Off the Record (Oct. 25, 2017)

by AVA News Service, October 25, 2017

Flora

UNFOUNDED SPECULATION (nobody’s willing to go on record) among Mendo fire officials, based solely on the timing of Deputy CEO Alan Flora’s surprise departure, taking with him his detailed knowledge of the County budget, believes that Flora was terminated because he 1) agreed with DA David Eyster that County Auditor Lloyd Weer was mishandling the Proposition 172 sales tax funds, and 2) given the centrality of fire department budgets, especially in light of the Redwood Valley-Potter Valley devastation, Flora refused to go along with Board Chair John McCowen’s proposal to change last year’s Prop 172 sales tax allocation formula into an application-based system forcing fire departments to beg for their share of the Prop 172 money.

WHAT HAPPENED to Flora was really, really crummy. The guy shows up for work on Friday with no hint that he’d be jobless as soon as he walked in the door. He was handed a letter of resignation, told to sign it, and out he went. We’ve asked for an explanation but none has been forthcoming.

LAST WEEK, the Supervisors discussed loosening the building and planning rules for fire victims to expedite re-build. Of course it remains to be seen if the desired flexibility occurs in fact beyond the vague “we hopes” of the Supervisors.

THE SUPES talked about possible tax breaks for pot growers who lost their crops, which is unlikely to occur without howls of protest from non-pot people. CEO Angelo has assigned Health & Human Services Director Tammy Moss Chandler to be the County’s point person on reconstruction. Congressman Jared Huffman made a brief appearance to say that the County needs a plan for debris removal that meets FEMA standards if the County expects to apply for FEMA clean-up funds.

THE SUPERVISORS, as per their blithely spendthrift custom, approved without discussion, the pay and benefit increases for their “management bargaining unit.” Large sums of public money sail by and on out the door on the consent calendar every month, several of them recently totally unjustified.

WATCHING THE SUPERVISORS last Tuesday as one of six people dialed in, not a single thing of consequence or immediate relevance occurred. Raises for top brass sailed by on the consent agenda with nary a peep from our guardians of the public purse. Everything said and commented on regarding the fire disaster was common knowledge, including the four minutes of cliches from Congressman Huffman. If, say, one of the Supervisors suddenly stood to shout, "Am I the only person in the room to understand that this entire proceeding could be reasonably packed into an hour? That much of what we do and say in this room is objectively insane?" He or she would be gang-tackled, gagged, sedated, and hauled off to wherever Alan The Kid Flora has been exiled to.

NATCH we got the usual marijuana befuddlement, with no apparent awareness from any of the Supervisors that Mendocino County's cannabis licensing program is seemingly designed to discourage people from even attempting to go legal, that it's so complicated that looked at by a person more or less attuned to reality, it also is crazy, double crazy considering that the state rules will soon kick in, negating all or most of Mendo's labyrinthine rules. The leadership of this county is not given to irony, but if they were one could reasonably suspect a huge practical joke was being played on the pot brigades.

THE COUNTY'S pot licensing goal was aimed at getting a cut of the marijuana business. So why not just set up a tier system? Little growers a grand; medium growers five grand; big growers 20 to 50 grand. Most of the County’s pot growers took one look at Mendo's regs, laughed, and went back into the hills as illegal as they were when they came to town. If the rules were simple, a lot of growers could have bought themselves some police protection…

ONE ENCOURAGING remark about the fire disaster came from Supervisor Hamburg who said he'd like to see PG&E bury power lines. Won't happen, but given that all preliminary reports are pointing at PG&E as responsible for this state’s largest-ever disaster, maybe it's a tiny step towards pressuring the Wood-McGuire-Huffman Axis into at least a few squeaks in the direction of the un-beholden power monopoly.

UNDERGROUNDING POWER LINES

Supervisor Hamburg: One of the concerns I have is that this infrastructure is going to be rebuilt. And it certainly could be rebuilt in ways which would be somewhat safer. We all know that PG&E and the other investor owned utilities are not have not been real active in undergrounding utilities. These fires apparently could be the biggest financial disaster for PG&E since San Bruno. In the last week I think their stock value has decreased by $5 billion. Both the CPUC and CalFire at apparently launched investigations into what caused these fires and to what extent they were caused by trees falling on lines and poles and so on. I don't know if this is something this Board wants to look at legislatively. I know there are a lot of people who feel that the last amount of transmission lines should be underground. They are in many, many countries, countries that I have visited. You don't see power lines coming right to residences and going right to houses. It's just not allowed. PG&E — maybe they will get through this unscathed, as far as liability. I know they have been great partners and nobody wants to criticize anybody but running electrical transmission lines right up to people's houses is not safe. I think we have seen it in the last week.

Supervisor Dan Gjerde: I think that's an excellent point. I think we should ask staff to investigate. I asked a contractor recently how much it would cost to run a power line from a telephone pole right in front of your house 40 feet to your house? He estimated it it would be $3500-$4000 in part because of the fees that you have to pay PG&E who has the engineer who has to sign off on it. Maybe this is something beyond our pay scale. Maybe the state regulates PG&E. Perhaps the fee structure is so out of whack for that service that it needs to be reconfigured statewide.

Supervisor John McCowen: Typically that expense is the expense of the homeowner or developer.

Hamburg: But should it be? PG&E, Southern California Edison, San Diego, the three big investor owned utilities in the state are hugely profitable companies and they don't do some of these things because nobody makes them do it. But you have a situation like this and you see people lives being destroyed by what I think has a lot to do with infrastructure that is not very up to date.

CEO Carmel Angelo: It costs a lot of money to underground.

Hamburg: It needs to be done for the safety of human beings. Talk to Howard Deshield about how difficult it is —

McCowen: It's only taken us 25 years to get where we are.

Hamburg: —how long it took Gualala…

McCowen: That's what I'm talking about.

HAMBURG IMMEDIATELY UNDID his sensible remarks about undergrounding with this: “I just want to specifically mention the CEO who had quite an arduous trip just getting back to the County and the Emergency Operations Center and Carmel [Angelo], I know you were there pretty much all night and I even saw a facebook picture of you with your little chihuahua — it was very cute! [laughs] I know you were working hard until the very late hours or the early hours of the morning and also our County Counsel was evacuated and she had to go back in and save her horse and fortunately her house is still standing, but I look over there and I can tell she didn’t get a lot of sleep. [County Counsel Katherine Elliott smiles sheepishly.] Thank you for being here and I know you’ve been through a very arduous experience.”

Ochs

ROBERT OCHS, former Chief Probation Officer for Sonoma County, has been hired as Mendo's “interim” chief probation officer.” Ochs spent 11 years as CPO in Sonoma County, retiring in April of 2016. Since he’s being hired as “interim,” Ochs is probably a temporary hire until a (another) “permanent” chief is found to head up the troubled department. The CPO is selected by the Superior Court, paid by the County of Mendocino. When he retired from Sonoma County, Ochs was making a total of $241,000 a year including benefits. He’ll make around $90k just in pension from Sonoma County on top of his generous Mendo pay. (Note to parents: raise your children to be public bureaucrats. Big pay for undemanding labor.) BTW, the probation reports we’ve seen from Sonoma County are much more professionally done than those we’ve seen in Mendo. So at a minimum, Ochs may raise Mendo’s standards. We’ve seen reports out of Mendo Probation that the judge should have hurled back in the author’s face, and maybe slammed him/her with a coupla days in jail for contempt of court.

OVERHEARD IN UKIAH: "My personal choice of execution involves some rope, a quart of bacon grease, and six hungry chihuahuas."

Alvarez

KELISHA finally gets packed off. The long and sometimes torturous local legal story of Kelisha Sheree Alvarez, age 28, a well-known, aggressive transient in and around Ukiah, came to an abrupt end today in Department B of the Mendocino County Superior Court. Defendant Alvarez was sentenced to state prison for 44 months for having violated the terms of her two grants of felony probation. Alvarez, who really belongs in a mental institution if there were any, has regularly appeared in the Mendocino County courts over the years for having violated her various grants of probation. In all of her misdemeanor cases combined, the defendant has been found in violation of probationary terms by the courts at least thirty-one (31) separate times. As noted by District Attorney David Eyster, "There is no question that the courts have shown extreme patience in a long-term effort to work with the defendant, perhaps to a fault. Alvarez has never made any real effort to comply, so today's decision was the right decision…….”

CONGRESSMAN HUFFMAN got LaMigra (ICE) to publicly announce they would not swoop down on shelters to carry off undocumented displaced persons. Several hundred Mexican immigrants had been avoiding the shelters and emergency aid stations for fear of arrest and deportation. Huffman told the Supervisors that getting the black jumpsuits to back off "wasn't easy."

SILICON VALLEY has somehow managed to get itself a worldwide rep as both liberal and world-saving-innovative. Not. Case in point — Tesla is laying off several hundred workers for talking union. Tesla denies it, of course, but people close to the company say the layoffs closely correspond to pro-union employees.

THE BIG FIRES came close to it but the di Rosa Preserve at the border of Napa and Sonoma Counties was preserved. The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art has reported that all of its galleries were safe. di Rosa’s spokesperson, Danielle Smith, told the SF Chronicle that “the fire had burned down to the picnic tables but was contained.” As a world class art collection, the di Rosa would have been an irreplaceable loss.

THAT FISH & WILDLIFE RAID on the County-legal pot farmer a few weeks ago was uglier than reported. Although the man had his paperwork in order, F&W had him in cuffs standing for hours in the sun as they cut his plants down, an added bit of sadism by the alleged guardians of wild things and a good example of the confusion over local rules, which seems deliberate on their part, by Fish & Wildlife.

THE MAN thus “abated” lives on Highway 20 west of Willits. On October 3, Interim County Ag Commissioner, Diane Curry, said she spoke to the Fish & Wildlife's boss who told her that “he understood we had denied the application, but that’s not true.” The raid was conducted based on an allegation of illegal water diversion. “Staff was out there and working with them,” said Curry. “It was another surprise as to why that applicant was targeted.”

SEVERAL BOARD MEMBERS bemoaned the raid and wondered why F&W wouldn’t at least check with Mendo to verify the permit application status. Apparently, after the last raid, the Board had thought that F&W had promised to check with Mendo before any further raids. (It’s possible that some F&W wardens are still worried that checking with Mendo might lead to the target being tipped off and harvesting the plants before the Wardens arrive.)

CODE ENFORCEMENT CHIEF, Trent Taylor, said that as far as he knows Fish & Wildlife raids are based on calls to the state’s anonymous Cal-Tip line, so that growers with annoyed neighbors are more likely to be raided than totally illegal outback growers who are far from any neighbors.

COMMISSIONER CURRY noted that as far as she knows only three of the 734 pot cultivation applicants have suffered Fish & Wildlife raids — “which is not terrible,” she added.

OF COURSE there's a Mendo angle: Psalm Isadora, 42, was recently featured on CNN as a "Tantric sexual healer." CNN showed Ms. Isadora instructing a young couple "how to connect through Tantric yoga touch," and then showed her leading a group sex therapy session as she chanted “Orgasm is God!”

WHO WILL BE SURPRISED to learn that Albion features heavily in Psalm's back story?

Isadora

PSALM ISADORA grew up in a Christian cult called Lord’s Land in Albion on the Mendocino Coast with her parents and two younger brothers. The family lived in a log cabin without electricity or running water. The women wore long dresses and bonnets, the men walked around trying to look Old Testament. The family was given the boot when Isadora's father, Michael, principal of the commune's school, was found to have been molesting the cult's young girls including, according to Isadora, her.

Photo taken by Psalm Isadora in 2003: "The cabin I grew up in, still intact and the same...no indoor plumbing!"

SOON after the March 2017 CNN feature, Isadora was found dead at her Santa Monica headquarters. Her followers claim she was murdered, the coroner said she killed herself.

TRUMP DOES A GOOD THING. (In addition to destroying both political parties.) Trump says he doesn't plan to block the scheduled release of thousands of government documents related to President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination. The docs number more than 3,000 that have never been seen by the public, and more than 30,000 that have been previously released, but with redactions. (Government “redactions” black out whole pages of stuff, as anyone who has gotten information from the feds via FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, will attest.)

THE MATERIAL will undoubtedly re-ignite the arguments about whether or not Oswald was, as he said, "a patsy" — an unwitting part of a conspiracy to kill the president — or simply a lone nut in the grand American tradition.

LOTS of information about the event has been sequestered for fifty years, which I believe most conspiracy people of the non-crazy types think means there's embarrassing facts of Oswald's relationships with agents of our out-of-control government, all of whom are probably now safely dead, hence no objections about the release from Trump and the “deep state,” which the conspiracy people says runs everything.

IF KENNEDY was a victim of a conspiracy, and there were certainly powerful forces, including elements of the CIA, who wanted him dead, the conspiracy-minded might want to read Libra by Don DeLillo, a brilliant guide in novel form as to how a conspiracy to murder Kennedy might have been pulled off. But what we'll probably get is interesting stuff about Oswald's movements and contacts in the months prior. The only smoking gun in this case is Oswald’s.

I'VE READ a ton of the lit on the case and, probably like lots of people, find the conspiracy bloc fairly convincing until I read the next book that makes a more convincing case (by Norman Mailer, for one) that Oswald was a politically minded megalomaniac in search of fame even if it was infamy.

AS IT HAPPENS, I was in the Marines at the same time and in the same place — Camp Pendleton, 1957-58 — as Oswald. I didn’t know him, but when I learned post-Dallas that he'd gone from the Marine Corps to Russia, I was astounded. Even American communists didn't want to live in Russia, but for PFC Joe Schmoe to not only wanted to go Rooskie but managed to make his way to Stalin's paradise in the teeth of the Cold War…. Well, that journey at that time put Oswald in his very own class as a com-symp, and a very unusual young man indeed.

FOR SURE the 1958 Marine Corps was home to some strange and embittered dudes who’d grown up in unkind circumstances, but in '58 a child of the damned would have had to make an unprecedented intellectual journey to get to where Oswald got. But Oswald got there, apparently through his own reading in Marxist texts applied to his own experience. That part of the guy always made some sense.

WHAT ALSO MADE SENSE was Oswald’s marksmanship. By Marine Corps standards he was an average shot, but from from his perch in the Book Depository, looking almost straight down on Kennedy’s motorcade, and with a scoped rifle, even the falsely maligned Mannlicher-Carcano, Kennedy was a can’t miss target.

LAUGH OUT LOUD HEADLINE of the week from Gualala's Independent Coast Observer, where optimism never sleeps: "Mendocino County goes forward on cannabis front."

OH HELL YES, one step forward, three backwards, and when the County takes a break from its forward march, it mills around in circles. The County's Rube Goldbergian pot rules are objectively nuts. Only a small percentage of growers are even trying to sign up, and they’re mostly corporate types, and week after week, the Supes listen to a litany of complaints from growers about the insanely complicated process. (In fact marijuana advocate and AVA contributor Jane Futcher summed them up nicely last month: "The Price of a Pot Permit")

AN APPELLATE COURT RULING last week may have moved legal prostitution a little closer. Three former peddlers of their own flesh, organized as "Erotic Service Providers Legal, Educational and Research Project,” argued, basically that why is it illegal to sell something that's legal if you give it away?

IN OTHER LEGAL NEWS, the State Supreme Court has refused to lower passing scores on the State Bar Exam. Would-be lawyers have complained the test is too hard. Judging from some of the performances we've seen in Mendo's courts, the test ought to be set about 500 points higher. Only 43% of California's aspiring legal eagles who took the July 2016 test passed it, the lowest rate of success in 32 years, and lower than the success rates in most other states. We say, “Good!” We’ve got too many now.

SIRENS? Is it reasonable to expect cops to jog door-to-door warning people to get out? I read somewhere that the nazi Stukas came equipped with high powered sirens that activated when the bombers descended. Dunkirk survivors said the sirens made the bombings and the strafings twice as terrible. A Stuka siren would be just the thing for Redwood Valley, and the many other areas of Mendocino County where no neighborhood alarms exist.

FROM JONATHAN RABAN'S account of his father at Dunkirk: "The regiment was dead on its feet after more than three days of continuous fighting and retreating, shellshocked by the noise of their own and enemy artillery, and terrorized by the Stuka dive-bombers’ Jericho Trumpets – propeller-driven sirens that wailed as they dived and were designed to spread panic far beyond their immediate targets. The Germans were euphoric and alert on crystal meth; the British, French and Belgians were stupefied zombies."

STEPHEN ROSENTHAL, a resident of Redwood Valley, comments: “As you point out, every day exactly at noon a siren sounds from a location at the Redwood Valley Fire Department station. This siren can be heard throughout the vast expanses of Redwood Valley. Yet on the night of the devastating fire and subsequent evacuations, no siren sounded. From what I’ve read (and I haven’t heard or read anything to contradict this), the reason given was that there was no one at the station to push the button to manually sound the siren. Say what? Is our emergency communications grid so obsolete and underfunded that this must be done manually? Hell, I can get a state-of-the-art home security system that I can control from an app on my iPhone for under $1,000. You mean to tell me that there isn’t a way to interconnect an inexpensive countywide emergency alert system (that includes a siren for each community) that can be activated by central dispatch? Reverse 911 calls are not always reliable, as was the case with the fire. And yet there is a ballot proposal for $30+ million for a mental health facility that the taxpayers should fund. I have the highest regard for Sheriff Allman, undoubtedly the County’s finest public servant and a good man whose heart is in the right place. He has admitted that all aspects of the County’s communications system needs a major overhaul. But if we can’t effectively fund a relatively inexpensive upgrade that will benefit everyone, how can we be expected to approve a tax increase for a costly facility to benefit a few?”

FROM the current edition of The New Yorker in a story called Abuses of Power by Ronan Farrow, this paragraph: "For more than twenty years, Weinstein, who is now sixty-five, has also been trailed by rumors of sexual harassment and assault. His behavior has been an open secret to many in Hollywood and beyond, but previous attempts by many publications, including The New Yorker, to investigate and publish the story over the years fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence..."

TRANSLATION: If the large-circulation media, including The New Yorker, had done their jobs, le porc would have been bacon-ized much sooner. Mean to tell me that the LA Times hasn't sat on this one for years?

ON LINE COMMENT OF THE WEEK: I just think the image of an average American defending his home with an assault rifle is laughable. So someone breaks into your house and you are going to wake up, grab your AR and start cutting loose ? Come on… Ever think what that would really be like? Give me my .38 special revolver and I feel pretty safe. My house has been broken into several times. I imagine I might have to use it at some point (or maybe I’ll use my old bear leg trap!) but I’m pretty sure a shot into the floor is all it would take to turn around a tweak thief. If you are really imagining you are going to have a shootout with an equally armed “bad guy” with an assault rifle, and win, you watch too many movies.

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