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Mendocino County Today: October 14, 2012

GIVE US MORE or we'll blow up your neighborhood: PG&E wants customers to pay more than half the cost of its roughly $2.2 billion pipeline upgrades, some 84% of costs of its multi-year effort to inspect and replace pipelines whose safety was cast into doubt by the 2010 natural-gas explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight people. But Friday's draft ruling by administrative law Judge Maribeth Bushey would mean customers would have to pay about 55% of the $2.18 billion sum. The judge's draft ruling, which must go before the five-member state Public Utilities Commission for approval, says PG&E should pay a larger chunk of the cost than it proposed because the company's mismanagement allowed its natural-gas pipeline system to deteriorate. And its system deteriorated because it pays nice dividends to its shareholders and big salaries to its execs because it doesn't function as a public utility. And it doesn't function as a public utility because the PUC is stuffed with its advocates.

ZINGER OF THE WEEK. Independent Coast Observer reporter Lisa Walters captured a zinger last week in her coverage of the special meeting convened to recruit a replacement for retiring South Coast Fire Chief Leighton Nelson.

AMONG THE SIX applicants for the position is current assistant chief Gregg Warner. Warner has a small group of supporters who include current fire captain Kirk Mason and his wife Kelly. Mrs. Mason also happens to sit on the South Coast Fire District Board of Directors.

THE MEETING got interesting when Chief Nelson stood to accuse Warner and his wife, along with the Masons and a man named Brent Klopfer, of trying to have him fired. “Do you want someone like that running your fire department?” Nelson asked the stunned board of directors.

NELSON said that Mrs. Mason had “orchestrated a coup” against him at “one of her jewelry parties.”

THE MASONS denied they'd plotted against Nelson. Mrs. Mason said her only objection was that Chief Nelson was paid too much. “I just care about the taxpayers of this district,” Mrs. Mason insisted.

CHIEF NELSON was being paid about $74k a year plus benefits. Last February Mrs. Nelson complained publicly that Nelson “has been gone a lot and he’s still getting his full salary and benefits without constraints.”

ON TUESDAY, October 16, The Board of Supervisors will hold an “off-site meeting” in Fort Bragg. Among the items on the agenda is the Mendocino Town Plan which hasn’t been updated for about 20 years, although several abortive attempts have been to update it, each disappearing in flames into the Pacific. A self-interested group inevitably arises to dispute the County’s numbers and each other’s facts on which units are in which category of rental. The village of Mendocino is also burdened by the highest percentage of all-purpose experts per capita of any community in Mendocino County, each of them specializing in intransigence.

THE COUNTY has a vested interest in updating the Mendocino Town Plan because every nickel in bed tax from commercial rentals goes into the County’s depleted General Fund. Properly classifying the rentals and then figuring out a way to fully collect the bed tax represents important revenue for the County. Then the arguments start.

IS IT REALLY necessary to collect bed tax when a homeowner occasionally rents a room to a friend? Or does that homeowner just happen to have 300 friends staying over every year? THIS TIME AROUND, the County is hoping that former Planning Chief Roger Mobley, who has been hired as a consultant just to deal with the Town Plan, can negotiate the rental-unit briar patch in a way that satisfies the interested parties.

THE FANCIFUL stated object of the Mendocino Town Plan? “A primary goal… is to preserve the historical character of the town and maintain the residential community. The policies contained within the Town Plan focus on maintaining a ‘balance’ between residential, commercial, and visitor-serving uses. Planning and Building Services’ staff have conducted a series of three public outreach meetings to discuss issues addressed within the current Town Plan, as well as learn any new issues that may have arisen in the 20 years since adoption that may be addressed in the update. Since the last Board of Supervisors update on this process, a draft revised Mendocino Town Plan has been completed and an additional public outreach meeting scheduled for October 25, 2012.”

FIRST OFF, Mendocino bears zero reference to the mill town it was for a hundred years, and if you see a kid under the age of ten he's either a tourist or he lives east of Highway One.

ANYWAY, there's no mention in the Board packet of the all-important list of rental units that usually accompanies the Town Plan update. And that’s been the major point of contention. To have any reasonable chance of getting the updated Town Plan approved by the Board of Supervisors, villagers will have to find a way to agree on something that can be presented to the Board that resembles agreement. Otherwise, the update will stall yet again.

ALSO AT THEIR TUESDAY MEETING in Fort Bragg the Board of Supervisors will consider the claim of Mr. David Kyle Miller for $3 million. The claim is based on a Willits incident in late March of 2012. “The Sheriff of Mendocino through his employees failed to exercise discretion to determine whether David Miller, who was in their custody, was mentally ill, and failed to summon medical care for Mr. Miller when they knew or should have known he was irrational and in need of immediate medical care, and released Mr. Miller from jail knowing he was irrational and in need of medical care. As a result, Mr. Miller, while a pedestrian, was struck by an automobile in Willits on March 31, 2012 causing brain injury.”

THIS CLAIM was filed September 20, 2012, by personal injury attorney Philip C. Snell of Novato who represents Mr. Miller.

Miller

ACCORDING to the Sheriff's Booking Log, Mr. Miller, age 30, City of Origin “San Antonio,” was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on March 28 after having been arrested by the Fort Bragg Police for “refusing or failing to leave land, real property, or structure of another, not open to the public.” Bail had been set at $5,000.

THE FORT BRAGG CITY COUNCIL also rejected a similar claim filed by Mr. Snell for Mr. Miller at their City Council meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 9, saying that the City of Fort Bragg had no liability in the incident.

THE WILLITS NEWS reported that the accident which injured Mr. Miller occurred at about 11pm on Saturday, March 31 when a Mr. Michael Ruiz, 23, accidentally struck Miller as Miller apparently walked in the roadway on a dark, wet and windy night. No charges were filed against Mr. Ruiz.

A LOT is left out here. If bail was set at $5,000 someone posted it, perhaps Miller himself. The County Jail releases people all the time who seem at least reasonably capable of caring for themselves long enough to get down Low Gap Road and resume drinking and drugging, the primary causes of temporarily aberrant behavior. If this guy was in Raving Lunatic mode he wouldn't have been released. My old friend Peter Sears, who occasionally goes off his rocker, once seemed like he'd been stabilized by a sojourn at the County lock-up, but as soon as he got out the door, Pete threw off his clothes and ran down Low Gap in his birthday suit. He was soon restrained and returned for another stay, but I think most people understand how hard it sometimes is to tell who's nuts and who isn't. There are people in this County holding public office who are objectively 5150, but they aren't sprinting nude down the street or otherwise causing the kind of upset that would get them locked up. It's always a matter of degree.

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