- November Runoff
- Ukiah Follies
- Spyrock Vista
- RV Planning
- CSA Bad
- Little Dog
- Sad Safari
- Cannabis Impact
- Drone Etiquette
- Pine Seedlings
- PG&E Bankruptcies
- Ed Notes
- Yesterday's Catch
- Rohnert Seizures
- Capitalism Critique
- Mueller Indictments
- Sinking Canal
- Mister Stehr
- Sea Level
- Potemkin SF
THE THIRD PLACE CANDIDATE in the Fifth District race for Mendocino County Supervisor does not move into the November run-off, according to County Clerk Susan Ranochak. Ranochak said Saturday that her understanding of applicable state law is that only the death of one of the candidates now qualified for the ballot would give the third place candidate a spot on the ballot. Second place candidate Chris Skyhawk announced Friday that he was withdrawing from the race after suffering a serious stroke on June 26. Skyhawk was one of the two candidates to be “nominated” in the June primary to go to the November runoff in the 5th District supervisor’s race after defeating three primary opponents on June 5. During the June race, Ted Williams finished with 2,285 votes (41.42%), and Skyhawk finished with 1,715 votes (31.09%). In third place was David Roderick of Hopland with 1,062 votes (19.25%). Ranochak said that only if Skyhawk had died could Roderick appear on the ballot and only if he died before the end of August, or 68 days before the November election. Any time after that and the ballot stands as is. She said Skyhawk’s dropping out of the race made no difference. He would still appear on the November ballot. She also said that it would do no good for voters to write in Roderick’s name on the ballot as he did not get a “nomination” in the June election and therefore those write-in votes would not be counted. That presumably leaves Williams as the only viable candidate in the race. Ranochak said, should enough people vote for Skyhawk anyway and he wins the race, then, having withdrawn from the race, the 5th District seat would be filled by the California governor by appointment, just as Georgeanne Croskey was appointed to fill the 3rd District seat vacated by Tom Woodhouse. The 5th District seat is being vacated by the retiring Dan Hamburg. The district covers the Mendocino Coast from Mendocino to Gualala, while also including inland areas like Boonville, Hopland and Yorkville.
(Courtesy, Ukiah Daily Journal)
COSTCO MELTS DOWN UKIAH
AVA News Service
Costco’s Grand Opening in Ukiah is scheduled for July 19. We predict the opening of the mega-retailer will result in total gridlock of the Highway 101, Talmage Road, South State St., and Airport Park Blvd. areas. The City of Ukiah is in the final stages of $6 million worth of roadway construction improvements demanded by Costco as a condition of opening their store in Ukiah. The only problem, aside from the monster-sized giveaway of taxpayer funds, is that all the improvements were needed before Costco came to town. Which means as soon as the ribbon is cut, Ukiah will need at least another $6 million in roadway improvements for the new traffic congestion caused by Costco.
But Ukiah’s lavishly compensated City Manager Sage Sangiocomo and his rubberstamp City Council don't care because Costco is expected to generate $1 million dollars in sales tax every year. Which means it will only take six years to pay back the cost of the already inadequate traffic improvements. And another couple of years to pay back the cost of fighting the lawsuit filed by Sacramento attorney William Kopper. That lawsuit was brought by the non-existent "Ukiah Citizens for Safety First" originally represented by two employees from Lucky's Supermarket and two from Food Maxx. Both stores are owned by Save Mart Supermarkets and are the most likely to suffer from proximity to Costco. Once their names were revealed all the employees disavowed any connection with the lawsuit. But the lawsuit, most likely funded by the corporate owners of Lucky's and Food Maxx or the Retail Clerks Union, delayed the opening of the Ukiah Costco for several years.
The intersection of Talmage Road, Highway 101, and Airport Park Blvd has been a traffic congestion nightmare for years, but Ukiah refused to pay for any improvements until the lawsuit was finally dismissed. Airport Park Blvd and portions of Talmage are notoriously rough with the deteriorating roadbed alternately sinking or pushing up in spots. Except for emergency patching Ukiah has also refused to make repairs, claiming for years that it was the developer's responsibility. It took several years and a lawsuit to force Ukiah to take responsibility for the road, but only Costco could force them to fix it.
Costco, rumored to have been looking at Ukiah for some twenty years, officially applied for a use permit in 2011. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was approved by the City Council in 2013 and immediately challenged on grounds that traffic, noise and energy impacts were not correctly analyzed or mitigated. Faced with that lawsuit, Ukiah tried to fix the EIR and bypass the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by adopting an addendum to the EIR. The local Superior Court, natch, ruled that the EIR was A-OK. The Court of Appeal reversed that decision on grounds that it was illegal to adopt an addendum after the EIR was certified. Which meant the City had to go back and re-do the EIR. And pay Kopper his attorney fees. Three and a half years later (!), the City certified the revised EIR. Only this time no one sued, which means whoever was backing Kopper decided not to continue funding the lawsuit. The delay cost Ukiah about $3 million in sales tax revenue.
A final hurdle appeared at the last minute when Ukiah Mayor Steve Scalmanini filed an appeal. The Mayor belatedly (his claims always seem tardy, besides being silly) claimed the Costco roof needed to be solarized. Because the City of Ukiah is its own electric utility, solarizing Costco would mean a reduction in profit for the City owned electric system. And higher prices for everyone else. And more delay for Costco. Scalmanini was appointed when former Mayor Mari Rodin resigned and no one else filed for the open seat. Scalmanini recently filed a frivolous appeal against a 38 unit apartment project in Ukiah. He claimed the two-story project was too tall and would overlook the neighbors. He also claimed it needed to have parking on the ground floor which would have meant a three-story building. So according to Scalmanini the apartment building was both too tall and too small.
Costco refused to hold up the project, but tricked Scalmanini into dropping his appeal. Costco has an aggressive solarization program worldwide. So instead of putting solar on the Ukiah store, Costco agreed to solarize half a dozen stores in the United States and half a dozen overseas, a fraction of what it plans to do anyway. But Scalmanini was able to claim a great victory for the environment. Which is typical of the meaningless grandstanding favored by local pwogs of the Huffbro(Huffman/Chesbro, for you late arrivers)/Wood/McGuire type.
The Redwood Business Park, as the name implies, was approved decades ago as a business park, not a shopping center or big box strip. But the dream that 100 acres worth of businesses were eager to locate in outback Ukiah, distant from major markets and transportation corridors, was unrealistic from the get go. The infrastructure was designed to support the limited traffic circulation of a business park, not a major regional shopping center like it has become.
The property went through bankruptcy at least once before. The developer of the strip of property approached the City of Ukiah with a win-win: rezone one parcel for Wal-Mart and I promise to build out the rest as a business park. The developer would get a financial boost and Ukiah would get the sales tax (one of the few remaining direct sources of revenues local government has any control over). Concerns about lack of infrastructure were met with solemn assurances that no more retail would be allowed.
Unfortunately, there was still no demand to use the property as a business park, at least not at the high prices charged by the developer who kept coming back to the City Council to rezone "just one more" parcel for retail — until finally the entire area was zoned for retail. Eventually the City Council, acting as the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency (RDA), decided to become developers themselves.
The history of redevelopment in Ukiah explains why Governor Brown and the State legislature voted to abolish redevelopment. Instead of promoting development of neglected areas, redevelopment became a cash cow for local government. Each year the City of Ukiah decided what percentage of the City Manager's salary should be paid from redevelopment. The same was true for the City Attorney, Finance Director, and other high paid officials with some being paid 50% or more out of redevelopment. Ukiah even paid for a couple of police officers and other line staff with redevelopment money. But the biggest rip-off came in the form of sweetheart deals that benefited well connected interests at the cost of everyone else.
Case in point was the deal that brought the Mendocino Brewing Company (MBC) from Hopland to Ukiah. Founded in 1983 as the first craft brewpub in California and second in the nation since prohibition, by the 1990's the MBC was seeking to expand. Enter Ukiah City Manager Chuck Rough, who promised to extend Airport Park Blvd if the brewpub would relocate to Ukiah. Rough claimed the move would boost the economy by bringing dozens of jobs to Ukiah.
Nevermind that it's a ten minute drive from Hopland to Ukiah so any job gain was illusory.
But the high cost of extending the road meant Ukiah could not make any more redevelopment deals for well into the future. The deal was also ruinous for MBC which nearly went broke after being coerced by Ukiah to overbuild their new facility. The building, which was really a bottling plant, included broad verandas and graceful arches befitting an event center, but it was never used for that purpose. The original owners were forced to sell a controlling interest to an Indian billionaire who ran the MBC and the product into the ground prior to its closure last year.
Ukiah's dream of landing Costco almost failed when Developer's Diversified Realty (DDR), the nation's largest shopping center developer, purchased the old Masonite industrial site just north of the city limits and proposed a mega mall with a Costco store as the centerpiece. Frustrated with the slow pace of planning in Mendocino County (where no real planning ever takes place) the developers put an initiative on the ballot that would have approved full buildout of the Masonite site without planning review or public input. A group led by former Supervisor Richard Shoemaker, claiming to support "Smart Growth" opposed the initiative which was turned down by voters 2 to 1. Smart Growth was code for "no growth," the preferred option of the "I've got mine, jack" local libs. Ukiah would be looking at concrete slabs for the next 30 years if Ukiah industrialist Ross Liberty hadn’t stepped up to the plate to develop the large former Masonite facility as an industrial site. Liberty, who is one of two known Ukiah Libertarians (real estate honcho Dick Seltzer being the other one), formed an odd-couple partnership with the County of Mendocino. Libertarians as a rule decry government intervention in the marketplace, but the Mendocino/Liberty Libertarian alliance is successfully promoting the redevelopment of the Masonite site, albeit slowly.
Following the rejection of the DDR mega mall, Costco and the City of Ukiah resumed negotiations just at a time when the Ukiah Redevelopment Agency was recovering from the financial hole created by the long departed Chuck Rough. The City Council, with neo-socialist Phil Baldwin on board, bought 15 acres of land in the Redwood Business Park so they could deal directly with Costco. Agreement was reached for Costco to pay a tiny share of the millions needed to upgrade the freeway interchange, off- and on-ramps, and internal road network. At almost the same time the State voted to end redevelopment. But Ukiah was determined to keep milking the RDA cow. Over the objection of Doug Crane (who pointed out a state imposed deadline that prevented RDAs from incurring new debt) the warm fuzzies on the City Council, assured by the city administration (which is partially paid out of redevelopment funds) that the deadline did not apply to them, issued $10 million in bonds to use as RDA play money. The only problem was the State insisted the deadline did apply to Ukiah. The $10 million has been sitting locked in an account and the taxpayers are paying principle and interest on money that can't be used. This forced Ukiah to borrow millions more at market rates to fund the long overdue and insufficient road improvements.
In the meantime, City of Ukiah voters narrowly passed "Measure Y" which will generate about $3 million a year for road improvements. But there is no reason to think Ukiah is capable of providing the necessary oversight to spend the money wisely.
For example, take the current work to "improve" the freeway interchange and access, Airport Park Blvd. and Talmage Road — work that was needed before Costco came to town. The only significant improvement is a second westbound lane off Talmage and onto Airport Park Blvd. but that was a problem for anyone trying to get to Big Box Alley and necessary for pre-Costco traffic since traffic routinely backs up over the overpass and onto the freeway.
Traffic flow out of the “business park” will not be any better than at present either. Left turns into or out of the parking lots along Airport Park Blvd. will be impossible. State St. at Hastings will continue to be a bottleneck, especially for north bound traffic.
Adding insult to injury, the City Council decided that a good use of Measure Y funds, which was sold as a way to improve Ukiah’s pock-marked city streets, will instead be diverted to pay the next round of improvements that Costco should have paid for.
This indifference to the public is clear as shown by the lack of concern for the safety or convenience of the public during construction. Snarled traffic was diverted without warning and without clear signage indicating where drivers were supposed to go. Lanes were poorly marked if at all. Drivers were diverted onto streets marked with arrows going the wrong way. Traffic was diverted through cramped bank and hotel parking lots without any advance notice or warning. The Talmage Road intersection was shut down for days at a time without notice or clearly marked alternatives. Flaggers were scarce being drawn for overstressed construction crews, but in the evening they were often poorly illuminated, putting them at risk and making their signs impossible to read.
Contrast this with the CalTrans project in Willits where every lane is clearly marked at all times and safe walkways are provided for pedestrians.
This same level of indifference was common at numerous Ukiah road construction projects that were underway simultaneously in a patchwork of impromptu road repairs.
Only twenty years after they agreed to do it, the City of Ukiah finally got around to improving the intersection of Low Gap Road, North State St. and Brush Street. A major problem was the failure to include a dedicated left turn only lane as originally promised. And when the job finally got underway it had to be stopped because no one bothered to tell PG&E they needed to move a power pole. The mega utility requires months of lead time to do the simplest task. But they have to be asked. So the contractor had to shut down and pull their equipment off the site, all at added cost to the taxpayers.
That was just one example of expensive change orders that had to be granted because the plans and specs did not accurately describe initial conditions. The community was also promised that all work in the street would be done at night to avoid daytime closures, but Brush Street was shut down for days at a time without notice.
The greatest beneficiary of the Brush Street project was former City Councilmember and former County Supervisor Richard Shoemaker (now, weirdly, Point Arena City Manager) who owns the property at the southeast corner of the intersection. The City of Ukiah had to pay Shoemaker for right of way on both Brush and State Streets, rebuild his sewer and water lines at no charge, install a very expensive retaining wall, install an expensive gate and fencing, and probably had to pay for use of the property during the project. To top it off, the contractors imported tons of fill to level the back of Shoemaker's lot, greatly increasing its value. Most of these items can be gleaned from the original plans and change orders but the imported fill and leveling seems to have been on the down low.
None of this street activity is surprising since Ukiah was already notorious for paying a consultant $23,000 to come up with the memorable slogan: "Ukiah: Far Out! Nearby."
And if nothing else the Costco sales tax money can be used to pay the City Manager his $280,000 a year in salary and benefits with comparably lavish amounts going to the rest of the top-heavy city administration.
But hey: at least Ukiah has a Costco!
DEEP SPYROCK (photo by Lawrence Livermore)
REDWOOD VALLEY V. COUNTY
To the Editor:
I am a member of the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), but I only represent my own opinion as a RV resident with this letter. And, as I write, the Mendocino County Planning & Building Department is issuing a building permit for the construction of a 122 unit storage facility in the heart of “downtown” Redwood Valley. Even though the department has been working closely with the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council and the RV community at large to create a Community Action Plan and Design Guidelines to help shape community character and promote economic development in our community, they are not required to, and apparently did not feel it necessary, to bring to our attention that the keystone property in that community pursuit has had a major building project in the works behind closed doors for several months!
The owner and the contractor of the impending storage facility have done everything by the books, and the plans submitted for grading and construction are, planning has assured us, first rate. However, what is truly incomprehensible, is that no one in the community was ever notified, much less consulted, about the plans. Neither the developer nor the planning department talked to anyone in the neighborhood about it. No one mentioned it to the RV/Calpella Fire Department, RV General Store, the Post Office, Vic’s Place, or the gas station, all businesses directly across the street from the project that have formed the core of the Redwood Valley community for many, many years!
So, here we have a “planning department”, allegedly dedicated to supporting and guiding the community in its efforts to establish a community plan waiting till the very last minute, just prior to approval of the permit, before leaking to the RV MAC plans for a 20,000 square foot self-storage facility on a space that has been used for years for people to gather at coffee and food trucks, and for the Fire Department to park their vehicles during the 4th of July Black Bart Parade and Community BBQ. That is truly dysfunctional!
Planning will tell you that the storage facility is a “conforming” use and therefore not subject to public review — in planning speak, it’s a “ministerial” permit application, not a “discretionary” permit application. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same thing we were told after Dollar General was approved for building in Redwood Valley two years ago, when we simultaneously learned that there would be no public review of their plans to build. Only the enormous public outcry and the fact that Dollar General was held up by a last minute lawsuit was that project delayed, and subsequently terminated when Dollar General decided to sell rather than pursue ongoing legal battles. Along the way, public sentiment and the establishment of the Redwood Valley MAC pushed the Planning department and the Board of Supervisors to approve a Community Character overlay zoning for the downtown areas of RV that requires a use permit and public review for chain stores, but not for independently owned and operated storage facilities.
Now, if you were considering ways to build Community Character and promote economic development in a community already struggling to get back on its feet after last year’s devastating fires, would you want to put up 20,000 square feet of metal sheds with a fence around it and zero — yes 0 — employees and call it the center of town, the heart of the community? Once constructed — from prefab buildings employing minimal labor — and open for business, the facility will need no employees because all customers will need is a key card and an online account. They will be sending a modest amount of taxes back to the entity that allowed for its development — ah yes, the county! Forget for a moment that storage facilities present a potential fire hazard due to unknown materials stored there, but rather focus on the fact that the project will provide neither community character nor economic development. Is that planning? Personally, I think not.
The crux of the issue is the dysfunction in the planning process. Redwood Valley is an unincorporated community, and like many unincorporated communities struggling to define and develop community character and promote economic development, there is no review process for what buildings and landscaping should look like, and not even for the nature of the business, as long as it “conforms” to a few basic requirements such as size of footprint, setback from street, and a few safety requirements. In order for Redwood Valley, or any other unincorporated communities in the county (outside the purview of the Coastal Commission) such as Hopland, Laytonville, Covelo to have any voice in this type of project, there needs to be a review process written into the county zoning code. That would require drafting unincorporated community guidelines, submitting them for review to the Board of Supervisors, and then having the Planning Department write and adopt a new Design Review chapter into the County Code.
I’ve been told by County Planning that the creation of a county wide review process in the code is something they would like to see, but one which is not likely to happen anywhere in the near future as planning is already understaffed, underpaid and plagued by a high turnover rate. Apparently the county is too broke and poorly managed to be able to afford the kind of planning that its citizens deserve and would like to see. Either that, or it’s just not a priority.
So, I suggest that if you live in an unincorporated community and you would like to put the “planning” back in Planning & Building, that you all show up and be heard at BOS meetings and write letters letting them know that we need the funds and the staff that will make it possible to have a truly effective County Planning — one where developers, planners and the public actually communicate and sit down together to create the living, thriving communities we all deserve. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to be content with a mere “Building Department,” and much like the Third World, the laws of the Wild West! Yahoo!
Alex de Grassi
CULTURAL SERVICES AGENCY: BAD IDEA
To the Editor:
I am baffled and angry at the Board of Supervisors’ June 5, 2018 decision to consolidate our successful library system with the troubled museum and parks system. Our County CEO, Carmel Angelo, stated she had been considering this consolidation into a “Cultural Services Agency” since 2014, yet at a workshop between the BOS and the Library Advisory Board (LAB) last fall of 2017, this topic never came up and the LAB was not aware of it until recently. The LAB disagrees with this decision for good reason.
I am a member of the Mendocino County Library Advisory Board. Although the LAB decided we are unanimously opposed to combining the library, museum, and parks under a Cultural Services Agency, the words here are mine alone. The stated intent of this consolidation is to eliminate the number of county administrative heads by combining departments. On May 30 we learned that the supervisors would be deciding this on June 5, giving us and the public a scant six days to show up at the BOS meeting and voice our opinions. I feel the decision was steamrolled over us, and no advice has been taken from the Library and Museum Advisory Boards.
This consolidation is a bad idea for the following reasons: We should all be concerned that the majority of the library’s financial support comes from Measure A passed by the voters, and the probability of a co-mingling of funds to the failing museum is very wrong and a betrayal to the voters. To be clear, Supervisor McCowen has stated there will be no co-mingling of funds, but in recent years the county placed donations to the library in the general fund, and subsequently paid it back to the library’s special fund after Grand Jury reports. The library is a special district and should not be combined with other departments, a legal issue ignored by the CEO and County Counsel. At the March 27, 2018 BOS meeting, Chair Hamburg called for a study of this consolidation, but no study was completed, and the consolidation occurred anyway. The argument to save money by establishing a Cultural Services Agency is that the county will pay for one department head. Yet the funds coming from Measure A and property tax (not the general fund) pay the Library Director’s salary, and the current director has served as the department head for both the library and the museum since last fall of 2017. Her salary for library work is not paid by the county general fund, like every other department head. This has been an ongoing issue and is illegal under the law (CA Ed. Code Article 2, Provision 19147) and was addressed by two Grand Jury reports. Supervisors state that a percentage of the Library Director’s salary, for the time when she is overseeing the museum, is being paid from the general fund.
Our county supervisors and CEO do not want to hear from certain advisory boards. Why have advisory boards? For me, it boils down to the county fathers’s egos over citizen’s rights and interests. Please pay attention.
LITTLE DOG SAYS, “Gophers all over this place, and what do Skrag and Mrs. Skrag do? Watch 'em like they're watching one of those cat shows on TV.”
WE LEARN THE HOKEY-POKEY
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
It’s summer in Ukiah and the days are long, bright and filled with endless possibilities.
Kids can ride a bike, fly a kite, catch a frog, climb a tree, shoplift at Rite Aid or hike around Lake Mendocino. They can take a trail up a mountain and reach the ‘U’ just like generations of Ukiah kids have done. They can walk the Skunk Train tracks to Irmulco, camp out, and come back the next day (BB guns and jack knives suggested).
How about pickup ballgames at any of the various diamonds around town? Why not build a fort or a treehouse? Why not catch a squirrel, name him, tame him, and bring him back to school on your shoulder next September?
The possibilities, indeed, are endless.
And yet what do we see when we walk around Todd Grove Park on these lovely summer mornings? Dozens — nay, scores! — of glum children shuffling about while teenage counselors wearing red t-shirts tell them to wave their hands above their head. Later they get to skip. Some stand in circles and kick a ball back and forth. Advanced classes teach the Hokey-Pokey.
Go look. It’s the saddest thing I’ve seen all summer, and I’ve seen a neighbor’s cat laying flat-dead on Smith Street.
But Summer Safari at the park is the worst. It’s embarrassing to think we adults herd children into these joyless gatherings during the best season at the peak of their lives. What could possibly be better than to be 10 years old and let loose upon the world to explore and inquire, dig in and build up? And what could be worse than to bend their inquisitive brains on group projects like milling around, tossing a frisbee back and forth from a distance of 12 feet, and listening to bad music?
MENDO POT POLICY: ‘WE DO THINGS OUR WAY’
by Jim Shields
No pardoning this pun, but there was a watershed development recently dealing with the region’s top agriculture endeavor: marijuana cultivation.
As I’m fond of saying, you can’t grow weed without water, although our local bureaucrats and elected officials haven’t grasped that basic concept yet. In this space I have repeatedly pointed out that the state’s two primary resource agencies in California’s cannabis regulatory framework — the State Water Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife — have very tough, stringent water regulations that need to be complied with in order for local growers to become licensed.
When this issue was raised at a meeting late last year, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors’ response was, “There’s already checks and balances on water.” What exactly did that mean? And by the way, what are these checks and balances on water? You’ll wait an eternity before they ever answer that inquiry.
Anyway, for the past year I’ve been warning everybody that Mendocino County’s cannabis ordinance is fatally flawed for many reasons but in particular because it doesn’t address the cumulative impacts of marijuana cultivation in our watersheds. The bottom line is, you can only grow so much weed in a watershed before you start harming it. It’s simple, well-established science and I’ve said our county needs to accept it as fact and act accordingly before they are sued.
According to water journal Water Deeply, “Earlier this month, the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Eel River, which works to protect fisheries and watersheds in the region, filed a lawsuit against Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors. The suit alleges the environmental review prepared for the county’s new land-use ordinance permitting commercial cannabis operations fails to adequately address the industry’s impacts on watersheds and endangered wildlife.”
The report summarizes the extent of the vexing cumulative impact issue thusly: The county’s new land-use ordinance, approved in May, would permit 3,500 commercial cannabis operations, which includes some that were previously permitted under an ordinance regulating medicinal cannabis operations. Rough estimates have put the number of existing, unpermitted outdoor operations in the county at a staggering 15,000.
The county’s ordinance included an Environmental Impact Report on the effects of the regulations, but Friends of the Eel River says it falls far short in one crucial area: assessing existing impacts from the industry.
“The big thing we are worried about at its core is the county’s failure to even figure out what the cumulative effects on the landscape already are and how the permits they are proposing to issue would affect those impacts,” says Scott Greacen, conservation director at Friends of the Eel River.
The county still hasn’t done its “homework to definitely say what each individual watershed [in the county] can support,” adds Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, “What we’re asking the county to do is to knowledgeably permit a sustainable industry rather than come up with some arbitrary numbers for how many permits they’ll give out.”
Humboldt County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, but Ryan Sundberg, chair of the board of supervisors, said, “Humboldt County has been diligent in protecting water and our cannabis programs make the environment better. For instance, we have policies that forbear water withdrawal in the summer months and require [water] storage.”
Friends of the Eel River say the critical area of concern for them is the cannabis industry’s impact on the watersheds and fisheries. Coho salmon and steelhead are both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and some watersheds in Humboldt County are clinging to survival due to a host of issues, including development, dams, timber extraction and now cannabis cultivation. “It becomes a death by a thousand cuts for our salmon,” says Tidwell.
I believe the Humboldt lawsuit on its merits presents a very solid case because it reflects what’s occurring real-time on the cannabis regulatory front.
In previous columns we’ve discussed the new rules adopted by the State Water Board establishing strict environmental standards for cannabis cultivation in order to protect water flows and water quality in California’s rivers and streams.
The State Water Board’s plans include restricting or capping the number of cultivation licenses that can be issued, based on an “environmental impact calculation” of how many grow sites and/or plants are allowable per watershed. According to a Water Board staffer, the plans include limiting the “number of plant identifiers and licenses issued by the various entities, and so those folks that come forward earlier are going to be in a better position than folks that may stand on the sidelines and wait for a while.”
That’s a great idea that local officials should have taken note of immediately but, of course, they didn’t. It’s a much-needed regulation and would address the issue of the out-of-control expansion of pot production, especially here in Mendocino County. It also would address the major issue concerning the economic survivability of the small cottage grower who has seen the selling price of marijuana plummet because the market (black, gray or legal) is flooded with surplus pot primarily due to the failure of local governments enforcing natural resource provisions in their own ordinances
For example, Mendocino County has an ordinance that prohibits removing a single tree if the purpose is for growing marijuana. There is little evidence the County is enforcing that strict rule, especially in the view of CALFIRE who last summer admonished the BOS for its failure to do so.
It’s the same case with water-related issues. This county doesn’t have a clue if cultivators are in compliance with water codes and regulations regarding water sources, diversions, pond building, road construction, etc.
It’s a safe bet that sooner than later Mendocino County will be sued on the same grounds as Humboldt County. After all, this county’s motto is, “Why do things the right way when we can do them our way.”
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: /www.kpfn.org.)
DRONES ARE NOT TOYS
by Debra Eloise
I recently had the joy of shooting video with a drone. I haven't purchased one yet, especially with all the continued commotion going on around them.
Take just yesterday, when a friend asked if I knew anyone with a drone who might have cause to be flying over her property and looking in her windows! She was freaking a bit and I don't blame her. Come on, folks, if you're gonna get a drone, be aware of the responsibility and consequences of ownership. This is NOT JUST A TOY!
As photographers and videographers (which is what you are drone people), it is important to be respectable and considerate of others around us.
Here's a tidbit of the endless amount of data one has to read before flying a drone without getting into any legal trouble:
The FAA law requires UAS (unmanned aerial systems), drones and radio controlled aircraft to be registered and properly marked before flight. Go online to go through this process, for recreational or professional purposes.
You are required to obtain a Flight ID Card, and depending on what you are using the drone for, you may even need an equivalent to a pilot license just to fly it! So be aware of the rules and regulations before you consider intruding on your neighbors, community and/or events.
Basically, you, the drone controller, are just like a pilot and need to know the rules of the air before you engage any aircraft, i.e., your drone.
And since we have our very own airport in Boonville, there are also strict regulations regarding how close you can fly near the airport. We don't want any planes crashing because it hit a drone – far worse than a bird!
NO SKEET SHOOTING - Under current federal law, it's illegal to shoot down a drone, even if it's hovering above your own property. Any air below 500 feet above your property is known as a “gray area” and no one can really say who “owns” it. So shooting down a drone for “trespassing” is a tough call. There are states and regions creating laws to control this, but even those are being contested. Besides, own the air?? Really?? Let's be reasonable and practice a little courtesy and consideration of others and ask permission from others before exploring the skies with your drones!
For further information: faa.gov/uas/getting_started/
LARRY LIVERMORE WRITES: 36 years ago I planted 100 three-inch seedlings on a barren hillside up on Spy Rock. Only two survived, and one of them is looking a little scraggly, but this one grew into a tall, proud Ponderosa pine…
Regarding the need to head off PG&E’s “return to bankruptcy,” I remember that it did quite well in its previous bankruptcy by transferring hundreds of millions of dollars to one of its entities back East and granting hundreds of thousands of dollars to the top executives — and then rising from the ashes like a phoenix.
PLEASED TO SEE this South Coast note: "The Evergreen Cemetery in Manchester, and like many on the Coast, is a Pioneer Cemetery. Unlike some, however, the Manchester Cemetery is NOT in a cemetery district and there are no public funds to maintain it. It is on County land, not owned by anyone. The first burials go back before Statehood. There is a cleanup day today (Sunday) starting at 10 am. If you can only help for a few minutes, come on by. Or come by and learn how you can help later. Or just come by and share any history you know of the cemetery and the people buried there. The cemetery is at the intersection of Mountain View Road and Highway 1."
MY OLD FRIEND Arline Day rests at this cemetery. She descended from one of first settler families at Point Arena, and had been married to Richard Day of the Day Ranch at Philo, now the Standish Winery. Between the two of them there was a world of early Mendocino County history. Mr. Day, of instance, remembers, as a small boy, Daniel Jeans, a former slave, pulling up his shirt to show the young 'uns the legacy whip marks on his back. The Jeans family homesteaded the area called Ham Canyon due west of the Anderson Valley Elementary School, now part of the June Ranch. Daniel Jeans arrived in Boonville in 1870, married a Native American woman whose name is lost to history, cleared the land where the Little Red School House now sits, and lived out his days on his thriving little farm.
(THE REMAINS OF MAJOR MARK SCARAMELLA’S parents, Mary & Gene Scaramella are also at the Manchester Cemetery.)
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FROM THE ARCHIVE:
CHARMIAN remembers meeting the granddaughter of Henry Wightman, the man who built Reilly Heights and what used to be known as the Banks House on the south side of the Elementary School. The Banks House became the residence of John Scharffenberger and is now the home of Michael and Susan Addison. “Not only was this house,” Charmian writes, “and the Reilly Heights home built by Henry Wightman, but he built the Con Creek School and assisted in the building of the New Boonville Hotel and Boonville's Methodist Church. Wightman's wife Julia died in 1900, leaving her husband with their daughter Pearl, 3, to raise. According to his granddaughter Virginia, her grandfather stayed in this community until about 1903 when he moved to Chico and later Briceland where he continued as a contractor specializing in distinctive buildings.” Wightman's descendants included William and Marianne Pinches of Willits. The Pinches' are related to supervisor John Pinches who also maintains a home in Willits and the family's pioneer ranch east of Laytonville overlooking the Eel River.
THE CON CREEK SCHOOL Charmian refers to is now The Valley's museum housed in what is known locally as “the little red school house.” When Wightman built it he was assisted by Daniel Jeans, a former slave, who arrived in Anderson Valley in 1870. Jeans homesteaded the area off Ornbaun Road called Ham Canyon, probably an Old Testament reference to black people as the sons of Ham.
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BUT THE ANDERSON VALLEY is more and more transient, long time residents here today seemingly gone that afternoon. Attorney Geraldine Rose's home on the lower Peachland has been sold and Geraldine whisked away to a care home in the East. Gene and Richard Herr are also being cared for out of the Valley. The Herrs were prominent in the life of this place for many years, as was Anna Taylor of Navarro who now lives in a care home in Sonoma County.
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HEALDSBURG is poised to open a massive hotel at its north end, and one has to wonder if the town's carrying capacity just swamped itself. Even on an early morning weekday the town is jammed with more visitors than downtown Santa Rosa probably gets in a week.
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YOU MAY have seen the story about the young woman stranded for nearly week off Highway One in Big Sur when her car went off the road and down onto the rocks. All of the reports I saw said she "survived by drinking water from her radiator." Doubt that, but she's got herself a life time of freeze protection if that's what kept her alive.
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WE'VE BEEN STEADILY CRITICAL of County CEO Carmel Angelo, but trying to look at the Board of Supervisors from her perspective, she may have sensed early on that someone had to grasp the leadership reins in the absent presence of the elected Fab Five. Dan "Wake Me When It's Over" Gjerde seems to have checked out, gazing out silently at the proceedings with a slightly stunned look on his ageless puss; Georgeanne Croskey's a temp mysteriously installed via, of all places, the Willits School Board; Carre Brown only rouses herself at perceived threats to virtually free water for her Potter Valley neighbors; John McCowen occasionally dares an independent comment but is immediately eyeballed into silence by CEO Angelo; and Hamburg, perennially odeed on the love drug, might as well be a motorized cardboard cut out sitting up there stroking his comfort dog. Trained as a nurse, Angelo probably took one look at this crew and, recognizing incapacity when she sees it, said to herself, "If I don't do it this sucker could sink."
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THIS GUY ASKS, "You guys get your Pulitzer yet?" I did a quick search of his deadpan features for evidence of sarcasm, but he was serious. I said if I hang on 'til I'm a hundred I might get one out of pity, but lots of people, including the guy who asked, seem to think there's some kind of journalo-talent scouts out there scouring the land for the good stuff, a delusion that ought to have been shattered years ago at a mere glance at the roster of who and what has gotten the degraded "prize." If the process were disinterested Bruce McEwen would have one. He's the best courtroom reporter in the country. Of course he's the only one, but still he's a truly excellent reporter, the best this benighted county has ever seen. But in fact, the Pulitzer for this sordid line of work is by application. The big news orgs have a couple of people whose full-time job it is to fill out the forms and pack them off to the hacks and hackettes at the Columbia School of Journalism who do the selecting. Which isn't to say that some good stuff doesn't get recognized. But looking back, there are more great journalists whose work was ignored than not. Fundamentally, the Pulitzer is about as significant as coming in third on Dancing with the Stars.
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THE CALTRANS STRIPING on our end of the Ukiah Road is kinda dizzying, wobbling this way and that to where I was asking myself, "Am I woozy or are the freshly painted center lines wandering all over the place?" I think it's the stripes.
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DEFEND EVERY DECISION: Records show Sonoma County damage control over fire alerts.
THE MOST INTERESTING thing in the above story is the implication that all the deserved abuse the Santa Rosa-based authorities are getting for their handling of the disastrous October fires might be at least partially offset by summoning Authority's Scribes from the Press Democrat to cool out some of it. As a commenter rightly put it, ...."There you have it folks. Let's get our good boy network of friendly (journalists) in here and cut a deal to help cover our failures, incompetence and unwillingness to be straight forward and honest with our constituents."
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THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT is from a credulous Press Democrat story:
"Flow Kana distributes cannabis to more than 100 dispensaries throughout Northern California, but transforming the winery into a cultivating, processing, manufacturing, distribution and retail hub would be its biggest project so far. John Fetzer, former CEO of Fetzer Vineyards and cofounder of Saracina Vineyards in Hopland, says it may be hard for some people to accept, but he believes that Flow Kana has the best interests of the community in mind, and doesn’t expect the area to become overrun with cannabis companies. ‘Flow Kana fell in love with the property because it promotes agricultural,’ said Fetzer. He doesn’t see his family’s history or legacy being damaged by the transition. ‘It’s going to be a new beginning and great opportunity for a lot of new people...’.”
ALL OF WHICH contradicts prevalent rumors that Flow Kana's kash flowa is so weak it's looking for money, big money to keep afloat the apparent fantasy that Mendo and HumCo's small pot ops are going to sell product cheap to Flow Knna so Flow Kana can market it for them. We think this is yer basic flawed biz plan. Pot sharecropping? Won't go in Mendo except among the farmers desperate to offload product at any price.
SCALMANINI JUST AN OBSTRUCTIONIST
We don’t believe for a minute that Ukiah City Councilman Steve Scalmanini really thinks the 35-apartment Main Street project could be better. He just wants it delayed long enough for the developer to give up on it.
Scalmanini has absolutely no credibility here. After regular public hearings which he never attended, and a planning commission unanimous vote on the project, Scalmanini suddenly thinks the apartment building could be taller and it’s housing capacity denser.
As the young people fighting the NRA over gun policies say, “We call BS.”
If Scalmanini had taken just a few minutes to actually read up on the project he continues to delay, he would know that the “concerns” he has raised – some 50 of them! - were addressed during the planning process, when he couldn’t be bothered to get involved. His personal housing theories were quickly given the heave-ho by staff and the rest of the council.
During the recent City Council meeting at which his colleagues roundly rejected his concerns and voted to uphold the project as approved, they also rightly took him to task for putting a wrench in the works at the last minute.
If anyone except a City Council member wanted to appeal a planning commission decision, they would have to pay a fee and would have had to have provided some inkling of their objections during the planning process. But a special city ordinance allows any City Council member to appeal a planning decision on a whim after it has been passed. That gave Scalmanini just the opening he needed to put the project in limbo, his only real intent. And even after the council voted to reject his appeal, he is refusing to drop it, which gives him another 90 days to hold it up. This is unconscionable. Scalmanini may hate private developers of any stripe but he should not be able to stick it to them like this when they have presented a perfectly good project the city has been wanting to get built for years, and been good partners to boot.
That Scalmanini was not able to stop the Costco project no doubt irks him as it gets ready to open this week. Maybe he’s pouting about that by clinging to the power the city ordinance gives him elsewhere. That ordinance should be changed quickly and Scalmanini should stop trying to look concerned and realize his antics aren’t appreciated.
–KC Meadows, Ukiah Daily Journal
ED NOTE: Ukiah's been cursed with recent city councils as inept as the Board of Supervisors. Scalmanini was the only applicant for a Council seat vacated by the dependably fatuous Mari Rodin, who left to take a job with Monterey County as a LAFCO staffer, where she lasted about a month because Monterey County apparently requires its employees to (1) know something, (2) actually work. Scalmanini showed up from wherever he showed up from and was immediately embraced by inland "progressives" who make their rent-free headquarters in John McCowen's grungy building at 106 West Standley. One of Scalmanini's first moves was to join an anonymous cadre of obstructionists to oppose CostCo’s Ukiah store because, well, like, gosh it's a big corporation, finally settling the case with an agreement that CostCo solarize a CostCo in Modesto or somewhere. Only in Mendocino County would a dingbat like Scalmanini be possible because only in Mendo you are whatever you say you are, and history starts all over again every morning.
CATCH OF THE DAY, July 15, 2018
TIMOTHY DAVIS JR., Covelo. Short-barreled rifle, felon/addict with firearm, unlawful display of registration, county parole violation.
ARTURO DIAZ-AVALOS, Covelo. Manufacture or import short-barrelled rifle.
NOAH HUWE, Lincoln/Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
MARGARITE NARVAEZ, Pleasant Hill/Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, battery on peace officer.
JONATHAN ORTIZ, Ukiah. Controlled substance, petty theft, probation revocation.
NICOLAS PAOLI, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
TRISTA PHARES, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
THOMAS SANDERS, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
SAMUEL SIERRA, Ukiah. Community Supervision violation.
THOMAS TICE, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
DANIEL YEOMANS, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
MARIO ZAPIAN, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
ROHNERT PARK OFFICIALS CLAIM LITTLE SAY OVER DISPUTED POLICE SEIZURES
Mayor Pam Stafford said the city's interception of black-market drugs and cash was a police operation that wouldn't concern the City Council. A former sergeant who led those efforts is now under investigation.
IS THIS WHERE “SEND THEM PACKING” COMES FROM?
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
If you can have a multiple bankrupt game-show host as president, if you can be famous for being famous, if a lawyer’s daughter can become exorbitantly wealthy for having a big derriere and zero shame, if all her family can become famous and wealthy by doing likewise, then maybe a billion dollar company based on $29 lipstick isn’t such a stretch. And if you can convince an Olympic Gold Medal winner to emasculate himself for the sake of the family business, then maybe the prospect of a President Kim K isn’t such a remote possibility.
If all these things are true then all kinds of things formerly regarded as being impossible, become possible.
And if all these formerly unthinkable things become not only thinkable, but part of the warp and weft of American life, then maybe “American” becomes a misnomer. Maybe “Caligulan” should be the nationality.
WHY MARX’S CAPITAL STILL MATTERS
David Harvey on why Karl Marx's Capital is still the defining guide to understanding — and overcoming — the horrors of capitalism.
MUELLER HAS THE GOODS - ALL OF THE GOODS
by Charles Pierce, Esquire
Wittingly or unwittingly, a huge cast of American characters was in on the plot.
The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
United States of America v. Internet Research Agency et. al.
Goddamn them all.
Goddamn the hackers. Goddamn the journalists who laundered the pilfered material. Goddamn any of them who treated Roger Stone as a source, or as a cute prankster, instead of the nasty vandal he's always been. Goddamn the pundits who chortled over the pilfered material. Goddamn the politicians who profited from the hacking. Goddamn the politicians who minimized the hacking. Goddamn the politicians who still stonewall about the hacking. Goddamn the “activists” who ranted about “McCarthyism” when anybody pointed out that the 2016 presidential election had been poisoned from afar. Goddamn them all as traitors, if not to the American nation, then to everything that ever made that nation worth the bother.
They conspired, wittingly or unwittingly. They colluded, wittingly or unwittingly. They are accessories, before and after the fact, to the hijacking of a democratic election. So, yes, goddamn them all.
Bob Mueller dropped the first of many shoes on Friday. Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges of helping to ratfck the 2016 presidential election under the noms de ratfck "DCLeaks" and "Guccifer 2.0." Rosenstein went out of his way to say that no Americans were named in the indictment, so the White House grabbed onto that as though it were the last floating deck chair off the Lusitania. But it is very clear from the indictment that Mueller has the goods, all of the goods, and that nothing is going to slow him down or knock him off pace. (Notice how the indictment details how seriously the Russians took the president’s appeal to them to find HRC’s “lost” emails.) The mills of the gods and all that.
Here's the whole indictment and its Tolstoyan cast of defendants, for you to read. Nobody has any illusions that these folks ever will see the inside of a United States federal courthouse, although a little discreet abduction wouldn't be out of line, as far as I'm concerned. (Not really, but, maybe.) But there’s enough in the indictment to make a lot of people in this country nervous. To wit: Between in or around June 2016 and October 2016, the Conspirators used Guccifer 2.0 to release documents through WordPress that they had stolen from the DCCC and DNC. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also shared stolen documents with certain individuals.
a. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.
b. On or about August 22, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of data stolen from the DCCC to a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news. The stolen data included donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,000 Democratic donors. On or about August 22, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent a reporter stolen documents pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The reporter responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release. 44. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with US. persons about the release of stolen documents. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior member of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank for writing back . . . anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen document posted online and asked the person, “What do think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign?” The person responded, “³[p]retty standard.”
Ignorance will be pleaded. The candidate, lobbyist, journalist, and person close to the Trump campaign will argue that they thought they were dealing with that 400-pound guy in New Jersey. It's too late now to start believing those protestations. There was enough out there about the ratfcking in the middle of the summer of 2016 to make anyone who cared to look suspicious of being handed anything by hackers, and this includes WikiLeaks, which has had its halo knocked into the Bay of Fundy for good and all by this indictment. Too many people didn't care, because Trump couldn't ever win, and because it had been open season on Hillary Rodham Clinton for 25 years, and, boy, was that ever fun!
There's so much more coming. You can feel the hoofbeats of the horseman and the baying of the hounds behind every syllable of this indictment. My guess is that Mueller's not going to move on anyone in the United States until very late in the game. He's given all those folks a look at just a piece of what he's got. That's got to have their knees watery. And, because this is 2018, and everything is awful and strange, the president this conspiracy helped to install is meeting, one on one, with the architect of it all, the Tsar of all the ratfckers, tomorrow. Everyone should be so very proud.
THE CENTRAL VALLEY FLOOR IS SINKING, AND IT’S CRIPPLING CALIFORNIA’S ABILITY TO DELIVER WATER
by Dale Kasler & Phillip Reese
Completed during Harry Truman’s presidency, the Friant-Kern Canal has been a workhorse in California’s elaborate man-made water-delivery network. It’s a low-tech concrete marvel that operates purely on gravity, capable of efficiently piping billions of gallons of water to cities and farms on a 152-mile journey along the east side of the fertile San Joaquin Valley.
The Friant-Kern has been crippled by a phenomenon known as subsidence. The canal is sinking as the Valley floor beneath it slowly caves in, brought down by years of groundwater extraction by the region’s farmers.
Along a 25-mile stretch of Tulare County rich with grapevines and pistachio trees, the canal has fallen so far — a dozen feet since it opened in 1951 — that it has lost more than half of its carrying capacity downstream from the choke point. Water simply can’t get through like it’s supposed to.
“It ponds up; you lose capacity and that ability to move water through the system,” said Douglas DeFlitch, chief operating officer at the Friant Water Authority. The authority operates the canal for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project.
Although subsidence has been a problem for decades, it accelerated as groundwater pumping expanded during the recent drought. Now it’s reaching a crisis point on the Friant-Kern, and California voters are being asked to fix it.
A proposition on the November ballot would raise billions of dollars for a variety of water projects around the state, including roughly $350 million to repair the Friant-Kern.
Proposition sponsor Gerald Meral, a prominent environmentalist, said it’s in Californians’ interests to ensure the flow of water to the east side of the Valley. The Friant-Kern brings water to the city of Fresno, numerous small towns and 17,000 farmers.
“Keeping 1 million acres of land in the Friant service area (in production) is a public good,” said Meral, a former deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources Agency.
So far no organized opposition has emerged to Meral’s proposition.
The Friant-Kern’s woes illustrate the enduring nature of California’s water problems. The epic five-year drought is officially over, but not everywhere. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2017 declaration ending the drought omitted four counties where groundwater has been severely depleted: Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Tuolumne. The stricken canal serves two of those counties, Fresno and Tulare, along with Kern County.
It’s a problem that feeds on itself. If the canal can’t do its job, farmers downstream likely will pump more groundwater during dry years. A 2014 state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, requires farmers to rein in their pumping, but the restrictions don’t fully kick in until 2040. Because farmers use some of the water from the canal to replenish groundwater, fixing the Friant-Kern would help coax the aquifers back to health.
During the drought, groundwater became a lifeline in this part of the Valley. Friant area farmers normally get water from the San Joaquin River, stored behind Friant Dam, but reservoir levels fell so low that the Central Valley Project didn’t deliver a drop of river water to Friant farmers in 2014 and 2015.
Desperate to keep their crops alive, farmers in Fresno County drilled 763 new wells in 2015 alone, according to the Department of Water Resources. In Tulare County, the number of new irrigation wells hit 1,069 that year. Overall, Valley farmers removed enough groundwater during the drought to fill Shasta Lake seven times over, according to a study last year by researchers at UCLA and the University of Houston.
Depletion of groundwater causes subterranean layers of clay and gravel to gradually compress. The earth’s surface drops, usually a few inches a year.
Over time, that translates into serious troubles, especially for gravity-fed systems. The Friant-Kern has no pumps; its concrete chute is supposed to ride a gentle slope that runs downhill 6 inches every mile, just steep enough to deliver water the full 152 miles from behind the Friant Dam near Fresno to a spot just north of Bakersfield.
The canal already had sunk several feet since the 1950s. The drought simply made the problem that much worse. At a point 100 miles south of the dam, just west of the tiny community of Terra Bella, the canal dropped about 2 feet between 2015 and 2017. That created a choke point that has left canal operators unable to deliver 60 percent of the water to farms and cities along the last 50 miles or so of the canal’s low spot.
The Valley’s well-drilling frenzy has abated as overall water conditions in the state have improved. Farmers drilled a total of 366 wells in Tulare and Fresno combined last year. Subsidence, however, persists. The ground continues to sink in some spots beneath the Friant-Kern, worsening the canal’s troubles.
“We’re still seeing some degradation,” DeFlitch said.
NASA scientist Tom Farr, who has used satellite imagery to study subsidence, said a wet season can bring the land back to where it was — but recovery isn’t always 100 percent. Too much pumping can compact the layers of soil and gravel and permanently reduce underground water storage capacity.
In some cases, “you can’t restore it,” said Farr, who works at NASA’s Joint Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Over the past two decades, Farr said, some Valley aquifers have lost nearly 10 percent of their ability to store water.
Subsidence is hardly limited to the Friant region. In one infamous example, an area around Mendota, west of Fresno, sank 28 feet over a 50-year span beginning in 1925. NASA scientists last year reported finding “subsidence bowls” in parts of the Valley, and depressions as far north as Woodland and areas north of Lake Tahoe.
Other segments of California’s water-delivery network have suffered from sinking ground.
A portion of the State Water Project’s California Aqueduct in Kings County lost 20 percent of its delivery capacity because of subsidence, the NASA researchers reported. The Department of Water Resources has spent $2 million on preliminary repairs, including the raising of the aqueduct’s sidewalls, but still is “in the early stages of developing alternatives to determine a long-term solution,” said spokeswoman Maggie Macias.
Subsidence often doesn’t look like much. The low point of the Friant-Kern Canal, near Terra Bella, doesn’t resemble a crevice or even a shallow bowl. It appears flat to the naked eye. The only visible sign of trouble is a bridge, part of Avenue 96, that crosses the canal near Terra Bella. It sits barely a foot above the water. It used to be 12 feet.
The canal has been fixed once before to deal with subsidence, in 1979. The sides of the canal were raised so water cascading through the system wouldn’t lap over the sides at the point where the canal had lost elevation. It was a partial fix.
“It’s not a new problem,” DeFlitch said.
It became obvious in early 2017 that subsidence had become an urgent issue. Record rainfalls that winter had raised reservoir levels at Millerton Lake behind the dam, and canal operators prepared to release a generous slug of water into the canal. Because of the choke point, however, they realized they couldn’t ship as much water as they planned. Roughly 300,000 acre-feet of water had to be released directly into the San Joaquin River instead of going to farmers downstream of the low spot near Terra Bella.
The shortfall didn’t kill anyone’s crops that year; it represented just 14 percent of the total available supply along the Friant-Kern system. But it was a big opportunity lost for those at the southern end of the canal. DeFlitch said much of that water was going to be “banked” in Valley aquifers for use in the inevitable dry years — a crucial strategy in a region where water supply is notoriously unpredictable.
“We live and die by banking water,” said Friant Authority board member Edwin Camp, a Kern County farmer who grows almonds, oranges and other crops south of the canal’s choke point.
Friant officials still are wrestling with how to fix the canal. They might raise the sidewalls several feet, augmenting the work that was done in 1979. They also would have to elevate bridges that pass over the sunken canal.
Another strategy under consideration is installing a pumping plant at the choke point to move water through, although DeFlitch said the costs of operating the pumps would be substantial.
In any event, California taxpayers might foot the bill.
If voters approve Proposition 3 in November, the state would borrow $8.9 billion for various water projects, including $750 million to improve conservation and groundwater-recharge efforts in the Friant area. That sum would include an estimated $350 million to repair the Friant-Kern and a smaller canal, also operated by the Friant Authority, that suffers from subsidence.
Why shouldn’t Friant farmers pay for this? Didn’t they cause the problem by pumping groundwater?
Not exactly. Meral and independent experts say Friant’s farmers are only partly to blame. Much of the subsidence has been caused by farmers just outside Friant’s territory, they say.
If Proposition 3 fails in November, the funding question goes back to square one. Jason Phillips, the Friant Authority’s chief executive, said hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland would risk going out of production if their water supply remains constricted.
Farmers say repairs are needed — soon.
“We’re still dropping an inch a month in that pinch point,” Camp said. “When does that stop?”
Craig Louis Stehr at Little River Reservoir, Belfast, Maine, 7/15/18
"They keep saying that sea levels are rising… It's not to do with the icebergs melting; it's because there are too many fish in it. Get rid of some of the fish and the water will drop. Simple. Basic science."
— Karl Pilkington
THE FAÇADE of the F. Lofrano & Son auto body garage at 1355 Fulton Street [near Divisadero] is currently slated to be saved.
But plans to level the bulk of the 14,000-square-foot building are in the works. And as envisioned and newly rendered by SIA Consulting, a 72,000-square-foot development could rise up to nine stories in height upon the NoPa infill site. While the 12,000-square-foot parcel is currently only zoned for building up to 65 feet in height, the project team is planning to leverage the State’s Density Bonus Program to achieve the additional 20 feet. And as such, the development would yield a total of 75 apartments, with a garage for 36 cars, a storage room for 75 bikes and a 2,100-square-foot retail space fronting Fulton Street...
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Saving the "facade" of the building? That's like the pseudo-preservation on the Amoeba Music store on Haight Street that retains part of the old bowling alley facade. Historic bowling alleys and auto body garages!
That's a good metaphor for what's happening to San Francisco, an updated version of the Potemkin Village concept, as the relentless gentrification process accelerates, hollowing out the old city and replacing it with a new, unimproved version. Maybe the new gentry likes the process, since it prices out working people and other riff-raff, like artists and musicians.