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Off the Record

CALLER: “Are you guys going to be doing anything on the fire that wiped out Thanksgiving Coffee?” Yup, we've got a crack reporter going at it as we meet here today. We were sorry to hear about it, having known Paul Katzeff for many years and having enjoyed a rather tumultuous but, I hope, relatively civil relationship with the guy. The blaze did not, from what we can gather from preliminary reports, wipe the business out. Essential equipment was spared as were fresh consignments of coffee beans.

LOTS of local lawyers donated to Ann Moorman’s successful campaign for judge. These same local lawyers donated exactly nothing to Moorman's opponent, Caren Callahan. Just as corporations buy advantage from our state and national elected reps, lawyers buy favorable treatment from His and Her Elected Honor who, purely in theory, claim to be far above this sort of thing. Election cash to prospective judges is a form of corruption, of course, but who are you going to complain to about it? The courts? Days past our legal apparat was even more literally incestuous; they'd go out to Lake Mendocino and get drunk together, often pairing up and disappearing into the bushes to, ahem, seal professional relationships. When the bar association's Lake Mendocino bacchanal got a little too public, and the cops were no longer willing to drive all the drunks home, our justice establishment moved its annual festivities to a more secluded spot on the Eel River near Willits where, one year, the rectitude came all the way off the pillars. I understand these events are pretty sedate anymore, what with the participants being armed with photo phones and a professional predisposition to treachery. (The point! Will you please get to the point of this gratuitous assault on the fine men and women of the Mendocino County Bar Association!) Well, all this election cash used to be called influence peddling, cronyism, or good old fashioned moral turpitude, but now it's a way of life, leaving us with no recourse and completely outside in the cold, our red runny noses pushed wistfully to the glass.

SO, JUDGE MOORMAN'S contributors included the most expensive defense attorney in Sonoma County, Chris Andrian, who tossed in what he undoubtedly expects will reward him at least triple the $1,450 he sent Judge Ann; Mendo County Deputy County Counsel Terry Gross kicked in $125; John Ruprecht, part-time Fort Bragg City attorney and tree rustling facilitator, was good for $300; Coast defense attorney Mark Kalina $100; former judge James King of Willits $250; James Larson of Fort Bragg $100; Barry Vogel of Ukiah $100; G. Scott Gaustad of Ukiah $125; Tom Mason of Ukiah $100; Linda McNeil of Willits $200; Tim Morrison of Ukiah $100; Chris Neary of Willits $500; Assistant DA Liz Norman of Willits $100; Robert C. Petersen of Fort Bragg $100; David Rapport, Ukiah City Attorney $125; David Riemenschneider of Ukiah $100; Pano Stephens of Ukiah $200; Deputy DA Tim Stoen of Mendocino $100; Kitty Elliott of Redwood Valley $100; Legal Services of Northern California’s Lisa L. Hillegas of Ukiah $100; twice busted former dope impresario attorney Don, now “Donald” Lipmanson of Ukiah $100; Mad Myron Sawicki & Henwood Attys at Law of Ukiah $100; and wife beater Philip Vannucci of Ukiah $100, the guy who hired self-identified feminist Moorman to reduce his felony domestic battery of his wife to a misdemeanor. And Ukiah DEA Supervisor Bob ‘Nish’ Nishiyama was good for $250.

SO, FELLOW DUPES, we've got everyone from prominent libs like Barry Vogel and Don Lipmanson to the chief of the DEA's Mendo outpost, Agent Nishiyama, forking over to Judge Moorman. Nishiyama busts them, Lipmanson and Co. haul them before the judge, and everyone gets paid. Shall the circle be unbroken! Is this the harmonic convergence the hippies are always going on about?

IN THE PAST, it was common for lawyers to join what they called the “$99 Club,” meaning that they donated $99 to all candidates for judge or DA so that they could 1. Cover their cringing, opportunistic asses no matter who won, and 2. Stay below the $100 reporting threshold so no one knew who they were donating to. In the race between Callahan and Moorman, however, many lawyers decided that there was no need to join the $99 Club, just give it all to Moorman who was heavily favored to win.

THIS JUST IN from Craig Stehr: “Suitable for Framing: Plums drop / from the tree / naturally.” Which might be a haiku but so conceptually pedestrian and crudely wrought, the editor said, looking down the long miles of his boozy nose, “I can't bring myself to count the syllables.”

FRANK AHEARN, author of “How to Disappear: The world's number one guide to vanishing without a trace” tells us that his book is now available everywhere here and in the UK. “To learn more about How to Disappear, please visit Frank's website at” Or check out the next ten disappeared people you meet in Mendocino County, where personality re-inventions are a way of life and everyone is whatever he says he is, no questions asked.

BOARD of Supervisors Chair Carre Brown says that Fourth District Supervisor Kendall Smith “violated” the Board’s “code of ethics” by speaking to the Fort Bragg City Council in opposition to the County Board’s 3-2 trash privatization deal after the vote. Supervisors David Colfax and Smith were on the short end of the vote. “I strongly believe policy was not followed in this case, and it was critical for the subject contracts,” Brown told the Ukiah Daily Journal, citing the Supervisor's good conduct pact enacted several years ago that said the five of them would not undermine majority decisions. “Members of the board shall base decisions on all available facts, voting with conviction, without bias, and ultimately abiding and upholding the final majority decisions of the Board.”

ASSUMING you're not laughing so hard at the news that the Supervisors have a code of ethics that you can't consider the implications, what kind of sanction is Supervisor Smith looking at here? According to Board chair Brown, she might have to “explain yourself.”

SPARE US THAT. Smith's rhetorical style consists of long blasts of unrelated phrases, the sense of which may or may not be pertinent to the question. Anyway, she long ago established her disdain for the rules when she and Colfax were caught by the Grand Jury chiseling on their travel reimbursements. When the Jury ordered them to pay the money back they didn't. Unable to decode Colfax's opaque travel records, the Jury focused on Smith who, the GJ said, stole more than $3,000 from the taxpayers. District Attorney Lintott, like Smith an Obama Democrat and a political ally of Smith's, refused to prosecute her pal. The current Grand Jury has referred the matter to the State Attorney General's office.

AS 4TH DISTRICT supervisor one might have expected Smith to give her Fort Bragg constituents a heads-up that the County was entering a trash privatization deal with the Willits-based Ward. She didn't do that. What Smith did do was demagogue the issue after the Supervisors had voted 3-2 to enter into a long-term lease for Fort Bragg's garbage with Ward.

NEVER MIND that County Garbage Czar Mike Sweeney failed to get Fort Bragg’s buy-in on the deal before presenting his privatization deal to the Board of Supervisors, Sweeney is not up for censure; Smith is. And the deal is off.

SUPERVISOR McCowen, you may recall, was one of the three sponsors of Measure B a couple of years ago. Measure B reduced the number of pot plants a medical marijuana patient could grow from 25 to 6. McCowen rode Measure B onto the Board of Supervisors on voter backlash against what many of those voters saw as an out-of-control local pot industry. County trash boss Mike Sweeney and an Ukiah hysteric called Ross Liberty, along with McCowen, devised the backlash measure as Sweeney and McCowen transmogrified themselves from pot-friendly Earth First!ers to neo-puritan, anti-dope crusaders. (In the land of amnesiacs known as Mendocino County personal history makeovers are common.) The three dope fighters said their Measure B would roll back criminal pot grows and would even put The Fear into the Mexican cartels who annually occupy huge swathes of Mendocino County's outback. Why, even the harvest time stench of the stuff would disappear from downtown Ukiah! Predictably, Measure B neither reversed or even slowed the devil weed industry. It's bigger than ever in dear old Mendoland.

SUPERVISOR McCOWEN'S next foray into failed regulation took up pot dispensary rules. New regs would be imposed on pot people already devoted to civic order, people wedded to the Mendocino County's weed rules, whatever they happen to be at any given time. McCowen thought it would be a good idea to impose reams of new regs on people who would want to get into full compliance with the County's ever-changing pot playbook. The newbies would apply to the Sheriff, of all people, for permission to grow medical pot. What happened? The very first person to sign up was raided by the DEA last week in Covelo, confirming that the feds don't give a hoot about local regs and will continue to bust who they feel like busting which, in the Covelo case, kicked off with a raid on the proverbial sitting duck come to life. Speculation out there in Dope Land ranges from (1) Sheriff Allman is trotting over to DEA boss Robert Nishiyama's office to say, “Nish, old boy, the first sap just signed up under the McCowen rules. Bust her, baby!” Or, (2) Nishiyama and the feds, who remain zero tolerance, drove out to Covelo to send a clear message to Allman, McCowen and the rest of Mendo's marijuana establishment that the feds will remain zero tolerance regardless of what official Mendocino County comes up with in the way of pot regs.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS on the law and order front, Pot Season 2010's first reported home invasion occurred last Saturday near Fort Bragg. The assault at 17900 North Highway One is described in the police report this way: “The victim advised that on this date at approximately 1:45am he was asleep inside his residence when three subjects wearing dark clothing forcibly entered into his residence and struck the victim with an iron pipe. The suspects then tied his hands behind his back at gunpoint and threatened to kill him if he yelled for help. The suspects then demanded his marijuana.”

WHICH, THE VIC SAID, amounted to 8 pounds of processed bud worth maybe $25,000 to the right Bay Area buyers. Reading between the rest of the terse lines of cop-prose, it seems that the victim, unnamed, immediately identified as a likely suspect a Fort Bragg kid named Francisco Apodaca, 19, as the lead responsible. From Apodaca and two minor accomplices, the cops seemed to have learned that a fourth young man with Fort Bragg associations, Elden Hogan, 21, now of Roseville, was also involved. Hogan was soon rounded up by Roseville police.

AT TWO in the morning the vic was probably into his second set of heavy rem's, deep in dreamland, the soothing sibilances of the nearby surf whispering rhythmic syncopation to his contented snores. Fresh cannabis, bundled in tie-dyed fifty dollar bills, bounce from his stoned synapses to the big screen tv inside his contented skull as he gets suddenly takes a pipe on the side of his unsuspecting head. The vic is not returned to dreamland by the flabby blow. He bolts upright in his violated bed. “Dudes! WTF? This is not cool!” But the dudes, into full movie cop mode, stick stepdad's purloined pistol in the vic's face, frag the vic with f-bombs and death threats, half-assedly tie the vic's hands behind his back, grab the dope and drive off. Two hours later, with the sun still out in Utah somewhere, the cops have the whole thing wrapped up.

ATTENTION, MENDOLIB! The San Francisco Mime Troupe will perform free at Todd Grove Park, Ukiah, the early evening of Wednesday, July 28th.

TWO YEARS AFTER the fiscal horses fled the County barn, the Supervisors present: “AGENDA TITLE: Direction to Staff to Complete a Half-Cent Sales Tax Measure, Tentatively Titled ‘The Mendocino County Vital Service Protection Measure,’ to be Considered by the Board of Supervisors for Placement on a County-Wide Ballot in the Regularly Scheduled November, 2010 Election. In response to persistently declining revenue streams over recent years, the County’s overall budget has been reduced by approximately 16%, or $33,000,000. Despite these efforts, a projected shortfall of $4,800,000 remains in fiscal year 2010-2011. The County’s ability to provide minimum levels of service is steadily degraded through the implementation of recent cost reduction measures. We have reached a point where the issue of revenue generation is critical. Many County services can no longer be reduced, and further savings may now need to come from the complete elimination of County functions. This Board has a proactive [our emphasis] opportunity to let the citizens of Mendocino County directly decide whether they are willing to support minimum levels of County service delivery through a half-cent increase in the sales tax. A sales tax initiative would allow the protection and maintenance of essential County services, such as libraries, 911 emergency response and public safety, road maintenance, and services for seniors and youth. It is important to note that a half-cent measure would also bring parity to the sales tax rate already collected within the incorporated cities of Ukiah, Fort Bragg, Willits, and Point Arena 8.75% and the unincorporated areas of the County currently 8.25%. August 6 is the deadline for the Elections Office to receive a measure for placement on the November ballot.”

PROACTIVE? This money raiser should have been considered at least two years ago. Now that the budget is in freefall, the Board is finally getting around to considering a “vital services” protection sales tax increase? It’s laughably belated an all-round dumb going on crazy. The only sales tax measure that would have any chance of passing now would be a police-focused measure like the one in Ukiah a while back dedicating the money solely to law enforcement. It may be news to the Supervisors, but they are not widely considered competent to manage public money. A tax to retain “vital services” is wayyyyyy too vague. No way the public would go for it. Voters see for themselves that County management continues to exempt itself from most of the cuts because management, especially Supervisors Smith and Colfax, continue to see themselves as one of, if not the most “vital service” local tax money can buy.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE of current County management practices is buried in this week’s consent agenda. It's for $40k in Emergency Services money to buy an SUV equipped with winch, radios, racks, and other apocalyptic gear from Hansel Ford in Santa Rosa. Highway 101 at Ukiah is festooned with vehicle sales lots and big box stores, a visual that propels would-be visitors rapidly past in both directions but also makes locally available most of the stuff, including transportation, that the citizens of our fair, fat land think they need. There’s no indication that the County solicited bids for this dubious procurement, even though the base-model SUV is just a standard-issue Ford SUV with muscle-gear installed separately. We haven’t received any replies to our inquires at the CEO’s office about this silly purchase.

TWO PEOPLE posted comments about our item last week regarding how many truck loads of fill Caltrans says Big Orange plans to dump on Willits to build the mythical Willits Bypass, a project less likely by the day as the state descends further into bankruptcy. Caltrans estimates that it will take 2.5 million cubic yards of fill to accomplish the bypass. One commenter correctly pointed out that our math was wrong given that the number of dumptrucks per day would be more like 2,000-plus rather than the 210 we erroneously assumed. Another on-line commenter said that dumptrucks hold more than two cubic yards; our calculations were based on smaller trucks in the two cubic yard range. But generally the construction-sized dumptrucks can probably hold at least four cubic yards. Combining these corrections means there will be at least 400 truckloads per day, maybe upwards of 1000 dumptruck loads a day, descending on Willits during the initial phase of construction.

IT’S INTERESTING that the on-line comments were about the mathematics, not the basic point that Willits is going to be crawling with big dumptrucks just to install the fill for the first two years of a project likely to take four years of non-stop work. If work commences this fall as Caltrans has promised, we'll eat crow so long as it's prepared Willits style – deep fried.

LOTS OF PEOPLE have suggested that the sand bar that prevents the Navarro River from flowing into the Pacific should be periodically breached to allow salmon in and out of what’s left of their river habit in a few battered Navarro River tributaries. Informal breachings at the river mouth used to be the practice of locals, but Fish and Game, circa 1975 or so, no longer permits “steam channel alterations” for anybody but grape growers, an exception F&G dare not admit. So we were surprised last week to read that the Sonoma County Water Agency had obtained permission to dig a channel at the mouth of the Russian River near Jenner, allegedly to facilitate fish travel. The man made breach would create an outlet for the river and a freshwater lagoon for transient salmon.

ABOUT HALFWAY through the story, however, we discovered that the stream channel alternation wasn’t really about the fish. “With a jetty [now] at the mouth of the [Russian] river and the summer releases into the Russian River from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, the sandbar has to be breached manually to keep a half-dozen homes that line the banks at Jenner from being flooded.”

OHHHHHHH, homes are threatened so we better get a rule waiver and dig out the river mouth. If the fish are threatened with extinction, which they are everywhere on the Northcoast, let nature take its course. But if a handful of decadents build their summer palaces in the flood plain, government jumps to keep the Russian River rushin' on into the Pacific lest these architectural excresences are washed out to sea.

THE RAND CORPORATION’s study of pot legalization as proposed by Proposition 19 on the November ballot noted, among other things, “Right now, when individuals purchase drugs, they are paying for the drug dealer and taking risks of being arrested.” Thus declared Beau Kilmer, the Rand's co-director and the report's lead author. But, Kilmer added, if dope's legalized there would be less risk but “sizable price cuts” of as much as a whopping 80% while other fallout effects would be “unclear.” (Thanks for the insight, Mr. Think Tanker. You can go back to sleep now.)

IN OTHER WORDS, the conservative Rand Corporation has confirmed that pot prohibition accomplishes nothing beyond keeping prices artificially high. If you believe Rand’s obvious conclusion that legalization will destroy the pot industry as presently constituted, you will oppose Prop 19. If you'd like to pull the plug on the thousands of mugs and thugs making untaxed millions from the stuff you'll be for it.

THE COUNTY GRAND JURY confirmed last week that DA Lintott is hoarding asset forfeiture money, not dispersing it among its legitimate recipients as the enabling legislation intended. As of the end of March, the Grand Jury found that the DA’s unspent asset forfeiture fund balance was up to $886,563. The state takes 24% of the money off the top, the District Attorneys Association gets 1% for whatever, lush offices and fresh ground coffee, and the DA is supposed to get 10% for administration. Of the rest, the DA currently funds an asset forfeiture officer i.e., attorney, and an investigator for a third of the remainder. The agency that seized the assets gets a third, meaning in this county the Sheriff or the police departments of Willits, Ukiah, and Fort Bragg.

SEVERAL PEOPLE at the Ukiah Courthouse called to tell us that the press release issued last week by the San Francisco-based Administrative Office of the Court had incorrectly cited a project cost for another courthouse, probably the new gold-plated job planned for Redding, California, not the new Ukiah Courthouse planned for East Perkins. According to their Admin Office’s “corrected” press release, the cost of the proposed Ukiah Courthouse cost has not gone up; it’s still a mere $119.9 million, not the $212 million cited here last week. Presiding Judge Cindee Mayfield remains “thrilled,” however, nevermind that this figure is undoubtedly a lowball estimate and nevermind that the very first work is going to a big outside architect. When the project was first presented in all its Done Deal splendor, the local judges, the structure's primary if not sole beneficiaries, assured a skeptical public that locals would get first shot at the jobs.

THE COASTAL LAND TRUST, with partners Westport Municipal Advisory Council and Mendocino Land Trust, will be developing a feasibility study for a continuous 21-mile section of multi-use Coastal Trail between Usal Road and the Ten Mile bridge along the west side of Highway One. The study is funded with a community-based transportation planning grant awarded by Caltrans to the Mendocino Council of Governments MCOG. Residents interested in the process can contact Louisa Morris, project manager at 937-6217 or Westport MAC chair Thad Van Bueren at 964-7272.

A CONTINUOUS HIKING trail from Noyo beach to Usal would be mega boffo! And undoubtedly result in a large influx of recreational hikers, typically well-heeled, my body my temple types, who would flock to the Mendocino Coast for this one amenity alone. And if rails-to-trails could somehow be brought to pass for the Eel River Canyon a similar influx of long distance backpackers would soon be enjoying inland Mendocino County which, as is, tends to be visited primarily by outside drug syndicates.


  1. July 16, 2010

    Bruce: I thought my comment about ten times as many trucks (200 to c. 2000) to contemplate was quite to the point of your original article.
    I used to spend a lot more time in Willits than currently, but the traffic tie-ups today are huge, They remind me of holidays in the past when stop and go for Cloverdale started in Hopland.
    The bypassing of Ukiah was before my time, but for some reason the same process around first Geyserville then Cloverdale seemed fairly painless.
    The geology/geography of the Willts valley portends a nightmare, but what is the alternative?

  2. Mark Scaramella July 17, 2010

    You seem to have bought in to the Caltrans ultimatum: bypass or no bypass. But it’s obviously not a simple question of bypass or no bypass. Years ago Caltrans could have made a series of well-thought-out, relatively inexpensive, safety improvements and road/lane modifications which would have mitigated the Highway 101/Main Street traffic tie-ups and made the hazardous intersections, especially those at the south end of town, more safe. But they didn’t do that, preferring instead to accumulate all the local transportation money, year after year after year to cover the local share of the bypass cost, perhaps because they wanted traffic in Willits to stay bad to buttress the bypass urgency. Second, they could done a much better job of working with the City of Willits and local residents in deciding how the job would be undertaken. For starters, they could have used the money they saved by not having to build a 4-lane bypass to include a Highway 20 interchange. Without that interchange, traffic to and from the Coast on local Willits streets will not be improved, and will probably be worse, offsetting whatever theoretical value the bypass may have. Caltrans eliminated that interchange because, they said, there wasn’t enough money. There’s still not enough money, so what else will get eliminated or shortchanged? Especially when Caltrans runs into the inevitable cost-overruns. It sure looks like they’ve underestimated the work required to build an above-ground viaduct/elevated roadway on unstable ground. If the State of California and Caltrans can be trusted to do the job right, on budget and on schedule and get it really done more or less as promised, maybe you’ll be right. But Caltrans has not shown itself to be trustworthy and it looks to us like Willits got sold a bill of goods which will not be substantially delivered — leaving Willits worse off than pre-bypass.

  3. July 20, 2010

    Mark: I am not sure if the “you” you begin with is me or the writer of the original OTR (which may have been you). I think Bruce said recently to assume he is OTR.
    Anyhow, if the “you” is me, I haven’t bought into anything. I was just kind of hoping someone there (you or him) would sum up the current options, not continue to lament the might-have-beens,
    I remember a series of articles a few years back where you (Mark) pounded the coffin nails so deeply into the rail line between Willit and Eureka that I am surprised the right of way is still visible. Is using that resource somehow part of an option to the bypass?

  4. July 20, 2010

    Whenever I put my two cents in here, I have to laugh when I get back: ” Your comment is awaiting moderation.”
    I think OK, OK, sorry. I’ll tone it down.

  5. Mammalo July 20, 2010

    AGAINST THE WILLITS’ BY PASS…Monies should best be spent on our schools and our health…More people need to walk, take a bicycle, take a bus or train, and car pool for a multiple of reasons including exercise and monies…Air pollution and sound pollution is not a desire for the years that Caltrans is figuring…Water quality is needed for the drinking by us, critters, and of course, the remaining trees and lots of other wanted and needed vegetation…We must re-design our streets to our needs…Caltrans does not feed the desire for most of us to create our needs from a local list first…We need creativeness which creates a sustainable and healthy life style which we all want…Real nature is not replaceable at all…We must prevent our possible version of the B P oil dilemma like in the Gulf Coast…Rise up and speak out now and let them know…

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