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Off the Record (Feb 4, 2105)

MERC, HERC and we're probably ferked, but the Mendocino Redwood Company's hotly disputed timber harvest plans for the Comptche-Albion areas are heating up some more. CalFire's comment line, assuming you can negotiate CalFire's nearly impenetrable website, contains, as of Monday morning, some forty objections to THP 1-14-080-Mendo, the most thorough and thoroughly damning of which is Tom Lippe's. There are so many criticisms of the plan that Mendocino Redwoods seems to have speeded up the approval process. The window on this one, Railroad Gulch, slams shut in two weeks. Get your beef in now. There hasn't been this much upset at a proposed logging project in the County since the Redwood Summer period of 1990. BTW, Chris Rowney, formerly of LP, is Mendo CalFire boss. This all has a major back-to-the-future feel to it.

RAUCOUS MEETING Monday night (26 January) at the Fort Bragg City Council, as citizens opposed to the Council's cockamamie scheme to place a halfway house in the center of town at the old Coast Hotel turned out in large numbers.

A PERSON WHO DID ATTEND commented, “The Council held their closed session before, not after the meeting, obviously to prepare for the onslaught of unhappy people. Cimolino and Peters both presented well, but the other three councilmen came across as the stuffed shirts they are with their usual know it all droning. I would still like to see them recalled. The Ortner rep droned also, since these people all seem to take the same public speaking class, and gave a high success number, quite unbelievable.”

TRANSLATION: Ortner Management Group, a private business operated by an enterprising Mr. Ortner of Yuba City now gets some $7 million a year from the taxpayers of Mendocino County to provide mental health services. Seven million a year. He recovers a percentage of that sum from MediCal reimbursements. But what is Mendocino County getting out of it? Are there fewer disturbed people on the streets. (No, there are more than ever.) People close to the day-to-day operation of the Ortner Management Group's alleged services say we're not getting services anywhere near the value of Ortner's end of the deal.

THAT DEAL to hand Ortner this very large gift of public money occurred via a tricky little fellow named Tom Pinizzotto, a former Ortner employee who now draws big pay as an administrator for what's left of the County's mental health operation. The Ortner-Pinizzotto-Mendo deal was nicely outlined and denounced by last year's Mendocino County Grand Jury, who were denounced in turn by our Supervisors for their work in pointing out the obvious.

ORTNER, and here's where it gets tricky (and even more crooked in our opinion) simply sub-contracts alleged mental health services to Mendocino County's existing non-profits such as Fort Bragg's Hospitality House. Persons in need who aren't reimbursable from MediCal get turned away, meaning most street people don't make the cut as funding units. The arrangement means that it's in Ortner's financial interest to kick down as little of his take to providers like Hospitality House. Ortner is a businessman, not a philanthropist. As a private business, as in any private business, the less money you have going out the door, the more money you have coming in the door. Ortner, near as we can tell, is raking off somewhere between three and four mil in pure profit, but just try and get a look at the books.

AS LONG AS ORTNER can attract reimbursable mental health cases into their ever-expanding Mendo empire they can charge the taxpayers the equivalent of hundreds of dollars an hour, which they do by the “billable minute” beginning at a minimum of $2.40 per minute (!).

THIS ALL CAME ABOUT because Mendo CEO Carmel Angelo, rightly seeing that County Mental Health was a morass of entrenched incompetence, opaque funding, and complex billing requirements that caused a constant draw on the County's general fund for services that weren’t reimbursed by state and federal government, concluded that it was simply a lot easier to turn the whole mess over to a private company. Enter Ortner and Pinizzotto.

THE COUNTY also made a nice $9 million annual gift to a raft of helping professionals feeding off dependent children. This apparatus was formerly known as Redwood Children's Services and is now called Redwood Management.

BUT WHETHER the stated goal of all this privatization is caring for doomed children or doomed adults, the public has no way of knowing how effective any of these programs are because the people running them, backed up by the Superior Court and the Board of Supervisors, always claim that client records are confidential and that confidentiality is, of course, for the “protection of the client.”

PRIVATIZATION of government functions is, natch, much favored by the political right whose overriding task it is to persuade ordinary citizens that government has no legitimate function other than the wholesale murder of far away Muslims. None of the “liberals” on our Board of Supervisors argued against the privatization of mental health services.

AT THE MONDAY NIGHT council meeting in Fort Bragg the people for the halfway house project claimed great success, as the helping pros always do. But in reality, as you can see every day on the street, there is little success anywhere in making broken people whole again. And there are more broken all the time as the society itself breaks down.

ORTNER AND HOSPITALITY HOUSE have now teamed up to convert the old Coast Hotel to a halfway house, or whatever the current euphemism is for the rehab of troubled persons. And about here is where we all need a reality check, especially the people who staff these programs, and it's the employees, especially at the upper levels, who benefit most. They don't want to talk about the reality out there because it's not in their personal interests to consider alternatives to the failed way broken people are presently being dealt with.

A LARGE PERCENTAGE of Mendocino County's working population is employed in the “helping professions.” Their strategies to rehab drunks, dopers, free-range psychotics, petty criminals, and old-fashioned bums is an utter failure. The only beneficiaries of the present programs are vultures like Ortner and the well-paid people in the oversight jobs. Most of the population the helpers are employed to help used to be sequestered in a state hospital system, but that was in the days before America lost its way, and that was before the rightwing convinced large numbers of people that government has no legitimate responsibilities like caring for its casualties.

FORT BRAGG, like Ukiah, has a large population of dopeheads, chronic drunks, crazy people, and ex-cons, all of them forever lost, who prefer living rough because they can always get emergency shelter in bad weather and every day they can get a meal while they pursue their open air demons. This is not the way forward. What is needed is a county farm — away from populated areas — where people unwilling or unable to care for themselves are compelled to live while they are helped to regain themselves. A few might, most won't. But for the $7-to $8 million a year that this County is paying to enrich a private mental health provider like Ortner would go a long way towards establishing and staffing a County Farm. At present, we're getting scammed and the needy remain needy.

FORT BRAGG'S MAYOR thinks it's a good idea to put a halfway house in the middle of town, and he also thinks the following program outline for the halfway house constitute sound reasons for supporting the program. “Pre-employment training, Tai Chi, meditation and self-recovery-management.”

AND THE PEOPLE running this scam, the Ortner Management Group, charge by the minute. Yes, by the minute. Which means while the “clients” are working on their Tai Chi moves, gazing into their linty navels during meditation sessions, and self-recoverying, Ortner's standing there watching the big hand on his stop watch make him a multi-millionaire.

Ortner Management Group
Ortner Management Group

IT LONG AGO began to seem that the County of Mendocino exists to provide a comfortable retirement for its employees, especially its top employees who retire at their highest rate of pay and nice health benefits, and we won't even get into cops taking early outs on phony stress claims. But. But pension demands keep on demanding as the Supes again will discuss dipping into the County's rainy day surplus of roughly $8 million to accommodate pension requirements.

THAT SURPLUS was achieved by paring the County's workforce as the remaining workers took a ten percent pay reduction. Meanwhile, department heads fly off to Europe on fact-finding jaunts, hire more people like themselves, enjoy County-supplied cars, award themselves raises and otherwise provide bad examples of the austerity they preach for line workers.

ODD PIECE, and oddly askew from the facts, in the Independent Coast Observer of 23 January. Reporter Chris McManus's story is called “Grand Jury may be looking at Point Arena schools.” (We live in hope.) But Ms. McManus veers off into an unwarranted and inaccurate attack on last year's Grand Jury, writing, “While Grand Jurors are supposed to be unbiased and impartial, last year's Grand Jury got a memo from the Board of Supervisors rebuking them for 'unsupported opinions and unprofessional language that undermine the credibility of the Grand Jury and do a disservice to the community.”

WHICH DOESN'T MAKE the Grand Jury wrong, Chris. As a matter of historical fact, the supervisors, annoyed that the shady privatization of mental health services they signed off on was criticized in temperate language by the GJ, the only kind of language the Grand Jury writes in, approved a letter denouncing the Grand Jury for simply suggesting that the privatization of County Mental Health was, at a minimum, untoward.

THE SUPERVISORS POUNCED ON THE MESSENGER: “The Board of Supervisors believes this Grand Jury report was written in a way that unfairly impugns the integrity of an individual and the process for awarding contracts for mental health services. The report found no evidence that any individual had an actual conflict of interest, profited personally, committed any illegal actions, or exercised undue influence concerning the process for awarding the contracts in question.”

THE GJ merely said the Mental Health deal comprised “the appearance of a conflict of interest,” which it certainly did.

BUT THE REAL PROBLEM is that the Grand Jury conscientiously goes about their business of at least trying to hold our public bureaucracies accountable while the subjects of their inquires annually denounce the GJ for simply asking questions!

“THE POST OFFICE has achieved new lows of incompetence. No AVAs in my mailbox since the Jan. 7 issue. And I'm just down the road for F's sake. I'm too old a bunny to subscribe to the computer version. I like paper! Bitchingly yours, Jay W.”

THE POST OFFICE is strangling our out-of-town circulation, which was once considerable, especially in the context of rural weeklies. That circulation is giving up, and we can't blame them. They pay fifty bucks for a subscription to a paper that may not arrive for weeks, or months in some cases we've heard of, and sometimes never shows up at all. And we pay mightily for a postage rate that's supposed to get us to our subscribers in a timely manner. All I can say is I'm sorry.

JAY W. WROTE BACK: “No apologies needed, amigo, not your fault. And, both back issues arrived today [Tuesday]! Better late than never! To paraphrase a Robt. Williams line in ZAP comix, ‘I love to get ripped to the tits before I read my new AVA’.”

INFORMATIVE EXCERPTS from a recent report about the Bypass Collapse by the always thorough Adrian Baumann and his fellow reporter Michael Mott of the Willits News:

“CalTrans expected to be done with clean up by the end of the Jan. 30. Structural work on the viaduct and other bridges, which had been suspended, resumed across the project. Work on the collapsed span, however, will not resume until engineers have determined the extent of the damage and conduct tests. It's very likely that the sections near the collapsed portion were also damaged, and the columns at the site were clearly tilted. Engineers will need to test and examine the whole area, understand what went wrong, and if the nearby structures were damaged, before reconstruction can begin. CalTrans maintains that, because the dry weather has allowed work to continue through the winter, this collapse will not actually significantly delay completion of the bypass. …

“The cost of that section of the viaduct, also known as “frame 1,” is roughly $3 million dollars according to CalTrans spokesman Phil Frisbie. However, CalTrans confirmed that the additional costs incurred by clean up, delays, and reconstruction will apparently not fall to CalTrans or the taxpayer, but will covered by Flatiron, likely through their insurance. …

“Flatiron which is based in Colorado, with several divisions across the United States and Canada, has been building bridges for CalTrans since 1991. They are one of CalTrans biggest contractors. In July 2007 Flatiron, which at that time was called FCI Constructors, suffered another bridge falsework collapse, in Oroville. A 50 foot high span over Highway 149 came crashing down while workers were atop. Carpenter Jeffrey Doll rode the collapsing bridge down and was severely injured. Rob Sylvester, a FedEx contract driver, was also badly hurt when debris from the collapse crashed down on his truck. He was pinned inside for hours, and in 2010 settled out of court with Flatiron. He did not say how much he won, but did donate $25,000 to local firefighters. After an investigation CalOSHA eventually fined Flatiron $6,750.” …

MORE CHILDREN DEPEND ON FOOD STAMPS now than they did at the start of the Great Recession. Around 16 million U.S. children under 18, or about 20 percent of the child population, received food stamps last year, according to a new report from Census Bureau on Wednesday. At the beginning of the recession, 9 million children received food stamps. Mendo's child population on food stamps runs about forty percent.

DEPARTMENT OF UNINTENTIONAL HUMOR: “I am pleased to announce that Douglas Losak, Interim County Counsel will be hosting a training on the Brown Act and Ethics on March 19, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. at the Administration Building, located at 501 Low Gap Road, Ukiah. If you are interested, please register by e-mailing me with your name, entity and phone number. Please see the attached flyer. Mr. Losak will also be hosting a training of the same next week on Monday, February 2, 2015 @ 4:00 p.m. at the Mendocino Community Center in Mendocino. There are only a limited number of seats available, so please contact me as soon as possible if you are interested in this option. Thank you. Julie Chapman, Legal Services Supervisor, Mendocino County.

AMERICAN SNIPER. It's pretty good watched as a movie-movie. It's a realistic look at a military tough guy doing his job, which is to shoot the people he's sent to shoot long-distance by our government and both our political parties. The movie is, of course, racist to the max, portraying the entire population of Iraq as an undifferentiated mass of “savages,” as the sniper describes them. But it's not the whiz-bang celebration of the military that Sarah Palin and the Fox News cretins are describing it as. Our “leadership” says it's necessary to send these guys to Iraq to prevent the Mohammedans from attacking Ukiah. Anyway, the acting is very good and you get the sniper portrayed as the super-straight hard guy he was in real life, although in real life he was something of a windbag, lying on national tv about beating up Jesse Ventura in a bar fight. Only the terminally insecure say things like that. (Ventura won a libel lawsuit against the estate of the late Chris Kyle last year). Also in real life, a deranged ex-Marine that Kyle was trying to help shot him to death at a Texas rifle range.

BIRDMAN is the most pretentious movie I've seen since Last Day at Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour. Birdman is soooooo bad it is, natch, up for Academy Awards. A movie star gets old and nobody on the street recognizes him? Boo hoo. (Better confess that I could only handle about 15 minutes of Birdman before I sprinted for the exit, but I'm sure it didn't get any better.) The Awards show, like the Super Bowl half-time show, as always, will be little more than filmic confirmation that we've achieved Full Decadence. The only non-documentary movie I saw all year that was really good was Boyhood. Movie art these days seems pretty much confined to the HBO-like channels — Deadwood, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire were beyond good and certainly the wave of movieland's future.

DO YOU WANT TO EAT FOOD in the years ahead? Better make sure you live in a part of the country where small-scale farming and backyard gardening is possible because the General Mills Agri-Biz GMO Cheerios model will be folding its big tent along with its financing agents in the debt Ponzi banking system. (— James Kunstler)

YES, I DO, JIM, which is why I'm happy to live in Mendocino County where it's not only possible but is thriving.

ON JANUARY 30, 2015 at approximately 5:10pm Gabriel Ray, 18, of Ukiah, was driving a 1996 Honda Accord with passenger Timothy Elliott III, 42, of Ukiah, northbound on Old River Road north of Hopland. A group of five bicyclists (Deborah Banks, 57, of Sacramento, Lawrence Sokolsky, 54, of Portola Valley, Laura Stern, 52, of Menlo Park, Michael Sokolsky, 53, of San Mateo, Mark Clifford, 60, of Los Altos) were riding northbound at approximately 20mph in a straight line close to the east roadway edge. As Ray exited a curve in the roadway the fronts of the vehicle struck Banks from the rear causing Banks to be ejected from her bicycle. Banks collided with the vehicle’s windshield and Banks fell to the right shoulder. Ray continued northbound and collided with the rest of the group consecutively. When Stern was struck by the vehicle she became stuck on the hood of the vehicle. As the vehicle continued northbound Stern fell off and became trapped under the vehicle. Stern was extricated from underneath the vehicle and was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. After investigation Ray was placed under arrest for DUI and Elliot was arrested on an outstanding felony warrant. Clifford and Michael Sokolsky sustained moderate injuries, Lawrence Sokolsky, Laura Stern, and Deborah Banks sustained major injuries and were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Ray and Elliott did not sustain any injuries. (— CHP Press Release…)

Timothy Slade Elliott

AVA READERS may remember the passenger, Timothy ‘Coke’ Elliot, whose murder conviction was overturned when Mendo’s former forensic pathologist Dr. Jason Trent changed his testimony a couple of times, giving judge Ann Moorman cause to toss out Elliott’s conviction. Instead of a new trial, Elliott pled guilty to manslaughter did a total of seven years in prison for a particularly cold-blooded murder on the Hopland rez.

NEED FOR SPEED. A reel short review of a reel bad movie — If you like dumb dudes and brainless babes decorating endless car chases you'll love 'Need For Speed,' filmed partially in Mendocino County in 2013. AVA readers may recall the predictions made during the March of 2013 pre-filming meeting at the Boonville Fairgrounds, a community meeting called by the PR lady for the film after the County had approved the permit for it without a public hearing.

WHILE FILMING was underway, local roads were blockaded here and there for two weeks while car-chase scenes were rehearsed and filmed, inconveniencing many Fifth District constituents of Supervisor Dan Hamburg. Hamburg denounced critics of the County's slight-of-hand permit process and even more fervently denounced people who said the movie was another filmic invitation to bad driving.

THE PLOT in a nutshell: An extended fast-car commercial with flaming car crashes interlaced with occasional shots of dudes talking about babes while the babes caress expensive vehicles.

THE MOVIE BEGINS with a car chase in Detroit, perhaps to alert the cretins who've paid their way in to the theater that they haven't accidentally walked into an art house. After a couple of chases during which a homeless man crossing the street is run over and a car-driving moron dies in a crash, another of the high speed morons goes to prison, emerging to denounce other morons as “bitches,” an ancient prison-derived insult from the middle 1960s. Toward the end of the movie we get glimpses of Highway 253 and Highway 128 in the final car-crash/race where there's a near miss with a school bus. And we get the Navarro Bridge, the Point Arena Lighthouse, all the while we wondered why the masterminds funding this epic bothered coming all the way up here from LA when they could have recorded in any scenic area anywhere. You wouldn’t recognize Mendo as Mendo unless you’re from Mendo.

WE'LL CONCEDE the project brought some money into Mendocino County. So do the people who sell speed in powder form. And the money wasn't much because the film company set up their own little village at the Boonville Fairgrounds complete with their own restaurant.

THE MOST RIDICULOUS claim by company rep Mandy Dillon at that March 2013 meeting in Boonville was her repeated insistence that the production would be “green” because they would recycle some of the wreckage and they would use biodiesel-fueled generators and vehicles “where possible.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG'S prediction that “Highway 253 is one of the most beautiful roads in the state and moviegoers will see the beauty,” and, “The movie will be a postcard about the beauty of Mendocino County,” was, uh, not realized anywhere in the movie.

MS. DEBRA DeGRAW of the one-person Mendocino County Film Commission had said that Mendocino County would get positive marketing exposure, but when asked for specifics she said, “I’m working on that.” Her work didn’t pay off. There's no mention of Mendocino County in the movie.

HOWEVER, as the end-credits for the thing scrolled endlessly on — including a roster of about 140 stunt drivers — one of the location crew lists was entitled “Mendocino/San Francisco.” Then, much further down after the caterers, accountants, production assistants, miscellaneous flunkies and vehicle wranglers, in very small print, we saw, “Thanks to Mendocino County, the Mendocino County Department of Transportation and the Mendocino County Film Commission,” followed by the obligatory, “Motor vehicle scenes depicted in this film are dangerous and performed by professional drivers on closed roads. Do not attempt to duplicate the action in this film.”

AT THE MARCH 2013 Need For Speed meeting, Grace Minton of Boonville pointed out that everyone in the Valley knows speeding on local roads is a vehicular form of roulette, just as many of us also know someone or know of someone who has been killed in a speed-related auto accident. Ms. Minton reminded us that back in March of 2004 four young vineyard workers were killed speeding through Philo on Easter Sunday morning. “How can you justify this?” Ms. Minton asked of the Need For Speed advocates, receiving a round of applause from a most attendees.

DREAMWORKS/DISNEY rep Ms. Dillon replied, “It is not intended to glorify speeding, and the characters will have real-life consequences.”

AFTER the final car chase, the lead character, played rather crudely by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad), is the only driver whose car isn't wrecked. He triumphantly drives down to the Point Arena Lighthouse where some sparklers go off and he's told that he’s won a $2 million Lamborghini. He's arrested at gunpoint, put in jail for another 180 days (about 30 seconds in the film) after which he gets out of prison and is picked up by the lead babe in, of course, a new Mustang. (Ford Motor Company put up most of the money for the production of the movie.) And the two imbeciles drive off to produce another generation of learning disabled worshippers of the internal combustion engine. So much for “consequences.”

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