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Mendocino County Today: June 3, 2012

ACCORDING to Saturday's SF Chronicle, the city's coyote population has grown to 13. How the cunning little beasts got established in the city was a mystery until DNA testing, and then a photo, revealed that the SF coyotes were from Marin County. Golden Gate Bridge cameras confirmed a lone coyote jogging across the Bridge late one night, leaving us to wonder what propelled him to leave sunny Marin for foggy Frisco. Opinion on the appropriateness of a growing coyote presence in the city is, to say the least, divided. Dog and cat people generally are opposed because coyotes can, if they get real hungry, prey on the smaller dogs. Even more often they chow down on cats, especially feral cats of which the city has a large population. But dogs are seldom, if ever, attacked by coyotes because in the city context dogs are constantly attended, and coyotes do not attack large dogs because of the size discrepancy, although the coyotes will roar out of their dens to defend their young. The more hysterical city opinion worries that coyotes might dash out of the Presidio or Golden Gate brush to snag a toddler, as the Aussie dingo is alleged to have done. The less hysterical opinion says that a roaming pack of smallish predators like coyotes don't belong in a park, not that two-footed predators aren't already installed from Haight and Stanyan to Hippie Hill a hundred to two hundred strong year round. And there are funny speculations about how coyotes will do up against the mammoth, well-fed raccoons in neighborhoods bordering urban coyote habitat. I'd bet on the raccoon up against a coyote, but it's highly unlikely we'll ever see a coyote deliberately take on a raccoon or vice versa. A pit bull owner has claimed her dogs were menaced by a coyote in Golden Gate Park. (There's a den of coyotes near the buffalo pens.) I don't believe that. The coyote might have snarled at the dogs if they got near her young, but why would pit bulls be deterred by a mere snarl? If the owner claims her dogs are completely under her control she's lying. The best trained police dog will take off after a cat.

SOME OF MENDO’S line workers are starting to worry that Official Mendo is returning to pre-financial crisis habits. Requests to fill vacant positions that wouldn’t have been submitted last year are starting to appear. Travel and mileage restrictions are being relaxed. Contracts are being processed that were on hold. These employees are worried because there’s no real prospect for new revenues yet spending is starting to creep up again, in some departments. And if the County doesn’t maintain an austere budget, then the remaining employees may be expected to make more sacrifices to balance the next budget.

MENDOCINO COAST DISTRICT HOSPITAL is still facing serious budget problems. Revenues, while fluctuating month to month, continue to be below expectations. Management is working on various administrative savings and efficiencies, but they’re not expected to close the gap much. Negotiations with the Hospital’s employee union reps have stalled and are moving, albeit slowly, in the direct of formal mediation. Some members of the Hospital board are saying on the record that they “hope to avoid employee givebacks,” but usually when management (or Obama) says they “hope” to avoid something, the more likely it is.

AN OPEN CHALLENGE to the Mendocino Transit Authority — As a long-time rider of MTA buses it was very interesting to read MTA's new five-year transit plan for Mendocino County. The plan discusses each MTA route separately, describing performance over the past three years, some of the expressed needs from the public workshops last summer, alternatives that were considered, and the alternative MTA recommends for each route. The language describing the challenges faced by the various routes is generally compassionate. For example, Fort Bragg's Route 5 has lost almost 27 percent of its ridership in the last three years and has only been able to comply with one of MCOG's four performance standards. In response to needs expressed at the Fort Bragg workshop, MTA will be monitoring ridership to see if an extra evening hour can be added, and considers restoring Fort Bragg's Saturday service to be the highest priority for the area in the next five years. The tone of the language changes when it comes to describing the performance of the Willits Rider. For example: “It is a distance of only 1.7 miles between the ends of the key locations of Willits City Park and Evergreen Shopping Center. Most able-bodied individuals can and do walk this distance in 30 minutes, according to interviews with stakeholders and the driver in Willits. Most people are within a 10- to 15-minute walk of Main Street, where service currently exists on Route 20 and 21.” For those unfamiliar with MTA service, 20/21 is a commuter route between Ukiah and Willits, and does not make stops at grocery stores, shopping centers or doctors' offices. MTA recommends the Willits Rider change from its current flex route to a fixed schedule route. This sounds fine to me. However, the recommendation goes on to say that if we can't increase our ridership after two years of “an aggressive program of community outreach and marketing” our in-town bus service (the Willits Rider) will be discontinued. In its place, MTA says it would increase the number of runs on route 20. MTA feels it “has put significant effort into making the Willits Rider successful.” This is stated three times in the plan. But the “significant effort” has not been obvious and has certainly not increased ridership. I believe there are many segments of the Willits population that could make good use of the bus service if MTA would make a concerted effort to find and follow through with them. For example, in the public workshops last summer in Ukiah, Fort Bragg and Willits, it was requested MTA have earlier scheduled runs to get high school students to classes on time. Detailed sections in the plan follow through with Ukiah and Fort Bragg, proposing how this improvement could take place in those two towns. The plan mentions no similar follow-through for Willits. MTA has a contract with the Ukiah Boys and Girls Club. Willits has an after-school program, the Kids Club. Its director told me they usually have 200 kids a day attending from three sites, and she knows nothing about MTA. There are two very important projects under way in Willits — our new hospital and the Willits campus of Mendocino College — both of which could benefit from a regular bus service while increasing ridership on the Willits Rider. None of the above is going to have any meaning if the Willits Rider can't continue to survive. It started off in life with 11 runs, the same number Fort Bragg has now. The 5:30 p.m. run was discontinued two or three years ago. Then last June, the 10 remaining runs were cut to five, a schedule that serves almost no one (one run in the early morning, a long break with no bus service, and then four in the afternoon). Is MTA going to withdraw the Willits Rider when its current inadequate schedule loses even more riders? I certainly hope not. Willits needs an in-town bus service, and I believe it deserves one. I challenge MTA to do much better than it has in the past to give the Willits Rider the kind of attention it needs to meet MCOG performance standards and become a productive part of the Mendocino transit system. — Mary Zellachild, Willits

WE ENTIRELY AGREE. Bruce Richard and his pals at the MTA are incapable of “significant effort” or follow-through on anything as history shows, whether it’s in Willits or anywhere else in Mendocino County. As Ms. Zellachild points out, the bus schedules appear to be based entirely on the convenience of the MTA and its staff, not on serving the public.

THE WILLITS NEWS reported last week that Willits Unified is conducting an online survey soliciting information about what the Willits community would like to see in the new superintendent of schools via the district website at www.edline.net/pages/Willits_USD/News/Superintendent_Search_Survey_I. The four-page survey was put together, with suggestions from school board members, by Leadership Associates, the search firm hired to recruit a pool of candidates for the school board to consider. The survey has multiple choice questions, as well as boxes for more detailed input. It asks what experience and leadership characteristics the new Willits superintendent should have, and also asks for input about the Willits community itself. The questions are silly and vague, such as, “What should the next superintendent know about your community and neighborhood schools?” and “What are some of the outstanding qualities of the Willits Unified School District?”

“THE DISTRICT’S WEBSITE”? If that's anything like Boonville's “District Website,” they’ll be lucky to get a dozen hits a month. And is this what they pay consultants the big bucks for? Can’t the School Administration post some questions on their website without “suggestions” from a consultant?

THE MENDO WINE GANG'S lawsuit against the recently introduced frost protection rules has been delayed until June 28th. The State Water Resources Control Board adopted the regulations last year because “the high, instantaneous demand for water for frost protection by numerous vineyardists and other water users may contribute to a rapid decrease in stream stage that results in the mortality of salmonids.” In other words, when it frosts and all these people pump from the river at once the fish die. The new regs would limit the amount of water grape growers can divert from the Russian River for frost protection by simply requiring them to come up with a plan of their own to prevent overdrafts. But in February Judge Ann Moorman, granted “a stay of the enforcement of the regulation” after Redwood Valley grape growers Rudolph and Linda Light filed suit claiming the regs were unfair to the wine gentry although the gentry gets to write their own individual pumping schemes. Natch, Jared Carter's law firm, is representing the wine people with the silly claim that SWRCB “does not have the legal authority to take what is beneficial, frost protection and turn it into an unreasonable use and try and regulate it.” Killing baby salmon is, in the Carter view, reasonable if the water saves a few grapevines.

ASSEMBLYMAN/Congressional Candidate Jared Huffman doesn’t think the grape growers’ lawsuit has much merit. When he visited Boonville last November we specifically asked Huffman (who was a well-known environmental attorney before being elected to the state Assembly), what he thought about the Wine Gang’s suit. Huffman said he was very familiar with the issue and replied that he didn’t “think it [the regulations] is as bad as some of the growers think it is,” and “it will probably be upheld in court.” At that same campaign stop Huffman claimed credit for streamlining the “small stockpond” permitting process so that vineyard owners could reduce their dependence on pumping frost protection water which kill fish (not mentioning that such ponds have drawbacks of their own, impounding high flows which should go downstream). Huffman added that he hoped the vineyards would pursue “non-water-based frost protection strategies.”

BILLBOARD MESSAGE of the day: “Tobacco Killed My Parents. Yes On 29.” That should probably read: Tobacco, Me, a fifth of Old Crow a week, bad food, no exercise, and cigarettes killed my parents. Crimenently, I realize the truth doesn't often reduce to a bumpersticker, but Tobacco Killed My Parents? (For you non-voters, 29's the proposed buck-a-pack hike on cigs.)

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