“The Goal of this forum …is to become informed about the production, distribution and use of methamphetamines, and to develop action groups that will lead…to positive change within our community.”
Anderson Valley's war on methamphetamine moved according to design, from information mode to community action last Tuesday night at the crowded Apple Hall.
Some 350 people attended the much-advertised and super-organized meeting. Logistics were superb: childcare across the street at the Live Oak Building, banks of 30 cordless headphones for those needing simultaneous Spanish translations, a dire video introduction presented without a technical hitch, a warm bi-lingual welcome from teacher and 21st Century Grant co-coordinator Donna Pierson-Pugh. With a seamless transition to panel discussion, Annie Rosenthal (from the Child Care Council of the County Schools office) asked 25 specially selected questions of Ned Walsh (County Public Health); JR Collins (Superintendent of Schools); Keith Squires (Anderson Valley Resident Deputy Sheriff); and Bob Nishyama (Commander, Major Crimes Task Force). Rosenthal's “Ground Rules for Crowd Control” insisted that the audience respect the speaker, focus on information (“solutions will come later”), write questions, maintain a quiet room, and that no one pressure anyone else to “sign the pledge.”
If the questions had not been so well thought out, and the timing so exquisite, the audience might well have become restive, listening, without a chance to vent any spleen at all, for 45 minutes to four government officials give their side of the story. Rosenthal, however, kept things moving well, and her questions were designed to get the panelists talking in an unguarded manner.
Describing his perception of the problem, Deputy Squires said, “I’m a band-aid. I get the thefts, weapons, fighting with friends. I am trying to get people to come over here to crack down on it; there are lots of people here who are victims.” Asked if meth were available free, Squires replied “If you're fourteen and cute, and at a party, sure. If you are strung, you are paying.” Adding, “I can draw you a map of every place around here [where they are dealing drugs]. I need people to make the buys, to put them in jail.”
Describing the extent of production, Bob Nishyama gave startling statistics. California meth production is equal to the total in the rest of the US. He pointed out there have been five major dump sites, about thirty to forty pounds of toxic residue from labs, along Highway 128 in the past three years. Asked how meth production relates to increased gang activities, he replied “Enforcers, distributors, collectors — it is financing the gangs.”
Ned Ward backed the statistics. “There has been a 500% increase in related Emergency Room admissions in the past ten years. Northern California production is 81% higher than the rest of the state. In Mendocino admissions are leveling out to 20-30%, with 12% additional secondary 'poly drug' cases.” Both he and JR Collins expressed frustration at the lack of effective intervention programs available to communities.
In response to questions about current school policies regarding meth possession, Collins replied, “Standard Ed. Code and Board policy…notify the Board, parents, and depending on the substance and the offense, expel or suspend.” Asked what the current program for prevention is, Collins cited counseling, activities, sports, tutorials, peer tutorials, adding, “Treatment is the last area, the biggest hole. There is nothing available until there is a crime. It is not acceptable.”
On that note, the audience moved into phase two, and to the nine Action Group tables along the sides of the Apple Hall. There, community volunteers accepted written questions and names of those interested in helping develop specific programs to address the problem. Next Tuesday, March 26th, 6-9pm, these sub-groups will meet in the High School Cafeteria to begin work. Areas of action are Agency Connection, Parent Support, School Programs and Activities, Funding for Solutions, Treatment Opportunities, Information Flow, Youth Action, Business Involvement, and the Environment.
The Health Center's Peg Miniclier leads the Agency Connection group. Questions she has received deal largely with law enforcement efforts and how to get better service. There has been some discussion of possible citizen training by the Sheriff's office, and an additional deputy assigned to the Valley (a long forgotten election promise made by Sheriff Tony Craver). Miniclier suggests her action group may be able to develop a central source of information about the services different agencies actually do provide, as well as publicizing the Drug Hot Line, 463-4500.
Can this type of community action have an effect? Calling the community effort so far “Amazing to me in 2002,” Bob Nishyama thinks, “If we work together we can do it.”
Despite the otherwise broadly representative audience, there was a noticeable absence of older youth. David Severn was there, helping with the audio facilities, and staffing the Environment table. David Colfax was not in attendance, nor was Judge Eric Labowitz (according to Pierson-Pugh she was told he was absent due to “possible conflict of interest”). Micky Colfax sat with District Attorney Norm Vroman.
Sheriff Tony Craver didn't come either, but there were enough of his force on hand to impound two flashy unlicensed cars, parked with their imprudent drivers in the darkest recesses of the Fairground parking lot as the meeting adjourned.