Off The Record

by AVA News Service, February 23, 2011

SUPERVISOR McCOWEN deserves high marks for pulling an ongoing Brooktrails scam off the Supervisor's consent calendar. Roughly 2,000 of the 6,000 lots in the Brooktrails subdivision northwest of Willits were never buildable. The lots can't be connected to sewer and will never have water available to them because the Brooktrails sewage disposal system is maxxed out, as is its available water and, besides, certain blocs of perennially available lots are not “served” by either sewer or water. But the unwitting buy these lots from unscrupulous real estate firms that sell them again and again when their owners, many of whom have bought them sight unseen, cease making payments on them. The County of Mendocino then forecloses for back property taxes, the unscrupulous real estate firms again buy the lots in bulk at auction and again sell them. And the whole show just keeps rolling along, the same lots being sold over and over again to annual crops of duped buyers. Mendocino County thus becomes complicit in the scam by foreclosing on the same unbuildable parcels over and over again, making it seem to the fresh crop of suckers that the lots are viable properties because the County has foreclosed on them and sold them, sold them to the same crooks who've been buying the lots cheap and selling them high for years. Of, say, 70 properties auctioned off by the County, 40 or 50 will be in Brooktrails. McCowen rightly thinks that the County should make sure that the deeds to these turkeys should say that they do not have sewer or water hook-ups available to them.

BACK IN 1996, the County moved to reduce Brooktrails lots to a total of 6000 with an ultimate goal of 4000 by combining the eternally unbuildable lots. The company benefitting from the foreclosure racket made a property rights issue out of this commonsense proposal, gulling the easily gulled into believing that the reduction in the number of lots was interfering with the American dream of a home in the country. There are people who believe that there will eventually be a break in the water moratorium (just as there are people who believe there will be a Willits Bypass), but people who already live in Brooktrails have never been keen on the prospect of 2000 more neighbors even if water and sewage magically appears where none has been.

BROOKTRAILS was sub-divided in the mid-sixties. The County eventually assumed responsibility for the subdivision's roads as, old timers believe, some major monkey business qualified those roads as soundly engineered enough to be included in the County system. Ditto for the subdivision's sewer system. But our information is that one County man was told it would be to his financial benefit if he signed off on the sub-standard Brooktrails road complex and, when he refused, he was fired. The developers soon found a more amenable fellow and here we are fifty years later with probs everywhere you look at Brooktrails, from two thousand unbuildable lots to existing homes hollowed out for in-door grows to Jack Silver, esquire.

SPEAKING OF WHOM, Mr. Silver that is, he was in the neighborhood to shakedown nearby Willits as exhaustively reported here last week, so he also swooped down on Brooktrails too, nicking the Brookies for a quick $9,500 “consulting fee” in return for a promise from Silver not to sue the Brookies over a sewage prob the Brookies were of course already deep into remediating. Silver, a private individual, took another $9,500 in “consulting fees” for next year.

WILL PARRISH will speak at the Gualala Arts Center on Thursday evening, March 3rd, 7pm. Will's presentation is called “The North Coast Wine Industry: Draining Our Rivers Dry” and will emphasize the especially rapacious vineyard development in the Gualala River watershed.

A FORT BRAGGER is rightly alarmed that some of the children in her community are not being vaccinated. Needless to say, Mendocino County is home to quite a number of deluded parents who think all kinds of scientifically implausible thoughts about vaccination, ranging from government plots to grow children with two heads to schemes by the pharmaceutical companies to exploit the fruits of their loins as chemical funding units. Anyway, before a child can be legally enrolled in either kindergarten or again by the 7th grade, he's got to be inoculated against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis. Unfortunately, however, 7th grade parents can opt out by signing a form that they don't want their kid to get his shots, which is a heckuva note and perilous as heck to the entire community. FB, says our correspondent, is way behind on the paperwork, meaning a lot of little toxics are running around the playground.

RICHARD JOHNSON, or OTG Johnson, as he's known in these pages, is terminally ill. The One True Green, who seems to be about 70 but Pebbles says “is around 50,” is now confined to the Ukiah Health Center at 1349 South Dora, Ukiah, where he's fading from the dual ravages of a cancer and heart failure.

FROM THE SF CHRONICLE of February 23rd, 1936: “Marijuana — a dread name, with terrifying implications — has appeared on the American scene to give officials of the United States Bureau of narcotics a more difficult problem than the treacherous opium of the Orient, morphine, cocaine or heroin. From this unusual plant, so these officials say, may be traced many of the most horrible crimes in recent history. Once almost totally unknown in the United States, marijuana has become so common that it has been dubbed the 'roadside weed.' This commonplace weed is known by various names — hay, greelo, muggles, Mex hashish and locoweed. The fight to stamp out the weed is handicapped by the fact that there is no federal law controlling it.”

OUR POT BRIGADES might want to re-think their premature anointment of newly elected David Eyster as their “savior.” So far, it looks like Eyster will simply do the obvious — prosecute the gun growers plaguing public property while tossing the petty cases so beloved of his predecessor. Eyster will off a lot of the minor cases which, under Lintott, limped into court where the judge usually gave them the bounce. As for a carte blanche grow light for everyone, I wouldn't bet on it.

SANTA ROSA'S official adoption of the historic Church Built from One Tree didn't consider Sonoma County's roving Anti-Christ, Irv Sutley. As we go to press, Sutley is busy informing the Rose City's city council that if so much as a penny of public money is spent on restoration of the church or moving it to the godless Burbank gardens (one time home of the famous atheist Luther), Sutley will sue. He's sued many times before over the separation of church and state, most recently last Christmas when he noted religious symbology on a Christmas tree in a public office. Sutley was denounced from pulpits across the country for that one, with a Santa Rosa pastor becoming so apoplectic at what he called Sutley's “destruction of Christmas” he had to take a break and lie down.

TAKE IT AWAY, SUTLEY: “The church cannot be legally owned and operated as a quasi-religious meeting place by a California government entity such as a city. Santa Rosa's deification of this structure is in violation of the California state constitution and case law because this structure has been adorned with not only a Christian cross on its steeple as well as a myriad of religiously themed windows - all of which have Christian motifs. As for Murphy's spurious claim that this church was built out of lumber from just one tree, it's far more likely that like all religious myths this assertion by the timber salesman was a lie foisted on the gullible to close the sale. Plant DNA will tell! And the City of Santa Rosa's plans to relocate this Christian house of worship up the street and actually into a city park on the original grounds of Luther Burbank's home is an insult to Burbank's memory and good works. Luther Burbank, a self proclaimed freethinker, was not only a brilliant scientist but also an Atheist who is now being denigrated by the City of Santa Rosa's illegal resurrection of this building.”

POINT ARENA may be Mendocino County's smallest incorporated town, but its 450 citizens certainly contribute more than their share to the County's big bank of scandal. PA's got a beaut going. First off, the former Mayor and present council member makes her way selling pudenda purses, which isn't scandalous by itself but definitely stretches the known perimeters of free enterprise. Second, the sudden firing of the City Clerk for reasons based almost entirely on the subjectives of personality are probably going to get PA sued, and even if it doesn't the bad feeling generated by the firing hangs over the small town like a toxic cloud. Third, the present mayor abandoned his wife and is now married to another member of the council, their romance apparently begun in a wild moment of observed passion on the nearby school grounds. Fourth, the council has violated the public meeting laws commonly known as the Brown Act. Fifth, the City attorney's daughter recently appeared on MTV's “The Real World” where she managed to contract a sexually transmitted disease. Sixth, a recall election is being sought of everyone on the council except the mayor.

THE BOARD of Supervisors punted again on the Sheriff’s budget gap now estimated to be around $900k, up from $800k just the week before. CEO Carmel Angelo had proposed the layoff of three sergeants whose salary and benefits are worth $131,477 each, plus an office services supervisor at $79,684; an account specialist supervisor at $74,130; and a staff assistant at $59,374. But since two thirds of the fiscal year is up, the savings for the 2010/2011 budget would be about $187k. Sheriff Allman has threatened to sue if the Board or CEO orders him who to lay off deputies. Supervisor John McCowen said that he expected that the CEO-proposed layoffs “could result in an expensive legal battle” and would probably not produce the hoped-for savings. First District Supervisor Carre Brown called for “a referee” to moderate the dispute between the CEO and the Sheriff and again suggested an outside audit which so far continues to be unaffordable (except for the one The Major volunteered to organize for no charge). The Board “will consider” forming an ad-hoc committee to address the differences between the CEO and the Sheriff at their meeting on March 1.

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG has said that the March 1 meeting will be a “showdown” on the Sheriff’s budget. Supervisors McCowen and Carre Brown, along with Sheriff Allman, seem to think that a big chunk of the Sheriff’s deficit will be closed with as yet unrealized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pot fees for zip-ties, dispensary permits and inspections. But Pinches, Hamburg and Smith are skeptical that anything like enough pot money will come in to make enough of a difference in the Sheriff’s budget.

ACCORDING to CEO Angelo’s budget rundown last week, the Jail is actually running in the black but the patrol and admin sections of the Sheriff’s department are in such deficit that the overall Sheriff’s budget is almost $900k short.

ALTHOUGH some think that some offsetting savings can be achieved by cuts in other parts of the County’s budget, that would appear to be difficult as well. CalWorks/Foster Care is already more than $600k overbudget and in-home supportive services is about $165k over net county cost, both due to recent revenue reductions by the State of California.

ANGELO reported that it looks to her like the only way to balance the overall Sheriff's budget — and the County's — is by eliminating up to 14 Sheriff’s office employees, both uniformed and non-uniformed in upcoming months.

WE’RE GLAD to see that Angelo is also recommending that the $300k per year now allocated to the County’s tourism promotion project be withheld.

THE B&B and Wine People plan to lobby the Board hard to retain their entirely indefensible subsidy, as if a few barely visible ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and free booze fests in the city draw the touri north to sample more.

MS. ANGELO ALSO wants to eliminate the vet's services office, meaning the County's roughly 8,000 veterans, and the literal millions generated for them by the County's three-person, $134,000 a year Vet's services, would not be represented in Mendocino County. Supervisor Pinches seems to be the only guy over there who understands the math here. The Vet's office has already taken a 25% cut while the person who wants to off their services altogether, Carmel Angelo, makes 150 grand plus another 50 in benefits. Ms. Angelo remains in the hunt for an asst CEO/budget officer at another $80 or so grand. A petition last year to spare the Vets got 2,000 signatures in two weeks; it went to the board where it went unacknowledged. Angelo and the Supervisors shouldn't think that the County's thousands of Vets aren't paying attention here. Lots of them are, and lots of them will soon be appearing at Supes meetings.

THE MENDOCINO County Office Of Education (MCOE) held a budget workshop of their own last week where County School Superintendent Paul Tichinin awarded himself a hair shirt. “This year, I have already suggested a zero increase in my salary.” What a guy! What a sacrifice! He'll stay at $120,000 a year!

THE DETERIORATING local road situation got some attention on the Coastal listserve last week with two interesting upshots.

A MR. KENT STANDLEY, the County’s Deputy Director of Maintenance Services in the Transportation Department said he welcomes reports of County road problems and will respond to all requests (standlek@co.mendocino.ca.us or 463-5795). And apparently he has already done so in a few cases.

ALSO we’ve discovered that there are commercial pothole patch kits available at many local hardware stores although the kits are better used after the rainy season is over. According to package instructions one 50-pound bag of “cold patch” will handle the typical small pothole by simply sweeping the hole clean, pouring in the patch, and tamping it down.

WHEN we asked about some kind of organized volunteer pothole repair crew arrangement with the County supplying the materials and equipment at last week’s Community Services District board meeting, Fire Chief Colin Wilson said that the County might require “certified traffic control” people who cost $30/hour per traffic control person. Road surface quality liability rests with the County.

COUNTY OFFICIALS and the Retirement Board are trying to distance themselves from the shockingly large new projected increases in pension payment increases uncovered by the new actuary by pointing the finger at a series of “mistakes” by the old actuary — i.e., bad assumptions about retirement rates and pension outlays in the various County departments. The trouble with this blame-placing, as retirement board critic John Dickerson points out, is that the personnel data came from the County in the first place and the assumptions were stated in the actuary report going back for years; nobody was intentionally hiding it. In addition, Dickerson and other critics told the Board of Supervisors and the Retirement Board that the old actuary, Buck Consultants, had made well-reported similar mistakes in several other California counties they contracted with for at least three years. And neither the Board of Supervisors nor the Retirement Board looked into it or did anything about it. They didn’t review the old actuary’s assumptions; they didn’t review the County data being provided to the actuary; and they didn’t act on being told that Buck Consulting was being criticized years ago in other counties. So these recent attempts to blame it all on Buck Consulting’s “mistakes” are just a rather transparent way for people like Kendall Smith (on the Board of Supervisors and on the Retirement Board), long-time retirement board members Tim Knudsen, Dennis Huey, Tim Pierce, etc. and retirement administrator Jim Andersen to avoid responsibility for overlooking the mistakes themselves.

THAT’S NOT to say that the pension fund would have been magically rosy if the mistakes had been uncovered sooner — pensions are in trouble across the country. But if the increases being proposed now had been proposed years ago as they should have been, the County would have been in a better position to deal with it.

SO, MR. EXPERT, what would you do about it now that it's real bad? Two things: 1. Tell the banks who hold the pension obligation bonds that we can only afford to pay the principle on the loan (not the interest) until/unless things get better, otherwise the County might be forced into bankruptcy and they’d get even less. 2. Put an immediate, unilateral cap on current pensions so that the recent, ridiculously high pensions (say those over $60k a year) on the same grounds: Either the upper level pensioners accept the cap, or the whole pension fund goes broke.

AS IT IS, the County will be faced with paying the grossly increased pension contributions or laying off $4 million worth of employees next year (mostly law enforcement) and another $4 million worth from non-law enforcement the year after that. At a minimum that means the equivalent of maybe 40 cops — the Sheriff's entire patrol group, for example — then 60 or 70 more non-cops on top of that. It’s almost that simple: postpone interest payments and put a cap on pensions or layoff the County’s core services. (Either that, or try to raise revenues from sales taxes and/or marijuana — and you already know how likely that is.)

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