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Off the Record (Jan. 4, 2017)

NOTE OVER THE TRANSOM: “Laytonville big bucks Stewart [Bewley] is also funding the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, aka: Yes on AF; MCPC; and Swami/Tim/Casey/Jamie. And what ever happened to Justin? He's disappeared!”

BEATS ME. Don’t know Justin, but he wouldn’t be the first person connected to the Emerald Triangle’s love drug business to disappear.

THERE’S A LOT of jockeying for position in the Northcoast dope business, much of it by powerful outside interests. The Chinese want to set up a huge indoor grow in Willits, for instance. It’s difficult to tell the players, and the players aren’t issuing scorecards.

I THINK a ban on marijuana production on rangeland absolutely necessary, unless you happen to think what has happened to Southern Humboldt County is a good thing — large-scale guerrilla grows everywhere in the hills, year-round dump trucks of imported soil hauled onto the ridgetops, chemical run-off, trash everywhere, packs of wild dogs (and people) running amok, a sucking up of what's left of the County's feeder streams, all out assaults on wildlife…

THE WAY it's headed, only the big dope outfits will be able to license their "pharmas," while large parcels are broken up and raffled off to whoever, and bye-bye any resemblance to what was rural Mendocino County as we knew it and presumably preferred it with its large untamed tracts of wild. The plans for serial large-scale grows on Stuart Bewley's Adanac Ranch, and whatever industrial pot fantasies Swami WanchaCash also has in mind for the North County, must be resisted. Frankly, I find it hard to believe we're even having a discussion of opening up rangeland to marijuana production.

BOONVILLE'S BELOVED NEWSPAPER said a long time ago, and repeatedly ever since, that every step towards legalization is to the advantage of large-scale hustlers with the capital to grow marijuana in places it shouldn't be grown. The mom and pop growers of yesteryear are going to be driven out of the business. Say what you will about them, at least they were modest, not any greedier than the legit businessperson. But the rangeland proposal will cause wild disproportion with people like Bewley cashing in, small timers unable to compete.

SPEAKING OF MODEST proportions, I've asked Supervisor McCowen for his opinion. Take it away, John: "The proposed ban on new cultivation in the RL Zoning District (rangeland) is recommended as an environmental mitigation by the consultants who prepared the Initial Study and Environmental Checklist for the draft cannabis cultivation ordinance. The consultants concluded that allowing new permits in RL could incentivize subdivision of rangelands with no additional CEQA review. The recommended ban on new permits is intended to keep rangeland from being split up. The resource agencies and environmental groups, including the Willits Environmental Center, see this as a key mitigation that helps protect various habitat types, especially oak woodlands.

"Under the current draft ordinance, existing cultivation in RL can remain at the cottage level (2,500 square feet) if they comply with the required setbacks and conditions. They may increase to 5,000 square feet with a minimum parcel size of 5 acres or 10,000 square feet with a minimum parcel size of 10 acres. Most of the environmental impacts from existing cultivation sites have already occurred and will only be improved by inspections and conditions that are required as part of the permit process. The impacts of expanding existing sites is also minor compared to putting in new roads and other infrastructure for new cultivation sites.

"The current draft would have allowed new cultivation sites in RL beginning in 2020 but only with the additional requirement of a watershed assessment that shows there is sufficient water to support additional cannabis cultivation and supply all other existing uses in the watershed, including in-stream flow requirements. This is a very stringent requirement that goes far beyond a site-specific water availability analysis which could be satisfied by simply showing individual water rights or sources sufficient to support the planned cultivation. Under this condition, a site with abundant water that is located in an impaired watershed could be denied a permit because the watershed as a whole was already being overdrawn. But watershed assessments will not prevent subdivision of rangeland. They may even encourage it if there is enough water to support additional cultivation.

"The mitigation proposed by the consultants would simply take rangeland (approximately 700,000 acres) off the table. The Planning Commission has yet to make formal recommendations, but based on the discussion so far it looks like a majority is willing to support the ban on new cultivation sites in rangeland despite arguments to the contrary. The current draft ordinance already bans any new cultivation sites in FL (forestland) or TPZ (Timber Production Zone). New cultivation permits would be allowed beginning in 2020 on land zoned RR (Rural Residential) or UL (Upland Residential) but only with a watershed assessment. New cultivation permits could be applied for on land zoned AG (Agricultural), also beginning in 2020, but without a watershed assessment.

"An unintended consequence of banning new permits in RL, FL and TPZ, plus the requirement for a watershed assessment in RR and UL, will be to put increased pressure on land zoned AG which could result in increased land prices. One argument is that this will make it more difficult for farmers just starting out who will have a harder time buying or leasing agricultural land. Others argue that income from cannabis can help make a small farm viable.

"Allowing new cultivation permits in rangeland might take some of the pressure off ag land, but would increase the environmental impacts and make the ordinance more vulnerable to a lawsuit. My take away from the Planning Commission hearings so far is that nearly all of the comments by the public and the Commissioners have validity and it is very challenging to balance all of the competing interests and impacts."

MEET THE CHALLENGE head-on, Supervisor McCowen. The dope industry already had control over much of Mendocino County. Keep them out of rangeland, keep them off timberland, quit pretending dope is medicine, quit selling so-called permits that aren’t enforceable.

PLAINTIVE MESSAGE wafting in out of cyber-space: "Hi neighbors, does anyone know if there is any way to contact the local Mendocino Green Party? It is time to get more involved in this election process thing and breathe some life into the Green Party. I have sent a message to their Facebook page moderator asking to be allowed to post on their page, so far no response, and I cannot find any other contact info. Thanks for your help, probably an email to the CA State Green Party would work, I was curious if anyone locally knows about this."

YES, SIR, we do happen to know about this because the proprietor of this very newspaper called the first Green Party meeting for Mendocino County back whenever it was ('87?) quickly realizing (1) a virtual Who's Who of Mendo lunatics showed up for the inaugural meeting at the Anderson Valley Elementary School and were instantly dominant, as Mr. Newspaper Man found himself arguing with some dwarf nazi of a "vibe watcher" wielding a flute who tootled Mr. Newspaper Man into silence every time Mr. N tried to say something. And to be "empowered" to say something in the first place one had to possess an asparagus fern. From there, the Greens deteriorated into a weird sole proprietorship presided over by a wacky fellow arrested for drunk driving on his bicycle whose fascist personality alienated everyone except the local Democratic Party apparatus who used Wack-Man and his putative Greens as an adjunct to the Northcoast Dems. These Dems, ever alert to any political energy to the left of their candy-arsed identity politics and Billery economics, have managed to ensure no Green Party for Mendocino County, one of the only counties in the state not to have at least a Potemkin left of the greenie-weenie type. If the writer of this inquiry were to call a Green session himself, he would find himself surrounded by a dozen of the most unpleasant so-called "progressives" imaginable, all of whom, in their mingy 70-to-80-year-old hearts, cried themselves to sleep on November 9th. That said, and these awful people either dead or officially senile, or simply ignored by the intelligent young, there is some genuinely progressive energy in the County among some young people, a number of whom are active in the support for Standing Rock.

WHEN MEMORY FAILS — a boring anecdote about a non-boring book by Hampton Sides called, "Blood and Thunder, the Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West."

AS TRUE A BOOK TITLE as I know about the annexation of California from Mexico, an annexation poised to be reversed, Trump suggests, if we don't get The Wall up, pronto. (Right, Don. Whatever you say.)

WITHOUT KIT CARSON'S ferocious gifts as a multi-lingual guide to Mexican California, the golden state's adoption by the greater United States may have been significantly delayed. This book, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the history of our fair state, weaves Carson's astonishing life into the huge events that eventually led to California rounding off the continental United States.

COMMENCING the boring anecdote: Many books about early California history are so poorly written the facts get confused. This book clarifies much of the confusion while at the same time, thanks to its skillful author, reads right along like a good novel. This one book as disabused me of many mistaken ideas.

FOR YEARS, I've thought an important incident — "incident" isn’t the word we want here — what happened was a straight-up double murder committed by Carson on the order of Manifest Destiny himself, John Fremont. And not the first one. The two men weren't good for each other.

WITHOUT Carson's vigilance, the Klamath Indians would have killed Fremont in Oregon, before his most famous third trip down into California. As it was, the Fremont party suffered heavy losses in the midnight attack on their camp. True to form, Fremont and Carson commenced a revenge expedition around the lake during which they slaughtered lots of Indians but not the Indians who'd attacked them.

I'D GOTTEN the mistaken idea that the infamous California murder of the de Haro twins and their old uncle by Fremont and Carson happened just east of Highway 101 in Northern Marin near Olompali State Park. I'd have sworn I'd read that geographic placement of the episode in at least two histories. And for years, every time I've driven that stretch of highway I've thought about that awful crime.

BUT THREE DAYS AGO, thanks to "Blood and Thunder," I learned that the brothers were shot in the area where San Quentin now stands, not where the Bay used to reach Olompali. Worse, or more embarrassing, I confidently wrote just last week to the AVA subscriber who sent me "Blood and Thunder" relaying my geographically misplaced anecdote in my thanks to her.

HERE'S WHAT REALLY HAPPENED: "Then Fremont learned of a tragedy that had befallen a pair of Bear Flag insurrectionists. A few days earlier an American named Fowler and another named Cowie secretly ventured north from Sonoma to secure gunpowder at a small coastal outpost called Bodega. But a band of Mexican guerrillas captured and brutally lynched the two Americans. The two men were tied to trees and slashed with knives, their limbs pulled apart with lariats.

"IT WAS AN OUTRAGEOUS crime, and the worst bloodshed in what had been thus far a placid and uneventful revolt. But now the Bear Flaggers cried out for retribution, as did Fremont and Carson.

"ON SUNDAY, June 28, Fremont spotted a small boat crossing the Bay and ordered Carson to intercept it. The boat landed near San Quentin and three men stepped ashore. [My emphasis] They were twenty-year-old twins, Ramon and Francisco de Haro, and their elderly uncle, Jose de los Berryessa. They were prominent citizens — the two young men were the sons of the mayor of Sonoma.

"WHAT HAPPENED NEXT is subject to some debate, and different accounts stress different points. But Carson apparently arrested the three men and demanded they hand over any dispatches they might be carrying. They appeared nervous and uncooperative, but insisted they harbored no messages. Though it was obvious these three men were not soldiers, Carson was suspicious. He called to Fremont and asked him what he wanted to do with them. 'Captain, should I take these men prisoner?' he yelled from a distance.

"FREMONT waved his hand dismissively. 'No,' he replied. 'I have no use for prisoners.' Then he added, cryptically, 'Do your duty…'

"NEITHER CARSON NOR FREMONT mentioned anything about this little atrocity in his memoirs. It remains one of the more unfathomable episodes in Carson's life. One cannot easily attribute his actions to the sort of ignorant racism that animated so many jingoistic soldiers who would fight in the Mexican War: Carson was married to an Hispanic, was a Catholic, spoke Spanish, and had for two decades enjoyed wide circles of Mexican friends. People who otherwise loved Carson had trouble accepting his role in this incident. Years later one of his close friends, W.M. Boggs, would condemn it as 'a cold hearted crime'."

THE INDEPENDENT COAST OBSERVER, Gualala, is always an amusing adventure. According to the front page of its December 23rd edition, the South Coast is besieged by its wildlife. The lead story is called "Fifth wild fox attack on South Coast," and another front pager by editor Steve McLaughlin himself, "Hungry bear hits Gualala garbage cans, beehives."

BUT MOST DISTURBING of all the ICO's lead animal stories is an account of rampaging two-legged beasts — Homo Greedus-Ripofficus. "PA City Council again back to full strength." But they remain under-brained, given that they're blithely paying career officeholder Richard Shoemaker $50,000 a year to "work" part-time, to "manage" the town of 449 persons.

THE PHOTO accompanying the PA swearing-in story depicts an unsuspecting Sheriff Allman administering the oath of office to the new Council, which includes a long-time drug dealer. A grinning Shoemaker has remained seated for the photo. The story contains long quotes from different luminaries, including County supervisor Dan Hamburg, praising each other for their commitment to themselves. Attention Point Arena! The foxes long ago got into your hen house. The foxes have grown so fat on your tiny tax base that a lot of you seem to think they’re grizzlies.

THE GOOD NEWS: Lake Sonoma is at 100.3% of its water supply capacity for this point in the year, while Lake Mendocino is at 120.1%. The bad news: Sonoma County owns almost all the water in Lake Mendocino, and the inland grape industry sucks up almost all Mendo’s portion.

RAVES from all points on the baked goods compass for Fort Bragg's new bakery called A Sweet Affair, proprietor and genius chef, Brittney Harris. Ms. Harris offers a startlingly wide variety of perfectly prepared cakes to ginger bread men to eggnog, and every possible combination of quality baked items in between. Nothing like this place between here and Frisco. And all of it quite reasonably priced, too. A Sweet Affair is at 401 N. Main, Fort Bragg.

AS RESIDENTS of the deep Potter Valley outback, Polly Franklin and her son, like most Mendo outback residents, worry about fire. And like most outback people they prepare for that fearsome eventuality as best they can, hoping it never happens.

ON THE ADVICE of a licensed forester, based on fuel loads on their parcel and the ongoing drought, the Franklins installed a large water bladder a few years ago to get maximum wet weather water storage for dry weather fires. The Army surplus bladder was the least expensive storage device they could find.

THE FRANKLINS installed the bladder, and it filled just fine in the rainy months. But in April of 2013, the bladder ruptured for reasons that are in dispute — overfill? random puncture? age? — releasing 50,000 gallons of pure spring water into a small, ephemeral watercourse, which runs down a steep slope and on into the Eel River. The little stream was damaged, but has entirely recovered as is copiously documented by photos and experts.

RESPONSIBLE citizens that they are, the Franklins called Fish and Wildlife to report what had happened. Fish and Wildlife alerted the State Water Board who sent out a team to inspect. Three years later the Franklins, people of austere means, are drowning in fines totaling a preposterous $381,000.

THE IRONY here, as irony veers into ruin for the Franklins, is that the Franklins immediately reported the spill to get advice and assistance on what to do about repairing the damage done, which was far less severe than the occasional mid-winter flooding that occurs naturally. Not to mention the damage from other, ahem, activities, in the Eel River drainage.

BUT THE STATE FORCES of wildlife protection noted a nearby but inactive small pot garden during their inspection of the spill, and the Water Board decided to make an example of the Franklins, seeking preposterously large fines and penalties based on formulaic calculations and exaggerated estimates of damage.

THERE WAS NO marijuana growing at the site at the time of the spill, although Daniel Franklin had seven registered patients for the Franklin property.

THE AFFECTED WATERCOURSE has fully recovered, as verified by licensed forester Estelle Clifton who reported in November of this year that "the streambed was stabilized, no fresh erosion noted, water in the stream flows clear."

SPILLS like this happen all the time in one form or another. Erosion from grape growing and overgrazing are common. And you certainly don’t find vineyard owners or outlaw pot growers reporting their spills, cooperating with authorities or paying for repairs and restoration unprompted.

BUT THE BELEAGUERED Franklins fully expect the Water Board, convening in Santa Rosa this Thursday (15 December), to rubber stamp the imposition of the wildly unfair fine on the Potter Valley family.

POTTER VALLEY RESIDENT POLLY FRANKLIN and her family appeared before the Regional Water Quality Control Board in Santa Rosa on Thursday, December 15th to appeal the exorbitant fines imposed on them in the aftermath of a water bladder accident on their Potter Valley property.

THE STORAGE BLADDER burst back in 2013, spilling about 50,000 gallons of clean spring water and some incidental riparian debris down an embankment and into a tributary of the Eel River.

MRS. FRANKLIN'S son reported the incident and the famous cliché that “no good deed goes unpunished” took over the family's lives.

THE NORTH COAST Water Quality Control Board’s “enforcement team” discovered an abandoned pot grow unrelated to the spill and, exaggerating the effects of the clean water spill, fined the Franklins $381,000. That's three hundred eighty-one thousand dollars.

THE FRANKLINS were forced to the additional expense of a defense attorney but fully expected that the Water Board would rubberstamp staff's “recommendation” to essentially bankrupt them and ruin their lives.

WHICH IS NOT EXACTLY as matters turned out: “I was actually impressed by the members of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board,” said Ms. Franklin on Wednesday. “They had serious questions for their enforcement team. I don't think they were particularly on our side, but they asked questions like, ‘Out of something like 31,000 marijuana growers out there in this region, why did you choose to prosecute this one?’ And of course the answer is because we reported the problem. One board member asked how many fish were killed when they made this big fuss about turbidity in the Creek. And the answer, of course, was none.”

(THE WINE INDUSTRY in the Russian River watershed alone kills thousands of endangered fish every year to the yawning unconcern of the Regional Water Board.)

MRS. FRANKLIN said the Board didn’t get much into the question of the apparent accidental breakage or leak in the water bladder. “But it was not overfilled. That was completely ruled out. The water board enforcement team misrepresented things and outright made things up. And we refuted them all. They claimed the tank was overfilled because of some strange calculation about how much water would have been collected in the drainage area behind the tank. That’s absurd. I think the board members understood that the enforcement team was exaggerating and misrepresenting.”

AFTER A HEARING that went on much longer than anyone expected, the Board went into chambers and came out with a ruling that the Franklins would be fined almost $38,000, 10% of the original number, but still quite a lot. “Of course we don't have that,” said Ms. Franklin. “We've spent over $15,000 on lawyers since we started this. And several more thousands for forester Estelle Clifton do a report on the watercourse and what really happened there showing there was no long-term damage at all. So it's just a huge amount of money and we have no way to pay it. We have the alternative to take them to court but that would just cost more money to appeal the decision and we would have to spend thousands more on lawyers and probably lose again.

“BUT STILL, I was impressed with the board members themselves. They took their jobs very seriously. And they are seriously questioning the way their enforcement team works. That team is out of control. Punishing a person for reporting a problem? That sets a very bad precedent. One board member actually brought that up. And another Board member asked if the enforcement team really intended to take everything this family has for this accident? ‘Don't we have a provision for accidents?,’ he asked. And the answer was no there is no provision for handling accidents such as a get out of jail free card or a decreased fine.

"OVERALL THOUGH I think the water board members are actually decent, sensible people. It's the enforcement team that's the problem. We were just low hanging fruit who just happened to wander into their grasp. Every year they let thousands of pot growers go who do real damage to the watershed — and they punished us? I guess they think it might be dangerous for them to actually go out and try to catch the bad people.”

GLENDA ANDERSON, for the Press Democrat, mentioned none of the above facts in her all out hit piece on the Franklins based entirely on the inflated reports of Water Board staff. Typical of the PD to ignore the big offenders, especially the wine juggernaut, hit the defenseless little guy real hard.

WHEN MIKE SWEENEY locks you into a contract, you can bet you are really locked in. Before Sweeney retired as Mendocino County’s long-serving Trash Czar, he set up the contract which Jerry Ward’s Solid Waste of Willits outfit operates under. Ward essentially IS the County's rural garbage man. He has served us efficiently and, considering the vast distances his trucks travel, inexpensively.

WARD'S CONTRACT requires that he periodically apply for and justify rate increases, including a $33,000 “independent audit” that he has to pay for.

THE “AUDIT” must then be submitted to Sweeney’s hand-picked successor at the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority, Louisa Morris. Ward submitted his request for a rate increase back in December of 2015 with his own numbers and a request that the County forego the independent audit to speed up the process.

IN HIS REQUEST to the Supervisors, Ward said he was losing money on all five transfer stations and on his recycle/buyback centers (due to a downturn in the market for recyclables). Ms. Morris told the Supervisors that Ward is making more than 12% profit and that that was more than other similar companies make.

WARD RESPONDED that Ms. Morris wasn’t factoring in interest on loans or taxes which turn the alleged 12-plus-percent “profit” into a loss.

THE DISPUTE has lingered for a year while Ward keeps losing money. Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who has apparently been spearheading an ad hoc committee to deal with Ward’s rate increase request, and making no progress, belatedly claimed last week that the lack of the expensive independent audit was the problem — the audit that would cost Ward $33,000.

CLEARLY, the dispute has more to do with Ms. Morris’s tight position regarding what’s allowed as an “operating cost” than what the actual numbers may be. And an audit wouldn’t deal with that problem at all.

REMEMBER, Jerry Ward’s Willits-based, locally-owned business accepted the original contract years ago when the County was facing a messy trash situation with very few bidders and some competition from large, out-of-county haulers.

WARD has since delivered good service, hired competent local workers and has effectively removed trash hauling as a County problem. It seems to us that the County should figure out a way to cover his real costs and allow him a reasonable profit — profits which in the past have been plowed back into capital improvements — Jerry Ward is not getting rich off of Mendo’s outback trash.

WARD TOLD THE SUPES last week that his financial situation is so dire that his bank, Comerica, is threatening to call in their note in January of 2017 and won’t offer any more credit, which would mean he couldn't make payroll. This would force Ward to apply for bankruptcy, which would leave both Mendocino and Humboldt counties (which Ward also has a contract with) in the hands of a company in receivership -- or worse.

FOR NOW, the Supes have decided to give the dispute back to Hamburg’s ineffective ad hoc committee which has so far stood firm in making zero progress on the problem.

SEEMS TO US that Ward should at least get a temporary increase to keep him in business — in fact that should have been done months ago — subject to review and negotiation based on actual costs incurred during the period of the temporary increase.

IF THE ORTNER OR REDWOOD QUALITY mental health contracts had been drawn up by Sweeney, they’d have been forced out of Mendo or out of business years ago. Instead, those much more abstract “services” are allowed to bill the County whatever the hell they want without demonstrating that a single person has been genuinely helped.

BUT IF WARD doesn’t get his County-wide trash hauling job done every day, every week, every month, year after year, the public outcry would be loud and immediate.

(HAT TIP to Independent Coast Observer reporter Lindsay Smith whose recent summary of the Ward-Mendo impasse provided some useful information for this account.)

A READER WRITES: "Your article on Jerry Ward and his requested rate increase was ok as far as it goes but ignores his money losing contracts for hauling Humboldt County's trash and recyclables. Ward was low bidder on those contracts a few years ago, undercutting the local company that had held the contracts for decades. Ward insisted his business acumen and economies of scale allowed him to deliver the service at a significant savings over the local company. Now that he has the contracts Ward is threatening Humboldt County with bankruptcy unless the contracts are re-written to give him higher rates. Sound familiar?

"Ward is also trying to sell the company so the rate increases he wants will increase the value of the company to any new buyer. Hamburg has been acting as a one man ad hoc committee because Woodhouse has been missing in action, so it was really just Hamburg who brought forward the most recent proposal. Hamburg was willing to give Ward $100,000 a year in rate relief, but Ward says he needs $200,000. But the real question might be how much should Mendo County ratepayers be charged to make good on Ward's unprofitable Humboldt venture?"

"Even without the Humboldt contracts, it's hard to know if Ward really needs the extra hundred thou or if it's just a ploy for higher rates. Why? Because garbage companies are set up with a series of companies under a single corporate ownership. One company owns the trucks, one owns the transfer station, one holds the contract to pick up trash, another for the recyclables, and so on. The parent company can juggle the numbers any way they want to show a gain or a loss. And if Jerry Ward is on the brink of bankruptcy like he claims, why did he contribute $20,000 to Howard Memorial Hospital last year? Without an independent audit it is almost impossible to tell if the company is really making money or not."

"Ward provides a good service and no one wants to see a local company fold. But Ward is taking a page out of President-elect Trump's playbook by threatening to walk if he doesn't get his way. Is Ward threatening bankruptcy to save a local company or is it a cynical ploy to increase the sales value of his company before he rides off into the sunset? Caught in the middle are the ratepayers and more pointedly Ward's employees."

NOT THAT ANYBODY ASKED, but what's most shocking to me about the Fort Bragg mummification is how symptomatic it is of the general breakdown, even here in Mendocino County in a small population of people. Fifty years ago, an elderly, ailing person in a small town like Fort Bragg would not have been as isolated as Ms. Potts had become, so isolated her exploitive in-home care worker was the only person in regular contact with her so the in-home person could continue to get paid for a dead woman.

EVERYONE is asking the obvious questions. Where was the apartment manager at Duncan Place? Where were the County's Adult Protective Services people, to whom suspicions that Ms. Potts was being ill treated were reported by Ms. Potts' neighbor?

A COUPLE of weeks ago, my colleague, David Severn, called the County's Department of Health and Human Services, formerly the Welfare Department. Severn wanted someone in authority to have a look at the accommodations for the young people housed at Blackbird Farm, Philo. Severn says the yurts housing the teenagers are unsafe, that a tree recently fell on one, crushing it. If there had been people in it a number of them would have been killed. He also says the heaters are unvented, and the housing is generally not particularly safe or suited to housing large numbers of teenagers or large numbers of anybodys.

ANNE MOLGAARD, the agency's assistant director, came on the line. She told Severn that because the young people at Blackbird were all from Los Angeles, they weren't Mendocino County's responsibility. Tracking down responsibility in Los Angeles could take weeks. You can easily track down responsibility in Mendocino County but it may or may not be responsible.

THE GHOST SHIP fire in Oakland revealed that a building inspector had not been allowed to enter the place before the fire, which begs the question: Why didn't he come right back with a warrant and a cop? Of course it has since developed that there are similarly unsafe structures all over the East Bay, although there's a small army of people drawing pay to protect the public from itself, and the city is short on building inspectors whose caseloads are so large they simply can't get around lots of places. Which is probably true.

I HAVE A FRIEND who's a fireman in Oakland. His station is busy round the clock because area residents know if they call the fire department the fire department will show up. He says the cops are pretty much in triage mode all they time, and they are seriously understaffed. The police have to sort out calls on the basis of which ones seem the most serious, beginning with shots fired. People know the cops might come, they might not. So they call the fire department, which always comes.

A FORT BRAGG person commented that the Senior Center used to have a phone tree that put all the vulnerable elderly in daily touch with people who monitored their welfare. Why that simple but effective strategy was abandoned is not known. A call to the Fort Bragg Police Department with a request for a “welfare check” would have discovered this atrocity much earlier. A call to the helping professionals of the County of Mendocino is the equivalent of a message in a bottle heaved off the Mendocino bluffs.

I THINK most of us know, especially those of us who live in the unincorporated areas of Mendocino County, that our welfare is pretty much up to us, that the police are at least a half hour away and, depending where you are, so are your volunteer emergency responders. But someone will show up.

ANDERSON VALLEY is still enough of a community that a person living alone, especially an elderly or unwell person, will have someone keeping an eye out. Most places, though, community ended a long time ago.

ANOTHER PRESS DEMOCRAT BLAST FROM THE PAST: The Democrats have been saving the Pacific Coast for 40 years now via a guy called Richard Charter whose handsomely paid to stop offshore oil drilling annually since the middle 1980s. The PD’s story begins, “Democrats push for ban on offshore drilling in California… The Pacific Coast was not included in President Obama’s recent move to protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, an omission that one environmentalist said left California a ‘sitting duck’ under the oil-friendly Trump administration…” One would think with two senior US senators and millions of California libs opposed….

THE COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER is temporarily closed again for a few days, another parvo dog. A reader explains: "The county needs to build a separate space for incoming dogs, especially puppies. From what I can see, parvo is on the rise big time. I blame all the morons out there who won’t neuter their dogs or cats, and don’t give a rat's ass about their health. The animal control folks bring in litter after litter."

FEEDBACK. We used to get a lot more, but now that everyone has his own newspaper on FaceBook or his own blog, we're just one more tiny voice in the daily, indiscriminate din, but still the only voice in Mendocino County that covers local matters in depth. Or tries to.

CHECK THE PRECEDING CLAIM: The Ukiah Daily Journal and the new-ish Willits Weekly roll on the big issues in their communities, and the Ukiah Daily Journal, for instance, would definitely have printed the full letter from Fort Bragg about the mummified remains at Duncan Place that its sister paper, the Advocate-Beacon, refused to print whole. A free press lives in Mendocino County, but is pretty much on life support.

WE ALSO THINK MendocinoSportsPlus comes up with a lot of information otherwise unavailable from local media. But in all immodesty, I think the AVA is the go-to rag for lots of stories that would otherwise go untold. Which is why we are so often asked to look into issues far from downtown Boonville. SO, when someone pops up and says we lied or simply repeated rumors or otherwise did a poor job of newspapering, we demand that the critic give us the specifics. This Chuck Peavey guy? At first I thought he was the Giants pitcher. “Why would Peavey be complaining about us?” I wondered. But nope this is a Fort Bragg Peavey who says we did not write the truth about him or something he was involved in. He says we did it more than once. But I can't place the guy, and he simply libels us and moves on without providing any evidence that we did any such thing.

DITTO FOR JUNICE GLEASON. She says we botched some story 15 years ago. Which story, Junice? At least give me a clue so I can get the key to the crypt and look it up.

TYPICALLY, what happens is this: The reader sees an opinion he doesn't like and writes off the whole as untrue because he or she can't tell the diff between fact and fancy.

BUT REALLY, if you're going to claim the AVA got you wrong or, worse, did you wrong, either tell us how we screwed up or shut it. If you don't, you're lying.

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