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Off the Record (June 4, 2014)

THE THREE PERSONS arrested earlier this week in a Fort Bragg DEA raid, complete with helicopter, are identified as Rebecca Reynolds, 53, her daughter Jayne Reynolds, 28 and Travis Nichols, 25, all of Fort Bragg, which is probably Mom, Daughter and Daughter's Boy Friend. The feds allege that these three shipped 3900 pounds of Mendo pot to Fall River, Massachusetts, and Fall River sent back $8 million (!) in cash (!!) to Fort Bragg. The warrant for the Fort Bragg trio was issued in Massachusetts. A Fall River man is alleged to be the organizer of the business, clearly among Fort Bragg's most profitable. The three Fort Bragg entrepreneurs have posted bail and are back at home after being held for two days in San Francisco.

TWO COVELO MEN have been arrested on suspicion of murder in the shooting death of Rosalena ‘Belle’ Rodriguez who was found shot to death Monday in Covelo. Jerry Britton, 21, and Sidney Freeman-Britton, 24, both of Covelo, have been booked into the Mendocino County Jail on no bail.

THE FORT BRAGG WOMAN who died two Sundays ago in a head-on collision on Highway One near Cleone, has been identified as Kymberly Greenlees, 49. Ms. Greenlees was driving a 2001 Volvo north at an estimated speed of 40 to 45 miles per hour when, for unknown reasons, she let the Volvo drift across double-yellow lines and into the oncoming lane, where she collided head-on with a southbound 2000 Ford that was also traveling at about 40 to 45 miles per hour. Ms. Greenlees was pronounced dead at the scene. The Ford's driver, Michael A. Jensen, 68, of Chehalis, Washington, was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with moderate injuries.

THE STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD, as reported in the Ukiah Daily Journal in a story by Justine Frederiksen, has issued a final ruling revoking the former Masonite water right now owned by Millview County Water District. There are lushly productive wells on the old plant site just north of Ukiah. Millview bought the water right from Developer's Diversified Realty (DDR), which spent $1 million in an effort to rezone the Masonite property for a retail mega-mall. DDR said the County was taking too long to act on its application, so it tried an end run around the planning process at the ballot box, but failed big time. Voters said no mall. DDR then sold the rights to a number of wells formerly owned by Masonite with the understanding that Millview would treat the water and then make part of it available for future development at the Masonite site. The only prob is the type of water right held by Masonite requires that the water has to be put to “beneficial use” (which could include municipal, industrial or agricultural) or after a period of five years of non-use the water right is forfeited. And since Masonite shut down circa 2000 the State Water Board has now declared the water right forfeited for non-use.

THE MASONITE WATER RIGHT, established in 1954, allowed for the continuous direct diversion of 5.9 cubic feet per second from the nearby Russian River. But the Russian River has been declared “over-appropriated,” which means that there are more people claiming “rights” to pump water, either directly or from wells fed by the river, than there is water available to pump. Which means people are fighting over “paper water” which only exists on paper if they all tried to pump at the same time. All Masonite had to do to preserve its right, was to put the water to beneficial use at least one year out of every five, which it failed to do. Millview argued it should be able to continue to rely on the water right because they have been under a moratorium for new connections since 2001 and the water is needed to end the moratorium and serve additional customers living in Millview's jurisdiction.

STATE FISH AND WILDLIFE, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, countered Millview's claim that revoking the license was needed “to protect water supply and prevent environmental impacts on Russian River public trust resources,” which include three endangered species of salmon and steelhead. The State Water Board acknowledged the importance of having adequate water supply for human consumption, but concluded, “the need to serve additional customers is not a valid policy argument to nullify a forfeiture.” Doing so “would essentially allow Millview to initiate a new water right with a much earlier priority than could be obtained by following the proper procedures [which] would be unfair to junior appropriators...and to water users who followed proper procedures for obtaining a water right.” The beneficiaries are downstream “junior appropriators” who have water rights established after 1954. Those junior appropriators, at least on paper, now have the right to pump the amount of acre-feet previously recognized for the Masonite water right.

DON'T BE SURPRISED IF MILLVIEW, represented by Willits attorney Christopher Neary, sues the State Water Board in an effort to overturn the decision. Millview, again represented by Neary, is in a protracted legal battle over the “Waldteufel” water right, which Millview purchased (from Hill and Gomes, the developers of the West Fork subdivision on Lake Mendocino Drive) for a cool $2 million. The County Planning Commission, by the way, initially turned down the West Fork subdivision on a 7-0 vote because it was in the flood plain; converted ag land to housing; and was built on top of a spiderweb of earthquake faults. The Board of Supes, using Mendo style reasoning, overturned the Planning Commission. After all, only the roads, not the houses, would be built on top of the earthquake faults. And the houses would also be built on little pads of fill that would keep them out of the flood plain. So after the roads are destroyed by an earthquake, the residents can pray for a flood so they can get in and out of their houses by boat.

BUT THE WALDTEUFEL WATER RIGHT, which Hill and Gomes represented, amounted to upwards of 1,500 acre feet of water a year, and was determined by the State Water Board to only amount to about 15 acre feet a year. And Millview neglected to include a clause in the purchase agreement that tied the cost to the amount of water that was really available. Which means that the Millview rate payers are on the hook for the full $2 million for 15 acre feet of water, which makes it some of the most expensive water around. It is not known at this time if Millview's purchase of the forfeited Masonite water right was conditioned on water really being available. The case is now awaiting a final ruling by the State Court of Appeals.

IN A SEPARATE ACTION, Millview is also pursuing rights to Masonite “well #6,” which it claims is not be subject to State Water Board control since it is “percolated ground water.” As distinct from “underflow,” or water that is hydrologically connected to the Russian River, and therefore subject to State control. But you can bet the State Water Board and the Sonoma County Water Agency will unleash cadres of well funded attorneys if Millview seeks to start pumping from well #6. Which means only Millview and Neary stand between Mendocino County's tenuous rights to its own water and the continued expropriation of Mendocino County water to top off Marin County hot tubs and swimming pools.

ALTHOUGH 3RD DISTRICT SUPE John Pinches hasn't endorsed any of the candidates, his brother Jim and sister June are listed as supporters on Woodhouse's website. Our Willits' sources say former supervisor Wagenet, who lists DA Eyster among his supporters, is also coming on strong as the election nears. We still think, however, it looks like Madrigal and Woodhouse in a November run-off, with Madrigal in an uphill battle against Woodhouse. She has the disadvantage of having taken stands on a series of controversial issues, while Woodhouse, popular from his volunteer work with the schools, has no record on the most important issues facing the supervisors. Incidentally, a week after Ms. Madrigal visited our office we received a note from her saying she'd enjoyed our meeting. Think of it! In a rude and crude time like ours, here's a thoughtful, properly raised person with the manners that go with thoughtfulness. Hard to believe Ms. Madrigal enjoyed her visit, but it's nice of her to say so.

AMONG THE MAJOR ISSUES, facing the County, water is certain to be controversial given the intransigence of the wine industry and the ongoing fact of so many equivalently intransigent water districts strung out along the Russian River. Which isn't to mention the proliferating backcountry pot grows that siphon off a lot of water before it even gets to our major streams. Factor in two federal agencies and PG&E and hello water gridlock.

THE SUPERVISORS have unnecessarily complicated employee relations by going to an outside legal firm to negotiate with demagogic SEIU reps, who also ride in from outside to foul negotiations. Why supervisors who live in Mendocino County can't negotiate with workers who also live here remains an ongoing County mystery.

DOPE is also an ongoing prob in lots of ways, but every time Mendo tries a smart approach that benefits us locally, here come the feds with a basket of subpoenas. Prediction: By this time next year DA Eyster's pot prosecution policy will be practiced by DA's everywhere in the country and the feds will still be investigating us.

WE'D LIKE to see the supes nix a new County Courthouse and the proposed $5 million trash transfer station on Highway 20 near Fort Bragg. Both are unnecessary and, in the case of the Courthouse, egregious in the extreme. Both, of course, are proceeding.

JUST SAYIN' but it's clear that the feds regard official Mendo as a gang of outlaws, what with the ongoing federal “investigation” of the County's drug policies via the quizzing by a federal grand jury of the County Auditor about the County's various marijuana related accounts, including restitution stats. The feds seem to think Mendo is corrupt in old-fashioned ways, i.e., bags of cash being siphoned off from the drug trade for private cop piggy banks. The feds, however, have been “investigating” for a long time without uncovering any malefactors. Remember the big show they made over the casino at Coyote Valley? They came up with zilch on that one. We won't even mention the Bari Bombing, a case that remains eminently solvable. (I think the feds, for likely reasons that ought to disturb even us here in Amnesia County, gave the ex-husband a pass on the Bari Bombing.)

DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA, formerly MediaNews Group, owns three Mendocino County papers and the largest circulation paper in Lake County where all the Mendo papers are printed. The Denver-based conglomerate owns several hundred other papers throughout the country. That MediaNews Group has re-dubbed itself Digital First Media tells us where their print papers are headed, which is to extinction if you missed the implications of the name change.

AS Digital First Media goes broke, it has begun selling off the real estate on which a number of its newspapers sit. The huge structure housing the Eureka Times-Standard is up for sale, as are the properties home to the Vallejo Times-Herald, Red Bluff Daily News, and many more not, so far, including the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Advocate Beacon or The Willits News. The latter two papers lease office space. All the conglom's papers have cut staff, and most people in Mendocino County still employed by Digital First assume they could go any day now.

ALL THOSE DEAD CARP at Lake Mendocino don't exactly enhance the aesthetic of the already half-drained lake, but the Corp of Engineers seem reasonably certain that “Koi herpes virus” is responsible for the dead fish, meaning you won't get this particular STD if you go for a swim. But the Corps has advised swimmers to stay out of the water, on the safe assumption that an intrepid few would make their way through the muck and the stench for a cooling dip even if Lake Mendo were the bubbling cauldrons of hell. The Corps has packed lab samples from the dead fish off to UC Davis and, assuming the scientists survive direct exposure, expect answers soon.

PLEASE DON'T CALL the Appropriate Police on me. I know there's nothing funny about domestic violence, but you've got to wonder about some of these episodes, this one for instance: “On May 28,” begins the Sheriff's press release, “at approximately 12:43pm, Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies were dispatched to a domestic altercation at a residence located within the 15000 block of Mitchell Creek Drive in Fort Bragg. After Deputies arrived they contacted the male victim and suspect Kahna Smith, 31, of Fort Bragg. Deputies learned the victim and Smith were involved in a cohabitating dating relationship (sic) and both were engaged in a verbal argument. The argument escalated when Smith physically assaulted the victim with a broom handle and a propane canister. The victim was struck repeatedly about the chest and also struck in the head. Deputies observed that the victim had visible injury as a result of the assault and subsequently arrested Smith for domestic abuse of a cohabitant. The victim was transported by ambulance to Mendocino Coast District Hospital and Ms. Smith was transported to the Mendocino County Jail, where she was lodged with bail set at $25,000.”

OK. THE LADY whacks the light of her loins several times with a broom handle, which is no big deal. Or should be no big deal because a broom handle is not a baseball bat. So, why didn't lover boy leave before she heaved the propane tank at him? Or at least take cover? Nope, he sticks around while Ms. Smith lobs the canister, empty presumably, at him, striking him in the head. That would, and apparently did, hurt, because Ms. Smith's significant other checked himself into the emergency room for treatment while deputies hauled the propane tank chucker over the hill to the County Jail. All-in-all though, just another Mendo love story.

ON MAY 5, 1864, the ladies of Carson City held a fund-raising ball for the US Sanitary Commission. This was a national charity that provided food, medicine, and other supplies to sick and wounded Union soldiers. Before his death, Thomas Starr King had raised more than a million dollars for the Sanitary cause. On May 17, 1864, readers of the Territorial Enterprise learned that the cash collected in Carson City wouldn't be sent to the commission's headquarters in St. Louis, but diverted 'to aid a Miscegenation Society somewhere in the East.' This hoax delivered a painful blow. Twain had located a sore spot in the collective psyche and hit it as hard as he could. The idea of blacks and whites getting married wasn't simply taboo, it also tapped an anxiety about the ultimate aim of the Civil War. When the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, the Union formally committed itself to freeing the Confederacy's slaves. President Lincoln defended this as a war measure, intended to undermine the South's ability to fight, but it made many Northerners uncomfortable. They were fighting to keep their country in one piece, not to liberate the slaves. 'Miscegenation' in particular meant something very specific in 1864. The term had been coined the year before by two editors at a Democratic paper in New York. Mark Twain had concocted a powerful political hoax....When Twain joked that the money meant for the Sanitary Commission would instead be used for miscegenation, he articulated an awful fear festering in white minds throughout the Union: that the war would result in full equality for blacks, who would soon be taking white jobs, white land, white women. — The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff

THE TOXIC RODENT POISONS widely used in marijuana grows will no longer be available according to an agreement between the manufacturer and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Reckitt Benckiser Inc. announced Friday it will discontinue 12 mouse and rat poison products sold under the d-CON brand. The company agreed to cease production of the rodent baits containing what are called second-generation anticoagulants by the end of the year and cease distribution by March of next year.

AS MOST OF YOU KNOW, the State Water Resources Control Board has ordered more than 600 rights holders to stop diverting water from the Upper Russian River, which means from Potter Valley to south of Hopland at Dry Creek near Cloverdale. “Based upon the most recent reservoir storage and inflow projections, along with forecasts for future precipitation events, the State Water Board has determined that the existing water supply in the Russian River watershed is insufficient to meet the need of all water rights holders,” the Board stated in a letter sent out to all rights holders upstream of Healdsburg at the river’s confluence with Dry Creek. Anyone whose right has a filing date of Feb. 19, 1954, or later — a total of 652 rights — is being asked to stop diverting water so that water will be available for more senior rights holders.

IN JANUARY, warning letters were sent out to people who depend on water diverted from a river watershed that they should be investigating alternative sources of water. “If you are in a water-short area, you should be looking into alternative water supplies for your water needs,” the state water board advised. “Water right holders are cautioned that groundwater resources are significantly depleted in some areas,” and they should make “planting and other decisions accordingly.

SIMILAR LETTERS were sent out during the 1977 drought, but this is the first time water rights have been curtailed to this degree. According to the Water Board, because of two consecutive years of critically low precipitation, the required storage levels for Lake Mendocino cannot be maintained if traditional summer releases are made. Sonoma County Water Agency, which operates Lake Mendocino, “will only be able to release enough water to maintain required minimum instream flows and to satisfy senior appropriators, and there is only enough natural flows to satisfy senior water rights.”

IT IS ANTICIPATED that an additional curtailment notice will be issued sometime in June to riparian water-right holders, who have senior water rights but only to natural flow within the stream. The curtailments will continue until water conditions improve, and it is a violation of state law to divert water when it is not available under a specific water right priority. Those found to be diverting water they shouldn’t, may face fines of $1,000 a day and $2,500 per acre-foot. If the board issues a Cease and Desist Order, violation of that order can result in fines of $10,000 per day.

POINT ARENA'S Trevor Sanders, 45, has already paid dearly for his drunken rampage last Saturday. He's been suspended from his job and from coaching, and will probably lose his teaching job at Point Arena High School altogether.

A TEACHER AND COACH at Point Arena High School, and also a PA town councilman, Sanders was said to have been celebrating his baseball team's win over Mendocino at a downtown PA bar by drinking himself nearly insensible. Contrary to the Press Democrat's account of what happened next, both the bartender and several patrons tried to stop Sanders from driving the one block to his home. But the coach did drive, and did seem to deliberately smash into at least two parked vehicles, and did nearly strike two pedestrians, and is now looking at a raft of charges, some of them felonies.

THE PD also speculated that Sanders, the married father of three children and a foster parent to a fourth, is in the process of separating from his wife, a sad fact known to have driven the strongest man directly to the bottle.

SANDERS has many supporters, and just as many people calling for his head. From all accounts he's very good at his work, and he's obviously an excellent baseball coach much admired by his teams. But now the question is, Should the guy's entire life be destroyed at age 45 because of one crazed binge? Teetotalers and other undesirables will, of course, vote to destroy. Boonville's beloved community newspaper thinks he should be allowed to keep his teaching and coaching jobs because all this happened off-duty and it appears to be an aberration, a statement we make without consulting Mrs. Sanders. The DA and the court will sort out the legals, and Sanders will suffer mightily there. But what good is there in making a pauper out of the man and his family while the justice system extracts its multiple pounds of flesh?

POINT ARENA, coached by fill-in Roger Little, lost to St. Bernard's, 5-0, in Eureka last Saturday, and finished 12-5 on the year. The team dedicated the season to Coach Sanders.

A READER WRITES: “THE EMERGENCY REQUEST to temporarily increase flows through the Potter Valley tunnel during the last big rains was a great opportunity for Friends of the Eel to take the high road. It looked like they were supportive — a one-time increase in diversion while excess flow was available under emergency drought conditions.

BUT THEN FRIENDS OF THE EEL and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), who had also voiced support during the initial conference call — decided after the initial conference call not to sign off on an enhanced, temporary flow, hence the depleted storage at Lake Mendocino and, now, a summer-long ban by permit holders on withdrawals from the Lake Mendocino-fed Russian River. (Permit holders above Lake Mendocino are similarly prohibited.)

FRIENDS OF THE EEL say it was their concern about whether or not there really were available flows, and would they be properly ramped up and ramped down to avoid fish strandings, but that is a technical detail to work out. The 'acrimony' could have been avoided by approving the emergency increase in diversion subject to compliance with conditions designed to avoid the potential negative impacts — then the diversion would have dictated by the ability to meet objective conditions — not the ridiculous assertion, implied and stated, that the potential loss of a significant part of the economy along the Russian River did not qualify as an emergency.

BY DENYING A COMMONSENSE, short term fix, FOER and NMFS may have created a greater opportunity for a long term solution to the problem created by the “target storage curve” — a faulty regulatory rule that often sets a standard that is impossible to meet. Every year in late spring during storm events, hundreds or thousands of cubic feet per second (cfs) of the Eel can be seen spilling unchecked over Cape Horn Dam at Van Arsdale Reservoir, but diversion through the tunnel at Potter Valley is limited to 50 cfs or less because the volume of water impounded behind Scott Dam in Lake Pillsbury (12 miles upstream) falls below the volume called for by the target storage curve. But the volume called for by the target storage curve can not possibly be met because the gates at the top of Scott Dam are open (to release high water flows) and therefore, the volume called for by the target storage curve is impossible to meet.

HOW ABOUT THIS? Why not tie the volume of water that can be diverted at Van Arsdale to the amount of water spilling over Cape Horn Dam, instead of an arbitrary volume that can not possibly be met at Lake Pillsbury, twelve miles upstream? Stated another way, if 5,000 cfs is spilling over Cape Horn Dam, and the minimum instream flow for the Eel is 125 cfs, why not increase the diversion from 45 cfs to 245 cfs and still allow 4,800 cfs to go down the Eel? Is there a better time than high flow to modestly increase the diversion?

AND A PORTION of the increased diversion could be dedicated to the Redwood Valley County Water District to resolve a chronic problem, although if the merger with RRFC&WCID (Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District, aka the “Flood Control District,” aka “the District”) goes through, that may solve Redwood's problem also.”

THE FAMOUS COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, Saul Alinsky, used to throw fear into the non-profits (and Democrats), when he said he hated the War on Poverty because the class it benefitted most was the middle class who decided who got the money. And who staffed the non-profits, particularly in the better paying jobs. Whatever money trickled down to the needy was almost an afterthought. He said the poor need political power, not cash. Public employees and non-profit people are now synonymous with the Northcoast's Democratic Party, and both are obstacles to even the most basic reforms of a system that rewards them but continues to retard the poor. First 5, for handy local example, and the career trajectories of almost the entire westside of Ukiah perfectly illustrate Alinsky's principle.

AS WE KNOW, marijuana is a very large part of the Mendocino County economy. As we also know but don't want to admit, keeping it illegal is good for our economy, in that pot employs lots of people, helps fund our police departments, and generally puts money into local businesses that otherwise would flounder and die.

BUT THE DAYS of illegality are numbered. Even the Republicans think pot laws are as wacky-making as the loco weed itself. Just this week the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted in favor of blocking the federal government from interfering with states that permit sale of medical marijuana.

HERE IN CALIFORNIA, Senate Bill 1262, endorsed by the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities is medical marijuana-friendly and is now also endorsed by pot-industry groups such as Americans for Safe Access and California NORML.

ON-LINE COMMENT: “San Francisco has not belonged to San Franciscans since in the late 70s — it belongs to the world now. Having grown up here in the 50s and 60s, my relationship with The City makes me feel like I married my high school sweetheart who became a movie star, and now she has little time for me anymore.”

TO ME, the biggest change is how boring The City's public figures are, especially the supervisors, and how purely awful The City's intellectual life is. Art is terrible, literature pretty much non-existent, architecture soul-destroying, journalism never worse. There are exactly two really, really good writers — Rebecca Solnit and August Kleinzahler. (Mr. K deserves a Presidential Medal for his essay on Garrison Keillor alone which, if you haven't read it, is a thing of beauty. It’s available on-line. He's also a first-rate poet.)

WHAT'S HAPPENED to The City is obvious enough, and often commented on. It became very attractive to wealthy people beginning at the end of the 1960s. Thousands of them moved in and continue to move in. The price of shelter has gone up and up and now the streets teem with these blank-faced young consumers with a lot of money and no style. And they all have dogs and 1.2 children they push around in strollers reinforced like miniature armored vehicles. With an effete dog, unleashed of course, trotting alongside. The vehicles on the invaders are bigger than two vehicles were in 1950. I think these geezer-thoughts every time I get past my front door because they're the context for a second-hand housing adventure of my own last week.

THIS BOONVILLE KID is a student as SF State. I know him, I know his family. I agreed to co-sign his rental agreement. He and his friends were trying to rent some dump in the Sunset that was going for an extortionate amount approaching five thousand dollars a month, with an even more extortionate amount demanded for the move-in deposit. Which a lot of landlords steal and invest to their profit while they allegedly bank it for you, dear renter. It all fell through, natch, because City landlords now get applicants bidding against each other and taking cash bribes and who knows what all resorted to scumbaggery because there is a huge shortage of housing and none at all unless you have a lot of dough. The Boonville kid and his friends, after a lot of frantic negotiating with the agent for this place, were outbid by someone else.

I'VE LIVED OFF AND ON in The City since about 1960. As a young person, I could always find a cheap place to live, and I mean cheap. As late as 1967, my wife and I rented a two-bedroom, top-floor apartment at 199 Frederick for which we paid $200 a month. The manager, a non-English speaking Chinese guy who called himself 'Frankie Fong,' invariably greeted me, “Ha! You not heepie!” No, I not, I'd say. We could walk down the hill to the Panhandle and listen to the rock and roll yowling, as it bounced off my tin ear, which turned out to be eminences like Janis Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane. Sorry, groove-o's, it all went right past me, but the crowds were interesting as the middle classes went wild for a few years beginning in '66. By '68 it had all gone to hell and hard drugs and the hippies took off for Back to the Land, hence the contemporary functioning of Mendocino County's professional classes, from the Superior Court to the public schools.

SF STATE happens to be my alma mater. When I was there I was still operating on the flawed assumption that a college diploma would get me an easy job. I'd wound up at SF State, then a mere and modest college, now a mere and modest university, after a couple of years at Cal Poly, then purely a tech school. As a lib arts guy I'd run out of history and lit classes in San Luis Obispo and was totally estranged from competitive athletics, which was why I was there in the first place. I was a baseball player and the 13th man on Cal Poly's 12-man basketball team. My late brother was a three-year starter on the basketball team at small forward and he held the Cal Poly home run record for several years. Sacrificing my last year of sports eligibility was no sacrifice to me because I'd lost interest. I delude myself now that if I'd worked on my game I might have been Mike Krukow, who arrived at the school a couple of years later. The Bay Area being my home since my arrival as an infant from the Hawaiian Islands where the Japanese had tried to bomb me in my cradle, I've always gravitated in its direction,.

AS A STUDENT as SF State I found a place for a hundred bucks a month on Ramsell Street within walking distance of the school.

RAMSELL was a very peculiar rental in the house of a very peculiar man. To get to my room, I had to enter through the garage and take a tiny homemade, in-house elevator maybe fifteen feet upwards. There were no stairs, no other way to gain access. In case of fire, I'd have had to jump off the roof. My landlord, the odd old guy, had built and installed the elevator himself. It made a lot of noise so he always knew when I was at home, which was often because I worked downtown and did much of the classwork on the streetcar and at my aerie on Ramsell. The old guy watched wrestling every night. I could hear him cry out in alarm when Gorgeous George or Andre The Giant did something the old man considered life threatening. At least once a week I'd hear the elevator clanging up towards my room and the old guy would pound on my door. “What should I do?” he'd yell. “Gorgeous George is going to kill Zebra Man!” The first time this happened I thought the old guy was putting me on. Jesu Cristo, he couldn't believe all that fake mayhem was real, could he? He could, and at least once a week he'd clank up in his homemade elevator to ask me if I thought he should call the cops before a television rassler murdered another tv rassler right before his rheumy eyes. The old guy was clever enough to build himself his own in-home elevator yet… Well, a combination of the constant summer fog and geriatric counseling that tv wrestling was not real, drove me to a bathroom-down-the-hall, clean-sheets-once-a-week room at 5th and Brannan. It was depressing as hell, too, but at least it was sunny downtown.

WHEN MIKE THOMPSON bats out a press release, the Press Democrat hops to. Thompson, a gun guy, grape grower, congressman, yellow dog Democrat, is head of a jive congressional committee whose purpose is to “address gun violence.” (As if.) According to Thompson's re-write man at the PD, Guy Kovner, Thompson “introduced a multi-pronged measure Friday on mental health approaches to preventing tragedies like the murder of six students last week at UC Santa Barbara.” Thompson's break-through strategy? If the cops suspect mental illness they can take the crazy person's guns away.

OTHER PROVISIONS in the bill would: Prohibit the purchase or possession of a firearm by people subject to involuntary outpatient commitment for mental health issues. Federal law now applies only to inpatient commitments. Prohibit firearms possession by individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking, a step endorsed by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. Establish standards for restoration of firearms rights to individuals who have lost those rights due to mental illness. Improve the submission of mental health records into the national criminal background check system.

REPUBLICANS ARE OPPOSED, of course, although all of this is simply commonsense and should have been law years ago, especially in a country that couldn't be better designed to drive its citizens nuts.

STUDY FINDS Medical Pot Farms Draining Streams Dry. That was the headline on an AP story making the news over the weekend. “Some drought-stricken rivers and streams in Northern California's coastal forests are being polluted and sucked dry by water-guzzling medical marijuana farms, wildlife officials say — an issue that has spurred at least one county to try to outlaw personal grows.....”

THIS STORY has been done to death. Yes, pot ops siphon off a lot of water. Wine ops siphon off a lot more water than guerilla grows, and you don't hear our government apparatuses complaining about them. Why? Because the wine biz owns elected office on the Northcoast, everyone from boards of supervisors on up through Congressman Spike. The drought is also taking its share, as is the over all increase in demand for water, particularly up and down the Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg. From Santa Rosa on out to the sea at Jenner, the once proud Russian now functions as a leach line for treated sewage liquids out of the Rose City, hence the aqua-weird greenish-blue it is from where Santa Rosa drains into it all the way to the Pacific. By the time the Russian gets to the ocean, it probably isn't even half virgin H2o. Fifty years ago, prior to the wholesale development of vineyards from Potter Valley south to Healdsburg, and also prior to the Green Rush that kicked off guerilla pot grows in the lush watersheds of Mendocino and Humboldt counties, and before Santa Rosa designated the Russian River as its flush field, water was not the issue it now is in the Emerald Triangle. Will the situation improve? Only if the rains return, pot prices drop so low because of over-production they disappear, and only if the vineyards cease their blank draw on the streams of Mendocino County.


Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits
in the doorway of

a broken house —
boards for windows

plaster falling
from between the stones

and strokes the head
of a spotted dog

— William Carlos Williams

JOHN DICKERSON'S PENSION REFORM CONFERENCE, held May 10 in San Rafael has come and gone almost without a trace. Dickerson is the self-described “financial analyst” who is attempting to turn his personal obsession with Mendocino County officialdom into a paying gig as a “pension reformer.” Dickerson's resume includes a stint as Executive Director of the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance. Before he got canned from that job Dickerson famously told the Grand Jury to shove it when they timidly asked him how the Promotional Alliance was spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually. Then he was the Chief Financial Officer of a winery as it plunged into bankruptcy. He was later hired as the Executive Director of the Employer's Council of Mendocino County, a lobbying group for local inheritance princes. He got fired when the City of Ukiah shut the lights off for not paying the office utility bill. His millionaire bosses were not amused, but John D. was too busy working on his own projects to sweat the small details like paying the bills for the wealthy wanks who hired him. For the last several years Dickerson has tried to promote himself as a pension reformer.

DICKERSON HAS MADE SEVERAL ATTEMPTS to form a “citizen's coalition” to hold local government officials accountable, but so far has struck out each time. The plan is that the coalition would need to hire a full time executive director, and who better than John D.? But so far it hasn't worked out that way. So Dickerson recently broadened his approach to include Marin, Contra Costa and other Bay Area counties. Dickerson, a self-described “life-long Democrat” (and whenever someone says that you know they voted for every Republican from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney) comes across more as a Tea Party fanatic. Hence, the emphasis on invoking Democrats as a shield to provide credibility. But if you are relying on Democrats to burnish your image, the cause is already lost.

THE CONFERENCE was advertised as the County Pension Reform — Bay Area Region Conference. As described by Dickerson, the conference focused on counties that have independent pension funds “including Six Bay Area Counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Mendocino, San Mateo, Sonoma.” (Emphasis in the original.) Which may be the first time that Mendocino has ever been included as a Bay Area County. But Dickerson is famous for his “adjustments” to make the facts fit his pre-determined conclusions.

DICKERSON MANAGED to line up Democrat Chuck Reed, Mayor of San Jose, as his keynote speaker, to balance out Duf Sundheim, former chair of the California Republican Party, and a bunch of right wing pension bloggers. Dickerson rounded out the conference with a couple of panels made up of elected officials and wanna be elected officials.

THE PANEL OF ELECTED OFFICIALS, drawn from the six Bay Area counties, included only one supervisor, Mendocino County's own Dan Gjerde, and two city councilmembers from Marin: Larry Chu from Larkspur and Linda Pfeifer from Sausalito. Dickerson was forced to include a couple of city councilmembers because only Gjerde, alone out of 30 county supervisors in the six counties, was willing to participate in Dickerson's dog and pony show. Which forced Dickerson to include the two city councilmembers. And most cities certainly have their own problems with pensions. But the cities are in Calpers, which is a completely different pension system governed by a completely different set of laws, so their experience could have added little to a county pension reform conference. Which means the conference was lumbering to get off the ground before it started.

NEXT UP WERE THE WANNABE elected officials, including Assembly candidate John Lowry, Ken Churchill who is running for supervisor in Sonoma County, and Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal who is running for third district county supervisor here in Mendocino. Madrigal is also on the “steering committee” for the Reform Our County Coalition. The “Coalition” is Dickerson's latest attempt to form an organization that can pay him to keep stirring the pension reform pot. Dickerson recently re-packaged his previous criticisms and re-issued them as a report titled “Questions About Mendocino County's Unfunded Pension Debt and Analysis of That Debt.”

DICKERSON ALSO DRAFTED a letter from Concerned Citizens of Mendocino County addressed to the Board of Supervisors, CEO, County Auditor/Controller, County Treasurer/Tax Collector, Board of Retirement, and Major Mendocino County Bargaining Units. The letter asks the recipients to answer the questions in Dickerson's recycled report and to “confirm or deny their analysis and conclusions.” Except the analysis and conclusions are purely Dickerson's and the questions are mostly rhetorical. The Concerned Citizens want to know: Is it true that the recipients of the letter looted the pension fund? (At least for most of their predecessors, the answer is a resounding “yes.”) And are the recipients still doing so, or have they stopped? (And the answer is Yes, once the whistle was blown, they stopped, but major damage had already been done.)

SUPERVISOR JOHN MCCOWEN, who also sits on the Board of Retirement, has already weighed in with a memo that says Dickerson's report “lacks credibility” and “is characterized by false and misleading statements” and for those reasons it would not be a good use of staff time to respond to the lengthy list of questions. Say what you will about McCowen, but along with his colleague, Johnny Pinches, he is on the short list of local politicians who are willing to say what they mean without mincing words and without testing the political winds. McCowen and Dickerson have sparred on pension issues for years, most notably on a show hosted by John Sakowicz on KZYX. The full account can be found in our AVA archives for Mendocino County Today September 5, 2012. Dickerson had just published comments on his blog quoting “Moody's new calculations” describing Mendocino County's unfunded pension liability. McCowen challenged Dickerson to provide a copy of the report with Moody's calculations for Mendocino County. Dickerson had to admit that no such report existed and that the calculations were his, not Moody's.

DICKERSON WAS RIGHT to expose the phony “excess earnings” charade that allowed the Board of Retirement to siphon off millions of dollars from the pension fund to pay for retiree health. Which allowed the Supervisors to offer a significant benefit to the employees without having to worry about how to pay for it, at least at the time. And he is correct to question the rosy assumptions that investing in the Wall Street Ponzi scheme will yield sufficient returns to pay off the unfunded liability and the future pension obligation. Like every other aspect of state and national finance, the retirement system is a slo mo train wreck unfolding before our eyes. But Dickerson has yet to offer anything in the way of a solution.

DICKERSON SEEMS TO HAVE CONVINCED his followers that the County and the Retirement Board are in denial that they have a huge prob staring them in the face. Which is why Holly Madrigal stood up at the Board of Supervisor's recent workshop on the pension system and cheerily said “It's just like being an alcoholic, you have to admit you have a problem before you can deal with it.” But if the County is unaware of the problem, why did they cut the workforce by a third, reduce wages 10%, eliminate retiree health care, and pay out millions more every year in contributions to the pension fund? In fact, right before her comments, Madrigal had just sat through a lengthy presentation full of doom and gloom about the County's unfunded pension debt and the limited options available to the County. But Madrigal was unable to depart from her prepared script.

MS. MADRIGAL IS IN THE CURIOUS position of having been endorsed by John Dickerson, who is a pension alarmist, and by SEIU, which thinks the unfunded liability “is a false issue intended to do away with public pensions” as recently stated by local SEIU President Helen Michael. Madrigal has also pledged to pay off County debt and to fix the roads in Mendocino County. Which means there would be no money left over for wage increases. In short, Madrigal is in favor of everything you are in favor of. We can figure out how to pay for it later.

DICKERSON'S CONFERENCE drew a fair amount of pre-event hype, with stories highlighting appearances by Mayor Reed, Supervisor Gjerde and others, but post event accounts are scarce. Right after the conference Dickerson posted a brief note saying the conference took place, videos would be posted in a week or two and please check back. But over three weeks later there has been no follow-up. There were a couple of blog entries saying participants were upset that the State legislature had failed to eliminate any future use of excess earnings, but the excess earnings horse is long out of the barn. And the Mendocino County Retirement Board revised its excess earnings policy years ago to prohibit use of excess earnings for anything but pensions until the system is 100% funded. And Dickerson's report highlights that the “current plan” is to pay off the unfunded liability (thereby fully funding the plan) in 2040. Which means excess earnings is not a problem for the foreseeable future.

IF DICKERSON, GJERDE, MADRIGAL or anyone else has written an account of the conference, in whole or in part, we have yet to see it. It may be too early to say the conference was a bust, but if it was intended to highlight Dickerson's latest report or build support for his coalition, the results so far appear to be underwhelming. But the odds of Dickerson letting go of his current obsession anytime soon are about as long as the County paying off the unfunded liability.

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