- Possible Flooding
- Roof Report
- Ocean Breaker
- Wildfire Thinking
- Scorched Terrain
- Wave Watching
- Ed Notes
- Reception Help
- Mail Bandits
- Yesterday's Catch
- Climate Solution
- Democratic Socialism
- Spendthrift Firefighting
- Reset Retreat
- Golden Gate
- Crab Feed
OVER THE PAST THREE DAYS Boonville received another 1.8 inches of rain while Yorkville got 3.2 inches. The ground in these parts now seems fairly saturated, so we're seeing more runoff happening in the ditches and creeks. As detailed by MSP below, all signs are pointing to Highway 128 flooding early Monday morning unless and until the Navarro River breaches its sandbar.
The National Weather Service says more precipitation is on the way: "After a relatively quiet period on Monday, the next system will bring another round of rain and gusty winds Monday night into Tuesday."
HIGHWAY 128 UPDATE (7:29 am, Monday): The CHP is reporting "Roadway Flooding" at 128 & 1, with the following cryptic lines:
7:31 AM2 1039 CT'S - WORKING ON POSSIBLY CLOSING RD
7:30 AM1 WATER CAME OVER SUBJS DASHBOARD IN HIS VEH
So it sounds like a closure is imminent.
* * *
MSP'S 'EYE ON THE NAVARRO RIVER' LEVEL HEADED TO 'MAGIC' 4.5' FLOODING LEVEL
The latest reading (11:15 pm) from the upstream USGS river gauge found the river level at 2.45'
With the sandbar in place, Highway 128 usually floods just east of the Highway 1 bridge when the level hits 4.5'. It's approaching that level rapidly from the recent rain - and from seawater slopping over the sandbar from waves.
We haven't heard any "scanner chatter" about the roadway flooding - yet. Ditto, no advisory on the CHP incident page. So we're at a "wait & see" stage.
On the chart you can note the dramatic rise in the river level - if you see a dramatic decrease that means the sandbar breached and there will be no flooding of Highway 128.
Here's a link to the gauge: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?site_no=11468000
Discharge Rate @ 11:15 PM
The amount of water flowing towards the mouth (discharge rate) was estimated to be 56.5 cubic feet per second - or in understandable terms:
*** 418 gallons per second
*** 25,086 gallons per minute
*** 1,505,160 gallons per hour
LEAKS IN THE ROOF; FINGERS IN THE DIKE
by Mark Scaramella
In the Air Force we used to call formal presentations that left out key pieces of information “incomplete staff work.” It certainly applies to the Powerpoint Presentation coming up at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The County Administration Building’s leaky roof, and other roofs belonging to the County get their own powerpointer.
The presentation, entitled "Mendocino County Roof Report," summarizes the roof repair or replacement options for the County's admin center, the main jail, and the emergency operations center, all of which need major roof work.
According to the presentation, replacing the east section of the administration roof will cost $2.5 million, of which apparently $1.7 million has been set aside. The equally bad south section of the administration center roof will require another $2 million which is currently unfunded.
The last time the County went out to bid for the roof repair project for both the East and South sections combined, the bid was over $4.3 million, which the County didn't have, so the roof work was put on hold.
According to Tuesday's presentation, "the [Admin Center] old roof continues to leak in numerous locations, however active repair and maintenance efforts have reduced the number and intensity of active leaks." (Tarps and buckets? Spot patch sealant?) These two sections cover Planning and Building, and Environmental Health which, we are told, are "important county departments." (At a previous meeting they said that the leaky roof endangered their central computer room.)
"The foam roof coating is subject to damage from birds and temperature variations requiring annual inspections and repairs to prevent additional leaking." Making matters worse, the roof has “over 20 aging HVAC units, very inefficient exterior ducting, gas piping and electrical conduit driving up the total project cost."
In fact, it looks to us like somebody cut a lot of corners to save money in the original construction by putting too much equipment on top of the roof requiring too many holes drilled through the roof instead of the more conventional central unit with ducting below a contiguous roof, hidden by suspended drop ceiling tiles.
"The roof must be inspected annually, holes repaired and recoated, however the lack of integrity and extensive HVAC penetrations of the system means that some leaks will remain and annual maintenance will be required until the roof is replaced." They also recommend, "Remove and replace with new roofing assembly. Yes, and the replacement of HVAC is just as critical."
The question of how to fund the roof upgrade is where things go sideways. The presentation says that $1 million is already allocated for roof projects this year, in addition $1.7 million is allocated to the administration center roof upgrade held over from prior years.
And they leave it at that.
If all three critical roofing repairs are done, including the administration center, the main jail, and the emergency operations center, the cost could easily run to around $6 million or more. But since the county budget picture is so muddled, revenue data so late in coming in, and the extent of the overruns in other departments is unclear (perhaps partially compensated for by a hoped for "vacancy rate") that it's very hard to tell which roof repair options can be afforded.
The roof at the main jail is described as "failed," with tarps and plastic being used as a stopgap measure. The main jail roof "is a ballasted roof, meaning that the roof is held in place with the weight of gravel, but the gravel has broken down and needs to be fully removed from the building and properly disposed of." And, “There are multiple active leaks into the building and trapped water on the roof deck has caused unknown damage to the structure which will continue until it is uncovered and corrected.” (At who knows how much additional cost.)
All of the roof repairs should include replacement of the associated HVAC systems but it's not clear if the cost estimates include that cost. We think not.
The Sheriff’s Emergency Operations Center roof "has already been recoated and this coating is now failing as well."
So there are three leaky roofs that need attention very soon and nowhere near enough money to pay for it. Making matters worse, the major budget information gaps, which we have previously covered in detail, continue to be unaddressed beyond vague savings associated with the magic and unmanaged, unestimated "vacancy rate."
Ukiah was supposed to get around two inches of rain on Sunday so it will be interesting to see how much water damage County employees will see when they arrive for work Monday morning.
Essentially, Tuesday's Mendocino County Roof Report just says that there are major roof problems and not enough money to fix them — so there you go, Supervisors: you figure it out.
WITH WILD FIRES IT’S LITERALLY ABOUT PLANNING
by Jim Shields
With California’s Big Three electric utility giants (PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric) facing an avalanche of lawsuits over wildland fire liability, and their ratepayers on the hook to bail them out of prospective bankruptcy, it’s encouraging to see state and local governments, and non-government organizations taking long overdue but very positive steps to attack root causes of these increasingly prodigious, deadly and destructive wildfires.
At the state level, soon-to-retire CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott is calling for government officials to prohibit home construction in high fire risk areas, most of which are found in the so-called wildland-urban interface (“WUI”). He said in an interview with the Associated Press, it’s time that both government and the public start thinking differently about how best to protect lives and property from fires that now routinely threaten large populations.
New thinking, he said, may mean banning subdivisions in thickly forested mountainous areas or homes along Southern California canyons lined with tinder-dry chaparral. It may seem unbelievable but this week Los Angeles County supervisors are considering whether to allow a 19,000-home development in fire-prone mountains amid heavy criticism of the location’s high fire danger,” according to the AP interview with Pimlott.
He said it’s uncertain if those decisions should be made by local land managers or at the state level as legislative leaders have suggested. But Pimlott said “we owe it” to homeowners, firefighters and communities “so that they don’t have to keep going through what we’re going through.”
The expansion of wildland-urban interface areas is the result of a doubling of California’s 1970 population of 20 million to present day’s nearly 40 million, thus pushing urban sprawl into forested mountains and wildlands previously unoccupied by people and vacant of homes.
The immediate problem with a public policy restricting or banning home-building in high fire risk areas is it will trigger a legal battle royale over individual property rights versus governmental overreach.
No matter how prickly that issue may become, Pimlott advises, “We’ve got to continue to raise the bar on what we’re doing and local land-use planning decisions have to be part of that discussion.”
“The reality of it is, California has a fire-prone climate and it will continue to burn,” he said. “Fire is a way of life in California and we have to learn how to live with it, we have to learn how to have more resilient communities.”
Locally, there are a couple of developments dealing with the new reality of fires, and both efforts are examples of government and non-government organizations using the right approach.
Last week, it was announced by the County’s CEO office that the “County of Mendocino and the City of Ukiah have been actively working with CAL FIRE, the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, and other stakeholder groups, to review and develop fire prevention and mitigation measures for the Ukiah Valley. “
One of the proposed measures to be discussed at a public meeting this week, is the restoration and expansion of a shaded fuel break at the base of the hills on the west side of the Ukiah Valley, first created in 2004.
According to the CEO’s statement, “A shaded fuel break is a forest management strategy used for mitigating the threat of wildfire leading to a dangerous buildup of combustible vegetation. The goal of a shaded fuel break is to thin the surface vegetation, remove dead and down woody material, remove ladder fuels to prevent a catastrophic fire, and prevent the loss of structures. The project involves the use of hand tools and power equipment to re-establish a 100-200 foot wide space, shaded by the mature tree canopy. Width of the break will vary due to slope of terrain and fuel loading… It is planned to run along the base of the western hills from Highway 253 to Hensley Creek. The County and City view this collaborative effort as a demonstration project to improve fire safety for the community.”
I also received an email from Jen Burnstad, of the Cloud Forest Institute, letting me know that a new forestry group had been formed to address another facet of fire safety and prevention, but with an innovative twist.
According to Burnstad’s email,
“The Forest Reciprocity Outreach Group, is a growing group of citizens in the Mendocino county region working to support the health and utilization of overstocked fire-hazard lands. Widespread agreement on management practices has coalesced in the wake of even-aged (“clear cut”) harvest and loss of ancient traditional low intensity fire management. Fuel loads have been steadily increasing for the last few decades as carpet regeneration has largely gone unchecked. Over competition for light, water, and nutrients has led to weakened forests, loss of diversity, and abundant dead wood. This has allowed wildfires to ascend into devastating crown fires that have decimated ecosystems and human settlements alike. We believe this burden can be our solution! As we improve natures health we will be reciprocated with abundance.
“The suppressed growth of ailing Douglas Fir trees creates extremely strong, ‘tight ring,’ small diameter poles that can be used as beautiful, sturdy, architectural elements. These poles exceed the tensile strength of sawn lumber with uncut continuous fibers running their entire length. Encased in natural fire-resistant clay-based wall mediums, these structures have proven to be exceptionally impervious to wildfires. This is a marked advance from expensive, often toxic, flammable dwellings. F.R.O.G.’s objectives are to reciprocate with nature and unburden forest lands of overcapacity, while creating beautiful, healthy, safe dwellings. And, to use poles for other useful structures and meaningful purposes. It is time for conscientious civilization to rise from the ashes!
“The Forest Reciprocity Outreach Group has been initiated through a collaboration of members of Cloud Forest Institute (www.cloudforest.org), Polecraft Solutions (polecraftsolutions.com) and local citizens. Financial support has been granted through the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, and the Just and Resilient Future Fund. With the formation of our advocacy co-op, we will schedule a series of presentations and events promoting practices of forest reciprocity, including demonstrations on assembling a round pole structure in both Laytonville and Ukiah.”
It’s encouraging to find that people from across the political, governing and environmental spectrum are working to come up with answers and formulating plans on how best to prevent and deal with these seemingly unpredictable and destructive wildfires because no matter where you live in California, you are at risk for wildfires. Don’t ever forget that.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-timedistrict 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:http://www.kpfn.org.)
MENDOCINO COMPLEX FIRE LEFT BEHIND CALIFORNIA BURN ZONE WITHOUT ANY PARALLEL
Major worries about significant runoff damage to Clearlake arise.
BANKS AND CREDIT UNIONS claim that ATMs increase "customer convenience," but in reality they cut costs for banks. By placing ATM's all over the place, especially in tourist-oriented gastro-ghettos like the neo-Healdsburgian Anderson Valley, ATM networks help banks reduce operating expenses via technology. Because almost all traditional bank services can be done by these machines, banks view ATM's as both a cost cutter and a way to expand themselves. And the user is charged mightily for each transaction. Tourists, typically, arrive armed with credit cards. ATM's are fast being made obsolete by cell phone tech. They might be of use to a few people, but most of us, I daresay, can do just fine without them.
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ON THE KZYX NEWS the other morning I heard a promo from, I think, the County's privatized psych services offering, among presumably more crucial services, "gender affirmation."
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STEPH CURRY, the world's greatest basketball player, is taking a lot of flak for allegedly saying he thinks the moon landings are faked. I listened to a tape of a section of the podcast wherein Curry says that, but it seems to me the entire context was jocular, him kidding around. But maybe he does believe the moon walks were faked. So what? It's not as if Curry's an astrophysicist. And, as we all know, millions of people believe the same, faith being the same as fact to many, many millions more. Why, would you believe that right here in Mendocino County probably a thousand or so young mommies and daddies disbelieve in the efficacy of vaccination? Curry later “apologized” to some apparently upset astronauts for making light of their accomplishments.
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JUST SHOOT ME
Nursing Homes Balk at New Staffing Rules
More than half of California's nursing homes, including four in Humboldt County, are asking to be exempted from new state regulations that would require them to spend more time directly caring for their patients.
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THE SUPERVISORS might be taken a little more seriously if they only issued proclamations to people and organizations who deserve special recognition. Supervisor Hamburg, to name the most egregiously undeserving public official in recent County history, and if true accountability still existed, he would be stripped of his pension and given a quick boot in the arse as he departs public employment. But he'll get a rosy send off, count on it. Anyway, supervisory "honors" only exist in theory; in reality, at any one meeting, and on a well-attended day, maybe 30 people will tune them in but absent themselves when the cringe-inducing nuzzlebuming kicks in. Because the supervisors operate mostly unobserved (except for the ava) only ava readers have any idea of how pathetically dysfunctional they've been lately. Will Ted Williams and John Haschak help restore credibility? Hard to say. Haschak seems stuck in Platitude Land but almost comically earnest. We'll soon find out how earnest he is. Williams hasn't said much that's relevant to his new position, but the new blood might unfreeze Gjerde from his cryonic state and embolden McCowen to again make the supervisors independent of the apparatus they allegedly supervise.
* * *
DRIVING SOUTH last Thursday afternoon, the usual vehicular mosh pit commenced just south of Healdsburg, and was totally moshed by Windsor in full stop and go mode. The radio said there had been an accident near Petaluma at ten that morning. It was now 1pm and traffic was still slowed to stop and start all the way to San Rafael. A country with all the techno wizardry we are said to have, but we're still only a couple of wrecks away from total gridlock, not to mention the plethora of all the other unaddressed, rolling catastrophes becoming more dire by the day.
* * *
I ALREADY AGREE with Chuck Dunbar, who wrote:
"That Ukiah Subway robbery where an armed citizen shot the burglar (AVA 12/15). This one nags at me so I’ll say this: Maybe there is more to be revealed about this event that would make me see things differently, but with the details given, I hope the shooter is charged with a serious crime. This is the very circumstance that makes me cringe about folks carrying guns around in public, many of whom lack the sense, judgment and training to safely intervene in such events. Was this a safe or necessary intervention? Doesn’t seem so, with the given facts. The burglar’s got his money, he’s leaving the premises with his gun that turns out to be a BB gun that looks like the real thing. The guy with the concealed carry permit shoots him 3 times in the butt. Self defense, protecting others? Doesn’t sound like it. Did the dumbass burglar deserve to be arrested and jailed? Sure. Did he deserve to be shot and seriously injured, at risk for being disabled or killed? No way. Protect us all from such interventions. Once in awhile they may go well, but the risk of harm to bystanders or even the criminals themselves is very high. There are way too many guns out there, way too many folks who use them stupidly, as this guy did."
THIS SENTENCE from the Press Democrat: "A customer halted a holdup at a Subway sandwich shop in Ukiah on Wednesday night, shooting a man accused of attempting to rob the restaurant at gunpoint, authorities said."
THE "AUTHORITIES" might have said that, but what exactly happened is still being sorted out. Another version says the armed customer, still unnamed, shot the unnamed robber in the back as the robber fled. The bandit, age 20 according to the Ukiah PD, carried a replica handgun. He was helicoptered outtahere for treatment. His wounds were described as serious but not fatal.
THE SHOOTER has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, which lots of County residents possess, although most counties issue concealed carries only to people regularly carrying large sums of money or otherwise have a valid reason to go about their business armed.
* * *
MEANWHILE, in the great world beyond the treeless desolation of the Pear Tree Shopping Center, the number of gundeaths in the U.S. in 2017 climbed to almost 40,000 people. The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 39,773 people lost their lives after being shot or shooting themselves in 2017. That represents a total of 12 deaths per 100,000 people—up from 10.1 in 2010 and the highest rate of gun deaths since 1996. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that compares with rates of 0.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people in Japan, 0.3 in the U.K., 0.9 in Germany, and 2.1 in Canada. Suicide is by far the greatest killer, accounting for about 60 percent of all gun deaths. Almost 24,000 people, or 6.9 per 100,000, killed themselves with a gun in 2014—that's up from 6.1 in 2010 and 5.9 in 2000.
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"The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town" by John Grisham is the only non-fiction the prolific Grisham has produced. He also partially funded this fascinating 6-part Netflix documentary about four men falsely imprisoned for two separate murders of young women. An unscrupulous DA, partnered with a slo-mo police department in Ada, Oklahoma, a town with a history of extra-judicial violence, teamed up to frame all four falsely imprisoned men.
ACCORDING to the essential Innocence Project, roughly 90,000 Americans are falsely imprisoned today. Here in "liberal" Mendocino County? I'd say Kenny Rogers of Westport is falsely imprisoned, and I'd say Tai Abreu of Fort Bragg was convicted of being involved in a murder he did not commit but, because of his incompetent public defender, Linda Thompson, received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole after a one-day "trial." Abreu had just turned 19 when Thompson buried him alive. (Recent legislation may get Abreu's conviction re-visited. Mark Sprinkle insists on his innocence for a conviction that he molested three underage girls, a molestation consisting of 90 seconds of sexual touching. Sprinkle got 45-to-life, and remains in state prison.
TRUMP should get credit for cooling out North Korea, a move the libs still find inconceivable, and he has revealed our intelligence agencies as the often wrong and partisan, tenured, deep state hacks they've always been. Orange Man also deserves credit for at least saying the obvious — sentences in this country tend to be out of all proportion to the crime committed. "Sentences are too long," spake the Trump. Sprinkle is Exhibit A: Three junior floozies, clearly put up to it by Sprinkle's vindictive ex-girlfriend, voluntarily take their clothes off in his car. He didn't rape or assault them or in any way coerce them into disrobing. They said in court they did it as a joke. Did he touch them? Who knows? His mistake was sticking around, an error of judgement that probably has cost him life in prison.
HERE in the bucolic NorCal, we should count our blessings: Our judges and our DA are sane, our police forces are clean. That isn't always true in other areas of the country.
I have to give a shout out to Brian Wethern who advertises to help with wi-fi and cell phone networks. He came to my place and evaluated both the wi-fi and cell reception, found that most of it was OK, and recommended certain upgrades to improve both. All for a Very reasonable sum. Then later he also helped me choose a cell phone booster. Very pleased with his knowledge and helpfulness for rural customers. Glad to recommend him.
TWEEKERS RAID MAIL BOXES
On 12-13-2018, a Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy was dispatched to investigate a mail theft from a resident in Redwood Valley, California. While this was occurring, the Ukiah Police Department was investigating separate incidents of attempted fraud at a bank and store in Ukiah (close proximity to Redwood Valley). A suspect, identified as Charles Dale Maxfield, 44, of Ukiah was subsequently arrested by the Ukiah Police Department inside a department store on North Orchard Avenue, and he had in his possession a checkbook that was believed to have been stolen in the mail from the Redwood Valley resident. An additional suspect who is not in custody attempted to pass a check from the same checkbook Maxfield possessed inside a banking institution on South State Street in Ukiah. Ukiah Police Officers also later that day located additional stolen mail around the dumpster of a motel in the 1200 block of South State Street. This mail was being disposed of by a suspect and the mail appears to be be stolen from the greater Ukiah and Redwood Valley area. Evidence located at that location by the Ukiah Police Department was later turned over to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy investigating the mail theft. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy went to the Mendocino County Jail where Maxfield had been booked by the Ukiah Police Department and arrested Maxfield on additional mail theft charges.
On 12-14-2018, Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Investigators obtained a search warrant from a Mendocino County Superior Court Judge for a room at the hotel that was rented by Maxfield and Madalena Acosta, 40, of Ukiah.
After serving the search warrant, additional suspected stolen mail was recovered from the room including mail believed to have been stolen from the Redwood Valley area, the Ukiah area and Lake County. Additionally, suspected drugs were located in the room. Acosta was ultimately arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail for mail theft, conspiracy, identity theft, possession of stolen property and possession of a controlled substance. Both Acosta and Maxfield are being held at the Mendocino County Jail in lieu of $15,000 bail. Due to collaborative efforts by the Ukiah Police Department and the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, suspects were identified in this investigation and two have been arrested at this time as the investigation continues. Two additional suspects are being sought and their names are not being released at this time. Due the large volume of mail recovered, the United States Postal Inspectors Office out of Sonoma County is assisting with this investigation. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is aware of a large number of reported mail thefts and encourages residents to check their mail early and bring any delivered packages inside as soon as possible or utilize a more secure way of receiving mail.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Dec. 16, 2018
ANDREW ALVAREZ, Ukiah. DUI, battery on peace officer, resisting.
TRAVIS ALVAREZ, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
DANIELLE ARCENEAUX, Ukiah. DUI, misdemeanor hit&run with property damage.
JAMES AVANTS, Albion. Probation revocation.
PARIS BEACHAM-VANDERPOOL, Ukiah. Smuggling firearms, weapon or tear gas into jail, probation revocation.
DAVID GIUSTI, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol. (Frequent flyer.)
CLAY HAYDON, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
ESTABAN JIMENEZ-MENDEZ, Covelo. DUI.
RONALD KEYS, Ukiah. Disobeying court order.
MICHAEL LAMUN, Ukiah. Community Supervision violation.
STEPHANIE LYLE, Ukiah. Criminal threats, probation revocation.
TARA MCCOMAS, San Francisco/Talmage. DUI.
DEMETER MCFADIN, Covelo. Battery, elder abuse with great bodily harm or death, trespassing.
MICHAEL VICKERS, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
JACK NELSON, Willits. Criminal threats.
SHANNON WILLIAMS, Willits. Failure to appear.
MARK WOLK, Ukiah. Domestic battery.
BABY, IT'S NUTS OUTSIDE
I was upset to hear radio stations were taking “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” off of their Christmas playlists. I cut my feminist eye teeth on the revolutionary literature of the 1960s and ’70s. My generation raised our children on books like “Free to be You and Me,” stories that let boys know it’s all right to cry and that girls could be anything they wanted to be. No Barbie dolls, no princes. We taught our daughters to raise their hands, to stand up.
When I hear women now can’t even put up with a 75-year-old song about a man trying to seduce a woman in a snowstorm, I can’t believe it. I hope some of the radio stations resist. Mothers need to embolden their daughters, help them make change. Not like this. It’s just a song.
ON LINE COMENT OF THE DAY
Subsequent to a spacewalk, a Space Shuttle astronaut said that seeing the stars below his feet as well as overhead was consciousness expanding. Unfortunately, here on the secure, hardened crust of Earth humanity loses its sense of wonderment about the beautiful planet we are fortunate enough to living on. Instead, with the utilization of our miraculous, reverse entropic three pound blood soaked sponge of a human brain, “a dog’s breakfast” (Vonnegut), we develop nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, biological toxins, etc. in order to kill each other and everything else on the planet. On top of that a few of the brighter dog’s breakfasts have figured out a system that entitles them to the world’s riches at the expense of the others. Unfortunately, upon acquisition of these riches they become bored and tired looking for new thrills like power. The Dog’s Breakfast is insatiable!
When a wildfire burned across Big Sur two years ago and threatened hundreds of homes scattered on the scenic hills, thousands of firefighters responded with overwhelming force, attacking flames from the air and ground.
In the first week, the blaze destroyed 57 homes and killed a bulldozer operator, then moved into remote wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. Yet for nearly three more months the attack barely let up.
The Soberanes Fire burned its way into the record books, costing $262 million as the most expensive wildland firefight in U.S. history in what a new report calls an "extreme example of excessive, unaccountable, budget-busting suppression spending."
The report by Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology criticizes fire managers for not adapting their approach to the changing nature of the blaze. The nonprofit group, which gets funding from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and other environmental organizations, advocates ending "warfare on wildfires" by ecologically managing them.
The report suggests the Forest Service response was the result of a "use it or lose it" attitude to spend its entire budget, which had been boosted by $700 million because of a destructive 2015 fire season. The agency managed to spend nearly all its 2016 money in a less-active fire season on about half the amount of land that burned the year before.
"They just kept going crazy on it," report author Timothy Ingalsbee said. "It wasn't demand-driven. It was supply-driven. They had all this extra money Congress had given them, and they had to justify that."
Forest Service officials would not comment directly on the report. After asking The Associated Press to provide written questions, the agency declined to answer them and issued a short statement saying it was committed to reducing costs in similarly large fires.
"Protection of people first and then resources are our primary considerations," the statement said. "Every fire is evaluated to determine the appropriate strategy. We continually look for opportunities to improve outcomes and accountability and to find more cost-efficient and effective methods of managing wildfires."
In addition to burning 206 square miles (534 square kilometers), the smoky fire closed signature parks in the area and put a damper on tourism in Big Sur during the peak season of its only industry. Monterey County estimated a 40 percent loss in revenue for the summer season in the area.
An internal Forest Service review produced last year and obtained by the AP reached some of the same conclusions as Ingalsbee.
For example, the department's review found that from Aug. 9 to Sept. 29, 2016, the number of threatened structures remained at 400 even as the fire grew by more than 90 square miles (230 square kilometers), which indicated the risk to property had abated as the flames burned into the wilderness. During that period, firefighting costs grew by $140 million.
The review found forest managers didn't think they could deviate from the "overwhelming force concept" aimed at suppression. It also said the agency's protocol for managing long-term wildfires "does not sufficiently evaluate and adjust to changing risk."
One challenge fire commanders faced was an outdated forest management plan for Los Padres that called for full suppression of all wildfires, Ingalsbee said.
Mike Warren, a retired National Park Service firefighter who reviewed the report, questioned the wisdom of suppressing fires in remote wilderness where flames can help eliminate brush and other flammable vegetation that could fuel a later wildfire.
When Warren was fire management officer at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, they would let blazes burn in the wilderness if they were confident the fire would stay in the park.
The challenge in a place like the tourist-dependent Big Sur area is pressure from politicians, homeowners, businesses, loggers and ranchers to control the fire, Warren said.
"When is enough enough?" he said. "When do you back off say, 'This is it. We're just going to let it do its thing.' That takes some real political will."
The Forest Service's internal review inspired Ingalsbee to file public records requests for other documents that led to his report.
Among his findings:
— About a fifth of the area burned was from fires set to clear brush and vegetation between outer perimeters and the active fire. One of these blazes jumped fire lines. These burnout operations created additional smoke and cost an estimated $50 million.
— A nearly $39 million air campaign, including large air tankers that cost $5,720 per hour, was largely ineffective. Retardant is effective at slowing flames only where ground crews can remove vegetation to create containment lines. But drops were done deep in steep, rugged wilderness where it was too dangerous to send crews, and even where flames never reached.
— Bulldozers, which cost $1,700 per hour, tore up wilderness, creating what Ingalsbee called "ghost roads" that will remain for years. The Forest Service spent an estimated $1 million a day for weeks repairing damage done by dozers.
The report concluded that once the blaze that broke out July 22, 2016, entered wilderness, there was little chance of stopping it before fall rains fell.
Chad Hanson, an expert on fire and director of the John Muir Project, a nonprofit environmental group, said the cost was stunning, but the approach to fire was business as usual.
"It's sort of shocking that this massive amount of taxpayer money is being spent trying to suppress backcountry fires that are weather-driven and can't be stopped until the weather changes, rather than focusing resources on protecting communities," Hanson said. "On the other hand, I'm not surprised the Forest Service is doing this because it's been their practice for years."
One beneficiary of the firefighting effort was Tom Little Bear Nason, who lives in a homestead in the national forest his family has owned for 150 years. He was also a contractor on the fire, with a team of dozer operators.
Nason, chairman of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, credited the suppression effort with helping save his property. But he said costs shot up when managers went overboard on backfires and cut contingency lines too far from the fire.
He also criticized the leadership on the fire, which changed every couple of weeks, for disregarding a pre-attack fire plan drawn up by local, state and federal agencies, tribal leaders, environmentalists and homeowners that included information on protecting historic and cultural sites.
He said those plans "got chucked out the window" and led to significant losses. A homesteader cabin burned to the ground, sacred sites such as burial grounds were plowed over, and a rock where tribal members gave birth was struck by a bulldozer.
"Lots of efforts went to protect communities that went above and beyond" what was necessary, Nason said. "They were acting on the worst-case scenario."
DISCONTENT is the first step in the progress of a man.
— Oscar Wilde
New Year Reset Retreat
Thursday, January 17th through Saturday, January 20th
Living Light Culinary Institute will host their first annual Reset Retreat at their newly expanded event center location in the heart of downtown Fort Bragg.
During this four-day journey, explore wellness from a holistic perspective and learn how to change limiting habits and acquire the skills needed to thrive in our ever-changing world.
Guests will receive cutting-edge culinary instruction and plant-based recipes from Living Light's time-tested curriculum and practical knowledge.
In addition, and what makes the experience so unique, guests will engage with a master herbalist, a skilled tai chi instructor, an experienced yogini, and a sound healer. Guests will be invited to reconnect with nature by savoring walks on the beach, hikes through the iconic redwoods, and more.
Join the Reset Retreat to honor 2018 while preparing for the new year with the skills and mindset needed to create a prosperous 2019.
For tickets and more information, call 707-964-2420 or email email@example.com
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE mid-construction, 1935
MANCHESTER COMMUNITY CENTER CRAB FEED
Saturday, December 29
The Manchester Community Center/Garcia Guild will be having a crab feed on Saturday, December 29 starting at 4 pm. The flyer can be found on the linked website. Tickets to the crab feed are $45 at the door, You save $5 per ticket to buy in advance. If you wish advanced tickets, please call us at 882-1750 to email back. Also, if we can donate items for our auction or help serve at the crab feed, that would be great. All the money from the crab feed will be to further restore the hall, especially trying to make it a commercial grade kitchen and also to improve the sound quality of the building. And some really great news....... Lynn, aka Queenie, will be making this year's chowder to go along with the crab and salad. Thank you so much.