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Off the Record (May 16, 2018)

IN MY MANY YEARS in Mendo — I arrived with the Class of 1970, the Back to the Landers, aka hippies — local elections have been lone wolf affairs, people running for this or that as individuals. But the only way to get the changes we all claim to want — among them low cost housing, for instance, and other socially desirable amenities — is for like-minded people to run as a slate. Three persons can control the Board of Supervisors and other elected boards. Unless a correct-thinking individual can get two other votes, all the Nice Thoughts in the world are just so much rhetoric. For example, when Johnny Pinches wanted a mere discussion of the preposterous (and costly) water deal Mendo made with Sonoma County pre-Elvis (’54) he couldn’t even get a second to talk about it. Most of the diverted Eel is owned by SoCo.

THE WASHBURNE REPORT: AVA writer Flynn Washburne is out of prison after serving almost seven years for bank robbery. Word trickling into the AVA has it that Flynn made the trip back home from his SoCal prison cell last weekend to be enrolled in a drug rehab program in Ukiah, but due to some kind of bureaucratic mix-up Ford Street had never heard of him. So Flynn spent a few days with an old friend in Fort Bragg. After arranging for travel back to Ukiah, he made another attempt to enter Ford Street, and this time he made it. But no sooner had he walked through the door than the rehabbers put the talented Mr. W. on “30 day blackout” restriction, which apparently means no contact with the outside world for a month. We now expect to hear from him some time in early June. Stay tuned. Washburne in Mendo, The Reboot: He’s Back and This Time He’s Not Armed. 

TED AND DAVE. I don't think the 5th District would go far wrong with either one of them sitting as Supervisor, although I'd bet many people would appreciate a voice independent of the automatic YES to whatever County admin puts in front of him. Which is the way the 5-0 board presently in place, functions. It's as if the present Supervisors are afraid of the people they're supposed to be supervising. Every meeting, certainly the one just past, there was lots to challenge, such as the neo-definition of 'accountability' as expressed by the recipient of an enormous gift of a multi-million dollar public agency, Ms. Schrader, now the sole proprietor of what used to be called the Welfare Department. Declaring yourself accountable is not the same as being accountable. When someone asks a fiscal question, to be accountable you should give a fiscal answer. In fact, I can't remember any department head in local government being held strictly accountable, as in regular reports on their bureaucracies to the Supervisors. For instance, everyone involved in the Ortner fiasco — the Supervisor's prior, failed adventure in privatization — have not in the least been held "accountable." That debacle cost the taxpayers… how much? No one knows, of course, because no one is accountable. We have no idea how much money Ms. Schrader is spending on various welfare programs because everyone is afraid to ask. McCowen started to ask, and you could see the hackles begin to rise on the unaccountable, and he backed off.

I'M NOT ON FACEBOOK because I don't like reading on-line, not that I'm necessarily opposed to Facebook in its benign uses like keeping up with old friends. But gossips and the purely malicious have never had it so good, certainly not as good as a weaponized FB is being deployed this election cycle right here in Mendocino County. 

PRIOR to the global cyber-attack on all of humanity that kicked off a mere twenty years ago and has since stripped the global village of its privacy, to lie about someone took some work because you had to do it in person or, on the grander levels, you had to get it into the newspapers, which was difficult to do unless you owned the paper or got invited to dinner at Hearst Castle. Newspapers these days run a few blandly innocuous partisan letters, but the real political trench-fighting is on-line, and on select Facebook pages. 

RIGHT HERE in Mendocino County, various supervisor candidates are being vilified by anonymous cyber-warriors. The libs are clandestinely knocking Roderick as a Trump clone, which he isn't, and the Trumpers and their various sub-species are rapping Williams as a homegrown Che Guevara. Chris Skyhawk is secretly being slandered by both the more liberal libs and the Trumpers as a career dope grower. Art Juhl is simply dismissed by all the libs as a garrulous old coot, and a Republican old coot at that, although he's the only candidate to forthrightly state the obvious — the County is poorly administered. Juhl doesn't seem to register on the Trumper's political radar. And Rodier has managed to arouse no opinion whatsoever, which is to have achieved the impossible in today's political climate.

THE THIRD DISTRICT Supe's race seems more sedate, but up in the wilds of northeastern Mendo, perhaps the most lawless outback in the country, where everyone is armed and disappearances of troublesome and innocent people alike are a common occurrence, electoral decorum is a sound survival strategy, at least if you're campaigning door-to-door up long, dusty, outlaw roads. Also in the Third, the libs aren't clustered in a few communities like they are in the Fifth; up there on the remote Mendo-HumCo borderlands, the righteous are more spread out, more integrated with traditional neighborhoods.

GABRIEL TALLENT grew up around Mendocino. His first book was blurbed by Stephen King, who obviously hadn't read it. I tried to read it because it's supposedly set on the Coast, but gave up a couple of hundred pages in, kicking myself for having plodded that far. A more literate friend summed it up better than I could: "Am well into MY ABSOLUTE DARLING, reading it out of grim, compulsive curiosity. Between the botanical minutiae, the knuckle-cracking and the constant gun-cleaning, it's heavy going. You know what I dislike most about it? The humorlessness. All really great writing has a vein of humor running through it, even MacBeth. Completely missing from this. So solemn, so packed with wordy words. And the characters are thinner than those life-sized cardboard Ed McMahons you used to see advertising insurance. The father a tedious blowhard, the women all chirpy and virtuous, the teenage boys little Camus wannabees... But I read on, hoping for a little smut here and there to liven things up." 

REPORTS of depressed micro-economies are coming in from all over Mendocino County. And pot is grown everywhere, from remote gardens in the vastness of Mendo hill country, to residential neighborhoods. But pot prices are down to around $300 a pound now — if you can sell it. Trying to get legal is costing the permit applicants more and more with less and less to show for it with the large majority of growers not even bothering with a dumb, cumbersome, expensive process. More and more storefronts in the 101 corridor are shuttered. One Laytonville business was reported to be seeing the same number of people, but those customers are spending a lot less. Add that to the hundreds of homes that went up in smoke last October in the big Redwood Complex Fire, still not rebuilt, some owners having left the area and lots of growers giving up their pharms, the Mendo economy is taking a big hit. 

THE SUPES CANDIDATES for the Third and Fifth Districts do not seem focused on specific proposals to address economic problems in their districts, most of them of the macro-variety beyond local solving. Ideas like Broadband and more trails are not only unlikely, but wouldn’t help much if they did suddenly appear. And although we do like candidate Roderick’s idea for a mobile asphalt plant, that also won’t make much of a dent in either road repair or employment in the near term, even if our uninspiring County officials tried to do something creative for a change.

ON TOP OF THAT, you have an overpaid Board of Supervisors and their similarly over-compensated top officials still assuming that property tax and sales tax revenues are going to keep going up, that more staff can be hired (and has been hired) without any awareness of the looming local depression. Costco, for better or worse, will not increase local tax revenues much if at all, just transfer some of them from local small businesses to Costco. 

MEANWHILE, the oblivious supervisors, even after being reminded by a few speakers last Tuesday of some of the bad economic indicators, spent much of the day Tuesday simply trying to figure out when they will refine and tweak the already complicated pot rules, and adding some new ones for cannabis businesses on top of the overcomplicated rules they’ve already imposed. (Mark Scaramella)

CALLED UKIAH today to see if I could get the County's clap stats, er, sexually transmitted disease statistics. The two ladies I talked with were quite helpful, and promised they would get them to me. They did say preliminarily that the numbers aren't encouraging.

ON LINE COMMENT from Peter Lit: "Dr. Barg is correct; the last time the hospital [Coast Hospital] got input from the taxpayers, we got admissions and conference rooms with high ceilings. The past board went along with it. If what is reported is correct, this almost ‘lame duck’ Board just extended the current CEO's employment for another two years even though, under his leadership, we are told that without this infusion of funds, we will lose our hospital. Throwing more money at a dysfunctional operation will not save it any more than electing Donald Trump will drain the swamp. We need new board members." 

VERILY, VERILY. But it would be a shame to lose Coast, although present management is clearly steering the ship onto the rocks. Still and all, if I were voting in the Coast Hospital District, I'd vote Yes for a bump on the property tax, simply because I think Coast is by far, and over many years, the best hospital in the County and, of course, the only publicly owned, not-for-profit hospital in the County.

ARTHUR JUHL commenting recently on the AVA’s website, wrote: “…I see that someone writes about accountability. To make it effective one has to have penalties or rewards. If the job is not accomplished you replace that person. As a county employee. they would be demoted. In my humble opinion there would be quite a few!”

THAT’S TRUE, I guess, Mr. Juhl. But replacing and demoting people feels too much like “Ready, Fire, Aim.” The real problem is the County’s lack of management reporting. They can’t even get the departments to provide monthly status reports on budgets, staffing, key cost drivers, current projects and problems. Without these basic management reports, you can’t make a case for demotion, much less replacement, because you don’t have a record to base it on. With reporting (and feedback and regular pressure to improve from management) you also build a file over time that either demonstrates good performance or justifies personnel action. Within reason, management should be dictating the kinds of reports they get, what they contain, how often, how detailed, etc. The approach that CEO Angelo has taken with her “leadership teams” is obviously designed to put off reporting as long as possible and allow staff to decide what “metrics” should be used to measure them. No, never. Management should tell staff how they will be measured and what the targets should be, not the other way around. But of course, they don’t even try. I still don’t understand why past boards, the current board and all the current candidates don’t understand this reporting process, the most basic management tool. You’ll hear an occasional and ignorant reference to “metrics,” “accountability,” and “transparency” — usually from people who have no experience or idea what they’re talking about — but none of them clearly call for proper management reporting. 

And without it, none of the ideas being proposed or discussed in the campaign will go anywhere.

LET’S PICK a department at random, say County Counsel office. How many cases are they handling at the moment, by category? What is the status of these cases? How much outside consulting is being paid for? 

OR THE PROBATION DEPARTMENT? How many people on probation? How many probation officers? How many unfilled positions? How many on leave, disability, etc.? How many in juvenile hall? And last month, and the month before, etc.?

EVERY MONTH, right here in Boonville, our small local fire department, the very model of civic functioning, recites budget and staffing status, the list of tasks and projects underway, the record of what is scheduled and whether it’s done, and how to improve the reporting process. Nobody complains about it because it helps keep the district in the fiscal black and on task. If Boonville can do it — without a “leadership team”! — why can’t Official Mendo? (Mark Scaramella)

THE WILLITS NEIGHBORS of the psych ward proposed for the old Willits Hospital seem poised to oppose the idea of converting the old building to that noble purpose. The proposal is presently bogged down in Consultantville and likely to stay there for some time as the Measure B tax money rolls into County coffers where it will then disappear into the Stock Market Ponzi where large sums of Mendo money are gambled rather than invested locally. I think the old Willits Hospital is the logical place for the Measure B Psych Ward, if for no other reason than the preservation of that fine old structure in a County lamentably short of fine old structures. And it doesn't have to be surrounded by unsightly fascist fencing of the chain-link type. If the nervous nells gotta have fencing, how about redwood, the world's finest from right there at the Gateway to the Redwood Empire?

NEIGHBORS of the mini-psych unit seem to envision squads of escaped lunatics rampaging through their homes, kicking their household pets, setting fire to their barca-loungers. But the modern mental patient is medicated into perfect docility, zombo-ized via the new chemicals. I’d certainly prefer a colony of narcotized nabes next door to the undesirables most of us presently suffer. The dangerously mentally ill, aka the criminally insane, are confined at the County Jail and, because there are more and more of the latter, the County Jail is being expanded to house them. 

BY NOW, it might be clear to Jacob Patterson Esq that most people in Fort Bragg think district elections in a town too small for them is a bad idea. Patterson is the young attorney who wasn't hired as Fort Bragg City Attorney and ever since has been bombarding the City with requests for this or that obscure piece of information, not to mention his blizzard of comment on everything the City is doing. When he isn't harassing the City, Patterson and his mom are firing off accusations of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and, as they put it, "etc," as if the rest of the PC catechism is understood, if not by everyone at least among the righteous they seem eager to speak for.

THE FORT BRAGG HISPANICS whose interests Patterson claims need electoral protection, at least the few who have publicly commented, seem to resent the implication that they require special consideration, and wonder exactly who the gringo is who says that they do. You can find many of Patterson's demands on the ava website, and he continues to fire them off, thus either requiring much public time responding to them by City staff or simply offering his idiot opinions also likely to eat up staff time.

HERE'S ONE OF THE LATEST: "Brenda, June asked that I let you know my impressions of the two potential new chairs for Town Hall. I tried them out and they are both an improvement on the existing chairs. Of the two, I prefer the chair with the gray vinyl. It has much better cushions, is a little taller and has a more upright slope to the chair back. The other chair has a greater slope and is a little low for use at the folding tables. Of course, it may be beneficial to have a mix of chair types in case different people have different preferences. Regardless, I put in an informal vote for the gray chairs. Best, Jacob.”

HERE’S ANOTHER: ”Linda, I was watching the stream of the portions of the meeting I did not attend in person tonight and want to object to the Lindy's statement late in the meeting that the distracting public comment buzzer would have to come back for public comment periods. I would like to remind the City that I specifically requested disability accommodations in the form of eliminating the distracting (and for some, potentially triggering) buzzer for public comment time limits in City meetings. I offered to provide supporting documentation demonstrating that I am covered individual under federal and California law but the City has not requested any such documentation. That offer stands should you have a different position now that we have a new city attorney."

YOUNG PATTERSON so far is getting away with his appalling arrogance because, I guess, people are intimidated by his legal credentials. I've seen it too often at public meetings where a lawyer was present. Someone will make the fatal error of asking the lawyer for an opinion which, of course, the lawyer proceeds to pluck out of mid-air and lay on the assembled, who listen as if to the Oracle.

THE OBVIOUS SATIRE Patterson and Mommy complained about appeared in the ‘Mendocino Bacon,’ an on-line satire pegged to the staid Mendocino Beacon, the erstwhile newspaper. It made fun of Patterson's district representation ploy. I thought it was pretty good; the hysterical reaction to it was even funnier, almost as funny as the idea of proportional representation for a town the size of Fort Bragg which, at bottom is simply a pretext for this Patterson kid to (1) use Hispanics to pick up a few public bucks, which would qualify as racism most places a gringo might try it and (2) harass the City of Fort Bragg for its wisdom in not selecting him as City Attorney.


The aging Potter Valley Project yields negligible power, but the controversial north-south transfer of water it facilitates is highly valuable to farmers, fish and urban dwellers.

Comment 1: Let's see if I have this right. PG&E is willing to transfer the project to a “local or regional entity” and SoCo is happy to join together with three other counties to take possession. This seems too good to actually be true. PG&E will give or cheaply sell these facilities, we get to keep the water running AND get to generate electricity (not a huge amount, about 9 megawatts. That is the electrical use of about 9000 homes) So this union of four counties gets to sell to the grid this power. This should be a money making proposition, not a lot but a profit none-the-less, and I'll wager politicians will screw this up so that it costs us big time. I would be interested in knowing the condition of all the facilities and how much it will cost to get them up to and keep them in reasonable repair. This could be a very good thing for the four-county union if it was managed well. I just don't see that happening, I'm really sorry to say.

Comment 2: Oops: Guy Kovner and the PD failed to talk with Eel River stakeholders for this story. The result? What the PD story fails to mention: the huge financial liabilities that PG&E wants to unload, and the real safety risks of dam failure and downstream flooding for a 100 year-old dam with geotechnical problems, adjacent to an active fault system. PG&E just announced they had a proposal for volitional salmon and steelhead passage over the dam to the upper main stem Eel River's very fertile headwaters, with a new fish ladder that would cost $50-$90 million. It is likely to be required as part of relicensing, in the next steps to recovering the Eel River's extraordinarily abundant salmon and steelhead populations and fisheries.

Russian River beneficiaries of this water transfer are in denial of these costs, including the Boards of Supervisors and water agencies in three counties. Watch your wallets!

Comment 3: When Potter Valley was evacuated during last year’s fire, the threat was not the fire but the chance that the diversion tunnel, made of redwood, would catch fire and flood the entire valley floor.

The fire crews in training this last winter were told this by the CalFire trainers. This surprised us all, and I believe the potential liability of the diversion’s failure played into PG&E’s decision.

If so, who would accept that liability and buy it?

I know how much money is at stake with the potential failure, and I doubt even Warren Buffet’s ability to absorb the loss.

It’s the water, not the power, which will decide this issue; the water is gold.

INTERESTING PIECE in the current New Yorker is sub-titled, "Is capitalism a threat to democracy?" Yes, it certainly can be a threat, is the gist of the article, which also suggests that here in liberty land we seem to be drifting inexorably towards that threat, which is ultimately the Big F — fascism. The author, citing such impeccable sources as the great Karl Polanyi, says, in essence, that capitalist economies run along democratic lines do better for both the people living in them and for capitalism than unrestrained capitalist economies run along authoritarian lines with, in extreme cases capitalism resulting in Hitler or versions thereof. Welfare capitalist states do best of all as for instance, things merrily chug along for everyone, capitalist and citizen alike, in the Scandinavian countries.

IS IT JUST ME or are election mailers getting even more insulting? Here's one from Marshall Tuck (a new name to me) that features Barack Obama on one whole side with the rest devoted to Tuck, who wants to be the state's superintendent of schools. Tuck is posed with a carefully staged ethnic rainbow of children, although California's schools are more and more segregated all the time by race and family income. We also get the requisite shot of the candidate with his wife and son, all three sporting the big shiny white dentistry that a majority of Californians can't afford.

THESE MAILERS are very expensive, and I have to wonder why Demo hacks like Assemblyman Wood and State Senator McGuire bother? They're running unopposed except for the usual sacrificial Republican, so why not spare us all these big full face glossies of their obvious sociopathy? I laughed when I got to the back page of Wood's mailer where I read, "Supported by local leaders we trust." Included among the trustworthy are NorCal boards of supervisors and city councils, including Mendocino County's supervisors. I didn't see a single name I'd trust to reliably feed my dog while I went on vacation, let alone trust to wisely advance desirable local amenities or to expend millions of annual public dollars.

WHAT'S ESPECIALLY DEPRESSING about contempo officeholders is their endless bogusness. Only a true psycho can be so relentlessly phony with not so much as a hint of his real self, assuming there is a real self under layers of psychic fraud. There's endless statements like, "State Senator Mike McGuire, getting the job done every day in every community, for every one of us." I know if I asked the next twenty people who wandered past my office door few, if any, would know who these characters are. They would know, and probably emphatically state, that they don't feel represented by anyone at any level of government. And they aren't represented by anyone unless, of course, their net worth is on the sunny side of five mil or so.

MORE OR LESS recommended viewing: Trust, starring Donald Sutherland on FX TV, is based on the Getty saga, especially the famous kidnapping of the old man's grandson by Italian gangsters, a crime emphasized when the kidnappers cut off the kid's ear and mailed it to the Gettys to verify they were indeed holding the right guy for ransom. Donald Sutherland as the infamously parsimonious patriarch is very good, as is the rest of the cast with only a couple exceptions. I don't regret watching it.

I DO REGRET sitting through Netflix's Kodachrome, except for the always wonderful, Ed Harris. The rest of the cast range from ho hum to awful, and the whole of the uninspired script slides in and out of pure mawk, mostly in. Except for Harris, who plays a dying big shot photographer who sets out on a road trip to develop a lost roll of film the old fashioned way — kodachrome, baby! — the acting is terrible.


If it was only the news business that’s gone bat-shit that would be one thing but it’s not just them, the whole panoply of the American power structure appears to have lost its marbles with the election of 2016. This is the only way to see it IMO. They seemingly can’t conceive of the many roadways to hell with these paving stones of – cough – good intentions they’re laying down in their attempts to get rid of Trump. Is Trump a buffoon? Yeah, sure, that much is self-evident. But let’s not pretend that the intelligentsia pre-Trump hadn’t made itself a laughing stock with multiple disastrous failures of domestic policy and diplomacy and war-making leaving major areas of the globe in chaos, including and especially the United States. Is Trump a legitimate president? You bet he is. Trump came to power duly elected, with a base of power, with promises made to that electoral base. And, against all odds. he appears to be making good on some of those promises i.e. shit-canning the Iran nuclear deal, and appears to be giving the others the old college try. If the powers-that-be cannot abide Trump, they should try what they haven’t yet tried, to reflect on the sins of their own making that made Trump possible.

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