Last Tuesday, with the winter rains early and strong, the Board of Supervisors discussed water. They've laid off Roland Sanford, County water guy. You might say this meeting was Sanford's Swan Song, wrapping up where the Water Agency was on some open water issues.
Six areas of concern, ranging from large to small, occupied the water leadership: stormwater permit updates; sediment mitigation in Mill Creek at Talmage; a regional water management plan; a Noyo/Big River Integrated Watershed Management Plan; and Supervisor John Pinches’ ongoing interest in storing public water for parched Willits (and perhaps Redwood Valley) in Scout Lake east of Willits, and a water supply assessment for the Ukiah Valley.
Water questions in the Ukiah Valley remain complicated because the several small, independent water districts of Ukiah don't cooperate with each other or the County.
Supervisor John Pinches thought it was time to get tough with the obstacles to sensible water planning and distribution. “I’m not saying that the five listed projects are not a priority. Actually, number six, the work’s already been done by the water agency, it’s into the building and planning right now, but what I’m trying to bifurcate here is the work, the future work that we’ll have Mr. Sanford do under contract versus the work that will be handled through building and planning services through the remaining water agency staff, that’s what I’m saying. But if we, when we draft up the contract for Mr. Stanford if he would just focus on these first five to make sure that they’re moving forward.”
Pinches then suggested that if the work didn't move along the Supervisors might consider putting CEO Carmel Angelo in jail until it was done. Pinches said she could commute from the County Jail on Low Gap Road, just down the street from her office.
“And we could reduce her salary,” Pinches continued, “because she would already be provided meals. … No, it’s really not funny. But that’s all I’m attempting to do is to [clarify] what we want Roland to continue to contract on…”
Supervisor John McCowen: “Well, this might need more than today to conclude. I appreciate the fact this item’s before us, but we haven’t yet had a discussion on whether we should be hiring Mr. Sanford as a consultant; we took the action to lay off the water agency director and essentially eliminate that position so now we’re going to hire him back as a consultant for how much? To do what? And what are we really saving, if anything? The water agency does have about $120k in dedicated funding; it does have a certain amount of grant money, which of course goes to do some of these projects that are in here, but I think it would be useful to know before we decide to hire a consultant that we identify for each of these items who is the staff person who is responsible for it now? Is it one of the remaining staff of the water agency? Is it planning and building? And then there are things like Mill Creek; it sounds like nobody is dealing with it. And another key factor is, are these things going to cost us money or make us money? Number 1. if we don’t do it it costs us money. Number 2. if we don’t do it, it costs us money. … I think we need to answer those kinds of questions for each of these before we can really say what we would want a consultant to be doing and do we need one?”
And, as so many discussions of this board, that's where matters ended — in mid-air, unresolved and as confused as when it began. Maybe Sanford can fix it if he's hired back as a consultant.
Having avoided any real discussion of water matters, the Board turned to “Mendocino Vision 2030,” a vague project of the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG). “Emm-Cog,” as the bureaucrats pronounce it, also functions as the County’s Regional Transportation Planning Agency, hence traffic jams in otherwise rural areas and a barely functioning bus system largely supported by grants. If there's transportation planning in Mendocino County one has to wonder what no planning looks like.
MCOG is holding a series of meetings throughout the County to determine what all us visionaries want Mendocino County to look like 20 years down the road.
Supervisor David Colfax wondered how much County staff time is going into the Vision 2030 project.
Planning and Building Director Nash Gonzalez told the Board that his staff is assisting MCOG with General Plan and land use information “to make sure that it’s encompassing all our plans.” Gonzalez added that his staff is reimbursed for staff time by MCOG’s planning grant funds.
Colfax: “It seems to me this is almost a footnote to the General Plan. I’m not clear on why we would be doing this when our General Plan is in the condition it’s in right now; that is it’s needing a lot more clarification work, staff time and so forth. So maybe our MCOG reps could indicate what this is because I’m just finding that it’s redundant and time consuming, at least on the face of it. …”
Gonzalez: “As far as the General Plan, it is what it is. It’s not going to change and MCOG and this Vision Mendocino 2030 is not there to change the General Plan. What this process involves is basically going and outreaching [sic] to each of the communities relative to regional issues. Now what MCOG is going to do here, and this is why I’ve been participating is that you need to take all of your general plans, the cities’ general plans, the counties’ general plans and all the specific plans and plans that are out there, and what this Vision Mendocino does is it wraps all those plans together as a regional plan but it does not change the General Plan. It does not change the General Plan for Ukiah or Willits or Fort Bragg; it leaves them in place. What it does is acknowledge all our plans, and that’s really what they’re doing.... What MCOG is trying to do is position us so that when the grant monies become available we’re actually competing with the big boys instead of being left out.”
Supervisor Kendall Smith took her usual many many sentences to say she was all for it because it “shows foresight” and positions the County for grant money. Liberals, even the putative ones like Smith, are always for grants. Take away grants and our libs would suffer even greater unemployment.
Pinches, seeing crap through all the bullshit, remarked, “Supervisor Colfax, you’re absolutely right. This is Caltrans crap, um, a Caltrans grant. It is transportation dollars put into more planning. You know, we have plans like in my district we have the Brooktrails Specific Plan, we have the Laytonville Area Plan and you know, there’s all kinds of plans out there, but there’s never enough money to follow through with the plan, but there always seems to be money and more grants to move forward, to do more planning. You know we just went through the comments of the people at the public meetings who say, ‘We just went through the process of the General Plan and now they’re coming back here two years later with this blueprint planning, and first of all nobody’s attending the meetings, but the consultants got a big contract and everybody seems to be happy, but there’s going to be $250k spent on more planning and not a dollar to a bike path or anything that’s already in these existing plans! … It’s a jobs project for consultants, basically. But it’s taking away from actual transportation dollars and putting it into planning.
Brown: “I agree that a lot of money is wasted on consultants, but… (Ms. Brown then went on at length to agree that it puts the county in a better position to get road money when and if it becomes available.)
McCowen: “The system requires us to go through these hoops. If we come up with a plan we could get the money. If we don’t do this we will be left behind and other people will get the money. That’s just the system.”
Pinches was annoyed that his fellow Supes were buying the “Caltrans crap.”
“We’re supposed to be leaders,” grumbled Pinches. “If we don’t like the way the process is going it’s up to us to try to change the process. And as long as we just accept it and you say, Well, this is the way they set it up. They? Well, who in the hell is they? We’re the people that’s supposed to change things. We’re the people that the people elect to change things. And we’re not doing that. We need to buck the system and say, Look, let’s get a pot of money that works for us. I’m tired of this! We have plans everywhere! There’s plans on every shelf in every department that are never funded because there’s no money to do the project. We need to start putting the money to do the project instead of doing more planning! It’s like how to plan a trip to New York but never buying the ticket!”
Brown was amused at Pinches' very justified indignation.
“I have several of those, Supervisor Pinches,” she joked.
And so ended the Vision discussion, as blind as when it began.
CEO Carmel Angelo said she was “looking at hiring a consultant” to study the Sheriff’s Office and the Jail.
“There are lots of good consultants out there,” said Angelo, “but the problem is finding one that is within our price range. We’re hoping that the one we’ve been talking with will work out. Is the Sheriff overbudget or underfunded?”
It seems that Angelo and Sheriff Allman are talking about using a few thousand asset forfeiture dollars for the study. (Mendocino County leads the state in asset forfeiture confiscations.)
Last year we offered to head up a study using a “tiger team” of retired local cops to assess the Sheriff's Department. Such tiger team would cost the County nothing. Sheriff Allman told us that he thought the idea was fine but that he didn’t think he needed an audit at the time. We doubt he feels that he needs one now, although he always says he's open to it.
There are a few things we can think of right off the top to save money in the Sheriff’s Office and local law enforcement in general, none of which are likely to be raised by a consultant:
1. Stop arresting, jailing and charging low-level pot violators. Cite them, fine them, give them community service doing something useful.
2. Set up a holding cell on the coast, or at least rehab the existing one, and staff it with auxiliary officers. This would save an enormous amount of transportation time and money. (We understand that Supervisor Kendall Smith has just upgraded the sun room at her house. Maybe she has a basement suitable for conversion to a holding tank that could be funded with the travel money she stole from the County.)
3. Arraign non-felony cases at the Jail once a week instead of hauling the usual suspects back and forth from the Courthouse to the Jail. This would save an enormous amount of deputy transportation time and money.
4. Get the long-overdue mental health crisis van up and running using existing vehicles and staff. This would relieve the cops from dealing with non-criminal crazy people. A roving crisis worker would evaluate the 5150's and decide on the spot where they should be taken: home, hospital, doctor, other family member, jail, motel room, care facility. Or Supervisor Smith's house.
In the county of Permanent Paralysis none of this, of course, will ever happen.
Then came hypocrisy time.
The Supes voted to postpone a decision on Martin Mileck’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote to approve Gerry Ward’s compost site expansion on the east side of Ukiah Valley near Morrison Creek. Ward is seeking a minor expansion of an existing compost operation.
A few months ago, the Planning Commission and Regional Water Quality Control Board said they’re satisfied with Ward’s Ukiah operation now that Ward has scaled back his expansion plans by half. Ward got the unanimous green light.
But Ward’s compost competitor, Martin Mileck of Cold Creek Compost in Potter Valley, was unhappy.
Fifteen years ago, with Mike Sweeney giving him a big helping hand, and with Sweeney, now Mendocino County's garbage czar looking on from the audience, Mileck aggressively resisted the few conditions that the County tried to impose on him, although Mileck himself had gone into the industrial compost business in an otherwise rural area simply by bulldozing a road above the Russian River up to Good Old Boy Buck Guntley's ranch and started hauling stuff up to it. It was clear that runoff from Mileck's Potter Valley compost operation on Buck's ranch could flow down into the Russian River. Apparently, it hasn't, presumably because Mileck has had to build some berms and collection ponds, but since Mendo-style enforcement is minimal and some people are more equal than others in Mendocino County, who knows?
The conditions retroactively imposed on Mileck by County staff were so mild that neighbors of the operation sued for more conditions and eventually got them. Mileck, for instance, was prohibited from importing “bio-solids,” as dried turds are called at sewage treatment plants, but he was allowed to import some noxious out-of-county stuff.
During the uproar over Mileck's scofflaw installation at Good Ol' Buck's, Mileck's mother would anonymously call KZYX to hype her son's business. And Sweeney, of course, from his nebulous but highly paid position which now consolidates all County-funded trash offices, ran interference for his pal, Marty. (Whoever said there are no second acts in American life missed Sweeney who's gone from Maoist terror cultist to a cush job in Ukiah, complete with a big house in the west hills and Glenda Anderson, Press Democrat reporter, keeping him lovely company. See the AVA's website for Sweeney's complete pedigree.)
Then and now, Mileck is the darling of several Ukiah area liberals and enviros who regularly (if belatedly) come to his defense whenever he applies for expansions of his own compost operation. Mileck clearly assumes he was the victim during his first fights with the County. He thinks that anybody else proposing a compost operation should be required to undergo the kind of scrutiny he begrudgingly underwent, neglecting to mention that he went into business at Good Ol' Buck's without a single permit.
But there’s compost and there’s compost.
Mileck’s present operation takes in animal carcasses, manure, food waste and, given his level of candor, probably the random human corpse.
Ward’s Ukiah composting does not.
The leachate from green waste compost piles containing brush and grass is inherently safer than leachate from compost piles with animal carcasses, manure and food waste.
If Ward was doing what Mileck is doing, we’d agree with Mileck that since Ward’s operation is near Morrison Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, Ward should have to install a berm and a collection pond. But Ward isn't doing what Mileck is doing, a fact that the Water Board and the Planning Commission seem to understand, but four of the five the Supervisors (not counting John Pinches) have difficulty grasping.
The petulant Mileck’s sole motivation in filing the appeal is to try to stifle competition.
He admits it.
Mileck is convinced that if Ward is allowed to process green waste Mileck's wonderful business will be undercut.
Ward says there’s plenty of green waste to go around.
Ward leases about six acres for his operation, 2.25 acres of which are steaming heaps of composting green waste. He leases the site from Fred Sagehorn. Although Ward’s operation has existed in its current configuration at this exact spot for 25 years without any water contamination, Sagehorn and several neighbors belatedly say they’re worried about ground water pollution from leachate.
Ward says he’s drilled three dry wells next door to his operation in an effort to find water for composting, pointing out that if there’s no underground water to tap, how could any water be threatened by compost operations? Sagehorn and the neighbors say they’d feel better if Ward monitored more test wells more frequently.
Ward quickly agreed to the additional monitoring, and he offered to tarp his piles during the winter to keep rainwater from running through the piles on its way into the ground.
Supervisor Kendall Smith, always prepared to spend someone else's money, made a motion that Ward be required to pay for a hydrologic study. Supervisor Pinches responded that everybody knows water runs downhill and that a costly hydrological study would prove nothing.
Mileck’s appeal was put off until late November when, perhaps, someone from the Water Quality Board can appear in person to explain to the four skeptical supervisors that runoff from leaves and grass isn’t as hazardous as runoff from food waste and dead animals that Mileck converts to compost in Potter Valley above the upper Russian River.