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Mendocino County Today: September 3, 2012

AS OF SUNDAY NOON, the North Pass Fire had consumed 40,885 acres but is 58% contained. The blaze was begun by lightning strikes on Saturday, the 18th of August and is not expected to be fully contained until Monday, September 10th. It is presently most intense near the Trinity County line in Mendocino County's northeast corner. A firefighting helicopter working in heavy smoke hit a dead tree during a water drop Saturday afternoon and damaged its rotor blades. No one aboard was injured and the helicopter was able to land under its own power. Last week, a fire engine was lost to flames. Nine firefighters have sustained minor injuries and two homes have been destroyed with some 20 homes imperiled. The fire has cost $21 million so far with 1,622 firefighters and support personnel still battling it. (Historical aside: In the 19th century and the early days of the 20th century, legal disputes, including many murders, which occurred in Covelo were sorted out in Weaverville, Trinity County. It was easier for people in Covelo to get to Weaverville on the old trail north than it was to ford the winter Eel for Ukiah to the west.)

Bones Road House

THE SOUTHCOAST'S POPULAR Bones Roadhouse Restaurant was till-tapped again Saturday for $323. Right in the middle of the lunch rush here come the cops with a Sonoma County court order to grab what they can on behalf of a rival Gualala restaurateur called Erik Price.

THE PATTERN developing here seems to be that Price will swoop down on Bones every few weeks, grabbing whatever cash is in the register, causing maximum disruption to the business as he goes. But he doesn't go himself. He's got Mendocino County deputies doing his dirty work, and they're none too happy about it.

THE SONOMA COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT says Bones owes Price more than $200,000 so it's obvious these raids are not aimed at retrieving that amount a few hundred dollars at a time but are intended to harass Bones' popular owner, Mike Thomas, out of business as Thomas tries to work out a rational payment schedule with Price's attorney.

PRICE also distinguished himself Saturday when he appeared in the bushes across the road from the Gualala Famer's Market with a video camera, recording Thomas in the sinister act of setting up for the morning.

PRICE finally stormed out of the bushes and ran aggressively up to Thomas as if to assault Thomas, veering off at the last second to pretend to be eager to shake the hands of nearby persons who withdrew from Price as if they were about to be bear hugged by a terminal leper.

THE FOLLOWING, I HOPE, explains the background of the Bones dispute.

WHEN THE HIGHLY popular Bones Road House and Restaurant burned down in September of 2009, Bones, aka Mike Thomas, had a liquor license he’d leased from the family of an uneven newcomer to the South Coast called Eric Price.

THE FIRE, to put it gently, was suspicious, and it became even more suspicious when Price, funded by his wealthy parents, built his own restaurant on the site of, you could say, Mike Thomas’s Bones. Price’s new restaurant and the accompanying motel Price erected are as unpopular with locals as Price is himself. Locals are critical of everything from the food at Price’s Shoreline Restaurant to the architectural aesthetics of the thing. And then they assess Price’s unfortunate personality, which South Coast people characterize as rude, arrogant, ruthless, and at least partly chemically enhanced in a way that doesn’t make Price, a veteran of drug and alcohol rehab programs, any more beguiling.

MIKE THOMAS is a long-time resident of the area. He's highly popular with locals not only for his personal charm but for the quality of his enterprise. He’s also one of these essential community guys who quietly does a lot of good for people apart from employing 23 of them. The South Coast is unanimously in support of Thomas and hopping mad that he's clearly the victim of, in Thomas's description, “a demon.”

THOMAS managed to get a new Bones Road House and Restaurant up and running only to be slowly garroted by Price who clearly resents the popularity of Thomas’s revived business, which is in direct competition with Price's, especially for local business upon which local businesses depend, especially in the non-tourist winter months.

WHEN THOMAS RE-BOOTED BONES, Price said Thomas’s liquor license had reverted to him and his parents. Logic would indicate that the license went on hold while Thomas re-built. But Price insisted the license had reverted to his family. He went to court and somehow won a judgment against Thomas in Sonoma County, a very large judgment which, with the usual attorney's fees, interest and mysterious add-ons, has driven the judgment from $80,000 to $214,842.98. That amount is impossible for Thomas to pay. That amount would be difficult for most Mendo businesses to pay, unreal for Thomas as he rebuilds after that Price-convenient fire put Thomas out of business in 2009.

VIA A THUGGISH LEGAL STRATAGEM called a “Keeper's Levy,” good for eight-hour periods on a day-to-day basis, a posse of deputized till tappers has three times now swooped down on Bones and grabbed all the money in the till, $529 on their initial raid, another $430 the next day and whatever they got last Saturday. Price is rumored to observe the badged till tappers through binoculars as they looted his rival’s business in a way that's designed to put Thomas out of business, not recover money owed.

IF THESE “KEEPER'S LEVY” RAIDS on Bones continue on a regular basis, Thomas will be put out of business, which would suit Price just fine. To that end Price's Keeper of the Levy has court-ordered Thomas's books and bank records.

A READER REMEMBERS the Anderson Valley in the early 1980's: “I worked for a group home. It was a very lovely setting in the rural foothills, a boy's and a girl's property a few miles apart. Keeping an eye on 46 or so wayward kids was no easy task. My days would start at 6 in the morning until about 11 or 12 in the evening unless someone ran away — in which case I was up until 2 or 3 in the morning. Even though the position seemed plausible with a rotational 3 days on and 4 days off; 4 days on and 3 days off, sort of thing, in reality one lived on site working the full day without benefit of an eight-hour shift or overtime. I was a 'childcare worker' covered under a blanket wage agreement, paid a set amount per month for as many hours as the job took. A bit better than, say, a farmworker getting paid by the piece. I've done that, too.

“IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG to figure out the owners were the ones getting rich. It was a very profitable nonprofit business. Each county paid about $2,300 per kid per month. The Director paid himself $100k a year although he was rarely there; his wife, head Social Worker, was paid the same. His two sons were paid $14,000 to work only the Summer months. He rented out his properties to his own non-profit organization. The school district paid him to run a school on his site. He tapped Medi-Cal monies and received government commodity food — and other sundry things. There were other incomes, too. He had an accountant who kept the books and paid the bills. If there was a second set of books, that wouldn't have surprised me in the least. It was a good gig — for him and his family. The money was rolling in, over a million dollars per year or more. The County didn't mind too much, he was bringing income into the coffers. He had his diploma on the wall from a European university I carefully eyed a few times. It looked appropriately flourished in Old World fashion — yet was crisply washed out, faded, and suspiciously cheap for reasons I couldn't quite discern.

“I DISLIKED THE JOB. On your own without direction, guidance, or communication, I was told to just keep the kids happy and there. When a fight happened, I'd be the only one separating the combatants as staff walked by. When the cook was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with one of the minors, the Director didn't fire him; instead, taking him aside, he counseled, 'It would be much better for you to take a bottle of red wine and visit the sheep on the hillside.' Well, his meals were very good and the barbecued shrimp skewer snacks in the afternoons were a plus, much better than the previous cook.

“THERE WERE OTHER STORIES: stolen cars, a loose gun, pot and beer after hours by staff never making the light of day. I was shocked seeing the loose issues and the inherent liability, even if I was only a 23-year-old wet behind the ears kid. Driving up to the girls’ property in the white company van I was told to go particularly slow around a neighbor's property. “He owns a newspaper and complains about us a lot. He's a troublemaker; he causes a lot of problems and grief for us, “ I was told. “Just drive slow, don't stir up any dust, and don't give him any reason to complain or he'll write about us.” I wasn't told much else. I mean, they were more than cautious or wary; they were actually petrified of this guy. Of course, being the inquisitive person that I am, I bought that newspaper at the first opportunity to see for myself what the hubbub was all about.

“I WAS IMPRESSED. That newspaper totally rocked. I hadn't seen anything like it before: unto its own and beholden to no one, it was a reliable and accurate historian, a clear account and sound opinion based in fact in some snappy pieces, a muckraking expose! It was everything a paper should — and ought — to be. I liked it very much.

I LEFT THE JOB after two months. At $2.10 an hour, there were greener pastures to pursue. That turned out to be for the better. The Director/Owner meanwhile paid off his million dollar property(s) and shut the group home down after operating it for several more years. His two sons became dentists, tuition paid for by those Summer months of profitable work. The oldest eventually became a mayor.

TRUE, I was only a resident in that beautiful valley for two short months, but I still remember the lasting impression that great newspaper made on me three decades ago. From time to time I'd read that newspaper for the continuing haps of the group home. It was all accurate checking in with my sources. And I had made the right decision to leave looking back. The editor and the newspaper are still there, still remaining consistently stalwart and true, throughout the years. Just like the stone wall I built with the kids. But all of this is water past the bridge now.”

COMMENT OF THE DAY from Constant Reader: “The whole pension system is hanging by a thread because not only is CalPERS [the state employee retirement system] projecting unrealistic future returns, nobody is even talking about what happens if the market crashes again, which is very likely. Nothing has been resolved regarding crushing debt throughout the world. Look at Japan and most of Europe. And we are seen as a safe haven? Nobody has a real solution to this. There are only varying degrees of pain that politicians are unwilling to be realistic about. The average person simply does not understand the gravity of the macro-economic situation. Pension funds are going to get crushed when things go south again as they stretch to meet their unrealistic return goals. It will happen when it is least expected. People with money are trying to find ways to stand clear of what they know is coming eventually. The pension funds are forced to seek ever worse risk adjusted returns in the government’s artificial ZIRP environment. California politicians are beyond clueless and proven they are utterly incapable of making realistic and tough decisions. The train to nowhere will ultimately be the symbol of the folly.”

WILLITS KINETIC CARNIVALE is one week away. A wide range of activities will be offered. The Mendocino County Museum and Roots of Motive Power present the first-ever Willits Kinetic Carnivale, on Saturday and Sunday, September 8th and 9th, from 10am to 6pm, at Recreation Grove Park in Willits. The Carnivale will include fun for the whole family: kids (of all ages) can take a ride on a real steam engine around the Roots Loop Track and watch steam shovels and steam donkeys power up at Roots Annual Steam Festival.

At the Kinetic Carnivale Fair, everyone can explore unique craft vendors from far and wide, sample foods from crepes to fried pickles, and enjoy performances by dancers, jugglers, and musicians, such as Underscore Orchestra. The Whimsy Circus will offer a variety of activities for kids of all ages, including performances by Dr. Solar. On Saturday afternoon, Roots will hold their Annual Barbeque dinner for $15. On Saturday night, a Grand Ball in the Engine House features El Radio Fantastique, the Dirt Floor Band, aerialists, the Luminesque Fire Troupe, and more. Sunday is the time to see the Hand Car Races at the Skunk Train Depot where incredible handmade contraptions race to the finish line. Admission to the Kinetic Carnivale during the day is $6 for the weekend or $4 per day, and complimentary to all Roots members. Grand Ball tickets are $20 per person now, and will be $25 on Saturday. For special treatment, shaded seating at the Hand Car Races, and behind-the-scenes refreshments at the Grand Ball, $100 will purchase an exclusive VIP Passport. For more information, and to purchase tickets in advance, please call the Mendocino County Museum at 459-2736 or go to the website at


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