Mendocino County Today: June 17, 2013

by AVA News Service, June 16, 2013

A BIG ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP is rumored to have offered $300k to the Skunk Line to repair and restore the collapsed tunnel in return for a conservation easement on the railroad right of way (or the part that's not already in conservation easement, such as the old-growth redwoods on the Willits side at the switchbacks). It’s not official yet, but apparently an offer has been made and it’s hard to imagine the railroad line would turn it down. If the deal is done, it’ll be announced soon. If it pans out it’ll be a win-win in the honest sense of the term.

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A LOCAL READER advises that phone customers should be wary of switching to Verizon phone service to get the cheaper promotional rate for a relative’s or friend’s cellphone. After seven months of poor Verizon service, the local man tried to cancel and switch back to AT&T, but the fees and other added charges for switching were more than the amount saved for the cheaper cellphone/service (although the cellphone service itelf was ok). “The NSA should have a field day with this,” the reader said. “I’ll bet a lot of the calls their picking up are people who are only calling because of Verizon’s lousy service.”

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FISH ROCK ROAD will be getting some long-overdue “sediment reduction” treatment (presumably gravel and rock) in “multiple locations” later this year and into next year as part of the slow-moving “TMDL” (Total Maximum Daily Load) program for the Garcia River which mandates various kinds of attempts at reducing the amount of sediment in that fish-bearing river. 75% of the money will come from a state grant and 25% from the County road fund. Specific costs, schedules and locations will be announced after the contract is awarded.

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EXHIBIT B OF THE CONTRACTS with the Ortner Management Group and Redwood Management Company, the two companies which will provide adult mental health services for Mendocino County under the new privatization regime, describes the payments that Ortner and Redwood will get for their services. You might think that lawyers are well-paid for their “billable hours,” and you’d be right. But Ortner and Redwood take that one step further with a schedule for “billable minutes.”

ORTNER AND REDWOOD will get $2.61 per minute for “assessment/plan development/case conferencing therapy (individual, group and family)/ collateral services rehabilitation services (individual & group)”; and for “therapeutic behavioral services.” They’ll get $2.02 per minute for “case management linkage.” $3.88 per minute for “crisis intervention.” And $4.82 per minute for “medication management and support.” (Note: $2.02 per minute is about $121 per hour. $2.61 per minute is about $157 per hour. $3.88 per minute is about $233 per hour. And $4.82 per minute is about $290 per hour.)

THIS WILL BRING a whole new meaning to the phrase, “The meter is running.” At least with a taxi driver you have a decent chance of getting where you want to go, or at least knowing you’re not moving.

PS. At an average of, say, $3.00 per minute with a contract value estimated to be $6.7 million… The taxpayers would be paying Ortner for the equivalent about 18 people charging by the minute for one year. Redwood’s contract value is about $8.8 million which translates to the equivalent of almost 24 people charging by the minute.

THE CONTRACTS also call for the County to provide technical assistance training to these contract staffers, most of which is to teach the contract staff how to fill out and file their bills. You’d think that for hundreds of dollars an hour they’d be able to handle that themselves, but… There’s no indication of whether the staffers who are paid by the minute are also paid while they’re in training, but…

THE TRICKY PART OF THIS, beyond the obvious rip-off of course, is how the remainder of the County mental health staff will feel knowing their conversations with the contractor’s helping professionals who are now doing their jobs are being paid much more than they got as government employees — by the minute, much less the process leading to authorizing mentally ill people into privatized treatment programs knowing that having a helping professional talk to a mildly crazy person is going to cost hundreds of dollars for each hour of allegedly helpful conversation.

SINCE many of Mendo’s mentally ill are so-called “dual diagnosis” patients (i.e., their mental illness is intermingled with their addiction to drugs both legal and illegal), there’s a bottomless pit of clients to generate billable minutes with, whether it’s talking to the client, writing things down about the client or going to court to get the client institutionalized. Or detailing their bill down to the minute.

BILLABLE MINUTES. That may be the single biggest reason NOT to privatize mental health services. Reducing mental health services, some of which we’ll concede may help the client or his/her family at times, to how many billable minutes are involved in dealing with them is about as impersonal and inhumane as you can get.

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ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS about the County’s proposed budget for next year (starting July 1, 2013) is how the $53 million of “discretionary revenue” spending breaks down. (The rest of the county’s total budget of well over $200 million is driven by specific state and federal programs and grants over which the County has essentially no control.) Of the $53 million, the Sheriff, Jail, District Attorney, Public Defender, Alternate Public Defender, “Conflict Defender,” Juvenile Hall, and Probation, aka the criminal justice system (not counting the courts) get almost $31 million, or almost 60%. The rest is spread amongst some 40 other departments including the Executive Office, Clerk of the Board and the Board of Supervisors which together cost $2 million off the top. The other departments which cost more than $1 million are: Assessor, Buildings and Grounds, Information Services, Planning and Building, Social Services Administration, CalWorks/Foster Care, and In Home Supportive Services. The County spends almost $600k on “General Relief/Assistance,” but a good chunk of that is for the staff who provide it so the actual “relief/assistance” is only a fraction of the $600k.

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ASSET FORFEITURE is a subject that was frequently brought up under former District Attorney Meredith Lintott’s tenure when asset forfeiture values seemed disproportionately high. It has pretty much dropped off the public’s radar screen since DA David Eyster took office. But the program, mostly stemming from drug related arrests, continues to generate huge amounts of money for Mendocino County. In 2009 Mendo took in about $2.6 million and distributed about $2.1 million. In 2010, Mendo took in about $1.8 million and distributed about $1.9 million. In 2011, Mendo took in about $1.6 million and distributed almost $2.4 million. In 2012 Mendo took in over $2.3 million and distributed almost $1.6 million. And so far in 2013 Mendo is on pace to end up with about $2.1 million in seized cash and assets for the year. (The numbers don’t add up because apparently money is carried over from year to year and some of it is returned after criminal cases are concluded.)

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FISHING, ENVIRONMENTAL, FARMING GROUPS WILL SUE TO HALT DELTA PLAN

by Dan Bacher

In the latest escalation of the California water wars, a statewide coalition of fishing, environmental and farming groups on Monday, June 17 will announce the filing of a lawsuit to stop the Delta Plan, a document that lays the groundwork for the Delta water export tunnels.

The details of the lawsuit will be released to the media through a press release and 10:30 am conference call. The groups filing the litigation include the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, AquAlliance, Restore the Delta, Friends of the River and Center for Biological Diversity.

"The Delta Reform Act gave the Delta Stewardship Council a historic opportunity to remedy 40 years of water policy failures,” said Santa Barbara resident Carolee Krieger, executive director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a statewide water advocacy organization.

"The council instead failed to use the best available science – biological or economic - and adopted a status quo program that fails to fix the Delta or the water supply problem. The Council failed to honor its own mandate: the adoption of an effective strategy for the distribution of water and the preservation of the Delta,” Krieger stated.

The conference call will feature Carolee Krieger, representing C-WIN; Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance; Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance; Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta; Michael Jackson, Attorney for several groups; Bob Wright, Attorney for Friends of the River; Adam Lazar, Center for Biological Diversity.

Attorney Mike Jackson said the lawsuit’s purpose is to rectify the Delta Stewardship Council’s ignoring of the requirements placed on them by the Delta Reform Act.

Jackson explained, “As an example, the Delta Reform Act told the State Water Resources Control Board to do a water flow investigation to find out what it would take to protect the estuary. The state board turned in a flow recommendation and the Council didn't use the flows in the plan.”

“The Delta Reform Act also instructed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to report to the Council what the biological goals and objectives should be for species in the Delta. The CDFW wrote hundreds of pages in a report and turned it in to the Council. The Council not only did not use it, but didn't even mention the goals and objectives in the plan,” he said.

“Finally, the Delta Reform Act instructed the Delta Protection Commission to write a report about economic sustainability. The Commission wrote the report and turned it in to the Council - and again, they didn't use it,” said Jackson.

The common thread?

“In all three cases, the documents were inconvenient to the approval of the tunnels," Jackson emphasized.

Jackson said the Delta Plan also violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in ten different ways.

For more information, contact: Steve Hopcraft 916/457-5546; steve [at] hopcraft.com Twitter: @shopcraft.

The litigation by Delta advocates follows the lawsuit filed by the Westlands Water District and San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority on May 24 to require the Delta Stewardship Council to revise the Delta Plan "to be consistent with the 2009 Delta Reform Act, which created the Council." (http://yubanet.com/california/Dan-Bacher-Westlands-Water-District-Files-Lawsuit-Against-Delta-Plan.php)

"In particular, the action asserts that the Delta Plan fails to achieve the co-equal goals of Delta ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability established by the Act," the district said.

“The Delta Plan may be the most incomplete environmental document I’ve ever seen and, in that regard, I do agree with Westlands,” said Jackson.

In other Delta news, a group of over 30 organizations from across the political spectrum have formed Californians for a Fair Water Policy. This statewide coalition is working to defeat the $54.1 billion tunnels project that will “unfairly and unnecessarily burden California’s taxpayers, ratepayers, and the environment.” (http://www.fishsniffer.com/reports/details/statewide-campaign-launched-to-defeat-governor-browns-50-billion-water-tunn/)

Besides being enormously expensive, the construction of the tunnels is likely to hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species and would take vast areas of Delta farmland, among the most fertile on the planet, out of production in order to provide massive amounts of water to irrigate drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. The Delta Plan lays the groundwork for the construction of the salmon-killing tunnels.

The tunnel plan also threatens the Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath River and the only out-of-basin water supply diverted into the Central Valley. The legendary salmon and steelhead river flows though the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and Humboldt County before joining the Klamath at Weitchpec.

To my knowledge, no river system or estuary has ever been restored by taking more water out of it.

More information about the battle to fight the tunnels is available at http://www.restorethedelta.org.

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