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The View from Lake County

County elected officials and the impacts of their actions (or inaction, in the case of a few, like Mendocino’s Dan Gjerde) reflect life-long ambitions and collaborations that the mostly oblivious or at least inattentive “public” are unaware of but certainly pay for, one way or another. The differences between our two counties’ are minor but significant. In both, the “leaders” shape the contour and features of the system that benefits some and neglects others. In both counties, the “Latino” populations suffer more from the latest health threat of communicable disease, but the conditions in which their vulnerability is increased are the results of class/wealth based choices. Grape growers and winemakers enjoy the privileges of exalted industrial magnates, while pot growers and distributors are treated as the underclass (but still mostly independent of the moguls). Meanwhile the expendable classes — old, poor, sick, unemployable — remain the victims of unchecked immiseration.

To put my comments in today’s edition in context, they were prompted by the republication of a beautifully caustic essay by Phil Murphy [“Dear Luisa” (March 20, 2002)]. On this side of the Cow, Mr. Murphy lost his local radio program due to the objections of a former good friend/neighbor’s complaints to the KPFZ programming committee — for alleged “racism” voiced in his comments on how poorly our county treated the woebegone youth of various demographic sectors he accurately portrayed as underserved by the vaunted authorities, and minority groups still practicing fratrilineal insistence on “family values” over modern means of protection from “unwanted” pregnancy (resulting in underage parents, “welfare moms,” and their unruly spawn).*

In the year Y2K, our soon to be retired District 5 Supervisor, Rob Brown, attested to his opposition to restoring “family planning services” in Lake County after a Board of Supervisors’ ordered hiatus in 1985, during which time the level of socio-economic ills such as fetal alcohol (or drug) syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, developmental disabilities, and struggling or insouciant dependent mothers. He argued against the restoration of family planning services (Planned Parenthood had offered to restore them with their non-profit model of reproductive health care options — the least of which is abortion), on December 19, 2000, because the instruction of pre-pubescent youngsters and teens in schools conflicted with his religious beliefs. Fortunately, the BoS did not accede to his preference, but the communities with “severely economically disadvantaged” populations (mostly Clearlake and Lucerne/Nice, followed by Upper Lake and Clearlake Oaks) — also home to many older adults with limited means — are homes to many of the “families” created during that 15-year suspension of basic public health care, whose progeny are now among the “second generation” of unproductive (and sometimes destructive) young child-bearing victims of minimized support systems, which the local schools are tasked with “educating.”

All the “key performance indicators” of unhealthy populations, rehashed annually in the Robert Wood Johnson county “health assessment” profiles, place Lake County perpetually in the lowest 5% of all California counties. And those reports publish only the data results of those programs that report their “units of service,” which are always received by the Board of Supervisors as ill-chosen focal points of our whole county’s otherwise fine, “upward bound” students and socially cohesive circles of traditional achievers. Efforts to address the extreme costs of “super utilizers” of emergency services, funded by Adventist Health Corporation in five cities across the nation — one of which is Clearlake — deploy social workers into the “field” (i.e., homeless encampments) and multi-agency annual surveys of our homeless populations (the “Point in Time” counts required by the US Housing & Community Development agency) reveal hundreds of more or less helpless citizens for whom “housing first” has become the local “answer.”

Our two counties’ Mental Health Departments desire to provide ameliorative solutions to help, but — as we can see from Mr. Scaramella’s reports (for example, in describing the wholly inept “Measure B” committee), the priorities of our boards of supervisors reflect the continuing notion that attracting “tourists” and investing in promotion of over-simplified “easy living” opportunities. If anything has become unavoidably clear here in the past five years, it is that for roughly half the residents daily life is anything but easy, and as always the top decision-makers pass the buck to home-spun community organizations mostly sustained by volunteers.

The organizational model for addressing “natural hazards” and “disaster preparedness” — for those able bodied of sound mind (and preferably sound income sources) — is still reliant on the obvious “social distancing” of the authorities from the people by means of delegating their responsibilities to “boards, committees, and commissions” who are comprised of either sycophants and advantage-seekers with the unseen collusion of powerful land and business owners, or the earnest but politically innocent community volunteers bearing the brunt of hoary policies and undivulged practices conducted in the inner sancta of government “administration.” Such is the fate of the Lake

County Mental Health Advisory Board, a premium example of official neglect and misdirection by our elected chieftains.

After long “dark ages” of exclusionary wheeling and dealing by the responsible parties and their public servants (not our public service providers, of course), the advent of “social media” and more widely spread information technology is beginning to expand citizen-based understanding of systems we fund but receive the short end of the stick from. Small communities striving to overcome the handicaps of all sorts of socio-economic impairments have new tools for generating civic collaboration, and Anderson Valley is among the many in Mendocino who have succeeded — in no small part because of the AVA — in creating resources for all local inhabitants.

What’s up with the City of Ukiah? How do city and county elected officials manage to create intractable messes like the highest rates of COVID infection and mentally-disturbed abandoned souls — for whom the enormous employment base of “helping professionals” provide perceptibly ineffective, short-term cycles of “assistance” that continue to attract the burdensome but nonetheless human street dwellers — or, as in Lake County, unmanageable levels of “petty” crime that plague our poorest neighborhoods committed by socially undesirable drug addicts and thugs (many of whom are not the impoverished “homeless,” but residents in “substandard” structures).

Sheriff’s departments in both counties, given the responsibility for isolating mentally incompetent or chemically dependent misfits from the good germans, as the groundskeepers of civic institutions and janitorial class of “correctional” systems, continuously report the capture and incarceration of “petty” criminals (the “Catch of the Day” on any given day exemplifies the emphasis on small-time crookery), but the creators of malfeasance and abuse of authority favoring misbegotten schemes that we all pay for, collectively, blithely enjoy their “special immunities” and relatively comfortable paychecks.

The past forty years of such adventitiousness, practiced by wholly unaccountable elected officials at all levels of governance, have ushered in this new era of intellectual depravity — from which the original “back to the landers” sought isolation and “self-determination” in wilder Northern Coastal counties in the 1970s (with some exceptions like your John Pinches and Ted Williams) — and we are left with the weakest civic system imaginable. Will the center hold? Will the asshole in charge leave the People’s House without coercion? Will the scandals of this century leave anything behind but bitter cynicism, hostile taxpayers, and congenitally amoral “leaders”? I’ll take my answers off the air, but once again laud all of you for “fanning the flames of dissent.”

*Outspoken critics of “civil servants” are always skating on the proverbial thin ice, and our dicey relationship with local ownership of broadcast media — back to Mr. Robey as the mastermind of our PEG channel’s choke-hold on the only other outlet of “alternative” news and information — includes remaining in the good graces of public officials in order to remain on the FCC-regulated public airwaves. How the beloved Editoria of the AVA handle the sensitive issue of selecting public comments or keeping this feature from being overrun by bickering and back-biting repetitiveness is no different. Why they choose to print my musings and soliloquies is a mystery to me, but to the best of my knowledge the AVA is the only fora for this kind of very local discourse — use it with care, if you value your First Amendment rights, my fellow Americans.


Our AT&T phone/internet service cuts out many times a day, and we also see that log-jam in the afternoon, for which in the past week I have screamed at the automated call response in futility. Finally, yesterday, an “advanced technical support” responder (live, from somewhere — as she described it — in “Europe”) confirmed that there are problems with the connection at the nearest telephone pole. In sheer frustration one evening, I calculated the amount of money I’ve personally handed over to AT&T in at least 40 years as a customer — there were some lean times when I had neither a home of my own or private utilities — and it amounts to nearly the sum I paid for my modest dwelling (in the oldest “mobile home park” in the area). Under the shadow of the latest, but surely not to be the last, virulent disease infecting millions around the globe, and reliant on phone and internet for my solitary work — supporting among other efforts the weekly broadcasts of “essential public information” to Lake County listeners of our “community radio station” — the fraying of my increasingly abraded nerves is exacerbated by the indifference to our dependence on “technology,” which was touted in the 90s as the solution to fossil fuel-based congregational forums in which our “public services” are officially designed and delegated to elected and appointed officials.

As many as two dozen “Zoom” meetings a week are available to me “on line” — nearly doubling the opportunities for “participation” and information gathering to report on our equally fragile broadcast system (also dependent on wi-fi for transmission via the repeater on Mt. Konocti). And in nearly half of the ones I choose to spend my energies on there is some kind of disruption of internet service.

The handling of the upcoming meeting with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (December 3, as explained in the compendium of “Valley People” items) and the Anderson Valley Community Service District is exceptionally well organized. (In fact, I copied it to a folder so that it can be used to help our less sophisticated organizations that struggle to manage the official conduct of meetings — compliant with the Ralph M. Brown Act, Robert’s Rules, agency policies and procedures — so that the local “investors” with theoretical decision-making power can be maximally supported while focusing on known critical points of importance.)

The general manager of our local “public water district” explained that, had the women in the community had that decision-making authority, they would have developed wastewater removal and treatment to stop the contamination of the groundwater supply and could have avoided the cost and complications of having to form a water service district in the first place. A similar local agency might have been needed for the administration of that sewer system, but everyone would have been able to keep their private wells — and not had to pay for a resource that each had individually invested in already. (Fortunately, the source supply is well managed in the “developed” boundaries of the town’s system, and surrounding agricultural and commercial activities are not restricted in their uses by careful landowners — and staving off of the expansion into the territory by the pro-“growth” County “planners.”)

Contamination of water supplies by septic system failures is the problem set for which “environmental health” and “public health” agencies have responsibilities — one assumes that the California Department of Public Health’s Sanitation Division has taken a position on this set of problems and made findings indicating the need for the wastewater treatment plant. It is a mystery that the County-owned fairgrounds are not the most logical location for such a facility, but a hydrogeological study of the area and its land use capacities should explain the why’s and wherefors to enable the community service district customers to evaluate the options. All of us have paid and paid into those water bonds — I’d say that the benefits of the available funds will outlive your sons and daughters, but the CSD must develop a rational rate structure that covers future replacement costs as well as maintenance and operations to avoid the clashes that come with having drastic rate hikes in the future. We’ll watch this project with avid interest, with the help (of course) of the AVA, and wish you health and wisdom as you navigate the tricky whitewaters of state benevolence.

One Comment

  1. A grateful public servant December 12, 2020

    As always, Betsy, your ability to connect the dots pared with your gift to put your perspective so eloquently into written words is as entertaining as it is enlightening. You are ‘spot on’ and I wish we all could see the realities of the world we share with the clarity you have but I fear most of us have neither the commitment nor the life experience necessary — myself included — so I will look to you for that wisdom and await your next article. Thank you for all you do.

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