Wayne’s World — $4,000 Worth

by Mark Scaramella, May 26, 2010

Mr. Wayne Schell's presentation to the Board of Supervisors at their May 17 “Economic Development Workshop” was called "The Ramblings of Wayne Schell.

Mr. Wayne Schell was true to his word.

So were the unwitting taxpayers of Mendocino County. We paid Wayne $4,000 to ramble.

He rambled. And rambled.

And kept on rambling.

Mr. Wayne Schell is President and Chief Execu­tive Officer of the Sacra­mento-based outfit called “California Association of Local Economic Develop­ers.” Apparently there are thousands of Mr. Wayne Schells, all of them virtual platitude machines. Put a nickel in them and you get an hour of Chamber of Commerce uplift.

"You wanna turn this great coun­try — and this County! — around? Unchain the great beast of free enterprise!"

And versions thereof.

Mendocino County, rural national home of Hip­pus Windbaggus, has a long history of pure blather at the very mention of “economic development.” Every­one's an expert. A couple of years ago, the Board applauded the Workforce Investment Board and its president for their nearly invisible role in getting a local “organic doll” maker a 3000-unit contract with Whole Foods. The 3000 doll deal was their biggest triumph, although you'd have thought they'd just negotiated Ukiah's annexation of Honolulu. But at least it was a kind of economic development, tiny as it may have been.

“The Ramblings of Wayne Schell,” however, brought the always latent local wackiness front and center.

Mr. Wayne Schell opened with, “Thank you for holdin’ the rain up until we got here. Make it a little easier to get over here. Looked like it was going to dump on us in Sacramento but, um, it didn't really start until we got here so, I… but at least it's not snow. I was in Estes Park on Saturday at a wedding and if you've never been at a wedding in Estes Park in the wintertime you ought to try it some time; the bride suffered dramatically 'cause she had to take her jacket off all the time and it was snowing! And we were out on a lake, uh, out on a deck overlooking the lake, uh, um, it was amazing, it was an amazing proc­ess, so… but it was snowin' pretty hard up there then, so, so, uh, it's good to be back in California, the min­ute you come back it's 60-70 degrees.”

Shades of George F. Babbitt live from Zenith City!

In late April, in anticipation Mr. Wayne Schell’s Ramblings, the County assembled teams of local business and government people and asked their opinions of the economic development climate in Mendocino County. One of the teams of local bank­ers, or at least bankers in the sense they're trusted to do car loans, called itself “The Lending Community.” Other teams were more prosaically designated as “business,” “green economy,” etc. The teams sat around with Mr. Wayne Schell swapping clichés about Mendocino’s business climate and what could be done to make it rain cash, aka "revenue."

Mr. Wayne Schell called these two days of jelly donuts, burnt coffee and free range gas-bagging, “research,” soon announcing that “the research and collection of information for this workshop” [on May 17th]… “CALED has created a report” which “identi­fied obstacles to economic development.”

And what are those “obstacles”?

• The County is perceived as unfriendly to busi­ness.

• No entity in the county regularly convenes businesses to encourage collaboration necessary to identify and support their collective needs.

• Unknown economic impacts loom from pending state and federal legislation that might affect the legality of marijuana.

• There is no identified, unifying vision for the crea­tion of wealth in the county.

• The absence of critical long range planning docu­ments hinder the private sector’s ability to effectively identify, site, and pursue permitting for appropriate projects.

• Water resources are severely limited and inade­quate to support the existing community in several areas of the county. The lack of such a basic necessity is a significant limiting

factor in the community’s ability to sustain itself or create additional wealth.

• Limited broadband resources are hindering eco­nomic opportunity.

• There could be more coordination of efforts and constructive collaboration.

At one point Mr. Wayne Schell seemed to realize that his presentation was starting to sound like stand-up comedy. He threw up his hands and said, “Maybe I don't help anybody, I don't know. Nobody knows!”

What should Mendocino County do to address these “obstacles”?

“Attract new exporters, expand existing exporters, create local exporters, reduce outside purchases, attract new household income, increase worker and/or business productivity. Expand backward linkages, do some economic gardening, network existing business, do business visitations, provide export assistance, pri­oritize value added, give business some recognition."

Mr. Wayne Schell bumbled on, “Start new things. There's grant money out there. We are facilitators. Economic developers are not about doing the deals, we're about facilitating business. It's conversational stuff.” ($4,000 conversational stuff.)

The County should take a leadership role, Mr. Wayne Schell rambled further on. Why the County could pass an economic development resolution, develop a strategy, move the Workforce Investment Board into the CEO's office, “continue to support economic development finance resources for commu­nity businesses,” “get ‘boots on the street’ out meeting with businesses” and “remove barriers that are hin­dering business well-being.”

There were dozens of pages of this nonsense in Mr. Wayne Schell’s “report,” not one sentence of which was not self-evident or pure ether.

Mr. Schell, pointing to himself, concluded, “Mr. Right is here today to help you out.”

Toward the end of The Ramblings, Fifth District Supervisor Candidate Wendy Roberts took the podium to point out the obvious: “I didn't hear any­thing new here today. But that's ok because I think we know what we need to do. Planning documents have to be done; we have to find the money and the will to do them. We can't look for ways to stop things. We have to find ways to let things happen with proper environmental mitigations so we can move forward.”

It was eerie. Wendy Roberts had morphed into Mr. Wayne Schell!

“There will always be dissent on this,” Mrs. Rob­erts continued. “And I will refer to the elephant in the room that we all like to avoid, is that there are a great many people in this county who do not depend on a job on which they will pay taxes. They have a different source of income, they do not care, and they do not particularly want to see our economic, um, vitality, if you will, reach a level where other people can live here. And I don't think, I think that those voices need to be listened to, but I also think they need to be treated in the context of what we know about our economy. I simply do not accept that because we did not hear new things here today we can simply say, Well, we had a workshop. So we've accomplished something. No! We had a workshop. We already knew what we needed to do and now we've had that restated for us. Now I think we need to look in the next few weeks and months for action that shows we've taken this seriously and actually done some­thing. It's very very frustrating for me to keep coming back for a period of many years to see good ideas come to this room and die aborning. We can't con­tinue it. Broadband is important. We need more optimism and a sense of possibility.”

Translation: Outta the way, stoners! You're in the way of progress!

Not discussed:

• Existing county purchasing policy.

• The existing Business Development Fund and what it’s being used for, if anything.

• Monthly permit status reporting from the Plan­ning Department by category, with reasons for hold ups.

Recent contracts with outside vendors and suppli­ers, why they went outside the County, or what could be done to “develop” local sources for those outside contracts.

Oh well, never mind. It was stand-up comedy.

* * *

Of more informational value was a presentation by Russian River Flood Control District Manager Sean White who told the board that Lake Mendocino was so full from this season’s rains that it was almost too full. Apparently, there’s an “inner impervious core” inside the inverted-v shaped earthen dam that does not rise as high as the physical dam structure. Water levels that exceed the height of the inner core may seep through and undermine the “pervious” upper structure of the dam. Apparently, the people who built the dam in the 1950s knew this was a problem at the time, but they decided to leave the completion of the inner core to a later day to save short-term money. Unfortunately, no such funding arrived and the inner core was left about ten feet shy of the top of the dam.

White said that the Army Corp of Engineers was monitoring the dam structure with special instru­ments to keep close track of any water that starts to seep through.

Supervisor Pinches' pet subject is water storage. Like most of us, Pinches had not been aware of the internal structural limitations of the dam. He com­plimented White on his “informative presentation.”

However, the discussion of whether the County should continue to contribute $20k-$25k a year to a fund that may someday lead to a feasibility study of raising Coyote Dam triggered another nearly com­pletely unrelated rant from lame-duck Supervisor David Colfax:

“This is a topic that, uh, is timely in one sense, I just came back from Nashville, um, not for, not to see the damage done, but I couldn't avoid seeing it, their complete school bus flight, uh, stock has been wiped out, their transportation system has been wiped out and yet if you got there right now it looks like nothing has been done except the infrastructure has been utterly and totally, uh, uh, catastrophically impacted, and at the same time I came back and I was uh read­ing, uh, quite incidentally, uh, the account of the Dos Rios project and that was, got me just a little bit nerv­ous here when we talked about the long term, the Dos Rios project, uh, Richard Wilson, uh, doing some, uh, very involved calculations, uh, really, uh, almost, uh, singlehandly stopped I believe the corp, stopped them from doing what it thought was going to be flood con­trol and it was, it was being, the project was being, was being sold as a flood control project when in fact it had an altogether other different agenda, uh, with, uh, regard to, uh, the first governor Brown, uh, being involved with an agenda, uh, totally connected with, uh, downstream, uh, um, large scale corporate grow­ers. So when I look at this and when I hear the con­test, the con… the, the, the, comments being made by, uh, different, like my colleagues here, this is a long shot, it's a very long shot, and when I think of how, even if you're, if you go through the 20 years of plan­ning and so forth, the last 20 minutes could change the whole outcome of this uh… It's not like it's a horse race where at least you get to see the full length of the race, and have a pretty good idea, again, some­times you're surprised there, too, the question right now is this a good long shot of all the things we could bet on? Is this something we should be betting on? And I guess that when our water agency, uh, uh, folks need to weigh in, and, and, uh, the people that, uh, are involved in the, uh, various water districts because I came on in time, the same time, John did here with the uh, the, uh, the jobs we now have and look at it and said, Well, you know, we, we got into this, it seemed to make some sense and so forth but we haven't seen the politics kicking in, we have not seen the kind of responsiveness and having attended the very first meetings where some of these matters were discussed, uh, we haven't seen a particularly impres­sive, uh, performance on the part of some of the, uh, the federal agencies that, uh, are involved, so all this says, is, uh, it's a long shot, but, again, given our sit… and if these were normal times, I would say, Yeah, what the heck, we got some spare change, and if you have spare change you should bet it on the long shot which a gambler will tell you but on the other side of it, if you don't have spare change you better be very very careful about how you, how you spend it and that creates a little bit of a problem with me because I know Supervisor Smith is not, as I, Supe, Supervisor Smith is not here today, but I know that she has, uh, perhaps the best ear to the ground of the Supervisors up here and I don't mean to insult anybody, but I think she, having worked for Congressman Thomp­son for many years, and I know she has some, uh, real reservations about whether this is a good investment and I'm a little bit concerned that she's not here and being part of this discussion, but I'd like to bounce this to our, uh, before I would go one way or the other on it, I'd just like to get a kind of, a kind of, uh, professional, uh, judgment being made public here by our water agency director, through the chair, would that be appropriate?”

Board Chair Carre Brown tried to wrap up with: “Absolutely, it's…”

But no. Colfax continued: “…to get just a com­ment or two that would allow us to say, Okay, ow… he's, he's the guy that re… reads the horses, should we bet it all on the long shot?”

For the time being there’s no money to contribute to the fund, so for now the Supes voted simply to sign the cost sharing agreement without sharing any money.

As the meeting drew to a close, Board Chair Carre Brown, probably realizing that most of the day was more or less a comedy show, declared, “When I say this don't everybody laugh: We are going to adjourn."

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