SHERIFF TOM ALLMAN: “I’m a little embarrassed to be here today. I was here last month in front of you and I said that in 2016 this board did not recognize National Peace Officers Memorial Week. And I reminded you that it was this month, May 15, yesterday, and certainly there's no recognition for it. I just want my deputy sheriffs and law enforcement officers throughout the county to know how much they are appreciated. In 2015, 40 law enforcement officers were killed in our nation. 20 of them were white law enforcement officers, two were Native American, eight African Americans were killed and two Alaskan Indians were killed. I would encourage this board to work with the Deputy Sheriffs Association to show how much they are appreciated. The fact that there's not a proclamation — I'm over it. I'm not going to write a proclamation for myself as a peace officer. But I do want our deputy sheriffs to know that they are appreciated. They go out there every day. When people are running away from gunfire, our deputies sheriffs, our Highway Patrol, our police officers, are running toward the gunfire. Protecting this county in ways that other people cannot comprehend. They are appreciated. I would hope that maybe somebody this year could put it on the calendar for next year that May 15 is a very important day. May 15 reminds us that there are law enforcement officers, male and female, young and old, every ethnicity possible, that go out and do everything they can to maintain the peace as peacekeepers. And for those of you who are watching, any deputy sheriffs, any officers, thank you very much. Thank you for going out there every day and doing your job for a salary that has not been returned to you which five years ago was taken away from you. I appreciate you are staying in Mendocino County. I appreciate you maintaining the peace. I appreciate you supporting me. Thank you very much.”
BOARD CHAIR John McCowen: I assure you that no one intends any disrespect to our law enforcement officers. I think quite the contrary is true. And we will be sure and have that on the calendar next year. But typically it is the department's responsibility to sponsor proclamations relevant to their area.
ROSS LIBERTY, Ukiah businessman: In the little bit of management training I've got I know that it's useful to catch people when they do something right. Somebody doing something right. I think this board — I'm here to express my appreciation to the board for the support they gave in my decision to purchase the Masonite property and also to let you guys know that as a result of that Rhys Vineyards bought three acres and we just closed last week and they should be starting tractor work in a day. I think they are going to be a great addition to our community. They are very high end. They have a great reputation. Their average bottle, their sale price for a bottle of wine is $70, so it's a really -- they have a lot of investment in the vineyards in our county and I'm glad that you guys kind of moved this forward. If it wasn't for your efforts I wouldn't have done it. So thank you very much.
McCowen: That's great news.
ED NOTE: For whom? Another water-guzzling operation on the overdrawn Russian River? Rhys Vineyards is owned by Silicon Valley software mega-mogul, Kevin Harvey. One of his vineyards is in Navarro on very steep slopes above Highway 128. (Mendocino County is the only county in the state that doesn't have a grading ordinance.) Harvey claims that planting on steep slopes is a good thing, never mind the slide risk. Official Mendocino County’s serf-like drop-fall at the feet of the wine industry, a net negative for everyone else who lives here, is always an un-encouraging spectacle.
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JOY BIELER, SEIU MEMBER AT LARGE: I am here to ask that you prioritize increasing Mendocino County employee salaries. Every single one of my coworkers are struggling. These are your public service employees. They are working long hours due to the lack of staff available to get the job done. Or they are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Their lives are out of balance. Well-being is at the heart of every person and having a balanced lifestyle is certainly important to the quality of the person's ability to live a productive and enjoyable life. It seems like every week the faces change. When one person retires another person turns in his or her resignation. I work in the emergency response department for family and children's services. I'm not a social worker. But almost every suspected child abuse referral crosses my desk. The amount of these referrals is staggering. In the three years that I have worked for the county I have seen in my department alone 12 people hired and 17 people leave. Imagine my stress when I get yet another referral knowing that there is not enough staff to fully investigate and respond in many cases with the much-needed services for these families in need. Most all the people that have left have left because they can no longer stand the long hours and low wages that it takes to do the job that they are asked to do. I love our community and the work I do. But I don't know how much longer I will be able to continue to work under these conditions. Please restore much-needed balance to our community of workers. I would like to ask that everyone who is a county employee sitting here this morning please stand. [One or two dozen audience members stand.] These are the people I work with every day.
NATALIE SHEPARD: I’m a social worker supervisor with children's services. I've been working with children services for almost 4 years now. I just want to share with you that I appreciate as Sheriff Allman pointed out, that we feel a little underappreciated when it comes to the work that we do, the wages that we receive. I'm a mom. I've got six kids at home. Three weeks ago I worked 167 hours in a two week pay period. That took time away from not only my personal time but it takes away from my family, my children, while I'm serving the children of this community and giving the children of this community a priority. I really encourage you all to look at the work that we are doing on a daily basis. The harm we put ourselves in. The harm we are putting our families in. And the neglect we are doing for our own families. Make us feel appreciated, make us feel valued. Give us what we deserve. Thank you....
SEVERAL MORE social workers, and a County road worker, lamented their pay and work conditions. The County has been plagued for years by trained people, including deputies and local police, leaving for higher paying jobs.
PHIL BALDWIN, former Ukiah city councilman: I’m a resident of Ukiah. We have heard a lot about a housing crisis in the Ukiah valley. I assume it's true on the coast as well. In our local media we have never really heard much of anything in the last three or four years about a housing crisis until this valley's economic elite decided to try to change the Ukiah Valley Area Plan for a tract home subdivision at Lover’s Lane less than a mile north north of here. There is no crisis in homes for sale. If you go to any multi-listing, or any local realtors listing, you will find that there are between 80 and 120 homes for sale, all priced less than the proposed price of the tract home subdivision at Lover’s Lane. There is however a serious rental housing crisis. I think you all know that. That is where the real crisis is. There is lower than a 2%, maybe lower than a 1%, rental housing vacancy rate in this valley. So the answer — we do have some projects underway evidently within the next year. That's positive. We will need infill development of rental housing. However new construction is not going to solve the crisis. In Santa Rosa the majority of the City Council passed a rent control ordinance. It's constitutional. The only way it is constitutional is it has to guarantee a fair return to the owners of the dwellings. It only applies to housing built before 1995. And when a vacancy occurs it allows the owner of the apartment to raise rents to any level they want. The rent allowed by this Santa Rosa style rent control allows a 3% maximum CPI increase yearly. I have a copy of their proposal. If it goes down to defeat by the voters in Santa Rosa in June we shouldn't pay any attention to that because we all know that in special elections, the people who are renters tend not to turn out in those special elections. Generally it is hard to turn out the working class in special elections in June. I would like to submit this and ask you to realize that it guarantees a fair return to landlords. It has to to be constitutional. I hope you will consider it. One final thing, a statesperson doesn't count the votes in advance. A statesperson is going to introduce rent control or other legislation regardless of whether or not they believe it would get a majority of the board.
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MICHAEL HUNTER, TRIBAL CHAIR: The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians is working on negotiations for a memorandum of understanding with the county regarding a new casino that the tribe proposes to build. According to the Coyote Valley’s Tribal lawyer, Little Fawn Bolen, the casino has been addressed in these negotiations and “we believe we have reached a fair offer, a fair agreement with the county that mitigates all the off-reservation impacts potentially associated with the casino project. We are only required to mitigate impacts that are directly related to the casino. The issue that has arisen during the negotiations among the parties in this case, and it has truly been an issue since day one, is they wonder if there is going to be a hotel transient occupancy tax included in this MOU. The Hotel TOT is illegal to include in an MOU and we have fully briefed this issue with your legal counsel as well and [Supervisor] John [McCowen] and [Supervisor] Carre [Brown] and we have been very forthright and forthcoming as to what the issues are. If we proceed to arbitration, we believe strongly that we are going to prevail and we will see a zero dollar value mitigation payment in that case. We think that the amount that's on the table now more than mitigates for any increased patronage from the hotel we may have at the casino and we have worked hard to alleviate the issues of fire and other issues that come up with police, maintaining our police force, etc. There are many incredible benefits to this project. But we just want to say that we think we have been very forthright and forthcoming during the negotiations and we simply cannot allow the hotel transient occupancy tax to remain in the agreement and for that we urge you to vote against arbitrating this and move forward as it comes together...... We have agreed to fully staff a fire department in Redwood Valley. That is our home. We have agreed to give $90,000 to the county or to fully staff a tribal police department. We have agreed to that. We have agreed to an additional $60,000 for unforeseen issues, issues not brought up to be able to mitigate but we do realize there is an administrative costs that go along with issues of working together with the tribe...."
ED NOTE: The Board voted Wednesday to exempt the proposed Coyote Valley hotel from the bed tax, a move to avoid arbitration.
WANNA LICENSE TO SELL POT?
(From the County’s proposed “Cannabis Facilities Business License And Zoning Regulations” memo:
“Allow new dispensary or retail facility in parcels zoned C1 and C2 with a Major Use Permit. The proposed revisions are more restrictive than current zoning requirements in the cases of dispensaries and retail facilities, requiring a discretionary permit where a zoning clearance would typically be required for non-cannabis related activities.”
No details as yet on what the permit would cost or what the permit application would have to contain. The subject will be discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
MAJORITY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICE EMPLOYEES (51%) say their agency does not have a favorable public image. 33% had no opinion and only 16% said their agency has a favorable public image, according to a recent HHSA internal survey. Most say they’re underpaid and overworked, of course. 10% of the helping professionals said they’re on public assistance of some kind, and almost 60% say they work another job in addition to their county job. 56% said “bad management decisions” have “negatively changed” their workplace.
SURPRISE: MENTAL HEALTH over budget:
Deputy CEO Jill Martin: “Budget Unit 4015, Mental Health is on page 21 of the report. This is the same as it was second quarter of the year. They are projected to be $1,541,000 over budget. And the details are in report.”
Board Chair John McCowen: “Could you go into a little more detail on that?”
Deputy CEO Alan Flora: “Sure. If I could just jump in. I wanted to point out that that there was one minor — well, one thing that changed and that was the first line on the audit adjustments table. We came back at midyear. We were expecting a $2.3 million payment. The state had told us it would be here in March. It has not arrived yet. They are now telling us it will be here in May. We are still anticipating that it will be here before year end (June 30). So, um, the over budget amount (clears throat) is the result of audit adjustments which you can see, the million-dollar one there that has hit in this fiscal year and then changes in the service delivery — I'm not sure if anyone from the agency is here that could address that in more detail, but there is an accrued fund balance of $3 million in debt fund which would be obviously enough to cover the $1.5 million over budget.”
McCowen: “Alright. Thank you.”
NO ONE ASKED, and no one explained, why the mostly privatized Mental Health department is so grossly over budget — and continues to be from last quarter. Instead, Flora’s irrelevant and non-responsive statement that there’s a $3 million slush fund quickly terminated the discussion. None of the other Supervisors expressed any interest, even though this happens almost every year and no one really knows why. They just keep covering it over with slush money.
CEO ANGELO promises better management. Again. After Supervisor Dan Gjerde noted that if the county decides to give employees a raise, the county probably would not be able to hire as many people. Therefore, employees need to be more efficient.
But how will the Supes know if staffers are more efficient if they have no idea how efficient they are now.
CEO Angelo responded with a another delaying tactic, making it sound like she was in favor of “metrics.” But we’ve heard that before. Informative metrics about departmental staffing and budget status, ongoing projects, problems, plans and cost drivers tailored to each department have yet to even be mentioned, much less developed.
Angelo: “What I would like to see is that we actually have a workshop in the summer when there's usually more time, the agendas are not that full in July or August and that workshop would be dedicated to looking at — you are really talking about performance measures — when you're talking about performance measures, Assistant CEO Flora is working on metrics, we are really looking at outcome measures for departments. What you're talking about is more about performance measures. So what I would like to do is have a workshop with Human Resources (?) and really look at some of the areas that we are working on — that Human Resources (?) is working on — and also get direction from the board because it is a much bigger issue than what you have discussed in the last three minutes. So I'd like to go ahead and schedule that for the summer.”
GREEN RUSH, Mendo Division. The County's Ag Department is so overwhelmed with applications to legally grow pot, that blame for the back-up in processing them is being falsely placed on Interim AG Director Diane Curry. Her department is short-handed, and the deluge of applications is not only slowed by their complicated requirements, applicants are often confused and require counter time from staff to explain the regs.
THIS SITUATION would overwhelm any agency, especially one unaccustomed to handling what amounts to a bureaucratic, expensive County-sanctioned protection racket that basically says, “Do all the paperwork, pay the money and maybe, just maybe you won't get busted.” And our local pot licensing is occurring in the context of new state pot regs while the whole confusing show occurs in a federal context that says marijuana, right down to one plant, is illegal, and the production of which is a felony. (Please see what the feds did to John Dalton of Laytonville (can be found on-line) as an example of the possibilities here.)
FROM ALL ACCOUNTS, Ms. Curry is a capable, pleasant person who finds herself in an unprecedented bureaucratic situation. She is clearly doing the best she can under difficult circumstances. The problem is the process itself coupled to a requirement that the applications be processed and completed in a very short time as the annual growing season commences.
(WE'D LIKE to hear from people who have applied for a Mendo pot license for their takes on the process.)
NEVERTHELESS, MS. CURRY appears to be on the way out following a negative performance review. Rumors out of Ukiah say she was asked to take a demotion and a pay cut, but she walked out instead. Another version agrees that she got a bad review but says she opted to walk. Either way, she does not seem to be on duty at the Ag Department. And as usual, no one from the County is willing to say anything on or off the record.
WHAT IS KNOWN is the Ag Commissoner position was on the agenda for review Monday and Tuesday. Monday's report out of closed session was the usual "direction was given to staff." On Tuesday, when the Supes adjourned to closed session in late morning, Chair John McCowen announced that closed session would not include review of the Ag Commissioner because it had been completed. When the Supes reconvened for the afternoon, the first item up was an update on the new pot cultivation ordinance. Instead of Interim Ag Commishioner Curry, her assistant, Arif Kever was sitting at the staff table beside Chief Planner Mary Lynn Hunt.
KEVER REPORTED that 152 applications had been accepted by the Ag Department starting May 4 when the ordinance took effect, through Monday, May 15. But Kever noted that none of the applications were for indoor growing operations. Indoor growers are more likely to think they can keep flying below the radar. And many indoor grow ops, if not most, are in strucures that were constructed or converted without permits which is another reason for those growers reluctance to apply for permits. The Mendo program will accept applications through the end of this year but has a way to go to match Humboldt County, which received over 2,000 permit applications before it stopped accepting them at the end of last year.
IT TURNS OUT that Curry sent an email to the Board on Monday saying she was stepping down: “Dear Members of the Board. After my evaluation today (Tuesday), it was clear to me that the Board lacks confidence in my ability to manage the County's Department of Agriculture, specifically the newly adopted Mendocino's Cannabis Cultivation Ordinance. I feel that it is probably in the best interests of the county that I step down as Interim Agricultural Commissioner effective immediately. I look forward to working with the new Commissioner/Sealer and thank the Board for giving me the opportunity. Please refer all questions regarding the cannabis program to the Assistant Commissioner/Sealer of cannabis, Arif Kever.”
BUT, as of Friday afternoon, Curry appears to be back on board as the Interim Ag Commissioner and writing to the Supes: Friday, “Good Afternoon Supervisors The Department has just finished our second week of taking applications for the cultivation of medical cannabis. Currently, we have accepted 173 applications. I have attached a chart of the applications received by type. Staff is learning a lot about all the different ways this plant can be grown. Angela Liebenberg from CDFW [California Department of Fish & Wildlife] was here Monday to review applications, but did not find any that would trigger a site visit from them. She would still like to accompany my staff on some site visits. My staff is working closely with Planning and Building staff on questions that arise. It appears that we will be conducting pre-site visits next week. Next week I will be at the California Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer Association Spring Conference. I will be available by phone and email. I am planning on providing regular updates to the Board, if you have any specific information you would like included on the update, please let me know. Have a great weekend. Diane Curry, Interim Agricultural Commissioner, County of Mendocino
MONDAY'S EMAIL FROM CURRY (following the performance review) said it was clear to her the Supes lacked confidence in her ability to manage the Ag Department and the Pot Program and that it was best if she stepped down. Which explains her absence from the Supes meeting on Tuesday. But Friday afternoon she sent an email to the Supes updating them on the second week of accepting applications as if nothing had happened.
THE TOTAL NUMBER of pot applications turned in at the end of week two was 173, including two permits for indoor grows. Only 13 applications were from growers seeking permits for 2,500 square feet of pot cultivation. There were 22 applications (including both indoor aps) from growers who want to grow up to 5,000 square feet of pot. And 129 applications from growers who want to grow 10,000 square feet of pot, the largest size allowed by the Mendo pot rules. (Humboldt allows up to an acre of pot.) There were also 17 "nursery" applications turned in. Which means there are growers who specialize in selling plant starts instead of harvesting mature plants. Kind of like the people who got rich selling gold mining pans instead of mining for gold themselves.