Off The Record

by AVA News Service, August 3, 2011

RUMOR HAS IT that Jackie Carvallo, the local SEIU rep, has been promoted to a job in Sacramento and that the irrepressiblely ubiquitous Joe Louis Wildman is being tabbed to replace her. (SEIU representation has always been a kind of local Democratic Party outpost, and Wildman is the party’s local whip.) Carvallo, like Lynda McClure before her, had no previous experience as a union rep; she’s been criticized for her lack of knowledge, lack of experience and in some cases, lack of financial savvy. It was Carvallo who claimed the County was sitting on $30 million dollars based on the County workforce being reduced from a high of almost 1,600 to less than 1,200 today. The reasoning went that the tab to the County for salaries and benefits for 400 employees was about $30 million. Where is the $30 million? Carvallo wanted to know. This type of simplistic thinking overlooks the fact that the 400 employees are gone because there was no money to pay them.

CRITICS SAY Carvallo's lack of experience has kept the County and SEIU from reaching a deal, that she was unable to provide leadership for her negotiating team. But success is measured in different ways. For going on a year now, SEIU members have been collecting their full pay while all the other bargaining units have taken a cut. If you are a line employee, collecting a full paycheck for as long as possible probably looks like success. Right up until it doesn't.

THE PUBLIC ATTORNEYS stalled negotiations for a full year, but in the end they agreed to a 12.5% pay cut to prevent the County from imposing what could have been an even greater pay cut of 15 to 20%. Everyone else who settled within a reasonable time of their contracts coming due took a 10% pay cut. (Are you surprised or delighted that the lawyers screwed themselves?) It remains to be seen if SEIU, which has successfully stalled negotiations for nearly a year, can still get a 10% cut or if the County whack them 12.5% or more. Still no word on the alternative proposal to cut hours by 10%, which would result in a four day, 36-hour workweek. The deal is supposed to result in a 10% savings to the County, on par with a 10% cut in pay, but SEIU and the County have been haggling over the details for nearly two months, with no end in sight.

THE RETURN OF WILDMAN as negotiator, it can be expected, will be greeted with mixed emotions by the County negotiators. There is just something about Wildman — his impenetrably smug self-assurance for one thing — that irritates lots of people. But he is a veteran of the union negotiating process, having previously been the local SEIU rep for about seven years before naming his successors.

JIM GIBBONS’ TO DO LIST

1.) Be sure to vote in the next election.

2.) “Go Green” and reduce my “carbon footprint.”

3.) Buy over-priced local food at the Farmer's Market.

4.) Go on a healthy diet and cut back on my alcohol consumption.

5.) Contact “Old Friends” on Facebook.

6.) Get a doctor's prescription for cannabis and plug into the County's latest marijuana “plant-tie” program.

7.) Really listen to my wife when she's talking to me.

8.) Try to develop a more positive attitude.

9.) Set goals and try to finish SOMETHING!

10.) Be a role model for my Grandchildren.

11.) Joining The Editor for a walk around SF.

THE DEBT CEILING charade, a worm’s eye view, and what do you know about it, pal? Well, I study these things as best as I’m able, and I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters, from my lowly perspective this is what it looks like: that by ending the five wars (or is it six?) we’ve got going would, all by itself, whack most of the deficit which, incidentally, was made much larger by the recent bank bailouts. Instead of putting the criminals of high finance in jail Obama gave them more money with which to enrich themselves and their already rich investors, and then he hired the worst of them as his economic advisors. Obama being Bush Squared, and both political parties being funded by people and blocs of capital hostile to the public’s true interests, the large scale crooks are going to continue to get bailed out and the military is going to continue to enjoy a blank draw on our treasury fighting wars that can’t be won and which are made worse by fighting them. The real point of all this back and forth of the past couple of weeks has been the oligarchy’s ongoing attempt to beat back so-called entitlements — your money deducted from your pay checks for your meager old age stipend and your old age jiffy lube-style medical care. These skeletal guarantees are hardly “entitlements.” It’s our money put aside by our government on our behalf. Well, it’s their government anymore, but of course we’re entitled to social security and Medicare because the money for them belongs to us in the first bleeping place. But the fact that these “entitlements” even exist scare the oligarchs because we might some day get off our knees to demand more government-run programs that we might tax them to get, say, single payer, and that’s what terrifies the oligarchs, that and the obvious fact that the economy has been terminally looted and is now eating itself, its ponzo-wonzo realities pegged to the insane assumption that more people can have more stuff forever The whole crazy show has hit the wall. The debt ceiling deal of course saw Obama caving in, as usual, to the Evil Ones as he whacks the few programs that stand between gramps and grams and the street. What would be funny about all the phony urgency of the past two weeks if it’s consequences weren’t so dire for ordinary Americans is the spectacle of the Tea Party crackpots so far out of traditional ruling class control that they have ignored the interests of the Big Money they were elected to serve.

WE SUGGEST the following Constitutional Amendment: “We the corporations of America, in order to form a place where only the rich matter, establish injustice, destroy domestic tranquility, provide for unlimited defense contracts, promote the general corporate welfare and secure all for corporate profitability, do ordain and establish this Constitution for Corporate America.”

MIKE THOMPSON? Congressman from Ecotopia? Democrat on auto-re-elect by the progressive voters of the Northcoast? Natch, Thompson voted for the so-called compromise.

ROLLIN C. RICHMOND, Humboldt State’s president, rakes in $297,870 annually, for doing whatever it is he does in Arcata where the average private sector annual wage is about $30,000 if you can find a job.

MAN BEATER of the week recognition again goes to Ms. Veronica Moreno who, it seems, puts on her eyebrows prior to slugging it out with her significant other. Veronica was heavily made up the last time she garnered a manbeater trophy, and one might think the man, when he sees Veronica coming with her eyebrows on, would have the good sense to head for the door.

OVER THE PAST YEAR, I’ve encountered several people, all men of course, who’ve told me versions of this very old story: The Chinese are massing an army somewhere in the remote desert reaches of Mexican Arizona. Once this army is ready to go, the Chinese will march on Phoenix, I guess, then work their way northwest to Ukiah. Or the Chinese are buying a big hunk of Idaho where they’re going to set up their own Forbidden City. Or they’re buying up Africa to set up mass farms to feed China. In fact the Chinese are buying into Africa, as are American interests. It’s called imperialism, competing imperialisms in this case. Meanwhile, just up the road in Eureka, a log ship is about to depart for China with millions of board feet of unmilled local timber, most of it Doug Fir which will be used to make forms for the pouring of concrete. The American market for Doug Fir is so far down that China, Japan and South Korea are the most important market for U.S. logs. That lumber should be milled here, but….

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, meet Mr. Flynn Washburne, 51, presently on the run after carrying out a reverse deposit at the Bank of America’s Ukiah branch on South State Street two weeks ago. Washburne got away on a bike but his unmasked puss was clearly caught by the bank’s security cameras. On state parole for drug-related offenses prior to his visit to the BofA last week, Washburne is a familiar face among the street people of both Ukiah and Fort Bragg. He’s also assumed to be about five thousand dollars richer.

RUMORS WAFTING over the hill from the South Coast say that “cocaine in the powdered form has made a huge comeback here on the coast among the more affluent.” And not only among the affluent. Younger people say that cocaine is also prevalent among the 20 and 30-somethings.

LAST FRIDAY’S New York Times ran an article about California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) being defunded. The program goes back to the 80s when it was concentrated mostly in the Emerald Triangle and involved paramilitary raids by law enforcement on backyard gardens. Lately the program has been aimed primarily at large scale illegal grows on government land. In addition, as more and more counties wanted an annual CAMP effort of their own, funding was spread around to the point where there wasn’t enough to make CAMP effective. According to NY Times reporter Zusha Elinson, Jerry Brown's new budget eliminates the CAMP funding as part of “widespread cuts to programs in law enforcement, courts and social services.”

MENDOCINO COUNTY, as expected, has renewed its contract with Waste Management for solid waste collection until 2014. Waste Management had been offering the County a one time upfront payment of $500,000 in return for an additional seven year extension to 2021. But the deal was contingent on the City of Fort Bragg also agreeing to extend its contract with Waste Management for an additional seven years in return for an up front payment of $250,000. When Fort Bragg turned the deal down last week it also had the effect of turning down the company's offer to the County.

THE FORT BRAGG COUNCIL is not happy that rates just outside the city limits are lower than those inside the city limits. The motion to turn down the $250,000 payment, or alternatively, reduce residential rates 5.5%, stated that the proposals failed to achieve parity for city ratepayers. City residents do pay higher rates, but that results almost entirely from the extra $500,000 in higher rates that the Council gave Waste Management back in 2007, plus a franchise fee of almost 21% that the City collects, instead of the 12% franchise fee for the County.

COUNCILMEMBER DAVE TURNER prepared his own spreadsheet to show that the 5.5% reduction was not equal to the value of the upfront payment, calculating that an 8.5% reduction was more in line. Bob Angel, representing the company, said Turner's calculations were based on rates for the wrong year and were incorrect. Angel maintained that the extension would allow for rate stability and that the company had an excellent record of safety and service.

LINDY PETERS, former Councilmember and Waste Management’s hired gun, waxed rhapsodic about the virtues of Waste Management, the largest garbage conglomerate in the world. Peters maintained that Waste Management provides great service and is on the leading edge of sane environmental trash disposal. He maintained that the difference between the company's offer and Turner's demands boiled down to .84 cents a month “to provide excellent jobs for some of the people in our community.” Seven years ago the company's record of service and concerns about protecting local jobs led the Council to approve rates that gave the company $500,000 more than a competing offer from Jerry Ward and Solid Waste Of Willits (SWOW).

PETER'S CONCLUDED his pitch by saying “It's not that bad, its .84 cents. If that's all you raised the water rates, you probably wouldn't get any complaints.” Ouch! And by all accounts, the local branch of Waste Management does do an excellent job. The only complaints are political, that the County is getting a better deal. But in 2007, when the contract was last renewed, the FB City Council rejected an offer from SWOW that would have saved the ratepayers $500,000. The Council explained that Waste Management's proven record of safety and service, and the perceived need to preserve local jobs, was more important. But if the City was really interested in parity, they would have accepted SWOW's offer back in 2007 and the ratepayers would be half a million ahead. Or the City could reduce its exorbitant franchise fee, now set at 20.92%, to be more in line with the 12% charged by the County.

BACK IN 2007, when the deal was last negotiated, Paul Cayler, now the Willits City Manager, was the County Solid Waste Director. And Mike Sweeney was General Manger of the Mendocino Solid Waste Management Authority (MSWMA). Sweeney, then, as now, wanted the City and County to work together to get the best rates, but Cayler went forward and inked a deal for the County franchise area, probably because he grew tired of waiting for Fort Bragg to decide what they wanted. Fort Bragg has always blamed “the County” for making a separate agreement instead of working with them, but the agreement was approved by the Board of Supervisors, presumably because it was a good deal for the County. And the same deal would likely have been available to the City if they were ready to move forward, instead of insisting on going out for competitive bidding. And if the County deal was so bad for Fort Bragg, where was the Fort Bragg area supervisor, Kendall Smith? It seems disingenuous for Fort Bragg to claim no one was looking out for their interests.

FORT BRAGG, encouraged by Sweeney, went forward with competitive bidding and was shocked to find that only SWOW responded. Waste Management, apparently feeling jacked around by Fort Bragg's foot dragging, chose not to bid. That's when their employees got involved, going to former councilmember Lindy Peters, for advice. Peters became the employee spokesperson and was eventually hired by the company to lobby his former colleagues on the Council to stay with Waste Management. The Waste Management employees and their families and friends packed the City Council chambers for several successive meetings, praising the company's service and urging the Council to preserve local jobs. And Waste Management, at the urging of their employees, came forward to say they would like to compete for the contract.

THE FORT BRAGG CITY COUNCIL responded to the pressure by reopening the bidding process. Waste Management came in a million dollars higher than local guys Jerry Ward’s SWOW. In a final showdown, councilmember Turner challenged the company to cut the difference in half in return for a deal and the company agreed. Even with the premium charged by Waste Management, Fort Bragg's rates are “not too bad,” as councilmember Melo noted. Most ratepayers in the County pay far more, including all of the ratepayers in the Anderson Valley, South Coast and North County franchise areas. The only exception is County franchise area #2, which consists of the coastal area from the Navarro River to Westport and the inland area from Hopland to Redwood Valley. The rates for the coastal zone of franchise area #2 benefit from the larger customer base and more customers per route mile of the inland zone.

COASTAL RATE ZONE 2 has about half the volume of inland rate zone 2 which includes the densely populated urbanized areas around Ukiah and Redwood Valley. Serving these areas is far more lucrative for the company based on the simple equation of more customers, more revenue, and less cost per mile. The ratepayers in coastal zone 2 are being subsidized by the inland ratepayers, not by the City of Fort Bragg, which has a separate agreement with the company. But coast politicos seem to have it encoded into their DNA that they are always on the short end of the stick vs. the inland. It remains to be seen if the company will reach a separate agreement with the County, or if the company can make an attractive enough offer to satisfy the concerns of the Fort Bragg Council.

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