After refusing to do it last week, the Board declared a drought emergency on Tuesday, mainly at the urging of CEO Carmel Angelo who is obviously trying to position the County for relief money, not do anything practical on water capacity or conservation. They also decided to make the existing drought ad hoc committee of Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty official, although exactly what they’re going to do besides pray for rain remains vague as usual. The CEO said Calfire might be able to wheedle some additional “resources” (staff and equipment?) from the State of California once a local drought is declared. There’s some talk about upgrading and staffing the County’s long-dormant “Water Agency” — which CEO Angelo said has been pawned off on Transportation Director Howard Deshield because of “the loss of some of the deputies in the Exec office” — and looking at future grant applications. But again, not a word about conservation planning or implementation of drought restrictions, or asking the various county water agencies to develop conservation plans, other than another a passing mention of some possible voluntary measures. Some “emergency.” The vote was 4-1 with Supervisor Maureen Mulheren dissenting saying she was worried about unspecified “unintended consequences.” CEO Angelo reminded the Board that in 2014 they set up a “drought task force” which sounds serious, but as far as we know did nothing until the 2015 rains arrived when the task force, um, dissolved. (Which reminds me of my favorite drought joke: Question: What is the secret to a successful rain dance? Answer: Timing.)
We reviewed as much local coverage of Governor Newsom’s Emergency Drought Photo Op in the middle of a large dry section of Lake Mendocino as we could find, looking for any real sense of emergency, or even urgency. Upshot: There was none. In fact, our elected officials focused mostly on what they are NOT doing about the drought, than on any responsible steps being taken.
The Officials on hand in the dry lake bed simply made shallow statements of how historically bad this year’s drought is, then went out of their way to avoid ordering any actual curtailments or conservation measures. Newsom himself said that his “emergency drought declaration [sic] is not [our emphasis] immediately accompanied by any mandates. But those could [our emphasis] be forthcoming as conditions evolve.”
The head of the Sonoma Water Agency which controls more than 80% of Lake Mendocino’s water and sells it at a nice profit which goes into Sonoma County’s general fund coffers, a Mr. Grant Davis, said that “state regulators have informed approximately 700 vineyards, residential suppliers, and farmers, and others with water rights to the Russian River they could [our emphasis] have their water reduced [by how much?] in the months ahead.
Newsom also said his administration “was not anticipating mandates [i.e., no mandates], but, “We are gaming everything out. I am not prepared to announce those [those what? games?]. We are prepared and have announced a declaration of preparedness.”
What’s next? A Declaration of No Mandates?
Joaquin Esquival, Chairman of the California Water Boards, explained the difficulty in managing drought [oh yeah, it’s so, so hard to order water use reductions…] and reminded Californians that “it is Mother Nature herself that is curtailing us.” According to one report, “Esquivel encouraged local leaders to take quick action and emphasize making water conservation decisions based on human health.” (As opposed to … what? Grapes?)
Newsom’s Emergency Photo Op supposedly “gives state and community officials more flexibility to develop systems and policies to manage water supply and distribution.” [We need water conservation, not “more flexibility.”] Another report summarized the Photo Op with, “While no [our emphasis] water rationing mandates have been outlined as of yet [our emphasis], as the drought progresses, curtailing water rights could [our emphasis] be the first step. ‘We have a new vision for water management,’ said Newsom, citing a ‘water portfolio strategy’ report his office released a couple of months ago.”
We wonder how bad it will have to get for Newsom and his timid local politician pals to actually institute the various water reduction stages that normally happen in a drought? The longer they wait, the worse it will get and the harder those “conservation decisions” will be.
If press releases from local water officials about what they might do about the drought were wet, we might not be in a drought. Yesterday (Saturday) the Russian River Flood Control & Water Conservation Improvement District issued a presser saying that they and other local water suppliers in the Ukiah Valley Basin “will consider passing mandated water use reductions due to two years of significantly below average rainfall in the area and historically low levels at Lake Mendocino. The potential actions by the water suppliers follow a Drought Declaration [with no mandates] from the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors on April 20th and Governor Gavin Newsom’s Drought Emergency Declaration [with no mandates] for the Russian River watershed on April 21st. The Governor’s declaration includes directives to bring drought assistance funding to the Mendocino and Sonoma County areas.”
“The time is now to implement extreme water conservation measures at home and work to reduce the demand on the critically low reservoir,” said Elizabeth Salomone, General Manager of Russian River Flood Control, as she proceed not to implement any. “The coming months will become increasingly difficult for many communities as the drought continues to worsen. Coordinated responses are being developed among local, regional, state, and federal leaders to secure supply for public health and safety and, if possible, keep vines and orchards alive for future year production.”
Vines and Orchards — just one teensy step below public health and safety with whom the public is expected to “coordinate.”
The presser then goes on to ask people to conserve by — sigh — “turning off your faucet when brushing teeth, taking 5-minute showers, fixing leaks, and consider letting your lawn go brown.” Low flow showerheads and bricks in your toilet tank are good too!
Funny, they didn’t have any conservation advice for vines and orchards.
Another drought presser came from the City of Ukiah which claims they don’t need to conserve because: “The City of Ukiah’s Recycled Water Project: Supports our vibrant agricultural region [since when is that the City’s responsibility?]; Reduces diversions from the Russian River; Helps Ukiah Valley conform to State water conservation objectives [of where there are none]; and Protects vineyards with a sustainable water source for frost protection.
How nice of the City of Ukiah to provide frost protection water to vineyards outside the city limits with a $36 million water project paid for in part by city residents!
MENTAL HEALTH NON-NEWS
We should have noted last week that the Supervisors did indeed get some info about “crisis intervention training” which they discussed in the wake of the arrest, tasing, pepper spraying and beating of Ukiah resident Gerardo Magdaleno who had gone on a drug-fueled freak out on the streets of Ukiah. Mental Health Director Jenine Miller told the Board that they had held three CIT “trainings” in 2019 and 2020 which were “paid for by the agency.” She said that 149 people, including law enforcement, first responders and a few community members took the three day course including people from the Sheriff’s office, CHP, one Willits cop, five Ukiah cops (probably not the cops dealing with Magdaleno), one Probation officer, and someone from Lakeport. Total training cost was $38k-plus. Miller added that 101 deputies and COs attended the three-day training sesssions and 32 new staff members are “looking to train” by end of 2021. Supervisor Mulheren correctly pointed out that the training should include how it relates to the Crisis Van program that the Mental Health staff is currently slow-walking through the mental health bureaucracy. There was no mention of making the training mandatory or of whether it would help to reduce potential liability for the next excessive force incident.
Surprise! After months of coy hush-hush refusals to say a single word about how things were going to get an operator for the new $5 million Crisis Residential Treatment Facility — aka glorified $1 million four-bedroom house next door to the Schraeder’s existing admin facility — Mental Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller notified the Supervisors Tuesday that she had picked Camille Schraeder’s Redwood Community Services as the “only qualified bidder.”
Although Dr. Miller had coyly refused to answer any questions by Measure B stalwart (and Fort Bragg Electrician) Mark Mertle about the pending contract a few months ago, she offered a little more info — after the fact, no input from the Supes or Measure B of course — when a couple of Supervisors had a few idle questions about the “surprise” RCS announcement.
DR. MILLER told the Board that the County only got one “qualified proposal.” She later conceded that in fact that particular proposal was the only proposal they received. The RFP was issued on August 20 of last year and soon after that the County held a bidder's conference where, Dr. Miller noted, “four or five firms attended.” The contract is estimated to be worth about $935k per year. Supervisor Glenn McGourty wondered if the County was putting too many mental health eggs in one RCS basket, asking, “Isn’t there an operational risk of having only one contractor for all this? Why does RCS have so much? Weren’t there other bidders?”
THE REPLY from Dr. Miller? It’s hard to staff for such contracts because of the County’s housing shortage.
CEO Angelo added, “We have been unsuccessful in recruiting other providers.”
In the past, Supervisor Williams has suggested — without follow-up or further discussion — that the $20 million mental health contract at least be broken down into smaller parts so that each one can be put out to bid with a smaller, more manageable scope of work that might attract more bids. Of course, nothing like that has happened and Williams didn’t mention it last week, saying only that he has “capitulated” in trying to get meaningful mental health reports.
(THIS pathetic charade has inspired our creativity. Ladies and Gentlemen, the AVA presents:
OUT FOR BID or YOU GOTTA A PROBLEM WITH THAT, MR MAN?, a short play in one act starring Carmel Angelo, Camille Schraeder and Jenine Miller.
Scene Set: Conference Room C, Mendocino County Admin Center, 501 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, California. Sometime in the fall of 2020.
CEO Carmel Angelo is seated at the head of the conference table. To her right is Mental Health Director Dr. Jenine Miller. To her left is Camille Schraeder. A large jar of hard candy sits on the conference table within handy reach of the conferees.
Well dressed representatives of four or five NorCal mental health service provider companies file into the room.
Angelo: “Welcome to the Crisis Residential Treatment Services Bidders Conference. We hope you’ve all had a chance to read our RFP. Our Mental Health Director, Dr. Jenine Miller here, will begin by summarizing the services we would like bids for.”
Dr. Miller: (Describes RFP provisions, points out that prospective bidders will have to finance their own services for at least the first two years because the state is so slow in reimbursing counties for MediCal mental health services. Miller provides estimates of how many staff will be required for round-the-clock coverage and security. She then passes out artists' renderings of the intended $5 million county facility — a glorified four bedroom house — and notes the location on Orchard Avenue.)
Bidder Representative: “We've seen in the news that RCS already has a facility next door to this new building under construction. We understand that RCS is already receiving over $20 million a year for similar and related services for the much of the same clientele. Is that correct?”
Dr. Miller: “Camille…?” (referring familiarly to Mrs. Schraeder by her first name).
Camille Schraeder: “Yes, that's correct.”
Bidder Representative: “So let me understand this: In our bids, you expect us to prepare comprehensive qualified proposals that require us to cover almost $1 million a year for two years or more out of our own pocket, find staffing when most of the available qualified staff in the County already work for RCS, which already provides all the other mental health services in the county and does not need to cover $2 million because it’s a small percentage of their $20 milllion per year they’re already getting?”
Dr. Miller: “Yes.”
Bidder Representative: “And if we don't do those things while at the same time meeting all the other technical requirements, our bids will be considered non-qualified?”
Dr. Miller: “Yes.”
Bidder representatives (in unison): “Thank you.”
The five bidder reps quietly rise from their chairs and start to file out of the room.
Dr. Miller asks, “How about some candy before you leave?”
Bidder representative, grumpily: “We’ve heard enough.”
CEO Angelo, Dr. Miller and Camille Schraeder are left looking at each other. … After a pause, CEO Angelo says: “Well! That was easy! I guess you two better start negotiating! You have until April of next year, so no hurry!”
Dr. Miller and Camille Schraeder in unison: “Okay!”)
NEXT in the Mental Health discussion agenda was an item proposing to hire a consultant to prepare a “strategic plan” for Measure B facilities money with financials. Supervisor McGourty opened the discussion by asking, “Do we even need a PHF?” Apparently McGourty thought the need for a Psychiatric Health Facility had evaporated with the imminent opening of the new Crisis Residential Treatment Facility and the “operationally risky” RCS operator.
CEO Angelo reminded Supervisor McGourty that Measure B specifically calls for a PHF and the voters fully expect to get one.
SUPERVISOR Williams thought it was too late in the game to hire another consultant. “We can just approve the Kemper report,” said Williams, three years after the $60k Kemper Report was delivered, widely praised, and accepted. “We’ve waited too long. What if a new consultant recommends something other than what we’re already doing, especially the PHF?”
THE BOARD then voted unanimously to approve the Kemper Report and use it as their Strategic Plan and nobody bothered to make the recommended motion for another consultant. Nobody suggested asking the Measure B committee about it. In fact, the Measure B committee wasn’t even mentioned during this discussion. (Last month Supervisor John Haschak had told the Measure B committee that he’d be happy to be their conduit to the Supervisors, and that he would remind the Board that it would be nice if the Board would ask the Measure B committee for input before making any Measure B-related decisions.)
DR. MILLER then told the Board, “We have one provider interested in operating a PHF in Mendocino County.”
HMMM. Who could she possibly have in mind? Surprise us, again, Dr. Miller.
Definitely not using any of that money to hire the 4 empty Environmental Health positions. You know… that county department that permits water well drilling? No? (crickets chirping)