Off the Record 12/23/2009
by AVA News Service, December 23, 2009
THE COUNTRY may be sliding into permanent Depression, but Mendocino County’s judges, already more numerous in relation to the County’s sparse population than they are in any other county in the state, are apparently going to get themselves a new Courthouse, complete with indoor parking to spare their majesties the indignities of sharing public sidewalks.
THE EXISTING COURTHOUSE works fine. There’s no need for a new one, but lawyers make the rules, and when the lawyers organized as judges go to the lawyers organized as a state legislature the lawyers are going to get their way. Which is why an “estimated $119.9 million” will be invested in a major eyesore off West Perkins Street where the abandoned train depot now rests in open fields of windblown trash opposite the Adventist Hospital complex. The new courthouse will give us twin eyesores only a long block from the present County Courthouse, also an eyesore but one we’re at least used to. And as we all know, whenever a public agency precedes a dollar amount with the verb ‘estimated’ you can double the estimate and still be a hundred mil short. This baby, assuming it gets built, will cost a lot more than $119.9 million.
BEFORE IT WAS slathered over with police state stone and one-way junta glass back in 1950, the year America went blind, the County Courthouse in Ukiah was a kind of architectural wonder, the County' seat's unique Gothic anchor, the largest building in town, but a graceful structure in its way and one everyone could be proud of. Of course the old Courthouse was built in the 19th century when local moneybags took some pride in what their towns looked like. It's been structural barbarism ever since. Naturally, most of today's judges and lawyers live on Ukiah's 19th century west side.
IF YOU’RE WONDERING what the new County Courthouse is going to look like drive up to Willits for a look at the Willits Courthouse. Imagine it quadruple-size, imagine it squatting on West Perkins opposite the jumble of double-wide-like structures assembled by the Adventists on the other side of the street.
THE WILLITS COURTHOUSE reaches right into your heart and squeezes it dead. When that malignant concrete excrescence was plunked down in central Willits opposite what was once an attractive, gracious little town square erected, of course, in the 19th century, the legal community welcomed it as more evidence of their commitment to public convenience. No consideration was given to what the thing would look like, but North County people wouldn't have to drive all the way to Ukiah for legal business. They could do it in Willits. Twenty years later, due to the disappearance of the money, the Willits courthouse has had to be closed and except for the random drunk driver and ab poacher processed Dominic Affinito's Ten Mile Court, most of the County's legal business, all the important stuff for sure, is done in Ukiah.
THE TRIUMPHANT press release announcing the new Courthouse was signed by “Presiding Judge of the Superior Court Cindee Mayfield,” who I remember flouncing around the Courthouse in a mini-skirt as Mayfield and Jared Carter fended off the tree huggers while Louisiana-Pacific completed its Mendo mop-up ops, Carter and Mayfield facilitating the final destruction of the County’s timber industry. (If that won’t earn a girl a promotion what will?)
JUDGE MAYFIELD, with all the County’s boy judges peering expectantly out from behind her solemn robes, says, “The Mendocino County Courthouse is inefficient, inaccessible and deteriorating. A new courthouse will greatly benefit the people of Mendocino County who come to court to do business or serve on juries.”
NO IT WON'T. The people of Mendocino County haven’t benefited in the slightest since the County’s far flung justice courts were “reorganized” out of existence back in '75. Mendocino County's legal business used to be resolved where it occurred, not in a central structure presided over by self-selected people who make $165,000 a year. There were once murder trials in Boonville! Which is as it should be. The present arrangements are made with one consideration in mind — the comfort and welfare of the apparatus itself. And now they're getting themselves a new courthouse, and Ukiah is getting another very big, very bad building to go with all its very bad little buildings. I mean really, when you think that medieval Turks could erect the splendors of Istanbul, not to mention the Romans and the Greeks even further back with the architectural glories they managed, but the best us moderns can do is Willits and Ukiah? Is this what the professors mean when they talk about devolution?
NATURALLY, the new courthouse, projected to occupy 4.4 acres presently owned by the defunct railroad, is touted as a huge economic boost for Ukiah. Judge Mayfield tells us, “This project is.....estimated to create nearly 3,000 direct and indirect jobs..... and is scheduled for completion by spring 2015.”
IN FACT, it will be bid out, and some outfit from Sacramento will get the work because the local guys won't be, well, they won't be big enough and connected enough, and even that decision will be sloughed off to Sacramento where it will be designed to fit in with the nearby Hampton Inn and WalMart, and the splendors of the Adventist Hospital complex across the street.
WILL THE PEOPLE working and being “served” in the new Courthouse walk a quarter mile west to eat and shop in what's left of old Ukiah? Doubt it. More likely they'll shuffle across Perkins to sample the delights of the Pear Tree Shopping Center, or east to the big boxes straddling 101 for Applebee's and Taco Bell. What's left of old Ukiah will suffer another gut shot.
IF ANN MOORMAN’S list of endorsers is any guide, she’s a lock for Superior Court Judge. She’s got all the judges except Brown, and his absence is probably an oversight, and she has what appears to be just about all of the County’s lawyers sober enough to sign up as her endorsers. She's also got most of Inland Lib, a virtual Who's Who of the Wrong People. Any candidate who generates this kind of enthusiasm from these people makes a skeptic wonder what’s wrong with her.
HER RHETORIC, for one thing: Ms. Moorman says she’s for “stopping gang expansion and gang violence” Anyone for more gangs and gang violence? And she's for drug and alcohol treatment instead of incarceration. But drunks and dopeheads are already stacked four-high in prison gyms; we can’t put any more of them inside anyway. Ann is also “for protecting elderly women and children from abuse and neglect,” a bold stance we assume doesn't mean she wants to see old men recycled for dog food. And the candidate is for an “innovative and responsive judicial system.” That’ll be the day in this county. Overall translation: “I’ve been grinning at you feebs for many years, and now that I have a shot at a cush lifetime job I'm going to goddamn collect or know why!”
CAREN CALLAHAN is also running for the judge job vacated by Leonard LaCasse. Ms. Callahan's candidacy seems to have gotten lost in the Moorman din, but she's got a lot going for her, I'd say, and she spares us the grim roster of lib lab endorsers and the sappy rhetoric, too. Ms. Callahan is a former cop who passed the bar exam without going to college because she had to work, and right there you've got proof of impressive self-discipline. No child of privilege here. This lady came up the hard way, which usually means the broader human sympathy we should want in a judge. Callahan says she wants to be judge because “Matters of the court touch not only the lives of plaintiffs and defendants and their attorneys, but all citizens. I will serve the position of judge with honesty, impartiality, and with the utmost respect for the law and for all citizens of Mendocino County.” I'll bet she would, too.
RUG RUNNING, THE UPDATE: That $5,000 Mendocino Art Center rug stored at Dr. Richard Miller's Mendocino home is back at the Art Center just in time for the Center's 50th anniversary celebration. Miller, who's best known locally for the audio snake oil he force feeds the unwary on KZYX, also serves as an Art Center trustee. Miller had offered the Art Center $500 for the Axminster, if that's what it is. Which was already in Miller's grasping possession for alleged safe keeping. But the Art Center board said no way hustler man are you getting a $5,000 rug for $500 bucks and the Doc, clearly miffed, ordered the Center to retrieve the captive carpet at exactly 7:30 the very next morning. No punctuality, no rug. But the Art Center made the appointment as per hostage protocols and the rug is back where it belongs.
THAT HUGE and hugely unprecedented $23k raise proposed for Board Clerk Kristi Furman last week was pulled from the consent calendar and sent back to the Human Resources Department “for further consideration.” It may have been considered in the first place to compensate the poor thing for all the time she spent running away from former supervisor Delbar, the admin building's resident sexual harrasser, but it was too much, way too much even for flush times.
“THE TIMING is wrong,” said Board Chair John Pinches as he pulled it, apparently not recognizing that the timing for giant raises for already well-compensated people will never be right except for ballplayers. “The board certainly has a strong desire to recognize the extra work that the clerk of the board does,” Pinches intoned, adding that the Board “basically gave a commitment” two or three years ago to “adjust” the board clerk's salary. “Everybody agreed that [she] was underpaid for the job that [she] does,” said Pinches. “But it's just really not the right time. It's not that it's going away; we will be discussing it in the future.” “I clearly believe our Clerk of the Board needs to be compensated at a better rate than it's at right now,” continued Pinches, “whether it's Kristi Furman in that position, or somebody else, because the expertise and the education, the workload… It's not a secretarial position.”
IF THINGS DON’T CHANGE, Mendocino County is looking at a $1.6 million deficit through the first quarter, which runs July through October but better late than never we suppose. Most of the deficit is based on a combination of revenue shortfalls and cost overruns in Mental Health, the Sheriff’s office and the District Attorney’s office. County budget ace Jennifer Wyatt said that a lot of the Mental Health shortfall will be made up for by underruns in other areas of Health and Human Services. Sheriff Allman expects to be almost $800,000 in the red but anticipates federal stimulus funding to make up at least part of the shortfall. The District Attorney settled a bed tax default by a Coastal B&B for $200k instead of the $450k owed, and timber tax revenues are also $250k less than predicted.
SHERIFF ALLMAN insisted that his budget tightening efforts have not significantly reduced service. The Sheriff has severely limited overtime and has put two deputies in most patrol cars to save on mileage. “You have not heard complaints from your constituents because we are still delivering the level of service that people expect,” insisted Allman. Allman said five patrol deputy slots — two in Covelo and two or three on the Coast (and perhaps one in Anderson Valley) remained only partially funded but hoped federal money solidify them. If the County threatens to cut his budget to the point that he has to lay off the five newest deputies, Allman vowed, “I am going to fight that.”
THE PROMISES by staff that the budget gap would be reduced to something closer to a manageable level between now and next June 30 seemed to satisfy supervisors McCowen, Brown and Pinches, but Smith and Colfax, as usual barely coherent, complained at tedious, repetitious length about the County’s poor reporting system and the overdrawn departments, but, as usual, offered nothing in the way of suggested improvements. They also dragged their feet when McCowen moved to dump Mendocino County's two (count 'em) lobbyists. Why Mendocino County pays lobbyists on top of its elected reps is not known, and never has been explained except they seem to be people close to Mike Binahbro, the Northcoast's professional officeholders.
ASSISTANT CEO Carmel Angelo obviously now functioning as the CEO while the man occupying the position draws big pay to do absolutely nothing, told the Board that the departments with potential budget deficits have prepared mitigating back-up plans, not that anybody asked to see them. Broke or not, the Board voted 3-2, Colfax and Smith dissenting, to authorize staff to fill 17 budgeted vacancies as recommended by the Chief Executive’s Office.
DURING public expression Willits resident and former Social Services manager/troubleshooter Ana Mahoney, as always clearheaded, told the Board that the County was still top-heavy with managers but not particularly well-managed, not that the board seemed interested. Mahoney also asked the Board to consider putting a tax proposal on the ballot next year. To this, Supervisor Kendall Smith replied, “I will be bringing a proposal to form an exploratory committee to consider tax proposals in January.” Based on Mendo's history with “exploratory committees” (aka dumping grounds) and the general resistance to tax increases — especially when proposed by people with little political support, such proposals, even if pegged to specific services like law enforcement — will be a very hard sell.
LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA will easily qualify for next year’s state ballot. The “I guarantee it” guy himself, George Zimmer of Men’s Wearhouse, has put up ten grand, and who would have pegged him as a pot militant? But Richard Lee of Oaksterdam School of Pot and Politics has put up many thousands more from the literal millions he's made selling marijuana in Oakland. But getting a legalization measure on the ballot and getting it passed are hardly synonymous. Passing it will mean convincing several million non-believers that local governments can efficiently license and tax producers and sales. Then there’s the problem of convincing voting parents that the drug can be kept away from the three remaining kids in the state who haven't yet picked up the bong because they're still on the pharmaceutical speed the schools put them on for “hyperactivity.”
LAST WEEK a Redwood Valley couple, Jeff and Maureen Taylor got Planning Commission approval to subdivide their nine-acre property into four separate parcels. A big issue was whether there was enough water to support four parcels. The Planning Department and the Water Agency both insisted that the Taylors needed four test wells drilled and the results run through a hydrologic test to determine if there was adequate water on each. The Taylors had told the Planning Commission that if they were required to conduct time-consuming and expensive hydrologic studies they would simply withdraw the subdivision request and eat the cost of preparing it to this point.
THE POINT? When the Garden’s Gate project was approved last month for up to 200 new residential units on a former vineyard site south of Ukiah, the Water Agency wasn’t even consulted and the Planning Commission wasn’t even in the decision loop. Chief Planner Frank Lynch insisted that because the draft Ukiah Valley Area Plan had vaguely alluded to water there would be plenty for the large Garden's Gate development. Nobody mentioned water availability and hydrologic studies. A 2005 “will serve” letter from the Millview Water District, which had no technical basis whatsoever, was taken as proof that there would be water for the 200 homes when they were built.
THE TYPICALLY MENDO MORAL of the story? If you want to make a modest subdivision prepare yourself for many rinsings by the bureaucratic wringer. But if you want to build 200 homes with lots more water demand, all you have to say is you have a five-year-old one-sentence will-serve letter and you’re home free.
ON DECEMBER 20, 2009, at approximately 7:45pm, a 55 year-old woman returned to her cabin at 23210 Spy Rock Road to find a man she had never met before inside the cabin. The cabin is located 13 miles out Spy Rock Road in a very remote and inaccessible area of the county accessed through several locked gates. The female victim confronted the trespasser, later identified as Joey Len Gunter, 36, of Willits, and demanded he leave her house. Gunter refused to leave. He advanced aggressively toward the victim. She fired one warning shot into the air with a handgun. The shot made no impression on Gunter who continued to advance toward her. She, and a male cousin accompanying her, fled the area and contacted the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office. The property owner advised deputies that the subject who had taken over her home had been strangely aggressive and that he had access to firearms and ammunition inside the home. Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies, assisted by an officer from the California Highway Patrol, responded to the cabin at approximately 10pm that night. Due to the danger of confronting the potentially armed subject inside the home, a Mendocino County Sheriff's K-9 was sent into the home to apprehend the suspect. MCSO K-9 unit “Dutch” apprehended the suspect in a bedroom, pulling the armed suspect to the ground, enabling officers to take Gunter into custody without a more serious use of force. Gunter had armed himself with a .38 caliber revolver from the home, worn in a holster. Within arm's reach were a .30-.30 rifle and short-barreled 12 gauge shotgun. All three weapons were loaded. Gunter was lodged at the Mendocino County Jail for several felonies involving theft, vandalism, possession of stolen property and weapons violations. The 12 gauge shotgun and a Yamaha four-wheel ATV found at the scene appeared to have been the product of other recent burglaries in the Spy Rock area. The suspect admitted to stealing from seven homes and seasonal-use cabins in the Spy Rock area over the last few months. If you have been the victim of a recent theft in that area or have additional information regarding these crimes contact Deputy Clint Wyant at (707)459-7833.