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Off the Record (October 23, 2019)

SUPERVISOR GJERDE WRITES: “Between now and March, all of us on the Coast need to grapple with the future of the Mendocino Coast District Hospital, when we will vote on affiliation with Adventist Health. At a discussion held last week, the Coast hospital's leadership expressed optimism that affiliation would be mutually beneficial for all three hospitals in the county. Not only would it keep the Coast hospital's doors open, they believe it would ensure greater services on the Coast.” 

FEW PEOPLE would argue against life without the possibility of parole for a range of heinous crimes, and even fewer people would claim they are the same person as mature adults they were as twenty-year-olds. No need to list them here but we all have our favorite list of crimes meriting summary execution, mine being violent crimes against children. But there are crimes that get their makers life without that were committed at a very young age and whose subsequent reform should get them another chance at life beyond the walls. (Which is the justice system assumption in most of the civilized world.) There are several of these in Mendocino County, one of which I've often written about is Tai Abreu's case. New legislation has given Abreu a good shot at freedom because the law now says that if you are simply present when a murder occurs, only the killer gets life without the possibility of parole, not the people who happened to be present when it happened. 

DA EYSTER has announced he'll re-try Abreu for the 2001 murder of Donald Perez, although there's no evidence against Abreu (or his co-defendants) that he was the killer and no evidence there even was a murder, the remains being so deteriorated that the cause of death could not be determined. There was, however, a surmise that Perez had been stabbed in the throat.

IF YOU CAME IN LATE, Perez, who'd driven to Fort Bragg from LA in anticipation of a second tryst with Stuckey, was robbed and duct-taped to a tree a few feet from the A&W Logging Road less than a mile from the Fort Bragg Police station. Abreu's two associates, August Stuckey and Aaron Channel, each received 25-to-life with, in Stuckey's case, the stipulation he must satisfy the parole board he is no longer the dangerous psycho he was when Perez was killed. But if Perez was indeed stabbed in the throat while he was secured to the tree, Stuckey is my nominee for most likely perp, assuming Perez, already strapped to the tree, was finished off with this wound to his throat. This drawing accompanied an abusive letter Stuckey sent me from prison.

LEIF BERKSON'S case is more problematic. As a very young man roaming Covelo in 1993, Berkson murdered 67-year-old Harvey Boynton, the popular owner of Perko's Restaurant in Willits. Berkson, driving a stolen Ford Bronco, encountered Boynton at the Boyntons' Hill Road property, Covelo. Boynton, armed with a shotgun, confronted the much younger Berkson who wrested the shotgun from Boynton and shot and beat Boynton to death with it.

BERKSON'S defense? He said he was afraid Boynton was going to shoot him, in which case it would have been enough for Berkson to simply take the gun from the old man and drive off. But he didn't, and here he is in prison where he has become an entirely different person from person he was, a person I would say should get a chance at parole. 

Berkson's sister, Erika, writes:

"My older brother, Leif Berkson was convicted of murder 25 years ago, when he was not yet 25 years old. He received a "Life Without Parole" sentence. In prison, he has educated himself, earning several degrees. 

He mentors at risk youth as part of the Youth Diversion Program. He is a vegetarian, studies yoga and meditation, is a trained facilitator for the "Alternatives to Violence Program," and is a certified Drug and Alcohol specialist (Level I and II). 

My brother Leif, and many others who were incarcerated at a young age, are hoping that Gov. Jerry Brown will make it possible for him, and others like him, to have their sentences commuted from LWOP to 25 years to Life. If [then] Gov. Brown were to grant this request, my brother would be eligible to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings—something that is not possible with an LWOP sentence.

AS STATED by Leif in his letter to the Governor: 

"It is difficult to express in words the great remorse and shame I feel for what I did. I cannot undo the events of that terrible day, I can only stay true to the vow I made to never create another victim, and to be a part of the solution instead of the problem. I'm involved in a number of groups which has not only helped me to re-humanize myself, but helps bring healing to others -and hopefully makes the communities we live in safer in the long run. …I do not believe I 'deserve' or have somehow 'earned' a commutation of my sentence. How could I possibly use such terms when I am guilty of murdering a human being? Some things like redemption and a second chance can only be gifts freely given. I pray that God's mercy will allow you to see that I am not the same broken, and lost young man I was 25 years ago. I hope that you will sign this petition. Thank you for your time, and God Bless." 

PLEASE write or call the Governor if you feel that LWOP prisoners, who have shown they are ready to become contributing and positive members of society, deserve a chance to appear before the Board of Parole. With sincere thanks, Erika Haynes (Leif’s sister)

Governor Gavin Newsom

c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

TUESDAY NIGHT'S DEBATE, IMPRESSIONS OF: I was a few minutes late tuning in, but I almost immediately tuned out when Anderson Cooper hoved into view. The ubiquitous Cooper was joined by a semi-black guy who squeaked when he talked and the obligatory attractive woman with phosphorescent teeth. Jake Tapper's truculent puss also flitted across the screen, a sure sign we were in for some grade-a jive. A large live audience of well-nourished libs looked on.

SO, we had this trio of heavy hitters lobbing the soft ball questions, which the ten candidates seemed to have seen well before the New York Times-sponsored event kicked off with Mark Lacey, the castrati-sounding black guy from the Times, Erin Burnett with big white teeth from CNN, and the inevitable Cooper who seems to be on tv round the clock. I was hoping for Wolf Blitzer, CNN's great comic figure, spinning from global catastrophe to global catastrophe in his big swivel chair in CNN's Situation Room.

IMMEDIATE ironies included Tom Steyer, a Frisco-based billionaire, who bought his way on stage as several candidates, including Steyer, proceeded to speak harshly of the rich. To qualify as a candidate you have to had many millions of dollars, but the only candidate who has legitimately raised money from enthusiastic little guy supporters is Bernie Sanders. The rest of them are funded by THE PROBLEM, which all the candidates, including Steyer, duly complained about. Steyer, who bears a strong resemblance to legendary Mendo counter-culture figure, Troll Brandon, also said he wanted to get money out of politics, presumably not before he buys his way on stage for the next corporate-sponsored “debate.”

THE SITE of the mostly tiresome event was Westerville, Ohio and was beamed out into the mostly aghast world from CNN's Spin Room. (I'll say!)

TRUMP got worked over all night, and the first half-hour was devoted to ritually bashing the most derided figure in world history, but there he is in all his orange splendor.

ELIZABETH WARREN sagely pointed out that some issues are bigger than Trump and will still be with us when His Orangeness finally retreats to his tanning bed and bathroom with the gold fixtures. Warren said she'd read "all 442 pages of the Mueller Report,” citing its equivocating findings as more proof that Trump got help from the Russians to defeat Hillary, who only got help from Wall Street and the major corporations all the candidates said they want to rein in. "No one is above the law," Warren declared while millions of abused Americans looked on and silently recited the names of big shots they personally know who are above the law.

BERNIE was on message all night, and he looked healthy, too. He said Trump was the most corrupt president in the history of the country, but that claim has some serious competition. Nixon? Warren Harding? Bernie concluded his first remarks by saying, "Mitch McConnell has got to do the right thing," the only unreal remark he made all night. McConnell is genetically programmed to do the wrong thing.

BIDEN was often incoherent, losing his train of thought three or four times. He's a hundred years older than Bernie, two hundred years older than Warren.

KAMALA HARRIS did better than she usually does but remains fuzzy on most issues except abortion rights, a big issue for sure, but if we're doomed as a species from global warming one would expect that issue would over-ride everything else, but it got barely a mention.

CORY BOOKER roused himself with his usual energetic moral uplift spiel.

AMY  KLOBUCHAR got off some witty, if totally errant one-liners, including, "Trump is making Russia great again!" Not the Democrats fault he’s prez, right?

JULIEN CASTRO always induces in me an instant narcoleptic unconsciousness. Whatever he said wasn't vivid enough to keep me awake.

MAYOR PETE is a cunning, articulate (if you don’t listen too hard) little hustler who seems to have great appeal to the fuzzy warms to whom his promises "to bring us together" never fail to resonate. He started out for single-payer, now he’s against it, running hard to please his corporate funders. Of all the candidates he and Klobuchar are echoes of Hillary and Bill.

TULSI GABBARD  rightly pointed out that we never should have intervened in Syria in the first place, an observation that has gotten her torrents of abuse from the talking heads at CNN, MSNBC and, lately, Hillary, as "a Russian agent."

AS THE CANDIDATES promised to crack down on Big Biz, I remembered Jesse Unruh's famous remark when he was California's go-to guy in the state legislature: "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them you've got no business being up here." By that standard, present-day officials would all have to vacate their positions.

STEYER made the extremely dubious statement that "Every candidate on this stage is better than Trump" and went on to say, "I started the impeachment movement."

YANG, a liberal libertarian, didn't like Bernie's and Liz's plans to tax the rich to pay for health care.

THE demagogic Beto, who strikes me as clinically nuts, thanked Mayor Pete and Ms. Gabbard for their "service and sacrifice" and, natch, bashed Trump.

BIDEN: “My son did nothing wrong, I did nothing wrong. I rooted out corruption in the Ukraine, and this is why it is so important we remove this man from office," deftly changing the subject in mid-sentence from his influence peddling in the Ukraine to Trump.

BERNIE: “We can't focus totally on Trump and ignore the real issues.” But without Trump,  and except for Bernie and Liz, the Democrats would be speechless and totally issue-free.

WARREN: "I've had 140 town hall meetings. I've been out there. Americans shouldn't have to worry about healthcare costs." She and Bernie want to tax the super-rich to pay for a version of single payer. The other candidates say Liz and Bernie’s plans won't work. Mayor Pete seemed panicked at the idea the rich would be fairly taxed. "There's essentially a multi-trillion hole in the middle" of Warren's plan,  he said without knowing anything about her plan except the oligarchy would pay for it and he’s deeply in love with them.

THERE WERE LONG arguments about healthcare, with Klobuchar wanting to "improve" ObamaCare to prepare for "the silver tsunami," meaning the baby boomers as they move from their Rolling Stones recordings, hot tubs to walkers.

BERNIE said Americans “are tired of a bankrupt, corrupt system,” a bracing statement of the obvious we hear only from him on the rare occasions he gets a fair hearing from media at places like CNN and the New York Times. "Do Democrats have the guts to stand up to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries?" No, as the coming election will again prove as Bernie and Liz are shoved aside for the "more reasonable" Democrats like Harris, Little Pete, Amy et al.

BERNIE stands up for public jobs via a Green New Deal, which Yang responds to by declaring, “Not me. I’m for a trickle up economy."

BOOKER, temporarily taking leave of his senses, thundered, "Our moral leadership has turned into a dumpster fire." Moral leadership? From whom?

BIDEN said he's “spent time alone” with Putin and Erdogan, suggesting he's got the experience and all-round savvy to deal with these two thugs. Which he doesn't, obviously, and neither does Trump, just as obviously. "Isis will come here!" Biden shouted. (I ran to check on my shotgun. Bring it on, Isis. Boonville is ready!)

ASKED how he's going to confiscate the combat weapons of the Camo Buddies, Beto said he expects "Americans to do the right thing."

MAYOR PETE said, "We can't wait to do proposed gun control reforms" without saying how to get it done immediately. Or at all.

KAMALA HARRIS said there are 5 million assault rifles in America, apparently unaware that the people who feel that they’re necessary anticipate total social collapse, and good luck arguing with them.

THE OPIOID CRISIS was lamented by all. Klobuchar said she's seen an email wherein a pharma exec exults, "They're eating them like Doritos!" I felt like popping a couple myself after twenty minutes of this.

YANG observed that there are more prescriptions for opioids in Ohio than there are people. Says we should decriminalize prescription dope for hospitalization and therapy.

KAMALA HARRIS gets a round of applause when she says," High level dope dealers should go to jail." As a Frisco prosecutor she prosecuted no high level anybody.

AS THE DEBATE rumbled on, what I found most depressing about it was that none of the reforms invoked will happen — can happen — given the givens. Bernie or Liz would try but they are unlikely to get the nod from Democrat big funders and the super-delegates.

THE DEBATE was sponsored by Ford; dumb movies; McDonalds; a company that promises to expedite crackdowns on "illegal" workers; the evil octopus Amazon; ADT alarm devices; a couple more bad movies; CNN; UBS bank/insurance; and an ad for a drug whose side effects are worse than the disease it allegedly conquers.

BACK to the blab.

BREAK UP big tech? Yes, from all of them.

KAMALA calls out Liz for not supporting her proposal to ban Trump's twitter account. (Relevance, your honor?)

THE NIGHT wrapped up,  not surprisingly, with Scott Simon-quality NPR idiocy. Rather than discuss immigration or global warming, which went unaddressed, Anderson Cooper, grinning, asked, "What friendship have you had that would surprise us, and what impact has it had on you and your beliefs?"

BETO said he once drove from El Paso to Washington with a Republican.

BOOKER: I get along with Republicans.

YANG said he met a tough guy Trumper named Fred who moved from Trump to Yang during their 30-minute car ride.

KAMALA HARRIS said she liked Rand Paul.

MAYOR PETE? Army mates.

BERNIE: John McCain and a Utah Republican.

WARREN: Charles Freed. a guy who worked for Bush the First.

BIDEN: McCain.

CONCLUSION: Stockpile rice and potable water. We are doomed. 

CONCERNING AIRBNB RENTALS, Michael Turner comments: “We rent out our house part time via airbnb. We live in Ukiah which is probably very different from AV – less tourism, fewer long distance owners. But you overlook some of the ways communities benefit from airbnb. For example I was surprised to learn that most of our renters are out of area workers here on temp jobs: utility crews, medical locums, and legal professionals. For these people our place was much more affordable and comfortable than, say, a motel on State Street. Additionally we pay a fat 10% tax off the top to local government. As recent retirees we want to travel while we still can. We don’t want our home to sit empty and neither do our neighbors. Airbnb provided flexibility, a screening and feedback process, and other forms of help unavailable to us otherwise. The arguments against Airbnb center around greed, but that’s a broad brush. You would be surprised, shocked even, at how little we netted after renting our home for six months. But it was worth it to us to have our home lived in, appreciated and cared for. I would also point out how the anti-Airbnb arguments dovetail with the always popular anti-tourism bias. But looking back at our rental history every tenant had some connection to the community, either the aforementioned temp employees, or Ukiah expats returning for family events. So community benefits abound, and should be weighed against the counter arguments, which seem to me largely of the scapegoat variety.”

THE ADVENTISTS have announced plans to upgrade the Coast Hospital Ambulance department with two new ambulances posted in Willits but available to Coast. The Adventists are in the process of acquiring a long-term lease arrangement for Coast Hospital as part of the pending arrangement whereby the Adventists assume the managerial reins of Coast Hospital, with their first move being the positioning of two ambulances at the new Howard Hospital in Willits. 

DETAILS remain to be worked out. But some insiders think the move will facilitate moving more patients from Coast Hospital to Adventists faculties inland, especially at Willits, depending on medical needs and capacities, and, dare we speculate, ability to pay. Apparently, some of this accelerated patient transfer has been going on already — in both directions —as the Coast Hospital Ambulance shifts some patients inland when called for, and as they deliver patients back to the Coast for post-op recovery. 

HOWEVER this develops, it appears to be an upgrade on its face as the Adventists take over more and more control of Mendo’s medical system including ambulance services. As far as we know there is no government approval needed for this to happen. All the Adventists are required to do is notify the LEMSA, in our case the Coastal Valley EMS agency in Sonoma County, with 30-day notice. 

THE MOVE will also affect Ukiah Ambulance Service which will now have to re-think their previously announced plans to put a fully-staffed ambulance in Willits. 

COAST HOSPITAL Ambulance service manager David Beak told us Thursday that he thinks the move is a positive one which will ultimately improve overall emergency services in Mendocino County. That may well be true. But Mendo has been through a lot of false starts in trying to upgrade the County’s fragile emergency response system. The expansion of the Adventists’ monopoly on medical care in the County has some obvious potential drawbacks. More to come as events unfold.

(Mark Scaramella)

WE HOPE to sort out the complete story of the charges by a Fort Bragg mother that her 7-year-old son was physically admonished by Cutler Crowell, a senior citizen and long-time resident of Fort Bragg who enjoys a history unblemished by claims against him. We have since learned that other adults had previously complained of unsupervised male children in the pool's dressing room. The day that this happened more than a dozen small boys were being overseen by a single 13-year-old 8th grader. No one has heard Mr. Cutler's side of the event, which Cutler presented Thursday afternoon in a Ten Mile Court small claims action brought by Cutler against Coast Parks and Rec, the agency responsible for Fort Bragg's Starr Center swimming pool. Parks and Rec had summarily suspended Cutler's access to its facilities two days after the event without asking for his side of the story. 

THE EPISODE is nearly a year old, having occurred on November 7th, 2018. The Fort Bragg Police took a report following a complaint to them from the boy's mother that her son had been physically disciplined by Cutler. The DA declined to prosecute Cutler on the basis of the police report. Cutler subsequently filed a small claims action against Parks and Rec for, among other things, suspending him from pool access without asking him for his account of what happened and for reimbursement of the legal fees he incurred during the 90 days it took for Parks and Rec to restore his pool privileges, which they did, belatedly, when Cutler was not charged by the DA.

THE CUTLER CLAIM was heard last Thursday afternoon at Ten Mile Court, Fort Bragg, Judge Jeanine Nadel presiding. The Judge took the matter "under submission.”

CLARIFICATION: AVA Reader Tom Madden — one of the Orr Springs Road/Comptche residents who appeared before the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) recently to request “detachment” from the Coast Hospital District, provided some important additional information regarding the reasons the detachers want to detach. Madden said 1) Only the “Comptche” residents with Ukiah zipcodes (95482) — which are closer to Ukiah than Comptche on Orr Springs Road — have requested to be detached, not the entire Comptche area (95427). And 2) the tax rate they object to — mysteriously not mentioned in the LAFCO meeting — for those residents has gone from a modest $15 per parcel to $180 per parcel under the newly increased parcel tax rate. Further, some of the Orr Springs road property owners have multiple parcels, meaning they may pay $1000 or more now in parcel taxes while they are in Ukiah’s zipcode and seldom use Coast Hospital. Madden also notes that since the big tax increase, they’ve all been following the Coast Hospital’s financial situation very closely and can’t help but notice how top-heavy Coast Hospital is with high paid administrators that seem be taking a disproportionate amount of that newly increased parcel tax. Madden agreed that maybe from the outside it might seem minor, but for those hit by such a large tax increase when they don’t use the Coast Hospital with its apparently admin-heavy costs much, it’s worth their effort. 

(Mark Scaramella)

A FRIEND sends along a NY Times insert called, "A Future Without the Front Page." Newspapers large and small and in-between are quite naturally mourning their deaths. Me, too, but most of them had and have it coming because of their own dereliction, their lack of relevance to the communities they "serve."

WITH the advent of Facebook, and the media domination of the internet generally, us paper-papers are just about finito, remnants of yesteryear. In our case, publishing a paper-paper for the dwindling minority of people undeterred by long columns of gray, and the lengthy reporting and opinion found in those long columns of grey, the paper-paper is fast becoming a weekly adjunct to our on-line edition, a daily publication containing every bit of Mendo-pertinent info we can uncover. It takes three of us to do it, and it's much more relevant to this area than, say, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in all versions of that newspaper. 

MENDOCINOSPORTSPLUS is a Facebook newspaper produced by one guy, Paul McCarthy, who does a remarkable job all his waking hours posting darn near everything that's happening, often as it is happening, as does Kym Kemp to the north with her Redheaded Blackbelt website, and even farther north at the Lost Coast Outpost website. The immediacy of web papers beats hell out of traditional paper-papers. If some Hearstian-disposed capitalist paid the Northcoast's best newspaper writers and writer-writers to cyber-produce a round-the-clock, on-line newspaper, he or she would be riding future's wave, and maybe even make it pay.

MY HEARSTIAN AMBITIONS ended some years ago well before the internet kicked in. If I'd had the capital, I was going to do a weekly paper-paper based in Frisco. I was confident that I could out-compete the town's existing weeklies which were, and are, weak. We had a cadre of the best writers in the area, some of them the best in the country, but without the money it was fantasy talk. Instead, we managed to produce a popular news and opinion product from right here in Yunan that still enjoys an out-of-the-area circulation, albeit much smaller than it was in the peak years when paper-papers were still widely read.

FROM THE PD: “…There’s no way I would take my kids on the Joe Rodota Trail based on what I saw,” Murphy said. Murphy and two friends rode their bikes along the trail earlier this month and filmed their trip. The roughly 11 minutes of trail footage, titled “Wine Country Turning into Slum Country, and Citizens are Fleeing,” has been viewed more than 14,000 times since it was published Monday. Murphy said the video was intended to highlight conditions on the trail — including apparent instances of intravenous drug use — and spur a response from local, state and national officials…"

THE REFERENCED FILM is the usual depressing skein of linear homelessness strung out along what should be a convenient rural jaunt on foot or by bicycle that links Santa Rosa with Sebastopol.

WHAT'S MADDENING, or depressing if you're of a despairing temperament, is you know in your bones it's only going to get worse, that the political leadership has neither the will nor the ability to do the first thing about it — check that, the second and third things about it. The first things have been done but they're inadequate to the task.

AND THE TASK IS? A federal housing program that built truly affordable living units on a mass scale combined with a national hospital system to at least attempt the rehab of the drug and alcohol casualties. Won't happen. The mainstream libs, with no prompting from the fascisti, are already whining that Bernie and Liz "are too far to the left," that they're, gasp! socialists "bashing" the billionaire class. Even talking about obviously needed reforms is mooted by the social-political reality, which is that the catastrophes are moving faster than the means and will to address them.

APOLOGIES for pontification, but watching the "debate" the other night was enough to plunge Mary Poppins herself into hopelessness.

WALKING the mean streets of San Anselmo, "the gilded birdcage," as a friend describes the town, there are these synthetic cobwebs everywhere, some of them with giant spiders on them. I don't get the connection with Halloween spookery. Cobwebs and spiders scary? 


It really is interesting times that we live in. I knew Trump would be the man to drive this country off the cliff at full speed while blowing off his mouth about his own greatness. However, at the time of his election I didn’t realize he would get so much help in reaching that destination from the corrupt system itself. Now we have two competing teams of corrupt, incompetent people fighting each other over who gets to press the pedal to the floor. On one side we have team Trump opening his mouth and removing any ounce of respect or dignity this country once had in the world. On the other side we have team The System on full display showing us that corruption is its standard operation procedure and destroying its credibility. Decline and collapse aren’t measured purely in monetary units.

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