‘They Could All Be Yellow Squares’

by Mark Scaramella, January 19, 2011

“They could all be yellow squares,” she said.

County CEO Carmel Angelo was not talking about conservative Asians but the reduced number of board meetings called for 2011 to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.

There will now be two board meetings called “board meetings” every month, plus some budget workshops which will also be board meetings but not called board meetings because they will be primarily devoted to budget matters.

Taken together, fewer board meetings as board meetings but more workshops which are also board meetings, the pure number of meetings with all the supervisors present remains roughly the same.

The only difference will be that board meetings, complete with a variety of issues discussed and The One True Green et al adding to the confusion during the time allotted to public comment. The Board obviously hopes that budget meetings will be budget meetings without The One True Green's input.

The regular meetings on the CEO's chart were coded with little yellow squares and the workshops were coded with little white circles.

When pressed, CEO Angelo agreed that “They could all be yellow squares,” and maybe all the meetings will be convened in a Yellow Submarine, metaphorically speaking.

The idea seems to be that the Supes and the CEO will devote more attention in the workshop format to keeping the Good Ship Mendo from slipping beneath the bankruptcy waves, assuming that can be done at this late date.

If one man could be said to represent everything gone terribly wrong with Mendocino County, if not all of America, it very well might be Mendocino County Schools Superintendent Paul Tichinin — the County's $120k a year “lead educator” who, along with the rest of Mendocino County's school superintendents, distinguished themselves last year when they denounced a teacher’s union negotiator by claiming the word “niggardly” was a racist slur. Of course Tichinin ran unopposed for re-election, garnering better than 80% County-wide approval, which tells you all you need to know about Mendocino County's commitment to quality education. Who better then at this point in County history to say a few words to the assembled elected office holders during the County’s inauguration program?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Dr. Paul Tichinin.

“I’d like to thank the Board for inviting me and approving me in this swearing in ceremony,” began Tichinin, as usual speaking as if he were translating his remarks from a Serbo-Croatian. Referring to the garish tie he was wearing that Twain never wore the remotest facsimile of, and apropros of nothing at all, Tichinin said, “I wore Mark Twain’s tie today in honor of him and one of his statements about the fact that  democracy  is  really

solidified by a quality public education.”

Really solidified. Twain groans in his grave.

Formally uneducated beyond the eighth grade, Mark Twain never said any such thing, and what he did say about education, we can assume, would definitely have not been “solidified” by Tichinin and his colleagues.

“Don't let schooling interfere with your education,” the sage of the Mississippi really did say. And, speaking of the Tichinins of public ed, Twain also really did say, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

The only Twain quote that we could find about “democracy” quoted him as saying that “Capitalism and democracy are incompatible,” a prescient statement more true today than it was then.

Mendocino County's lead educator, as always, didn't know what he was talking about and was too lazy even to check the accuracy of his remarks before delivering them.  But accustomed as he is to speaking to groups of people who pay no attention whatsoever to what he actually says, Tichinin blathered on.

“And over the next four years we are all going to be challenged in marshalling our resources and I want to thank everyone in the county, I want to thank the Board of Supervisors as I said, and say that together whether it’s the Board of Supervisors, the judges, the district attorney, law enforcement, we are all going to have to work together to insure that we provide the services that are essential for our citizens over the next four years and I wanna make the commitment to do that in an engaged process, so thank you very much for including me.”

The County Office of Education provides exactly naught in essential services. In fact, the County Office of Education does not do a single thing that the individual school districts of Mendocino County could not do better and cheaper.

Re-elected Superior Court Judge David Nelson quickly returned the proceedings to smart and brief.

“Judges do have to be reelected every six years,” said Nelson, “and after a grueling campaign, I prevailed.”

Nelson had run unopposed.

Which isn’t funny really because Mendocino County has suffered, and does suffer, quite a number of judges who definitely should be opposed, but only twice in the last twenty years did that happen. We recall a man from Redwood Valley, Eugene McDonald, who took on the creeping passive-aggressive Judge James Luther, and we remember that then-Fort Bragg Deputy DA Mark Kalina ran against Jonathan Lehan in 2002 saying that Lehan’s Ten Mile court was a “catch and release court,” which wasn't the half of it.

Because judges are elected countywide, and Lehan’s many impeachable offenses got zero attention anywhere but in this fine publication, Kalina couldn’t get much traction, but he still got a respectable 31.5% of the vote. That didn’t stop Lehan from telling a legal trade paper that voters had elected him "in a landslide."

Auditor Meredith Ford told the group that she has no plans of running again — “I’m looking forward to this being my last term,” said Ford. “It’s been extremely challenging the last two years to get through the financial times we’ve had. Hopefully, with the upswing [in the stock market] we’ll get through this just in time for me to retire.”

Looks like the Auditor-Controller job may be up for grabs in 2014, assuming Mendo doesn’t go broke first. However, if history is any guide one of Ford’s senior staffers will get the job by default since it’s a job very few outsiders want.

County Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire gave a grim assessment of her job these days: “It’s been an honor to serve as Treasurer-Tax Collector these past four years. To serve as County Treasurer during the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression has been an experience that I will never forget as long as I live. It has been interesting to say the least. No doubt the next four years are going to be interesting. We’ve got a lot of challenges to face but nonetheless I look forward to serving the citizens of Mendocino County and it continues to be an honor and a privilege to serve.”

These days “interesting” is a bureaucratic euphemism for “awful” and "serve" is a euphemism for high-paying public jobs held by people who would not be paid half that much in the private sector.

* * *

The Board wasted a lot of time in their first meeting of 2011 on what seems like a very trivial matter: who should be Vice Chair of the Board. Newly elected Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said the Board’s history of rotating the vice chair job meant that the Fifth District (i.e., himself) should be vice chair (and chair next year). John McCowen argued that first-year Supes like Hamburg shouldn’t get the position, the argument being much like one between competing first-mates on the Titanic.

Point Arena Mayor Lauren Sinnott sashayed up to the mike in a mini-skirt and thigh-high boots, but having roused the attentions of every male in the room, she merely suggested that the Board flip a coin to determine the vice-chair slot.

Supervisor Smith said a coin toss would be “undignified.”

All five supervisors expounded at length on what the vice chair position meant, what the chair position meant, who could make motions, and so on.

But what nobody would say out loud is that the Board chair gets to decide how much time members of the public get to speak. Hamburg might be inclined to let his windy supporters, and public meeting bores like The One True Green, Richard Johnson, drone endlessly on about contrails and radon and other second tier concerns where McCowen would be less inclined to indulge the outpatient community.

In the end, Supervisors Pinches, Brown and McCowen voted to keep Hamburg’s supporters at bay, while Hamburg and Smith voted to let them drone on. (Smith as chair this year will allow herself to drone on even more than the usual outpatients.)

During the discussion of which Supervisor should be appointed to the Eel-Russian River Commission, McCowen pointedly asked Hamburg what his position was on the Potter Valley Diversion, saying he should “represent the interests of Mendocino County” if appointed.

Hamburg responded by saying “It’s almost insulting for you to ask that,” adding that others are not grilled about their position on other boards, committees or position before appointment. McCowen defended his question by saying that the water coming through the Potter Valley diversion tunnel is “essential” and he “hopes” Hamburg agrees.

Essential to whom has long been the question.

The diversion, originally hand dug by Chinese labor simply to electrify Ukiah a little after the turn of the twentieth century, is now squandered by downstream consumers as far south as Sausalito. The diversion comes at the cost of the health of the Eel River.

McCowen seems to be worried that Hamburg isn’t a big enough wine industry cheerleader; the wine juggernaut — which McCowen enthusiastically supports — becomes instantly hysterical at even the threat of water regulation.

McCowen later apologized for his “ill-advised remarks” which “put my colleague on the spot.”

Another irritating disclosure during the discussion of who should be assigned to what committee or commission is that some of these appointments involve cash stipends, but nobody said which ones. Not only do the taxpayers have to pay exorbitant salaries and benefits and overly generous travel and commute payments to the Supervisors, the Supervisors also can qualify for more money if they’re assigned to certain committees or commissions.

Deputy CEO Kyle Knopp gave the Board a “legislative update” which, for the last two years, has been more like a “How Much Are They Cutting Us This Month” report. Knopp said that Governor Brown’s proposed budget is “Schwartzenegger’s cuts plus some more.”

Brown, a Republicrat to his bones but magically viewed by liberals as a liberal, wants to eliminate redevelopment agencies, shrink social services and medical services, shut down parks, reduce library hours, etc.

“Every state funded program will be slashed,” said Knopp, including college budgets — but apparently not primary education which Brown has avoided proposing cuts for. Brown wants to put a tax measure on the June 2011 ballot to extend current income, vehicle and sales taxes, and to eliminate a newly enacted corporate tax benefit, but less-than-half of the eligible public that votes these days will probably support it. Brown also wants to move some state programs and services to counties, including the jailing of certain low-risk state prisoners and juvenile delinquents, an eventuality Mendocino County is totally unprepared for. But, said Knopp, “any new funding that comes with that will be canceled by new responsibilities on local government.” … “Brown is proposing things that were rejected by Schwartzenegger,” Knopp added.

Sheriff Tom Allman asked the Board to put off making the pending layoffs in the Sheriff’s Department final for a couple more weeks to see if the revenue picture improves. The Board ignored his request.

Allman told the Independent Coast Observer last week that he “spends all day every day trying to thwart further layoffs” and that he has reduced the number of potential layoffs from 14 down to five and he “hopes that the number will be four before it's over.” However, Allman said, “if there are additional layoffs I predict the South Coast and Anderson Valley services will be affected. It's pure logistics.”

The ICO went on to quote newly elected Fifth District supervisor Dan Hamburg saying that he thought the County was already at the point of additional layoffs. "The larger issue is inescapable," said Hamburg. "We are going to need to make more cuts."

County CEO Carmel Angelo continues to insist that the Sheriff's Department, even with the pending near-term layoffs, still has a departmental budget deficit of over $800,000 which represents the County's entire remaining general fund deficit for this fiscal year, July of 2010 to June of 2011.

CEO Angelo, County Auditor Meredith Ford, and the Board of Supervisors, have said that any new revenues — such as those which might come from marijuana dispensary permits — will not go to the Sheriff but will go to replenishing reserves.

This official County position however, didn't prevent the people at last week's pot forum at the Anderson Valley Grange from again announcing that any new pot permit revenues will go toward reducing the Sheriff's budget deficit. The board is now scheduled to address the status of the Sheriff's budget and the layoffs at their January 25 board meeting.

Close readers of the AVA might remember an absolutely crazy statement from then-Chief Planner Frank Lynch (who resigned last year after the County caught him exchanging pornographic material with San Francisco planning staffers via his office computer) during last year’s rubber-stamping of the proposed and now dormant Garden’s Gate housing development project on South Street south of Ukiah.

It was obvious that there was no water for the project even though the Willow Water District had provided the Garden’s Gate developers with a “will-serve” letter five years earlier.

When Supervisors Colfax and McCowen raised questions about water availability for the project, Lynch answered with this complete load of bullshit:

“I have an excerpt or a section from the Ukiah Valley Area Plan that is the drinking water adequacy assessment,” said Lynch as he opened an impressively thick binder called the DRAFT Ukiah Valley Area Plan. “It summarizes that the State Water Board had notified Willow that they felt that a couple of their wells were potentially underflow. And, um, [reading] ‘SWRCB… that the diversion at the Burke wells was covered under its agreement with the, um, I'm blanking out, MCFC District, um, conservation district, district, for up to 900 acre feet per year that would be fulfilling a petition to add the Burke Hill well field as an additional point of diversion pursuant to … some permits. Willow retained its right to contest that the water was underflow. In 2006, the [State Water] Board agreed to amend the district permit and license and consider the issue resolved. So they feel — I'm summarizing from this — that the issue of underflow for at least those wells was resolved. It goes on to say that with the addition of a 250,000 gallon tank that district will have the storage to meet 80% of the district's current requirements. By the year 2025 the district's storage sufficiency is projected to grow by, um, a large number of gallons, assuming the 2500 gallons is the source. But in summary I think that it says that the, um, the state has concluded that Willow has sufficient water to serve this project.”

Pathetically, this seemed to have convinced the Board that there was water for the project. But now we discover that it’s not only BS, but a complete fabrication!

Last week the County released the Draft Ukiah Valley Area plan for public review. Surprise! There’s nothing even remotely like Lynch's stumbling assurances in the document. Nothing about drinking water. Nothing about the State Water Resources Board. Nothing about the diversion at the Burke wells. Nothing about the Willow District’s 2025 storage sufficiency. The only mention of the Willow Water District water supply is “According to the Draft Water Supply Assessment for the Ukiah Valley Area Plan – August 2010, between 2000 and 2009 total water production in the UVAP planning area – the combined production of Calpella, Millview, Ukiah, Rogina, and Willow – ranged from 5,451 acre-feet in 2009 to 7,679 acre-feet in 2002, and averaged 7,098 acre-feet.”

Which of course has nothing to do with the Garden’s Gate project, which the Board approved last year based on Lynch’s  demonstrably false claim.

The so-called “Draft Water Supply Assessment for the Ukiah Valley Area Plan” is still in preparation and was not released with the Ukiah Valley Area Plan.

At this point, the Garden’s Gate project is a dead letter anyway because nobody can get financing for housing projects these days because nobody can get loans to buy them. But the principle of approving large housing projects without any evidence at all of water availability — and based on complete falsifications by senior Planning staff — does not leave the public with much confidence in the Ukiah Valley Area Plan’s official stated “Goal WM2.2a Proof of Water Standards — Adopt the Mendocino County Coastal Groundwater Development Guidelines as Valley-wide standards for demonstrating proof of water before approving development projects.”

Also last week, the Board (again) approved an agreement with Solid Wastes of Willits to haul the Coast's trash — Fort Bragg and environs — from the Caspar Transfer Station.

The privatization process was fumbled by County Trash Czar Mike Sweeney who failed to obtain Fort Bragg’s approval for the  deal before presenting it to the Board of Supervisors.

Last week’s second bite at the apple (with a few minor tweaks to placate the Fort Bragg City Council) also requires Fort Bragg to approve the deal on their consent calendar on January 24th. But this time, Fort Bragg has presumably satisfied themselves that Jerry Ward’s Willits-based outfit is the way they want to go — the way they should have gone months ago if only Sweeney had done the proper site-prep with the Fort Bragg City Council.

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