Mendocino County Today: Monday, Oct. 3, 2016
by AVA News Service, October 2, 2016
ABOUT 2PM SUNDAY a half-dozen people chanting demands to save the forests walked briskly through Boonville. Four men carrying a redwood sapling were the focus of the group's display, and a couple of people appeared to be dressed in green, lending the procession a vaguely druidic cast. Spotting my young friend Miguel across the street near Boont Berry Farm just, as the funereal mini-procession passed from view, I asked him what had just happened. "Heepies," he said without further comment.
AN HOUR or so later a woman called to say the demo was a protest aimed at arresting MRC's hack and squirt policy, and a presser would be held at 5pm at the Boonville Fairgrounds. I e-mailed our only available reporter who replied with an obscene blast having to do with "wild horses not being able to drag me…"
THE HEEPIES have a case, although carrying a redwood limb to Ukiah on foot with no fliers, no explanatory banners and no crowd backing them up doesn't offer much in the way of persuasion.
DESPITE a county-wide vote condemning the chemical tree kill practices of the mammoth timber corporation, MRC not only continues to hack and squirt but now makes the startling claim that under local Right To Farm protections they are exempt from "nuisance complaints" like those from pesky County voters who overwhelming demanded that MRC stop poisoning their forests and, by extension, their neighbors and adjacent firefighters if a forest fire breaks out.
MRC is suing Mendocino County over the County's role as tax collector, specifically over the $9,000 the County collected for the Albion-Little River Volunteer Fire Department as MRC's share of fire protection. The Heepies will be on the road for a long time over this one.
BICYCLIST IN CRITICAL CONDITION AFTER MENDOCINO COUNTY COLLISION
A 37-year-old bicyclist from Alabama remained in critical condition Sunday after a Friday night collision with a car near Hopland.
Charles E. Johnson Jr. of Valley Head, Ala., was riding southeast on Highway 101 when his bike collided with a southbound 2013 Ford Focus driven by Genai A. Renz, 35, of Santa Rosa, the California Highway Patrol reported.
Johnson was flown by air ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with broken bones and internal injuries, the CHP said. He was in critical condition Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The collision, which occurred north of La Franchi Road shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday, is still under investigation, the CHP reported. Alcohol was not believed to be a contributing factor.
(Dan Taylor, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat)
WILL BLACKBIRD FLY?
Last week's questions by Beverly Dutra (AVA Letters, 9/28/16) about the proposed expansion of Blackbird Farms in Philo from 36 to 292 people woke me up from my complacency. At the July Planning Commission meeting the chief planner, Andy Gustavson, acknowledged that issues raised during the meeting would warrant continuing the public hearing to a later date. I haven't heard anything about another public hearing, have you?
I admit, I have a vested interest in the potential expansion of Pathways in Education at Blackbird Farms. I am one of many seniors who walk on Ray's Road regularly for exercise. If the expansion goes forward, I might as well take my chances at walking on Highway 128.
Also, I am a retired public school teacher who finds it very troubling that the State of California has a lawsuit for $53 million in overcharges by the nonprofit Pathways in Education charter school corporation. It feels as if Pathways is using the system to profit the corporation at the expense of California taxpayers. I hope there will be a public hearing and community conversation in the near future.
ED REPLY: The next public hearing on Blackbird’s proposed expansion plans was tentatively scheduled for December in front of the County Planning Commission. The Planning Commission usually meets on first and third Thursdays which would be December 1 or December 15. Neighbors have held at least one organizing meeting that we know of and we understand they intend to hold the County’s feet to the fire regarding a proper Environmental Review which fully addresses all the issues and impacts which the original “mitigated negative declaration” did not do. We agree that the Pathways charter school set up has a dubious background, but we doubt that their scholastic-financial shenanigans will be addressed by the County’s Planning process.
AV FOOTBALL FOOTBALL LOSES SECOND IN A ROW
Although they looked like world beaters in their opening game against a weak Potter Valley team, defending NCL III champ Anderson Valley was taken to the woodshed Saturday by Rincon Valley Christian in Santa Rosa 44-22.
Panther players with Coach John Toohey
Anderson Valley took a 22-10 lead into halftime thanks to three Tony Pardini TD passes, but were shutout by the Eagle defense in the second hal. Rincon Valley started the scoring in the second half with a "Pick-6" followed by the RVC offense scoring on the ground and through the air - 34 points total in the second half.
Laytonville upset the AV Panthers in league play last week at the Rodeo grounds 42-34. The Panthers fall to 2-2 on the year while Rincon Valley Christian remains undefeated in League play (3-0) and are 4-0 overall.
BOX SCORE (PDPREPS)
ANDERSON VALLEY 14 08 00 00 = 22
RINCON VALLEY CHRSTIAN 07 03 20 14 = 44
RVC: Tyler Emond 33 pass from Cory Olson (Olson kick)
AV: Chris Natgreno 13 pass from Tony Pardini (PAT failed)
RVC: Olson 24 FG
AV: Jacob Delgado 10 pass from Pardini (Morgan Kohler pass from Pardini)
AV: J.T.Carlin 15 pass from Pardini (Carlin pass from Pardini)
RVC: Paul Bartholow 45 int. (PAT failed)
RVC: Bartholow 13 run (PAT failed)
RVC: Willie Maples 44 run (Bartholow run)
RVC: Tim Schneider 37 pass from Olson (Olson kick)
RVC: Maples 9 run (Olson kick)
Passing: RVC-Olson 8-21-133, 2 TDs.
Receiving: RVC-Bartholow 5-48; Emond 1-33, TD; Schneider 1-37, TD.
Rushing: RVC-Maples 20-139, 2 TDs; Bartholow 7-37; Olson 7-31.
Records: Anderson Valley 1-2, 1-2; Rincon Valley Christian 5-0, 4-0
HOW MANY MORE GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS can we stand? Think of all the groups bringing comfort and aid to the downtrodden here in Ukiah and Mendocino County. There is no end to the professional uplifters paid extravagant salaries to provide marginal assistance to people who are already being helped by swarms of other agencies.
We have Plowshares, the Food Bank, Nuestra Casa, CASA, the Ford Street Project, the Buddy Eller Project, Project Sanctuary, Public Defender, MCAVHN, Madrone Center, First Five, Tapestry Family Services, Redwood Community Services, Redwood Regional Center, Redwood Legal Services, MCOE, County Social Services and the Community Foundation. That’s the few I can think of as I type. There are scores more.
Squatting atop all these agencies and programs is the great grandmother of local handout franchises, North Coast Opportunities. No one knows what NCO does or how many superfluous offices exist. But its busy drones, and the drones of all those other agencies, attend innumerable meetings, create and review meaningless reports and then network, interface and provide irrelevant services to our county’s tiny target group of the allegedly impoverished.
All these workers are burrowed away in scores of bunkers spread around the county doing office-y stuff resulting in nothing of any value to the people supposedly being served. Generating budgets and acquiring grants is the main, unacknowledged focus, because the organizations in reality exist to provide lucrative salaries to Democratic supporters.
Can we survive more of the same, multiplied, by Queen Clinton
— Tommy Wayne Kramer
SAD SUNDAY IN NOYO HARBOR HISTORY
CAP'N FLINTS CLOSING AFTER A HALF CENTURY
MSP received these photos - along with the rather sad news that Sunday the iconic "Cap'n Flints" (featured in the movie OVERBOARD) would be closing their doors after 50 years. Saturday night they served their last dinner.
The MSP viewer said in a message:" I don't think many people realize that they are closing for good and tomorrow is the last day for those famous crab wontons. The owner of the restaurant (Ralph) is even selling the property. The mayor was there tonight and gave the owner some sort of award or certificate."
They added, "The restaurant is giving away the aquarium, free to a good home also! You better come down for one last plate of fish and chips if interested!"
WHICH IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE AT THE HALLUCINATING STAGE OF METHAMPHETAMINE ABUSE
(The cops deal with these fools every day, round the clock)
On 09-30-2016 at approximately 5:15 A.M. Mendocino County Sheriff Deputies were dispatched to a male subject heard yelling that people had fallen from a cliff at the Hare Creek Beach (19000 block of Highway One in Fort Bragg, California). At approximately 5:30am Deputies contacted Ricky Ponts, 55, of Fort Bragg, who was walking on the Hare Creek Beach and yelling. Deputies along with members of the Fort Bragg Fire Department searched the beach and determined Ponts was making false claims. After further investigation Deputies determined Ponts was under the influence of a controlled substance and had a dirk or dagger hidden under his jacket. Deputies also discovered Ponts was on probation in Mendocino County. Ponts was arrested for possession of a dirk or dagger, being under the influence of a controlled substance and violation of probation. Ponts was booked into the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be held in lieu of $15,000 bail.
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PAULINE ON THE RAMPAGE
On 09-30-2016 at approximately 8:45 PM, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputies were detailed to a possible domestic violence incident at a residence in the 32000 block of South Highway 1 in Gualala, California. Deputies arrived at the residence and could hear Pauline Barajas, 51, of Gualala, yelling at her husband inside the residence. Deputies contacted the husband, who initially denied there was any domestic dispute occurring. After removing the husband from the residence, the Deputies pointed out observations of bleeding injuries to the husband's forearm and face. Deputies learned the husband and Barajas had engaged in a verbal argument, which escalated when she began slapping him in the face numerous times. The strikes were hard enough to cause a small laceration to the husband’s face. The husband pushed Barajas away as he made his way to a bathroom. Barajas then scratched the husband’s forearm causing a laceration and then pushed him into the bathtub. Barajas was placed under arrest for Domestic Violence Battery without incident. Barajas was booked into the Mendocino County Jail where she was to be held in lieu of $25,000 bail.
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WILLIAM MLADENKA, 71, of Freeport, Texas, driving northbound on Highway 1 just north of the Rollerville Café north of Point Arena in the vicinity of the Point Arena Lighthouse somehow drifted across the double yellow in his 2007 Toyota as he negotiated a curve a little before 7pm on Saturday, October 1. Mary Kay Viglione, 66, of Fair Oaks happened to be coming southbound in her 2014 Honda van and, although seeing Mladenka’s headlights, could not react fast enough to avoid a nasty head-on collision. Mr. Mladlenka and his wife Kathleen reportedly suffered major injuries. Mr. Mladenka was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial and Mrs. Mladenka was taken to Ukiah Medical Center. (But Mr. Mladenka didn’t stay long because he was booked into the Mendocino County jail on DUI charges with no visible injuries on Sunday.) There were five other senior-aged women in Ms. Viglione’s Honda van: Helen Mitchell, 70, of Hidden Valley Lake (Lake County); Pamela Miller, 67, of Sacramento; Christine Lennon, 65, of El Dorado Hills; Ruth Halbrook, 61, of Carmichael, Sheryl Hurst-Carpenter, 62, of Rocklin and Agnes Hobbs, 63, of Sacramento. Although all six of the women in Ms. Viglione’s van suffered “minor” injuries, four them were taken to Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg and two to Santa Rosa Memorial. Mr. Mladenka “was determined to be under the influence of alcohol and was arrested at the scene with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15,” according to the CHP. All persons involved were wearing seatbelts.
(Mr. Mladenka appears to be a (possibly recently retired) music production consultant who operates/operated a business in Freeport called “Texas Hot Licks Production.”)
BIG RIVER WALK AND PADDLE FOR CANCER
SATURDAY OCTOBER 22nd
WALK BEGINS 9:30 AM AT BIG RIVER STATE PARK
Walk or paddle for cancer this October at the 17h annual Big River Walk and Paddle for Cancer!
We are celebrating our 21th Anniversary at the Cancer Resource Centers and will be commemorating that milestone at our annual Big River Walk and Paddle for Cancer on Saturday, October 22thth! The Big River Walk for Cancer is the primary coastal fundraiser for CRC. This community event brings people together to celebrate and remember family members and friends who have faced cancer.
The proceeds raised support CRC, the only direct service organization of it’s kind in Mendocino County. We providing necessary support services free of charge to those with cancer. Your donation helps CRC carry out its vision that no one face cancer alone in Mendocino County.
Participants may walk, run, or paddle. Individuals and teams are welcomed. Participants are encouraged to gather pledges to support CRC. Big River Walk and Paddle is a family-friendly event, for people of all ages!
Adults $25 / Teens $10 / Children FREE!
Please register at www.crcmendocino.org.
For more information, give us a call at 937-3833.
CATCH OF THE DAY, October 2, 2016
Boyd, Dawkins, Glosser, Hartwick
JONATHAN BOYD, Tiburon/Point Arena. DUI.
THOMAS DAWKINS, Sacramento/Ukiah. DUI.
DAREN GLOSSER, Martinez/Dos Rios. Probation revocation.
JOSEPH HARTWICK, Samta Rosa/Ukiah. More than an ounce of pot.
Matthews, Mladenka, Montgomery
JASON MATTHEWS, Stockton/Willits Under influence.
WILLIAM MLADENKA, Hallettsville, Texas/Point Arena. DUI causing injury.
JOHN MONTGOMERY, Ukiah. Arson.
DAVID MONTHEI, Willits. (Photo not available.) Parole violation.
Nesbitt, Vigil, Vonbargen
JESSIE NESBITT, San Francisco/Fort Bragg. Parole violation.
LOUIE VIGIL, Ukiah. Meth possession, probation revocation.
ERIN VONBARGEN, Fort Bragg. Protective order violation.
WHAT I KNOW AFTER SIX YEARS ON THE PENSION BOARD
To the Editor:
I have been on our county pension board, MCERA, for about six years. Before that I studied the situation for about a year or two. From this experience I can tell you that the pension plan has been and still is a very big problem for our county. Although we are throwing an incredible amount of money at this problem, and many are telling us “not to worry,” this problem is not getting better, it is getting worse. I do not believe this plan is sustainable. If we continue as we have, this program will suck up every available dollar the county has to offer. Not only should taxpayers and users of county services beware, I believe participants in the plan should be very concerned too.
Before I say anything else, let me tell you I have nothing against our county employees, retirees or their beneficiaries. I think these folks should have a good retirement plan. I also think my fellow trustees and our administrator on the pension board are nice people who mean well. I am speaking as an experienced financial professional as to my experience and education with this plan. I am going to be treated as a terrible traitor for telling you this; with my experience, if I did not tell you this I would not be doing my job.
In 2010 I was put on the pension board by the county supervisors after the shenanigans of practices like “excess earnings” were exposed by those of us on the outside. Fortunately we were able to drive a stake through the heart of this fraudulent practice. The excess earnings story is an indicative one, but would take up too much space here. Please note all the rate of returns I quote below are before any “excess earnings” were skimmed from the assets in the plan.
I became interested in the retirement plan after the Mendocino County Farm Bureau (MCFB) asked me to review John Dickerson’s numbers ( yourpublicmoney.com). The Farm Bureau asked me as I am a member through the management of our home ranch, but I have also been in the finance and tax industry for over three decades. My educational background is normal college degrees in business and economics, but also Master’s degrees in both Finance and Taxation. I have managed assets and taxes for families and businesses for over 30 years. I have managed private sector retirement plans for over 30 years also. I serve, and have served, on several private and non-profit boards.
My response to MCFB was that John Dickerson was on to something; since then I have said he was an optimist. John has had terrible things said about him for this work he has done for the community. Let me say right here that I have always found John to go the full distance in his research and modeling (so much so he makes many “eyes glaze over”). John has always been totally open to explain or update any and every item he has had the courage to share with us. I have seen John be totally patient and humble in explaining the facts to those who wrote the rules (GASB board members when they didn’t understand their own regulations), the state legislative analyst (when they challenged him and were wrong), or most of us trying to wrap our minds around the complicated inner workings of a defined benefit plan.
When I came to the pension board I thought, in the stressed 2010 condition of our county, I could share the discipline we use on our boards in the private sector. I was not able to implement the discipline with our board; in fact this board has taught me how they have, and will continue to, spend/borrow public money. For this board member, it really drove home the lesson from Noble Laureate Milton Friedman on “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he does his own.”
The following is what I have learned about our county pension system:
- By design the county plans are set-up as a “Moral Hazard.” A moral hazard is where one group places the bets and the other party has to pay for their risk taking. In our case a voting super majority (2/3s) of the pension board has a vested interest in the benefits and the taxpayers and users of county services must pick-up 100 percent of every mistake, low balled employee contribution and every actuarial surprise. I don’t think it helps the moral hazard condition that the supervisors are also covered under the pension plan and that government workers are the single largest voting block representing about 18 percent of the county jobs. If the plan was managed fairly, the county should pick up about 50 percent of the costs and the employees would pick up about 50 percent of the cost. As proof of the moral hazard, notice that the county pays about five dollars for every one dollar the employees now pay. If the risk was borne equally (or entirely by the employees), I believe the pension board would exhibit very different behavior (probably about like the private boards I sit on.)
- Actuarial surprises that the taxpayers and users of services pay for is the legacy of the pension board. In 1996 we fully funded the plan with a county Pension Obligation Bond or POB to “fix” the problem (fool me once, shame on you), in 2002 we “fixed” the NEW underfunding with another POB (fool me twice, shame on me), today we have a larger unfunded liability than ever before and it is getting worse (fool me trice, shame on us!). I no longer give the actuaries very much credibility.
- In the 150 plus years we have been a county we had built up equity in our county assets. Not anymore as the size of the pension debt has off set all our county equity to where our liabilities are greater than our total county equity. We now have negative net worth to show for our 150 plus years thanks to our county pension system.
- The county is paying about 46 cents on every payroll dollar (before social security, the match on the deferred comp for managers or any other benefit) when you include the amount the county pays to the plan and the POBs each year. The employees are paying just under an average of 10 cents on every payroll dollar. There is no private business that could survive with this 46 percent payroll load for the pension alone. Any normal business would be out of business or forced to offshore.
- The unfunded pension liability payments total about $20.3 million per year and are growing. This cost is a very significant hit to our county and the ability to serve the needs of our people.
- With all the money going into the plan, the incoming funds still do not make administrative and benefit payroll. We have to sell about a third of our expected plan return, if we have any, just to cash flow the out payments. This is from a severely underfunded plan.
- Our administrative budget, although small in comparison to the benefits paid, shows our largess. For the current fiscal year we budgeted to increase our spending almost 40 percent above what we spent last year. The spending on administration always increases in very large amounts since I have been on the pension board. This spending just adds to our debt and will be paid off over the next 18 years. As on most items, I am the lone dissenting vote against this practice.
- We have amounts we just write-off without reporting out to anyone. Sometimes these add millions to our debt. The vote could go to collect the dollars back as the funds were paid by mistake or to just to let it go; we vote just to let it go. This is the way a moral hazard rolls. I promise you the vote would have been different if it was charged against the participants accounts rather than having the taxpayers and users of county services pick up the entire bill.
- Our Target Rate of return (7.25 percent) is 1 percent to 1.25 percent higher than we can justify by what our investment advisor tells us we can expect over the next ten years (6.2 percent) or we have experienced over the last 10 years (5.6 percent). This is the gross rate of return after subtracting the investment management and administration costs. IF we dropped our Target Rate 1 percent our plan funding would go from about 70 percent funded to about 57 percent(include the POBs and we are only about 46 percent funded). With the drop in the Target Rate of Return, employer and employee costs would go up. This is resisted by county and employees because of the “cost”, but there is no free lunch; the cost will be paid now or later. The expected rate of return is what it is. If we do not lower the Target Rate the entire shortfall will be paid via debt by the taxpayers and users of county services; the employees will pay nothing (until their benefits crash). The hesitation and delay is also what one expects to experience from a moral hazard.
- Our plan year end just closed. Our net return, before we sold assets to make benefit and administration payroll, is flat for the last two years. For this same period our assets are down about 4 percent due to selling assets to make cash flow (the end of June 2014 we had $442 million, the end of June 2016 we now have $426 million in plan assets).
- A bit over one thirds of our county collected taxes go to just pay pension related benefits.
- In 2008 the unfunded liability was about 29 percent of payroll; in 2010 it was about 133 percent, at plan year end 2015 it is about 314 percent of county payroll and it is getting larger.
- We have had a miraculous market recovery. When I came on the pension board I was told that the plan funding would return when the market recovered. In 2008 our funding was 94.5 percent, in 2010 it was 78,9 percent, last year it was 70.2 percent. This year it will be worse. Oh how I wish the market would recover; oh, my gosh, it did! Note if you adjust for the overstated Target Rate and the pension obligation bonds as in #9 above...funding is substantially lower.
- I said it in $6, but it bears repeating. Not a single new dollar ever goes into this plan. Every new county and employee dollar goes to pay those already retired. We even have to sell plan assets to the extent of about one third of our expected return or about 2 percent of plan assets above and beyond all of the contributions to make benefit and administration cost payroll. County employees; your contributions, or those the county pays for you, never ever make it to the plan.
- A private pension plan is in the “Green Zone” when it is 80 percent funded or above. It is in the “Endangered” or “Yellow Zone” when it is between 65 percent and 80 percent funded. It is in the “Critical” or “Red Zone” when the funding is below 65 percent. Is the county income stream really strong enough to have the confidence we can disregard these private pension warnings? Would you bet your retirement, or county services, on it?
This is what I have learned from my six years on the county pension board. Don’t believe it when you hear it is getting better; it is getting worse. If we are going to get ahead of this it is going to take a very serious discussion. We are either going to have to put a whole bunch more money into the plan or take a look at cutting benefits. It does not take much analysis to see the current trend is not sustainable. I believe if we are going to try to “fix” this plan the sooner we take action the better. With a private plan it would have already been mandated by law that we cut benefits to save assets for those in the plan. I doubt putting this off until we are at a 40 percent funding level or lower will make the job any easier.
— Ted Stephens, Yorkville
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THE SKY IS NOT FALLING, by James Wilibanks, Mendocino County Pension Administrator.
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PS. And, we might add, that even if you use Mr. Stephens’ more accurate lower rate of return for the stock market, you still have nothing more than a standard pension problem where the projected pension assets and revenue might someday go into net decline. The “unfunded liability” is basically a snapshot in time of the present deficit and is not an actual long-term liability. Many, many things could happen both within the system and without, and the problem, however large, is not high on our list of looming catastrophes. It is a serious problem, but it does not require drastic change, any more than Social Security does.
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THE McKENTY SOLUTION
Subject: Public Pensions In Crisis
Those of us concerned with this issue have worked toward the creation of a county owned public bank. Through this bank the county could borrow money from itself at very low interest, saving the county millions in interest payments to Bank of America. While it was unfortunate that the BoS came out against Measure W, my conversations with the county treasurer allowed me some empathy with them in that they were afraid they could not capitalize such a venture and were afraid of what would happen if forced to do so by initiative. The treasurer was very open to the idea of other segments of the population, specifically, the cannabis community, was interested in providing the necessary funds. While Measure W did not pass, it is possible for the board of supervisors to create a public bank through ordinance. In a recent interview on KMEC, John Sakowitz (who resides on the pension funds board) interviewed Marc Armstrong, the former president of the Public Banking Institute about his recent article describing how a public bank circumvents the federal ban on banking with funds elicited through cannabis. In other words, should the cannabis community capitalize the bank, they could then use the bank for transactions within the State of California. This would give the Cannabis industry in Mendocino a HUGE leg up as the state moves toward recreational legalization. The bank would likely attract Cannabis money from all over N. California. We are talking about billions of dollars that could be lent fractionally to local industry and the county government. It is a win-win proposition, and the only long term strategy I have yet seen that could legitimately extricate the county from its current fiscal quagmire.
Doug McKenty, Elk
FREEDOM FIGHTERS TRASH THE DESERT
From the High Country News (A look at Gold Butte, Nevada, two years after the Bundy standoff):
…Since the  standoff at Bunkerville, Cliven Bundy’s roughly 1,000 cattle have remained at large. Nor has the rancher paid the more than $1 million he owes in grazing fees and fines. Cliven Bundy hasn’t escaped altogether, though: In February, he was arrested en route to support his sons’ armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. He is now behind bars awaiting trial in 2017.
But in other respects, Bundy got what he wanted: His cattle still graze for free on Gold Butte, just as they have done for the past two decades, despite a 1999 ban, and there was little to no federal oversight for two years...
The absence of federal workers did not go unnoticed. Friends of Gold Butte published a report in August detailing the damage inflicted on the area in the last two years, as well as documenting some historic bullet-hole damage.
Graffiti and bullet holes riddle the petroglyphs and red sandstone, signs have been removed, and the area is marred by off-road tire tracks and trash.
Twenty-two miles of illegal irrigation have been trenched through the desert, and a chopped-down Joshua tree was left to rot. The BLM is continuing to assess the situation, and so far staffers can’t say how much the illegal irrigation trenching and vehicle incursions have affected local wildlife populations. “Once this happens, it persists through time,” Moan says of the graffiti and general disregard for the area by visitors...
HANK AARON’S MAIN ANTAGONIST during his quest for the home run title was not Ruth’s ghost but the racial hostility of baseball fans. So much hate mail was sent to him that the US Post Office awarded him a plaque for receiving the highest volume of mail of any civilian. The FBI investigated multiple death threats, a bodyguard accompanied him to the field, and there was even an attempted kidnapping of his daughter. “It still hurts a little bit inside,” Aaron later said, “because I think it has chipped away at a part of my life that I will never have again. I didn’t enjoy myself. It was hard for me to enjoy something that I think I worked very hard for.”
George Plimpton only alludes to the racial tension on a couple of occasions in his recent book, an absence made more obvious by the book’s minimal length, which is padded by an eight-page photo insert and a superfluous 52-page appendix that lists every home run hit by Ruth and Aaron. It was left to Mike Lupica to discover that during the famous home run trot, Aaron’s bodyguard watched from the right-field bleachers, gripping a pistol, debating whether to fire at the two white college students who leapt onto the field to chase Aaron around the bases. “What if I had decided to shoot my two-barreled .38 at those two boys,” the bodyguard told Lupica, “and had hit Hank Aaron instead, on the night he hit No. 715?”
— Nathaniel Rich
SENIORS SET RECORD TIME FOR SINKYONE
by Bruce Anderson
(September 17, 2003) — Alexander Cockburn and Bruce Anderson, legitimate recipients of mailings from the American Association of Retired People, hiked the arduously magnificent Sinkyone Wilderness Trail last weekend in record time. The sprightly seniors got from Bear Harbor at the northwest tip of Mendocino County down the rugged coast trail to Usal in 25 hours, a mere 11 of those hours upright and on the move. Traversing the precipitous path that winds along the ridge tops above the Pacific at a steady better than one mile plus an hour, the intrepid pair emerged at Usal at 11 a.m. two mornings after setting forth from their base camp at Bear Harbor.
It was Cockburn's Sherpa-like combination of sure footedness and determination that ensured the elders' mastery of the nearly 18-mile hike. He often slowed at the crests of the trail's endless ascents to patiently encourage the plodding Anderson, "Just one more ridge, only one more until we get to our camp site," inspiring Anderson to concentrate on the climb rather than expend scarce breath on a litany of excuses, including an alleged hernia and "all this junk I'm carrying."
It's a tough walk, but the raw, mostly unvisited beauty of the place makes whatever pain one pays to get there well worth it. The Sinkyone's sheer cliffs disappearing into the Pacific, the groves of enormous redwoods approached from above as the trail winds back down to the sea, the many untouched streams, the majestic rock formations, the sea birds, several species of hawk and, in our case, an intransigent elk, is natural magnificence no longer available to the Winnebago people. If you can't walk you won't see it.
The Sinkyone Trail, however, is only for the fit. Realistically, the half-fit like me should spend the recommended three days and two nights on the trail. The unfit should give it a week, maybe two weeks because it's up and down the whole way, and lots of the ups are very steep ups some of them as lengthy as thirty yards to forty yards up before there's a respite of a few flat feet of switch back.
Cockburn is fully fit. He also has the right equipment, meaning his gear is lightweight as per the recommendations of our mutual hiking guru, Ray Jardine of Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardine's Guide to Lightweight Hiking, and spare me the gags that the book sounds like it's doubly appropriate in our case.
Ray, and his wife Jenny, would certainly hike the Sinkyone at their "usual 2.75 miles per hour." They spend much of the year backpacking and are that rare thing in America — people who know what they're talking about because they've done it, and done it wrong until they learned to do it right. Ray tells us that his first go at the 2,700-mile Pacific Coast Trail his pack "weighed about 25 pounds." On his third go at the Pacific Coast Trail, which he and Jenny did in the amazing time of three months and four days, "our packs weighed less than 9 pounds "
I've read my Ray, but his only advice I seem to have recalled is the section on footwear and his recommendation that one's circulation is enhanced if one sleeps with one's feet slightly elevated after a long day on the trail. Immediately upon reading The Ray Way I hauled an eight-foot 2 by 4 into our bedroom and placed it beneath the casters at the foot of our bower. That night; my wife was no sooner perpendicular than she yelled, "What on earth is wrong with the bed?! My toes are higher than my eyebrows. Whatever you've done undo it right now!"
Which I did because it belatedly occurred to me that Ray's recommendation to elevate your feet to aid blood flow probably applied to backpacking, not the in-home slumber of the sedentary. A strenuous perpendicular day of hill hiking does cause one's blood to linger in the lower torso, making it harder for your big red pump to get it flowing again efficiently for the next day pounding up and down a severe hill path.
I had the wrong pack and the wrong sleeping bag for the Sinkyone. Inside my wrong pack I carried the wrong food. "Wrong" in backpacking is a synonym for "too heavy" or "stupid." I was both. I might as well have stuffed my wrong backpack with stones. Instead, I packed it with six pints of water, Safeway "energy bars" and a Big 5 sleeping bag that all by itself weighed 10 pounds. (Energy bars? Take a pound of sheet rock paste, mix in three raisins, four coconut flakes, five peanuts, and a dribble of molasses and you'll need a portable nuke to get this choking glop even halfway to your gut.)
I'd intended to have my dog Perro hump the water; I even bought him a dog pack and worked him out one day with four bottles of Aqua Corporate. Perro was cool with the load; he didn't try to shake it off or otherwise complain that he was functioning as a pack mule. But as we walked experimentally along the road that runs through my neighborhood, an older lady I've seen around Boonville but don't know slowed her passing car and even more slowly staying abreast of Perro and me, asked rather officiously, "How much weight is your dog carrying? It's not too much, is it?" There's something about me that seems to cause concern in random busy bodies. It was a temptation to reply, "Solid lead, Toots. And look at him. He wants to run!" But I settled for, "Four pints of water is no sweat for a 70 pound dog." One last skeptical lift of the eyebrows and off she went.
But I decided to pack the water myself, a mistake I won't make again. I abandoned the sleeping bag after the one night I slept in it, shucked the so-called energy bars of their wrappers and tossed them, ditto for two large bags of salted peanuts, and hung one of the two sweatshirts with the abandoned sleeping bag on the outhouse of the campground for whomever might find some comfort from them.
I wanted to leave my pack too, but I still had another half day to go. It seems to have been inspired by the Rubik's Cube. It makes no sense. Festooned with dangling straps, hidden pockets, zippers to nowhere, and a neck rest-like hunk of cloth at the top that was absolutely useless, the whole thing weighed another 8 or so pounds. As a kid in the Marines I routinely carried 60 to 70 pounds of miscellaneous gear, along with a mortar base plate or a .30 cal machine gun or some other excruciatingly unwieldy item, but my Sinkyone load, even given my accrued decrepitude in the years between young and dumb and old and dumb, seemed heavier than the one at Pendleton in 1959.
It had occurred to me before setting out that for $50 I probably could have hired a high school kid to carry all my stuff for me, but I'd probably get the wrong kid; he'd want to talk, or he'd address me as "Yo, dude," or I'd hear his music leaking out of his Walkman. And I'd have to kill him and take a couple of hours to hide his remains, thus throwing our trek way off schedule.
Cockburn was outfitted Ray's Way, which is the way to backpack, and it's an economical way to backpack. Ray's designed a pack that weighs 13 and 1/2 ounces. He's also designed what he calls "a two-person sleeping quilt that weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces." And he carries "a silicone tarp weighing 1 pound" instead of a tent, which typically weighs almost five pounds. These three items alone save us 20 pounds and $1,117.
The Sinkyone trail is in pretty good condition considering the steep terrain, but there were areas where we made our way around downed trees or along the sides of what can be called cliffs where the trail had crumbled into invisibility. Experienced hikers and backpackers like my friends Don and Mary Morris wear hiking boots "for ankle support" in rough country but, as per the second piece of advice I managed to internalize from Ray's Way, I had no problem with my feet or with footing in a pair of Big 5 hiking sandals that set me back twenty bucks. Ray's lightweight back pack and my Big 5 sandals, are clearly modeled on their Native American originals. The pack is basically a big bag with shoulder straps, a modern update of the packs you see Indians carrying in old photos. The rubber hiking sandals come with raised heels, thick soles and velcro straps. Of course the Indians didn't make their packs and moccasins from cancer causing industrial materials, but they did design their packs to comfortably carry significant cargo many miles and their footwear to comfortably carry them many more miles. Indians out to be drawing residuals from this stuff but for now they'll have to be content with casinos.
There was no one on the trail but an obtuse Elk. Neither of us having had prior experience with this particular beast, as we descended the trail to where this splendid animal blocked the way, we saw that he was aggressively thrusting his huge set of antlers into the trail side as if it at a foe. Was he getting ready to make a run at us? I leashed my Perro and Cockburn slapped a line on his Jasper as we conferred, hoping the elk would move on. Which he eventually did, but only to a vantage point a few feet above the trail from where he watched us scurry past and on down to Anderson Gulch Camp, the Sinkyone's least attractive camp site, and its only camp site without easy access to the sea.
The Sinkyone camp sites, with the exception of Anderson Gulch, were once bustling little mill towns, each with its optimistic clusters of pink ladies, lilac, lilies and, at Bear Harbor, the beautifully made remains of a stone wall that once enclosed the down stream end of a pond. Even the ghostly remains of long abandoned towns are a reminder that to the generations now gone what things looked like was assumed to be crucial to public morale. It mattered that buildings and towns were attractive. Ask a Ukiah business mogul why the town's main street is six miles of visual horror and he'll look back at you and say, "What's wrong with it?"
There's water throughout the Sinkyone. An empty pint bottle or two and a well-filtered little stream pump is all you really need to carry on the trail; you can refill at the many cascading streams bisecting the endless climbs and descents between Bear Harbor and Usal.
The stream at Anderson Gulch is the site's sole attraction apart from its isolation and the sound of the surf an impenetrable mile to the west. After re-hydrating for an hour, I was asleep by eight but wide awake at ten as the brightest moon I can recall shone down through the unsullied night air with search light intensity. The dogs had us awake again a couple of hours later when their barking deterred a four-footed intruder.
About dogs and the Sinkyone. Our two dogs were (and are) fairly well-behaved, which is what every dog owner says about his or her pet whether or not the dog happens to be leaping for your throat or doing somersaults to entertain the visitor. But our dogs do what they're told. They weren't going to disappear over a thousand foot cliff in pursuit of a chipmunk, and they had no apparent interest in taking on the elk.
Cockburn's Jasper is a large, two-tone brown mutt with bobcat-like springboards for hind legs; he was better behaved than Perro who seems to be kinda nuts, frankly. Perro was consistently sexually stimulated by Jasper, which I found perplexing because Perro is (1) neutered and (2) he had never previously indicated sexual interest in any other animal in or out of his species, male or female. And he spends quite a lot of time gamboling, wholesomely gamboling so far as I know, with my neighbor's female Pit mix. But at irritatingly numerous junctures along the trail, typically at the objectively most asexual interludes like, for instance, the top of an exhausting thousand foot climb or as even he made his way carefully close to the bank of a spot where a misstep would have unhappy consequences, Perro would try to hop Jasper! These sexual attempts on poor Jasper were, as the Appropriate Police might say, about as appropriate as a human being suddenly sexually hurling him or herself at a member of the local school board in open session. Apart from his periodic sexual assaults on Jasper, Perro and Jasper were net assets in that they kept whatever worrisome predators were in the area away from us.
Dogs aren't supposed to be on the trail. But the Sinkyone's "signage" was contradictory and sometimes funny. At the trailhead a sign warns that dogs must be leashed. Yeah, right. You're going to hike a wilderness trail with your dog on a leash like you're walking him down Market Street? Then, a little farther in, another sign says, "No dogs on trail."
Too late, Governor; we're on the trail and the dogs are on the trail with us. There was another sign at the Usal end of the trail warning hikers to "respect the cougar community" or something like that. Cockburn remarked he'd seen a sign at another state facility that reminded visitors to take pains not to disturb the "rattlesnake community." What's next, Del Webb retirement clusters for nature's most solitary creatures?
The only aspect of the Sinkyone we both lamented were the patches of pampas grass thriving towards the Usal end of the trail. Our transport officer, Catherine Zakoren, is a knowledgeable and long-experienced botanist. She is also the great granddaughter of the only physician in all of Russia endorsed by the great Chekhov who famously said that Dr. Zakoren was the only doctor he'd ever trusted. The great granddaughter of Chekhov's doctor, I'd say, is more likely to possess reliable information than CDF.
Cockburn had said the ineradicable pest plant had been introduced "probably by someone in Carmel or some place like that who thought it was beautiful," and had spread from there to even the wildest parts of Northern California. Carmel was fine with me as an incubator of botanical evil, but I was even more pleased when Catherine Zakoren-Chekhov came up with a much more gratifying villain — Caltrans. She said Caltrans had introduced pampas grass "back in the early 1950's to stabilize road banks." Whomever or whatever is responsible for pampas grass, an acre of lime green mounds with bushy white pompadours look like giant infected eye sockets set in the otherwise healthy skull of a vast green giant.
The Usal Road is easily the least interesting 30 miles of road in all of Mendocino County. It's about as interesting as driving through a train tunnel. Over its entire well-maintained dirt length there's only a few brief few yards where the ocean is visible through the scrubby, stunted trees lining both sides of the road. It's very narrow in many spots, too, so one must be alert to oncoming vehicles moving too fast for conditions. A couple of teenage girls almost barreled into me on one turn, and would have, if I hadn't been moving at a prudent 20 miles per hour. The kid at the wheel of the Land Rover or whatever the thing was — big, box-like and way up off the ground — skidded to a stop a few inches from my front bumper clear over on my side of the road. She glared at me like I was her father or, perhaps, Jason, her boy friend. (Are there disproportionate numbers of Jasons and Stacys in the youth population or do I just happen to meet a lot of them?)
And CDF's map says there's a 1.3 mile trail from the Usal Road down to Needle Rock just north of Bear Harbor, "which was the original wagon road on Mendocino County Road 431." The trail may be there but it's not marked on Mendocino County Road 431, aka the Usal Road. Cockburn had hoped to walk down to the ocean on the old trail but we couldn't find its starting point. Its end point down below at the edge of the Pacific is marked, but it's marked on a leaning, undersized post hidden away in the roadside brush.
A very nice man by the name of Bieber, who functions as a kind of docent at Bear Harbor, told me that "the purists" wanted not only to eliminate the restored old ranch house where he and his fellow docents live, they wanted all the other "unnatural" signs of man's intervention erased from the Sinkyone.
Maybe the purists can begin the restoration process with a frontal attack on pampas grass, but between the malign neglect of government and the pampas grass marching north from Usal, better hike the Sinkyone while you can.