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Valley People (March 1, 2017)

THE UKIAH ROAD is a mess. Slides all the way, some of them right to the edge of the pavement, poised to slip away, taking the roadbed with them. Highway 253 needs major rehab, but with disasters like major dams about to crack, Mendocino County is not even within shouting distance of the federal fixit priority list.

RIGHT HERE in Boomsville, Upper Peachland is cut off. The Peachland Road runs east up into the hills off Highway 128 a mile from Boonville. The road has washed out nine-tenths of a mile up from 128, stranding quite a few people, including the Emerald Earth collective and a number of full-time residents.

ONE OF THOSE stranded hill dwellers said Wednesday: "Right now people are parking cars on each side of the slide. We saw this coming and drove just one car down yesterday, so we can park at the bottom of the slide, walk across, then get into our second car and continue up the hill."

ANDERSON VALLEY FIRE CHIEF, Andres Avila said last week that he is working on alternative routes, but for emergency vehicles only. "I have confirmed an alternate route through private property for emergency vehicles only. It will be difficult in one small area for a two-wheel drive ambulance to make it, but I am pursuing road fixes with County OES. We have a temporary plan in place that will be reinforced soon. In short, we are significantly delayed in response time but can access above the slide and are working on establishing a long-term fix for all emergency vehicles."

NON-EMERGENCY residents, it seems, will be maintaining vehicles on both sides of the slide for some time.

IT IS POSSIBLE, in dry weather, to drive in and out of Peachland from the Ukiah Road (253), but this route is blocked by at least two locked gates. The road is accessed near the Hammond Place about 9 miles from Boonville. I believe it's also possible to get in and out of Peachland from deep Nash Mill Road, but it's been years since anybody did it.

THE ROADBED has slid away into a 50-foot drop, leaving another 50 or so feet of air between the two halves of the road.

THE NEO-ISOLATES living beyond the break are likely to continue living without a fully functional road for a long time. Inconvenient, certainly, but not likely to plunge anyone into Donner Party mode.

I WAS SURPRISED to see fresh tire tracks on the remaining piece of road, meaning some daredevil is removing the Do Not Pass barriers to drive on, with one side of his vehicle perilously close to the 50-foot drop. Repair will be a big, costly job in a broke county with major damage this rainy season to more heavily traveled roads.

IF SHE were still with us, Briana Rowe would be writing a story for us about the time the road washed out back in the 1970s, when the Rowes were the only full-time residents of the Upper Peachland. Pam Partee remembers our friend: “I am sorry to hear of the passing of Briana Burns. Briana was our Peachland Road neighbor since the 80’s. I have been in touch with her since her move; she continued to be interested in the community and we talked about earlier times up on that Road. I shared my appreciation of her story in the AVA last September about the burning of Lone Pine and encouraged her to write more. She would be dismayed with today’s state of Peachland Road. We had a road closing in, I believe, the early 90’s that inconvenienced the few of us that lived up there then. Now there are far more, most of whom live some 5 miles up–quite a hike. My condolences to Briana’s family.”

A READER WRITES: Orr Springs Road is closed. A large of chunk the road about five miles west of Ukiah near the 39 milemarker fell out due to erosion. I tried to call KZYX about it when it happened, called all three numbers, but nobody answered. I thought one of their main claims for their recent pledge drive was how they were there on the spot to report such timely things. Guess not. Orr Springs is a County Road and I saw where the County’s recent emergency services report mentioned the closure (but not the reason or any assessment). I don’t know what the County’s going to do as a workaround, nor do I know if the Transportation Department is equipped to make such major and costly road repairs. Last I checked, Orr Springs Road is in Supervisor Hamburg’s Supervisorial district. I wonder if anyone’s heard anything from him.

THE YORKVILLE pot farm murder case has been partially resolved. Isidro Bernal has pled out and received 25 to life in state prison, as has Edgar Contrerras. They were two of three pot thieves (the case of the third man, Mario Godinez-Gonzalez is still pending) who wound up shooting at each after one of them shot and killed guerrilla grower Marcos Batista back in the fall of 2015 near Highway 128 and the Hopland Road. Contreras was gutshot by one of his fellow pot garden raiders, Bernal Lopez or Godinez-Gonzalez, and left to die. He called 911 and survived to face murder charges along with the other two.

Edgar 'Bad Boy/Del Diablo' Contreras; Isidro 'Blackie/El Negro' Lopez-Bernal; Mario 'Shorty/Chipparo' Godinez-Gonzalez

ATTENTIVE READERS will remember Darwin Bond-Graham’s work for the AVA. On April 7th, in New York, Darwin and his co-writer, Ali Winston, will be honored as recipients of this year's Polk Award. Popularly regarded as second only to receiving a Pulitzer, the Polk goes back to 1948 in honor of George Polk, a CBS reporter who was killed in the Greek Civil War. Past recipients, to name a few, include Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Eric Servereid, Woodward and Bernstein. The Polk Award goes to genuinely good work. Bond-Graham, not so incidentally, has roots in the Anderson Valley where he spends many weekends with his family at Rancho Navarro.  The Polk award will be presented at The City Club, San Francisco, on March 22nd. It reads, "Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston overcame numerous obstacles to publish one of the biggest stories of 2016, an expose of the Oakland Police Department's sexual exploitation of a minor and related misconduct, which made national headlines. Bond-Graham and Winston used public records, social media research and persistence to illustrate how OPD brass ignored the abuse. The journalists also weathered a leak investigation into possible sources of their reporting, and scrupulously protected the privacy of the victim even when other outlets published her name.”

JUST IN FROM ELK: Craig Mitchell is an Elk contractor and the town's fire chief, the only fire chief on the Northcoast who played Major League baseball. Yup, Craig, originally from Santa Rosa, was a pitcher with the Oakland A's, middle 1970s.

IN OTHER NEWS from Elk, former 5th District Supervisor, Norman de Vall, has sold his house and now lives up the road in Mendocino, village of. Norman confirms: “True; DMV has clipped my wings because of my eyesight.  At best I’ll be limited mobility and no night time driving.  I’ve anchored Jose Cross’s former home on Cummings Lane. As you know Bobby Beacon 86’d me [from the Beacon Light] when I brought a Veterans for Peace member by for a drink. (Bobby didn’t want his hat or his T-shirt).  But told me later that if I left the Elk County Water District Board of Directors the prohibition would be lifted.  Have to make a visit before I head north. The Jackson Band of Miwoks are the new owners of the Little Red House [Norman’s house] with the Green Lawn.

DAVID SEVERN WRITES: I have talked with Adele Phillips, the County’s lead planner for the Blackbird permit application at the Planning Department. She said please no more input before March 10 as that is her deadline to release a revised assessment and mitigation recommendations that (now retired planner) Fred Tarr had originally put together and that we all felt was woefully lacking. In other words, finally our comments and sentiments from the very beginning might be addressed. She said she thinks we will be happy with the new packet. After March 10 (starting now?) new comments will go directly to Planning Commission without being included in Adele's assessment. The target date for the next Planning Commission meeting is April 20 and it is still assumed to be an on-site walk through of the Blackbird Farm and environs. She said that Calfire has stated that the 2016 fire road guidelines are to be required which call for a 20-foot-wide, hard surface road — the grandfather clause does not apply. On the yurt situation for those of you who haven't seen it in the AVA, Blackbird project manager Danielle French-Jun told me that the children were still being housed in the yurts because a Building Inspector (Swearington?) said "Organized Camps" qualify for Building and Labor Code exemptions. I'm working on challenging that and seem to have the Building Department head Michael Lockett on my side. An anonymous tipster pointed out that Blackbird is advertising on Airbnb for $200 a night stays in the same yurts they house the kids in. The irony at play is that the County might disallow the paying adults during the safer summer months yet allow young children to reside in these things during these past stormy, tree falling winter days and nights.”

THE IDIOT'S GUIDE to Blackbird Farm, Philo. It may seem to distant readers a purely Anderson Valley matter. But given Trump's appointment of Mrs. DeVos as Secretary of Education, and the slo-mo privatization of public education that has preceded her, Blackbird Farm is an example of how one guy took public ed money, fuzzied it up behind non-profits and LLC’s, and is about to milk it for even more money for himself. Without public ed money, the scheme would not be possible.

JOHN HALL of Los Angeles has become very wealthy off charter school vouchers. He gets paid lots and lots to school "at risk youth," the student-age young people who don't or won't attend public schools. Or have been given the heave-ho for disciplinary reasons.

ENTER HALL. "No such thing as a bad boy." Or girl. Especially if the bad boy comes with an $8 grand voucher (and up) in his pocket. Put 30 of these bad boys in a storefront classroom with a cheapo, bulk-buy computer at each desk for the kid to fool around on, an underpaid college grad up front pretending to be a teacher, and multiply that classroom by several hundred and, voila! you might soon be flying first class to Florida to have dinner with Orange Man at Mar a Lago.

HALL has established charter schools in Southern California and a couple of other states for these lucrative "at risk" kids. And, to be fair, maybe a few of them even learn to read a little, but instruction is hardly the point. Hall has found a niche for himself that is likely to become a chasm when Ms. DeVos takes over. She wants to voucher-ize the whole public ed system. Hell, Hall might wind up owning Anderson Valley Unified!

John & Joan Hall

TRYING TO BE OBJECTIVE here, a lot of the educational system is rotten to the core and should be bulldozed, but these voucherized charter school people aren't really interested in building something better. They want to hustle public ed for profit while, you can be sure, their own children are cosseted in the finest private schools. (Wealthy people in the Bay Area mostly abandoned the public schools years ago except for a few selective public high schools like Lowell in San Francisco.)

SO, here in the Anderson Valley, this Hall character has bought himself a high-end dude ranch deep in the hills above Philo, accessible only by single lane dirt roads, which are frequently impassable in the winter months. Hall calls the property Blackbird Farm. He hauls in busloads of "at riskers" to experience "wilderness." Or farming. The stated intent of the enterprise depends on the required local legal designations. If it needs to be a farm for Hall's legal convenience, it's a farm. If it needs to be a wilderness experience for Hall's convenience, it's a wilderness experience. If it needs to be a camp, it’s a camp.

THE "at riskers" sleep in a couple of risky warm weather only yurts placed in risky redwood groves where a big tree recently fell and took out a yurt. Fortunately for them, the "at riskers" weren't in it at the time. But the at riskers have been housed in the yurts this winter, the riskiest in years. Local authorities see nothing wrong here with kids sleeping in an unpermitted yurt with uncorrected code violations.

OK. So bunches of kids from LA and other distant places where Hall operates his for-profit charter schools are hauled deep into the hills of Anderson Valley at all times of the year for a couple of weeks at a time to do whatever they do, farm or walk around in the woods for a wilderness experience.

BUT HALL, in Hall-Think, needs to make more money off his Philo property, to max-monetize his coupla hundred remote acres. So he applies to the Mendocino County Planning and Building Department to build accommodations for 292 transient hotel-like visitors apart from the at risk youth who would probably no longer be welcome if Blackbird Farm is teeming with the $200-a-night-chocolate-on-their-pillows crowd. ($200 a night by the way is just for the yurt. He’s building much more expensive B&B type accommodations for the yups.)

INCREDIBLY (any place except Mendocino County), our Planning and Building Department has so far declared they see no prob in granting Hall a use permit for this nearly Philo-sized mob of would-be visitors who would transform already precarious one-lane entry roads to rural highways.

HALL'S preposterous scheme is unanimously opposed by everyone in the Anderson Valley. A 292-bed hotel would be opposed if it were planned for the center of Boonville, or Philo. (Yorkville? Go for it. )

BUT while that disaster is pending the outcome of local processes, Hall and Blackbird are advertising their yurts for $200 a night on Airbnb — the unpermitted, code-violating yurts which go for $200 a night.

DURING the latter half of the 19th century, stage coach robberies were rife in Mendocino County. The most famous bandit was, of course, Black Bart, but he was far from the only "road agent" living off highway robberies. The famous outlaw, Tiburcio Vasquez, born in Monterey and descended from the original Spanish settlers, was chased into the upper Peachland area after he robbed a store somewhere in the Ukiah Valley. He was not apprehended, as I recall from his bio, at least not for that one. Some time in the 1870s, a couple of immigrant Missouri families, friendly with the infamous James brothers, were said to occasionally knock off a stage coach, fleeing to a sanctuary in the Peachland area. Frank James is known to have visited friends from the old neighborhood who'd settled in the Anderson Valley. The irony is that in 2017 there are many more outlaws in the hills of Mendocino County than there were in Black Bart's day, none of them with the panache of the old time highwaymen.

HAVING cruised past Covelo, 65-47 in the first round of small school playoffs, the male Panthers traveled to the California School for the Deaf, Fremont, for a second-round playoff game Saturday evening. The scrappy Boonville boys lost that  one to CSD 56-49. The game was part of the North Coast Section’s Les Schwab Tires Boys Basketball championship series that the Panthers did well to get into. All-in-all a creditable season for the well-coached Panthers considering they began the season with only one starter, Tony Pardini Jr., from the previous championship team.

Front row: (l-r) Alejandro Soto, JT Carlin, Jorge Mejía, Ulises Garcia
Back Row: (l-r) Asst Coach Antonio Soto, Christian Natareno, Tony Pardini, Gerardo Torales, Isaac Sanchez, Christopher Espinoza, Coach Luis Espinoza

THE LADY PANTHERS, in a big upset win over Drew, of San Francisco, 47-42, advanced to the second round of the small school playoffs against Emeryville on Emery’s home court, falling to their hostesses, 60-34.

THE 26th ANNUAL VARIETY SHOW is this upcoming weekend, March 3rd and 4th at none other than the Anderson Valley Grange. We will have two separate nights of unique and entertaining acts from near and slightly further. Maybe there’s something in all of this water, because our local variety of folk seem to reliably provide us with some great entertainment every year! Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children under 12. This year, a limited number of tickets will be sold for either Friday or Saturday, to ensure that ticket holders get inside. They are available at the door, and also during the week before the show at Lemons’ Market in Philo and the Anderson Valley Market in Boonville. Proceeds from ticket sales go to the AV Grange. Show starts at 7, doors open at 6:30. Friday night, the AV Teen center will be providing tacos, and Saturday night, Jay will be serving his famous rib dinners to benefit the Fair Booster Club, both dinners will available in the parking lot before the show. The Community bus, formerly the senior bus, will be picking people up at the Senior Center in Boonville at 5:45 p.m., and at the Philo Post Office at 6:15, so if you don’t want to have to park at the Grange, there is an option for you.

OVER THE HILL Tuesday morning to Ukiah to get my truck smogged, a biannual ripoff, I soon learned doesn’t apply to rural residents. Of which I am one but my strictly rural truck and part-time rural car are registered in the city. The accommodating young man at the DFM Garage set me straight. You don't need to smog vehicles registered in the clean air-ed northern counties like this one. (DFM is opposite the Ukiah Theater and highly recommended for fast, competent car work at reasonable prices.)

ON FRESHLY rotated tires, clean oil and a government smog pass, I drove to the seldom visited Ukiah Visitor's Center, the tomb-like catacombs on School Street, to use the men's facilities, striding past the always vacant offices of our hard-hitting elected reps, Assemblyman Wood and State Senator McGuire, who are out when they're in, in when they're out.

AND THEN ON to my first ever In 'N Out Burger on North State. The kid at the register — one of four raking in the cash — greeted me with, "I see you've got your Hemingway look going today." Literary greetings being as rare in Ukiah as literary discussions, I replied that the only resemblance was a shared partiality for strong drink.

THE KID took my order as he simultaneously recited some of the major facts of Hemingway's life. He was called away to the bustling hamburger assembly line just as I started to quiz him on his life outside fast food, but In 'N Out is all business. I said a silent prayer for the lad, that he would somehow escape the intellectual desolation of Ukiah to some place he could talk to people about Hemingway.

THE BURGER was quite good, but the fries, which the place boasts as "fresh cut on the premises," tasted exactly like the fast food fries at every other neg food value place, that kinda thawed-out frozen taste that tells your taste buds, “These fries began life a quarter-century ago in Idaho.”

ANIMAL RESCUE of AV and the Mendocino County Animal Care service will hold a mobile Adoption Event on Saturday, March 11 from 10am to 2pm at Friedman’s in Ukiah. Adoptable dogs and cats, raffles and prizes including a free spay/neuter, family activities. Meet the County’s new Animal Shelter Manager, Rich Molinari. Conducted with Bug A Bull, Mendo Shelter Pets and Rocket Dog Rescue. For more info call 467-9262.

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