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Mendocino County Today: July 31, 2012

GUALALA is the site of a major Mendocino County scandal, one that has been simmering for some time, and one that boiled over again last weekend. As best as we can piece it together, Mike Thomas of the popular Bones Road House and Restaurant, and Eric Price of the unpopular nearby Shoreline Restaurant, have had major difficulties with each other for some time, most of those difficulties caused by Price, the son of a very wealthy Bay Area couple who set their son up in the restaurant and hotel business on the Mendocino side of the MendoNoma line.

Shoreline Restaurant

PRICE'S PARENTS owned the site of Mike Thomas's previous Bones place, the one that burned down in early September of 2009. Gossip had it that Price wanted the site for his Shoreline Restaurant, which indeed soon rose from Bones' ashes at that very place. Gossips also say all manner of unkind things about Price, including allegations of drug use and sales, and the carrying of loaded handguns without a carry permit.

PRICE'S PARENTS apparently had an arrangement with Thomas that leased him a liquor license for Bones Restaurant. But Price Junior claimed he owned the license and went to a suspiciously friendly Sonoma County court where he won a $80,000 judgment against Bones. Thomas said he would not pay it.

MEAN TIME, as most Mendo people know, Thomas has opened a new Bones restaurant in Gualala that's as popular as the old one. Thomas himself is widely esteemed on the South Coast for not only for employing a lot of people — 23 of them — he does nice things for the community as individuals and groups of individuals organized as senior citizens. Thomas has lived on the South Coast for 30 years. Everyone knows the guy and likes him.

LAST FRIDAY, as business boomed at Bones, a delegation of cops, not including Mendo's, showed up with a document that said, essentially, “We're taking all the money in the till.” The till didn't contain $80 thousand, of course, which means Price's thugs will be back regularly until their seizures add up to that amount. Which also means a constant interruption of Thomas's business.

THOMAS had to close Friday and send all his workers home. He soon set up tables outside with balloons and signs that read, “Free Food Courtesy of Eric Price.”

THE SOUTHCOAST is steaming. People are very angry at Price but vowing to support Thomas and Bones no matter what kind of legal thuggery Price resorts to.

HARVEY READING reminds us that Ruth Coleman, the State Parks Director who recently resigned when it was revealed that $54 million was suddenly “discovered” in the Parks Department’s coffers, is a former staffer for then-State Senator Mike Thompson. In fact, her ONLY government experience before being appointed to run the entire California Parks and Recreation Department was her four-year stint as Thompson’s “Legislative Director.”

MENDO NOSTALGIA BUFFS will remember CAMP, the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting. Every year, Mendocino County would get outside money to fund desultory raids on pot gardens. One year Boonville would get the raids. The next year Leggett would get all the attention. Every year, a different area of the County except for Spy Rock. Spy Rock seemed to get raided every year and every month of the year.

THE RAIDERS were teams of cops, off duty ambulance drivers, firemen, vacationing National Guard poges, and other para-military-oriented fantasists. CAMP worked strictly 8-5. They'd take down a pot garden in the morning, another one in the afternoon and it was Miller Time. Once in a while CAMP would snag a lone stoned doofus standing mid-day among his plants, but actual arrests were rare, prosecutions rarer.

RAIDED GARDENS tended to be conveniently close to the pavement. When the more energetic immigrant growers began planting deep in hot precipitous canyons, occasionally CAMP would chopper in, but not often. The net effect of CAMP raids for the nearly three decades it functioned was to keep pot prices reasonably lucrative. We always thought of CAMP as kind of like any other ag price support program. Keep enough off the market everyone in the business makes more money.

THE LATE NORM VROMAN, Mendocino County's libertarian DA, always said that Mendocino County had to participate in CAMP because “If we didn't the feds would come in here in force.” The feds are always lurking around Mendoland, as they are now. They take Mendocino County personally, it seems, even going so far as to send an attorney up here to warn our supervisors and Sheriff that they'd come after them if official Mendocino County tried to sell grow permits, the local idea being the sound one that if all this money is being made from devil weed why shouldn't the County of Mendocino make a few bucks off it?

LAST TUESDAY, the State announced that CAMP had been cashiered. There was no longer money for it. Instead, we'll get the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the US Forest Service combined as “CERT” (Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team). CERT will, they say, focus on the large-scale public lands grows and site clean-ups.

CALIFORNIA'S  Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which ran the CAMP as part of the state’s Department of Justice, has also been eliminated for budget reasons.

IN RECENT YEARS, CAMP had expanded into almost every county in California, substantially diluting how much CAMP could do in the three original Emerald Triangle counties when it kicked off back in the 1980s (Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity, made up the so-called Emerald Triangle). As the years went by the funds for each county were reduced so that more counties could be covered by the pot raiders.

BUT EVERY YEAR at budget time the County's portion of CAMP  funding — a couple of hundred thousand dollars of county money — was up for discussion, and CAMP funding was often the most heated annual discussion. The primary question to supervisorial candidates in those days was how they’d vote on CAMP. In the 1990s then-Supervisor Richard Shoemaker offered this oxymoronic and typically weasel-lipped Mendolib explanation for his Yes vote. I'm against CAMP but I'm voting Yes so the County can get the state funding for it.

IN 2011, CAMP says they pulled up some 2 million plants in California (down from 4 million in 2010), 63% of which came from federal state, and county land. Last year the eradication program cost the state about $1.9 million, which was about 5% of the program’s total cost — the rest was federally funded. Under the scaled back CERT program, pot eradication teams will consist of local law enforcement officers, the CHP, Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, and whoever else is sitting around the office without much to do. Total funding will be about half of what CAMP cost.

IT'S NOT CLEAR how this change and consequent budget reduction will affect Mendocino’s COMMET (County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team). COMMET operates year-round and seems to involve a variety of personnel. Prior to this recent cutback announcement Mendo had one DA attorney and two deputies funded by CAMP funds. But the drift of pot-related matters is clearly in the federal direction as the feds go after medical marijuana businesses and the properties that house these businesses, thus putting the local pot biz back where it began — individual growers selling to individual buyers with prices per pound stabilized at enticingly high prices by, this round, the feds.

ON JULY 25, 2012, at approximately 12:30am, a Sheriff’s deputy made a traffic enforcement stop on Highway 101 in the Willits area. Upon contacting the driver of the vehicle, the deputy’s K-9 partner (trained in drug recognition) alerted on the vehicle. Following a brief investigation, the deputy located $3000 in cash on the person of Mr. Martin Falls, 34, of Oakland. While searching the inside of the vehicle the deputy located a large metal container. Located within that container was $61,910 in cash. Also located in the vehicle were notes that indicated that a drug transaction was planned to be completed on an unknown date and location. A total of $65,236 was seized from the persons, and the vehicle of Suspects Shane Smith, 38, of Atlanta, Georgia, and Martin Falls. Both Suspects Smith and Falls were placed under arrest for possessing proceeds acquired from drug sales and subsequently released upon their signed promises to appear in court. The cash was seized for evidentiary purposes and a subsequent asset forfeiture hearing. (Sheriff’s Department Press Release.)

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