THERE’S NO WAY we could possibly cover the Board’s nine and a half hour pot marathon meeting on Tuesday. Our overall impression is that the Board is simply replacing the Bad Old Unwieldy, Unworkable McCowen Pot Permit Ordinance (BOUUMPPO) with a Bad New Unwieldy, Unworkable McGourty Pot Permit Ordinance (BNUUMPPO). The BNUUMPPO is the long-awaited, long-delayed use permit process that is supposed to mollify the critics who say the BNUUMPPO’s “expansion” is going to ruin the county’s woodlands and deplete the remaining water supply, etc. As far as we can tell the BNUUMPPO will be as unenforceable as the BOUUMPPO but will micromanage the pot permits in a few new and different ways and make little difference on the ground.
Tuesday’s pot water discussion was so far into fantasyland that it made us laugh. Mendo has never even tried to regulate water for anything and has no systems in place to monitor or review any water usage. (At one point Supervisor Glenn McGourty even pretended that the fact that Russian River water users, mostly grape growers, “have to report their usage” is some kind of regulation.) Mendo and its water districts have issued “will serve” letters to the most outrageous development projects without objection or question for years. The Environmental Health Department’s water/well administrator told the Board that they’ve issued a record number of well permits this year (knowing there was a drought, knowing that neighbors complain about water tables dropping and wells going dry).
WE ALSO got a kick out of the Board’s naive assumption that the new hyper detailed permit conditions to be imposed on prospective new pot growers will magically be complied with and enforced. We’ve been following permit violation complaints for decades and we know of only two that were brought to the County, one for a small winery on Holmes Ranch filed by a small group of neighbors and their attorney, and the other for the Willits Asphalt Plant, also filed by neighbors with enough money to hire an attorney. To our knowledge, Mendo itself has never on its own checked, much less enforced, permit condition compliance. For years it’s been a running joke when minor things like required landscaping or road improvements don’t appear even though an applicant had had to pay into a “mitigation fund” to do it. Major use permit conditions that are not part of the original application itself are not monitored, much less enforced. There’s no evidence that even the allegedly stepped up enforcement will change that. (Although it might help with some of the outlaw grows.)
EARLY IN THE MEETING, County Counsel Christian Curtis tried to summarize his legal opinion on the subject by pulling what we like to think of as a “Full Zotter” — a 25 minute indeciferable equivocal halting ramble through the confusing and complicated pot permit legal thicket similar to the useless “opinions” of former Deputy County Counsel Frank Zotter, concluding, essentially, that the Board doesn’t have much time left to decide on what they’re going to do and that they can’t legally tell new growers they can’t grow or how much they can grow.
WE ASSUME our better informed pot permit contributors will provide a more comprehensive report of the new permit regime in upcoming days. But for now we’ll simply comment on a couple of dubious lowlights:
• Supervisor Haschak said he’d support a two-year phase out for new pot grows which require trucked in water. See? You can grow pot with trucked in water during a drought, but somehow, magically, that will have to stop after the arbitrary two year phase-out time period.
• At one point, Supervisor Williams said in passing that if the County is going to require a hydrologic study for new pot grows, then they have to require them for new vineyards. Oh sure, the wine mob is going to love that one. (No action taken on that one, anyway.)
• When Supervisor John Haschak said he opposed the BNUUMPPO because no matter how his colleagues slice it, it’s still expansion that will be bad, he faced a barrage of antagonistic questions from his colleagues who badgered him with questions like, Did he really disapprove of the use-permt approach. Haschak calmly stood his ground.
• Supervisor McGourty said he very much disliked the idea of removing oak woodlands for pot “or vineyards.” But, of course, nobody in Official Mendo has ever even said word one, much less proposed, restricting new vineyard woodland scrapings that continue unchecked.
• McGourty also claimed that vineyard owners who negatively affect a neighbor’s water supply must “mitigate” that affect somehow. There is absolutely no evidence that any vineyard owner has ever been required to “mitigate” anything they do with water or anything else which affects neighbors, be it water, pesticide drift, or sleep-depriving wind fan audio invasions.
• Supervisor Williams once casually observed, “I shouldn’t live near ag land if I don’t like ag activity.” As if people can just up and move “away” willy nilly when vineyards or pot grows present a nuisance.
The Board indicated they’d like to somehow discourage or regulate water hauling. Never mind that much of it is legit, especially in a drought, not just for pot. Supervisor Dan Gjerde said the Board/County has generally allowed the State water board(s) to manage water issues. Chief Planner Julia Acker-Krog said previous pot permit applications only required that an applicant have an agreement in place for water hauling as a permit condition, never mind where or how or what kind of water truck or its source. Williams thought they should require all water haulers to submit their logs of pickups and deliveries. Williams asked staff to prepare some kind of enforcement plan and his colleagues and staff agreed to take a whack at it — someday.
Tuesday’s marathon BNUUMPPO session went on into the early evening before they finally took a vote on the tweaked version of the Planning Department’s 28-page draft ordinance.
The draft ordinance is attachment number 7 of 462. (Yes, that’s not a typo, there were 462 attachments — mostly letters to the Board about the pending new ordinance — to Tuesday’s pot agenda item.)
Just before the late-in-the-day vote, Supervisor Williams declared that putting any kind of size limits on cannabis grows would “just instill poverty” and “reeks of a communist cannabis model.”
In the end the Board voted 4-1 to refer the tinkered-with version of BNUUMPPO back to the Planning Commission for yet another level of final review and processing but with a very tight schedule. Then in a few weeks they’ll hold another session to finalize it.
Is The Measure B Committee Dead?
For the first twelve or so minutes of last Wednesday’s Measure B Committee meeting the audio didn’t work “for technical reasons.”
When the audio finally came on (with several odd swishing sounds from cyber-space), several Committee members were bemoaning the Supes having gone off on their own and ignoring the Measure B Committee by declaring the Kemper Report as their “Strategic Plan” (three years after it was submitted, and still being ignored whatever it’s called).
The B committee also bemoaned the County’s consideration of Dr. Noemi Doohan’s “Ranch Proposal” and the roofless old Whitmore Lane nursing home as possible Psychiatric Health Facilities without the slightest involvement or input from the B-ers.
The B-ers chatted randomly for a while about the “annual” independent audit required by the text of Measure B which has never been done. (When we asked former Measure B Program Manager Alyson Bailey why there was no required annual audit a few months ago, she said that there was very little to audit, so no need to perform it.)
County Auditor Lloyd Weer said he includes the Measure B Account in his annual county “audits,” but didn’t think that counted as an “independent audit.” There was no attempt to define what an audit would be in the case of Measure B, but Weer agreed the County will probably hire somebody to add up the numbers he’s already added up and call it an “independent audit.”
No need for the Committee to discuss it.
As usual, Committee Chair Donna Moschetti apologized a lot, mostly for tiny slip ups like not realizing someone wanted to say something. Perhaps a blanket apology at the beginning of the meeting would save everyone a lot of time. The one apology she didn’t make was to the voting public for the Committee having done nothing to advance Measure B in over three years.
On May 24 the County plans to hold a joint meeting of the Behaviorial Health Advisory Board, the Supervisors and the Measure B Committee, agenda yet to be determined, no items proposed so far.
Committee members Tom Allman and Ross Liberty joined the relatively short meeting late with only a few minutes remaining. Neither had anything to say.
At the end of the meeting, Chair Moschetti said that the Measure B Committee still intends to meet on May 26, even though it’s just two days after the joint meeting. A few commissioners said they’d have to check their calendars to see if they could attend both meetings.
But the overall vibe was obvious: None of these meetings or committees matter. CEO Carmel Angelo and Mental Health Director Jenine Miller are quite capable of steering all the contract work to the “only qualified bidder” Schraeders and getting the Supes to rubberstamp their PHF plans, whatever they may end up being, without the slightest by-the-by from the moribund committees or the Kemper Report or anyone else.
Has Barbara Howe Dropped Her Federal Case Against Mendo?
Apparently, former County Public Health Director Barbara Howe’s unlawful termination case was bundled with two other former county employees — Carol Morgan and Janie Sheppard — who filed suit in Federal District Court against Mendocino County for discrimation, retaliation and other mistreatment.
From the Federal Court case summary:
“Ms. Howe alleges she was retaliated against for her speech and actions when days later, on May 24, 2019, she was forced under duress to sign a one-page resignation letter by defendant Tammy Moss Chandler. After signing the letter, Ms. Howe also alleges defendants sought spurious temporary restraining orders designed to destroy her reputation, further retaliation for the above activity. Ms. Howe claims she was entitled to a name clearing hearing. Finally, Ms. Howe alleges she was discriminated against based on her sexual orientation (heterosexual), gender, age, and engaging in protected activity, citing comments defendant Tammy Moss Chandler made to Ms. Howe about how older employers are incapable of making good decisions, multitasking, and struggling with technology.”
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“Plaintiff Carol Morgan has worked for HHSA from December 2017 - present as a Senior Nurse Care Manager.
Ms. Morgan's claim primarily involves the conduct of Sharon Convery, who allegedly attempted to have Ms. Morgan falsify an HR questionnaire after the interview of County employee, Ms. Hashimoto, on January 30, 2020.
Ms. Morgan filed a formal union grievance over these allegations.
Ms. Morgan also alleges she has spoken up against the backlog of case histories and the failure of the County managing agents to execute strategic plans, which has prevented foster children from receiving medical services.
Ms. Morgan claims she was retaliated against for her actions and speech by being denied a promotion. In late 2019 the County sought to appoint someone for a promotional position applying the civil service rules and ordinances; defendants allegedly enforced ‘illegal policies and procedures’ to ‘promote a preferred candidate over one selected from the written policies’.”
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“Allegations re Plaintiff Jani (aka Janie) Sheppard . Plaintiff Jani Sheppard has been employed by Mendocino County HHSA from May 2018 - present and is currently a Senior Program Manager.
Ms. Sheppard alleges she was subject to retaliation because defendant Tammy Moss Chandler erroneously thought Ms. Sheppard was the person who provided evidence in the TRO hearings against the County and in favor of Ms. Howe.
As a result, the complaint alleges Ms. Sheppard was subject to a sham discrimination investigation concocted by defendant Katherine Fengler and two other employees, Meredith Reinhard (who reports directly to Ms. Sheppard) and Carol Mordhorst, who allegedly made comments to the effect that Ms. Sheppard ‘had to go’.”
The discrimination investigation allegedly concerned Ms. Sheppard's activities in directing HHSA funds to underserved communities, which she was allegedly authorized and directed to do by State law.
The complaint alleges Carol Mordhorst is “a contractor” who temporarily replaced Ms. Howe and who defendant Sharon Convery reported to. Ms. Mordhorst is a primary example of someone whom the complaint mentions but does so without providing helpful context or information. When did Ms. Mordhorst work for the County? Who reported to her? Who did she report to?
Ms. Sheppard also alleges that Ms. Mordhorst told her that Ms. Reinhard and other ‘direct reports’ called Ms. Sheppard an “angry black woman.” [Ms. Sheppard is white.—ms]
Ms. Sheppard's intrusion of speech claim surrounds a Tobacco Initiative she was supervising. She alleges defendant Tammy Moss Chandler prohibited HHSA staff from speaking with supervisors about the initiative.
At a September 2019 Tobacco Coalition Meeting, Ms. Sheppard stated publicly that she was not permitted to speak with supervisors and Ms. Chandler was not able to engage in formal strategic planning and voiced her own frustration about the lack of leadership since Ms. Howe's compelled termination.
Ms. Sheppard alleges she was retaliated against by being removed from meetings because of her association with Ms. Howe, with the discrimination investigation, and that she was demoted twice on March 26, 2020.
Defendant William Schurtz justified the demotion stating Ms. Sheppard had not completed her probationary periods.”
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In her ruling late last year Federal District Judge Susan Illston wrote: “To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face’.”
After a bunch of legal standards and citations, Judge Illston concluded that the plaintiffs (Howe, Sheppard and Morgan) had not made their legal case adequately or properly, snappishly writing:
“Plaintiffs should look carefully at what they can plausibly allege and carefully consider which defendants they wish to sue in which capacity (official/personal) and whether their case would be strengthened by eliminating duplicative claims/defendants. Further, if another motion to dismiss should be filed, it is not helpful for plaintiff to quote, without context and single spaced, new allegations added to the complaint. Plaintiffs should be able to explain to the Court why and how newly added allegations resolve the shortcomings outlined in this order.”
And at this point, last November, the plaintiffs, seeing the handwriting on the docket, gave up:
“On November 11, 2020, plaintiffs Barbara Howe, L. Jani Sheppard, and Carol Morgan filed an Ex Parte Motion for Extension of Time to File Third Amended Complaint. However, on November 13, 2020, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed all claims against all the defendants in the present case. The Court hereby FINDS AS MOOT plaintiffs' Ex Parte Motion for Extension of Time to File Third Amended Complaint. The Clerk shall close the file.”
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Notes: Like other Mendo personnel cases we have followed over the years, the issue again came down to legal burdens (e.g., “provable malice”) that are hard for an ordinary person to meet, epecially in hindsight. At no time did anyone say that any of the women’s complaints were false, just that they didn’t meet the high legal standard. We couldn’t help but note that one of Barbara Howe’s complaints was that she was discriminated against because she’s not gay, another only-in-Mendo charge, but could well be true given the people involved. It’s also a window into the odd hothouse workplace culture at 501 Low Gap Road.
ALTHOUGH BARBARA HOWE never got her day in Federal Court, she did get a bit of a hearing in Judge Jeanine Nadel’s Superior Court back in 2019 when she argued against the restraining order that Tammy Moss Chandler had filed for:
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PART of the management problem with Official Mendo is that there is no real professional management. If standard monthly departmental reporting was conducted like most organizations, there would be a record of management performance and a documented history of success or failure that could be used in personnel matters. Instead, Mendo bases its top personnel decisions too much on loyalty, sheepishness, retaliation, petty disputes, and other vague intangibles that leave managers on pins and needles constantly watching their back.