I met with Jim Mastin at The Redwood Drive-In on a quiet afternoon in Boonville a couple of weeks ago and we sat down to talk in the deserted restaurant area.
Jim was born in 1953 in Santa Rosa, the second of two boys born to Bob Mastin and Jesse Brown. The Mastin’s are of French/Irish descent and they worked on the Illinois railroads before settling in Oregon. Jim’s paternal grandmother was a teacher and she and his grandfather had six children, moving down to the Bay Area during the Depression and living in the San Jose/Mountain View area. Bob Martin attended Stanford and was on the ‘Wow Boys’ team that played in the 1940 Rose Bowl against Nebraska. He went on to work at the Oakland Naval Hospital where his degree in Physical Education was very useful in the hospital’s physical rehabilitation department.
On Jim mother’s side the details are also somewhat vague, the Brown’s coming to the States from Scotland where his grandfather was the first mate on a ship before he disappeared for eight years and was thought to be dead. He showed up out of the blue and joined the merchant marines. Jim’s grandmother had a sister in New York City who was married to a merchant marine and they introduced her to his friend, Jim’s grandfather, and they fell in love and were married. They moved to Shanghai, China, where he became a riverboat pilot during the 20’s and 30’s. Jesse Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York when on a visit to the States but she grew up in Shanghai with her family until, with war threatening, it became unsafe and they left in 1940, intending to return to California. However, the Japanese captured them and they were interred in a prison camp in the Philippines. A couple of years later, in a prisoner exchange, Jesse was released and she spent the rest of the war working for the state department in North Africa and southern Europe, returning to the States after the war and settling in Berkeley where she met Bob. They were married and moved to the North Bay when Bob found a job as a coach (football, baseball. Basketball) at the Santa Rosa JC and Jesse got a teaching job at a local elementary school.
“I grew up in Santa Rosa and went all through school there. I didn’t really like school and was an average student with B’s and C’s. I wanted to be a lawyer but soon found out that this would mean lots of studying so that idea faded. I played tennis for the high school and was generally a good kid, much to the consternation of my brother Steve, who was six years older and always got caught. My parents both took a sabbatical when I was twelve and, with my brother in the navy, we three went to live in Portugal for a year where my parents hung out in with an artistic crowd — my Dad has always had painting as a hobby. I went to a British school outside Lisbon and we traveled all over Europe during our stay, leading me to bond really well my parents. We had our own little community of three.”
Jim graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 1971. “I didn’t like being cooped up in a classroom and so instead of making plans to go to college I decided to work through the summer at my aunt’s restaurant in San Diego. I had been a bus-boy, dishwasher etc in school vacations before and my cousins were all working there too. At the end of the summer I decided to spend my savings on a trip to Europe once again. I wanted to go behind the Iron Curtain but it was too complicated in those days so I kept to Western Europe, settling in the U.K. for a time on the south coast. I found work as a cook and waiter at a bed and breakfast place with room and board and then when the owner took off for a break I was put in charge. I had cooked mainly Mexican food in San Diego but knew my way around a kitchen so I was fine. I tried to get legal by going through the proper channels but this didn’t work and by bringing attention to myself I was caught out and given two months to leave. My parents came over to travel around with me during that time and I returned to the States in the summer of 1972.”
Jim attended Santa Rosa JC for a year during which time he worked at Eggen and Lance Mortuary. “That first few months back saw my first serious interest in the political process as I worked on the local election campaigns. In earlier years I had gone door-to-door with my mother who was very involved in local politics. I would also stuff envelopes with her and we always loved election nights. Meanwhile, my GPA failed to really improve, I still didn’t like school, so when an offer came to work full-time in the mortuary business in Monterrey, I went for it. However, I got all the worst jobs and three months later, when Eversole Mortuary offered me a better situation in Ukiah, I accepted. I was with them for five years — two as an apprentice, one at school, and then two more as a qualified embalmer. I still have my license today. My wife asks why and I tell her that you just never know!”
Jim’s aunt in the restaurant business now had four locations in San Diego and one in Monterrey. She was looking for a manager at her Monterrey establishment and after his five years in the mortuary business Jim was ready for a change. In 1978 he started to work at ‘Consuelo’s’ a Mexican restaurant above Cannery Row in Monterrey. “I loved it there, the weather and the whole restaurant experience were great but after just a year my cousin, my aunt’s son, wanted the job I had so I was out.”
He returned to Ukiah in 1979 and helped some friends in Willits build a house for a time before finding a job selling advertising for the Mendocino Grapevine, a weekly newspaper based in Willits that was owned by a friend of a friend. He was there for a couple of years during which time the political bug continued to grow and he finally applied for the Ukiah Planning Commission and was appointed. With some partners, Jim then started a wood stove business, ‘The Fireplace,’ but when Real Goods moved into the area his business closed and he went to work for them. To supplement his income he was also tending bar during these years at The Coach House in Ukiah — a busy bar with a restaurant, now called The Office and prior to that El Sombrero. “For a time there I had three jobs — advertising sales, the wood stove business, and bartending.”
Jim started work as bookstore manager at the Mendocino College in Ukiah on a temporary basis in the winter of 1980 and he’s still there today, adding the purchasing duties at some point and now he has the title of Director of Auxiliary Services. In 1981, Jim married a teacher’s aid, who already had one child and together they had Spencer in 1984. When not working or helping to raise the family, Jim continued to play tennis and serve on the planning commission, running for the City Council in 1984, but failing in his attempt. In 1988 Jim and his wife were divorced.
In 1991, Jim filled out another person’s term on the City Council and then ran successfully in his own right to take his place on the board in 1993. He served on several different committees and boards in the ensuing years, including being the Chair of the Ukiah Players Theatre Board and he eventually ran unopposed for Mayor of Ukiah in 1998, serving in that position until 2000. He ran for the State Assembly in 2001 but lost to Patty Berg who has now endorsed him in his current run for County Supervisor. Jim continues to serve on the Mendocino Transit Authority (MTA) where he has been the Chairman off and on for several years. “I have kept my day job, the only candidate in this race to do so, I believe.”
In 1996 Jim met Mary Buckley, a mother of two daughters from a previous marriage, and the Executive Director of Plowshares, an organization that runs a soup kitchen in Ukiah. They were married in 2008. “Mary and I love the outdoors, particularly river rafting and kayaking, and to travel - we visited China last year. Every two or three years we like to go to the Bahamas or Costa Rica for a few weeks. My mother passed away six or seven years ago and after staying alone in their house in Gold Beach, Oregon, my Dad finally came down here and now lives with Mary and me at our home between Hopland and Ukiah. He is ninety-two and still paints, does the house-cleaning and his laundry, although he no longer drives.”
“If I had to choose a favorite place in the County it would be the coast. We sometimes rent a place at Irish Beach or near to the spectacular Gualala River, particularly if it’s 112°F in Ukiah! That coastline is one of the things that make Mendocino County the unique place that is Mendocino County. This is a great place to live. I have helped raise four kids here and love this County. As a kid I would spend summers up this way because my Dad was a counselor at the Diamond D boys camp by Yorkville; my brother and I would go to the camp two weeks at a time. The recently deceased realtor Bob Mathias has a son, Conde, who was also a counselor there. My Dad did a wonderful painting of his horse, Capsicum, and it was on my bedroom wall for years when I was growing up. I have very fond memories of spending part of my childhood summers here in the Valley.”
“I like the fact that the County has a wonderful small-town feel, a countryside feel, yet we are just two hours from the Bay Area. The people here are wonderful, the weather and the views incredible. I’ve been here almost forty years now; my friends and family are all here. To become Mayor was a real honor considering I was not third generation or born and raised here. It was something of a meet-and-greet job, a figurehead position, but I was active on various committees and tried to make sure I was consulted on numerous issues.”
As for the MTA Jim had this to say. “We have made the decision to rebuild the main facility in Ukiah, the maintenance shop, and the offices, and go forward with solar energy. This project will cost an estimated $22 million and will result in plug-in electric buses, and everything on solar. The current facility is completely outdated, inefficient, and some of it is not even compliant for public meetings so we have to meet elsewhere. The MTA Board agreed to move forward on this and designated $750K specifically for the design plans. The problem is if we don’t plan we’re never going to get funding. Around $600K of that amount has been designated by the federal government for this stage of the project and we hope to get the rest from a bill that is currently in Congress. If we get only half then it will be used on the maintenance facility only — apart from the regular buses, those for The Bookmobile, The Headstart pre-school program, The Veterans Administration, and the Senior Centers are all maintained there. We want to solarize the Fort Bragg, Point Arena, and Willits plants, and it is true we are looking at potential deficits going out about five years from now and we may have trouble maintaining buses in the future. The State has illegally moved money out of public transit funds over the last five years but a successful lawsuit to halt this filed by the California Transit Association means that an excise tax will be collected from oil companies and hopefully public transit may get some of this. Therefore, I guess we have had a pyrrhic victory. We do our best to not raise the fares but if they go up it will be a normal consequence of doing business and will not be used on the facility. We have 90,000 people living in the County’s 4.500 square miles and for the MTA, or any County department, trying to serve that sort of community is very tough to match that of a similar department in a City. We have done a relatively good job to this point.”
I asked Jim for his responses to some things of concern to Valley people.
The wineries and their impact? “I like wine. However, I’m happy if the current slow down in vineyard development continues. I hope any new wineries are organic and use dry farming as their way to move forward.”
The AVA? “I love it! When I was elected as Mayor of Ukiah I called Bruce and suggested we get together to get a better idea about each other. Bruce the man is different from Bruce the writer, I believe. I have a lot of respect for him but his style is not my style. His writing is an acquired taste.”
KZYX local radio? “I do listen and enjoy it. I must say however that in the past couple of years the NPR portions have been too heavy and oppressive. It has been very strident in expressing its opinions and one is left feeling ‘beaten up’ and scolded sometimes. ‘O.K., I agree with what you are saying, but stop hammering me with it.’ I still send them my check though.”
The School System? “Sacramento is not making things any easier and Mendocino County is struggling. It’s very unfortunate because that is where our efforts are needed to be if the big picture is to get better. Everything starts with our schools and I don’t like to see the cutbacks in the music, art, and vocational classes. These are as important as the academic classes but we’ve never done well with this in California.”
I asked Jim what he views as the primary issues in the race. “There are several but at the top there is environmental protection, economic development, local jobs for local people, access to services, and a balanced budget.” And how much money will he be spending on the election? “About $25K or so.” (This is the same as the other candidates interviewed so far. It would seem to be the standard amount).
I posed a few questions from a questionnaire on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “My wife.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Negativity. Let’s look more at the positive things we can talk about.”
Sound or noise you love? “Frogs.”
Sound or noise you hate? “The screeching of brakes.”
What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Soft-shelled crab.”
Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? “The Caribbean, Costa Rica, tropical islands.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that be? “My mother again. Now that I’ve been to China where she grew up I have a whole lot of questions I want to ask her. I continue to miss her.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “A knife, a cooking pot, and a heavy tarp — I’m going to survive.”
Favorite film/song/book that has influenced you? “Well it’s not anything serious but annually I do try to watch ‘Holiday Inn’ with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby — lots of fun and good escapism. As for a book perhaps Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations.’ I loved it. And a song would be Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ or something by Elton John in his early days.”
Favorite word or phrase? The word ‘folks.’ I seem to have been using it a lot recently; it has stuck since I started the campaign.”
Least favorite word or phrase? “That would be ‘ya know.’ Horrible.”
Favorite hobby? “Politics.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “A travel agent — as they used to be called in the old days.”
Profession you’d not like to do or are glad never to have done? “Newspaper editor.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “The day I married Mary, or a favorite event would be the birth of our son.”
Saddest? “The passing of my Mother at the age of 84. She was very politically aware and active and a big influence on my being in politics.”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That my attitude is generally upbeat. I like people and working together to find solutions and resolve problems.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “ I think if he said, ‘Welcome, Jim’ that would be very good.” ¥¥
(Our next interview from the world of Mendocino politics is in two weeks (May 19th issue) and will feature another Candidate for the position of 5th District Supervisor — Norman De Vall.)