- Mendocino County
- Anderson Valley
by AVA News Service, August 5, 2016
WHISTLING PAST BANKRUPTCY — MENDOCINO COUNTY IS FISCALLY DEAD BUT WON'T DIE
by Mark Scaramella
My brother was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in December of 2013, the same month he had planned to retire from County employment, having achieved the grand age of 65. Hugh had a law degree and he was bilingual. Before working for the County he was an administrative law judge for welfare appeals in Sacramento in the 1980s. He had worked for the county as an eligibility worker, trainer, analyst, and hearing officer for the last 15 years of his life under a parade of mostly inept Social Services managers.
He died in July of 2014 having used up his accrued vacation, accrued sick time, and a few weeks of disability. (He made all these detailed arrangements from his sick bed with his cell phone, having been a go-to expert for government benefits most of his life.)
Hugh would have been eligible for his pension in July of 2014, but he died before he received any pension benefits, saving the the County the $17,000 annual pension he would have received for what the actuaries estimated to be at least 20 more years of life.
My brother was representative of the low end of County pensioners; not many people would begrudge him and his fellow line workers their modest pensions, much of which comes from money they paid into for years through paycheck deductions. (My brother's pension would have been larger had he worked for the county for more than the 15 years).
But there are County pensioners we might well begrudge because dozens of Mendoland's recently retired top officials and salary earners, many of them cops, are getting yearly pensions in retirement which are at least three times what most active wage earning Mendocino County residents earn.
A few other noteworthy pensions:
County Auditor Meredith Ford retired with a medical condition which magically bumped her pension up, wayyyyyy up. But $180k a year?
Retired Sheriff Tony Craver retired in the 1990s with a back problem perhaps caused by being shrieked at by the eco-hags at Earth First! Demonstrations on the Coast.
In total, Mendo's top 20 pensioners cost the County's grotesquely overdrawn pension fund over $2 million a year in retirement pay-outs.
The County of Mendocino has been fiscally profligate for years. Tens of millions of dollars were handed over to the Ortner Management Group in the wake of an obvious inside job arranged by former Ortner executive Tom Pinizzotto who the County hired to steer its freshly privatized mental-health services contract to his old pals at Ortner. The County, after three years of privatization, is left with a chaotic array of mostly undelivered mental health services and roughly $40 million public dollars diverted to a private business based in Yuba City.
The self-appointed critics of County pension indebtedness, Ted Stephens and John Dickerson pop up every few years to point out the obvious — the County's pension fund, like many public pension funds around the state, has bankrupted the County and has created so much debt that the County has to divert more and more general fund money to it simply to keep on paying the pensions it is presently obligated to pay.
The critics are otherwise absent on other fiscal issues.
Not a peep of protest from the pension critics or their backers at the Farm Bureau over the Ortner fiasco and the routine spending misfires casually endorsed month after month by the Board of Supervisors. Why? The critics are rightwing libertarians opposed to government period, especially public employee unions.
In these very dry years, Mendocino County is constantly at risk of a large wildfire on the order of the fires that occurred in Lake County last year. The risk is increased by the obvious hazard posed by the thousands of acres of standing dead hardwoods on Mendocino Redwood Company timber holdings. Such a fire would not only devastate large swaths of scorched earth, but would make significant demands on the County's reserves.
Again, not a word from the pension critics.
Underpaid patrol deputies make it very difficult for the Sheriff to recruit adequate staff and provide basic law enforcement in sprawling Mendocino County. Also, no comment from the pension critics or the Farm Bureau who seem to think more money should be taken from law enforcement to pay down the pension deficit.
There are also outside factors, such as the highly volatile stock market where most of Mendocino County's pension funds are invested. The last time the stock market nose-dived in 2008-2009, Mendo lost millions of dollars of asset value in a matter of months. It will dive again, count on it.
The local pension critics are correct that the County's pension obligation outpaces the combined employee/employer contributions and stock market increases causing the deficit to get bigger every year. They are also correct that the people in charge of the County's pension fund are mostly self-interested County employees and former County employees who have no interest in doing anything that would lower their own pensions.
But the closest thing to a specific proposal that the critics have come up with so far is: "Stop the madness" — vague, of course, and a genuine impossibility.
* * *
A few years ago the County eliminated the discretionary health insurance they previously provided to under-65 year old retirees. They've also instituted a new retirement tier for new hires that switches them from "defined benefit" plans (like the one most senior employees now get) to "defined contribution" plans which translates to Wall Street deciding what your pension will actually be. Those steps made a small dent in the pension deficit.
If there are other steps the County could take within the law to make even a minor dent in the ever-increasing deficit they have not been forthcoming because things like capping pensions, disputing high disability claims (which are downright fraudulent in some cases here), reducing the high salaries of top executives (thus reducing the pension burden when they retire) are off the table.
The County could pay more into the system out of the General Fund, but they'd have to cut somewhere else to do it.
Such changes are about as likely as the USA switching to single-payer health care. (Which by the by, would make the County — among many others — instantly solvent overnight, but we digress.)
Like every other pension system in the state and the nation, public and private, Mendo's pension system certainly looks like a well entrenched, unavoidable trainwreck which cannot continue indefinitely and which any reasonably skilled green-eye-shader could see. But a large majority of Mendo's pensioners receive relatively modest pensions, much of which they paid into themselves. The pension critics never mention them and any cuts to those benefits would be met with legitimate opposition.
Unfortunately most of the pension problem originated years ago beginning primarily with the ill-fated "Slavin Study" which not only bumped all county employee salaries way up (including management, of course), but also bumped up pensions to unsustainable levels. Since then incremental increases, along with salary tricks which further bump up salaries in an employee's final years (aka "spiking") have brought us to this ever-worsening pass.
Most of us would be open to proposals from Ted Stephens or John Dickerson and their Farm Bureau associates to, for example, make it more difficult for top officials to spike their salaries and pensions in their final years of employment. We'd also like to see them propose a way to limit the "disability" pension abuse which the retirement board routinely approves because it's more expensive to hire doctors and lawyers to try to dispute them than it is to simply roll over and approve a ridiculously high disability pension. Trouble is, when the Retirement Board rolls over and approves a "stress benefit" or the like for one of their former fellow employees, the County usually ends up paying for years and years — unless, like my brother, they die prematurely.
Mendocino County's pension system is actually not much worse than other county pension systems, many of which suffer from similar problems. So it's unfair to act as if the County could take any practical steps beyond what's already been done to significantly reduce the deficit.
We are left with yet another looming financial crisis which, not only is beyond reform, but which could easily be a lot worse in the near future. Maybe, rather than complaining about it every few months, the critics should be glad it's lasted this long.
MANY RESIDENTS of the Anderson Valley have complained that the Anderson Valley Advertiser has created a major eyesore in the middle of Boonville by locating its offices in an industrial trailer astride Highway 128, the conduit to the revered village of Mendocino. Community members said it was downright hypocritical of the AVA to constantly complain about other unsightly structures while creating the ugliest vista of all. We heard those complaints loud and clear. As always sensitive to public opinion, and eager to do our part in creating a tourist destination right here in Boonville rivaling in pure beauty any on the Northcoast, we've worked for months on a beautification plan we are confident the entire Valley will be pleased with. We are, therefore, proud to announce the enhancements pictured below. We thank the Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Anderson Valley Wine Growers Association, local aesthetes, and the community at large for your forbearance while we've labored on our upgrade. By next summer we hope to mount a welcoming fuchsia basket in place over our front door, the second of three improvements to come. Onward!
MARKET MATCH: MAKING AN IMPACT
Regular visitors to the Boonville Farmers’ Market know it is feast for the senses, a great way to shop locally, and a pleasant social outing. Shopping at a farmers’ market can also be more expensive than a trip to the supermarket or discount store, though that’s not always the case. While this reflects the true cost of growing food, it can leave some of us with tighter budgets feeling cut off from this local treasure.
Good news: It doesn’t have to be that way. Market Match opens the farmers market up to the community in new and exciting ways!
Market Match is California’s healthy food incentive program for Calfresh/EBT (“food stamp”) benefits. The program successfully redirects subsidies away from large corporate ag and into the hands of our local farmers and local families. When you use your EBT card at the farmers’ market, you’ll be offered $15-$20 extra to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
The income limit to qualify for CalFresh/EBT is roughly 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. (This is about $2,000 per month for a household size of 2, or $2,900 per month for a family of four.) We know that many families are living on incomes above these limits, yet are still struggling to afford healthy food. We sure wish we had more tools to help these families, too! Nonetheless, all of us, regardless of whether or not we personally qualify for CalFresh, can feel good about a program that brings tax dollars back to our local farmers. CalFresh/EBT benefits are 100% federal funds – your tax dollars at work and coming back to our community.
Using your EBT card at the Boonville Farmers’ Market is simple: go first to the information table at the market to swipe your card and get tokens for your EBT and Market Match incentives. Spend the tokens/script just like cash with vendors that sell the same items you can purchase with EBT at other stores.
According to the website MarketMatch.org, “In 2014, 61% of customers surveyed reported that Market Match was a very important consideration in their decision to spend their benefits at the farmers’ market instead of elsewhere. 79% reported that their consumption of fruits and vegetables increased as a result of the program.” In other words, getting people to try the market leads to positive changes in their health! That’s a big plus, but the benefits go way beyond that.
There are a lot of programs dedicated to helping people eat better while supporting local farmers, but none has shown results like Market Match. According to the USDA, every $1 of CalFresh spending generates $1.79 of additional local economic activity.
It makes sense that Market Match works so well when you think about it. Many of the obstacles to healthy eating are easily overcome if they’re tackled all at once. Is it too expensive? Bam! We just doubled your money, go nuts and try something new. Oh, but I don’t know how to cook (garlic scapes/fava beans/these weird-looking tiny potatoes)! Just ask. Farmers don’t grow their food and sell it as a form of punishment; they want you to love it all as much as they love bringing it to you, and they’ve got ideas they’re more than happy to share.
If you’re new to the program, start small and be fearless. Take $5 and turn it into $10 with Market Match. Walk around and see what appeals to you. Buy one thing you know you like and try one new thing for fun. Ask for recipe ideas, and use market ingredients in recipes you already know and love. Don’t be surprised if you love it and come back for more.
Visit http://grownlocalmendolake.com/ebt-match/ to watch a video and learn exactly how the program works. There’s a video in English and another in Spanish.
The Boonville market is on Saturdays from 9:30 to noon at the corner of Highway 128 and Lambert Lane.
For more information visit: http://grownlocalmendolake.com/mendo-lake-farmers-markets/
Enjoy the weather, the good company, and the delicious food. It’s no exaggeration to say we can’t make it without you, and that’s a good thing.
REX GRESSETT LAMENTS the state of Fort Bragg city government…
The city of Fort Bragg is again at the crossroads. The city political machine has learned its lessons from recent populist agitation and has responded with official policy that is a far more sinister and calculated direct attack on the laws of California and the people of this city.
The first step was conciliation. Lure the opponent.
Linda Ruffing the staunch opposition to any and all disclosure or openness of government or transparency, suddenly agreed to a principle demand of the opposition. From now on it was announced, committee meetings as well as the city council meetings would be available on the web. True. But they would be hidden in the deliberately opaque and hard to penetrate city website.
We were certainly surprised at the sudden candor, as they intended that we would be.
For those just tuning in we have in Fort Bragg a city manager who has made it her hallmark to delimit public interference in government or even knowledge of things pertaining to her governance. She has gotten rich doing it. She thinks the Brown Act is an oddity designed to create mild inconvenience for city managers but happily for her is easily subverted as indeed it is.
I was once told by a councilman that having the public see the committee meetings would itself be a revolution. That was a mistake. Having the people know what was actually going on in the committee meetings would have been a revolution, but now that they are public, the dirty stuff just is not brought up in committee. Easy fix.
The committee meetings were an anomaly anyway. They are supposed to be a closer more intimate and involved way for the city council to give “direction “ to the city manager. But the city council itself does not in any case presume to question the authority of the city manager or actually even to hurt her feelings. But not being sufficiently enthusiastic about her regime of control, and since it has been a long long time since any city councilman had a damn thing to say about what Linda does or does not do, the committee meetings were just another tool of domination. The extension of conventional city council limpness into committees was a nice, but not vital way for Linda to privately do what she does publicly at the city council meetings, to wit: bully, insult and otherwise straighten out recalcitrance on the council. But in the committee, far from the evil public eye, it was weird how rude they would be to their supposed bosses.
But, dear reader, this is not the only thing going on. In fact it is a foil to distract us, as the machine adapts and extends its control. It has been a rough year and more for the boss.
The recall of a mayor who won by a margin so slim as to raise eyebrows in his own camp was a concrete embarrassment.
Linda owns many properties in Fort Bragg. She has more control over a city than any elected politician ever had; there are no checks or balances that she does not dominate, control and manipulate.
Ruffing straight up controls the Fort Bragg newspaper, brutally suppressed local tv when it went mildly political, has true believers at the helm of all local radio stations, and has cowed or bullied every councilman into obedience or depression. But most of all she wholly owns the mayor.
So, besides being an embarrassment to the mayor, the mayoral recall was huge. The mayor who is and has been and will remain the favorite puppet of the manager received in the last election something less than a mandate. Indeed, the margin was so slim that it was quite invisible except at the county elections office. The write-in votes I am told were somehow lost. Never found. When he went postal on the obvious best interests of the people of the city, good people tried to recall him.
But the people generally did not go for it. In retrospect they were right. We have the system that we have and once done it ought not to be easily undone. Essentially fair is fair. And in is in. In at the window or over the hatch, and have is have however men do catch.
But it was tectonic. Looking back, I see it was a challenge to Linda Ruffing when previously there had been none. Still the machine profited from their embarrassment. They are professionals. Immediately, Ruffing's flunkies started organizing. The powerful always have a stable of available bootlickers.
These are the inherent mediocrities and are found everywhere. They are the creatures of any privilege and reliable defenders of it. Such is our own Scott Menzies, a new hopeful for the council. Harmless in himself through lack of imagination, his ghost written articles in the Fort Bragg Advocate carry the conviction of a used car salesman and they do not hesitate to lie. His policy is simple — obedience to the machine and no thinking or rude remarks from the public. He fits right in. Probably will be elected.
Then there was Old Coast Hotel and the continuing and uncomfortable heat from the scandal(s) attaching to that. A ballot initiative? Totally unacceptable, but it happened. But again with difficulty the opioid addiction machine and the city management machine prevailed together and lived to carry on even more outrageous larceny, scoffing at outrage.
Then there was the public spanking when it became apparent at a council meeting that the $65,000 they were charging a four man brewery to start their business and which petty larceny would cost the city in this case $5 million which is just one more straw on the camel of what it always costs the city when we lose investment and spirited enterprise to a draconian unsympathetic and avaricious city government petty in their profitable and unending regulations. Overtime Brewing being net savvy, packed the meeting and Ruffing endured two hours in the pillory. Not without a certain dignity one admits. A martyr and hero for the local forces against local initiative and prosperity.
And now this damnable new election.
Ruffing is moving with aggression and speed to put the main things through before the election. The political machine is making moves.
The committee meetings are now public, what was once secret is now all cleaned up and positively exhibitionist. Linda smiles like the professional liar that she is. She smiles real good. Now you can see her do it at committee meetings.
In our town when the machine rewrites the zoning ordinance they do it in maximum secrecy, but at least it got done.
Now once again they gave the city of Fort Bragg four days notice. News on the zoning ordinance came the same way they announced that the city had taken over the Old Coast Hotel and was turning it into a center for opioid addiction enabling. They stood aghast and looked with uncomprehending dismay that the notice had not been seen where it was openly buried in the legal notices section of the wholly owned Advocate four days before.
Zoning is damn near the most important document of civic government that we have. And public participation is mandated by the state.
Zoning is the way for people who live in the city and out of it to make an impression on their own government and to have a voice in the basic decisions that effect us all. The process of government and participation in it gives you the right to bitch and sometimes a forum for it but not much more. Working out the issues of community of life in the ordinance that more than any other informs the process of government is the legal right of the people of the city.
The political machine in Fort Bragg has used that progressive law against the people. (No surprise; that is what they do.) They have taken it upon themselves to compose this quintessentially public document in secrecy, releasing it with consummate care in happy little dog and pony shows known to very few supporters and brief time limits and calling that public input. And now with four days notice it goes to the vote. This is a crime against the clear intention of the law of California.
But smile, you can see the committee meetings online.
(As always I exempt Cueball from my comments on the city council.)
HOMELESS GUY'S RAMPAGE
On August 3, 2016, at about 6:54 AM, an employee of Thanksgiving Coffee Company arrived at the business, located at 19100 S. Harbor Dr., Fort Bragg, and discovered that several vehicle windshields were smashed as well as a large window in the building. The employee called the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and Deputies responded to investigate the incident. Deputies found that during the night the windshields of 5 Thanksgiving Coffee Company vehicles had been smashed with rocks, in addition to the window of the building. There is no indication that the suspect attempted to enter the vehicles or the building, only to damage them. The cost to repair the damage is estimated to be in excess of $3000. During the previous week many businesses and individuals within the city limits of Fort Bragg had suffered vandalism during nighttime hours, some of which was similar to this incident. Fort Bragg Police Officers had developed information that the suspect may be Justin Smith, 41, of no fixed address, and shared this information with deputies and requested that Smith be detained if located. A short time later Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputies located Smith and detained him. Subsequently, additional evidence linking Smith to the vandalism at the Thanksgiving Coffee Company was discovered and Smith was arrested by Deputies for a violation of 594(b)(1) PC, a felony. A bail enhancement was sought, and granted by the court, increasing Smith's bail to $100,000.
CATCH OF THE DAY, August 4, 2016
CURTIS ADAMS, Willits. Controlled substance, failure to appear, probation revocation.
RONALD BAUMEISTER, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
DYLAN BECK, Ukiah. Failure to appear, resisting, probation revocation.
JOHN CAPUTO, Mount Shasta/Willits. Pot cultivation, possession for sale.
ANTJUAN CRISTERNA, Berkeley/Redwood Valley. Suspended license, probation revocation.
CAROL CURTISS, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
JOHN FRYMAN, Willits. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
KAYLA KAHAULELIO, Napa/Ukiah. Probation revocation.
STEVEN MUNOS, Willits. DUI.
FRANKLIN PATTY, Ukiah. Controlled substance, injection/smoking device, probation revocation.
BRIAN SCHATZLEIN, Fort Bragg. Fugitive from justice.
DONALD SHARP, Fort Bragg. Possession of meth for sale, sale of meth, armed with firearm, possession of drugs while armed, loaded firearm in public, ex-felon with firearm, county parole violation.
JUSTIN SMITH, Fort Bragg. Felony vandalism.
SCOTT WADE, Clearlake/Ukiah. DUI-drugs, under influence, probation revocation.
FISH DIE OFF IN CLEAR LAKE
BEWARE TOXIC RUSSIAN RIVER
FROM CALTRANS WILLITS BYPASS BLOG:
Caltrans is pleased to announce the completion ceremony for the Willits Bypass has been scheduled for Thursday, November 3 at 11:00 a.m. The ceremony, which will include dedicating the 1.1 mile long viaduct bridge to fallen U. S. Navy Seal Jesse Pittman, will take place on the new highway, at the north end of the viaduct, near the north interchange. The public will be invited, and more details will follow.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
If Trump ascends to the Oval Office unscathed, we truly are in the throes of The Singularity since he will have defied the heretofore immutable Laws of Physics. – Cold N.
That’s a great line. I will use it the next time I speak with my friend who teaches physics at New Brunswick H.S. where one of the multiple choice test questions on the final is:
If a single pulley is suspended from the ceiling and a length of rope is run over the pulley wheel and you pull down on one end of the rope, what happens to the other end?
A. It goes up, B. It goes down, C. It does not move, D. None of the above
Just kidding…I don’t know what is on the Physics test…I can only imagine.
Seriously though, my friend John teaches the summer school Physics class for students who have flunked or have gotten Ds during the regular school year and want to raise their grade. He has a system for grading which he announces to the ‘students’ at the start of the summer session in which only 30% of the ultimate grade has any connection to the academic content of the class. The other 70% of the grade is broken down into percentages for 1. arriving on time for class, 2. turning in assigned homework, 3. behavior in the class room, 4. etc.
Incredibly, he says, almost no one arrives on time for class.
AT FISHERMAN’S WHARF
(Photo by Steve Heilig)
Flynn Washburne is always amazing, but "http://theava.com/archives/58469">Hellward in a Handbasket" should be required reading for anyone trying to hold on to his sanity in these parlous times. Right on, man!
Also, would you believe at our local beverage place, we actually got some Anderson Valley Brewing Co beer, here in rural upstate NY? It almost restores some of our diminishing supply of faith in the process.
Keep up the good work, gang.
Best from Jim Lowe here in Elizaville, New York
GET RETRO at Your Library (After-Hours Adult Summer Reading Party) August 6th 7-9 pm
Adults are invited to an after-hours party at the Library this summer. We’ll have tabletop gaming, 80s games like Dig-Dug & Q-Bert, live-action Hungry Hungry Hippos, retro candy & Hide & Seek in the Library! We’ll also announce winners from our Summer Reading Raffle drawing. Please call 463-4490 to sign up. Sponsored by Friends of the Ukiah Valley Library. For more information about the Ukiah Library Summer Reading Program, please contact: Melissa Eleftherion Carr at 707-467-4634 or email@example.com.
Melissa Eleftherion Carr, Teen & Adult Services Librarian
Read for the Win!
Summer Reading Program
Mendocino County Library
June 18th - August 13th 2016
Ukiah Branch Library
105 N. Main Street, Ukiah CA 95482