, of all places, the Employer's Council! Mendo Mayhem would have gotten our vote based on style and moxie alone.

MAUREEN “Mo” Mulheren was honored as volunteer of the year. Her father, Jim Mulheren, was also nominated, but after receiving her award, Mo quipped: “He's had his moment.” Jim Mulheren (aka “The Ever Pleasant Jim”) twice ran for Ukiah City Council despite not living in the city limits. The first time he claimed he was “living” in the office above his gritty industrial cabinet shop on Waugh Lane. The next time he at least rented an apartment in town, but all the while Pleasant Jim was really living with his wife in a faux Tuscan villa on the outskirts of Ukiah. He also ran for Second District Supervisor but was eliminated in the primary. By contrast, Mo Mulheren, who is smart and personable in ways that her father is not, would probably be a shoo-in for city council if she ever chooses to run. Interestingly, although the Ukiah City Council recently added “Economic Development” as one of its “strategic goals,” and its members universally claim to be champions of local business, not a single member of the city council attended the Chamber's awards banquet.

JENA CONNER has been promoted to deputy director of the County's Social Services Department, which apparently means she's the new boss at CPS. From all accounts a principled and intelligent person, Ms. Conner is the first person in years with those qualities to run Mendo CPS. She's been appointed outside CPS's traditionally insider process, probably via agitation by judges and the County Counsel's office rightly disturbed that derelict CPS work has now resulted in the murder of an infant placed in an obviously unsuitable home. When you're so incompetent that you're murdering infants, well, that's a little too much even for the Mendocino County Superior Court.

TWO PEOPLE took the trouble to point out an obvious typographical error in an recent item that said that Mendocino County was “35,010 square but mountainous miles.” The correct figure is 3,510 square miles, still larger than Rhode Island and Delaware together, but not ten times bigger. Another commenter wanted to know who the three owners of the convoluted Ukiah garbage companies.

WHO OWNS the garbage companies? Best we can tell, there’s Ukiah Waste Solutions and Solid Waste Solutions and their “administrative arm,” C&S Waste Solutions. According to their website C&S began in 1997 when “childhood friends Dave Carroll and John Shea formed a business partnership in the solid waste industry that developed from years of literally ‘growing up’ in the business. Not only did John and Dave grow up living across the street from each other as kids, but their family backgrounds were owning and operating solid waste collection, recycling and landfill companies. … As Dave and John's business grew, their need for more talented individuals grew. … Damon Shea initially pursued success in the accounting field before returning to the solid waste industry, which he had learned so well growing up. Damon was the best choice to join his brother in growing and managing his businesses in Nevada. Nevada was a familiar place to Damon, since he attended college at the University of Nevada, Reno while earning All-American honors in football. … When Dave and John decided to expand into California, they acquired a company that was operated by Bruce McCracken. Over 30 years ago, Bruce was a childhood friend and neighbor to Dave, John and Damon. He [McCracken] now leads the California operations.”

WHEN HE CAME BEFORE the Board of Supervisors in 2008 for approval of a permit for a recycling/garbage facility on the outskirts of Northern Ukiah, Mr. McCracken said he operated Pacific Recycling Solutions which purchased their Ukiah operation from North Bay Garbage. In 2007 Mr. McCracken seemed to be associated with Solid Waste Systems of Ukiah and was quoted in the Ukiah Daily Journal saying that “in addition to handling the contents of the city's blue-binned recycling containers, workers at the Solid Waste Systems Inc. transfer station/recycling center in south Ukiah meticulously sort through truckloads of standard rubbish each day searching for reusable materials.”

WHATEVER (or WHOEVER), as the dudes like to say. The point remains that the Ukiah City Council approved a very bad 15 year sweetheart deal with Ukiah Waste Solutions (a deal that even the very cautious Mendocino Grand Jury said was done very badly). The company(ies?) claimed it (they?) was (were?) losing money. But because of the way garbage companies are organized it is virtually impossible to track their finances. In the case of Ukiah, one company picks up the garbage and recyclables, and pays to dump them at the Ukiah Transfer Station, which is owned by a second company and operated by a third, which then pays double the market rate to take the green waste to a fourth company, and sells the recyclables to a fifth company, and all of the above lease their trucks from a sixth company. (Got that?) And just by coincidence all six companies are owned by the same three people. With so many “related party transactions,” cooking the books to show a loss is child's play. The company also got over on the Ukiah City Council in a number of other ways that enriched the company at the expense of the residential and commercial ratepayers of Ukiah. As if the financial windfall handed to the company wasn't enough, the city council prevented implementation of the immediate diversion of food waste from the landfill!

ON OCTOBER 30th of last year the Mendocino Sheriff’s Department received a call from a person wanting to report “a suspicious situation.” The caller had located a shoe protruding from the earth near the shore of the Eel River near Piercy, and had rightly assumed, as it turned out, a body had been planted there head first. It was subsequently discovered that the shoe was associated with a shallow grave “that contained the skeletal remains of a human body.” Sheriff's detectives requested the assistance of the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Chico in recovering the remains from the grave.

KYM KEMP of Lost Coast Post updates Sneaker Man:

“…The human remains are believed to be that of a white male adult, approximately 25-45 years of age with a height between 5 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 5 inches tall.” The gravesite and the body was discovered last October by a family near Piercy. For years they had seen the toe of a single sneaker protruding from the ground. They dismissed it as river trash. This last year, a second sneaker toe was uncovered side by side with the first which led to the man of the family poking around more deeply. On the day before Halloween, the man pulled one of the shoes out. It was difficult. The man thought maybe roots had grown into it but instead discovered that the shoe contained bones and a sock. Once he found the bones, they were put in an empty bag he had with him,” explained the wife. “…When I went back with him to confirm [around dusk,] we brought a little shovel and dug out a little more until we could see the [leg-bone. It was only a round little end…but it was obviously a bone leading up the leg …[and we] could see there was a leg-bone going up inside what looked like denim pants. That is what confirmed to us we really were seeing a human body and it was time to call the police about it.” First, the couple tried to reconstruct the scene a bit for a photo to show what they had seen to the police. “We placed the sneaker back in place to take that first picture. I turned it sideways to show the type of sneaker to take the 2nd one [see below],” described the wife. The bottom photo shows the type of shoes the man was wearing when he was buried in the wooded area not far from the river.

FRIDAY’S FIRE (March 9th) in Albion now looks like arson, as the following press release from the Sheriff's Department makes clear: “On March 9th 2013, at approximately 6pm the Albion Fire Department responded to a call of a residential structure fire at 30520 Albion Ridge Road in Albion, California. This residence was vacant, without electrical service, and no cause for the fire was discernable. The fire was extinguished without incident before it could endanger other homes in the area. Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies, with the aid of CalFire investigators, are investigating the cause of the blaze. Anyone with information that would aid in this investigation is encouraged to contact Mendocino County Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Martin at (707) 961-2421.

SUDDENLINK'S fiber-optic cable was again cut in multiple locations last week in what appear to be further acts of vandalism against the internet company serving areas of Humboldt County. Suddenlink issued this press release: “We have again contacted the Sheriff’s Department and are offering a $5,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible individuals. Our technicians have been dispatched to the damaged areas and are in the process of restoring service. The cuts affected service for about 10,000 customers in Trinidad, Big Lagoon, McKinleyville, Fieldbrook and parts of Arcata. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, are working to restore service as soon as possible, and are supporting local law enforcement in their efforts to stop these crimes.”

MANBEATER OF THE WEEK: Only a blind man would call the cops on a girl this pretty, but some male-type guy did. The fetching Ms. Favila is a mere 5'2 and 103 pounds. Of course Mata Hari was roughly the same dimensions and came with a sweet face, and she knocked off any number of beguiled men, the most easily beguiled species in all the animal kingdom. Still and all, we think the wrong person was arrested in this one.

FAMILIES ON FOOD STAMPS, now known as the CalFresh Program, receive an average of $5 a day to eat on. According to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the average daily per-person cost of groceries for a family of two adults and two children is $7.42. 15% of California households, or 1.86 million households, qualified for food stamps in 2012. Last time I checked, about 21% of Mendo households would be a lot hungrier without food stamps.

THIS LETTER from Peter Weverka appears in the current edition of the London Review of Books: “Rebecca Solnit laments that economic competition from young technocrats has made it hard for ‘dissidents, queers, pacifists, and experimentalists…writers, artists, activists, environmentalists [and] eccentrics’ find homes in San Francisco. What she doesn't mention is how difficult living there has become for families with children. Of all major American cities, San Francisco has the lowest percentage of people under 18 years old. In the 2010 census, just 13.4% of residents were children, down from 25% in the 1960 census’.”

I THINK all of the above are still in SF; they just have more money. And one block of the Tenderloin houses enough diversity for ten medium-large cities. But it's certainly true that ordinary working families have been priced outta the city clear to Tracy. That Ms. Solnit and another terrific Frisco-based writer, August Kleinzhalzer, appear in an English book review and not in a San Francisco publication of some sort is one more example of how thin cultural life has become in this self-alleged intellectual hub. In the late 1960s there was real intellectual excitement at publications like Ramparts, especially under the great Warren Hinckle, the only editor in America who can honestly claim never to have issued a single boring edition of any publication he produced. Even the Chronicle, believe it or not, was a daily must-read. What we have now is a suffocating PC liberalism of the mainstream Democratic Party type dominated by “intellectuals” as blandly tedious as their writing. I've thought for a long time that the entire Frisco artistic-intellectual effort ought to put out one publication a week. And call it Wuss. Or maybe Sominex. Of course it's also true that the internet has diffused intellectual life to where it now occurs in a million blogs and podcasts rather than the few collection points it used to be found, culled and helped by gifted editors. Still, though, and assuming I'm any kind of guide, there's only a few writers I look forward to reading anymore and only one publication I'd really miss if it disappeared, and that's the London Review, much of which is pretty heavy slogging but every issue has a couple of things you won't find here in Nambo-Pambo Land.

SATURDAY MORNING'S CHRONICLE featured a front-page photo of Eli Erlick, a transgender student at a Willits charter school. The ensuing story talks about AB1266, which would make it clear that “transgender boys are boys, and transgender girls are girls, meaning, it seems, that if you reassign your gender, and for the purposes of the locker room, boys who have become girls would have legal access to the girl's locker room, while girls who have become boys would have legal access to the boy's locker room. It's already illegal for school districts to discriminate against changelings, of whom Willits has three at the teen level according to the Chron. Mendocino County, always on the cutting edge! Er, always ahead of the curve. Ah, well, I mean, for a small population of people we sure get our share of media attention. Myself, I don't think kids as young as the Willits kid should be encouraged to make these cruelest cuts of all. They should at least have to wait until they're 21, by which time they might be less inclined.

ECONOMIC HEADWINDS. “Against the trend of declining innovation blow six headwinds, by economist Robert Gordon’s count. First is demographic: no longer are women entering the paid workforce in large numbers as they did from the 1960s through the 1990s. And the labor force is aging, as the baby boomers slip into retirement. Weakening growth in the labor force means waning GDP growth. Higher productivity could offset that, but if innovation is declining, then that’s not going to happen. Second, educational attainment in the US has plateaued. We’re slipping down the international league tables in the share of the population with college degrees — in fact, it’s becoming rather chic to dismiss college as an expensive waste of time. That, combined with failures of basic education, means a less skilled workforce. Third, increasing inequality means that as growth slows, the bottom 99% of the population will do even worse than the headline figures suggest. Fourth, jobs are being outsourced like crazy. Fifth, the climate crisis will put a lid on economic growth, as energy gets more expensive thanks to carbon taxes (though Gordon is rather sparing on the details). And sixth, a massive overhang of government and personal debt will be a deadweight on tomorrow’s growth, as we devote more of our current income to pay for past borrowing. Gordon boldly puts numbers on this. He starts with a baseline of 1.8% annual growth in GDP — in line with the previous couple of decades. Baby-boomer retirement and a shrinking labor force takes us down 0.2 points to 1.6%. The slowdown in educational attainment knocks off another 0.2, taking us to 1.4%. If inequality continues to rise at its recent trend, that will take 0.5 point off the growth rate for the bottom 99%, bringing us down to 0.9%. Globalization will continue to hollow out mid-level jobs, taking growth down to 0.7%. Higher energy taxes will take the rate down another 0.2 point, and the burden of debt service by another 0.3 point. That would take the growth rate, at least for the bottom 99%, down to 0.2%. If Gordon is anything approaching right, we’re facing an “epochal” change in American economic life — a long-term growth rate one-tenth what we’ve been used to over the last 150 years. It would take us back to the rate seen in Britain from 1300-1700 (though of course from a much higher starting point). — Doug Henwood (Courtesy, Left Business Observer,

THE SONOMA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, now that SEIU's legal beagles have signed off, is scheduled to give final approval on March 19th to a new contract with their largest employee bargaining group. The SEIU rank and file narrowly approved the contract on a 52-48% vote last month. Also on the agenda is approval for a new contract with the administrative managers bargaining group and other mostly high paid employees, including department heads and the Supes themselves. Last August the Supes adopted a “Resolution of Intent” for the administrative management contract extension, calling for a 3% cut in compensation, but said it couldn't take effect until SEIU came to terms. SEIU voted down a similar 3% cut in compensation in December and negotiated the present agreement with a 3% cost of living allowance.

BUT SEIU IS CRYING 'FOUL' now that it has been revealed that the Sonoma Supes, at a closed door meeting in February, sweetened the deal for themselves and upper management. In addition to a 3% cut in compensation, the original Resolution of Intent also proposed the immediate elimination of the deferred compensation match, a benefit only available to the highest paid employees. The Resolution of Intent was intended to promote the idea of shared sacrifice and was clearly part of the County's negotiating strategy. But the agreement to be voted on by the Supes March 19th includes a 3% cost of living allowance and continues the deferred compensation match for another 16 months.

LATHE GILL, SEIU's lead negotiator, says the changes have created an uproar within SEIU and amount to breaking a promise that the county made in order to gain approval for the contract with SEIU. Since the county presented the two contracts as a package deal they should have told SEIU about the changes to the Administrative Management contract before SEIU voted on their contract. Except given the narrow margin of approval, it is likely that news that the Supes were sweetening the deal for top management would have resulted in the contract with SEIU being voted down. SEIU has argued all along that Sonoma County has too many upper level managers who are over compensated and under worked. The County has said it intends “to study” staff to management ratios. SEIU union leaders are threatening to force the issue by launching a local ballot initiative that would require a higher ratio of rank and file employees to managers than currently exists.

NEITHER SEIU NOR THE COUNTY have done a good job of explaining the specific contract provisions or their financial implications. The County “analysis” of the agreements mixes in savings mandated by the Public Employees Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) and those that were negotiated as part of the contracts. Some obvious abuses, like the practice of giving Department Heads a 5% salary increase “upon notice of retirement” and paying for 1/2 the cost of the Supes retirement contribution are being outlawed by PEPRA, not the contract. But they won't even take effect for elected department heads and the Supes until they begin new terms of office, because state law prohibits reducing the pay of elected officials during their current terms of office. The staff report is full of self-serving blather about fulfilling the county's “strategic plan goals of efficient and effective use of resources and enhanced fiscal soundness....” Blahdy, blahdy, blah.

SONOMA COUNTY is looking at a $353 million dollar unfunded pension obligation liability plus another $600 million in Pension Obligation Bonds issued to pay for previous unfunded liabilities. Despite this mountain of pension related debt, the county says it only needs $150 million in pension system savings over the next decade and everything will be hunky dory. And the county claims the deals with SEIU and Admin Management will give it 75% of the needed $150 million in savings.

MEANWHILE, THE SONOMA SUPES will continue to rake in over $134,000 in salary as part of a total salary and benefits package worth more than 1/4 of a million each, which makes them the third highest paid board of supervisors in the State of California, ranking only behind their counterparts in Los Angeles and Alameda counties. But since the pension debt debacle is a slo mo train wreck, the current Supes will be out of office and drawing their own fat pensions long before the stuffing hits the fan.

FEDERAL JUDGE CLAUDIA WILKEN ruled last week that inmates held in Pelican Bay's iso cells for years at a time can proceed with their federal lawsuit charging that confinement to these cells amount to mental torture. The state had tried to get the suit tossed.

I HAPPEN to have a friend, Mr. Domingo Ramirez, who did two stretches, one of seven years, the other eight years, in Pelican Bay's “Security Housing Unit,” as it's called, where inmates can go for years with very little human contact. When I asked him how he endured, Domingo, a very tough guy, said, “I just read a lotta fuckin' books. It's not that bad.” But this guy's coping strategies aren't for everyone. Iso cells are very, very bad for most people, even tough guys who can be driven crazy by them. There are other ways to keep the, ah, unamenable away from the amenable without resorting to medieval tactics like the SHU at Pelican Bay. Domingo? Last time I heard from him he couldn't leave his San Jose neighborhood without the written permission of his parole officer. He's probably back at Pelican Bay “reading a lot of fuckin' books.”

THE FEDS seem to have been woofing Mendocino County over their subpoena of the County's pot records. The hearing scheduled for Tuesday, March the 19th in San Francisco has been put off indefinitely. Neither side has requested a new date, meaning it's probably over. Of course, Mendo is out some fancy legal fees, and the whole issue of whether or not the County can attempt to regulate its primary export crop, remains in limbo.

MENDO WAS SCATTERSHOT SUBPOENED back in October by the US Attorney's Northern District Office for pot-related records related to the County's permitting program. These records are allegedly held by Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford, Sheriff Tom Allman, Sheriff's Office Financial Manager Norman Thurston, Sheriff's Capt. Randy Johnson. (Johnson oversaw the County's now abandoned medical marijuana garden inspection program; he lives in Potter Valley next door to a large grow maintained by his father and his brother. When it was busted last year by a federal task force that included IRS agents, Johnson said the next door gardens were, like, next door and had nothing to do with him.)

THE SUBPOENING FRISCO FEDS, drawn from the lower third of law school graduates and repeat BAR exam takers, demanded “any and all records” for the County's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance from Jan. 1, 2010 to the present.

SIMPLE AS THEY WERE, the federal subpoenas undoubtedly represented a couple month's work product by the featherbedding sloths of Golden Gate Avenue, which also asked for all types of communication regarding 9.31, including correspondence with third-party medical marijuana garden inspectors and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. The medical marijuana industry of course urged the County to resist the subpoenas and protect any information having to do with them.

OUR MENDO ordinance was a minor masterpiece of careful codifying. Under “Chapter 9.31 of the Mendocino County Code,” beginning in 2008, medical marijuana collectives could obtain permits to grow up to 99 plants from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, an exemption from the County's limit of 25 plants per parcel if they accepted the many permit terms and underwent periodic inspections. And the County in return, by selling these licenses to grow, got at least a tiny share of the multi-millions generated by cannabis production in the County.

MENDO hired San Francisco attorney William Osterhoudt to pursue the County's resistance to the federal subpoenas. Osterhoudt promptly filed a motion to osterize or squash, so to speak, the subpoenas on the grounds that they are “overbroad and burdensome” in scope, and an “improper intrusion” on the county's and the state's ability to govern its citizens. Which they obviously are.

THE COUNTY'S MED POT program started in June 2010 and ended in March 2012 when the US Attorney's Office threatened legal action against the permitting program and county officials.

SAN FRANCISCO'S St. Patrick's Day Parade featured, as the fatso-watsos are euphemized in the emergency rooms, several thousand “well-nourished” Americans, many of them marching behind union local banners. I thought of those photos of yesterday's San Francisco parades up through the 1950s when an obese marcher was a rarity. But there were so many triple X's on Market Street last Saturday, a fairly warm day, I wondered if they'd make it to the Civic Center before their cardiac arrests caught up with them. The Chron described the crowd as a “throng.” It wasn't. The Giants brought out the throngs. The annual Chinese New Year's Parade also draws a legit throng. And the gay parade. The crowd Saturday was sparse most of the route. And there was much unpleasantness associated with the event, most of it springing from mass drop-fall drinking, which seems to have become the point of San Francisco's St. Patrick's Day. You had celebrating drunks, most of them young, on top of the now accepted sad spectacle of lost souls passed out in doorways and on the sidewalks, so many on Sutter in the three blocks up from Market you might have thought one of the mad gunmen our country specializes in had opened up on the crowd. Bodies everywhere. There were also lots of young women in wedding dresses. “Oh, it's just a thing we do every year, a pub crawl in wedding dresses.” We do? I saw a pillow fight in Justin Herman Plaza one evening not long ago, and Saturday it was disconcerting to see a young woman in a wedding gown step daintily over a ragged man passed out on the sidewalk who might have been dead for all the notice he attracted. I think the city has a major “cute” problem to go with its massed derelicts. Really, you need themes to do group-lame? And there was Muni shuttling drunks all over downtown, a public subsidy for mass debauch. Only in San Francisco.

NOT LONG AGO, my friend Pol Brennan had been St. Pat's parade marshal. A life member of Sinn Fein, a socialist organization, Brennan was subsequently shackled hand and foot and put on a big government plane with a bunch of U.S. marshals and flown all by himself back to Ireland. I thought of Pol as Sinn Fein marched past Saturday, a Scotch bagpiper's band — My people! My people! — not far behind. And there were a bunch of Irish Wolfhounds and Irish Chinese organized as ROTC units and motorized cable cars stuffed with drunks and trucks stuffed with drunks and acres and acres of ambulatory drunks. St. Patrick's Day got lost some time ago in San Francisco.

KRAVIS’S LEAKING TANK, AN UPDATE: Mr. Bills of Mendocino Board Sports in the town of Mendocino updated us on the status of the leaking tank owned by his neighbor Dr. Tom Kravis's Mendocino Hotel last weekend. “My landlady is not Maureen O'Connor,” Bills said. “It's her twin sister Mauvorneen. I just write a check to Francis By The Sea LLC and give it to the woman at the bar. I assumed it was Maureen because her name is Maureen Francis O'Connor. But I now understand that it's Mauvorneen.” Mr. Bills added that his landlady has made it clear that she has no intention of trying to evict him and they are cooperating in trying to resolve his problem with the neighboring Mendocino Hotel. Monday before last Ten Mile Court Judge Brennan denied Dr. Kravis's temporary restraining order application against Bills which would have kept him out of his own business. But there are still other court dates pending for other pending restraining orders. Separate from the leaking tank, Mr. Bills has had other problems with his neighbor and with the town’s highly quirky permit process and processors for walkways for better access to his business. He says he's now had it with Mendocino, the village and the County, and has decided that he's moving his business to Santa Cruz. He doesn't want to deal with the Hotel, the village or the County and all the hassle anymore. “The county won't help me. They are covering for Dr. Kravis,” Bills said. “They've made it impossible for me to do business here. I'm tired of trying to do business in this county and in this town. I've been here for over two years now and it’s just not worth it anymore.” Since the Health Department prematurely closed Bills’ complaint a couple of weeks ago after some temporary work was done on Dr. Kravis’s leaking tank, Bills said he hasn't seen any more leakage. But, “it seems like everyone talks about code enforcement out in the hills and eliminating nuisances, but what about on Main Street here in Mendocino? That's my issue.” Mr. Bills said his insurance company had been out to inspect the premises and they took some samples of the spill and samples of the air near the Hotel. “They cultured some samples in petri dishes and they plan to grow whatever they picked up both here and in front of the hotel and down the street,” said Bills. “I don't know when they'll have the results. I hope there is nothing unhealthy in the air. It's one thing to step in it, but it's another to be breathing it in.” Bills said that the sewage smell is mostly gone now. “I don't know if they've made any changes in the plumbing or just cleaned up the tank and the area.” Bills added, “I can't tell you how I know, but I know that Dr. Kravis has not made his mortgage payments in more than 18 months at either the Hotel or the Hill House. I understand he's trying to refinance at least one of the properties and perhaps sell one of them. He is not paying his mortgage. His house of cards is tumbling. It's tough for someone like me to deal with all the well-entrenched rich people in this town,” Bills concluded.

HARMEET DHILLON, OF SAN FRANCISCO AND THE SEA RANCH, has been elected as the first woman and the first Sikh to serve as vice-chair of the California Republican Party. Dhillon, who is an attorney and owner of the Sea Ranch Woolworks yarn company, hopes to use technology to modernize the party's voter registration and outreach efforts. Good luck with that utterly futile quest. Anyway, She of the Golden Sword was elected with 80% of the votes at the state party's spring convention, but not before she was described as a “Taj Mahal princess” by the president of the San Bernardino County Republican Women. Undeterred, Dhillon, who clearly understands that dumb, mean white guys can't survive as a political party unless they include other ethnics of comparably limited understanding, was quoted in the Independent Coast Observer as saying “There's been a lot of mudslinging in this campaign, frankly, and I think the more we try to shun people and ostracize people because they may not agree with us 100 percent, that's why we're at 29.3 percent voter registration in this state.” Dhillon plans to broaden the Republican Party to include voters of Asian, Hispanic and Latino heritage, citing Texas as a successful model of Republican outreach to minority voters and office holders. Dhillon, who advertises her legal services in the ICO, claims that her law partners “have won international acclaim...particularly for our pro bono civil rights work on behalf of discrimination victims, refugees, and domestic violence victims. It is our honor to give back to the communities we serve.”

THE POINT ARENA RECALLERS seem to have inadvertently offended City Attorney Joe Brecher to the point where he submitted his resignation. According to a story in the ICO, Brecher's contract is up for renewal. A committee of the City Council spoke with other attorneys and cities about what their attorneys did and at what cost. Brecher concluded the City was looking for a new lawyer and submitted his resignation. A round of finger pointing then ensued, followed, according to the ICO, by a discussion of “whether or not the attorney, who is contracted, falls under the definition of employee. There was no resolution.” The recallers recently paid off the former City Administrator, who served at the will of the Council, but who sued when she was terminated. City Attorney Brecher advised the Council that as an at will employee, the City Administrator could be let go at any time and that her lawsuit was groundless. The City Council ignored their attorney's advice and voted in closed session to pay the former City Administrator $90,000, reportedly cheering and clapping once they made the decision. Now the Council can't decide whether or not Brecher is an employee, although the fact that he serves by contract should be their first clue that he is not an employee. His letter of resignation should be the second clue. It may be that Brecher has grown tired of working with a group that routinely ignores his advice. A motion to accept Brecher's resignation failed on a 2-3 vote. The Council then decided to schedule the issue for closed session and invite Brecher to attend.

SUPERVISOR JOHN PINCHES, according to Willits News staff writer Linda Williams, told the Brooktrails Community Services District last Tuesday that at least one supervisor favors removing Brooktrails completely from the Teeter plan, but that he, Pinches, does not share that viewpoint. The “one supervisor” is, of course, Supervisor McCowen who first raised the issue of the Brooktrails rolling scam a couple of years ago when he refused to support a routine item approving tax defaulted properties for sale at auction, noting that a majority of the properties were unbuildable vacant lots located in Brooktrails, but that most of the owners were Asian or Hispanic and lived in urban areas like Los Angeles or San Francisco.

BROOKTRAILS IS AMONG A HANDFUL of rural subdivisions, including Shelter Cove in southern Humboldt County, that were slipped through in the early 60's as “vacation villages,” and that no more than 25% of the lots would be in use at any one time, therefore the developers only had to show they had water to support 25% of the lots. Brooktrails was originally approved for more than 6,500 lots but never had water for more than 1,500. The state legislature soon repealed the law that allowed the so-called vacation villages, but too late to stop the Brooktrails scam. Once Brooktrails built out enough to use up the available water connections, the State Department of Health Services imposed a moratorium on any further water connections, which equaled a de facto building moratorium because the suburban residential-sized lots are too small for a septic system and leachfield.

EVEN BEFORE BUILDOUT was achieved, real estate sharpies specialized in churning the Brooktrails lots by marketing them to unsophisticated first time buyers, usually immigrants from urban areas, who bought sight unseen and without doing basic research to find out if water and sewer were available. Once these buyers realized they had been had, they'd quit making payments on their scam-a-rama lot. After five years the County of Mendocino can sell these lots at auction to recover the back taxes. The same real estate sharpies who sold the lots in the first place would buy them back at auction (having avoided the expense and hassle of foreclosure) and then start marketing the lots to a new set of victims. The victims thought they were getting a future building lot; the sharpies were getting a down payment and a few years worth of monthly payments (until the victims caught on); and the County was recovering the back taxes and penalties, plus 18% interest once the properties sold at auction.

McCOWEN RIGHTLY OBJECTED that the County was truly complicit in fraud by auctioning off the unbuildable and therefore virtually worthless Brooktrails lots. But his colleagues seemed to agree with the County Treasurer that it was a buyer beware situation, and besides, the County turned a nice profit from the 18% interest and penalties.

AS SUBSEQUENTLY reported by Linda Williams in the Willits News, McCowen had only scratched the tip of the iceberg. Williams discovered that the Brooktrails lots were no longer selling at auction. Not even the real estate hustlers were buying the lots because the pool of immigrant buyers had dried up. The economic recession made even the low down payment and modest monthly payments less affordable, plus the steadily rising Brooktrails annual assessments for fire, water and sewer (for services the buyers would never receive) made it less affordable to hold onto the lots. As revealed by Williams, the Brooktrails vacant lots had blown a several hundred thousand dollar hole in the County general fund, something the County Treasurer never bothered to report to the Board of Supes.

THE TEETER PLAN (named for the state assemblymember who authored the legislation) allows counties to pay the property taxes up front to all the school districts, cities, special districts and others who get a slice of the property tax dollar. The cities and districts benefit by getting 100% of the property tax due them according to a set schedule. The county benefits, or is supposed to, by being able to collect the back taxes and penalties, plus 18% interest, until the properties are either redeemed by the owner or sold at auction. The Teeter Plan became a story a few years ago when it was revealed that instead of paying off the original Teeter plan “investment” (the cost of the original payout to the cities and districts) the County of Mendo had been dumping the Teeter plan revenue (the back taxes, penalties and interest) into the general fund and spending it for normal general fund expenses. The Auditor/Controller, the Treasurer and the CEO, who should have been sounding the alarm, stood silently by while the original Teeter debt more than doubled from $5 million to more than $11 million. In 2009 the Board of Supes put the Teeter debt on an amortization schedule and also ordered that all Teeter revenue be directed to paying off the debt, which is now down to about $6 million.

STATE LAW PROVIDES that a county may “de-Teeter” a district if the default rate rises beyond a certain percentage. A couple of other districts have high rates of delinquency, but only Brooktrails lots fail to sell at auction. Spurred on by Williams' detailed reporting, the Executive Office brought forward an agenda item to de-Teeter the Brooktrails CSD. According to Williams, as reported in the Willits News, by June of 2012 Brooktrails had cost the county about $800,000 in Teeter plan debt, including about $240,000 in Brooktrails sewer, water and fire fees.

ODDLY, BUT NOT UNPREDICTABLY, the Treasurer and the Auditor/Controller came up with a variety of excuses not to de-Teeter Brooktrails, including that it would not save that much money, might actually hinder paying off the Teeter debt, and would be too difficult and time consuming for staff. McCowen argued strenuously that it was not equitable to hand over several hundred thousand dollars of general fund money to Brooktrails knowing the County would not be able to recover the money. (Supervisor Hamburg seemed to be more interested in following the lead of the Auditor/Controller, a path that typically leads to inaction.) The item was continued to give staff a chance to further research the implications and mechanics of de-Teetering a district. When the item came back at the next meeting, the Auditor/Controller offered a compromise: de-Teeter the Brooktrails special assessments for sewer, water and fire, but not the ad-valorem taxes, which are based on the actual value of the lots.

THE SUPES UNANIMOUSLY approved de-Teetering the Brooktrails special assessments, but now the issue of completely de-Teetering Brooktrails seems to be coming back. The public discussion has also led the county to reassess the entire Brooktrails subdivision, resulting in a 16% decrease in assessed valuation for the district. It is not clear if the decrease was across the board, or only for the vacant lots, which should probably be assessed at or near zero since it is unlikely that more than a tiny number will ever be built upon. According to Williams, despite the lowered assessment, the County is still paying out about $200,000 more a year for Brooktrails than it takes in. Which means unless the County completely de-Teeters Brooktrails the County will, in effect, continue to pay a hefty general fund subsidy to Brooktrails every year. And the County general fund subsidy will only increase as more and more of the 4,500 vacant lot owners realize that their American dream of second-home ownership will never be realized in Brooktrails.

THE BROOKTRAILS BOARD also asked Pinches about his suggestion that Brooktrails could make up the shortfall in its budget by logging its greenbelt. Pinches recounted that the original developers of Brooktrails planned on financing future improvements by select harvesting of the greenbelt, something that could improve the overall stand and reduce fire danger if done properly. Pinches noted the advantages of having a good road network to access the timber, a nearby mill (Willits Redwood) and the relatively high prices for redwood, making Brooktrails, at least on paper, one of the richest special districts in the County. Brooktrails Director Tony Orth said he was not interested in logging the greenbelt. None of the other directors commented. Orth, who has been on the Brooktrails board for about 25 years, has been known to argue publicly that buildout of all 6,000 Brooktrails lots is a realistic possibility. (!) But even logging the greenbelt is unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to quadruple the current water supply. The Brooktrails board of directors is also on record as saying future buildout will also depend on construction of the Brooktrails second access, something that has been under discussion for what seems like nearly as long as the Willits bypass.

DUE TO UNEXPLAINED DELAYS in the posting of the recordings of the Board of Supervisors meetings we only recently had an opportunity to review the Board’s discussion of the mid-year budget report from their February 12, 2013 meeting. It’s not a pretty picture.

AUDITOR MEREDITH FORD summarized overall revenues as positive this fiscal year (through the end of June), but only because of a one-time infusion of about $1.2 million in “unencumbered redevelopment funds” which apparently became available as part of the winding down of the County’s Redevelopment Agency. Take that away and revenues would be significantly down.

SUPERVISOR PINCHES: “Our revenue increases are not projected to be over $200k per year. That’s going to lead to a tremendous problem when we talk about the pension costs going up. To project your revenues in this big of an operation as only $200k a year increase for the next five years is very alarming.”

FORD: “This was an extremely conservative estimate. We don’t really have a good indication of how much the economy is going to grow in the next few years. I just used a flat revenue projection for our secured rolls for the next few years and it’s really slow increases for the following years. I don’t want to over-project. It’s better to be conservative than to expect too much and not realize it.”

PINCHES: “I just brought that out because there’s a lot of effort to say at the federal and state level how happy days are here again. But if you look at these numbers, even though Meredith says these are conservative numbers, that’s a pretty alarming projection for the next five years.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “Which is one of the reasons we’re trying to build reserves.”

THE COUNTY'S BUDGET OFFICER Kyle Knopp: “One of the primary drivers in that low revenue growth rate is the county’s dependence on the property tax revenue. The current secured property tax is the largest component which accounts for about half the discretionary income to finance the county. So when there’s one specific revenue stream that accounts for about 50% of your discretionary revenue, changes in that revenue stream over time will dictate the amount of financing available to the County. In 05-06 the County was beneficiary of increases as a result of the housing bubble — a lot of property transactions at higher values and frequencies. However, entering the great recession one of the prime components was related to property value and people’s mobility in housing. Since then the property tax revenue has stalled out. We have been fortunate. Other counties have seen a precipitous drop in that revenue. It’s not the case in Mendocino so far; we’ve leveled out at this $28 million per year figure for the last couple of years. In the long run the growth will start to occur again. But the next two or three years will see low or no growth in the most important single source of revenue to the County. These are revenues that provide funds for the jail, the Sheriff, the Auditor, the District Attorney, Public Defender and even a base amount for Health and Human Services. These are this board’s discretionary dollars. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the budget over next couple of years as we see the cost of operations move upward in terms of pensions, healthcare, utilities, and general inflationary pressure. This is something to be considered. It’s very important.”

SUPERVISOR DAN GJERDE: “And to maintain county roads. Are there any strategies to make sure property owners are paying their full amount of property taxes?”

KNOPP: “There has been some discussion of the amount of Proposition 8 reassessments in the Assessor’s office. By law they are required to go back and do reassessments first. That backlog means they have to reassess properties downwards first. There’s also some discussion regarding some of the unsecured property tax revenue coming into the county and the potential to increase it. Unfortunately, all of these options require some resources for them to see a benefit. So far the cost-benefit analysis has not been conducive to that.”

GJERDE: “I understand when someone requests a downward assessment, the County is required to do that once and then continue every year until the market rises until they are no longer deserving of decreases. So you have thousands of properties being re-evaluated downward for essentially a decade.”

COUNTY COUNSEL Tom Parker: “Correct. Once a property is in Proposition 8 status, it has to be evaluated every year by the Assessor to find out if the market for that property has recovered. If not, it’s not enough to bring it back up to its Proposition 13 value. It’s a lot of work.”

GJERDE: “So that ongoing effort in the Assessor’s office takes away from time they would spend looking for buildings that have popped up without building permits. They are not paying secured property taxes, so there’s a diversion of staff time required by state law. I’m not sure how to deal with that, lacking additional people in the Assessor’s office. That could be contributing to flat-lining revenue increases because parcels that are gaining new buildings are not on the tax rolls.”

PINCHES: “Back in 1980 after Proposition 13 passed, we had 12% increases every year. But over the last three years, it’s been minus. We are not getting 12% increases. We’re doing good to keep our assessed value up where it is. But it’s not increasing like the double-digit years. It’s minus in last three years. That’s where your revenue problem is.”

FORD: “Collection of property taxes is the Treasurer’s area. The delinquency factor has actually decreased a little recently. We’re doing well, where the amount County fronts for the Teeter Plan is basically keeping pace, because the tax roll has increased a little.”

GJERDE: “My concern is the amount of time available to find unpermitted buildings that need to be added to tax rolls. If staff time is going to evaluating downward assessment requests, it’s a multi-year effort every year for the foreseeable future and there’s not enough time to look for new buildings to add to the tax rolls.”

NO ONE seemed interested in inviting County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Susan Ranochak into the Boardroom to discuss the problem.

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