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The Cowboy Capitalists and the Bureaucrat

According to John Mayfield, president of Microphor Inc., Dave Faulkner, the county’s Air Pollution Control Officer, is a “power-monger” and “an incompetent” who should be “terminated.” Mayfield also thinks Faulkner’s agency is “atrocious” and engages in “social engineering.” Mayfield vented his spleen on Faulkner yesterday (August 12) in a board of supervisors’ budget hearing remarkable for both its length — it lasted into the evening — and its almost entirely symbolic content, since the Air Quality Management District is not funded by the county.

So why spend several hours examining an agency you don’t fund and have little control over? The answer is available only to those who can access the subconscious mental processes of Supervisor John Pinches, Supervisor Mike Delbar, the Farm Bureau’s Carre Brown, and Al Beltrami of the Mendocino County Employers Council. (Mayfield’s spleen is more than ideological, since he and his firm have had permit problems with Faulkner’s office).

The budget hearing process is even more agonizing than usual this year, because, at the board’s request, each department head is explaining the function of his or her department in enough detail to help bring the three new board members — Patti Campbell, Richard Shoemaker, and Delbar — up to speed on county government.

Faulkner’s introductory remarks succinctly explained his agency’s primary functions: administering state and federal air pollution programs, like the California Clean Air Act. The agency is funded primarily by county motor vehicle registration fees and county permit fees and receives no county general fund money. Faulkner’s office issues permits to county operations that may be sources of “non-vehicular” emissions — gas stations, dry cleaners, and industrial operations, like Masonite, Retech, and Microphor. They also do some testing of the county’s air, and Faulkner — along with Air Quality staffer, Walt Allen — reminded the board that the Ukiah Valley is in danger of exceeding the state’s standard for ozone levels, which could lead to some genuinely stringent regulations in the valley, especially of cars and trucks, known to be a major source of ozone “precursors.” Finally, Faulkner explained that his agency also has a planning function, since industrial operations and developments inevitably impact air quality. Air Quality provides county departments with information and reviews of projects that might affect the county’s air quality.

As far as Supervisor Pinches was concerned, Faulkner might as well have been talking to himself. Instead of addressing the information just presented, Pinches brought up an idea he first broached last week at an earlier Faulkner-bashing session: could the county use Air Quality money to suppress the dust on unpaved roads in his district? Dust is air pollution, isn’t it? Faulkner: no, his agency deals with emissions from motor vehicles and the aforementioned “stationary sources.” Roads are a public works problem. Later, Pinches asked County Counsel Peter Klein the same question and got the same answer: no dice, it’s illegal. Pinches also evidently takes the whining by some members of the “business community” at face value, as he said that businesses only have so much money, and that he’d like to see money spent helping business, instead of spending it on studies: he urged Faulkner to get into “action mode instead of study mode.”

Faulkner asked the board to okay a transfer of funds from the agency’s trust account to finance some studies, including a countywide inventory of air quality. The transfer of funds is a routine procedure done through the auditor’s office, but the trust fund didn’t show up in Air Quality’s budget numbers. Pinches seized on this to suggest that something was seriously amiss in Faulkner’s department, and he worried that the board — which also sits as the Air Quality Board of Directors — hasn’t exercised proper management over Air Quality.

While Supervisor Delbar wasn’t as over the top as Pinches, he suggested that Faulkner’s 7-person agency was over-staffed, questioned the need for Walter Allen, who was sitting next to Faulkner, and accused Faulkner of using a “punitive” approach to business instead of one of cooperation. And why didn’t Faulkner’s office do its studies in-house instead of contracting them out? Never mind that no other county agency does its own studies.

The other three supervisors kept their remarks brief and generally supportive, though Campbell, too, urged a “user-friendly” approach at the agency, even though Air Quality has mostly reacted to recent regulatory crises and, as Faulkner pointed out, fees and fines are rigidly specified by law and allow little leeway as far as amounts are concerned. Klein backed Faulkner up on that issue. But Campbell voiced support for the studies that are apparently anathema to Pinches, who evidently thinks he already has enough information on the county’s air quality.

During public expression, Carre Brown and Beltrami made some rather incoherent, half-informed comments critical of Faulkner’s agency.

Ric Piffero complained about the alleged problems he had dealing with Air Quality in starting up a business in Redwood Valley and the $900 late permit fee the agency imposed. Faulkner explained that the amount was specified by statute, though he conceded that there should be an appeals process.

But, for sheer volume and pumped-up rhetoric, it was John Mayfield who gave the most extraordinary performance of the evening, as he somewhat incoherently and loudly berated Faulkner to the board. He gave a confused and unconvincing account of the trouble he has had with Air Quality, and accused Faulkner of threatening Microphor with fines, after which he in turn threatened the board, which was “going to take the consequences” if Faulkner isn’t reined in.

There was much talk of having the supervisors take a firmer hand in managing the Air Quality office, but that appears to be mostly, well, hot air, since the county doesn’t directly fund an agency primarily concerned with enforcing state and federal laws. But there was a consensus that the board should at least institute an appeals process so that people like Piffero and Mayfield could appeal their fines to the board of supervisors, much like the board now handles appeals from the Planning Department.

Faulkner and Air Quality had some support: Adam Freeman, John McCowen, and yours truly spoke on behalf of the agency, with Supervisors Shoemaker and Peterson making supportive noises on the board.

Pinches, Mayfield, Beltrami, Piffero, and Brown represent the forces of Cowboy Capitalism in the county, in that they resent any regulation at all. The county’s Corporate Capitalists, like Masonite and Retech, are making a genuine effort to become good neighbors in Mendoland. Even Louisiana-Pacific recently launched a half-hearted public relations campaign in the county, though their moonscaping logging practices are unchanged. The Cowboys, however, will have none of it and are being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century just as the 21st century is about to begin.  

Faulkner in particular seems to grate, possibly because he presents a mild, professorial persona, which, combined with his regulatory function, rubs the macho Free Market boys, who favor bluster and cowboy boots, the wrong way.

One Comment

  1. Mark Wilkinson Laszlo September 7, 2020

    Thanks Rob Anderson, for filling us in on local history, that gives useful perspective on Mendo’s progress since then, to where basically nothing has changed, except at the federal level, where republican cheats, presently led by The Great Toadstool, have gutted every federal environmental protection their knives could reach.

    Yet, the same processes must operate at county level now to poison us. Supervisors must yet be acting as self-interested oligarchs to keep the good old boy anarchy going.

    That could change, if county residents maintain to the BOS, they can no longer pass the buck.

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