Litter Bugs And Drunk Sailors

by Mark Scaramella, April 29, 2009

With minimal discussion at their meeting of Monday, April 20th, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved nearly all proposed departmental fees, approved them at double, sometimes even triple their present costs.

But our leaders didn't like the way the garbage fee increases were formatted, and they questioned how such big increases were arrived at. (Boonville's dump fees would nearly triple.)

However, by the time the garbage fee increase guy, Scott Miller, arrived to provide some answers, the Board had already decided to put off the discussion until May 19th.

Representatives of the County's two existing trash haulers told the Board that if they increased the rates as much as was proposed, there'd not only be a lot of trash dumped on streets and in streams, there would be a likely proliferation of "illegal haulers" who spring up whenever dump fees or commercial trash pickup rates go up. Non-sanctioned haulers tend not to be overly scrupulous in off-loading society's detritus.

Most of the other approved fee increases were justified as necessary to pay increased salaries and benefits of County workers. Mendocino Employers Council rep John Graf told the Board that government agencies were not allowed to pile overhead on top of line worker salaries in calculating fees for public services, but nobody in authority even brought up that question, and the proposed fee increases remained much larger than wage and benefit increases seemed to justify.

(Mathematics in Mendocino County is often a matter of interpretation.)

Instead of probing the validity of the new fees, most of Monday's meeting was devoted to yet another dreary stab at dealing with Mendo's ongoing preoccupation — Marijuana.

County Counsel Jeanine Nadel told the Supes that the only way to formalize Sheriff Allman's zip-tie program was to revise County Code Section 9.31, the pot regulation section, which was prepared last year with minimal public input by former Supervisors Jim Wattenburger and Mike Delbar. Ms. Nadel had added several new sections and "clarifications" besides the zip-tie program — two of which were particularly unpopular:

  • Summary Abatement: "(A) In the event there are more than 25 plants found on a parcel the nuisance may be abated in accordance with the procedures provided in this Chapter. Nothing in this Chapter shall be construed to limit the right and duty of any Enforcement Officer to summarily abate the nuisance by any reasonable means and without notice or hearing when immediate action is necessary to preserve or protect the public health or safety."
  • The eradication fee will be $1352 per eradication.

Predictably, the medical marijuana brigade didn't like Nadel's add-ons.

Cannabis activist Ukiah Sativa Morrison told the Supes that the pot people didn't get enough notice of Nadel's edit.

"This is disingenuous," Morrison complained, reaching into his limited bag of denunciations for his freshly coined, "This is instigating," adding, "It's counterproductive," in case the supervisors didn't understand that Morrison didn't like the rule changes.

"You probably think most of us will be at a party or sleeping in," Morrison told the nonplused supes, not one of whom had given so much as the slightest indication that they were at all interested in speculating on the private lives of the pot people. "Well, obviously, that's not the case," Morrison declared with a magnanimous wave at the hearty band of stoners comprising the audience.

Morrison concluded that the Supes should involve the pot people in all discussions of pot.

Pebs Trippet enumerated her beefs: There had been no public comment from cannabis patients; no timely notice of Nadel's amendments; an absence of communication between the pot people and the Board; that the title should include the word "medical"; that there was no definition of "marijuana" in its various processing phases; that summary eradication is a bad idea; that growers are not given due process; that patients are singled out for unequal treatment compared to other nuisances; that there's no distinction made between indoor and outdoor grows; that the fines are excessive — $100 per day; that the appeal deadline is too short, like a Grateful Dead concert. Etc.

"This is not helpful for people with lives who need medicine," said Trippet. "It's draconian! We need a respectful process. The medical marijuana community is here to stay. We are going to get more and more serious."

Sheila Dawn of Mendocino put it more bluntly: "This is vague and subjective. Who decides what needs summary abatement? A neighbor with a grudge? This is police harassment. We already have a problem with asset forfeiture tied into the Sheriff's activities. These fees will be paid by the people they bust! So we are paying the Sheriff to harass us further and violate our rights. If this is voted in, I think it will go to court. The medical marijuana community is ready to fight this ordinance."

Richard "The One True Green" Johnson told the board: "Marijuana prohibition is counterproductive. It's impossible to regulate. ... A moderate amount should be ok. This is too draconian and overly restrictive."

"Draconian" seemed to be the day's watchword. From the frequency it was invoked one might have thought Nadel had amended the pot ordinance to include waterboarding — with a bong.

Supervisor Colfax was inspired to launch another of his patented, Queeg-like free associations. We followed the bouncing ball of his presentation as best we could, picking out the more lucid of the supervisor's remarks.

Colfax seemed to say that he didn't think Nadel's draft and the voluntary zip-tie program would work.

"A zip tie just says, 'I love you sheriff.' ... There's no solution until it's permitted for anyone who cares to grow it like lettuce and broccoli and other vegetables."

Colfax said the no-notice summary abatement procedure "disturbs me. There's no notice or hearing because immediate action is required to stop a monster plant from falling over and hitting a three year old in the garden? (Bonged?) What is a conceivable immediate action to preserve the public health and safety? People tripping over plants? The plants are too close together? The fence has a hole in it?" ... "Enforcement or coercion is at the heart of this document. It is not defensible logically or economically." "[Trying to regulate marijuana] is creating a monster." ... "Sending people to jail for growing a plant is very illogical. It's bad government."

Neo-pot hard-liner Supervisor John McCowen replied, "I wonder if Mr. Colfax read the same thing I have. There is no criminal offense here. No one goes to jail due to this ordinance." ... "Zip ties simply help the Sheriff do his job." ... "Most of this has been law since February of 2008."

Supervisor Pinches said he supported the new language because it officially introduced the voluntary zip-tie program. Pinches expressed no concern about the summary abatement process, eradication or eradication fees.

Supervisor Kendall Smith said she didn't like the "process" that had been used to get to this point, that the Supervisors had not had an opportunity to discuss it.

Sheriff Allman, the Micawber of Northcoast law enforcement was, as always, undaunted. The Sheriff explained that the $70 per zip-tie charge mentioned in some of the fee backup paperwork included compliance check costs, but he was proposing $25 for now.

Boldly standing recent reality on its head, the Sheriff denied that his deputies are raiding small gardens.

"We are not looking to eradicate marijuana from people on the edge (of the plant count limit)," he said, "but those abusing the privilege Proposition 215 gave them. It's clear that we focus on the large commercial grows. There may be one or two poster child cases which are not abusive growers. [Hello, Laurel Krauss. Hello Smitty. Hello Kolbergs. Hello Munsons. And these are only the ones we remember off the top.] Those are the exception rather than the rule. We will go after the in-your-face growers, where neighbors can't enjoy fresh air. This allows people to know what the laws are. Otherwise there would be continued confusion."

After more than three hours, the Supes voted 3-2 to adopt Nadel's "draconian" version of the County's pot ordinance, Smith and Colfax dissenting, complete with discounts for MediCal enrollees and disabled vets. (This is, after all, Mendocino County.) The revamped ordinance will be brought back to the Board for review in a few months, by which time Mendocino County's number one cash crop will be bursting on the vine from Gualala to Covelo.

* * *

The only significant news, if one can call it that, to come out of the regular Tuesday meeting the next day was that Mendo will begin to address next year's ballooning budget deficit on Tuesday, May 19 at their first budget workshop. At that time, CEO Tom Mitchell said he'd be ready with a list of possible layoffs to close a budget gap currently estimated to be somewhere between $8 and $10 million. Mitchell told the Supes that layoffs take seven weeks to process, which would mean that they won't start until after the next fiscal year begins. But as with most of CEO Mitchell's pronouncements, this layoff presentation is unlikely to achieve anything like 6 to 10 million dollars, nor be on schedule. County employees will have to wait several more weeks to find out which of them will get the axe.

Rumors circulating in employee circles have it that more and more employees are coming to the conclusion that the County should just make the layoffs now and get it over with — salary cuts, hour cuts, and benefit give backs are only postponing the inevitable. After all, the County's overall budget, even with an $8 million dollar revenue gap, will still be more than $220 million. Just three years ago the annual budget came in at $186 million. So even after the cuts, the budget will still be more than $35 million more than three years ago.

Supervisors John McCowen and Carre Brown introduced a discussion of the confusing and overlapping Board committees dealing with water issues. CEO Tom Mitchell complained that "staff" was getting "conflicting instructions" from various Supervisors about water. "This puts us in an awkward position," complained Mitchell.

Solution: Convene a water "summit" some day, maybe, when we're completely dry.

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