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Off the Record

RIVETING HED from Monday's Ukiah Daily Journal, and above the fold, too: “CalTrans eases deadline on relinquishment agreement.” The story had to do with the Willits Bypass, a mythical project currently running neck and neck with Big Foot in ultimate likelihood. The Willits Bypass, given the givens of accelerating civic bankruptcy, might get half-done as work halts with a single off-ramp dead-ending at David and Ellen Drell's house with the assurance, “Lannie Cotler. Three More Miles.”

STREWN AMONG the County's proposed fee increases is a proposed $1,050 per license per pot dispensary. That, plus another $1,500 for “inspectors.” These inspectors would have to shell out the $1,500 to be approved to inspect the merchandise. (One wonders what happens to their $1,500 if they're not approved.) Fingerprinting and background checks will cost prospective dope inspectors another $150. The Sheriff expects six applications just in time for the wholly unworkable latest set of County pot rules to kick in.

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS were released on Monday by County Clerk Susan Ranochak. The numbers went up, but the results were unchanged. In Anderson Valley, Measure A passed by an almost 2-1 margin. In the Fifth District the run-off between Wendy Roberts and Dan Hamburg was confirmed, with Hamburg getting 35% and Roberts 28.5% of the vote. Assuming most of the votes for runners-up Jim Mastin and Norm de Vall are likely to go to Hamburg, you're looking at Hamburg in the range of 60% in the fall unless Wendy Roberts can pick up a whole lot more liberal support. In the Third District John Pinches' percentage from the preliminary count fell from 49.97% to 49.3 so he'll head to a run-off against Holly Madrigal (39.6%). Assuming most of third-place Tony Orth's 10.8% goes to Madrigal, the Third District race looks to be a tight one in the fall. (For reference, in 2002 “liberal” Hal Wagenet beat Pinches 51-49%. In 2006, Pinches beat Wagenet by 52.3-47.1%, so the Third District has been relatively close, or divided if you prefer, for years.) All the other outcomes remain unchanged. In an interesting three-way race, DA Meredith Lintott got about 38% of the vote to challenger David Eyster's 32.6% and Matt Finnegan's 29.2%, so Lintott will face Eyster in the fall run-off. There's no way to predict which way Finnegan's votes will go, nor do we know if Finnegan will endorse anyone in the runoff. Ann Moorman was anointed Superior Court judge by a 2-1 margin over challenger Caren Callahan.

THE PROBLEM with the Board of Supervisors is the supervisors. Tautological Tuesday, eh, Monsewer Editor? Kind of, but when you consider that the incorporated towns of Mendocino County (and the many underfunded special districts) are able to keep themselves in the fiscal black while the County blunders deeper and deeper into debt and, as Jared Carter suggested the other day, is left with only the bankruptcy option, one wonders why the towns are solvent but the County isn't. The difference, I think, is one of relative commitment. The people who get elected to the town councils live in those towns, own property in those towns. They pay attention to what's in front of their faces. And they tend to be old fashioned civic-minded. County government is much more removed from the everyday lives of most of us, its candidates much less scrutinized, its workings pretty much ignored. Dooming it to ineffectiveness, for the past thirty years, the Board of Supervisors has been much less blessed in the talent it attracts. Too many stupeedos and opportunists, and years of inflated salaries, rafts of rip-off consultants, aimless meetings, non-existent focus, useless and misleading information routinely approved as accurate statements of reality, and travel and conference money for all. The other day we were adding up the people who've sat as supervisors then, out of office, moved outtahere. If they stayed, they're either invisible or uninvolved. We're broke (at all levels of government) because of bad decisions by unaccountable people whose names most of us can't even remember. Of the present supervisors, it's fair to say that the two perceived liberals, Smith and Colfax, occupy their seats simply for the pay checks they get. The other three – Pinches, Brown and the man we regard as a functioning mental case, McCowen, do go about their work with what they see as the public interest foremost, agree with them or not. But for years there's been a SmithColfax-like drag on the board, people who shouldn't be in the job, wouldn't be in the job if their constituents paid even cursory attention. Smith stays in office because to most Fort Bragg people local government is the Fort Bragg City Council, not the Ukiah-based Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. I've run into lots of Fort Bragg people who have no idea who their supervisor is and can't name their district. (Hint: it's between 3 and 5.) Fort Bragg people watch their city council but pay little attention to what happens far and away to the east, over the Coast Range hills in the year-round smog of Ukiah. Two or three incompetents sitting as supervisors for years on end has meant even the basic collegiality any elected board requires to do the public business is not present, let alone coherence needed to run the County of Mendocino.

AND WE PAY them forever. Former supervisor Marilyn Butcher, a rolling disaster in office, collects $8,202 a year in retirement; Patti Campbell of Fort Bragg has since disappeared but is able to fuel her anonymity with a nice annual take from Mendocino County's taxpayers worth $16,470; Norm deVall takes in $11,457; Richard Shoemaker $12,768. Former justice court judges Lechowick and Lehan, now functioning as $180,000-a-year Superior Court judges, still pull in $17,610 and $8,622 respectively from their days as County employees when they functioned as justice court judges.

I WAS SORRY to hear that Ben Sonnenberg had passed away. Grand Street under Sonnenberg was the best literary magazine ever produced in this doomed country. Granta? Paris Review? The hundreds of writer's workshop quarterlies? Not even close, and if they all disappeared tomorrow who, besides the Trendo-Groove-o's, would care? When Sonnenberg turned his Grand Street over to the professionally effete, it became collections of stuff that reads like prose versions of The Last Day At Marienbad. I'll bet Sonnenberg's five thousand subscribers – and that pitiful figure says it all about the collective literacy of this country – mourned the day. His Grand Street was readable front-to-back. Granta and the rest of them are mostly unreadable. Other than Grand Street, there was Ramparts under the great Warren Hinckle, Harper's under Willie Morris, Paul Krassner's Realist and, what the hell, any random issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, all of them far from literary quarterlies but consistently good reads. And you didn't have to be a pseud or a so-called highbrow to enjoy Granta. It was good writing on a startling range of subjects, and Sonnenberg, unlike today's quality lit gang, knew the diff. If you've never seen a Grand Street, the last literary quarterly we're going to have, hustle out to the last book store and get yourself one and lament what is gone.

SAN FRANCISCO has always had some pretty good street acts and, in the absence of a central casting, a whole bunch of bad ones. Fisherman's Wharf features a concentration of open air entertainers, a few of them licensed, I believe, by the dominant merchant's association. Another concentration of street performers works Market Street, a few the Mission, and on Grant Avenue in Chinatown a few men eke out livings playing traditional Chinese music on traditional stringed instruments. The licensed acts at Fisherman's Wharf range from blues singers to organists. Their venues are rotated to give them more or less equal exposure to the largest concentrations of tourists. But jammed in among them are all kinds of non-sanctioned acts, all them terrible. But none of the people now playing the streets of San Francisco approach, in pure creativity, the late Grimes Poznikov, Automatic Human Jukebox. Grimes was a fixture at Aquatic Park, usually at the cable car turn around. You'd drop a dollar or two into his designated coin box and Grimes, who could actually play the trumpet, would appear in the window of his refrigerator crate and tootle a tune and, often as not, deliver an always amusing little speech on contemporary affairs. He was busted for selling pot out of his box and he got crazier and crazier, so crazy he drifted off onto the streets unable to get his unique performances together. The senior street act in the city these days is BushMan, a genial black guy who pops out from behind a handheld screen of leafy branches to startle inattentive passersby. There are two BushMen, actually, who spell each other. The original Bush Man said once he pulled in upwards of 60 grand a year with his no overhead act. The Bush Men have been at it since 1980. Presently, there's a mime glut, and there are guys spray painting gaudy abstracts on Fisherman's Wharf who always draw a crowd, plus Three Card Monte men, acrobats, break dancers and, a mile to the south, a street poet who, for a modest donation, will bang out a tailor made lines arrayed at an oblique on a tattered page of typing paper. Even if the final product makes no sense the thing looks nice. Zach Houston, poet, is in business most Saturday mornings at the Ferry Building. I laid a tenner on him once and he dashed this one off for me. I know it's for me because it's got my name in it and there's the inaccurate phrase “wise old men” my grizzled presentation seems to have inspired. The poet often sports a top hat and he works on an ancient Underwood typewriter, the total visual so arresting he's got customers lined up.

THE SANTA ROSA Press Democrat just couldn't help but churn out a really dumb editorial about Dennis Boaz’s lawsuit against Brian Barrett, Ukiah Unified, the lead defendant in the infamous Niggardly Suit. The PD, not coincidentally, appears daily in the high school libraries of Mendocino County. The paper's editorial is almost as dumb as the Superintendents who signed the letter calling Boaz a racist for using the word “niggardly” to describe Ukiah Unified’s labor negotiations. While acknowledging that the School District and the Superintendents were “cavalier” (sic) in calling Boaz a racist, the PD editorial called the entire affair “farcical,” and “a schoolyard brawl,” and Boaz’s lawsuit “frivolous.” The PD failed to mention that Barrett not only claimed to have known what “niggardly” meant but chose to call Boaz a racist anyway because the word was close enough in general kryptonite-like effect to the dread N-Word that Boaz shouldn't have used it, especially since Barrett's boss is a black woman. Barrett also said his attorney, a women from the dim Santa Rosa-based school consortium that represents out of edu-funding Mendocino County's blundering school authorities, had approved the letter denouncing Boaz as a racist. I wonder if Boaz had deployed “chink” to describe a thaw in negotiating postures and Barrett's boss had been Chinese, or had said that the chinks in negotiations had breached “the dikes of impasse,” that Boaz would have been denounced as a racist and a sexist homophobe. But words have precise meanings, and to libel someone as a racist to discredit his skilled work as a teacher's union rep is a crumb bum thing to do because there are a lot of stupid liberals out there for whom the accusation is a conviction. To think that a tax-paid lawyer, Margaret Merchat, signed off on this low-down tactic may seem shocking to people outside Mendocino County, but to those of us who live here it's just one more chapter in the big book of Only Here.

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