- Water Trough to Close
- Local Aquifers
- The City That Never Was
- Gordy's Letter of the Day
- Shakedown Silver Strikes Again
- Police Report
THE VENERABLE WATER TROUGH BAR, operated for years by Old Ted Schamber, will soon close. Old Ted is even more venerable than his business which, we believe, is Mendocino County's most venerable under the ownership of one person who also tends bar. Old Ted has gotten so old he simply isn't up to it anymore. The Water Trough has a long-time clientele nearly as old as Ted if you average out their ages. They're definitely going to miss what amounted to a wet Senior center.
ON-LINE DROUGHT COMMENT: What concerns me, and what I am looking for, is to see if fish ran up the creeks to spawn and are now faced with lower flows impeding successful spawning. Not that there will be water come summer to protect hatchlings. I've been keeping a close eye on creeks near me and checking spring flows. The recent rain came down fast enough to create runoff, but the rivers and creek dropped quicker than you expect to see in February. Some of the spring flows came up from the surface runoff and are now tapering back, indicating to me that the hills are nowhere near saturated deep into the aquifer that feeds the springs and creeks.
LAMENTS for the city that never was are common on Bay Area comment lines. “It is so sad what has happened over the years. All the great landmarks are long gone. The cultures of the neighborhoods are gone. I remember when everyone knew everyone that lived on their block. You could keep your house and car unlocked. There was no such thing as homelessness. All the houses were nicely painted with lawns and flowerbeds in front of them (Sunset District). And now it's some upscale, overcrowded, overpriced, toilet smelling, filthy mess with no semblance to the great city everyone is moving here for. They are buying a dream that died over 40 years ago. Bye, Bye Miss American Pie!"
SF IS OVER-PRICED, but so's the rest of the country as the money flows upward and the millions of people who try hard are squeezed harder all the time, their children waking up to the new reality that freezes them in economic place. There are downtown areas that reek of the urban campground but all of downtown is much more alive than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. If there were real progressives running the place, or even good old fashioned liberals, there isn't a single large-scale problem in SF that couldn't be at least softened by compelling the rich to tote their fair share of the social load.
GORDY GOES FASCIST, OR…
Doug McK was given a directive to action while live on air, in response to an FCC violation, so he should have done it. His organizational meeting for Members for Change was held that same day, so he can't have been hopelessly confused.
KMUD has no Open Lines program, but if station criticism is left on a message phone, it may or not be played. Sounds OK to me. As you put it, Bruce, KMUD sets the standard.
Yours, Gordy Black, Mendocino
PS: I'll support Doug for editor of the AVA, filling the vacancy.
ED REPLY: Or is it the neuro-cognitive malfunction characteristic of Alzheimer's with its constant repetition of same-same, the only new twist being McKenty as villain. PS. Yes, for the fourth time: KMUD sets the community radio standard. Always has.
JACK SILVER'S latest shakedown targets now include grape growers. Who's Jack Silver? In 1996 he set up a non-profit called RiverWatch based in Occidental, West Sonoma County. His board of directors consisted of himself and family members.
HERE'S HOW HE WORKS. Silver combs State Water Quality files for deep-pocket public agencies and private businesses who are in technical non-compliance with water safety regs. He then writes to the out-of-compliance entity saying, in effect, I won't sue you if you pay me not to sue you. Most governments — the cities of Ukiah, Ferndale, Willits, Fortuna, and many other small towns and small businesses settle with Silver because defending against him costs them more than their strained budgets can afford. He can be bought off for amounts ranging from $75,000 to around a hundred grand for writing one letter citing the violation he discovered in the state files. His profit margin is much greater than the guy growing grapes. Silver claims he reinvests a portion of his "winning" legal fees in "environmental remediation." At Fortuna, for example, he arranged to have a few trees planted along the Eel, a typical Silver eco-investment.
THIS GUY has found a lucrative niche for himself, loopholes in the law he can exploit under the guise of doing good environmental work.
THE NORTHCOAST'S invisible representatives — Thompson, Chesbro, Evans — were long ago alerted to Silver and his phony non-profit but, of course, have done about as much in the way of loophole remediation as Silver has done for clean water, i.e., nothing.
BUT SILVER may have over-reached his greedy self by taking on the grape business, many of whose lead figures are easily Silver's match in ruthless intractability. Silver, reinforced by a couple of unwitting accomplice-orgs, has now sent out his threatening letter to the grape people warning them that if they overdraw public streams to "frost protect," he's coming after them. He must have run out of municipalities to threaten. (Incidentally, the Mendocino County municipalities that Silver threatened were in the process of fixing whatever it was caused them to be written up by Water Quality.)
A MASTER of passive-aggressive prose, Silver's four-page shakedown letter to grape growers says he understands that vineyards are "working diligently" to protect fish but if they dare place "profit above compliance with the law," well, here comes Jack with the subpoenas. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this character would drink the entire Russian River watershed if it fattened his bottom line.
ON APRIL 29TH, 2011, there was a fish stranding on the upper Russian River when a bunch of grape growers turned on their river-sucking pumps all at once to spray their vines that frosty morning. Fish died in large numbers, not they exist lately in large numbers. State government responded a few months later with a proposal that grape growers prepare frost protection plans. The grape growers did a group whine-in in Judge Anne Moorman's court and won the right to all turn on their pumps at once to protect grapes from frost, fish or no fish. The water they're spraying, in theory, belongs to all of us. The grape growers claim it as their very own. (Silver and these people probably deserve each other, but…)
But now, a year later, here came Silver to threaten grape growers with suits for fish kills although the Federal National Marine Fisheries Service identified this hazard to fish three years ago, not Silver. Silver simply identified the wrongdoers by browsing the NMFS files to discover the grape growers who killed fish. Federal bureaucrats did the identifying for him. Silver then threatened to sue the growers unless they paid him not to sue.
LEAVE IT TO THE PRESS DEMOCRAT to sugar coat Silver's ongoing environmental racketeering with this headline over Friday's story about Silver's threats. “Environmentalists' warning irks grape growers.” “…Three Sonoma County organizations, including one with a long history of filing lawsuits, sent letters to hundreds of growers and vineyard managers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties outlining concerns about water draw-downs harming federally protected salmon and steelhead.”
FROM SILVER’S OWN LIST of people and organizations he’s sued or threatened to sue recently:
Violations of the Clean Water Act River Watch vs. K. Lunny and Drakes Bay Oyster Co. Date Filed: February 7, 2014 PDF: Complaint
Violations of the Endangered Species Act for California Tiger Salamander River Watch vs. County of Sonoma Date Filed: January 14, 2014 PDF: Complaint
Community Letter Requesting Cooperation in the Protection of Endangered Salmonids - Coho, Chinook and Steelhead Date Filed: February 3, 2014 PDF: Community Letter
Violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act River Watch vs. City of Livingston Date Filed: December 10, 2013 PDF: SDWA Notice
Violations of the Clean Water Act River Watch vs. Cold Creek Compost Date Filed: December 3, 2013 PDF: Supplemental CWA Notice
Violations of CWA River Watch vs. Fisher-Smith Boatworks Date Filed: August 9, 2013 PDF: CWA Notice
CWA Violation River Watch vs. Eureka/Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant Date Filed: June 28, 2013 PDF: CWA Notice
Violations of RCRA River Watch vs. BP-ARCO Date Filed: April 1, 2013 PDF: RCRA Notice
Violations of RCRA River Watch vs. Thrifty Oil Company/BP West Coast Products Date Filed: January 31, 2013 PDF: RCRA Notice
* * *
HERE’S A BACKGROND PIECE about Jack Silver and Riverwatch history from the AVA back in 2011.
CASH & CARRY ENVIRONMENTALISM: River Watch Sues Willits, Again.
by Bruce Anderson
A one-man environmental group is suing Willits.
The one man is Jack Silver. His solo environmental group is called River Watch. River Watch looks pretty good on paper, with sub-groups and a bunch of Silver's friends functioning as his boards of directors.
By suing or threatening to sue the municipalities of the NorthCoast for clean water work, the glib Sonoma County attorney has done quite well for himself, less well for the environment. He went after Willits years ago, emerging from that flurry of threats against the North County town with fat legal fees for himself, nothing for Willits that Willits wasn't already doing.
Silver is going after Willits again, this time over alleged contamination from an underground fuel tank dug up in 1999. The Occidental-based lawyer is suing under the federal Clean Water Act, alleging that the dug up tank is still polluting an aquifer.
The suit seeks the maximum penalty allowed by law — $37,500 per day for the past five years or some $68 million to get the site cleaner than clean. Those are big numbers, but Silver will take a relative pittance to drop his suit and go away.
And Willits will pay him to go away because Willits doesn't have the money to go to court to defend itself. Willits will have to settle because it can't afford to spend many thousands of public dollars defending itself in court.
In 2002, Silver threatened Willits with a multi-million dollar suit but settled for his fees of $40,000 and a $100 penalty.
This is what Silver does. Threatens to sue for millions, settles for a fast forty or fifty thousand for himself. Silver has done so well suing small towns like Willits and big towns like Santa Rosa he now has a second attorney to help him keep up. His man, Jerry Bernhaut, has just met with Willits' representatives with the usual offer: You pay us up front and we won't sue you.There are 37 open investigations for leaking underground storage tanks in Willits, but Bernhaut and River Watch claim, as reported in an excellent piece by Linda Williams of the Willits News, that “the really high contaminant levels and the proximity to Broaddus Creek attracted the attention of one of our members.”
How do Bernhaut and Jack Silver's paper enviro set-up, River Watch, know that?
They haunt the offices of State Water Quality, pawing through the files for possible violations.
Is Willits deliberately ignoring the proximity of Broaddus Creek to possible contaminants?
Willits has made extensive and conscientious efforts to clean up the site, efforts that are ongoing but, technically, a violation of the Clean Water laws exists.
And here come Hi Ho Silver and Bar The Door Bernhaut with just enough legal wiggle room to…..well, threaten Willits with a Clean Water lawsuit.
Silver's done it before. He sees Willits as an easy mark, a fatted public calf he can milk every few years.
Shaking Down Willits, a Chronology
• August, 2001 — Jack Silver, River Watch's Attorney and member of River Watch's board of directors, sends a letter of notice of intent to file suit against the City of Willits about deficiencies at the town's sewage plant. Silver deploys a boiler plate violation notice without ever meeting with anybody from the City of Willits. The letter does not specify the violations River Watch is alleging.
• End of August/Beginning September the City of Willits looks for help from the Willits Environmental Center. The Willits Environmental Center asks Jack Silver if the Willits Environmental Center can be included in the process that will resolve the alleged violations. River Watch is not interested in including Willits' enviros.
• September 7, 2001 — Jack Silver, Lynn Hamilton (River Watch's Executive Director), and Robert Rawson (River Watch consultant), meet with the City of Willits, presumably to find out what the City of Willits is doing about the violations at the sewage plant, which Willits itself had reported to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. At this meeting, of Willits, assuming River Watch is acting in good faith, invites River Watch to tour the wastewater treatment system and to review Willits' documents regarding the current system and the new system the town is building.
• September 17, 2001 — Due to River Watch's aggressive, hurry-up approach to the alleged sewage violations, the City of Willits works out a deal that allows Silver more prep time before River Watch files suit against them, a move that looks suicidal in retrospect.
• October 29, 2001 — Silver, Hamilton, and Rawson get a tour of Willits' wastewater treatment system and learn more about Willits and the nature of Willits' violations.
• December 13, 2001 — Silver hits the City of Willits with a boilerplate list of Clean Water Act violations and demands that Willits pay $50,000 in remediation funds in lieu of penalties and $40,000 attorney fees and costs. Silver's demand letter fails to address in any meaningful way specific violations. In fact, the demands are so poorly crafted that some of the points in the “remediation” would be impossible because the governing agencies would not grant Willits the necessary permits to do them.
• December 21, 2001 — The City of Willits, still naively assuming that River Watch is acting in the public interest, arranges to have the consulting firm designing their new wastewater treatment system to explain it to Silver, Hamilton, and Rawson. (Willits had employed the same firm that designed Arcata's famously efficient natural wastewater treatment system to design its wastewater treatment system.)
• January 2, 2002 — Silver asks for a tremendous amount of water and sewage-related information from the City of Willits, adding that he would like to “finalize a settlement of this case no later than mid-March.”
• January 22, 2002 — Willits supplies documents to Silver and assures Silver they'll send more.
• January 23, 2002 — Willits City Council invites Silver to come to a City Council meeting to discuss a settlement with the City of Willits at a City Council meeting open to the public. Silver refuses.
* * *
The City of Willits indeed had minor violations of the Clean Water Act. For instance, Willits couldn't meet the dilution factor (100:1) required by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. Though true, the ratio is hardly life-threatening. Silver grandly stated that the City was doing a good job in the circumstances, that it would be impossible not to have some violations.
River Watch failed to determine if any of the violations actually constituted a danger to the streams in and around Willits because River Watch had issued its demands before most of the information had been collected. Silver clearly desired a quick settlement without all the hassle of a lot of paperwork back-up necessary to an actual lawsuit against the town. Essentially, he was saying, “Give me the money and I'll go away.”
Silver's suggested “settlement” proposal to Willits was similarly vague and, of course, came with Silver's typically excessive legal fees into the non-bargain.
River Watch does not use “remediation” funds to fix violations. Silver funnels the money to other nebulous environmental groups affiliated with River Watch, e.g., those that just happen to share board members with River Watch, like the “Community Clean Water Institute.”
Community Clean Water Institute are the same people as River Watch, and both groups, at the time Silver sued Willits and Fortuna, were based in a post office box in Occidental.
When Silver swooped down on Fortuna with cash and carry allegations of violations of the Clean Water Act, Fortuna soon paid him his usual Go Away legal fees of 40-50,000 dollars plus another fifty or so in “remediation” fees that morphed into $15,000 per year for five years from the City of Fortuna to the Community Clean Water Institute, a paper subsidiary of River Watch.
• Who and what exactly was River Watch in 2001? They were not found listed among any other credible environmental organizations, e.g., International River Networks (www-irn-org).
• River Watch's own newletter confirmed they do not work with the communities they are saving from themselves; they do not remediate.
• River Watch did not have a dues-paying membership, but had collected some 500 people interested in joining River Watch based on River Watch's highly misleading description of itself. The names of these dupes are occasionally brandished to make it appear that River Watch is a kind of liquid Sierra Club.
• River Watch should be directing their cash-driven ire at the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, although such a re-direction would not provide River Watch and Silver the sweet monetary return Silver's lucrative interpretations of the Clean Water Act pay him.
• River Watch has always refused to meet in public forums to discuss their entirely self-alleged environmental work.
River Watch is a letterhead environmental with a mail drop in Occidental, West Sonoma County. It consists mostly of a lawyer named Jack Silver, and now Bernhaut, and Silver's handpicked board of directors. River Watch is organized as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt, do-good-for-the-earth entity whose primary benificiary is Jack Silver.
River Watch claims to be commited to the Clean Water Act. If you believe the nebulous group's mission statement it exists solely and selflessly to ensure that our water remains safe to drink and that our sewage is rendered harmless.
Incorporated in 1996 as a non-profit, River Watch claims to be keeping our drinking water potable by suing, or threatening to sue, public agencies guilty of shoddy water practices.
Silver, or his surrogates, haunt water regulatory agencies like the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board office in Santa Rosa for the latest inspection reports on municipal water supplies. Inevitably, Silver, or one of his agents, finds minor violations, which Silver then brandishes in the nonplussed faces of city councils and says, “Pay me and River Watch to go away or pay your lawyers to fight us in court.”
If Water Quality would make public agencies pay the small fines for the violations their own inspectors discover, Mr. Silver and River Watch would be out of business.
The law says public water agencies can't be sued twice for the same violations. Public agencies like Fortuna and Willits, to name two Silver victims, find themselves in the peculiar position of begging Water Quality to fine them so they won't be forced to pay Silver and River Watch what amounts to protection money. Water Quality, however, seems overly-reluctant to impose penalties, even token penalties.
Congressman Mike Thompson once made some noise about closing the loophole, but noise was the extent of Thompson's efforts.
Most public water agencies and their sponsoring municipalities pay one way or the other. If they settle with Silver and River Watch without a court fight, they pay Silver and River Watch, typically a minimum of forty to fifty thousand dollars in legal fees plus another forty or fifty for remediation as defined by Silver's subsidiary, Community Clean Water Institute.
If a municipality chooses to fight River Watch in court they also lose even if they win because they're out large legal fees. Most municipalities pay Silver to go away. Silver then allegedly distributes some of the proceeds to River Watch to do good things for the environment. Look real hard and you might find one.
Fortuna tried to fight Silver and River Watch but gave up when their legal bills grew larger than the amount Silver and River Watch had first demanded to not sue. Fortuna wound up paying Silver the hundred thousand dollars in fees he demanded when Fortuna was forced into settlement with him. Half that amount went to River Watch to do vague environmental good “in the Eel River basin.”
The good River Watch did?
Near as we can tell because River Watch isn't what anyone would describe as forthcoming, River Watch had its sister non-profit, the equivalently bogus Community Clean Water Institute, plant a few trees on the river bank.
Fortuna asked to see the particulars of the hundred thousand public dollars worth of billable legal work Fortuna was compelled to pay Silver for.
Silver told Fortuna it was none of Fortuna's business. And that was that.
The Justice Department subsequently denounced Silver's fees in the Fortuna case as “excessive.”
The person who answers Clean Water's phone seems to regard inquiries as impertinences, and becomes audibly indignant when asked to provide Clean Water's bona fides.
Also in 2001, Silver and his River Watch shakedown crew had notified the City of Ferndale that its sewage treatment plant was operating in violation of the Clean Water Act.
Silver gave Ferndale 60 days to either negotiate an agreement to pay him and River Watch and Community Clean Water or pay a lot of public money to fight River Watch in court.
Ferndale's beleaguered sewage treatment man, Randy Jensen, soon told the Associated Press, “We've spent astronomical amounts of money to make improvements here. We don't have anywhere near the number of violations these people claim. We've been making a good effort to get into total compliance with the law, but we only have so much money.”
Ferndale settled. It was much less expensive to pay Silver to go away than it was to fight him.
In 2004, Silver alleged that Ukiah's sewer plant was polluting the nearby Russian River. River Watch said aging sewer lines “may be leaking, increasing levels of pollutants possibly entering the river.”
A large encampment of drunks and drug addicts did indeed constitute a hazard to the Russian River, but dope heads and drunks usually aren't sue-able.
Silver's bogus suit against Ukiah also alleged that the city was “inadequately monitoring for groundwater contamination, including pollutants at storage ponds adjacent to the river.”
Which was straight-up untrue.
River Watch v. Ukiah demanded that the city remedy the alleged problems or pay $27,500 per violation per day for violating the Clean Water Act. The City would also be ordered to pay River Watch's attorneys' fees and costs in the lawsuit, which of course is the true reason for Silver's “concern” for the Russian River.
Ukiah paid Silver $50,000 to go away.
POLICE CALLS AS OF SUNDAY MORNING
Man On Porch In Sleeping Bag -- Caller in the 400 block of East Perkins Street reported at 4:38 a.m. Wednesday that a man was in a sleeping bag on the front porch. An officer responded and arrested a 54-year-old man for being under the influence of a controlled substance. He was cited and released.
Identity Theft -- Caller on Warren Drive reported at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday that someone was using her social security number to obtain services. An officer took a report.
Neighbor Won't Let His Dog On Grass -- Caller in the 300 block of Leslie Street reported at 11 a.m. Wednesday that his neighbor would not let him take his dog onto a nearby grassy area, even though he has a bag and picks up the dog's waste. An officer responded and advised both parties.
Transients In Front Of Credit Union -- Caller in the 100 block of South Orchard Avenue reported at 11:50 a.m. that two transients were hanging out in front of the business with a sleeping bag and one of them was drunk. An officer responded and arrested a 53-year-old woman for being drunk in public.
Shoplifter -- An officer responded to Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard at 12:53 p.m. Wednesday and arrested a 39-year-old Ukiah woman for theft.
Car Window Broken Out -- Caller in the 600 block of El Rio Street reported at 11:12 p.m. Wednesday hearing suspicious noises that were making him concerned because his car window was broken out the night before. An officer checked the area but did not see anything suspicious.
Student With Alcohol -- An officer responded to Ukiah High School on Low Gap Road at 7:31 a.m. Thursday and arrested a student for possession of alcohol. The teen was cited and released to a parent.
Dog Playing At School -- Caller at Yokayo Elementary School on South Dora Street reported at 7:58 a.m. Thursday that a black lab was running loose and playing with the students. An officer responded and took the dog to the animal shelter.
Neighbor Stealing Water -- Caller in the 800 block of Waugh Lane reported at 10:03 a.m. Thursday that a neighbor was filling up jugs with stolen water and taking them across the street. The caller requested extra patrols.
Shoplifter -- An officer responded to Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard at 11:44 a.m. Thursday and arrested a 30-year-old Ukiah woman for shoplifting. She was cited and released.
Purse Stolen Out Of Car -- Caller in the 1300 block of South Dora Street reported at 1:32 p.m. Wednesday that her purse was stolen out of her car when a window was broken. An officer responded and took a report.
Students With Alcohol -- An officer responded to Pomolita Middle School where it was reported that a boy had brought alcohol to school and given it to girls, who were drunk. An officer responded and cited the boy for bringing alcohol to school.
Shoplifter -- An officer responded to Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard at 2:35 p.m. Thursday and arrested a 32-year-old Ukiah woman for shoplifting. She was cited and released.
Camper In Field -- Caller at Pomolita Middle School reported at 2:59 p.m. Thursday a transient was camping at the ball field overnight and requested extra patrols.
Mail Stolen -- Caller in the 700 block of Waugh Lane reported at 3:02 p.m. Thursday that mail containing a W-2 form was stolen. An officer took the information.
Using Hot Tub Too Late -- Caller at a motel on South Orchard Avenue reported at 10:05 p.m. Thursday that the manager wanted to kick him out because he wanted to use the hot tub. An officer responded and advised both parties.
The following were compiled from reports prepared by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office:
Marijuana Sales -- Edward F. Strickler, 44, of Redwood Valley, was arrested at 11:55 p.m. Wednesday on suspicion of possessing marijuana for sale and booked at the county jail under $25,000 bail. The MCSO arrested him.
DUI -- Don R. Leschke, 47, of Windsor, was arrested at 7:47 p.m. Thursday on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a license suspended for DUI and violating his probation, and booked at the county jail. The California Highway Patrol arrested him.