Bye Bye, Blackbird
by David Severn, July 13, 2016
To Members of the Mendocino County Planning Commission
Owner: Pathways In Education
Applicant: Blackbird Farm, Philo
Agent: Jamie Hall
I would like to thank the Planning Commission and those front counter people in the office who have been moved to tell me within the last couple of weeks how hard the job is when dealing with the public. Yours is a trying and often thankless task not often appreciated by the general public. I thank you all!
Then I would like to say that I am disappointed that the Planning Dept. seems to have made up its mind by creating a draft "Mitigated Negative Declaration" on U_2013-0008 before ever having brought this matter to the public's attention. By doing so you turn we the people into activists fighting the establishment and adversaries instead of welcoming us to be part of the planning process from the beginning — by not involving us from the beginning in the plan that will be imposed upon us. I am told this is standard procedure. Shame on it.
In the "Findings" for this project it is stated, "The applicant has proposed measures … to assure the project will not constitute a nuisance or be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, moral, comfort or general welfare of persons residing or working in or passing through the neighborhood of such proposer use."
My response is: Ha! Show me where.
I find reference to and concern for "disturbance or harassment of owls …” within the proposal findings for U_2013-0008 but where is concern for that other species of critter that will be impacted and put at risk by the magnitude of this project — we humans? The main route, Rays Road, to be travelled by all of the traffic created from development and operation is one of my grandchildren's playgrounds as it was for my children before them. Neighborhood roads are where kids have always played kick-the-can, tag, football and ridden their bikes. There are next door children and children down the road as well. How else can they walk to and from the school bus on Highway 128 but down the street they live on? Rays Road runs through a residential neighborhood. Until just a few years back it was a dead-end road with no through access. Ingress and egress to the property now known as Blackbird Farm previously Highland Ranch was from Philo-Greenwood Road to the West. The construction in 2002 or so of a bridge across the Navarro River for property now known as Shenoa opened the door for an Adverse Possession-fueled prescriptive easement to Highland Ranch now Blackbird Farm via Rays Road and over private ownership land.Even at the current 36 maximum occupancy of Blackbird Farm, vehicle traffic imposed by the low paid "interns" brought in from cities and with no country driving finesse has added to the dangers of playing and even walking on Rays Road. It is absurd to think of making that worse. An irony is that your only concern in your mitigations for Rays Road is for maintaining a smooth ride. But in doing so you only increase and encourage more speed. Potholes slow everybody down and therefore actually make it safer.
And then there is the aforementioned bridge itself. A 10-foot wide over 200 yards long span approached from Rays Road over a longer section of road (300 yards) no wider than 12 feet. In places it is only 10 feet wide with a deep drop off into a rain gully that would high center most cars. (In fact this happened a couple years ago when two cars tried to pass each other in a non-emergency situation. A tow truck had to be called to open the road.) In this 12 foot wide stretch there are two 90 degree blind turns, one left and one right that preclude any visibility and knowledge as to who or what might be coming or going both on the bridge and the stretch approaching it.
Three weeks ago I was on foot and on my way to the River when I came upon a traffic jam of sorts at the first 90 degree left turn where there is a gate. Three vehicles were trying to get out, one to get in. Jockeying with one another with one vehicle pulling into Van Zandt's, the inward bound vehicle backing up so the two remaining cars could squeeze past after a couple of jockeying shifts for all involved. Imagine an emergency vehicle trying to get in and panicky evacuees trying to get out. Disaster itself. Actually they don't even have to be in panic, just a few cars would shut the bridge use down. One car could stop a fire truck or ambulance. Most access driveways for fire apparatus I found on the internet required 20 foot widths. Rays Road is chip seal paved at 16 to 17 foot for its entire length with a few even narrower constrictions.
And remember or be aware and take notice that the Shenoa property that has been laying dormant for a dozen years or so on the southern end of the bridge is positioning to activate with maybe up to 150 "High end" city retreaters or more who will also be not only using my grandkids' playground for routine access but adding to any emergency discombobulation. And any fire emergency very likely would involve both occupant-heavy properties.
The Planning Department encouragement for this abomination of a project for the three years since 2013 that it has been on your desk is unacceptable. That we are given just less than one month to gather our wits and opposing facts is unconscionable. It is no wonder that the public is moved to give that department so much guff.
Much of what you state in your findings for the use permit application U_2013-0008 has been taken as fact from the verbiage of the applicant. In this case hidden behind the name Blackbird Farms is Pathways in Education. Behind that and principal owners of probably more than 50 nonprofit and for-profit incorporated enterprises is John and Joan Hall. In a lawsuit against the pair by the State of California for $53 million in overcharges from their nonprofit Pathways in Education charter school dealings it was revealed that each of them was paid around $300,000 annually for their nonprofit involvement. This figure did not include their income from the for-profit businesses they owned that supplied "Services and supplies" to Pathways in Education. John and Joan claim to be community friendly and supportive. Yet in a friendly conversation I had with John Hall over pumpkin pie I asked if he could sponsor a couple of his interns to attend our local EMT class, explaining that not only would it be good for us but also proactive for him by having certified EMTs on site. His answer was to dismiss any involvement by him and explain that the interns didn't make enough pay to afford the $200 cost. When I asked about the possibility of our local volunteer ambulance personnel using the ropes course for team building again the suggestion was dismissed with a "You know we have to make money here" and no offer to work out a financial possibility. I truly believe the Planning Dept. should take the time to investigate the credibility and motivation of the speakers before taking their word as fact.