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Mendocino County Today: April 26, 2012

Shamhart

THE GERMAN SHEPHERD found abandoned and half-dead in Point Arena’s now closed Sea Shell Inn, is doing quite well at the County’s Animal Shelter in Ukiah. The County’s animal lady, Bliss Fisher, has reassured lots of callers worried about the dog’s present condition after police found him without water and food and ankle-deep in his own feces that the animal is doing fine. Michael Shamhart, 52, of Point Arena, has been arrested for cruelty to animals and animal abuse. Odd thing about this case is that Shamhart was arrested in Point Arena not far from the Sea Shell. Why he hadn’t returned to care for or retrieve his dog remains unknown.

STACY LAWSON, the wealthy Marin County lady who moved from San Francisco to run for Congress in the newly created 2nd Congressional District, has been endorsed by the Sonoma Farm Bureau. Lawson will be hosted this weekend at a reception hosted by the Republican mayor of Willits, Bruce Burton. Other locals supporting her include Art Harwood and Hal Wagenet. Former Congressman Bosco has also come out for Lawson.

WHILE THESE BOYS rally around their gal, some anonymous one is flooding 2nd District e-mail in-boxes with anti-Lawson messages decrying her documented failure to vote regularly and even going so far as to speculate about her mental health, citing her “spiritual” meanderings in blogs for the Huffington Post as evidence that the candidate just might be nuts. The e-mail hitman cites this wacky passage from a rambling piece Lawson wrote for the Huffington Post called “We Are All Terrorists”: “We are all terrorists. Before you dismiss this out of hand, please take a closer look. The terrorist inside you wages acts of aggression on those you believe to oppress you. The dictator inside you declares martial law when it suits you. The suicide bomber martyrs you and wounds others in your attempts to be heard and to be right…”

THIS KIND of unmoored Big-Think is so common in the reconfigured 2nd District, which runs in a narrow strip up the Northcoast from Marin to the Oregon border, that it might actually enhance Lawson’s chances. The mere mention of spiritually of the Me Me Me! Variety, and narcissists from Marin to Mendocino come running.

FROM THE ALWAYS SENSIBLE, intelligent, non-spiritual KC Meadows at the Ukiah Daily Journal: “I have been hearing a number of comments from people who can’t quite figure out what the heck Ukiah City Councilwoman Mari Rodin was talking about at the budget workshop last week at city hall. After reading our city reporter Justine Frederiksen’s story about Rodin’s ramblings I went on line and looked at the video for myself.

“ ‘THE CITY OF UKIAH is like … a grownup … our parents… have kept us stuck in too small shoes… we can’t run, we can’t grow and be the flourishing city we oughtta be,’ Rodin exclaimed. What’s the cause? Well, according to Rodin might it be ‘cultural reasons? Newspaper editor reasons? I don’t know.’

“SHE GOES ON to worry about the ‘perception we can’t take care of ourselves’ and that the city’s contraction (in the sense of getting smaller, downsizing) will be too damaging. She wants to ‘send a message to the community: please see us, let us grow up, let us run…’ She ends by telling her colleagues that the city has done so much with so little over the years that people take them for granted.

“MAYOR MARY ANN LANDIS immediately agrees with everything Rodin just said (perhaps she can explain it to the rest of us). City Manager Jane Chambers adds that the problem is the size of the staff (duh) and that the $1 million in redevelopment agency funds spent on salaries every year ‘benefited the entire area’ and she points to the Costco project and the courthouse project. Alas that redevelopment salary money is going bye-bye, so the city now has to figure out where to cut those people.

“BUT BACK to Ms. Rodin’s ramble. First of all, Mari, I don’t think you have a newspaper editor problem. This newspaper has generally supported the city over time. The problem for people like you is that you have such a thin skin that ANY criticism (or even accurate reporting) is seen as unfair and a betrayal. How can you sit around congratulating yourselves, bemoaning all the things you do for us that we just don’t appreciate when the city has been resting on laurels built around redevelopment for two decades? The city has been paying a lot of people very high salaries for a long time. It has been moving forward with things that I don’t believe the city’s residents — and certainly not its businesses — really want. How many dollars has the city spent on a variety of zoning and other plans to make Ukiah into Healdsburg or some other Sonoma County model?

“WE ARE CERTAIN that the city’s leadership doesn’t know what city residents really want and doesn’t believe the citizens themselves do either. So into that vacuum comes the personal opinions and visions of people like you, Mari.

“YES IN THE GOOD TIMES when tax dollars were flowing and housing was sky high and businesses were doing well, cities could ‘run.’ They had bucketsful of redevelopment tax money they were allowed to skim off the top and do whatever they wanted with. If you’re feeling underappreciated Mari, ask yourself what someone who works a minimum wage job, who has to find housing in a city where the rents start at about $700 per month, thinks about whether there will be an ice cream store downtown or whether a coffee shop is good or bad for their health or if they are tickled to see a patio at Patrona’s. Ask them if it makes sense to require a heavy equipment rental store to have a bicycle rack.

“THIS CITY IS VERY LUCKY to have some actual legacy resources: small neighborhood parks, a city pool, Todd Grove, a municipal golf course, softball fields, an aging but well-run electric system, great police and fire services. These are the things the people of Ukiah care about, is what I think. These are things that were built by previous generations that should be the city’s first priority for preserving and utilizing to the fullest. The city did well to get grants to help with fixing the pool, and trying to build a new park on Gobbi, got the community organized to rebuild Anton Stadium (and then screwed up by not paying enough attention to the process). After 20 years of redevelopment, it seems the primary thing the city has to show for it is a big expensive staff. Would the state have worked to find a good downtown location without redevelopment money? I think so. Would Costco come to town anyway? Probably, but maybe not within the city limits. Do people care? Most don’t. They see the broken down Palace Hotel year after year after year and a highly paid city staff which says it’s powerless to do anything about it, while it boasts of efforts to create a thriving downtown through forcing all new businesses to fit into its specially formulated “good looking, pedestrian, bicycle friendly city” molds.

“THE CITY’S ‘PARENTS’ did a lot of good things. They did not keep the city ‘stuck in too small shoes’ but built a city that was the right size for its time and place. The city hasn’t grown. The city complains that it provides services to the valley and gets no appreciation for it. What has the city done to help that along? Tax sharing? No. Annexation? No. Combining essential services? No. All these things are coming home to roost now despite the city’s years-long efforts to maintain a closed circle around itself.

“I DON’T KNOW where you want Ukiah running off to in better fitting shoes, Mari, because I think it’s time for the city to slow down, look around at what it has and be happy that most of its citizens are still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.”

AS OF THIS WEEK, California no longer qualifies for the federal program that provides up to 20 weeks of jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed in high-unemployment states. Starting in mid-May, no one in California can begin or continue receiving this final round of federal benefits, known as Fed-Ed in California and Extended Benefits elsewhere. About 90,000 Californians are receiving Fed-Ed. Their benefits will end abruptly in mid-May, even if they still have weeks remaining in their Fed-Ed claim.

PAUL RYAN chairman of the House committee that writes the actual budget we must live or die with, said this week that safety-net programs are "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency". It's always been the Republican view that people will live in grinding poverty on the government dole rather than do a day's work, no matter that there aren't enough jobs for everybody since they crashed the economy.

THE FACT IS that other than unemployment benefits (and those are only available to people who have had a job) the overwhelming bulk of federal assistance goes to people who are working, and often two or three jobs. The minimum wage is so low that one full time job won't pay family health insurance premiums. Companies like Walmart are heavily subsidized by the government providing Medicaid and food stamps to their workers. The Sam Walton heirs as a group have more billions than any one individual billionaire on the planet. Paying decent wages is for suckers, suckers like the hundreds of thousands if not millions of small businesses they destroyed. It would take a major research study to calculate the damage they've done to America, but it would make the sacking of Rome seem like a case of littering.

WALMART SPOKESPERSON Delia Garcia announced Tuesday that “We have decided not to appeal the Ukiah Planning Commission's decision to deny the site plan application for expansion of our Ukiah Walmart store. We would like to thank the thousands of people who have supported the proposed expansion, advocating tirelessly throughout the past several years. We also greatly appreciate the City of Ukiah's planning staff and look forward to working with them again in the future.”

BACK ON April 11, the Ukiah Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 to deny a 47,621-square-foot expansion of the store. Ukiah’s present Walmart would have become a 151,615-square-foot mega-monster containing a 24-hour supermarket and a 5,036-square-foot garden center.

IT WON’T HAPPEN HERE! The Sonoma County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to put the brakes on hillside and hilltop vineyards. Mendocino County has no restrictions on where a vineyard can go, hence vineyards on many precipitous hillsides, especially in the Anderson Valley. (cf Rhys Vineyards at Navarro.)

DENNIS ROSATTI is executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action. He put the case nicely for the opposition to expansion of the wine business on otherwise undeveloped ridges and hills: “Sonoma County's forests and wildlands are at risk. In an increasingly global marketplace, wine industry giants are seeking to convert existing forestlands into vineyards and water storage ponds. While the search for higher, cooler territory is partly driven by global warming and scarce agricultural land, the real bounty is high prices for premium varietals. Domestic and Asian wine consumption is up, and high demand and short supply have led North Coast vintners to scramble to fill the gap. Who is creating the increased demand for premium wine? We are experiencing a ‘generation of widening inequality,’ according to the California Budget Project. Between 1987 and 2009, the average inflation-adjusted incomes for the upper 1% of California taxpayers increased by 50%, and those of the upper 10% of taxpayers increased by 30%, while the average incomes of taxpayers in the bottom fourth-fifths declined. The median income for Sonoma County families from the 2012 census was $56,063. Only the wealthy can afford wines above $50 a bottle. Should we welcome the conversion of our forests for the upper echelon of income-earners? Years of lowered water quality and fish habitat have led to the near-elimination of the once mighty salmon and steelhead runs of the Russian River. Prior decision-makers traded environmental quality for agriculture and urban development and their industry dollars. Through great effort and cost, Sonoma County has worked to restore the habitat of the Russian River and its tributaries. Many growers are following best practices and work hard to be good stewards of the land. But much of the traditional agricultural lands on valley floors and gently sloping upland areas have been utilized. Thus, the next frontier of vineyard development is on steeper hillsides and ridgetops, many of which are forested. This pressure is leading to the next land rush in our forested and remote areas. The county agricultural commissioner's office is now dealing with this crisis. It is working with stakeholders to develop new standards for regulating tree removal for vineyards and orchards in forested areas. We applaud the agriculture commissioner and county supervisors for calling a temporary time-out on forest conversions. They recognized the lack of enforceable rules governing this major invasion into the environment and the threat to water quality through soils movement. We see utility in adopting the currently proposed standards for small acreage projects. However, we believe industrial-scale projects require more scrutiny. Regulations must protect public waterways and forests from environmental harm that any industry might bring. Thus, we recommend the following additional policy steps: Larger projects must be subject to thorough discretionary review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Treating five acre projects the same as 100-acre projects is unreasonable. Grape industry leaders speak of the regulatory burden on small farmers. But 80 percent of vineyard acreage is owned by only 20 percent of growers. We feel a 10-acre threshold is sufficiently large to enable a small family farm or vineyard expansion under currently proposed standards. Ephemeral streams need stronger protection. These “winter creeks” carry the rainwater drainage from ridges and slopes to the “blue line” indicated streams in the general plan. Ephemeral tributaries must be protected from tree removal, re-contouring and road impacts. There should be setbacks from the top of the banks of these ephemeral streams to ensure a net-zero runoff. A process must be established to examine forest conversion impacts more comprehensively. The current process has been limited to soils impacts. Issues of habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, water demand and cumulative impacts of forest conversion must be examined in order to arrive at an informed policy decision. Conservation Action is not alone in this thinking. Numerous organizations and individuals have expressed their support for preventing forest loss through vineyard expansion. We are not against grape growing; we recognize the importance of agriculture, wine production and tourism for the Sonoma County economy. We are against the conversion of forests for the benefit of the 1%.”

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