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Mendocino County Today: Sunday, April 13, 2014

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THE HEADLINE ASKS: “Are Americans having small dogs instead of babies?” Evidently. No confirmation from the obstetrics units but, anecdotally, I see an awful lot of young people with dogs of all sizes. I also see lots of driven young people with the whole contempo-package — babies, dogs, strollers, headphones, occasionally glancing at their handheld gizmos as they jog!

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND FIRST LADY MICHELLE have paid $98,169 in taxes on their $481,098 income for the 2013 fiscal year. The rightwing doesn't think it's enough. I don't either, but it's a pretty good whack, and a much larger percentage than lots of big income earners pay as they take phony deductions and, wrapping themselves in the flag, hide their money overseas.

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Nothing is so beautiful as spring —

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. — Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

— Gerald Manley Hopkins

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The following were compiled from reports prepared by the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Cherish Y. Cram, 29, of Ukiah, was arrested at 8 p.m. April 4 on suspicion of domestic assault and child endangerment, and booked at the county jail under $25,000 bail. The Willits Police Department arrested her.

DUI WITH PRIORS -- Charles M. Sperling, 38, of Willits, was arrested at 12:19 a.m. April 5 on suspicion of driving under he influence with prior convictions and booked at the county jail under $15,000 bail. The CHP arrested him.

DUI -- David J. Miller, 34, of Laytonville, was arrested at 1:41 a.m. April 5 on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit, and booked at the county jail under $30,000 bail. The CHP arrested him.

ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON -- Michael K. Arnold, 54, of Eugene, Ore., was arrested at 11:26 a.m. April 5 on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and booked at the county jail under $20,000 bail. The WPD arrested him.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Bruce T. Neville, 53, of Ukiah, was arrested at 12:07 p.m. April 5 on suspicion of domestic assault and booked at the county jail under $50,000 bail. The Ukiah Police Department arrested him.

DUI -- Joshua C. Cate, 39, of Willits, was arrested at 1:44 p.m. April 5 on suspicion of driving under the influence and booked at the county jail under $5,000 bail.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Shayna D.M. Williams, 25, of Willits, was arrested at 3 p.m. April 5 on suspicion of domestic assault and booked at the county jail under $25,000 bail. The MCSO arrested her.

DUI -- David J. Murray, 28, of Lucerne, was arrested at 8:42 a.m. April 6 on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and booked at the county jail. The WPD arrested him.

GRAND THEFT -- Lorri M. Lawrence, 35, of Ukiah, was arrested at 11:16 a.m. April 6 on suspicion of grand theft and booked at the county jail. The MCSO arrested her.

MARIJUANA TRANSPORT -- Chase A. Rolfsen, 26, of Encinitas, was arrested at 11:50 a.m. April 6 on suspicion of transporting marijuana for sale and driving with a suspended driver's license, and booked at the county jail. The MCSO arrested him.

METH SALES -- Michael I. Brown, 53, of Ukiah, was arrested at 11:54 a.m. April 6 on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine for sale, possessing a controlled substance for sale and violating his parole terms, and booked at the county jail. The UPD arrested him.

MARIJUANA TRANSPORT -- Tyrell P. Rohrer, 28, of Long Beach, was arrested at 12:33 p.m. April 6 on suspicion of transporting marijuana for sale and booked at the county jail. The MCSO arrested him.

DUI -- Eric L. Olijnyk, 36, of San Diego, was arrested at 1:40 p.m. April 6 on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit and driving with a suspended license, and booked at the county jail. The CHP arrested him.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Daniel J. Montalvo, 28, of Ukiah, was arrested at 2:37 p.m. April 6 on suspicion of domestic assault and booked at the county jail under $25,000 bail. The UPD arrested him.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE -- Vicki L. Balmain, 59, of Willits, was arrested at 2:45 p.m. April 6 on suspicion of domestic assault and booked at the county jail under $25,000 bail. The MCSO arrested her.

DUI -- David J. Maurer, 48, of Willits, was arrested at 3:23 p.m. April 6 on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit, and booked at the county jail under $15,000 bail. The CHP arrested him.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE -- David L. Furr, 38, of Windsor, was arrested at 1:17 p.m. Wednesday on suspicion of committing sexual acts on a child, committing lewd or lascivious acts on a child younger than 14 and showing lewd material with the intent to seduce a minor, and booked at the county jail under $420,000 bail. The MCSO arrested him.



The following were compiled from reports prepared by the California Highway Patrol:

DUI, RECKLESS EVADING ARREST -- Peter A. Richardson, 59, of Ukiah, was stopped in the 300 block of Sanel Drive at 3:24 p.m. April 3 and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit, recklessly evading a peace officer and resisting or obstructing a peace officer.

DUI, METH SALES ARREST -- Eric Gonzalez, 24, of Ukiah, was stopped in the 2900 block of North State Street at 11:30 p.m. April 6 and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit, selling methamphetamine, driving without a license and violating his probation terms.

DUI ARREST -- Buffy M. Lyons, 39, of Santa Rosa, was stopped on Laws Avenue at South State Street at 1:10 a.m. Tuesday and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

DUI ARREST -- Scott L. Finney, 47, of Ukiah, was stopped on Old River Road at 5:33 p.m. Tuesday and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit, driving with a suspended license and violating his probation terms.

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Last week we described the County Supervisors’ halting attempt to rezone a few acres of Ukiah-area property for “affordable housing” to meet an arbitrary state-imposed, court-ordered mandate for about 17 acres zoned R-3, multi-unit residential. Multi-unit residential is the primary zoning category for “affordable housing” because — in theory — it concentrates the construction in a smaller area, creates some economies of scale, and saves a bit on utilities. During that discussion, the lawyer for one of the parcels targeted for rezoning to R-3, the Zaina vineyard property south of Ukiah, invoked the memory of the “Garden’s Gate” project, pointing out that while zoned R-3, it probably won’t ever provide “affordable housing” to anyone for a variety of reasons. For those who came in late, those reasons had as much to do with Mendocino County itself, as it did with the proposed development. So today we are reprising our coverage of the Garden’s Gate project to demonstrate how futile the subject of housing development — affordable or not — in Mendocino County is when it comes down to hammers and nails.

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by Mark Scaramella

(September 30, 2009) Ukiah Developer Chris Stone imagined his Garden’s Gate development for an abandoned vineyard south of Ukiah in early 2005. After almost five years of completely inexcusable — and illegal — delays, the County and the Board of Supervisors finally got around to considering Stone’s costly Environmental Impact Report on September 21, 2009.

Stone wants approval to build a Major Subdivision with 200 lots on the 46.1 acre site, including 197 lots for 123 detached single-family dwellings and 74 townhouse dwellings, including 36 units reserved for “mod­erate-income households,” plus two lots of 2.3 acres each for parks, and a 13.1 acre remainder parcel.

Although on the south end of Ukiah just outside the city limits, the parcel is in Supervisor David Colfax’s Fifth District.

AVA readers may recall that Mr. Stone appeared before the Board of Supervisors back in July of 2008 complaining about a lack of response to his June appearance when he complained that it was taking way too long for the County to process his permit request. Back then Colfax and CEO Tom Mitchell were assigned to see what was taking so long. Mitchell and Colfax predictably never did anything beyond saying they'd look into it, and the project has lan­guished until now.

On paper, Mr. Stone has made a good faith effort to comply with Mendocino County’s stated desire for housing development, including a portion of so-called affordable housing (basically slightly smaller multi-unit condo-type houses on somewhat smaller, cramped parcels).

It’s also obvious that Mr. Stone’s application has taken so long to process that while it was in permit-limbo the bottom has fallen out of the housing market in Ukiah (and everywhere else).

The delay is certainly not Mr. Stone’s fault, but it has meant that Mr. Stone is under some pressure from his investors to get something going, even if the something is unlikely to result in sales of new homes set down tract style in a town whose newspaper announces new foreclosures every day.

One of the closest observers of the Garden’s Gate project has been Michael Maltas, a neighbor of the project and a professional landscaper. Mr. Maltas has made a point of familiarizing himself with not only the project, but with the circumstances surrounding it.

In a recent letter to Supervisor Colfax, Mr. Maltas wrote:

“…there is major opposition by a large number of residents [neighbors] to linking the vehicular traffic of this development to Oak Knoll Road [the second/rear entrance to the site]. The idea does not even have the support of the developer, as I have asked him. If you look at the way the roads are where this is all meant to happen you will see that it is idiotic and dangerous, let alone a very intrusive and unwanted traffic burden on a quiet neighborhood. I'm sure a full explanation of the many negative impacts of this proposed idea will be vociferously given by residents at the hearing.

“Another issue of course is water. The developer is painting a lush and welcoming ‘French Chateau’ type environment for the 200 odd homes proposed. All this takes water and we are already under restrictions. Why on earth would anyone want to add more use to already restricted use for those already living here? It does not make the slightest sense to me and who knows if the future will cooperate with increasing wet years. It could very well go to more and more drought.

“Incidentally, I don’t buy the fancy French graphics [that Mr. Stone used at his Planning Commission hearing] one bit. A high density suburban area is just that, and we all know how they look in reality unless we are talking dwellings three times the projected price range implied.

“At the last Planning Commission hearing on this project [in July] I was appalled to hear the developer request to table numerous of the ‘expenses’ in the hopes of generating some income first, by being allowed to build and sell some houses before spending money on the ‘extras.’ These ‘cuts’ were with regard to traffic flow and aesthetics, etc. which would supposedly enable the developer to get some money back for the expenses to date so that they could continue at a later date with the rest of the project. This was very unsettling. Sort of like, ‘Can you please let us just do the stuff that will enable us to make some money but leave the rest until we see how things work out — Ummmm, and maybe we won't get to it’!

“Along with this there were numerous questions raised by the planning commissioners and the public where it seemed the answers were a moving target and ‘undefined as yet.’ Much of [Mr. Stone’s] plans are that way too and are ‘subject to change as circumstances dictate.’ The exact nature and number of houses and phases of the project became more and more unclear to me the further into the hearing we got. It was not confidence building!

“On a more macro level, this whole development seems ludicrous. It is clear that what Ukiah needs is more jobs that pay a decent wage rather than more houses that will only increase our labor base and force people to undercut the few jobs that are already here. How are those houses going to be paid for in this economy? Driving to Santa Rosa to work? More of the same old scenario? That recently led to the highest foreclosure rates in Ukiah at our already existing ‘high density suburbs’ — The Forks and Empire Gardens. I have been told by a top Ukiah realtor that over 50% of all these homes have already been in and out of foreclosure and it has not stopped. We need more of these types of homes? Some weeks back there were 119 single family homes for sale in Ukiah alone, and prices had dropped to 1990 levels ($156k) in Empire Gardens. This figure does not include apartments, condos, rentals, mansions, etc. and also nothing outside of greater Ukiah, such as Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Hopland, Calpella, Talmage, etc. Maybe we should work off the inventory we have before flooding it with more! There is already ‘cheap housing’ available!

“We don't need this ‘Garden's Gate’ thing. It is ridiculous. Maybe 20 houses I could go for, but 200? It is way out of line with the reality of what we need in this valley.”

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Then there’s the bogus “will-serve” letter from the already restricted and overdrawn Willow Water District which says they’ll provide water for the project.

The will-serve letter is obsolete. Dated June 7, 2005, it contains no evidence of how Willow will “serve” Garden’s Gate.

County policy says no development should be approved without a proper demonstration that there’s enough water to supply them.

The Willow District letter, signed by a Mr. Redding, General Manager, simply says, “The District has determined that while it has sufficient water supplies to provide service to this project…” But not the plumbing to hook up to it. Mr. Stone will have to pay at least $400,000 to get the water, if there is any water, to his proposed houses.

The Ukiah Valley Sanitation District also provided a similarly outdated will-service letter dated May 31, 2005.

Sewer connection fees in 2005 were about $12,000 per hook-up, but, they said, those fees could go up to $17k per hook-up, which means a staggering $2.4 million to Mr. Stone at the very minimum. Probably much more.

The latest report from the Local Area Formation Commission issued last year on water at the south end of Ukiah says, “Willow Water District and Hopland Public Utilities District have for decades used water wells that they considered percolated groundwater. Recently, the State determined that this water was underflow water to the Russian River that required a permit. These two agencies were ordered to apply for permits. … If ordered to seek a permit, given the water circumstances and the [overappropriated] condition of the Russian River, it will take years before the permit process is completed.”

In 2006, the Grand Jury did a study of the Ukiah Valley Water Districts which, in part, reported, “Projections of population growth and development within the County and specifically in the Ukiah/Potter Valley Area indicate that continued availability of adequate water resources will be problematic.”

The Willow Water District responded, “We expect 2% growth per year. We have planned on that assumption. If the assumptions in the UVAP are different we will update our projections.”

Which is your basic non-response response.

In fact, customers of the Willow Water District are now under severe water usage restrictions because of the drought-like rainfalls of recent winters, on top of the previous restrictions.

But nobody in official Mendocino County has raised so much as a single concern about all these water and sewer questions.

The Willow Water District has told neighbors they will need to increase their storage capacity to handle Garden’s Gate's projected water needs. But there are no plans to do that. And nobody knows where the water to fill that new storage would come from if it was built.

Update: We just learned this week that Mr. Stone has recently upped and moved to Chile — permanently. No one knows why, or who the new lead developer for the Garden's Gate project is.

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by Mark Scaramella

(October 21, 2009) On October 6 the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the 200-unit housing development project south of Ukiah known as “Garden’s Gate.”

Ironists traveling Ukiah's State Street north of Garden's Gate will wonder where the garden is, but irony is as scarce in the Ukiah Valley these days as water at this proposed tract at a time of the collapse of the housing market.

The project was originally proposed over four years ago. One would have thought that crucial considerations such as water, sewer, and emergency vehicle access would have been addressed, if not resolved, by now.

But no attempt was made to calculate how much water the project would use or if there was enough water available to supply the development.

The County’s recently completed General Plan Update says, “Development of residential, commercial, or industrial uses shall be supported by water supply and wastewater treatment systems adequate to serve the long-term needs of the intended density, intensity, and use.”

And the emergency second access road was unanimously opposed by the neighbors on the grounds that it would increase traffic to unacceptable levels.

So, of course, the supervisors approved the project 4-0. (Supervisor Kendall Smith was absent “by pre-arrangement.”)

But they did so only after a heated and, at times, testy exchange between Ukiah Valley Fire Chief Dan Grebil and the supervisors, during which Chief Grebil sarcastically accused the board of assuming responsibility for fire code compliance. Grebil said that the Board was deciding what kind of emergency vehicle access would be required without consulting him. In passing he mentioned that the Board could simply waive the need for a second access road by requiring fire sprinklers in the homes. But that would be very expensive.

Instead, project spokesperson Jack May was surprisingly agreeable to the sprinkler solution even though, by his own estimate, it will cost the proposed development some $1.5 million more than a second emergency vehicle access road would cost.

When the Supervisors saw that Mr. May wouldn’t seriously object to increasing the cost of his houses by several thousand dollars per unit, they jumped on the idea and congratulated each other at length for their “win-win solution.”

But the Board’s discussion of water for the project set a new County low for ignoring liquid realities.

Fifth District supervisorial candidate Dan Hamburg stood to say in opening public comments that he lived “just around the corner” from the project in the same Willow Water District that is supposed to supply water to the project’s homes.

Hamburg told the board that the Willow District “is kind of on the edge in terms of providing water in their district. We have friends who are on the waiting list because of capacity issues.” Hamburg cited several of the major concerns we had raised in our previous Garden's Gate project assessment, then concluded, “I haven't heard these issues discussed. … I hope [the water supply issue] is carefully considered.”

The board didn’t bother to respond and went immediately on to the next speaker.

Hamburg's point was that there are already people presently waiting for Willow to hook them up for water while Willow blithely promises to supply water for 200 new homes.

When it was the developer’s turn to speak, a Mr. Andy Gustafson, “planning consultant for the applicant,” told the board that he had spoken to Russian River Flood Control District Manager Sean White and that Mr. White told him that water would be available. “When the project is ready he [White] has capacity to serve,” said Gustafson. “He has rights to give to Willow. This project will not be taking away water that's currently supplying Willow.”

Note that Mr. Gustafson conveniently muddled the terms “rights” with the term “water.” Water rights are dry pieces of paper. Water is wet. This simple but important distinction was lost on the Board and the rest of the officials for the rest of the day.

Supervisor Colfax seemed to have a vague idea that maybe something about water should be brought up. “There are thousands of things about this project that we don't know,” said Colfax. “Starting with water. Can we make it a matter of examination and consideration?”

Senior Planner Frank Lynch replied, “You can't make it today. You'd have to build in a supplemental assessment into the EIR.”

This was an open admission that the water question had been ignored for four years.

Colfax: “How do we build in a supplemental assessment?”

Lynch: “That would be something that cannot be done today. [Laughs dismissively.] If you don't want to approve the project as submitted today… Uh, what you have before you is this project. If you want to consider that alternative [no alternative had been proposed] you'd have to continue it and have more environmental work done.”

Colfax feebly replied, “Ok, thank you. Water issues are not addressed in this document. Assurances of various individuals… those issues probably won't be there when the project moves forward.”

Lynch: “Water is always a big question. This EIR is the best information we have. [Amazingly, the EIR says nothing about water availability or adequacy.] The best information we have is that Willow has sufficient water to serve its customers today and projected through, I believe it's 2025, by their own water estimates [they have made no estimates], that they have sufficient water. Their deficit that they have is in water storage. This project would provide additional storage. So based on the best information we have today, I think it's apples and oranges between, um, the water, the water volume that serving the customers and the need for their conservation efforts today because we're having a drought but also, if we have this project you have additional storage… the district has sufficient water resources licensed to them that they can provide for additional service connections that would include this project.”

Pure bullshit, of course, with Colfax conveniently conceding that the availability of water for the development in water-scarce Ukiah was not of concern.

Colfax: “So the reference to Cadillac Desert or whatever it is is not, uh, doesn't have validity.”

Lynch: “Based on the information we have from the EIR and from Willow Water District — Yes.”

Which is a teensy indication of how Las Vegas got built in the middle of a desert. Ukiah's water is, as the phrase goes, “fully appropriated,” and has been for years, but Lynch and Colfax have concluded there's plenty more for ever more suburbs.

Supervisor John Pinches, who in other contexts is quite sensible on water issues and realizes that water supply in the Ukiah Valley is a problem, didn’t think the water question was even worth bringing up.

“On this water issue,” said Pinches, “if we don't accept a will serve letter from the water district… Isn't that the standard that you ask for when anybody comes in asking for a building permit or anything? They have to prove water means, and if they give you a will serve letter that's what your stand is, right?”

Lynch (thinking real, real hard): “Yes.”

Actually, no. Building permits require an expert analysis with proof of adequate water availability. Not just an unsubstantiated form letter from a water district that just wants more paying customers. But never mind. Go for totally unsubstantiated assurances.

Pinches: “And I'm assuming that the water districts know enough about the water issues that they are not going to issue will serve letters if they can't meet the demand, the needs. So I don't see this water issue, you know… Willow Water District is not even… they're not even in the… they have no… they're not in real strict conservation measures… I think Supervisor Brown can comment on the workings of Millview water [sic, not Willow], but my point of it is if we don't take a standard of a will serve letter from a water district then what more do we want? I mean, that's been our standard of water availability in the past and it somehow even in these dry year times it seems to be working.”

In living fact, will serve letters are issued all the time with no analysis at all. All they require is the vote of the Water District Board and a signature from the water district manager. Since will serve letters are an easy way for a small, cash-strapped water district to sign up additional paying customers, they are always quite willing to promise to serve new customers. Cloverdale promised water to whole neighborhoods of new homes, some of which are still not hooked up. But what the hey? Give ’em the will serve letter and worry about it later.

The Supervisors should have had Sean White and the Willow Water boys standing at the mike promising there was water, in writing, with charts and graphs in hand, but White was said to be “reluctant to testify” and Willow was invisible beyond their piece of paper saying they'd serve the agua.

Supervisor Carre Brown, the Board's water crisis point person, didn’t think there was a problem either.

“I don't believe that Willow Water District has a moratorium on it at this time,” said Brown. “That's one. And I know that there is some dispute about the wells as to whether it is aquifer or underflow. But that still has not caused, I believe, the State Water Board to go forward on any restrictions. The conservation measures that were set forth actually came about as a result of the county's ordinance rather than Willow's.”

Later in the meeting Supervisor John McCowen brought up the water question.

“On the water, we're concerned about, gee if we change something then the EIR won't be adequate,” said McCowen. “On the issue of water, there is a letter from the Department of Health Services, or an acknowledgment, that yes, Willow's got plenty of water.”

Again, McCowen is confusing the issue. The Department of Health Services only deals with adequate supplies of drinking water — not overall adequate supplies.

“But that's not really looking at the validity of the underlying permits,” continued McCowen. “I think the Chair is correct, we typically accept a will serve letter and call that good. And I'm not proposing to change that standard at this late date for this project, but I think we should say for the record that the issue of whether the Millview [sic, again, not Willow], all of the Millview wells are, or I believe they are what they refer to as Burke Hill well field, the issue of whether that is percolated ground water or underflow to the Russian River is very much an open question is my understanding. Where the EIR is deficient, I think, is they talked to the Department of Health Services, they don't talk to the State Water Resources Control Board. I think that's kind of a glaring admission, and I just wonder if staff has any response to, to that issue?

Note the heavy use of the words “I think,” “I believe,” “I wonder,” etc. And the repeated, intentionally misleading use of the word “they.”

Lynch: “You can disagree with the EIR and still certify it. Bringing out this discrepancy is a valid point.”

McCowen: “I just wish they had acknowledged the issue. Which they failed to do.”

Total failure to acknowledge the water question. That’s right, Mr. McCowen.

McCowen continued.

“To Mr. Gustafson, you made some reference to possibly purchasing some additional water from the Flood Control district. Because currently Willow has a contract for 900 acre feet. So what was your comment in reference to?”

Gustafson: “Willow would receive an allocation from Flood Control upon this project being approved. The Flood Control District has, and here's where I have to rely on my power point, has an amount of water rights. It's not all allocated. The unallocated portion would be directed toward Willow for this project. It wouldn't take away any water from any ratepayers within the water district itself. The project would purchase that water. It would have an annual contract with the, uh, um, I guess it would be with the Flood Control District.”

Mr. Gustafson again confuses water rights with actual water. He also isn’t clear on who the project will contract with. And his hearsay about what Willow would do and what the Flood Control District would do is completely unsubstantiated and not documented anywhere. And no one asked to speak to Mr. White or the Willow Water District.

McCowen: “Well, I guess I'm still a little confused. I think I understand you to be saying that if this project is approved then there will be an additional purchase of water from the Flood Control District.

Gustafson: “Correct.”

McCowen: “Beyond what Willow currently is contracted for.”

Gustafson: “Yes.”

McCowen: “And is that reflected in one of the conditions?”

Gustafson (nervously): “Um… It's embodied within the will serve. But not explicitly stated. That's, um, upon issuance of the will serve letter by the water district, it will have executed that contract or that transaction, that allocation would occur.”

The will serve letter was issued in 2005.

McCowen: “Thank you. In the Planning Commission minutes of July 16 you make reference to an agreement. It says you added that there were public concerns about the drought and those concerns would be mitigated by an agreement with Sonoma County relative to water drawn from Lake Mendocino.”

Gustafson: “Yes, and here, um, pun intended, I'm outta my water. There is institutional, um, uh, the Flood Control District and the Sonoma County water agency have an agreement that has to do with how water is being allocated, or being stored within a reservoir here in Mendocino County. Apparently Sonoma County water will not take as much as it has historically. There will be more storage within the reservoir which will increase capacity. And I must underscore here, this water, as Frank was saying, is a thick issue. And I had hoped that Sean White could be here to explain this but he was very reluctant to do so. I don't know if there are other members of the board that can speak directly to this issue.” (Mr. Gustafson looked around the room, hoping for some kind of back-up.)

McCowen: “A condition I would like to see staff develop would be to explicitly state that the water to serve this project will come from an additional allocation that will be contracted for from, uh, the Flood Control district. They are representing that that's what the will serve letter says and I haven't read the letter, but, uh…”

Pinches reiterated the Vegas approach to water development.

“Well, first of all Willow has the ability and the right to drill another well,” said Pinches, as if that had anything to do with anything. “If they feel they need more capacity for more customers, they have that right. So to make this a contingent where it has to be… You know, the Russian River Flood Control allotment is only one source of water in this county and it's only one source that's available to Willow.”

McCowen: “It's the source that's available to them in the summer, primarily. They do have one other, I think, that provides for a portion of their needs during the summer. But the reason they need the contract with the Flood district is to cover the summer.”

Pinches: “Well, the city of Ukiah just drilled two wells to expand their capacity so the Millview, the Willow, or any other water district still has that right that they can exercise too.”

(Reminds me of that old joke about the plumber: “What did the plumber say when he saw two holes in the ground? “Well, well!”)

McCowen: “Well then, depending on whether that's percolated groundwater or underflow, they either can or can't use it during certain times of the year.”

Planner Lynch realized that there wasn’t yet enough muddled gibberish to move forward. So he jumped in to close the gibberish gap.

“I have an excerpt or a section from the Ukiah Valley Area Plan that is the drinking water adequacy assessment,” said Lynch opening a big impressively thick binder called the DRAFT Ukiah Valley Area Plan. “It summarizes that the State Water Board had notified Willow that they felt that a couple of their wells were potentially underflow. And, um, [reading] ‘SWRCB… that the diversion at the Burke wells was covered under its agreement with the, um, I'm blanking out, MCFC District, um, conservation district, district, for up to 900 acre feet per year that would be fulfilling a petition to add the Burke Hill well field as an additional point of diversion pursuant to … some permits. Willow retained its right to contest that the water was underflow. In 2006, the [State Water] Board agreed to amend the district permit and license and consider the issue resolved. So they feel — I'm summarizing from this — that the issue of underflow for at least those wells was resolved. It goes on to say that with the addition of a 250,000 gallon tank that district will have the storage to meet 80% of the district's current requirements. By the year 2025 the district's storage sufficiency is projected to grow by, um, a large number of gallons, assuming the 2500 gallons is the source. But in summary I think that it says that the, um, the state has concluded that Willow has sufficient water to serve this project.”

The level of pure bullshit in that statement from Mendo’s high-paid Chief Planner sets a major league record for local bullshit.

But Supervisor McCowen had heard enough: “Thank you.”

Supervisor Colfax, however, hadn’t quite heard enough.

“How old is that will serve letter?” asked Colfax. “About five years?”

Lynch: “I believe it was 2005 or 6.” [It was 2005.]

Colfax: “I'm a little concerned about the fact that when we talk about DDR we invoke the LAFCO report.”

Colfax was referring to Local Area Formation Commission Director Frank McMichael’s official conclusion that when it comes to water the Ukiah Valley is not only tapped out, it’s way, way over-committed.

“If we were to invoke the LAFCO report in this discussion,” said Colfax, “which I'm not sure it would be helpful to do so, but we might be coming to some very different conclusions about whether or not there is the possibility of, uh, of, uh, providing water, having water provided. But, water, I guess the phrase right now is it's a very difficult and complex matter, so that's, uh, that's somewhat, uh, beside the point.”

Lack of water is beside the point.

During the discussion of his project, Jack May was completely unconcerned about the water problem and was so willing to eat the high cost of sprinklers in every home that it seemed like he didn’t really care what the Board of Supervisors did.

But, as the Supervisors were about to put away their rubber stamps for the day, Mr. May blurted out the true reason for his indifference.

Garden's Gate will die of thirst in the over-appropriated water of the Ukiah Valley.

“Currently we can't finance this project because the market just sucks,” said May with the rhetorical elegance of a 12-year-old. “Hopefully the market will get better and, uh…”

May then free-associated into a discussion he had with his insurance broker; the broker told May that the mythical homeowners in his Never To Be Built Garden's Gate housing tract might get a little break on their fire insurance with sprinklers installed.

In other words, like DDR and DDR's hamfisted attempt to get a re-zone for their shopping mall on the old Masonite site, we don’t want to actually build anything, we just want this plan we spent money on approved so we can turn around and sell the property to somebody else and get the hell outtahere.

As of last month, Chris Stone, Garden's Gate Developer Numero Uno lives in Chile, which is way outtahere.

The board then voted 4-0 on all the various motions to approve the EIR, the site plan, the development permit, and the project. Bang, bang, bang. Approved.

Supervisor Pinches summed up.

“Maybe in some counties a 200-lot subdivision is small, but in Mendocino County it's a big deal. Addressing all the neighbors concerns and having everyone walk out of this room happy is government at its best.”

* * *

IT’S NOW 2014, another five years later, and here’s a picture of the Garden’s Gate project:


* * *


Investors and Savers Need a Chance to Recover

by Ralph Nader

On April 9th, shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from across the country converged upon Washington, D.C. to make their voices heard in the halls of Congress. And Tim Pagliara, an investment advisor who also owns shares of stock in Fannie and Freddie, launched the Investors Unite coalition. As the housing finance reform debate heats up on Capitol Hill it is vital that the voices of shareholders – which have, until now, been ignored – are heard so that a bad precedent not be set for disenfranchised investors.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), which buy mortgages on the secondary market, pool them, and resell them as mortgage backed securities. Their business helps support and finance the secondary mortgage market. In principle, this is supposed to help keep mortgage rates down and make products like the 30-year mortgage available to borrowers.

Since the 2008 bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the beginning of their conservatorship, the stockholders of these two companies, of which I am one, have been stripped of their basic rights as shareholders.

Prior to the financial crisis, shareholders of these companies had legal rights to challenge management decisions through the courts and through proxy battles, or by offering shareholder resolutions. Many prudent investors purchased Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac common stock because these stocks were considered safe investments. In the spring and summer of 2008, knowledgeable, high-ranking government officials like the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and the GSEs’ regulator James B. Lockhart, publically and explicitly claimed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rock-solid companies to reassure their owners.

On September 7, 2008, when the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) established a conservatorship for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, common shareholders lost their voting rights, dividends on preferred and common stock were suspended, and annual shareholder meetings were canceled. Share values plunged to pennies, and countless small and institutional investors who viewed their investments in Fannie and Freddie as secure were financially devastated. Obviously they were deceived by top government officials.

At the time, the administration, the FHFA, the Treasury, and Congress all left shareholders with the impression that the conservatorship was a necessary, but temporary, measure to address the GSEs’ immediate liquidity concerns. The legal mandate of the conservatorship was – and is – to “conserve and preserve the assets” of the companies taken into conservatorship and “restore them to safe and sound condition.” But, at this point, neither goal is being advanced by the FHFA or the Treasury.

In 2012, as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were returning to profitability despite financial and operating restrictions on their activities, the U.S. Treasury unilaterally changed the terms of its investment in the GSEs to its own benefit. The Treasury replaced the already well-above-market 10 percent dividends that the GSEs were paying to a “sweep” taking all of the profits of the companies. The GSEs are now sending nearly all of their earnings to Treasury, cannot rebuild their capital, and their shareholders remain in a limbo where they are neither eliminated nor given an opportunity to recover.

The federal government helped stabilize AIG and Citigroup, both of which had investors who were allowed to benefit from the recovery of these companies. It should be no different when it comes to the GSEs’ shareholders, who, in addition, are very useful to the U.S. Treasury in keeping the GSEs’ liabilities off the government’s deficit.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders are not asking for a subsidy. Taxpayers should be paid back in full for their support of the GSEs during the financial crisis. And in fact, taxpayers have already recouped their investment. In March of this year, the two GSEs had finally paid more back to the federal government in dividends – $192 billion – than the $187.5 billion bailout they received.

But the abuse of Fannie and Freddie shareholders isn’t yet over. A number of proposals for housing finance reform have recently been advanced in Congress. Most notable is Senators Johnson’s and Crapo’s bill.

Taxpayers, consumers and shareholders should have serious reservations about this proposal for housing finance reform. It does not sufficiently protect taxpayers from being saddled with another bailout. It does not advance adequate support for affordable and low-income housing for underserved communities. It sets an objectionable precedent for shareholder rights and treatment in this country. Specific concerns about this bill can be found in a letter I wrote to Senators on the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  To see the letter, visit

Unfortunately, the legislative proposals in the Senate and the House do not adequately anticipate the greed and power embedded on Wall Street in its incentive structure. And without laying out a strict regulatory structure, they seem to wrongfully assume that private capital will regulate itself. Do we really want to give even more power to the ‘Too Big to Fail’ banks that were principally responsible for this crisis to begin with?

The GSEs were certainly not blameless for transgressions similar to those larger ones committed by the Wall Street crowd prior to the financial crisis in 2008. But to eliminate the GSEs and unravel this intricate market further, Congress could be opening the door wide for runaway corporate exploitation. We aren’t arguing that the GSEs should be maintained as is; but instead urge they be regulated strongly to prevent their previous missteps and abuses.

Shareholders have begun to fight back by bringing lawsuits challenging Treasury’s “Third Amendment” dividend sweep. This is a good step – but this isn’t enough; shareholder voices need to be heard in Congress.

The news conference on April 9th, followed by meetings on the Hill, was a sign that investors – big and small, individual and institutional – are getting fired up and fighting back. Shareholders from 20 different states made the trip to D.C. to kick off this campaign. Investors at the event were holding signs that read “Where is Our Due Process?” and “Don’t Wipe Us Out!” One of the speakers, Haran Kumar, an IT professional from Georgia and investor in Fannie Mae, said of his investment “I believed it was a sound decision based on statements and laws that politicians had enacted. None of us are saying don’t reform the housing sector. We are saying do it appropriately, respecting the laws that you have enacted.” Mr. Kumar continued, “One of the big issues is we are not being heard. We are taxpayers too.”

I urge other Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders, individual and institutional, who have yet to come forward to join us and make their voices heard in the coming weeks and months.

Visit to learn more about what you can do to protect shareholder rights.

(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)

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