Off The Record

by AVA News Service, July 27, 2011

THE KEN LaBOUBE FAMILY has owned Point Arena’s Sea Shell Inn for many years. The LaBoubes have aged and the Sea Shell has fallen into disrepair. Locals steadily complain that it had been taken over by tweekers and the miscellaneous undesirables most towns don’t care to house on their main drags. There were even allegations of prostitutes operating out of the motel, although only the most disoriented available lady would likely set up shop in modern PA. Historically, as in all the populated areas of Mendocino County, brothels once enjoyed official sanction; Madge’s in Ukiah slaked so much inland lust in the 19th and early parts of the 20th century it is formally and fondly remembered with a sidewalk plaque. Where were we? Oh yes, the Fog Belt, whose city council has vowed to “clean up” the Sea Shell, going on to declare in a press release last week that “Over the last several years, the once favored, moderate-priced motel, has become an eye sore. With suspicious late night goings on, excessive loitering of unregistered hotel guests, unsupervised minor children and loose dogs, it has become a safety concern to all residents in Point Arena — of which, 110 signed a recently circulated a petition. City staff has cited the motel on numerous violations; from unleashed animals, broken window panes, open alcoholic containers, unsafe railings and barricaded emergency exits, and more. City Council is investigating the Inn’s Transit Occupancy Tax reporting and administrative record keeping.” According to the City, “Health and Safety issues take front place as the City looks to remove over 10 unregistered, abandoned vehicles, Ferrell [sic] cats and several dogs. Cleanliness and sanitation are equal concern; with excessive debris, broken glass and unlocked vacant rooms filled with trash and discarded personal effects. Increased dilapidation of structure and fixtures are of equal concern.” The City also concludes, “The owner has been cooperative and many changes are already underway. Your Point Arena City Council and staff are devoted to seeing this situation corrected.”

OPERATION FULL COURT PRESS got underway two weeks ago but none of the officials involved issued a press release about it until last Friday. Full Court Press is a coordinated multi-agency effort spearheaded by Mendocino County Sheriff  Tom Allman and led by Allman’s young, hardcharging deputy, Jason Cox, aimed at ridding the Mendocino National Forest of large scale marijuana grows, many of them manned by armed men.

AN INFORMATION-FREE press released was finally issued jointly by the California Department of Justice and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office last week, “We have received many inquiries about ongoing marijuana eradication operations in Mendocino, Lake, Colusa, Glenn, Tehama, and Trinity County. We can confirm these operations are ongoing, however, due to officer safety and security reasons, we cannot release any additional information relating to these activities.”

A WEEK LATER, and according to Monday’s press briefing by Full Court Press spokesperson Michelle Gregory of the Department of Justice, 292,000 pot plants have been uprooted 77 persons arrested. The raid teams include clean-up crews that remove the considerable trash accumulated at the grow sites by gardeners who often live where they work but don’t adhere to the “Pack it in, pack it out” ethic of the people who used to enjoy hiking and backpacking in the Forest’s vastness. It’s an ongoing irony that that the Mendocino National Forest remains America’s least visited national forest despite its handy proximity to the millions of persons of the Greater Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley. It stretches from Mendocino County in the west to Lake, Colusa, Glenn and Tehama counties in the east, hence the complicated tactical problems implicit in coordinating a raid on such a massive area. We understand that the raid teams entered the Forest from numerous directions on a morning two weeks ago and, if the preliminary statistics are reliable, clearly surprised many of the target locations. Pot planters are not often caught unawares in their gardens.

LACK OF TIMELY media updates didn’t stop several local papers from writing about the massive raid’s first week. (National media are also on hand as are several writers from national magazines including GQ and Time.) But the most interesting and informative reporting we’ve seen has been by Willits News’ excellent reporter Linda Williams who compared Full Court Press with Operation Trident in the Fresno area in 2009 and 2010. Full Court Press is modeled after Operation Trident and, like Trident, Full Court Press targets drug gangsters with national and international affiliations. Williams wrote, “While Allman says he has a commitment from the US Attorney's office that it will take an active role in prosecuting those found responsible for growing pot in Mendocino National Forest, the San Francisco office has not historically prosecuted these cases.” That may have been the quote that the Department of Justice didn’t like and leaned on the Willits News to take down because Williams’ piece mysteriously disappeared from the newspaper’s website although it had been in print and on-line for a full day. Why it was removed remains unclear because everyone in the North County with an operational scanner knew everything, and we mean everything, about its logistics, from the aircraft operating out of Willits Municipal Airport and the No Vacancy signs at North County and Ukiah motels.

ALL OF THE AGENCIES involved in Full Court Press insist they are targeting the large-scale outlaw grows in the National Forest, not the less ambitious grows characteristic of the bulk of Mendocino County’s thriving marijuana industry. The feds are driving the Full Court Press bus, which means those arrested, assumed to mostly be Mexican nationals, will be held in federal jails and detention centers.

OPERATION FULL COURT PRESS will cost an estimated $1.5 million, not counting eradication — chopping the plants down and getting them outtathere — or the even more strenuous and complicated clean-ups. Sheriff Allman says a version of Full Court Press is likely to be repeated next year on the safe assumption that large-scale grows in the National Forest will resume when the multi-agency cops depart.

FULL COURT PRESS is expected to “surge” for about three weeks of patrol, eradication and arrests, having been preceded by intense, high-tech, para-military style intelligence gathering. Plant removal and environmental cleanup will follow. The project also overlaps with the State’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) which continues through the fall and is aimed at large-scale grows throughout the area.

WHAT DO Hollywood actor, serial sniffer and part-time shoplifter Lindsay Lohan, rapist/groper/IMF pervert Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Mendocino's James “Phi Beta” Sanderson have in common? They've all recently been sentenced to home monitoring, the legal system's equivalent of a love tap. Sanderson and his friend Craig Stanley were each caught with one abalone over the limit back in March by Fish and Game in Fort Bragg. This week Sanderson had his sentence modified to home monitoring rather than the county clink. Any bets if Phi Beta makes it 30 days in his own living room without screwing up? Eagle-eyed readers will remember that Sanderson and his wife Bess were originally nabbed shuffling pounds of pot on the East Coast, while simultaneously helping pay for the rent on their Mendo Mansion with welfare checks. It's enough to drive honest growers to drink.

DEPUTY CEO Kristi Furman was reassigned last week in an odd move that some County officials say is a demotion, but a demotion that doesn’t come with a decrease in pay. Ms. Furman, former Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, got a big raise in a controversial promotion to Deputy CEO last year. It was made on the dubious grounds that since the Clerk of the Board and the CEO’s offices were combined Furman’s raise actually saved money overall, and Furman’s pay went way up (some say because she was being belated compensated for having to suffer the unwelcome advances of former Supervisor Mike Delbar). CEO Carmel Angelo then took on the title of Clerk of the Board. A few months later, Ms. Angelo became Interim Human Resources Director after Human Resources Manager Teresia Haase resigned. Then last week the CEO sent out an email to all staff saying that former Human Resources Personnel Manager Pat Meek had been re-assigned and promoted to Human Resources Director and that Kristi Furman “will be on an interim assignment with the Health and Human Services Agency” while continuing “her current legislative and liaison functions, but will be taking on HHSA administrative duties in support of that department. She will be located in HHSA Administration.” Got that? So the capable Furman is no longer in the CEO’s office. Further, although she apparently will continue her vague “current legislative and liaison functions” there’s no evidence at the Board level that she has ever done anything like that. For the last few months, Ms. Furman has been invisible, not making any presentations to the Board on legislation or anything else. Now she’s been shuffled off to Health and Human Services.

MENDO’S LARGEST government union, Service Employees International Local 1021, has updated their membership about the status of negotiations with County. SEIU says they met with the County labor negotiators last week and that the County responded to the proposed language presented to the Board of Supervisors on June 28th — language the SEIU bargainers insist the County had already agreed to. The union reps say they continue to discuss how a 36hour/4 day work week would be implemented and that the County was still insisting on a 10% reduction for holiday pay. SEIU also says they “have concerns about how the terms and conditions of the MOU will be altered when employees move to a reduced workweek.”

ACCORDING TO SEIU, implementation has been delayed “until the union's legal counsel has the opportunity to review the county's language.” Which sounds like no agreement has been reached, despite the earlier statements from SEIU. It seems clear that the union and the county are still not on the same page. It also seems that the union is coming to grips with the complexities of switching to a 36 hour week. Hence, the need to bring in the legal beagles.

THE COUNTY PROJECTS $1.5 million in annual savings from the agreement, but with July slipping away and no agreement in place, the county is already down $125,000 and counting. Once the county and union negotiators agree on contract language, the membership will have to vote, all of which takes more time. With no end in sight, it remains to be seen how long the county will wait before deciding to impose its “last, best, and final offer,” which could be up to a 15% cut in wages and benefits, with no reduced work week. And which might well put the parties back at impasse again.

REMEMBER that mini-controversy back in late 2008 (at the last meeting of the Delbar-Wattenberger Board) when a 3-2 majority of the Board of Supervsiors voted to give four “visitor serving facility” allocations (aka bed and breakfast rooms) which, according to the dated and erroneous Mendocino Town Plan, belonged to the Mendocino Art Center but went to the MacCallum House? Early in 2009 the new Board of Supervisors rescinded that vote, even though the MacCallum House is still renting the four additional rooms it isn’t allocated according to the Town Plan. (Mendo gets a few extra bucks in bed tax from the four rooms and is not inclined to red-tag the MacCallum House.) Not long after the new Board (with McCowen and Brown replacing Wattenburger and Delbar) gave the room allocations back to the Mendocino Art Center (which had not been consulted in the reallocation to the MacCallum House), Jared Carter’s Ukiah law firm sued to force the County to stick with their earlier ruling giving the room allocations to MacCallum. Carter and the MacCallum House lost — the allocations stayed with the Art Center. Carter and the MacCallum House appealed. Last month the California Appeals Court in San Francisco ruled against Carter and the MacCallum House and the room allocations stay with the Art Center where they house, or are supposed to house, visiting artists.

GRATIFYING as it is to see Carter lose one, the case was a giant waste of money since the County doesn’t enforce the Mendocino Town Plan and high handed allocation of the rooms from the Art Center to the MacCallum House was irresponsible in the first place — Wattenburger and Delbar were lame ducks and they wanted to get it done at their last meeting before their replacements — John McCowen and Carre Brown — took their seats on the Board. The MacCallum House paid oodles of money to the experienced and connected Carter on a weak case which has no real impact on anything except the two facilities involved. And if anyone thinks that the Mendocino Town Plan (which the Board plans to take another crack at later this year — another big waste of time) “preserves the historical character” of Mendocino by limiting its B&Bs to either 234, 221, or 251 or whatever — the number depends on who you ask — you might also want to know what ocean view bubble baths and ice cream cones have to do with preserving the historical character of the town which, as most of us know, was dedicated to logging before it veered off into La, Di and Dah.

FORT BRAGG HAS REJECTED an offer to extend its current waste hauling contract on a 4-1 vote (Courtney dissenting) as the City Council rejected Empire Waste's offers, which included Fort Bragg's choice of either an immediate $250,000 payment, or a 5.5% reduction in residential rates. In return, the company would get a seven year extension of its waste hauling contract, currently set to expire in 2014. In 2007 the Council voted to award the current contract to Empire Waste despite an offer from Jerry Ward and Solid Waste of Willits that would have saved the ratepayers an additional $500,000. over the seven year term of the contract.

THE OFFER WAS CONDITIONED by the company on reaching agreement with both Fort Bragg and the County. Empire Waste was offering a $500,000.up front payment to the County for an extension to 2021 of county franchise area #2. The county franchise area includes the coastal areas from the Navarro River to Westport and inland areas from Hopland to Redwood Valley. Fort Bragg, by turning thumbs down on the deal, effectively vetoed the half million dollar up front payment to the County, unless Empire Waste reconsiders its position that both the City and County must agree.

THE COUNTY IS STILL SMARTING from last year's initial rejection by Fort Bragg of the privatization deal for the Caspar Transfer Station. The Fort Bragg Council decided they could run the transfer station themselves and turn it into a money maker until a more careful analysis concluded that City operation would result in an annual deficit of $100,000. Fort Bragg belatedly agreed to support privatization, but the delay cost the County an additional $50,000. in operating losses.

COUNTY GARBAGE CZAR Mike Sweeney, presently busy saving the Ukiah Post Office, began negotiating with the Fort Bragg Council and the company at least as early as February, but the Board of Supervisors weren't asked to weigh in until last month after Fort Bragg already decided a quarter of a million wasn't enough cash for them. No one bothered to ask the County what they thought about getting a half million cash upfront. The County share is double because the county franchise area has double the tonnage of solid waste.

SWEENEY WAS RECOMMENDING that the County renew its contract until 2014 to align with Fort Bragg, putting them both in a position to go out for competitive bidding at the same time. Not a bad strategy, but the majority of the Board wasn't so quick to kick away the chance to get a $500,000. payday at a time when they are struggling to balance the budget and rebuild reserves. The Board appointed an ad hoc committee of Supervisors McCowen and Hamburg to meet with their Fort Bragg counterparts in an effort to reach agreement, but Fort Bragg is apparently holding out for a better pay day in 2014.. As the AVA goes to press the deal appears to be dead.

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