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Off the Record (Aug 13, 2014)

FROM THE AVA of July 2011: "The Ken LaBoube family has owned Point Arena’s Sea Shell Inn for many years. The LaBoubes have aged and the Sea Shell has fallen into disrepair. Locals steadily complained that the old motel on PA's main drag had been taken over by tweekers and the miscellaneous undesirables most tourist-oriented towns don’t care to house on their main drags. There were even allegations of prostitutes operating out of the Sea Shell, although one wonders who made up the customer base. (Historically considered, as in all the populated areas of Mendocino County, brothels once enjoyed official sanction; Madge’s in Ukiah slaked so much Mendo lust in the 19th and early parts of the 20th century that Madge's contribution to the male mental health of Mendocino County is remembered with a sidewalk plaque.)

WHERE WERE WE? Oh yes, the Fog Belt, whose city council vowed to “clean up” the Sea Shell, going on to declare in a 2011 press release that “Over the last several years, the once favored, moderate-priced motel, has become an eye sore. With suspicious late night goings on, excessive loitering of unregistered hotel guests, unsupervised minor children and loose dogs, it has become a safety concern to all residents in Point Arena — of which, 110 signed a recently circulated a petition. City staff has cited the motel on numerous violations; from unleashed animals, broken windowpanes, open alcoholic containers, unsafe railings and barricaded emergency exits, and more. City Council is investigating the Inn’s Transit Occupancy Tax reporting and administrative record keeping.” According to the City, “Health and Safety issues take front place as the City looks to remove over 10 unregistered, abandoned vehicles, Ferrell [sic] cats and several dogs. Cleanliness and sanitation are equal concern; with excessive debris, broken glass and unlocked vacant rooms filled with trash and discarded personal effects. Increased dilapidation of structure and fixtures are of equal concern.” The City also concludes, “The owner has been cooperative and many changes are already underway. Your Point Arena City Council and staff are devoted to seeing this situation corrected.”

FAST FORWARD to August of 2014. The PA City Council has vowed to go way past the now accomplished clean-up of the Sea Shell — the City has vowed to cleanse its main drag of drunks, drug people and miscellaneous undesirables. (The mention of "undesirables" always reminds me of the comment of the SF Police chief back in the 1960's: "Well, gee, you can't just arrest people because they're undesirable.")

ACCORDING to a legal notice which appear in this week’s AVA, Mr. LaBoube’s Sea Shell property is being sold to “Jeff Hansen and Laura J. Cover for $203,000 cash and assumption of liabilities in the approximate sum of $833,794.45, for a total approximate purchase price of $1,036,794.45 out of a years-long receivership process.” Six parcels are being sold. According the notice: “Real property commonly referred to as 125 Main Street/24935 and 24950 Hwy. 1, Point Arena, County of Mendocino, State of California…” But the Sea Shell Inn’s address is 135 Main Street, Point Arena, not 125 Main Street. 24950 S. Hwy 1 is the West Side Hotel which was listed as a public nuisance that had to be abated in the October 28, 2011 ICO. And 24925 S. Hwy 1 was listed as the “corner retail” lot/nuisance.

THERE’S a Jeff Hansen who’s the winemaker at Lula Cellars in Philo. We have not been able to find any reliable reference to Laura J. Cover. (The only one on the internet is a Social Worker in Salt Lake City.)(From the Lula Cellars website) “Welcome to Lula Cellars, Anderson Valley's Newest Tasting Room! We are always open Friday-Monday, 11am-5pm. Our winery is located at 8627 Highway 128 in Philo, across from Baxter Winery. Lula, our namesake, was our winemaker's maternal Grandmother's first name. Jeff Hansen, our winemaker, produces limited amounts of world class, handcrafted Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Dry Gewurztraminer and Dry Rosato.” “Lula has very big plans for its future. On May 1, winemaker Jeff Hansen plans to open a hospitality center at the 22-acre winery in north Philo. The new venture will include a tasting room, 8-acre pond surrounded by Adirondack chairs, guest cottage, 14-acre vineyard and 1-acre organic vegetable garden. "I want to make this a great sensory experience," Hansen says. "We don't want to be just another winery." Until then, sample wines at its downtown Philo tasting room. (Tasting room: 8627 Highway 128; 707-895-2904; New winery: 3101 Highway 128.)

THAT FIRE burning toward Leggett north of Branscomb remains mostly uncontrolled two weeks later. The blaze is in the general area of the Angelo Coast Range Reserve, a wilderness set aside now managed by the University of California, and a wonderful place to visit for a day hike. Used to be an excellent place to watch migrating fish, too, and may still be because the entire length of Elder Creek is confined to the Reserve until it meets the South Fork of the Eel. Elder Creek is so thoroughly protected it serves as a benchmark stream by which the USGS measures atmospheric pollution.

THE ANGELOS were a stalwart private couple who bought the land in the 1920s, and spent years fighting off the timber companies lusting after the virgin timber on their uniquely untouched property. The Angelos sold it to the Nature Conservancy who, it seems, turned it over to UC. It's one of the most interesting and beautiful areas of Mendocino County, probably because it isn't well-known.

EAGER TO READ the County Office of Education's response to the scathing assessment of its functioning by the Mendocino County Grand Jury, I called lameduck Superintendent Tichinin's office to see if I could get his rebuttal e-mailed to me. No way of knowing, but I'll bet it was the first time in weeks Tichinin's phone had rung.

FOUR HOURS AFTER I CALLED, I received this terse e-mail from Tichinin's “confidential administrative assistant,” Victoria Gulick: “Bruce, We will not be releasing the grand jury response to you electronically. It has been submitted to the Grand Jury and they will post to their website.”

SHE CALLS ME 'Bruce' but doesn't even kiss me goodbye in the sign-off with so much as a pro forma "Sincerely." I don't know the lady; strangers address me by my first name all the time. Ordinarily I don't care, but with the MCOE crew I prefer to stick to the formalities. Mr. Anderson, Ms. Gulick! As always when this redundant agency drifts into my free fire zone, I will point out that it spends annual millions but does not perform a single task — not one — that the individual school districts of Mendocino County could not do better and a lot cheaper. And permit me to add that one looks no farther than the overpaid incompetent occupying the Superintendent's chair to see what has gone terribly wrong in American education.

A PRESS DEMOCRAT FRONT PAGE photograph one morning last week showed a street guy lounging on a Ukiah underpass mattress chatting with Supervisor McCowen. The caption read: "Mitchell Howie talks with Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen under the Orr Street Bridge near Highway 101 in Ukiah. The homeless/transient issue has continued to become [sic] a problem in Ukiah as litter discarded at the homeless sites clogs local waterways."


McCOWEN was cleaning up the most blighted sites near the Russian River long before he was elected to represent the Ukiah area as a supervisor, but the problem has grown far beyond the capacities of the few civic-minded volunteers like him, who valiantly try to clean up after the “homeless” on a volunteer basis. And 'homeless' misrepresents who we're talking about here — institutional-quality drunks, drug addicts and free-range mental patients. This population used to be confined to the state hospital system before Reagan dismantled it.

McCOWEN would be the logical guy to lead a concerted effort to get this population permanently off the streets and away from Ukiah's stretch of the Russian River. The County's Superior Court would also be crucial to an effective homeless strategy because they are responsible for the futile catch-and-release non-policy that endlessly recycles the same core group of people through the County Jail and the courts. Will anything be done? No.

THE CASUAL mid-day tippler photographed chatting with the bemused McCowen is Mitchell Howie, 33, a local boy with an occasional indoors address in Redwood Valley. His record of arrests goes back to 1999, when he was popped for a DUI. Since then Mitch has racked up an impressive 25 arrests, ranging from domestic abuse, to booze and drugs, to petty theft. And he's still a young man, meaning he's probably got another quarter century of court appearances and two-day jail stays before his liver conks out. Mitch, and the hundred or so chronics like him roaming Mendocino County, is a perfect candidate for a county farm where he'd be court-ordered to stay for at least a year at a time.

Howie: Aug 2011, Apr 2012, May 2012, Sep 2012, Mar 2013, Aug 2013.
Howie: Aug 2011, Apr 2012, May 2012, Sep 2012, Mar 2013, Aug 2013.

A MICRO-ORGANISM called the hemp broadmite is chewing up pot plants in many areas of the county at a rate that has growers terrified. Entire gardens are being devoured by the thing. The rest of us should be uneasy, too, because panicked pot planters are turning to the most vile pesticides available to combat the broadmite although a safe organic alternative called 'Nuke 'em' is locally available.

THREE CASES of Legionnaire’s disease have been treated at the Adventist medical complex in Ukiah. The County Health's boss, Stacey Cryer, said the three victims had stayed at the Discovery Inn on North State Street. Legionnaire's is a pneumonia-like affliction that people contract from breathing mists or vapors off contaminated water. Lots of people get it from lounging in grungy hot tubs, which isn't to say the hot tub at the Discovery Inn is grungy, but one has to wonder at the grunge who would risk a motel tub.

CLAP STATS. According to the California Department of Public Health, Mendo's young people didn't contract a sexually transmitted disease at the rate prevalent among the young elsewhere. "Cases of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea among 10- to 24-year-olds has dropped slightly compared to 2012." Don't know about you, but I'm mildly shocked that ten-year-olds are included in the data.)

SPECIFICALLY, (based on 100,000 population) in 2013, there were 37 Mendo cases of chlamydia, and one case of gonorrhea, compared with 52 cases of chlamydia and two cases of gonorrhea in 2012. In other words, the incidence of venereal disease in the county is nothing to be alarmed about. There isn't much.


World affairs?

Easily understood

Russia bad

Israel good.

— Fred Gardner

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. “I was looking at a magazine article about animals the other day, and they had some cats and dogs that are popular from YouTube videos and such. There was this one cat that had 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Now I’m on Twitter, and I have almost 28,000 followers. All I could think was, ‘What do I have to do to get ahead of this cat?’!” (Ralph Nader)

A RECURRING LETTER to the SF Chron: “I've just returned from four days in San Francisco visiting my daughter who lives on Nob Hill. We had a great visit as always, but sadly the last impression I'm taking away from SF is the surprising amount of trash on the sidewalks and streets. I walk nearly every morning, and on every block I passed papers, food waste, human and animal feces, and every type and variety of trash imaginable. I have been to most major cities in the US and in my experience SF has become the leader in filthy streets and sidewalks. Here in Hartford, the poorest capital city per capita in the US, we have city workers who walk the streets picking up refuse from the sidewalks and streets every day. What a shame SF can't do the same.” — John Brandon, West Hartford, Conn.

THE CITY'S WEALTHY NEIGHBORHOODS are relatively free of trash, and absolutely free of homeless people, even the ones who are still trying, the ones who live out of their cars. Police response time is about 30 seconds in Pacific Heights, and comparably fast in most areas of the Richmond, Diamond Heights, and those blocks of town with money people living on them.

SLIPPING ON MY PUNDIT hat, I'd say the same general tolerance for the public squalor tolerated in SF reigns most places anymore — Ukiah and Willits, for local example, and the basic reason for that, I guess, is a combination of an absence of civic pride among the owning classes, rural and urban, and low expectations of government from the rest of us. We really don't expect government to do much in the way of good, not even keep the streets clean.

CONGRESSMAN HUFFMAN is presently doing a lot of huffing and puffing about how dope growers are drying up Northcoast rivers and streams. Why? It's a totally safe "issue."  Blame the water prob on anonymous dope farmers. Fresh off an enthusiastic Yes vote for the Israeli Baby Bombers, Huffman couldn't be waterboarded into admitting that grape growers have a much greater negative effect on Mendocino County's streams than dope growers, which is obviously true because grape growers have legal access to local rivers, to which they help themselves in dry years and wet years alike.

HUFF, like Mike Thompson before him, gets his primary political support from the Mendocino County wine industry — that support backed up Mendocino County's pathetic Democratic Party.

ALL KINDS of art equates public office holders with craven superficiality. Audiences share the assumption. The irony is that your average lib will get the on-screen joke that the whole mob of them are lying swine, and then beat down the doors to get into a Mendo wine and cheese party with Huffman, hanging on every glib cliché the guy utters.

WHICH is where frost fans come in; the grape growers say the fans are ecologically superior to stream water for frost protection because frost fans don't use any of the water that the grape growers have already annually impounded. Grape growers take the water and operate the frost fans, which operate at a decibel level comparable to the tarmac at SF International.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING. “Boyhood,” is the best movie-movie I've seen in a long time, and the most unique I've ever seen. Imagine a movie of yourself and your sister (and maybe your parents) seen in real time over a period of about 15 years. Flesh out your story with real actors, very good actors, and ahough nothing all that dramatic happens in what is really a kind of archetypal American story, we meet this kid, the filmmaker, when he's still a couple of years away from Little League. His parents married too young, dad takes off, mom is left with the boy and his slightly older sister. She remarries a college professor who turns out to be a tyrannical, woman-beating drunk. (Which seemed like typecasting to me. I've known very few academics who weren't personally creepy, but maybe I've just been unlucky.) Mom struggles mostly forward while we watch the two children form themselves here in WackyLand, a minefield for young people, and a nightmare for single mothers. The real father, not a bad guy but the kind of manchild this country produces by the millions, fades in and out of the lives of his children while Mom remains an absolute rock, which is also true of millions of real life Mom-dependent American families. It's the fascinating story of how the family  functions in a society that doesn't make normal functioning easy. You'll thank me for steering you to this one.

THE ISRAELI ASSAULT on Gaza was so odious that it seems almost grotesque to draw positive lessons from it. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned. They reflect poorly on the usual suspects – Republicans of course, but also the national Democratic Party and the Obama administration. The handful of so-called “progressives” in the Senate and House come off even worse, if only because more is expected of them. Every member of the House and Senate, every single one, is now on record in support of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. They don’t have the excuse that they are only reflecting attitudes that are pervasive in their time and place. This is a lame argument whenever it is raised, but it hardly applies in this case. The overwhelming majority of people on earth abhor what Israel has done. Cowardice, ignorance, and malice account for their moral and political turpitude; there are no mitigating factors. — Andrew Levine

NOT TO BE too moralistic about it, but you'd think with apocalyptic events underway in many places in the world, including this place, Obama would at least pretend to be fully engaged and on-task. Golf course photo ops should be contra-indicated. And his casual admission that "…We tortured some folks," well, that sounds as if the CIA had simply snatched a couple of random shoppers out of the Ukiah Safeway and accidentally waterboarded them, not that murder and torture could possibly be policy.

RECOMMENDED RECONDITE READING: Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War by Jim Martin. I say recondite because Martin covers a lot of complicated intellectual territory here, from Freudian psychology to the communist and anti-communist politics of pre-War Europe and post-War US, to conspiratorial efforts to frame and defame Reich by all kinds of people.

I GOT TO know the Fort Bragg author years ago when I unwittingly kicked off a weird dispute with him when I mentioned that The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich had represented a learning experience for me, insofar as I was able to decode it, but that Reich's “orgone box” seemed wacky even by Mendocino County standards.

THE FORT BRAGG man was Jim Martin, best known locally as the author of How To Fish the Mendocino Coast, a Fish and Game commissioner, and local rep to MLPA (Marine Life Protection Life), the statewide effort to restore ocean fisheries off the Northcoast. This resume wouldn't lead us to expect him to land at, of all people, Wilhelm Reich.

SO, BACK THEN, Jim had written in to say I didn't know what I was talking about, which was true; I didn't know anything about “orgone accumulators,” theory and practice of, and I didn't know much about Reich beyond that he was a disciple of Freud's who'd fled the Nazis, settled in the US, got on the wrong side of Amero-Stalinists, and died in prison where the feds had put him for fraud, i.e., selling orgone boxes.

I DID KNOW I had a nutty relative who regularly hooked himself up to a thing called an Alpha Machine to straighten out his brain waves, apparently self-aware enough to realize he had head probs. I put the orgone box in the alpha machine category. And still do. Come on. You climb into a box and sit there raking in (accumulating) good vibes culminating in all-round better functioning via enhanced orgasms? Diet, exercise and a pint of whiskey a week will get you to same place and is better for you.

HOPE THIS DOESN'T kick off another round of disputes with Martin, an adult with whom it is possible to disagree without him getting all het up and taking it all personal-like. Which makes him rare indeed in the Mendo context. And I like the guy, and I enjoyed reading his book on Reich about whom, whatever else you might say, was an interesting man in an interesting time, the run-up to World War Two and on into the McCarthy hysteria in the US.

THIS IS OWEN PATERSON, who was replaced last month as British Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, quoted in the July 20 edition of the Telegraph: “It has been a privilege to take on the challenges of the rural economy and environment. However, I leave the post with great misgivings about the power and irresponsibility of—to coin a phrase—the Green Blob. By this I mean the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape. This tangled triangle of unelected busybodies claims to have the interests of the planet and countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely. Local conservationists on the ground do wonderful work to protect and improve wild landscapes, as do farmers, rural businesses and ordinary people. They are a world away from the highly paid globetrotters of the Green Blob who besieged me with their self-serving demands, many of which would have harmed the natural environment. I soon realized that the greens and their industrial and bureaucratic allies are used to getting things their own way. I received more death threats in a few months at (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) than I ever did as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland."

SEIU AND MENDOCINO COUNTY have reached a tentative agreement, according to a notice sent out to SEIU members by the union bargaining team. The deal calls for a one year contract from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015; a one time payment of $1,200 per employee (which will certainly benefit lower paid employees); one additional day of paid personal leave; status quo on healthcare premiums for 2015; an increase in bilingual pay; increased reimbursement for safety gear for Transportation Department workers; and a promise to do a salary survey before the end of the contract.

NEGOTIATIONS MOVED SWIFTLY once SEIU sent a formal letter saying they were ready to negotiate. SEIU had spent the previous six months in pointless posturing during public expression, pleading with the Board of Supervisors to “come back to the table” when SEIU knew all along that all they had to do was send a letter and the County would have to meet with them. After years of botched negotiations, SEIU seems to have finally understood who they're representing and who they're dealing with.

SEIU BUNGLED THEIR WAY TO A 12.5% pay cut four years ago when the County only wanted a 10% cut. They have spent the last four years vilifying the Supes and CEO Angelo, the only people who are in a position to give County workers a raise. SEIU also failed in their efforts to build community support, most notably with the phony “Mend Mendocino” coalition that was organized out of Oakland. The first effort to roll out Mend Mendo last year attracted 130 signers, 90% of them SEIU members and half of those from the Bay Area.

SEIU brags they are 700 strong, and while 700 County employees are represented by SEIU, only a handful were willing to sign an on-line petition for Mend Mendo. Since SEIU rolled out the “new and improved” Mend Mendo coalition earlier this year, only two people have signed, one of whom is Anna Bakalis, the SEIU organizer from Oakland.

WE HEAR THAT SEIU has been losing members at a steady clip, although the secretive organization never releases demographic or financial data. A couple of years ago, 100% of the employees in Air Quality and Child Support Services petitioned the County to drop out of SEIU and form their own bargaining unit but were turned down by the County.

WITH NEGOTIATIONS going nowhere for so long increasing numbers of Mendo's SEIU members have made the decision to give themselves a de facto pay raise by dropping their SEIU membership. Ever since SEIU engineered a corporate style merger of local bargaining units several years ago, the union honchos in Oakland have siphoned off several hundred thousand dollars annually for headquarters with little or no return for local employees, who are not even allowed to hire their own business agent.

SEIU ALSO RECENTLY FIRED Sandy Crawford Madrigal, a local organizer, who was popular with the local members. All SEIU hiring and firing decisions (including who the local reps are) are made at SEIU's corporate headquarters in Oakland. The Oakland poobahs were irate when Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal, the SEIU-endorsed candidate for Third District Supervisor, showed up at the anti-union pension reform conference hosted by pension gadfly John Dickerson in San Rafael in May. SEIU insiders say that Crawford Madrigal (no relation to Jolly Holly) had pushed hard for endorsement of the Willits Mayor and was scapegoated when Holly Madrigal showed up for Dickerson's dog and pony show.

SEIU TURNED DOWN A SETTLEMENT DEAL last November when the County offered to stop the increase in health insurance premiums (that took effect last January) and pay every SEIU member at least $500 (which probably could have been increased to $1,000 had SEIU shown any interest in negotiating). SEIU rejected that deal and refused to let their members vote on it. They then sent an email to their members saying the County refused to budge off their position of “no.”

SEIU HAS CONSISTENTLY ACCUSED cash-strapped Mendocino County of hiding huge sums of money, variously reported to be $12 million, $20 million, or whatever number SEIU chooses to wave around at the moment. SEIU used the “hidden money” fiction as justification for restoration of the 10% pay cut that was imposed to pull the County back from the brink of bankruptcy. (The County has several million dollars in various “reserves,” the levels of which could certainly be debated, but it’s certainly not “hidden” and SEIU hasn’t shown much interest in engaging that debate. Supervisor Pinches has several times offered to sit down with SEIU reps to go over the County budget with them but SEIU has shown no interest.)

THE SEIU'S OAKLAND SHOT CALLERS have also failed miserably in their efforts to promote a strike, for which there is zero enthusiasm among local workers. Locals know that a strike would only cost them more money. To answer that problem, the Oakland honchos set up a strike fund for Mendocino County and invited the local employees to make regular contributions, another effort that fell flat.

THE PROB WITH CALLING ALL THE SHOTS from Oakland is that the people making the decisions don't know anything about the local community, don't really care and are clueless when it comes to local community organizing. Faced with declining local membership due to their own incompetence, almost no community support, and no interest in a strike by the people they allegedly represent, SEIU was finally forced to take a version of the deal they could have had last November. Except now the County gets a second year for very little more money than they were willing to pay last year. The incompetents running SEIU have been telling their members they were going to force the County to restore their wages. The challenge now is to convince their members to vote for the one-time payment that will leave wages at the current level instead of locking in an increase that they could build on.

THE SEIU FLYER announcing the deal says the members will vote on August 14 and 15 and emphasizes that “only full dues paying members are able to cast a ballot, however non-members are strongly encouraged to sign up and vote.” Which seems to be a clear signal that SEIU is concerned with the large number of former members and hopes to reverse the trend that their own bungling set in motion.

DEER HUNTING SEASON began at dawn Saturday morning, and by Sunday morning there were news reports of hunters shooting each other and fires starting from carelessly maintained campfires. Mendocino County's forests are doubly hazardous during hunting season, what with armed dope growers guarding their plants and a bunch of tenderfeet wandering around with high-powered rifles trying to get a clear shot at Bambi's dad.

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