County To Finalize Best Western Motel Purchase.
Item 5h on next Tuesday’s board agenda: “Discussion and Possible Action Including Adoption of Resolution Authorizing the Purchase of Real Property located at 555South Orchard Avenue, Ukiah, California (APN 002-340-3900), in the Amount of $10,640,000, Approving the Agreement of Purchase and Sale for the Property, and Authorizing the Purchasing Agent or Designee to Sign and Execute Any and All Agreements, Amendments, and Other Documents Related to the Purchase of the Property. (Sponsor: Executive Office)”
The County is starting to paper the file to convince the public and the Supervisors that the $10.64 million Best Western Purchase is money well spent. County HHSA staff insists that the rooms at the Best Western the County is rushing to purchase with state “Roomkey” money will not, repeat NOT, be a glorified homeless shelter or tweaker magnet, even though the project has been described as “provides transitional and permanent housing for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.”
One such paper is the a long unbylined attachment to next Tuesday’s agenda which gives almost a dozen thumbnail descriptions of examples of people who would be candidates for the converted Motel: A single mother-addict with physical ailments, a veteran with physical ailments, a retired Masonite worker with only one lung, a young woman addict just out of foster care, A Korean War vet with mental health and substance abuse problems, a “recovered” alcoholic on dialysis, a single mother barista with bad credit, A retired Army vet with dementia…
Official Ukiah also provided a generic letter of Support for the project. “We understand the County intends to utilize a Homekey funding award for the purchase of a 56-room Best Western motel located in Ukiah to provide transitional and permanent housing for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This is a much needed project during a critical time. Impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately affected lower and no-income families and individuals across the United States, including Ukiah. By providing this important transitional and permanent housing solution, individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless will be afforded a safe and healthy place to live.”
This $10.6 million boondoggle has yet to address who will manage and staff the homeless facility or who will pay to operate and maintain it or how much that will cost or what funds will be used. So far, as is typical, they’re just claiming to do a wonderful thing for 50 or 60 needy people for, at minimum, about $180k per needy person, not counting operation and maintenance. Not one mention of any alternative more modest housing options that could help a lot more people for less money — just throw $10.6 million at the Pakistanis who own the Best Western and cross your fingers and walk away and hope that something good will happen. And, as the above summary of possible residents shows, these will be high maintenance people, even if they’re not street people or druggies.
Long-time Mendolanders might remember back in the late 80s when the state offered to sell the sprawling 90-acre Talmage State Mental Hospital property with a wide variety of perfectly good living quarters and support buildings and infrastructure to the County (complete with commercial vineyard) for $240k, about the cost of a modest home. The facility could have been used to house and support hundreds of locals who needed temporary help or short-term or long-term housing.
But Official Mendo, in all its typical blustering incompetence, turned it down declaring that they couldn’t afford to operate and maintain it, not even considering possible outside funding sources or other options or even just being a caretaker until something came along (like Measure B?). A couple of years later the Buddhists came up with the $240k and turned it into a navel gazing “university.” (Much of it is still standing unused.) Now here they are decades later paying millions and millions of dollars to help a much smaller number of needy people in downtown Ukiah. And a precedent is being set for buying up more private residential facilities for similar outrageous prices.
So far, none of these well-paid brainiacs with their state-issued platinum credit cards have mentioned that these government purchases have taken and will take a good-sized chunk of taxable property off the County’s and the City’s tax rolls, not to mention whatever bed taxes they may have generated. Just like with The Training Facility Nobody Wants, or the Schraeder’s new $7 million Gold-Plated Crisis Residential Memorial B&B, Mendo is throwing money at buildings without any thought, much less a “strategic plan,” as Supervisors Haschak and Williams like to point out — after the fact.
The Supervisors spent last Tuesday talking about just one subject — what else would they spend an entire special day on? — pot. All five Supes love to talk about pot in the abstract as “policy” as if pot growers can be neatly sliced and diced into neat little boxes and categories with oh-so accurate parcel sizes and plant counts and setbacks and zoning categories and sub-categories and so forth. And sycophantic staff enablers and their technical-ish points make it seem like the discussion — which always drifts off into all manner of irrelevant tangential crap — is reasonable and rational. So in that sense they made some ill-defined progress Tuesday by refining the zoning and associated permit restrictions for legal pot growing — in the future, someday. No dates certain, of course.
But, the proposed and long-overdue new zoning/use permit “policy,” generously assuming it can be implemented through all their time-consuming and ridiculous bureaucratic hoops, doesn’t apply to real pot growers, most of whom don’t care what the County’s or the state’s rules are.
We must keep in mind that these are the same people who brought us the current failed mess. So taking this latest policy discussion seriously is very hard, and whether it will result in any significantly increased number of existing outlaw growers applying for permits is beyond pure speculation, and over into highly unlikely.
Left unaddressed by Tuesday’s abstract discussion was what to do with the current 1100 or so applicants whose mostly paid-for provisional permits or applications will expire next year. Toward the end of the discussion Supervisor Haschak finally raised the question of what to do with the existing applicants, saying he wouldn’t vote for the new approach unless it addressed the current applicants and included a “work plan” to untangle them. Supervisor John McCowen called the staff-time-demanding processing requirements that Supervisors Williams and Haschak have worked up for current (Phases 1 and 2) applicants so far as “confusion” with lots of “unknowns” regarding the current applicants, adding that the Williams/Haschak ad committee’s preliminary approaches are “not proven,” and “daunting.” Describing the current system as “not functional,” Supervisor McCowen went on to suggest that he expected Supervisors Williams and Haschack and their two-Supervisor “ad hoc” committee to magically come up with a way to clean up the mess that Supervisor McCowen himself primarily created with his hyper-detailed, micro-managed approach to everything related to pot permits.
Supervisor Williams concluded by saying he expected the next round of “Phase 3” applicants to get permits before the existing applicants do because there’s no plan or funding for cleaning up the current mess, adding, “At this point we don’t have a functional program.”
At one point in Tuesday’s discussion, Chair/Supervisor Haschak turned the standard hole-digging cliché upside-down, saying, “the last thing you want to do when you’re in a hole is keep digging.” But that’s basically what they’re doing.
I have a different take. There are two basic requirements for cultivating cannabis: 1) county permit, 2) state annual license.
We have a solution to the county license: follow the ordinance, process permits. The pace is purely the result of organization and staffing, both of which are improving.
The state license is more problematic, but it’s not a county obligation. The state requires site specific CEQA. There has been an attempt to characterize elements of the county issued permit as meeting the discretionary review required by state regulation. We are unsure whether this will ultimately work. If it does, it’s a shortcut. If it does not, cultivators will need to perform site specific CEQA analysis, direct to CDFA, with the county playing no role.
No matter what happens with phase 1, the majority of cultivation is stuck in the illicit market. Phase 3 is about furthering the transition to legal market. Phase 3 is based on a model compatible with state licensing requirements. It’s where the county should have started. Doing nothing until the last applicant in phase 1 is fully resolved is not good policy. It would be like holding up all new construction county wide until fire recovery rebuild permits are finalized.
For some odd reason, the County Counsel’s legal opinion concerning the legitimacy of the Supervisors’ appointment of Sheriff Matt Kendall to fill out the last three years of Sheriff Allman’s term (instead of one year and then an election this November) requires a formal “waiver” of “privilege” before the opinion can be made public. The issue arose when a member of the public asked about the appointment a couple of times during public comment at previous board meetings. County Counsel Christian Curtis immediately went all legalistic and told the Board that he couldn’t make his rationale public without a formal Board declaration, making most ordinary observers think that there was something fishy about the three-year appointment. Curtis’s attempt to shift the responsibility of disclosure to the Board also makes the reasoning fishy. Obviously, the rationale should have been made public at the time of the appointment. This just creates a problem when there should not be one.
Nevertheless, the following item appeared on next Tuesday’s Supervisors Agenda:
“Item 5b: Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Disclosure of County Counsel’s Legal Analysis Regarding the Duration of a Sheriff’s Term Following Appointment (Sponsor: County Counsel)
Recommended Action: Direct County Counsel whether to make public the specific legal analysis and authorities relied upon in advising the Board as to the duration of the Sheriff's term following appointment.”