The Meat Axe
by Mark Scaramella, June 2, 2010
On Tuesday, May 18, the Board of Supervisors spent an afternoon discussing the possibility of a slaughterhouse somewhere along Highway 101. 101 is something of a slaughterhouse itself, especially near Hopland to the south and between Willits and Laytonville to the north. The interstate suddenly goes from four lanes to two. Motorists slow to react are often killed.
The slaughterhouse under discussion, however, would render four-footed animals into steaks and chops.
Several sons of the soil, fresh off their back 40s, appeared before the Supervisors to talk up a tax-subsidized facility.
The slaughterhouse idea has been floating around for several years now, never getting very far because, of course, nobody’s willing to put up millions of dollars for, ahem, a pig in a poke.
Ranchers, miscellaneous Friends of Ranchers, and some local food advocates spoke for the idea; none of them offered to front the money. They seemed to think the Supervisors would somehow fund it, or fund the planning of it.
A rancher named John Ford, unlike his fellow ranchers, seemed much more reality-based. Ford rattled off some likely numbers and told the Board, “I can’t see where this is economically viable.”
Several enviros and a vegetarian told the Board that there were various problems with the idea — the smell, the waste, the humane treatment, the idea itself…
One Ukiah resident was for it as long as it wasn’t in his neighborhood.
Counting herself among the Friends of Ranchers, Fifth District Supervisor Candidate Wendy Roberts said she’d spoken to “Sea Ranchers and large cattle ranchers
Peter Bradford, Larry Mailliard, Larry Stornetta… They tell me it would make a tremendous benefit to them. No more hauling of animals out of county.” Roberts then added the facility should not be in the Ukiah area. “Our support is conditional on that,” said Roberts.
Supervisor Pinches, a cattleman, pointed out that the idea hasn’t gone much past “Gosh! Wouldn’t it be great if the County built us a slaughterhouse!”
Bradford, Mailliard and Stornetta, individually or severally, could finance a slaughterhouse themselves. So, why don't they? Why do they even suppose the public should be involved in building one for their private cows?
John Harper is chief of Mendocino County’s UC Extension/Farm Advisor Office, local fount of tax-funded advice and the occasional handout for gentleman farmers. The office also includes forestry expert Greg Giusti and the egregious grape guy, Glen McGourty. Harper functions as supervisor of the other two and their “livestock” expert. It fell to him to come up with a slaughterhouse concept for discussion purposes, although Harper took pains several times to note that his $18 million (depending on which price per square foot number you use) figure was pure speculation since nobody knows how much livestock would be brought in for slaughter nor how much finished meat could be sold. And nobody knows how the slaughterhouse would be funded or where it would be located or how the hippies would be cooled out if it magically became more than the dream of wealthy ranchers to get themselves a big freebie.
In other words, it was discussion time at the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.
The ranchers agreed with Harper that there's a market for their chopped up cows and pigs in the Sacramento Valley and among San Francisco's Whole Foods types that a Mendo-based slaughterhouse might efficiently serve. Presently, Mendo's small animal exports are trucked to Eureka or Sonoma County to be converted to hamburger and lamb chops.
Supervisor Pinches suggested that a producers cooperative might be a good way to get things going.
And there's the rub.
Mendocino County’s wealthiest ranchers are all for having Mendocino County spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many staff hours to discuss imaginary slaughterhouses but they don't want a co-op and, of course, they don't want to put up their own money.
At this point in Mendocino County's long history of civic inertia — it took a whole decade to simply update the General Plan and five years to rubber-stamp a waterless modest housing project permit — the County has zero money to fund any free enterprise for rich people, let alone one costing an estimated $18 million.
Two local ranchers, Jim Lawson of Willits and retired Undersheriff Beryl Murray of Redwood Valley, seemed entirely carried away with the prospect of free money. They told the Board “You [the Board of Supervisors] can build it on my ranch if you want to.”
Ukiah Councilwoman Mari Rodin (who, by the way, doesn’t seem to know what “tare weight” is) spoke for the fantasy slaughterhouse.
There will be a slaughterhouse in inland Mendocino County the day after the Willits Bypass is completed.
* * *
SEIU rep Jackie Carvallo is getting very, very frustrated. She appeared at both the May 18 and May 25 Board meetings to tell the Supervisors that the best way to cut staff is to use some combination of voluntary separation and early retirement incentives. But, said Carvallo, quoting an official memo from County Human Resources Director Teresia Haase, “These options are not to be pursued at this time per board direction.”
Carvallo argues that:
• voluntary separation is working in Sonoma County;
• it’s cheaper than layoffs, which can involve up to 99 weeks of unemployment payments;
• it provides more immediate savings, and
• it tends to remove higher ranking, higher paid staff rather than layoffs, which typically involve lower paid staff, thus saving more money.
However, after several hours of intervening budget discussions, CEO Carmel Angelo invited Ms. Haase to explain why she wasn’t interested Carvallo’s proposals.
“The voluntary layoff approach is typically invoked after layoffs are decided on,” said Haase, “so that department heads have the option of asking for voluntary layoffs. They would still have unemployment and other rights, the same as involuntarily laid off employees. So there’s no cash incentive or savings in that policy.”
The early separation incentive, or “golden handshake” as Haase termed it, means that an employee would get either some service credit to bump up their pension or get a cash payment, so that would cost short-term money with the possibility of long-term savings. But, added Haase, “only if the position remains vacant.”
This explanation didn’t fully convince Carvallo who emphasized that the departures of higher ranking people would still produce short-term savings. Given that Carvallo represents the lower-paid employees, her emphasis is with them.
But since Carvallo’s proposals are off the table, and most County workers are resisting further pay or benefit cuts, CEO Angelo is proceeding with Phase 2 of the layoff plans. Phase 1’s layoffs were not too painful because most of them weren’t really layoffs, but a reshuffling of people and funding. But Phase 2 layoffs will definitely bite.
Last week we learned that the non-elected department heads have agreed to accept a 10% pay cut. Several County employees have pointed out that the other bargaining units are being asked to take bigger cuts.
Last week we also learned that Deputy CEO Jennifer Wyatt, the County’s long-serving (five years) budget officer, had resigned without explanation. And Chief Probation Officer Wes Forman, who also had been the salary negotiator for the department heads, announced he was going to work in Shasta County. Wyatt tended to load up her presentations with jargon and insider-ese, but she knew her stuff. Forman is a relentlessly Nice Fellow who always seemed miscast as a probation officer, frequently urging the Board to “communicate better.”
The big news of the meat cleaver session on May 25th was Sheriff Tom Allman’s prediction that if the Supervisors cut $4.5 million from his budget as CEO Angelo has more or less proposed he might have to lay off every patrol deputy he’s got!
Allman said there are number of things in his department that he has no control over: salaries (which the Board negotiates), the County portion of retirement contribution levels, (ibid), pension pay outs (which are part of the Sheriff’s Office’s expense budget
$5 million of his budget will go to pension expenses next year alone), skyrocketing health insurance costs, and last but not least, how much money the CEO arbitrarily in Allman’s opinion allocates to him.
Allman said of the things he can control overtime, mileage, staffing, efficiency, service delivery he’s sacrificed more than his fair share; he has not filled vacancies, for instance, which have risen from 12 to 25 over the last year alone. Allman pointed out that there have been 50 hires in other departments in the last year. “I’m only maintaining the status quo,” said Allman.
The next steps for Mendo's top cop would involve cutting 24-hour patrol in the unincorporated areas of the Ukiah Valley, eliminating the resident deputy programs all over the County and putting the northern sector (Willits, Laytonville, Covelo) and the entire Mendocino Coast on on-call status, dispatched out of Ukiah. The Sheriff’s reps on the Major Crimes Task Force and the K-9 program would also have to go, as would grant application staffers who wouldn’t be needed since there wouldn’t be staff to carry out the grants.
Allman told the Board that they should stop talking about a countywide sales tax measure and get something on the ballot soon or the consequences for public safety would be quite dire.
CEO Angelo stood by her budget proposal, saying that if the money the Sheriff wants was allocated to the Sheriff, whole departments and programs, Libraries, Museum, Alcohol and Drug Programs, half the water agency, animal shelters, etc. would have to be eliminated.
It’s up to the Board of Supervisors. And if that doesn’t make you nervous, nothing will.
Allman’s dire predictions were supported by his numbers: $4.5 million is indeed what it costs to keep his 42 patrol deputies on vast Mendocino County's dusty back roads. Although we doubt it will work out that they'll all be laid off.
DA Meredith Lintott was nearly as apocalyptic.
“The CEO’s recommendation fails to recognize our duty to prosecute serious and violent crime in Mendocino County,” said the DA. “That would be put in peril with the CEO’s recommendations.”
Like the Sheriff, Lintott also has fixed costs she can’t control, pointing out that the CEO’s proposal amounts to a 30% net cut. Lintott’s math escaped us and, it seems, her too during her statement to the Board, but she says she’ll have to lay off either three or six attorneys. Then she went into her own end-of-the world scenario.
“This would be a free ticket to criminals: Come to Mendocino! You would be waving a flag, a white flag. There would be arrests but no prosecutions. Mendocino County would become an easy mark. … We need a strong District Attorney’s office and Sheriff’s office for a safe community.”
Then Lintott made the best point of her presentation, perhaps of her life: The County Counsel’s office, which now contains seven attorneys and support staff will suffer no cuts under CEO Angelo’s proposal.
“And other departments are getting what they ask for,” the DA continued. “We can't take this. … We took the [previous] cuts, others have not. This will gut the DA’s office. Absolutely gut it.”
While all five supervisors took pains to say they didn’t relish the financial squeeze they were in, and took turns denouncing the state of California's legislature, none of them took specific exception to Ms. Angelo’s unpopular recommendations. Ms. Angelo said she’d bring the actual list of up to 25 more layoffs to the Board at their next meeting on June 8th.
Following the bloodletting on the 8th, there will be two more rounds of even more painful layoffs between now and Christmas.
* * *
Supervisor Pinches, always alert to anything which might affect the diversion of the Eel River at Potter Valley into the Russian River, informed his fellow Supervisors about Congressman Thompson’s response to his question about the Congressman's position on the efforts by some to end or at least scale back the diversions.
“Hi, Supervisor Pinches,” began Thompson's rep, Heidi Dickerson, in a chirpy e-mail, “I wanted to get back to you regarding Mike's response to Eel River.
“Mike supports the science and what the science dictates to be the most beneficial for the system in both Humboldt and Mendocino counties,” Dickerson wrote, translating the always weasel-lipped solon's typical All Things To All People stance.
Pinches seemed flummoxed.
“What that means, I'm not… I don't know. But that's… I'm reporting out what… her getting back to me. That's your Congressman's response,” Pinches said, his contempt clear.