Ignoring Public Input

by Mark Scaramella, August 12, 2010

The Navarro

Philo’s Daniel Myers, representing Friends of the Navarro Watershed and the Mendocino Chapter of the Sierra Club, took the podium at last Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to tell the Board that the Navarro River flow gauging station was “in jeopardy due to lack of funding.”

The station costs $28k per year to operate, which seems rather high, but that’s what it is. Myers explained that the gauging station is partially funded by the US Geological Survey, but that half of the funding ($14k) has come from local government.

Until this year, Mendocino Redwoods has been putting up half of the local funding ($7k) and the County, through the County Water Agency the other $7k.

Myers said that Water Agency head Roland Sanford has told him that the County doesn’t have the $7k for the gauging station this year, and that “it looks like the gage will be shut down for lack of funds.”

Sanford, incidentally, makes more than $100k supervising two staffers.

Myers pointed out that the gage is very important because 1. The County’s general plan says that maintaining stream flows in Mendocino rivers is a top priority. And 2. A number of upcoming federal and state projects to fix flow and temperature problems in the Navarro River are dependent on the gauging station data. Myers said his groups “should be able to raise about half” of the County’s $7k, or about $3500, and that the County should kick in the other $3500. “That way, we keep the gage going for one more year,” Myers said. “This would be a very progressive and positive step for the County. I'm going to start fundraising now. I’m looking for an answer from your side.”

Total silence from the supervisors.

Not a word from Myers’ purported Supervisor, Mr. Colfax. Not so much as a referral from the supervisors to the Water Agency. Not a request to the CEO. Not even a thank you for your comments, Mr. Myers. Supervisors Pinches and Brown are ordinarily at least courteous, Supervisor McCowen seems occasionally aware that civility requires his participation, Colfax and Smith are habitually rude, perhaps even genetically beyond even the basics of Miss Manners. If negative charm could be calculated, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors would run at a deficit rivaling California's.

Wednesday’s Board meeting came on the heels of the Board’s meeting the previous day in Covelo which, as predicted, deteriorated into an hours-long gripe session about the failure of government to keep dope growers out of the Mendocino National Forest, especially around Covelo. Speaker after speaker took the podium to denounce the situation. And almost everyone blamed the Mexicans, as if they had fresh surveys revealing exactly which ethnic group was growing how much dope in their neighborhood.

Given that the Board of Supervisors can’t even deal with a minor problem like finding a way to fund the Navarro River gauging station, the idea of asking the Supervisors to do anything about the much bigger problem of illegal marijuana gardens strikes us as fundamentally delusional. First off, the National Forest is federal land, not Mendo’s. Second, Mendo has no money to mount repeated armed sweeps of federal or County land.

After listening to the dozens of Covelo complaints, the Board decided to ask County Counsel to look into declaring the problem to be an emergency. The theory is that if the Board of Supervisors declares an emergency, the County might qualify for outside funding to … well, it’s not clear what they’d do with outside funding even if they got it.

Other local papers have reported the Covelo complaints as if they were news, even though the marijuana criminals and their many negative impacts are obviously quite well known and well documented and have been for years.

Here's Ukiah Daily Journal reporter Tiffany Revelle’s lead paragraph in her story about the Board’s Covelo meeting: “Responding to citizens who wanted to bring in the National Guard to rid the Mendocino National Forest of marijuana cartels, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors has asked its legal counsel to look into declaring a state of emergency.”

“Responding”?

Supervisor John Pinches, historically skeptical of attempts to ask the state or the feds to do anything, declared, “We're turning up the pressure on the feds to do something.”

By asking County Counsel to look into it?

The growers must be trembling behind their plants.

The only new idea – new to the supervisors undoubtedly, but probably not new to the cops – was a proposal by Willits Environmental Center honcho Ellen Drell (and others) to “interdict” the pot growers with checkpoints at key entry points to the National Forest, three of them to be exact.

Our favorite proposal is one suggested by an AVA reader a couple of weeks ago. Under the “multiple use” concept that the Forest Service uses to allow certain activities in the Mendocino Forest, add the words “marijuana cultivation” – BUT on one condition: Only in areas that have already been ruined by marijuana growing. A win-win solution! And much cheaper than trying to eradicate something that 1. will not go away, and 2. that the Supervisors will never do anything about anyway.

If you believe the hype about the November state ballot initiative which would sort of legalize marijuana in California, illegal grows in the National Forest will dry up when marijuana is legalized and the pot problem will go poof!

Similarly, you'll surely recall, we were told in 2007 by the Measure B proponents – particularly Supervisor John McCowen who rode the proposal to a seat on the board of supervisors – that their proposal to reduce the amount of marijuana plants a person could grow from 25 to 6 would solve the big grow problems in the County, and we all know how well that worked out.

You would think that if the big marijuana gardens were a genuine emergency the Board of Supervisors would have at least put an early deadline on their request for County Counsel’s “emergency” homework assignment. But no, not even a deadline. Take your time on the emergency, Ms. Nadel. No hurry.

Several officials, including Sheriff Tom Allman, said they are working with the five other counties which have portions of the Mendocino National Forest in their boundaries – Lake, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn and Colusa – to try to come up with some kind of regional solution.

* * *

On the theory that what people find funny reflects their true selves, we found the following exchange at the Wednesday Board meeting downright hilarious.

It started when the Board discussed a proposal by Supervisor John McCowen, a former Earth First!er, smacking up to his wealthier constituents, to invite the Mendocino Employers Council to give advice to the CEO about the upcoming budget and priorities. Ukiah's business people, you see, especially the ones organized as the Employers Council, are a free repository of savvy free enterprise. You can tell they really know their stuff from the look of Ukiah itself.

Nobody liked McCowen’s proposal to call upon Employers Council for advice. A series of speakers, four other board members and the CEO herself said there was already plenty of opportunity for the public to give advice to the CEO and the Board which, of course, is always scrupulously ignored no matter where it comes from.

Supervisor Pinches went further, saying that the budget process was a veritable model of public accountability. “There is nothing wrong with the budget process we have,” declared Pinches.

That was when Fifth District Supervisor candidate Wendy Roberts stood to agree that McCowen’s idea was a non-starter. Roberts agreed that inviting people to advise the CEO would just create more work for the CEO. Roberts also thought that it’s too bad that few Mendolanders pay attention to the budget process. “You could have had a paint ball fight in here without incurring any laundry bills,” said Roberts. “People just are not present.”

(They're at work, Wendy. If meetings were held at night a few people might show up.)

Supervisor Colfax, who hadn't deigned to respond to gauging the Navarro, couldn’t let Ms. Roberts' metaphor go unremarked. “Have you attended paint ball fights?” Colfax asked Roberts. “I mean, your metaphor is great. But I… ” Colfax was chuckling at his witticism as the room went all jolly-jolly, as public meeting rooms tend to do when absolutely nothing in the least amusing has been said.

Roberts, herself laughed at being complimented by Supervisor Colfax, then took the opportunity to answer his question. “When you go to as many swim meets and activities with my grandchildren as I do,” replied Roberts, “you get to hear about a wide variety of activities.”

“Thank you,” burbled Colfax. “I couldn't resist that.”

Supervisor McCowen, not known for his wit, then got off a remark that at least had the potential to be funny. “If we would volunteer as the targets,” joked McCowen, “perhaps we could raise some revenue.”

No one laughed. McCowen’s joke was a little too close to the bone to be funny.

In fact, if the Board volunteered to be targets for real guns, we’re pretty sure DA investigator Kevin Bailey (who last month called the Board “a group of individuals who have proven themselves unworthy of performing the jobs they were elected to do”) would pay to hunt them, as would several thousand of Bailey's fellow citizens.

Finally, McCowen sighed and withdrew his proposal to invite the Employers Council for their advice on how to sail the good ship Mendo.

“It’s curious that we’re turning down an offer of free help and it gets translated into an expensive and drawn out process. … Our decisions are no better than the information we have. This would simply open up the process with a modest investment of staff time to people who see it differently than we do. I didn't realize our current budget process was so effective. We've had a structural deficit since 2005. Using the current ‘effective’ budget process we adopt a ‘balanced’ budget every year which then falls off the rails and then we're scrambling, at least the last two years since I've been here, we're scrambling to try and balance the current fiscal year budget, and based on the numbers, futilely, because we have not, at the end of the year had a balanced budget at least since 2005. But it's easy to see that this idea isn't going anywhere so I will withdraw the item from further discussion at this time.”

After unanimously voting to put the half-cent sales tax on the November ballot, the Board declined to add an advisory measure about sharing the proceeds of the sales tax with Mendo’s four cities, saying that such a measure would just “confuse” the voters and unnecessarily tie the Board’s hands when the hoped for millions start rolling in.

Supervisor Pinches wasn’t inclined to give a nickel of the potential new revenue to the cities. “We need the money for services city residents also benefit from,” declared Pinches. “City residents are also County residents.”

CEO Angelo told the Board that she was already reaching out to the public with some planned “community focus groups” and the establishment of a “debt committee” of Mendo’s noted financial mavens.

Like all the other “public input” sessions the county has held over the years, these will end up being little more than sandboxes for a few earnest people while Ms. Angelo tells them – and everyone else – that Mendo’s broke. “We just don’t have any money” will be repeated until the sand is gone out of the box.

* * *

We would be remiss if we didn’t report the following: “PROCLAMATION OF THE MENDOCINO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS RECOGNIZING THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT: WHEREAS, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, granting women the right to vote; therefore, this year marks the 90th Anniversary; and; WHEREAS, women suffragists including Alice Paul, who fought for and won the right of women to vote, should be respected and honored for their momentous struggle and victory; and WHEREAS, part of the mission of American Association of University Women (AAUW), the League of Women Voters, National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), and the Ukiah Saturday Afternoon Club (SAC) is to promote equality for all women and getting the right to vote has been instrumental in advancing women’s rights; and WHEREAS, since the founding of these organizations, they have encouraged women to take advantage of their right to vote to make their voices heard; and WHEREAS, The American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the Ukiah Saturday Afternoon Club urge all citizens of Mendocino County, all civic and fraternal groups, all educational associations, all news media, and other community organizations to join this salute to women gaining the right to vote, and to encourage and promote the celebration of the achievements of all women as they contribute daily to our economic, civic, and cultural purposes. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of the County of Mendocino, does hereby recognize the 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT AND URGE ALL RESIDENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SCHEDULED EVENTS. Dated: August 10, 2010. Signed, Carre Brown, Board Chair.”

Translation: Val Muchowski and Joe Wildman, who comprise the total membership of the NWPC and two-thirds of Mendocino County's active Democrats, will present three carefully selected women with garage sale golf trophies.

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