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Does Pot Stink? (Or Is It Just You?)

by Mark Scaramella, November 28, 2012

Toward the end of the day of their November 13th meeting, the Board endured two hours of mind-numbing opinion from actuaries and consultants and staff about adding a new retirement tier for new hires. Fresh County workers won’t get the attractive retirement bennies of yesteryear’s employees, but… But after two hours the Board decided to not do it this year; it’s too much work for the over-burdened County Auditor’s staff.

The most likely outcome will be that the County will have to follow a new state pension austerity law called PEPRA, meaning the Supes will be able to deflect anger at the new benefits schedule to Sacramento. In any case, it won’t kick in for at least 15 years when the new hires start shuffling off. The only Supervisor to regard the discussion as a learning experience was John Pinches who declared, “Now I know the difference between a fortune teller and an actuary.”

The Supes then got down to serious business: Does marijuana stink? Does its distinctive odor also represent air pollution?

Mr. J.R. Rose, a frequent commenter mostly on what he describes as “senior issues,” was apparently provoked by the sight of Air Quality’s Chris Brown at the dais where Brown was reporting to the Board that, thanks to Brown’s unsleeping vigilance, Mendocino County’s air quality is as pure as the day God breathed it into being.

Mr. Rose said Ukiah stinks to high marijuana heaven, especially in the fall when all the degenerates and miscellaneous criminals who call Mendoland home are bringin’ in the bud. The old guy wanted to know why so little is being done about the smell of marijuana in Mendocino County.

“I have made numerous complaints about the smell of marijuana. This has been an ongoing thing for over two years,” Mr. Rose said. “I don’t know about Anderson Valley, but this is a thing that’s completely throughout Mendocino County.”

(In Anderson Valley we call it “the smell of tax-free cash.”)

“My main concern is that we are still in the same situation that we were a few years ago regarding air-quality with marijuana. I think that marijuana is against the federal law to grow. I think that people should not have to smell it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I think when it’s brought to the proper authorities, and like you said it should be brought to the Board of Supervisors, but I have brought it to the proper authorities, not only Air Quality, but I’ve also brought it to the Sheriff’s Department. But when laws are not enforced — we have lots of laws that are not enforced — but when they affect the capability — I never had a headache in my life until last year and for 24 hours a day, seven days a week I smelled marijuana and I had extreme headaches. This year I didn’t have a headache almost into October. But then it started again! And it’s back to exactly the same place it was the year before, and when I brought it to the proper authorities I get the same situation. I get people calling me from your district, Supervisor Brown, I get people calling me from John Pinches’ district. I don’t have anybody calling from Supervisor Hamburg’s district. I guess they don’t know about me over there in Anderson Valley and places, but people were calling me and they were worried about the air quality in these valleys. From Round Valley to Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, even people here in this city. The point is I think something needs to be done and if it’s going to be air-quality then give us air-quality. I think you are in the position, you’re his boss, and I think you are in a position to help stop this smell.”

If ever a man needed a medical marijuana prescription….

Supervisor McCowen: “I have invited you before. Don’t wait until October; give me a call earlier. I think you have my number.”

Rose: “I have your number.”

McCowen: “Give me a call earlier in the year and I will work with you.”

Rose: “I take it to the authorities the people that are supposed to enforce it. It is not your job to enforce the law.”

McCowen: “No, but I—”

Rose: “But it’s your job to know that when it is not being enforced to see if you can do anything about it. And I don’t need to be dressed down when I’m walking away when I bring it to your attention.”

McCowen: “I’m not dressing you down, Mr. Rose. I’m giving you an invitation. No, it is not my responsibility to go out and make the enforcement, but I actually can ask questions. So again, if you want to be effective, there is an open invitation, give me a call, but please don’t wait until October.”

Rose: “Well, that’s when the smell is overwhelming. I can’t make a call — if you want to know about marijuana, roll your windows down and drive down the middle of State Street, or drive any places, and don’t turn your air conditioner on and you can smell exactly what I smell.”

McCowen: “We are not unaware of the issue.”

Supervisor John Pinches: “Can we direct our Air Pollution Control Office to develop marijuana plants that don’t smell?”

Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “It has something to do with GMOs, Johnny.”

McCowen, turning to the Air Quality boss, “Some of the horticulturalists are working on that. But seriously, while we have you here, Mr. (Chris) Brown, I do know that for eight or ten years at least, we have received a significant number of complaints regarding the odor of marijuana and maybe just for the benefit of the public you could explain what protocols you follow when you receive a complaint and some of the challenges that you might encounter in verifying a complaint and then what actions you are able to take as the air pollution control officer.”

Brown: “First of all, complaints are anonymous. Just like if you call the Sheriff or you call code enforcement or environmental health; any time you call any of those agencies the complaint is anonymous so it’s confidential as we say, your name is not going to be released, it’s not going to be put in the public record in any way, shape or form barring a court order. The most common problem— I’d say complaints are actually down. I’m not sure if it’s because people are less bothered by it, but I think they are calling other agencies at this point. As particularly with 9.31 — complaints used to be for example in the city of Ukiah which went to a no outdoor cultivation at all ordinance and the city of Willits we received virtually no complaints from those entities. We also receive virtually no complaints on the entire coastal strip. It’s basically an inland situation; I think that has to do with the temperature. I know there is cultivation going on in those areas, we just don’t hear about it. A lot of times we go into an area after we receive a complaint; we dispatch an inspector when things are said to be the worst, and what we encounter is a pervasive odor that covers the neighborhood and when you dig a little deeper you find three, four, five grows. In that situation I have very few enforcement tools because we need to have an identifiable source and when we have neighborhoods with multiple grows — Brooktrails, areas of Redwood Valley — it’s very difficult for us to say a certain place is the source of the odor. In a case where I can say that it is the source of the odor it needs to rise to the level of being what’s called a public nuisance. Your counsel can give you a ton of information probably about the difference between a public and a private nuisance. But most of the time the complaints we receive are private nuisances. ‘I can’t sleep in my house. It bothers me.’ And we don’t receive five, ten, fifteen complaints from surrounding neighbors. So at that point the option is for the individual to proceed however they want to proceed with the private nuisance, which can be through civil action of their own. If it does rise to the level of a public nuisance I have the option to go to my hearing board and get an abatement order in fairly quick order and that would be enforced by the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, we have never had to do this; at one point we got to the point of issuing an abatement order when the person voluntarily harvested early to resolve the issue. But we do have that authority, the power lies with the hearing board to resolve that issue and I think my hearing board would be willing to do that if it rose to that level. But it is the single most difficult thing because it is so pervasive that you just can’t do it and we do see situations where people are growing, you know, in violation of 9.31; they are growing too close to a fence line, they are growing too close to their school, they’re growing near a bus stop, they are growing near a church, and we refer those over either to County code enforcement or to the Sheriff’s office and that’s gone back and forth. The Air District does not enforce 9.31; that is a County ordinance, that’s for the county to enforce however they choose to do it. I have discussed the issue with Mr. Dunnicliff [County Planning & Building Director] via e-mail and with the Sheriff’s office to see if we can streamline the process and I think we’re working a little bit on that.”

In other words, pot stench is hardly rotting corpses, and even if it were if everyone in the area has bodies decomposing in their basements how the hell are we going to figure out which basement to take to our blah-blah board.

McCowen: “I think better notification of the public of what the restrictions are because they can be effective tools if they are properly enforced but it’s important to have the public, law enforcement, and anyone else who might be dealing with this to be aware of just what the specific requirements are and they won’t address every issue but they certainly will address hopefully some of the worst ones.”

[It's always fun to watch a politician retreat from a direct statement — “they certainly will” — to mushy terms like “hopefully” and “some of the worst ones,” as they realize in mid-sentence that nothing is even close to “certain.”]

Brown: “Yes, air quality regulations were written for what we call smokestacks where you can turn and you can say that smokestack with the brown plume, that’s the source of what’s bothering people. (When Masonite’s smokestacks were cranking out round-the-clock air pollutants the County did not respond to complaints.) And when you get to these more residential, I call them retail level problems, our rules don’t have the same tools. Clearly, when you can measure from a fence line and a property line and say you are too close, that’s a black-and-white issue, that’s a lot easier to enforce, but that’s not in our realm.”

McCowen: “Maybe we should put it in your realm.”

Brown: “I have enough in my realm.”

* * *

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors solemnly also reviewed their “2012 legislative platform,” two weeks ago. Ordinarily, this process is a perfunctory compilation of fantasy projects prepared by a distant consultant who breezily assures outback rubes that he or she can get federal or state money to, say, dredge Noyo Harbor, erect a biomass plant in Branscomb (where no one much cares what happens), “beautify Willits,” and on through a roster of things that will never happen even if there was some money laying around.

But now that the County is doing its own lobbying (coordinated by Deputy CEO Kristi Furman) the list has become more reality-based.

The Supervisors’ top priority for 2012 was to secure funding for the County’s portion of the state prisoner “realignment” program, which has realigned certain categories of state prison mugs back to the jails of their home counties. Realignment was passed with only a year’s money to pay counties for their suddenly expanded jail populations, but now that Proposition 30 has passed under the guise of “saving the schools” there is supposed to be money available to fund at least another fiscal year of state repatriation.

Other state and federal legislative priorities include: repeal of the $150 CalFire parcel tax, avoiding the closure of the County’s state parks, increasing broadband connections to rural areas of the County, restoring the ag exemption to give farmers and ranchers tax breaks for keeping their land in agriculture, reducing pension debt and cost through pension reform, encouraging efforts to combat trespass and public lands marijuana grows, legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, encouraging and supporting local food programs, streamlining meat processing regulations, supporting the collection of sales tax on out of state internet purchases, pursuing biomass electrical generation plant projects, hanging on to existing program grants, loosening regs on volunteer fire departments, delaying air quality-related vehicle upgrade timelines, delaying water pollution discharge elimination rules, relaxing pesticide regulation, and retaining weights and measures fees.

None of which is going to become a reality except for weights and measures fees, and that’s going to happen because it’s already in place. But it would be nice if most of it did happen.

Wes Chesbro, Noreen Evans and our new Congressman, Spike Huffman, fresh off arguably the most offensively saccaharine and insincere Thank You For Voting For Me letter ever written, are unlikely to be of any help whatsoever realizing the stillborn wish list, but it does reflect what many Mendolanders would like to see happen in Sacramento or Washington DC. (The dozen or so Mendolanders yet to abandon all hope for anything out of our career officeholders, that is.)

After briefly reviewing the list of priorities the Board’s resident Big Thinker, Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, observed, “Something much broader in scope is the whole fight going on over the next two years at least over Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and it just came up in our meeting that these are extremely important for Mendocino County. We have a large number of citizens on SSI, on SSDI, on Social Security, obviously Medicare, and Medi-Cal which is very important to the institution of the new health-care plan beginning in 2014. Anyway, with our very high population of seniors and disabled, these are very important programs. So I think there should be something in our legislative platform that speaks directly to our concerns about those programs. We were assured by Heidi Dickerson, who is going to stay on with Congressman-elect Huffman, soon-to-be Congressman Huffman, that he is going to take a position that is strongly in favor of protecting those benefits and finding revenues to support those funds, those trust funds, and that’s consistent of course with Congressman Thompson who has also supported these programs.”

Jesus H. Christ.

Hamburg apparently hasn’t heard that Obama is aaaaaalllllllll the way on board for social security “reform.”

Supervisor Pinches thought Hamburg might be scaring people with overly-dire predictions: “Just for the viewing public out there, something that Supervisor Hamburg brought up, as far as Medicare and Social Security— but under the proposed federal cuts, which they commonly call the sequestration, which will come into effect right after the first of the year, probably, I would like to list what is exempt from these cuts. It’s important for the people out there. Childcare entitlements to states are exempt. Child nutrition programs, children’s health insurance programs, federal aid to highways, Medicaid, Medi-Cal, Pell Grants, Social Security benefits, supplemental nutrition assistance, Supplemental Social Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Those are programs that are exempt from the sequestration that you’ve been hearing a lot of, and you’ll be hearing more of in the next few weeks. It’s important for the public to know that Social Security benefits and Medicaid and Medicare, they are going to be exempt from the proposed cuts.”

Supervisor John McCowen was worried about future funding of prisoner realigment (sending lower level felons to County jails): “I appreciate the comments regarding Proposition 30 which does, we hope, guarantee funding for public safety realignment. But one thing that concerns me, I think part of Proposition 30, while it guarantees a certain amount of funding, it also removes the state-mandate aspect, or the requirement to reimburse for state mandates. So if it turns out that the funding is not adequate to cover the cost of realignment, the state, I believe, has absolved itself of responsibility. So that’s an issue of concern.”

Hamburg: “I just want to clarify Supervisor Pinches comment which is somewhat different than my comment. I just want to make sure that that’s clear to everybody. What Supervisor Pinches is talking about is sequestration, the so-called fiscal cliff, and the very near-term challenge to come up with a deficit reduction package mainly on the back of defense cuts and I believe the other part of it is Medicare cuts, isn’t it? What is the other major area where the cuts would come? A big hunk of it is defense. And then there’s another cut. Anyway, what I was talking about was not sequestration, but the overall effort over the next two years to deal with Simpson-Bowles and the other commissions that were appointed — well, Simpson-Bowles I guess is the commission that was created by President Obama to make recommendations on how to deal with in the $16 trillion United States debt. So one is a short-term issue; the other is a much longer-term issue, and it’s really the longer-term issue that I was speaking to in terms of having such a dramatic effect on the citizens of Mendocino County.”

Pinches: “May I ask you a question, Supervisor Hamburg?”

Hamburg: “Yes.”

Pinches: “There are cuts to education, federal education funding is pretty minimal, but there are a lot of cuts in health and human services and also in transportation. They are probably not making any more general fund contributions to the federal transportation trust. In other words, the only dollars that will be in the federal transportation trust will be those collected through the federal gas tax on that. So they’re cutting some funding. My point was to certainly support making part of our legislative platform to protect Social Security and Medicare, although I think that’s kind of a no-brainer. I don’t think you see anybody in our federal government is really proposing cutting Medicare or Social Security.”

McCowen: “Representative Ryan?”

Pinches: “The best thing they can do with Social Security is maybe put some of the money back in the trust fund that they have borrowed through the years starting in the Vietnam era. Probably by pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan it would do more for our federal budget than anything else.”

Hamburg: “This is going to be a big political donnybrook. I beg to differ with you, Supervisor Pinches, that nobody wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. Because we just had an election where that was one of the main bones of contention between the two parties. And I’m not even confident— I’m not a Democrat so I can say this — I’m not confident that President Obama is really determined to protect Social Security and Medicare either.”

No, Dan, no! For god’s sake, No! Obama would never betray The Nice People!

Pinches: “I think what they are talking about are cuts in Social Security which are kind of like the way we talk about our pension. It’s for into the future like extending the age when you are eligible. I don’t think anything is on the table that is going to take somebody’s existing Social Security check where they are going to have less money coming in for the next year. They may not get a cost-of-living increase, but I don’t think, I don’t want to scare people by telling them that their next month’s Social Security check is going to be cut or — this is all going to come to a head by March.”

On it went over matters the Supervisors have zero control over — minus zero — given the quality of our legislators at the state and federal levels of government.

The ongoing prob with the Supervisors is their lack of focus. The meetings are free form because CEO Angelo and her staff write the agenda instead of an orderly meeting wherein each department head would report to the Board with a Board-specified series of charts on budget and staffing status, ongoing projects, problems with other departments, major cost drivers and trends, etc., or this or that specific matter instead of the Board winging it on matters they have no control over.

The two central facts of American life, which more or less includes Mendocino County, over the foreseeable future are the ongoing contraction if not collapse of the economy and environmental catastrophes of variously unpredictable kinds from which all manner of chaos will ensue.

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