File It Under Ridiculous

by Mark Scaramella, November 12, 2008

During a routine discussion of a proposed leash ordinance for the new dog park in Ukiah last Tuesday, Supervisor Pinches casually asked, "How does this ordinance coincide with the state law that says you have to turn your dog loose every so many hours?"

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel was, so to speak, muzzled.

"This applies to the dog park in Ukiah," said Nadel. "I don't know of such a law."

"But there is a state law that says you have to turn your dog loose," insisted Pinches. "You can't keep it contained for over a two or three hour period of time. You have to let it loose for so long and then... In other words the working person is supposed to go home two or three times a day and untie their dog for a period of time. That is a state law. I think when you look it up it's in the index under ridiculous."

"And that's under a special department of the state government too, right?" bow-wowed Supervisor Jim Wattenburger.

Pinches is right, more or less.

As of January 1, 2007 Health and Safety Code Section 122335 has been amended to read, "No person shall tether, fasten, chain, tie, or restrain a dog, or cause a dog to be tethered, fastened, chained, tied, or restrained, to a dog house, tree, fence, or any other stationary object."

However, "[a person may] tether, fasten, chain, or tie a dog no longer than is necessary for the person to complete a temporary task that requires the dog to be restrained for a reasonable period."

And, "'Reasonable period' means a period of time not to exceed three hours in a 24-hour period, or a time that is otherwise approved by animal control."

The point of the law as we read it is not to force "the working person" to go home every three hours to rotate his dog from pole to pole, but to prevent negligent dog owners from tying their mutts to a tree and leaving them tied up for hours, days even.

Supervisor Pinches was also indignant about proposed new State Air Resources Control Board rules which require diesel truck upgrades to reduce air pollution. When Pinches brought the subject up a few weeks ago, all of his fellow board members agreed that the County should oppose the rules because they don't make allowances for short-haul trucking in rural counties and they would be very expensive to comply with. The County's own diesel-powered vehicles would have to be retro-fitted at considerable cost.

Local Air Quality District staff drafted a letter on the new regs recommending that the law be delayed until its impacts on rural counties were assessed.

Pinches said that not one County vehicle currently meets the new standards, and it would be prohibitively expensive to meet them. Besides, he said, rural county air isn't as bad as city air and the rules should be different.

Comptche logger Jerry Philbrick agreed.

"We've done our own study," said Philbrick. "We have 27 diesel vehicles building roads and doing timber operations. Not one will pass the retrofit requirements. There are 33,000 privately owned diesel vehicles that will not meet the criteria. This will put me and 55 employees out of business and out of work."

Philbrick was also unhappy about CalFire's unreasonably restrictive rules on firefighting equipment.

"If one of my neighbors is threatened by a wildfire I'll fight it," said Philbrick. "And you can put your rules you know where. It's ridiculous."

Supervisor Colfax suggested changing the wording to "We oppose the rules until such time as the economic impact on rural communities has been fully addressed and mitigated."

The stronger wording was unanimously approved.

County Water Agency chief Roland Sanford told the Board that the State Water Resources Control Board was considering possible changes to the timing and amounts of water released from Lake Mendocino. Apparently, the state bureaucrats now think that reducing releases will help the fish.

Supervisor Pinches pointed out that there was no mention of Warm Springs Dam in Sonoma County, which currently releases only a very small amount of water to the Russian River for Sonoma County because of its release restrictions.

"We never showed up for previous [flow regime] meetings before and we let Sonoma County run the show," complained Pinches. [These rules are] supposed to tie Warm Springs into the Russian River drainage. Warm Springs must be brought into the mix. That's what [the original rules were] supposed to do."

Greater releases from Warm Springs Dam for Sonoma County would relieve much of the pressure to release Lake Mendocino water which presently flows to Sonoma County. Sonoma County has very little incentive to tap Warm Springs Dam — they'd have to pay to install some pipes — because they get all they need by taking 80% of the water in Lake Mendocino, then selling it at a nice profit to water users all over Sonoma and Marin County. Sonoma County owns almost all the water in Lake Mendocino because Sonoma County put up the money for Coyote Dam and Lake Mendocino in the middle 1950s. Only one Mendocino County supervisor, ahem, my uncle Joe Scaramella, had the foresight to oppose the deal, insisting that the County pay its full share and thus keep the water rights.

Public Health's Stacy Cryer delivered a prolonged statement of the obvious called the "Precautionary Principle." Brought to us by the same people who are "preventing" teen drinking as more teens hit the bottle every year, said that the Precautionary Principle has a "key tenet" that "potential threats lead to a duty to prevent harm," which in turns somehow leads to "ecological living." The Precautionary Principlers want the County to "consider amending its mission statement" to reflect this "state of mind." "It's more about the way we think, more than forms," said Cryer.

Mendo's One True Green, Richard Johnson, suggested that if the Supervisors adopted the Principle they would not only achieve marvelous non-profit-driven environmental objectives but also "reduce the number of fat bureaucrats drawing luxurious pay and perks."

The One True Green, other than this one bracingly insulting remark, rambled incoherently about capitalism and its ills for his allotted three minutes, the three minute time limit being a kind of precautionary principle of its own in these unhinged times. The Supervisors, who tend to the portly, did not respond to Johnson's statements, insofar as they were relevant — or intelligible.

Supervisors Pinches and lame duck Michael Delbar didn't think that the recommendation to start a pilot Precautionary Principle project to study mosquito larvae, as recommended in Public Health's report, was a defensible use of staff time.

Delbar grumbled, "When we're dealing with potential layoffs and the state is spending like drunken sailors, putting us into a financial bind and we know this Precautionary Principle will come back and put a tremendous financial bind on our county, I cannot justify spending 100 hours of staff time on mosquito larvae. I'm having a hard time with that concept. I don't think there's any bang for our buck. I don't question the mindset, but putting resources and staff time to this that we simply don't have, I don't support."

Lame Duck Jim Wattenburger didn't like the idea either. "I applaud the work of the working group," said Wattenburger diplomatically. "But I don't see how this changes what we already do. It's just common sense. I was against it before, and I'm still against it. It's just a few feel-good things. It's an entire bureaucratic process to drag out decisions even more. It's not needed, not warranted. It costs too much. I will vote against it."

The Supes voted 3-2 to simply accept the report, with Delbar and Wattenburger dissenting, apparently in the hope that it will simply disappear. It won't.

After a presentation about the new dam at Brooktrails subdivision northwest of Willits, which is expected to at least partially solve the area's perennial water shortages, Supervisor Pinches noted, "It's commendable of you and the Brooktrails board to develop this water project and increase the size of the dam on a fish-bearing stream. It took you three years. We talk about 10 or 20 years to do a project. [Pinches' reference was to the County's foot-dragging on the Boy Scout Lake expansion project also designed to slake Willits' and maybe Redwood Valley's thirst. Its expanded capacity is a County project, hence Pinches' frustration with its projected expansion as compared to Brooktrails relatively instant increased capacity while leaping similar bureaucratic barriers.] That's just unacceptable. Brooktrails did it in three years on a fish stream. We have been told ten years [for the Boy Scout Lake Project, which is not on a fish-bearing stream.] But if you put attention to it you can do it."

The Supes were updated about the current strategies of dealing with the new breed of homeless campers on the Russian River. Volunteers who battle to keep the river free of pollutants and riverside property owners have complained that squatters along the river east of Ukiah, particularly in the area of the Talmage bridge, were not only aggressively belligerent and menacing they were leaving literal tons of detritus in and around the river.

After a couple of staffers recapped the problem and summarized the County's limited homeless resources, Captain Kurt Smallcomb of the Sheriff's Department told the Supervisors, "We use empathy and compassion on contacts. ... In the last three days of October we issued 22 citations for illegal camping and made five arrests — three for trespassing and refusing to leave, one for failing to register as a sex offender and one for resisting arrest."

Smallcomb said deputies handed out the homeless services info cards as eight County Jail inmates removed roughly 30 cubic yards of garbage.

"There's lots of garbage," said Smallcomb, wrapping up with a dismal prediction that the remaining garbage would "flow into the river before Christmas."

David Yousoupoff, Executive Director of the Ukiah and Coast Community Centers, told the Supes during public expression, "There will always will be homeless who don't want our service. A lot now are transient. They come here for the music festivals, some for marijuana, of course, some for mushroom hunting. There's a whole new movement of young people moving around in groups with dogs. They don't access services except the food bank. The Russian River is only a small example. The problem is more than homeless. It includes teenagers who party there and they leave lots of trash. There are four sites on the coast with the same problem. There's a big one on Big River right now with the same issue. The new anti-camping ordinance has forced more people further into woods. When they move they usually don't bring their stuff, which increases the trash problem. On any given night, there are only 125 emergency beds in the entire County. At last count we found 1500 homeless people in the County. I know there are a lot more than that. There's been a huge increase in homeless families and they get priority access to what services are available. Families and children are first, so there's less for single people. We need a full-time outreach worker for these people. We need more beds. We need some kind of countywide shelter for the winter. The Buddy Eller Center in Ukiah is good but it's just not enough for the needs."

Mendo's Retirement Board has sent out a press release announcing the appointment of former Mendo Chief Admin Officer Jim Andersen as the County's new retirement system boss. The press release gives us a thoroughly unconvincing biography of Mr. Andersen which is supposed to convince us that he's worth the $165k per year plus benefits he's going to get from the County. The press release also says that Andersen will soon be sending out a Request For Proposals for consulting services now the province of consultant Peter Chan. (Never mind that Andersen's predecessor, Tim Knudsen, volunteered to get the RFP out months ago.)

Andersen is also going to "work closely" ... "to preserve health services for retired and eligible active employees." Translation: healthcare cuts and premium increases are imminent because the system's earnings are way off due to the stock market collapse.

PS. The press release predictably fails to include the following item approved on the Supervisors consent calendar late last month: "The Retirement Board has requested on behalf of Retirement Administrator candidate Jim Andersen [our emphasis], that in addition to benefits, that Mr. Andersen also receive a beginning vacation balance of 80 hours, with an accrual rate of five weeks per year, the rate at which a 15-year employee accrues vacation. In addition, the Retirement Board requests that Mr. Andersen receive a beginning sick leave balance of 48 hours. Mr. Andersen was previously a 17-year employee. When he left employment with Mendocino County in 2004, Mr. Andersen was accruing vacation at the five-week per year rate. In addition, Mr. Andersen carried a sick leave bank of over 1300 hours, which he forfeited when he left [for Sonoma County's Assistant CEO job] in 2004."

This is belt-tightening, Mendo style.

Ordinary employees would never get such generous reinstatements when they come back to the County to work, especially after leaving for higher pay then returning at much higher pay.

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