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Pot Permit Blues

AT THEIR LAST MEETING on January 8, 2019, newly seated Supervisor Ted Williams asked, “Are there any staff recommendations on how we can process the [pot permit] 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.”

MENDO'S freshly appointed pot permit program manager, Sean Connell, replied: “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.”

CONNELL didn’t specify what he meant by “that” or “this,” leaving it pretty much open to whatever he wanted "this" or “that” to be.

IT WAS CLEAR, however, that Supervisor Williams wanted specific “staff recommendations.”

THE JANUARY 22 Supe's agenda has now been posted, including what Mr. Connell describes as a “comprehensive cannabis program update.”

“COMPREHENSIVE” is in the eye of the updater, it seems.

MENDO'S NEW POT GUY, Sean Connell, lists the bureaucratic titles of the kinds of documents that the Water Board and Fish & Wildlife want to see. It’s a mess, of course. (For example, one of them is “EPIMS-Application Received Notification.” “EPIMS” is not explained, not that we’d know any more if it was. But it indicates how much of a bureaucrat’s game the pot permit process has become.)

UNDER Fish & Wildlife Mr. Connell notes: “total number of documents received by department 300.”

AND UNDER “Water Board Evidence” Mr. Connell notes: “total number of documents received by department 483.”

CONNELL then goes on to repeat most of the same information that lead to Supervisor Williams' original question, showing the numbers of permits in various categories of review — very close to the same as last time and still very much “in a holding pattern.”

THEN COMES a nod to Supervisor Carre Brown with a final chart entitled “Moving Forward” which says:

"Conduct 212 pre-permit site inspections prior to reopening for Phase I in April 2019 

"Finalize department policies and procedures for submission, acceptance, processing, review, referral, inspection, determination and recommendations and issuance of permits 

"Outreach and Education such as satellite office locations, streamlined applications, technological integration of web based forms 

"Receive remaining outstanding documents from current applicants.”

Nothing new there.

* * *

NOWHERE in Connell’s (not so) “comprehensive” presentation is anything even in the general vicinity of a response to Supervisor Williams' original question.

Prediction: 1. Supervisor Williams will give up on the subject. (We can’t say we’d blame him, but we hope we’re wrong on this one.) and 2. If Supervisor Williams tries to follow-up on his original question he will get another non-responsive stream of pot-bureaucratese.

Why is it so darn hard to get simple answers to straightforward questions about the pot permit program? Is the subject of "marijuana" itself affected by the product under discussion?

If Mr. Connell doesn’t know what can be done to speed up the permit process, why doesn’t he just say that, and offer to prepare a list of possible steps that would help? Staffing changes? Letters to state agencies? Legislators? Deletion or waiver of some requirements?

ALL THIS CONFUSION was predictable. Official Mendo, with big buck pot revenues bedazzling the CEO's office, rushed headlong into the breech with a constantly amended set of rules, apparently not fully aware that a bunch of state agencies would hold trump cards over the sort-of redundant local rules. It's all still in a state of confusion, and totally skewed to well-capitalized, large-scale growers, meaning whatever rules Mendo finally adopts, the small-time pot farmer will continue his outlaw grows, albeit with the attendant additional law enforcement hazard overlay and lower margins for it. They are here to stay because it's already clear, as Colorado's experience proves, that street pot is and always will be cheaper than store pot. 

* * *

FOR A WHILE THERE, CEO Carmel Angelo was issuing CEO reports with each Board meeting. A few months ago she found even those mostly info-free collections of press-releases and highly selective statements of the obvious too much work and started doing them something like once a month. (Coincidentally, about the time the Board gave her that big robo-raise spread out over four years. Hmmm?) We assume that was because even as uninformative and vague as they were, they occasionally mentioned things that Angelo expected to happen — someday. (There were very few specific dates and even those were routinely not met.) So one good way to avoid being held accountable for doing what she said she was going to do was for the CEO to simply cut back on her written reports.

THE OTHER RECENTLY IMPLEMENTED TRICK was about a year ago when the CEO stopped including her CEO report in the Board packet. This meant it wasn’t issued the minimum three days before the Board meeting like the Brown Act requires for Board packets when the Supes (and the public) might have a chance to review it in advance, but appeared instead on the day of the meeting. That way there was no practical way for the Board or the public to digest the CEO's whatevers and ask proper follow-up questions. (Not that they did much anyway, but still…)  

TAKE, for example, these two items from CEO Angelo’s last report back in December: “Since the Board presentation on October 16, 2018, California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) has provided additional feedback and requested new information in order to approve Mendocino County’s RFP for an Exclusive Operating Area (EOA) for ambulance services. The County is working with CVEMSA and EMSA to provide this additional information with the goal of releasing the EOA RFP as early as possible in the new year.”  

NOTICE the use of “as early as possible in the new year” to avoid committing to doing anything about this long-delayed project. Of course, the five ciphers, er, Supervisors, (last year) did not pin her down and now two of those five ciphers are gone. Will the two new board members follow up “as early as possible in the new year”?  

LAST MONTH’S CEO REPORT also said: “Departments continue to evolve in the completion of the Monthly Metric Dashboard reports. As this is a new request from the departments, it is requiring some additional education and development of the form to meet the desired goal of monthly reporting.”  

ACTUALLY, it’s not “a new request” at all. Even the CEO herself mentioned it in her first announcement of her “leadership team’s” formation back in 2017. You don’t need a “form” to report on budgets and actuals by department with a few notes of explanation. Also, notice the sly use of “completion” and “evolve.” We don’t need completion, we only need the first department to do whatever lame-ass data assemblage Angelo may mean by “Monthly Metric Dashboard reports.” (If it’s like the grossly overhyped “opengov” software package, CEO Angelo might as well save us all the trouble and continue not reporting on anything at all.) Obviously, “the desired goal of monthly reporting” is not “desired” much, because it can wait for months and months as it “evolves” and inches ever so slowly to “completion” whenever that may be, if ever. 

* * *

DURING HIS MAIDEN VOYAGE as Supervisor on January 8, Supervisor John Haschak rightly — almost boldly in the Mendo context — pulled several high-dollar items from the consent calendar, saying that high dollar items should not be on the consent calendar. And last year Supervisor John McCowen told the CEO that he “frowned on” retroactive items appearing on the consent calendar, especially when they appeared without explanation.

CEO Angelo and staff (particularly HHSA Directors Ann Molgaard and Tammy Moss Chandler) assured the Supervisors that retroactive items would not only be minimized, but explained. (Retroactive items that require board approval are items that proceed without board approval and pretty much obviate the whole point of getting Board approval, especially high dollar retroactive items, even if they’re non-controversial.)

GUESS WHAT?

Supes Agenda 1/21/2019, Consent Calendar item 4g: “Approval of Retroactive Agreement with North Coast Opportunities Inc. in the Amount of $143,734 to Provide Outreach and Education to Children and Seniors Through the Walk Bike Mendocino Program Under the Office of Traffic Safety Grant to Improve Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019.”

Previously: “Ongoing since 2009, last action on November 6, 2018, Item No. 4(j), approval of OTS grant.”

The item is another of those highly redundant grants duplicating instruction already conducted in most local school districts described in the agenda packet as: “North Coast Opportunities Inc. will work with school age children, their parents, and seniors throughout Mendocino County to provide services that improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.…” blah blah etc. etc. blah. … “Education [sic] will focus on the health benefits of walking and biking, and show that those benefits far exceed the risks when pedestrians and bicyclists employ safe traffic engagement strategies.”

AGAIN: $144,000 to “educate” kids on the how to walk and ride bikes safely! $144,000 for that! And the grant should go to MCOE and local school districts to supplement their existing programs, NOT to NCO which is the least efficient way to go about the “education” whatever good it may do.

BY WAY of (non-)explanation, the item concludes: “HHSA received the grant award from OTS on September 29, 2018 with a grant start date identified as October 1, 2018. The agreement between Mendocino County HHSA and North Coast Opportunities Inc. was drafted shortly after receipt of grant award, and immediately routed through the County approval process.”

IMMEDIATELY? Then why are they only getting to it now, in mid-January? (Oh wait, I forgot: to Official Mendo “immediately” means whenever we get around to it.)

SO OFF GOES NCO wasting a perfectly good $144,000 “educating” “school-age children” by providing “services” for months before the item appears before the Supes for “approval.” (Connected unemployables, friends of the public cash dispensers, get the money to teach kids what they already know.) What if the Supes wanted the money to go to MCOE where it should go instead of to NCO? Oops! Too late, staff already “routed” it to NCO, no need to run it by those pesky Supervisors (or the public).

YES, YES, it’s all just the usual bureaucracy and nothing to be upset about. Except that’s the point: The Supes specifically “frown on” retroactive items and have asked for these things to be excluded from the Consent Calendar, and staff agreed — and yet here they are, as if the Supervisors don’t matter. If the Supes allow staff to flout them on simple items like this, how much will staff get away with on the more questionable items?

ED NOTE: THE UKIAH-BASED non-profit axis, has for years benefitted from large hunks of public cash funneled to it through the Supervisors. On the face of it, $144,000 to teach children what they know is preposterous. And to route that handout to your pals in do-nothing groups like NCO, borders on the criminal. The Supervisors have been so weak for so many years, the incestuous non-profit sector, lots of them social pals, insultingly assume the hopefully re-invigorated board with Haschack and Williams will be the big fat patsies recent boards have been. We hope Williams, Haschak, McCowen, and Gjerde will slam dunk this outrageous palsy-walsyism.

11 Comments

  1. Diane Curry January 30, 2019

    I don’t understand why the Board of Supervisors keeps asking the same old question about speeding up the cannabis permitting process. If the Board members would take the opportunity to read the state laws regarding cannabis permitting, they would understand that the process is complicated. Unfortunately, the cultivators in resource lands are required to comply with Fish and Wildlife requirements, which can cost many thousands of dollars, not to mention that Fish and Wildlife has specific rules just for cannabis production.
    When the State representatives proposed legislation for cannabis, they didn’t bring all the agencies together and come up with a complete well thought out plan.
    As for the late crop reports: When I took the Interim Agricultural Commissioner position, I had no idea that my work life and personal life would be consumed by cannabis. The CEO’s office was micromanaging my Department, because Ms. Angelo “is an all knowing magical being from another planet, able to run the county all by herself.” It was a total train wreck. The crop report is about agriculture in the county and according to the State cannabis rules, cannabis is not agriculture. California State Department of Agriculture dictates what is allowed to be reported in the crop report and as of now cannabis is still not allowed to be reported. That doesn’t mean that the counties couldn’t produce a separate report, but getting accurate data will be a challenge.
    The Department of Agriculture is still suffering the effects of executive office micro managing. What used to be a warm and welcoming office has now become a cold bureaucratic institution, with no laughing, singing, or whistling allowed. Asking why is not allowed, either.
    One last comment. I was not fired from the county, but forcefully shoved into retirement.

    • james marmon January 30, 2019

      Diane should sue Angelo for interfering with her duties. She had no legal authority to micro manage the Ag Department.

      According to the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), they make that perfectly clear.

      How Counties are Structured

      Administrative

      “The County Administrator is the county’s top staff member. While the position has many titles (Chief Executive, County Manager, County Administrative Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, Administrative Coordinator, Administrative Officer, County Administrator, Administrative Director, Administrative Services Director, Executive Officer, County Executive), the functions remain basically the same from county to county. The County Administrator is responsible for the day-to-day functions of the county and prepares the annual budget for the Board of Supervisors. The office typically coordinates the activities of appointed and elected department heads to ensure the effectiveness of county operations and may perform topical analyses on issues before the Board of Supervisors.”

      http://www.counties.org/county-office/administrative

      Agriculture

      “The Agriculture Department is under the control of the Agricultural Commissioner, who is appointed under state statute and is responsible for the administration and enforcement of all applicable laws and regulations related to environmental and consumer protection.”

      http://www.counties.org/county-office/agriculture

      James Marmon MSW

      • james marmon January 30, 2019

        Demanding that Diane move her office out of the Ag Department and over next to her (Angelo’ Administration Office) so that the Pot Czar could take over command of the Ag Department was a big slap in the face. No wonders Diane walked out on Angelo.

  2. Michael Koepf January 27, 2019

    I’ve got it! Get rid of the County’s Executive Officer position. Let the elected board of supervisors run the county. That’s why they were elected. A simple liaison officer could bring department issues forward to the supervisors. The supervisors are currently paid enough to work 40 hours a week to ride herd on the county bureaucrats and address problems from the public. Chant it out loud: the CEO has got to go! Make the supervisors do their job!

    PS. The Pot Tsar is a waste of money too. Let my people grow!

  3. George Hollister January 23, 2019

    A long time ago Chris Philbrick told me, “The biggest problem in business is no one ever tells the boss he’s wrong.” This is more than a problem, it is just the way it is, and it’s reality in every organization, both public and private around the world. Any boss that believes otherwise is delusional, and likely has never been an employee carrying a lunch bucket, and has always been a boss.

    The only time you see an employee tell the boss he/she is wrong is when the employee is on the way out the door, and essentially has had enough, and does not give a twit. Remember Diane Currie? The proper question to ask Sean Connell is, “Can anything be done to make the pot permit process better, and more stream line?” This is a policy question specific to county policy set by the Board. This needs to be done in private, after a few months, by the Board or Board Committee, with the CEO and Ag Commissioner present. If there are problems with the county’s policy, no staffer is going to say in public, “Hey, this is screwed up.” That is essentially what Diane Currie said on her way out the door. We had better hope, that we don’t lose another, much better qualified Agricultural Commissioner, under similar circumstances.

    I suspect, the problem here is board policy, and not the people who have been asked to administrate it. I am almost positive of that. And grilling these staff people in public for a policy, they have no control of, is counterproductive.

    • james marmon January 23, 2019

      I’m glad you’re not on the board George, Jesus Christ!

    • james marmon January 23, 2019

      So the two new Supes should just sit there and not ask any questions after one of Carmel’s crew feeds them a bunch of crap (presentations)? Just because the other 3 do it doesn’t make it right. We may as well not have any board meetings at all, stop the presentations. Politically Correct George has finally gone completely off the deep end. “Oh, that should be done behind closed doors”

      James Marmon
      Flabbergasted

      • George Hollister January 24, 2019

        If the intent is to continue to see what appears to be a pot permit process spun out, trying to get started up muddy hill, then we need to continue doing what we are doing. Maybe this is the intent. Maybe Mendocino County doesn’t want any legal pot. Maybe we want to be a black market county.

        There are all new people handling pot permitting. They have had nothing to do with this process before. And likely know no one involved in formulating this process, either. So give them a chance to figure it out, to begin with.

        Right now we have burned through two ag’ commissioners, and are on our third as a result of pot. We have burned through a dubious pot Czar as well, and a few others in the Ag Commissioners office. For the first time there is at least some structural organization in place. Let it work.

        I am not directly involved, but many in agriculture are effected because pot has created a dysfunctional Ag Commissioners office. Why did we see the 2016 crop report come out last Fall? I was getting gas in Fort Bragg last week , and noticed the county seal on the pump was dated 2013. Those pumps are supposed to certified every year.

  4. izzy January 23, 2019

    Another less-than-encouraging report from the local halls of power.

    Maybe we should take a page from our national playbook. Let’s put Jerry Philbrick in a Supervisor’s chair, and let him blow the place up. It apparently takes a tremendous amount of obvious dysfunction to bring even the most glaring and long-simmering problems out into the naked light of day.

  5. james marmon January 23, 2019

    I’m surprised that the Schraeders didn’t get the bicycle money.

    No big front page Press Democrat article announcing the new Pot Czar? What happened to all the big fanfare like they gave that other fella?

    Is Supervisor John Haschak going to ask for some answers about what’s going on up in Vicious Valley (Covelo) and surrounding hillsides, or just leave it to Allman for more of the shit that has been going on for last 30 years since he was a just resident deputy in that area?

    Will Haschak and Williams demand answers from Angelo about the whereabouts of dozens of County employees who have disappeared without a trace going back 12 years now (the Low Gap Triangle)?

    James Marmon MSW

  6. Ted Williams January 23, 2019

    Giving up on the subject isn’t on my roadmap.

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