Ms. Delaquadra’s Horses
One of the last items on Tuesday’s Board agenda was item 4q which newly seated Supervisor John Haschak had alertly pulled from the consent calendar for separate consideration.
“Approval of Second Amendment to Agreement No. PH-17-049, with Cole Creek Equestrian Center, Increasing the Amount from $50,000 to $100,000 to Provide Boarding and Care to Impounded Horses, Effective When Agreement Becomes Fully Executed through June 30, 2019.”
The item concerned the horses impounded from Anne Delaquadra who was charged with criminal neglect of the horses. AVA Court reporter Bruce McEwen covered the case when it hit the courthouse back in September of last year:
Newly seated Fifth District Supervisor Ted Williams, boldly jumped right into the issue, in the process making a clear and early distinction between himself and his somnolent predecessor.
Williams: How many horses are we talking about?
Animal Control Manager Rich Molinari: We have 19 horses. Four came in on October 19, 2017. 13 came in on January 3, 2018. And two foals were born in late March of 2018.
Williams: So we are talking about $5000 per horse?
Molinari: $4750 per horse on a monthly basis.
Williams: One of my concerns is I'm about to drive home through Anderson Valley. I know that if I do everything right and an act of nature puts me in a ditch and I need help, that ambulance has one EMT that is paid $30 for a 12 hour shift. Not $30 per hour, but about $3 per hour. No paramedic. No pain meds. And this is a large area of our county. We have several of these. We are disproportionately spending more money taking care of these horses than our people. I understand the situation that we're in and that maybe we have to do this. But I would like to suggest liquidating the horses immediately. And if the court won't allow that, then we should push back on the court. We need to focus our money more on our people than on horses that have been impounded.
Board Chair/Supervisor Carre Brown: Certainly, I am not a lawyer, but I believe we have legal hoops we have to jump through.
Deputy County Counsel Brina Blanton: There are some legal hoops, but I think we will be able to accomplish those probably this month depending on the court schedule and what we're able to accomplish. Part of the problem is that these horses are related to a pending criminal action. So we have to make sure that the court will let us release them because they are considered evidence.
Supervisor John McCowen: I certainly encourage us to review our practices in this area. There are civil proceedings, there are criminal proceedings, in terms of evidence for the criminal proceedings, medical records, photographic documentation, incident reports from our animal control officers -- to me it's kind of unconscionable that we still have these horses more than a year after the fact [Ms. Delaquadra’s first arrest was in the fall of 2017] and we are paying a lot of money for them. I'm very aware that often things kind of happen but I certainly hope that we do everything possible to make sure that this doesn't happen again. Again, my memory is, I believe we used to have volunteers who would take care of the horses. I understand this could be a special case because one of the involved parties would become a problem to anyone who would try to foster these animals. But there has to have been in another way to resolve this. To hear that we still have a couple of months to go, optimistically, is kind of disheartening.
Supervisor Dan Gjerde: Can we send the bill to the court?
Chair Brown: [Laughs.]
Supervisor John Haschak: Okay. I move to approve the Second Amendment to Agreement No. PH-17-049, with Cole Creek Equestrian Center, Increasing the Amount from $50,000 to $100,000 to Provide Boarding and Care to Impounded Horses, Effective When Agreement Becomes Fully Executed through June 30, 2019.” And I certainly hope this is done as expeditiously as possible.
Chair Brown: Public comment? [None.] Well I guess there wouldn't be, there's no one here. [Laughter.]
Clerk of the Board: Motion passes with supervisor Gjerde dissenting [without explanation.]
A Lawyer for Measure B
DURING TUESDAY’S discussion of legal service support for the Measure B Mental Health Facilities committee, Supervisor John McCowen noted that “quite a bit of time has gone by and not much has been decided yet.” The Board of Supervisors agreed to let County Counsel Katherine Elliott sit in on Measure B deliberations without explicitly charging Measure B for it. Ms. Elliott would then advise the Board as the B meetings go on (and on) if additional or outside counsel will be necessary at separate expense.
But the attitude expressed by Supervisor Williams that Ms. Elliott’s presence will somehow “make sure the Measure B Committee stays on track and does not veer off course” shows that Williams has not been paying much attention to either the County Counsel’s office or the Measure B meetings. Ms. Elliott’s main contributions to the Measure B meetings so far have been either statements of the obvious or an opinion that she didn’t have an opinion.
County CEO Carmel Angelo agreed that “at times it seems like we’re going in circles and we’re not making decisions and we’re not taking action,” adding, erroneously, that “at every meeting we spin around and it comes back to legal advice.” Angelo emphasized that the Committee is “not the Behavioral Health Advisory Committee,” implying that the group drifts off into Mental Health Service questions, instead of whatever Measure B is supposed to address (facilities). But a lawyer on hand isn't likely to accelerate progress or add to the clarity of the discussion, because that’s the function of the Committee chair, not a lawyer.
Actually, the delays stem more from a lack of preparation from the members of the over-large B advisory board (Eleven of them plus a clerk, and now a lawyer) who are gabby, not very articulate and who don’t arrive with thought-out positions or draft proposals. Most of them seem to want the County to a) implement the widely admired Kemper report —which someone could simply propose directly item by item — or b) turn crisis management facilities over to Camille Schrader’s private mental health service company and wash their hands of it.
The legal question that has gone unanswered is what requirements would apply to remodeling old Howard Hospital — and Ms. Elliott has already made it clear that she won’t issue an opinion on that until somebody formally proposes to remodel it — turning the issue into a chicken-egg question that can only be resolved if Elliott herself steps up and issues a legitimate opinion (unlikely), or finds a competent outside attorney whose credibility is solid enough to allow the Measure B committee to decide what they want to do with Old Howard Hospital. Since this will take yet more months to resolve, it looks like Sheriff Allman and his committee are in for a lot more of “going in circles … not making decisions … and not taking action.”
THE ONLY RAY OF HOPE seems to be that newly seated supervisors Williams and Haschack are now quite aware of how much money is going to locked out-of-county board and care facilities for conservatorships and other mental health services, and they have made it clear that they want to start cutting that outlay back and spend more of the money on in-county facilities that don't presently exist. But will they actively push for it? Time will tell. (Mark Scaramella)
The Supervisor Vs. The Pot Permit Program Process
(Supervisor loses — for now.)
Newly seated Fifth District supervisor Ted Williams got a taste of how hard it is to get a direct answer out of some county staffers — particularly the pot permit people — last Tuesday when he asked newly hired pot program manager Sean Connell to define some of their terms and also explain what's taking so long to process the pot grower permits.
Like the baffle-gabbing helping professional officials, the pot permit people tend to reply with punishing streams of vague filibuster instead of simply answering the question in hopes that if they drone on long enough the Supervisor will give up. Unfortunately, stream of consciousness-style speech works most of the time.
Williams: What is the most common reason for permits being in review status?
Connell: The under review status is a combination of a multitude of different areas where it could be whether it’s initially at the first onset in the Agriculture Department or as we have referred it out to other agencies -- being our Planning and Building, going through our property protocol. That's where you're getting that capture of in review, it is somewhere in the chain of review that is necessary for us to be able to issue out a permit.
Williams: Okay. ‘In queue’ the application has not yet been assigned to an agricultural inspector, 190. It seems like it's been stuck somewhere around that number. What would it take to assign all those applications?
Cannabis program administrator Chevon Jones: Essentially because the volume of literal paperwork has been so great, particularly at the end of last year’s close of our application process we have a bit of a backlog. What we tend to do is not assign a location to an inspector until all the documents have been uploaded into our system. Over the winter break the primary cannabis administrator was able to increase that to about 100. So at the end of this month when we return to the Board you will see that there is a significant change there because essentially we have been playing catch up.
Williams: Are there any staff recommendations on how we can process the queue faster? I would like to hear, What can the supervisors do to make sure we are getting everyone into the system where the application is kicked out and not stuck in a holding pattern where month after month we see a large number still in review.
Connell: We are currently doing the work in order to provide that. We are going to — we think that we are going to address that much more on the 22nd [of January] when we can have enough time to comprehensively understand all the aspects of that and I do plan on bringing this to you and this board on 22nd of January.
. . .
Williams: I see that some other counties, Santa Barbara and Humboldt County come to mind, they seem to be racing past us in terms of revenue generated for their counties and applications approved. What is the key difference? What are we doing that is making this process so slow? This is not a criticism in any way of staff, I'm just wondering what we can do to enable you? If the applications are coming in in paper form, do we need to add a digital submission only with some validation so you are not having to do that at a late stage? I would like to know what those hurdles are and I would like to hear from staff what we can do to help you.
Jones: There are a number of suggestions and recommendations that would help sort of change the tempo at which we review applications. [But, of course, none were mentioned.] But I want to go back to your question regarding why are we so far behind comparatively to the other counties? I would like to offer the board a bit of a snapshot of the way in which this panel of people have collaborated and engaged with our additional other agencies and stakeholders in order to make sure that we are all on the same page. Our strategy has always been to know, for the right hand to know what the left hand is doing and to create those relationships, develop those pathways, and get to the point where we are now where we are conducting regular multiagency inspections and we are receiving and also issuing recommendations to other agencies in order for us to all have the same idea of what's going on and then our primary focus because one of the things that we learned in 2017 was that if you don't doublecheck you may issue something that later turns out not to be the true or correct information from a different agency. A part of it has been parsing through the documents we are receiving from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and we are receiving from the state Water Board because all of those programs can change as well and so part of what I have observed in Mendocino County is the utmost in absolute care in order to make sure that when we issue a permit it is properly issued and it will stay issued and active. So I cannot speak for Humboldt or Sonoma County but I can tell you that we know what's going on on our grows. We know what our applicants need and we are working to make it to where we are moving them into their state process because ultimately that's how they move forward, so I think what I would offer you is we have worked very hard to make sure that the playground is level and equal and now you will see us in general moving forward because we have the correct information and I think for a very long time we did not and it was because all the agencies continue to change and the cultivators gave it their best, they have done as much as they can in order to keep up, but it has taken a couple of years to be squared away and you'll see all of these numbers changing over the next few months, I guarantee it.
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“Guaranteeing” that “these numbers will change over the next few months” is not much of a realistic goal or objective which Ms. Jones could be held to. Given the history, the January 22 update is likely to be more of the same kind of stagnation we’ve seen for the last two years now.
Fire Warnings — Some Day
MENDO’S FIRE RECOVERY DIRECTOR, former Interim Planning Director Nash Gonzalez, gave the Board of Supervisors delivered some seemingly encouraging information at last week's Board of Supervisors meeting, albeit not as rosy as Gonzalez lead the Board to believe.
GONZALES told the Board that the County had been awarded a grant to obtain, install and implement five fire cameras on the County’s five existing microwave towers. The cameras will be remotely controllable by an as-yet unspecified official, and can zoom in on a reported fire, allowing human monitors to predict the spread of a fire in real time.
THE ON-LINE camera system has been jointly developed by UC San Diego and Scripps Oceanographic Institute. They are already in use in several southern California areas and the Tahoe-Truckee area, and fire-ravaged Sonoma County plans to install eight of them starting in 2019. (We assume Mendo is piggybacking on the Sonoma Couty project, given the timing of last Tuesday’s announcement.)
MR. G told the Board that the County's fledgling Fire Recovery entity expects to set up Mendo’s first camera this year, followed by the other four as the system is built out and protocols are developed. The camera images are expected to include pertinent weather information including windspeed, temperature, and humidity and they will feed the images into a publicly viewable website.
NO SCHEDULING DETAILS were provided but local fire officials have said the full system will take well over a year to fully acquire, install, test and implement. One of the microwave towers will be the Cold Springs Microwave Tower on Signal Ridge west of Philo. It will be able to “see” over a radius of up to 50 miles in all directions, weather permitting.
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IN OTHER FIRE-RELATED NEWS, Gonzalez said his disaster recovery team is “working on” submitting a grant called “The Mendocino County early warning sirens” grant to the State Office of Emergency Services paid for out of FEMA funds. Gonzalez didn’t provide any details about what the sirens would do, where they would be installed, who would run or operate them, etc. because the grant application is a work in progress.
LAST OCTOBER, Gonzalez said that the grant application was for a “siren feasibility study pilot program to determine the best siren types and power sources, and making sure they coordinate with existing alert systems during emergencies.” At that time, Gonzalez said they were thinking about maybe nine sirens with five in unincorporated areas and four in cities. So last Tuesday’s report implies that nothing much has changed since October.
AGAIN, given the timing, it looks like Gonzalez is piggybacking on a Sonoma County siren grant application which SoCo was reported to be “exploring” last fall, but with few details, other than there’s a substantial local/county match for the nearly $1 million grant (for up to 20 SoCo sirens) should it be approved. But Mendo’s Supervisors and several members of the public are so desperate to hear even the slightest hint of progress being made to upgrade Mendo’s sketchy disaster warning and notification system that they were overjoyed to hear of the possibility of a siren feasibility study pilot grant application — even if it is years away, not yet submitted or approved as a grant, and with no details to speak of.