Off The Record
by AVA News Service, October 20, 2011
BRUCE McEWEN WRITES: “In response to defendant James Kester's recent letter to the AVA with his side of the charges against him, Kester didn't tell the half of Jason Blackshear's story. For seven months I lived on the streets of Fort Bragg, and existed in constant concern fear of the whereabouts and doings of Mr. Blackshear. One day, I came face to face with Aaron Bassler while trying to avoid Blackshear. Aaron stabbed his forefinger into my breastbone and said, 'What are you doing here?'
'I work for a newspaper in Boonville.'
'Then you get over to Boonville and don't you come back.'
Which I did. I always go where I'm told.
As for you Mr. Kester, do you remember the day you confronted me on the corner of Redwood and Franklin? Do you remember your words?
Nah, me neither.
Jason Blackshear was a low down, mean son of a biscuit, and hardly a tear will fall in his wake. But you, Jimmy, were no prince either.
Let me put it this way, bro: The Cottrells, old Onion Head and his brother, they got two birds with one stone -- you and Jason -- and never had to lift a finger.”
ONE MORE THING about the conspiracy brigades: they're overwhelmingly male, which I take as simply more evidence that women are generally a lot smarter and more sensible than men.
THESE are tough times for newspapers, including Mendocino County's newspapers, of which there are only two remaining which are independently owned. They are the one you're reading and the Independent Coast Observer based in Gualala. With the internet and gizmos having reduced the national attention span from three seconds to one, further reducing the aggregate number of persons capable of comprehending a full paragraph let alone an entire newspaper, and an imploding economy that has further eroded the advertising newspapers depend on, that same advertising that makes newspapers dependent on the worst people in the community and robs papers of their independence, even the prosperous ICO is feeling a serious pinch. The AVA, incidentally, depends, out of necessity since most advertisers are hostile to us, mostly on subscriptions, stand sales and the small percentage of ads the unwitting do place with us, making us unique in newspaper land. But even we are beginning to be hurt by the internet, especially with our heads-up business model that sells an internet sub for $25 while our hard copy goes for $50. Print, though, seems doomed. When the old beatniks and independent cranks that comprise the bulk of our subscribers finally shuffle off to the Neptune Society, the AVA will also go glub, glub, glub.
FROM WHAT WE GATHER, the more conventional ICO has lost lots of display advertising from the now depressed real estate market and the South Coast's many restaurants. The Surf Super, Gualala's largest employer and most expensive grocery store, also pulled its insert ads from the ICO more than a year ago, and when a big local business no longer supports its community newspaper one wonders if that business fully understands how crucial a local paper is to the very idea of community. The ICO has also lost Gualala Arts, the town's biggest draw, whose padrones include several millionaires who certainly ought to be able to spring for an occasional ad in their local paper.
THE ICO ITSELF is a good-sized business by small town standards. It employs a dozen people who are not only paid pretty well they get an array of fringe benefits rare in Mendocino County's private employment sector. The upshot? The ICO will have to lay people off simply to survive.
THIS STAT is certain to warm the globe if not your heart: Last year 11 million new cars were sold in the United States while 17 million new cars were in China.
IT'S HARVEST TIME in Mendocino County, intoxicant capitol of these United States. At Friedman Brothers in Ukiah pallets of rubber gloves, turkey bags and those spiffy little grey scissors greet the shopper, and just before the big rains of last week that sent grape growers scrambling for hurry-up harvest crews, the aisles at Friedman's were packed with hurry-up marijuana growers buying up painter's drop cloths to protect the bud still on the vine. A local grower remembers: “I used to buy those little grey scissors at Beverly Fabrics in Ukiah. Ol' Bev had no idea why every fall a bunch of longhairs would suddenly come through the door looking for those things. They used to cost me about $20 a pair. These days, at Friedman's, they go for about $8.”
A POLL rigged in favor of career Democratic office holders, and probably commissioned by them, claims that 2nd District Demos favor a Marin County Democrat, Jared Huffman, to succeed Mike Thompson who has mercifully moved to a new district to the east. On the basis of a measley 400 respondents, the poll claims that “Jared Huffman currently has a clear lead in the race for Congress.” The press release from the self-certified pollster goes on to say, “Survey respondents were presented with a list of potential candidates for Congress and Huffman begins the race with the support of 20 percent of likely voters, just ahead of Dan Roberts (whose support derives largely from Republicans, as the only GOP candidate listed in the poll). Huffman has almost three times the support of Norman Solomon, his closest Democratic competitor.”
HUFFMAN has also raised more than twice the money his opponents have raised. He's already got about half a mil salted away.
ACTIVE DEMOCRATS of the type dominant here in Mendocino County, i.e. the political sub-species lib labicus — Joe Wildman, Lee Edmundson, Rachel Binah, Jim Mastin, Val Muchowski, and the Superior Court of Mendocino County — like their Marin County peers, are desperate to stop Norman Solomon, the first genuinely progressive Democrat to run for office on the Northcoast, ever. Or at least since Clem Miller, a Kennedy Democrat to the left of the Kennedys. Lib Labicus thinks Obama is swell, and Mike Thompson and Wes Chesbro even sweller. Anyhow, a sampling of 400 registered Democrats proves nothing statistically in a district with thousands of registered Democrats, but it is an opportunity for Huffman's supporters to make it appear he's the guy to succeed Thompson. Which Huffman is, politically speaking, because he's very much like the reactionary Thompson on the issues. Solomon for Congress.
AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, the Democrats are just as desperate to co-opt Occupy Wall Street, but it's too late and the OWS forces are too hip to the oligarchy's rigged two-party system to be gulled by the usual election-time yowls, “But if you don't vote for our guy the meanies will win, and they're much worse.” And here comes Bush squared, Obama, for four more years. The 99 percenters know that Democrats are half the problem, and every week there are fresh outrages and provocations to keep OWS fully energized and growing.
GROWING into what nobody can predict, but it won't be a big electoral turnout for Obama even if the Republicans only put up half a maniac like Romney. At some point, though, there will have to be a meaningful tactical escalation by us 99 percenters, which is why I'm delighted that Fort Bragg's 99 percenters plan to occupy Congressman Thompson's Fort Bragg office. Never mind that no one's ever there, and Thompson himself probably doesn't remember where his Coast office is because his furtive visits to Mendocino County are either to mingle with wine nabobs or to appear before the dependably prone Democrats of the County. He's not about to sit in his office, available to chat with the likes of you, is he?
THE ALLEGED IRANIAN plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States seems to me another indication that the President may have mental health issues. When the ruling class can't even come up with a plausible scare story, they're in trouble. And the prez himself seems to be slipping. He's a little too omni-present with his wholly unconvincing daily pep talks, and his rhetorical style seems ever more frantic. The whole manipulative, empty suit package that passes for leadership these days is dramatically emptier by the day, and even before the totally wacky Iranian gambit, Obama seemed to be cracking up, maybe because it's belatedly dawning on him that being president in times of severe crisis involves more than riding around in big black limos and having lunch with rich people. Maybe it's also occurring to Obama that his advisors feed him nothing but wrong advice, and maybe he now realizes that neither he nor they have the slightest notion of what to do as the international Ponzo takes down the economies of most of the world, including ours. (There's a novel from the early 1960's called, I think, The Man Who Cried I Am by, I think, John Williams. I hope it doesn't apply to Obama — it is fiction after all — but it seems eerily applicable.)
MEANWHILE, here's Glenn Beck, canary in the mine for the more hysterical dummkopfs, “These protesters will drag us out into the streets and kill us.” Desirable as that outcome would be, tactically it would be a loser in the present American context. Most 99 percenters are after basic reform, not blood. But if fundamental change remains off the table, well, the present population isn't the docile, hard scrabble, put-up-with-anything people our grandparents were. We just might have to come over the walls of your gated communities after all, Glenn.
THE COUNTY OF MENDOCINO has been in negotiations with its eight bargaining units since June of last year. By March of this year agreements were reached with seven of the eight bargaining units. The lone holdout, the local branch of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, has been in negotiations for fifteen months. SEIU has leveled one charge after another alleging bad faith on the part of the County negotiators, saying they are stalling, that they are not interested in negotiating and that their real intention is to smack down the union. Both contending parties have filed charges with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) alleging numerous instances of bad faith bargaining.
ONLY LAST WEEK negotiations seemed to be headed towards a more or less mutually acceptable conclusion. SEIU and the County met with a state mediator and hammered out an agreement. Unlike a previous “agreement” this one was reduced to writing and signed by both parties. SEIU immediatedly notified its members, but not without another round of gratuitous name calling and finger pointing by the SEIU leadership.
THE MEDIATION PROCESS is voluntary, but both sides usually agree to participate because refusal to participate would look bad. Besides, mediation might result in an agreement. The mediator can make suggestions but can not force the parties to agree. The mediator shuttles back and forth, meeting separately with the County and the union, trying to assess each sides bottom line and making suggestions for concessions that might result in an agreement. The opposing sides caucus among themselves while the mediator is mediating with the other side.
SOURCES CLOSE TO SEIU say that the union bargaining team, in private caucuses and sessions with the mediator, were contentious, with some members of the team angrily refusing to agree to the mediator-recommended settlement. In the end, the signatures of Sandy Madrigal and Andrea Longoria were conspicuous by their absence. Longoria recently by tossed the f bomb at a Supes meeting and announced she would run against Supervisor McCowen.
SEIU CLAIMS THE AGREEMENT, which calls for a 5% permanent wage cut and a 5% “temporary” wage cut really equals a total of 6 or 7%. The only hitch is that state legislation is needed to allow the employees to pay part of the County portion of the retirement contribution. And the state legislation needs to allow the payment to be made on a pre-tax basis. Even if the pre-tax basis is included, it is hard to see how that knocks a 5% payment on the retirement cost down to the equivalent of a 1.5 to 2.5% cut in wages. SEIU says all this will happen by March. Good luck in getting the state to go along with special legislation that will let Mendocino County employees pay a smaller share of income taxes than everyone else.
WHEN THE STATE MEDIATOR saw how SEIU was describing the agreement, she immediately told SEIU and the County to “put on hold any further discussion with constituents regarding the Mediator Signed Suggested Settlement Agreement.” And since SEIU was the only one interpreting the agreement and holding discussions with its constituents, it is pretty obvious who the message was directed to. According to the Mediator, “At this point there is a fundamental disagreement on how the settlement agreement will impact members. The County and SEIU must agree on the implementation of this agreement before any discussion occurs with constituents.”
DESPITE THE CLEAR MESSAGE from the mediator, SEIU went ahead with its schedule of meetings. Sources within SEIU say the membership was told that the County had reneged, once again, on “its” agreement and was not acting in good faith. This looks a lot like an earlier debacle when the SEIU leadership had the members vote on a supposed agreement that had not been reviewed or approved by the County. The County told SEIU there was no agreement and to hold off on the vote until the details could be agreed to. Instead, SEIU went ahead with the vote and has accused the County of back-pedaling ever since. The parties were reportedly scheduled to return to mediation last Monday to try and clarify what the deal really means. And what it means is, SEIU is really looking at a permanent 10% pay cut unless you believe the dysfunctional state government will pass special interest legislation to benefit only SEIU.
IF SEIU AND THE COUNTY fail to reach agreement in mediation the County will be able to impose its “last, best and final offer,” believed to be 12.5%. A 10% cut will be hard on anyone, but it looks better than 12.5. Meanwhile, the other seven County bargaining groups all took wage cuts of 10-12.5%, mostly a year or more ago. If the County cuts SEIU a sweet deal compared to the other groups, they will all be back at the table asking for the same.
NO SOONER had we opined that the cops and DA had laid off Man Beaters, three of them, all innocent expect maybe the big girl who looks like she's not averse to hand-to-hand combat, pop up in the Sheriff's Log: the grandmotherly Sophie Conty of Fort Bragg; the clearly unrepentent Brenda Conner of Ukiah; and Ms. Sara Kepa of Ukiah, whose booking photo looks like she's still fired up and ready to go.
CALPERS is the huge pension fund that serves the State of California's thousands of workers which invested some $200 million with wine financier William Hill back in the early 2000s. Last week CalPERS announced that they’ve dumped Hill and his Premier Pacific vineyard development pals as managers of CalPERS’ “wine investments.” CalPERS says they’re “restructuring their portfolio” in the wake of the weak economy. CalPERS spokesman Wayne Davis refused to comment further on the announcement. But wine industry observers, and the many opponents of Premier Pacific’s biggest project, “Preservation Ranch” proposed for what is now forest will undoubtedly be put on hold. The unthinkable timber-to-vineyard scheme would have chopped up a 20,000-acre tract in northern Sonoma County near Annapolis for a couple thousand acres of “vineyard estates” and some residual forest and a “conservation easement.”
AMONG the interesting factoids in the press coverage of the CalPERS announcement was a reference to William Hill as “founder and former executive” of Premier Pacific. We don’t know why he’s “former,” but he appears to have gotten out of Dodge before CalPERS unceremoniously dumped him, and who knows why a pension fund would have thrown so much money at such an improbable scheme as Preservation Ranch.
CALPERS, clearly run by delusionals and/or corruptionals, expected a huge cash harvest from their Premier Pacific investment when they bought in to Hill's fantasy in 2007. According to a Sacramento Bee report “CalPERS expected to harvest a fortune from lush fields of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. But like many of the pension fund's big-time real estate deals of the past decade, the pension fund's investment in the wine industry turned sour. After pouring $200 million into vineyards across California, Oregon and Washington [all with Premier Pacific], CalPERS said this week that it is firing the firm that has been its investment partner and land manager” — Premier Pacific, aka William Hill.
AS OF MARCH 31, CalPERS' $200 million investment with Hill was estimated to be worth $122 million “after fees.” Hill told CalPERS its lucky pensioners could expect an unbelievable Madoff-quality 15% in annual profits from the deal!
PREMIER PACIFIC also owns Philoville Vineyards in the wine soaked, vineyard-battered Anderson Valley. It was property owned by a high flier named George Bergner who himself went belly-up in the early 2000s. Prior to Bergner the sprawling acreage had been an endlessly productive apple orchard owned by the Gerbers of Gerbers Baby Foods. Hill bought up Bergner's foreclosed holdings, bulldozed the apple orchards and put in more grapes, all on the CalPERS steadily depleted nickel. Hill also dug a couple of huge, and hugely illegal storage ponds visible from Highway 128 which he hoped to fill from the finite waters of nearby Anderson Creek. Local activists stopped that part of his destructive enterprise, although he got away with some equivalently destructive eco-cide east of the highway in the hills above Peachland.
NO ONE KNOWS what will happen to the Premier Pacific's prospects now that CalPERS has abandoned them. CalPERS maintains some kind of responsibility for its Hill-sponsored projects, but all that remains hazy. Hill’s former associates at Premier Pacific are keeping up appearances by saying that last week's dramatic CalPERS announcement won’t have any affect on their operations.
PREMIER PACIFIC is still on track to spend upwards of $7 million more on environmental studies relating to its clearly doomed Preservation Ranch project, including $2 million for the draft environmental impact report to try to demonstrate that putting in thousands of acres of new “vineyard estates” for retired fatso-watsos in a glutted grape market not only has environmental benefits, but is such a financially great idea that “investors” will flock to Premier Pacific's tattered banner.
OPPONENTS of the Preservation Ranch proposal are guardedly optimistic that Hill’s project at Annapolis will remain on hold forever.
WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN to Philoville here in Anderson Valley remains unknown. But if history is any guide, it’ll be up for sale soon as Premier Pacific tries to liquidate its many other money-losing vineyard properties at fire sale prices.
CORRECTION: Last week's item about Richard Kruse, accused child molester and long-time resident of Albion, was incorrect. Contacted last week, DA David Eyster said, “We have never offered a misdemeanor to Kruse, and I would not approve of same.” We had been informed that Kruse, founder of a girls-only water ski club that met at Lake Mendocino, and whose membership consisted mostly of very young girls, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he molested several of the children.
THE POSTER BOY for Mendocino County’s “9.31” marijuana cultivation program, Matt Cohen, organizer of Northstone Organics, was busted last week by armed DEA agents at his combined Redwood Valley home and marijuana business. The raid got lots of attention in the wake of threats only a few days earlier by all four US Attorneys that they were going to start cracking down on state-legal medical marijuana operations, which they say are just fronts for illegal drug sales operations.
SHERIFF TOM ALLMAN seemed genuinely mystified by the Cohen raid, telling KZYX newsman Dave Brooksher last week, “I'm not exactly sure where to go on this. I hope people don’t' believe that 9.31 is going to protect them if the federal government makes a decision to execute a search warrant and investigate. That's clearly told up front that the state and local governments have no authority to direct the federal government not to participate in an investigation.”
THE FUTURE of Mendo’s 9.31 marijuana cultivation program would appear to be in doubt, and along with it the several hundred thousand in badly needed revenue for the County it has generated in zip-ties, permit fees and the fees charged for follow-up inspections by locally appointed inspectors.
PHASE II of Mendo’s groundbreaking marijuana policy package — 9.32, the dispensary half of the ordinance, will probably also be put on hold. The rest of the County's dozen or so dispensaries haven’t noticeably changed their practices following the Cohen raid, but then they're much less visible than Cohen's operations.
NO ONE KNOWS why Cohen’s ultra-compliant program was the one the DEA chose to bust, but speculation includes 1. That he's a highly visible big fish among the state and locally approved cannabis operations and, as such, a handy guy to serve as a warning to everyone else in the business from the feds that “We don't care what your state and local rules are, we trump all.” 2. The DEA considers Mendo ground zero for the national movement to legalize marijuana and will continue to focus on us and the rest of the Emerald Triangle by targeting high profile operations like Cohen's or 3. That Cohen’s employees were already in court in Sonoma County on marijuana transportation charges (for their home deliveries), thus raising their legal profile high in the water, too. Or, 4. Cohen's home delivery operation in the Bay Area may have been, so to speak, one toke over the line. Or, 5. Obama's Justice Department is incapable of taking on real crooks so it goes after the sitting ducks, the targets with names and addresses.