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Off the Record 11/25/2009

A COUPLE of phone calls to Fort Bragg officials were not returned, silent confirmation that an outside investigator based in Danville has been hired by Fort Bragg to evaluate the job performance of Fort Bragg Police chief, Mark Puthuff. 

THE TENTATIVE PROPOSAL to apply the 10% bed tax to Mendo campgrounds has been abandoned, as has the proposal to increase the bed tax to 12%. The local campground lobby convinced the ad hoc Supes committee considering the idea that it would be bad for campground business and not easy to collect.

 THE OTHER County committee dealing with how to enforce the marijuana nuisance ordinance has put off their final draft proposal to the full board of supervisors for yet another month. Medical pot activist Sheila Dawn Tracy told the committee last week that if the County continues with seizures, the pot growers will try even harder to hide their grows which, in turn, will make them more dangerous, more vulnerable to thieves and criminals, and their product less available to patients. So far the Health and Human Services Committee, headed by Supervisor John McCowen, Mendocino County's premier pot fighter, seems intent on keeping pot grows on the criminal nuisance list.

 SPEAKING of pot, Brooktrails neighbors of a certain Mr. Enrique Delgadillo, wonder what took the cops so long to arrive at his address. The neighborhood has long assumed that the guy was in the dope biz. Arrested on November 5th, Delgadillo had no prob coming up with $4500 to post a $45,000 bail.

 AFTER several years of heavy construction work by Petaluma-based North Bay Construction (under contract with CalTrans) the Ridgewood Grade repairs have been declared complete. For now. Anyone with any history of driving that stretch of Highway 101 south of Willits knows that every few years CalTrans declares the latest round of major repairs “complete.” This latest repair was trigged by a huge slipout caused by the New Year’s Eve flooding of 2005. North Bay Construction removed a nearly 21,000 cubic yards (about two yards per standard dump truck) of material from the area above, in and below the slipout, and replaced it with 7,000 cubic yards of polystyrene — aka styrofoam — blocks which are lighter and presumably less prone to slippage. We'll see. A similar styrofoam project, albeit much smaller, a few miles up Highway 253 above Boonville has held up well so far.

 ACCORDING TO CALTRANS, the problem on the Ridgewood Grade is that the soil there is “blue clay Franciscan-type” which is among the most geologically unstable in the Americas. Geologists call it “blue goo” because it’s so loose and gravely in so many places. The entire Little Lake Valley which Willits sits in is like a giant bowl of this blue goo, and a major “challenge” for road and railroad builders all along the North Coast range and, as Caltrans says, “will likely provide future challenges.”

 THE POINT? Nowhere in the Willits Bypass planning will you find any reference to Franciscan-type soils or blue goo. Although the nearly 60-year old bypass project has been postponed again due to the well-known state funding problems, the project schedule and budget are likely to be severely “challenged” by the blue goo. Caltrans acknowledges the blue-goo problem on the Ridgewood Grade but pretends that building a four-lane bypass on blue goo — parts of which will be on giant pilings sunk in the stuff in Little Lake Valley— are not worth factoring into their budgets.

 NONE OF WHICH prevented this front page headline in the Willits News: “Willits Bypass: Ready in 2010?” The Willits Bypass won't be ready in 3010 even if there is a 3010.

 FORECLOSURES in Mendocino County are way up according to a press release from an outfit called “Foreclosure Radar.” As of October 2009 there were 539 Mendo homes in foreclosure, compared to 70 in 2007. Lake County is even worse off with nearly 1400 homes in foreclosure. We haven’t heard any reports about the usefulness of the recent foreclosure workshop held in Ukiah by Congressman Mike Thompson and Assemblyman Wes Chesbro’s staffs who are undoubtedly “very, very concerned,” which is as far as MikeBinahBro are prepared to go towards actual relief for the about-to-be houseless. Although California has suffered major foreclosures and job losses, Mendo hasn’t suffered quite as much — yet. But this latest data indicates that the rolling economic disaster is starting to hit home. Tourism is off, but not as much as in other areas. Home building is essentially at a standstill. Home sales are sluggish at best. Wine sits on the shelves. The only economic activity in Mendoland that has not suffered any major hits is marijuana.

 CARL WONG is Sonoma County’s superintendent of schools. He makes $165,000 a year for doing absolutely nothing. The Mendocino County superintendent of schools, Paul Tichinin, the guy who didn’t know what “niggardly” meant, makes about $120,000 a year for a work load at least as taxing as Wong’s. These people are excess baggage.

 A COUPLE of weeks ago Wong wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Press Democrat which began, “I commend The Press Democrat on its efforts to inform readers as to the value of county offices created by the California constitution....” Nothing personal, Carl, but an edu-hack “commending” journalo-hacks only interests those two parties and the few people who collect the more flagrant examples of epistolary nuzzle-butt-ism. I’m a collector, so I read on, and I’m happy I did because Wong gave the game away, admitting, albeit inadvertently, that he and his office don’t do anything at all as it “serves as an intermediary between local schools and the state; provides fiscal oversight to each school district; and serves as appellate agent to local district decisions.” Oh, yes, and “provides leadership.”

 LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS don’t need an expensive layer of bureaucracy between them and the state, don’t need fiscal oversight beyond what their own bookkeepers could do a lot cheaper, and local school districts ought to be able to do their own discipline without Wong and his captive county school board “serving” as court of appeal. Court of appeal in the school context means if your kid has been unfairly kicked out of school for bringing ten pounds of dope and an automatic weapon to school you can appeal his expulsion to your County school board. Appeals are rare, winning appeals rarer yet.

 AS PUBLIC FUNDING for a whole range of local, state and federal services disappears, it’s time for county offices of education to also disappear. From Wong’s own statements you can see that his bureaucracy simply exists to skim millions of edu-bucks from individual school districts.

 THE DAY WONG’S fatuously self-serving letter appeared on the PD’s turgid editorial page — E.J. Dionne, David Broder and, on Sundays the Rose City sage, Pete Golis — I'll bet it was the only specific thing Wong did his entire work week.

 A BLANDLY DELUSIONAL character like Wong is a secure fit for the Press Democrat, a newspaper so timid that even their letters-to-the-editor are pruned to spare the reader even the possibility of upset. You’ll never see a letter that has real bite, you’ll never see one that’s funny. Writers to the PD seem to know going in that unless they communicate in only the blandest prose their opinions won’t appear.

 THE DAY WONG puckered up in print to reveal himself and his office as utterly without useful function, the paper’s editorial was called “Safe Zone, students and teachers deserve protection from campus violence.” Hell, we all know that depends entirely on the student and the teacher. Lots of them undoubtedly have it coming. But the Northcoast’s most widely circulated newspaper thought the subject needed to be fleshed out for the only person who read it — me, a connoisseur of tedium.

 ANDY CAFFREY has announced he’s running for Congress as a Democrat in the 2010 primary. Caffrey, who lives in Garberville, goes way back in Earth First! and Green Party politics. He wrote to me the other day. “You see, Bruce, here’s the real kicker: we actually have solid answers to our economic and ecological crises. The Dems and Repubs don’t. So we will shine bright.”

 IT’S BEEN FORTY years since I heard the right question, Andy, and our side would need an ocean of Brasso to get our shine back. Anyway, the ecological crisis is also the economic crisis, I’d say, because the operating economic assumption is more stuff for more people forever, and the earth only has so much to give. Capitalism as an operating principle either has to be destroyed or severely regulated before it kills us all. The evidence, however, points to extinction, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to baseball season, and wondering why the newspapers feel free to call Tim Lincecum, “Timmy.” The guy’s 25-years old. His mother probably stopped calling him “Timmy” when he went off to high school.

 CAFFREY is running against incumbent Mike Thompson or, as he’s known around here, MikeBinahBro. Thompson is the Blue Dog Democrat and career officeholder who would seem to have a lock on the Northcoast’s congressional seat at least until the end of capitalism, which is running neck and neck with the end of life as we know it. Thompson’s such a good Republican the Republicans don’t bother running anyone against him, and the libs return him to office every two years no questions asked. If Thompson appeared on the front page of tomorrow’s New York Times dancing naked with two bimbos and cocaine spoons up both nostrils and one ear he’d only be more popular on the Northcoast.

 THOMPSON’S BASE is the same as Obama’s — comfortable people unlikely to actually fight for anything beyond the continuation of their own ascendancy. If there was the slightest indication that the “progressive” Northcoast wanted change it would have gone big time for Ralph Nader, not the corporations, but Nader didn’t even get 2% of the vote, and only half the people vote anyway, the comfortable half.

 THE CONGRESSMAN GETS LOTS of money from corporate interests inside and out the carefully gerrymandered 1st District, a district that Willie Brown specifically engineered to keep the seat Corporate Democrat forever. Thompson, who first oozed into politics out of a vineyard somewhere in Sonoma County, is especially big with the ever larger NorCal wine industry for whom he runs endless federal errands. Caffrey will be crushed cleaner than a Pinot harvest, but he deserves an attaboy for at least giving it a whirl.

 IT’S GOTTEN no public notice, but the Sonoma County cops got a grant to do dope gotcha interdictions on 101, meaning that for about a month now vehicles with out-of-state plates, rent-a-cars occupied by individuals fitting the dope profile — long-haired young-ish people and men of color of whatever hair length — have been getting pulled over. The very first stop came up with 200 pounds of fresh Mendo bud. The safest way to transport Mendo Mellow is via Winnebago piloted by a gaffer, preferably accompanied by a gaffer-ette. Stick a couple of golf bags in the window, a Bush For President sticker on your bumper next to the Good Sam Club membership, and you’re in business. The cops operate entirely on stereotypes.

 SPEAKING OF OUR number one ag product, the 2009 Campaign Against Marijuana Production, informally known as the Marijuana Price Support Unit, says it confiscated 4440,689 devil weed plants this season, making Mendocino County third in the state for plants seized behind number one Shasta County and number two Lake County. CAMP says the local price is around $1,200 a pound but wholesale prices in LA range from $3,500 to $6,000 per pound “with dispensaries charging customers between $6,000 and $10,000 per pound.”

 WHILE ATTENDING the Mendocino Art Center board meeting last Thursday afternoon, The Major, which is me, and as The Editor often reminds me, I “don't have a very highly evolved aesthetic,” as if he does, took a look at the artwork on display. Except for a few small unidentified photographs on one wall, none of the art had any people in it. It was all ocean scenery and quaint Coastie buildings of the Ye Olde-Ye Olde School, “chipmunk art” as The Editor calls it, as if he knows. The people in the people photos looked interesting so I assumed they were out-of-town people, not that we don't have interesting-looking people; the Sheriff's Booking Photos prove every week that we have the most interesting-looking people outside the lost tribes of Borneo. But the people in the Sheriff's booking log — Gallery La Low Gap — generally aren't available for photo ops of the Mendo artsy type. You know, the babe wrapped in seaweed emerging from the fog on the Mendocino Bluffs. If you saw one of those booking photo guys nude on the bluffs you'd better go for your gun. But I mean interesting-interesting people, not these uncomprehending ruminants you see at KZYX fund-raisers and, I'm afraid, art galleries. No, ladies and gentlemen, and I defy you to name one, I want pictures of people who look like they've lived a little, somewhere between Van Gogh's potato eaters and the Sheriff's Log. With all the intriguing characters on the Coast who aren't in jail, you'd think one of the photographic “artists” would take the time to capture a few of them in a piece of art.

 AN INDIGNANT LIB forwarded a You Tube video of a BART cop “shoving a guy's face through a window.” I looked at the video, which was quickly removed from cyber-circulation a few hours after it appeared last weekend, but not before it popped up on the TV news, then I read the Chron's account of the episode, and then I read the on-line comments, which ranged from “BART needs double-pane glass” to “Too bad the cop didn't shoot him” to “BART cops are still out of control.” Most of the comments assumed the cop had deliberately run the man face first into the window. Didn't look that way to me. The cop had marched the guy off the train (to the cheers of passengers) in the direction of a lobby bench beneath the window. They both hit the window, both were cut up a little. As the filming of the interlude began prior to the broken window, we see the man standing in the aisle of a BART car shouting obscenities at no one in particular, a common occurrence on public transportation anywhere and everywhere at this time in our devolving history. The man's family was later quoted as saying he'd been crazy and drunk for a long time, but that there was no place for him in a country that has so irremediably lost its way that their son can only wander around making a public nuisance of himself. The family was not blaming the cop. It didn't seem to have occurred to the family that the cop was in the wrong. They knew their son. The libs, of course, have assumed the cop was intent on popping the crazy guy's head through a closed window. But the libs ought to back off this one. It was an accident, not their old fave, police brutality.

I WAS ON a Muni bus the other day, the 1 California, almost always a sedate, mostly Asian commute line running from the Richmond District to Chinatown, a line seldom in need of the cops. I've been on other buses a couple of blocks to the south, the Geary buses, where the cops often have to remove someone similar to the BART guy, someone drunk and crazy-acting, or someone menacing other passengers or trying to rob them. This day the 1 California was sedate as usual, but a street nut did come in through the back door at Fillmore, trailing feathers and sticks and magpie bits of colored glass from his backpack and talking to himself. “There's eighty thousand of us and we're all going in the wrong direction.” He repeated the eighty thousand figure about ten times, each rendition louder while I wondered at his stats. San Francisco has a population of about 800,000 and there were maybe forty people on the bus. Eighty thousand didn't seem to apply anywhere I was aware of. This crazy guy sat himself down in the middle of the very back seat, wedged between an elderly Chinese man and a young girl who looked to be about 15. I was on a seat looking straight at him, and why Muni buses are designed this way is another mystery because placing the seats so people have to stare straight at each other is often a prescription for unhappy interfaces of the random type. So, I have to look straight at Mr. Nutball for about fifteen minutes because it's either him or the ceiling. Anyway, and if you will excuse the ethnic generalization, the Chinese are better than any people on earth at simply not seeing what they're seeing. They seem to have a genetic gift for Zen-ing out the unpleasant, the untoward, the outrageous, which they and all of us get a boat load of every day in our crumbling society. They're just better at disappearing it than we are, letting it roll over them as if it isn't happening. The old Chinese guy reacted not at all to crazy man singing out numerical arias next to him. The young woman was quite uncomfortable. I was taking mental notes, half expecting crazy man to go off on me since I had the full frontal for his little presentation. Crazy man sang out the final eighty thou and reached for what looked to me the young girl's thigh. I said, “Wait a minute! Wha....” The girl said, “He's just petting my dog, sir. It's ok.” I hadn't seen the dog, but there it was muzzled at her feet, looking up at the crazy man who said to the girl, “You're very lucky to have a dog. I wish I had a dog.” The crazy guy soon got off at Clay and Taylor, Nob Hill, the high rent district, sedated it seemed, smiling to himself.

I WAS HEADED to the Embarcadero Theater to see the Werner Herzog film, “The Bad Lieutenant, Port of Call New Orleans.” The Chron's uncomprehending reviewer didn't like it much but I suspect that's because, and despite its rep as a cool-o groove-o decadent venue, Frisco is really a pretty tame place whose daily newspaper wouldn't want to find itself recommending real art because it might be bad for a newspaper business that's already in the process of going glub, glub, glub. Readers might be offended. “You suggested we should go see that, Mick?” Be that as it may or may not be, I've never seen a Herzog movie that wasn't fascinating. I knew this one, despite the reviews, was going to be worth a lot more than the $6.50 “senior” price of admission. Which it was, and then some. This is Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant squared, and Nicholas Cage, who I'd always assumed was basically a feeb of the Tom Cruise type, is beyond good in the role of the berserk cop, so good that in a just film world Cage would be a shoo-in for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. The story line is not even close to plausible, but that's not the point. The point, I'd say, is that old Werner, as a furriner, and a highbrow furriner at that, is basically taking his perception of America as completely berserkers and making the point in a movie. It's just terrific all the way through and very, very funny, but definitely not a film for the whole family, or most members of most families who haven't quite heard the terrible news.

KC MEADOWS WRITES: “At Schat's Bakery a couple of weeks ago I was met by several teachers and the principal of the Grace Hudson Elementary School who were outraged at my comments back in October about the school's dismal performance. As a letter to the editor which we recently ran from those teachers says, they feel they have a great school and that they are making significant improvements all the time. As we talked that morning at Schat's there were several points discussed which I think bear repeating here. First, they objected to my calling the school restrictive and exclusive. However, they acknowledge that no child who does not already speak Spanish can enter the school past first grade. So, if you move into the south Ukiah neighborhood with a second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth grader who doesn't speak Spanish, that child will have to go to Nokomis or some other elementary school. I call that restrictive. This is no longer a neighborhood school — which most voters thought they were getting when they approved the funds to build it. This is now a special Spanish language immersion program school for which, I am told by these teachers, there is a waiting list. In fact, parents who want their non-Hispanic, English-speaking children to learn Spanish, are flocking to this school. There are students from Willits and even Lake County I am told. The teachers also felt that it was unfair for me to pick on Grace Hudson since all the Ukiah Unified School District elementary schools are underperforming schools with low test scores. The point I made is that the children underperforming the most are the children who are being taught in their native language (in kindergarten and first grade at Grace Hudson, teaching is 90% in Spanish and the English-Spanish ratio adjusts with each grade so that hopefully, by the time all the kids are in fifth grade they are bilingual). The problem is, according to the teachers, that while the children are being taught in Spanish, the tests are in English and therefore unfair. Also, tests are generically unfair. Testing kids does not help teach them anything, these teachers asserted. Interestingly, the non-Hispanic kids being taught in Spanish (a language they don't know) do better on the tests. In fact, the teachers claim that the English-speaking youngsters pick up Spanish very quickly. Being taught Spanish in kindergarten and first grade, they pick it up in a snap, they say. So why, I asked, does “immersion” into Spanish work so well for the English-speaking kids, but somehow, the Hispanic kids need five years to learn English? It's because their parents are poor and uneducated, I'm told. These Spanish-speaking parents — who mostly have third grade educations, they tell me — are unable to help their children and have the kind of involvement in their child's education that the English-speaking kids' parents do. I find that an extremely condescending attitude. So I did a little more research on Grace Hudson School and found out that the English learners at the school do take their California STAR tests in Spanish (which no one mentioned) and lo and behold, they do no better than the Spanish speaking kids at Nokomis or other local elementary schools where they are being tested in a language they supposedly can't learn very easily. For instance, Spanish speaking students at Grace Hudson, being taught in Spanish for 90% of the day, who took the California second grade language arts tests in Spanish, overall scored 306.9 (on a scale of 600). The second graders at Nokomis School (with a 44% population of English learners, being taught in English) took the test in English and scored 332.6 overall on the same test. In math, the Grace Hudson Spanish speakers taking the math tests in Spanish scored 323.2 overall, while the Nokomis kids, almost half just learning English and taking the test in English, scored overall 360.6. The Grace Hudson Spanish-speaking kids also take the tests in English and so, adding in the English-speaking kids (about 45% of the total population) the scores are about the same: 306.6 in language arts and 330.2 in math. And these kinds of score results continue into third and fourth grades as well. As we saw this week, none of Ukiah Unified Schools have anything to crow about in the test score arena. In fact, it looks like the state will be stepping in to improve all these schools where the District has been unable to. Teachers complain constantly that tests do not reflect learning or education. I disagree. Yes, you want children to be 'life learners' and love education for its own sake. But you also want them to be able to write a clear sentence and decode a bank statement. Finding out if they have achieved some basic level of competence is not unreasonable in my view. When the school district is looking at closing schools and wondering how it can afford to keep going, is it really necessary to have a specialized language school that does not seem to be achieving anything special, taking over the only brand new school in the district in a neighborhood where being provided a brand new school would have sent a clear message about the importance of education to parents who would have understood it even with their third grade educations?”

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