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Off the Record (Feb. 1, 2017)

CARL SHAPIRO, the ultimate public defender, has died at his home in Fairfax. Carl was 100, and lucid to the very end, lucid enough to laugh at being sent home from Kaiser Hospital because “We’re not a terminal care facility.” Tony Serra, a famed criminal defense attorney himself, told me once, “I want to be Carl Shapiro when I grow up.” Nobody is likely to be the kind of people's lawyer that Carl was. Born on Bastille Day appropriately enough, Carl could have parlayed his brains into piles of money but instead spent his life defending the otherwise undefended and, some would say, the indefensible. A veteran of World War Two’s little known Alaska Front, Carl, a Harvard graduate at the time that institution maintained quotas for Jews, landed in Marin when persons of ordinary means could still afford to buy in. An associate of the Hallinan law firm in his youth, Carl has never been able to say no to a defendant, and he's had some doozies, including yours truly, the guy who burglarized Daniel Ellsberg's house in Mill Valley and was still wearing Ellsberg's shoes when the cops picked him up. And a rapist who was caught running down a highway with his pants down, to name the kind of defendants Carl was likely to be seen with at the defense table with. Without Carl and his late wife Helen, both of whom always went all-out for defendants even public defenders tried to run from, the truly hopeless would be that much more hopeless. When Carl appeared in Mendocino County’s Superior Court, lawyers packed the room to watch him work and, in his late 80s, he worked without a net, admitting to me, “I’m so old judges are afraid to crack down on me.” (Local connection: Carl is step-grandfather to Kevin Davenport, prosecutor at Ten Mile Court, Fort Bragg.)

YES, we’re among the intrepid 25 Mendolanders who watch the entire Supe’s video whenever they meet. 25 viewers is the largest viewing audience we’ve yet seen. The average seems around 7 viewers at any one time.

WE WATCH PROFESSIONALLY, we can say, because we’re most interested in and write about local matters. Sure, these meetings are boring, unleavened by so much as a hint of wit, but reporting on them is the same as not reporting on them. Nobody cares one way or the other. We’re continually struck by how almost all the on-line and public discussion generally is focused on events over the hill and far away, and we’re doubly struck at how much of that discussion is uninformed, redundant, poorly written and reasoned, also witless except for the occasional bracing exchange of insults, and boring as hell. Whatever happened to think globally, act locally? Yes, we also keep a close watch on the Big Picture, who doesn’t in these fraught times? But we live here in a small place where we can influence events.

MENDOCINO COUNTY is not well managed, and it certainly isn’t “progressive” in any essential political way. Important decisions affecting the way we live here are often made by transient, self-interested authority, people who grab what they can in the way of inflated salaries and disappear, as a quick look at the occupants of the Supervisor’s positions over the past quarter century instructs us, and we won’t even get into city councils, school boards and the rest of local authority. If, as is obvious, life in this country is deteriorating for most people the deterioration we see here is only the microcosm of everywhere else.

IF ALL THE ATTENTION currently focused on Orange Man was focused on, say, why the one publicly-owned hospital in the County is just about to go glub, glub, glub while a church-owned, for-profit hospital chain provides the bulk of the County’s health care at much greater cost to its patients than the public hospital in Fort Bragg, or why the wine industry gets a pass from the enviro brigades who keep such a critical eye on what’s left of the timber industry, we might at least begin to discuss the realities of the way we live here in “progressive” Mendocino County.

APOLOGIES for screeching at you pwoggies like this, but jeez you’re annoying. The unregulated wine industry in Mendocino County does more lasting damage to the natural world of our imagined but celebrated rural paradise than the cumulative damage done by the timber industry at its most destructive. And here come mega-marijuana grows worse in overall negative impact than industrial booze production, a dystopian future as presently lived in Southern Humboldt County. (Note: Remember how after a big rain the roads would be alive with millions of baby frogs? Pesticide and herbicide vineyard runoff, along with pot grow residue, has finished them off. The only frogs left are in locations unaffected by chemo-runoff, mass murdered by Pinot.)

THE SUPERVISORS have voted unanimously, but not without some sniping from Supervisors Hamburg and McCowen, to recommend to the Governor the re-appointment of John Pinches to the 3rd District seat vacated mid-term by Tom Woodhouse. Six persons, including Pinches, want the position: Holly Madrigal, who lost to Woodhouse; Clay Romero, who also lost to Woodhouse; Willits environmental activist Ellen Drell, Willits school board member Georgeanne Croskey, and Willits schoolteacher John Haschek.

FIRST DISTRICT Supervisor Carre Brown nominated Pinches because he would not be a candidate in the June 2018 election to replace Woodhouse in the theoretically non-partisan seat. “With all due respect,” Brown said of the other aspirants, “they all need to run in two years,” pointing out that the popular Pinches had been elected supervisor three times. Hamburg agreed with McCowen’s vague caveat that Pinches was something of a “monkey wrencher,” probably meaning the independent Pinches didn’t always agree with them. (Mendolib, as manifested by the active in-County Democrats, assume the 4th and 5th seats belong to them, as does the 2nd District seat presently occupied by McCowen, who, in action, is often as independent as Pinches. The Lib-Deplorable split in the County is roughly 60-40 in favor of the Libs who, well… it’s a brilliantly sunny day out this bright Monday morning and no correct-thinking person wants to consider the politically depraved on a brilliant break in the winter gloom like this

CHUCK MORSE, the County’s Ag Commissioner is stepping down for unstated reasons. The announcement was made on Tuesday after the Board of Supervisors voted to approve the new pot regulations which put most of the responsibility for administering the County’s extensive and wide ranging new marijuana cultivation rules under the Ag Commissioner. (Perhaps Morse knows something nobody else does…?) Moore told the Board that the Ag Commissioner’s office is staffing up to cover the additional workload by hiring a new clerk and three new biologists. He then introduced Assistant Ag Commissioner Diane Curry who had been officially selected to be interim Ag commissioner earlier in the day in closed session.

DURING a routine discussion to endorse the appointment of HumCo Supervisor Ryan Sundberg to the Coastal Commission on Tuesday, Supervisor Dan Hamburg said he would like to know why Sandberg wanted the appointment. A better question would be: why did Hamburg want to be Supervisor? When he campaigned for the job in the wake of the retirement of the inert travel and conference chiseler, J. David Colfax, Hamburg gave no reason for running other than he was a great guy and he loved the Mendocino Coast. Which was all the reason Mendolib needed to place him in the 5th District sinecure. Sandberg, a lib who will dependably lab, wasn’t on hand and no answer was forthcoming. Hamburg voted with his fellow Supervisors to recommend Sundberg anyway.

SEVERAL WILLITS AREA CALLERS, responding to our previous stories about the tentative agreement between the County and Solid Waste of Willits, have asked if the agreement really includes an audit. One suggested that the audit go beyond the ordinary financial audit, getting into Solid Waste of Willits’s vehicle repair purchasing and procedures and payroll/personnel systems that the caller said needed to be tightened up.

THE AGREEMENT does in fact call for an audit: Item 5 of the settlement agreement says:

“Contract with an independent contractor per the County's contracts with SWOW, to perform an independent financial audit and/or rate-setting study, with SWOW to pay 50% of the cost. This audit/study will be the basis for determining the County' response to SWOW's request for a Larger Rate Increase."

THE OLD FETZER WINERY in Redwood Valley has been sold to a Bay Area marijuana entrepreneur who hopes to convert the place into a large-scale marijuana processing plant and distribution center. Neighbors are very unhappy, as is the opposition already in place to stop a Dollar Store from descending on the besieged but still bucolic area north of Ukiah. Clint Wilson, the Ukiah native turned Sonoma County wheeler-dealer, facilitated the sale.

ON MONDAY, Sheriff Tom Allman told a joint meeting of the Supes and the Mental Health Board that he did not intend for his deputies to keep on responding to "non-violent" mental health calls.

PRESENTLY, people behaving in an erratic manner become, by default, the responsibility of deputies. Many of these calls involve much deputy time hand-holding while the County's privatized, 8-5 helping professionals travel to the troubled person, and even then deputies often wind up doing the bulk of the calming.

SHERIFF ALLMAN pointed out that his night shift deputies are still burdened by mental health duties without a comparable night shift of helping pros. And even when the helping pros are available during daylight hours the deputies have to wait around for them to arrive.

THE SHERIFF'S proposal to establish an in-County psych holding facility narrowly failed to achieve passage in the November elections. The County has just retrieved psych services from a private Yuba City-based company and has turned over those highly dubious services to a Ukiah-based private company. As before Yuba City, the police continue to provide the bulk of in-County mental health services.

IN LIEU of a proper County psych center like the one proposed by Allman, the County's expanding population of mentally ill persons remains Allman's responsibility. Extreme cases are either housed at the County Jail or shipped out of County to expensive, lock-up facilities where disinterested psychiatrists juggle their meds and return them to Mendocino County where the cycle of illness to extreme illness is often repeated.

A LOCAL psychiatric holding facility is promised by the Ukiah-based, private mental health contractors known as Redwood Quality Management Co. Out-of-County facilities cost the County upwards of $800 a day, hence the private interest by both in-County and out-of-County businesses to provide psychiatric "services." The mentally ill, like the poor generally, are big business. For some people.

A RECENT STORY in the Ukiah Daily Journal described "A group of 16 Ukiah High School teachers gathered to show their support for public education, along with their concern over the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. The teachers were expressing their chagrin about DeVos by wearing red to school on Wednesday."

"KARINA EDWARDS," the article about the red clad Ukiah teachers, continues, identifying Ms. Edwards as a Ukiah High School English teacher. “The main thing,” Ms. Edwards said, “is that we are very concerned about is the future of education, given the fact that we have Betsy DeVos as our potential…Secretary of Education. She has no experience, and mainly, she doesn’t believe in the philosophy of public education – the idea that education should be free for all students and that all students get an equal start. She promotes charter schools. She [has a] highly religious background. It’s a positive message, but we also are very concerned about the possibility of her next week getting confirmed by the Senate.”

MS. EDWARDS' statement, and not to pick on her, throws an ungrammatical bone to religion's "positive message," a debatable statement which would serve nicely as one of those critical thinking exercises the school people are always telling us is one of their goals. But she more clearly makes the point that public ed was supposed to give everyone enough of the fundamentals to have a fair shot at success, which still seems to mean rewarding work fairly compensated. The old idea was to assimilate immigrant children into their new country and to teach them to read well enough to decode the fine print and make reasonable political choices. If that ever happened on a mass scale it certainly doesn't happen anymore.

ABOUT THE TIME schools went to metal detectors at learning's gate, and policemen in the halls, it was already past time to re-think public ed. But the teacher's unions are an important auto-vote for career officeholders of the Democratic sub-species who get auto-re-elected by promising more money to public schools, while the public schools say give us more and we'll do better.

FACT IS, the well-to-do abandoned the public schools years ago. Look around San Francisco about 8am and you'll see white and Asian children getting on buses for private schools. Ditto for a tiny minority of the sons and daughters of professional black and Hispanic parents, the less well-heeled among them sending their kids to less expensive but dependably orderly parochial schools. Put a glass of wine into all those parents and they'll say, "We're not racists but we can't send our kids to unsafe, over-crowded schools presided over by people who don't know or care about what they're doing.

ENTER this Trumpian grenade, Betsy DeVos, fronting for educational entrepreneurs like John Hall of Blackbird Farms, Philo. Hall's a multi-millionaire via publicly-funded charter schools. Under Trump, he, or someone like him, could wind up raking off a large number of Mendocino County's students, a number of whom are already in charter schools in Ukiah and Willits because their parents are unhappy with the public schools whose resistance to substantive change may be about to get them killed.

John & Joan Hall

I THINK it's clear that American elementary schools do a good job of teaching the little savages to read and do basic math. But when those savages grow larger, and their hormones begin to moan, and our savage culture captures them, well, try your hand at a contemporary classroom of thirty to forty 12-to-14 year olds.

REPEATING an old story of mine that convinced me the entire educational system should be blown up and re-assembled, occurred at a high school basketball game a dozen or so years ago. The Boonville hoopsters fire out of their locker room and onto the gym floor to full-blast lyrics celebrating the more demented joys of criminality. So I asked the principal if he thought “music” celebrating misogyny and mayhem was appropriate. "Hey," he replied, "the kids like it."

UKIAH has already spent four mil defending itself against, basically, itself. Or what should be merely another branch of itself. Ukiah is in an apparently endless suit with the Ukiah Valley Sanitation District, and why a city sewer system should exist apart from the city it serves is yet another Only In Mendo irony.

AND NOW UKIAH finds itself as defendant against a state group that brought us the disaster of Prop 13 called the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association. The Jarvis Gang says Ukiah's recent tax increase to repair its failing streets is illegal. Technically, it probably is, and the Jarvis Gang is so well-funded it can keep Ukiah in court for eternity if Ukiah resists the Gang's suit. Ukiah will go broke, is broke, paying lawyers.

THE REAL PROB with Ukiah is an overpaid and overlarge administrative apparatus coupled to a city council that is, ah, well, to put it bluntly… a city council not equipped to make responsible decisions and, as is often the case in Mendocino County, a city council wholly supine before its own administrators. And one that, like all Mendo supervisory bodies, is largely composed of transients, people who get elected, screw things up, disappear from public life.

THE SUICIDE NET for the Golden Gate Bridge is four years from completion but, the Bridge Authority says, work on the long-delayed $200 million project will soon commence. It will consist of a steel net placed 20 feet below the bridge and 20 feet out from it. It was originally projected to cost $76 million, but when the bids started coming in, projected costs more than doubled, with the diff now funded with new money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans and the bridge district itself.

THE NUMBER of annual jumpers is kept secret, but the people taking that last leap is considerable given that the Bridge District, just this year, has added five people to its intervention team, bringing the total number to 22 persons whose job it is to talk the despairing out of jumping. The Bridge says 138 persons were persuaded from the edge in 2016.

SILENCE. Not you, dear reader, the movie, Scorcese's latest. It's beyond bad, makes a Boonville rube wonder how it got made. But it did get made and I paid $7.50 long enough to experience some severe penitence myself. Excuse me while I veer off into some free association. About ten years ago, I attended a traditional Catholic funeral for a relative at the big Catholic church in Santa Rosa. I was early, in plenty of time to look at the church itself, which was modern architecture of the anonymous, non-inspirational type which could easily be converted to a House of Pancakes or a drive-up bank. But there was one thing about it I'll always remember: A truly reverent man was absolutely prostrate before the altar. Or maybe he was nuts, not that he looked nuts and not that I wasn't moved by his faith. I was the only other person in the room, so he wasn't faking it for any possible audience. Whoever he was, that guy would enjoy Silence, the movie, two hours of badly acted 17th century torment as allegedly experienced by missionary Jesuits in Japan.

A WEEK OF ODD COMMUNICATIONS. A woman calls from Ukiah. "The reason I'm calling from a pay phone," she begins, "is because my neighbor is trying to kill me." I ask her if she's called the Ukiah Police. "Yes, but they don't believe me. They don't understand that my neighbor has converted my apartment to an alternate reality, that my furniture is making fun of me." I suggested she drag a couple of her chairs outside in the cold. "Maybe that would make them a little more respectful," I said. She laughed, meaning she wasn’t totally cuckoo. The truly insane don’t laugh at little jokes. They laugh at the big jokes, like Life, you might say. I asked her if there was anything she specifically wanted me to do. "Not really. I read your paper, so I thought I would call you." I wished her luck.

IT'S PRETTY CLEAR to us that we hear a lot from the Go Fast community, the meth people on, like, day four without sleep, whose mental functioning is already forever impaired from drug abuse. Many of these calls are so garbled it's impossible to deduce any meaning from the word salad being dumped on one’s head. This one guy called twice. He said there was some kind of cosmic conspiracy that had singled him out for special persecution, but it specifically involved Coast attorney Jone Lemos and Ten Mile Court judge Clay Brennan. I listened for a long time, occasionally trying to wedge in a question to clarify the exact nature of the man's beef. Exasperated, I finally said in a voice bordering on shout, "Please write down the facts as you understand them and e-mail them to me." He said he would, then resumed accusations of "treason" against Ms. Lemos and the judge, probably the grandest complaint against either of them they've heard. The crazy man’s call ignited in me a brief reverie of Coast attorneys and Judge Brennan, backs pressed up against the rear wall of Fort Bragg City Hall, blindfolded, smoking a last bazooka, a firing squad of Fort Bragg cops waiting for that final Ready, Aim, Fire! from mayor Lindy Peters who’s just informed the doomed they’re guilty of high treason. Darned if I didn't get a lengthy e-mail as incoherent as the crazy man's verbal communication. That was two weeks ago. Silence, since. The Conspiracy must have finished him off.

LAST WEEK we reported that County Ag Commissioner Chuck Morse had resigned. Morse is the guy who was famously praised by Supervisor Dan Hamburg for having done something about the wind fan problem in Anderson Valley. That "something" was a single phone call to Roederer’s Arnaud Weyrich who explained that the wine grape people had to keep a thousand or so Anderson Valley residents wide awake from midnight to 8am every Spring to protect their grapes. Or, as Philo grape grower Ted Bennett famously put it, "My grapes are more important than your sleep." Good job, Chuck.

MORSE'S RESIGNATION just happened to coincide with the roll-out of the County’s newly expanded medical pot cultivation rules, and we speculated that Morse was retiring to avoid being involved in that particular branch of local “agriculture.”

THIS WEEK we read in the essential Willits Weekly that we were probably right. Morse told the Willits Weekly’s Mike A’Dair, “The communication I’ve had with the cannabis community [sic] has been really positive. A lot of people have their own perception of that community — let’s say they get painted with a broad brush. But my experience has been positive. I’d say it bodes well for the County. It really does.”

A’DAIR added, “Morse acknowledged that administering the new cannabis program will be challenging. ‘It’s a lot, obviously. It has been very time consuming to try to launch this. But if you look around at other counties that are doing this, all the people involved are working hard. There’s just a lot of time required, and there’s no getting around it.’ Asked to predict how the next year would go, Morse was upbeat. ‘It’s gonna be nothing but change. Everyone has to realize that for the next two or three years, that’s the gig. And let’s go!’”

TRANSLATION: (to interim Ag Commissioner Ms. Diane Curry): "Good luck! It's all yours. I'm gettin' outtahere while the gettin's good!"


LOUISE MORRIS, the woman who replaced re-invented communist, airfield arsonist and unindicted car bomber, Mike Sweeney, as the General Manager of the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority back in September, has also announced her departure “for greener pastures,” wherever those pastures may lie. She was only in the job for five months, having previously done conservation and trails work for the Mendocino Land Trust.

ACCORDING TO Mike A’Dair, also in the current Willits Weekly, Ms. Morris “had many glowing words” for MSWMA. “I think Mike Sweeney built a really wonderful organization here, and I look forward to passing the torch to the next person who will take the organization into the future. MSWMA is a great organization and it plays a really important role in rounding out the necessary solid waste functions here in Mendocino County.”

AS A MATTER of objective fact, the cunning Sweeney, created his own public agency by nudging aside the County's existing garbage office and, with the help of public officials like Richard Shoemaker, Dan Hamburg, John McCowen and a handful of other public bureaucrats who throw their own nickels around like manhole covers while spending public money like there's no tomorrow, all the while inserting each other into the County’s cush-est public jobs, Sweeney's self-created agency took over a few minor trash-related functions for roughly three times the public money they should cost. Think of Sweeney's MSWMA as a kind of trash equivalent of Mendocino County's fleet of heavily subsidized ghost buses, about $15 a passenger in state and federal kickbacks per annual rider. (The same people glommed on to the County’s best-paying public jobs also run the County's ghost buses.) Sweeney, allegedly, is retired, but he was probably breathing down this woman's neck every day to make her job twice as difficult as it need be.

MS. MORRIS’s tenure coincides with the last few months of the long-drawn out dispute between Solid Waste of Willits and the County where she was thrust into the center of a heated controversy involving former Supervisor Tom Woodhouse (who totally wigged out in office and had to resign), current Supervisors Dan Hamburg and John McCowen, Mike Sweeney and Solid Waste of Willits owner Jerry Ward, all of whom have egos the size of an 18-wheel garbage truck. The dispute even erupted in a shouting match at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting with Dan Hamburg trying to out-shout Jerry Ward over the earth-shattering question of whether or not coastal trash bins need covers and who should pay for them — to give just a small taste of what Ms. Morris had to deal with.

THEN WE READ Ms. Morris's effusive comments about MSWMA and Sweeney — so effusive that we suspect she just wants out — NOW — without poisoning the recruitment of the next victim, er, General Manager, any more than it already is.

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