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Mendocino County Today: October 15, 2012

SUNDAY was a slow news day in Mendocino County. And we were seriously distracted and depressed by the Giants loss to the Cardinals in the National League Pennant series. So here are some interesting semi- and non-news items.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR WRITES: “Forget the conspiracy theories involving bodies on train tracks, Ron Brown and the Rose Law Firm, here are the real Bill Clinton murders (quote from the Los Angeles Times): ‘The injectable steroid implicated in the meningitis cases, for example, was shipped to nearly two dozen states and used to treat up to 14,000 patients with back or neck pain. This has been possible in part because of provisions of the 1997 Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act, which allowed compounding pharmacies to avoid the levels of testing and other standards required of regular pharmaceutical firms. Court decisions further tied the FDA's hands’.”

“I DO NOT APPROVE of public instruction in sexual relations. When I teach my children to avoid the Devil I don't begin by giving them a letter of introduction to him and his crowd. I hope that a cure for syphilis will never be discovered. It is God's punishment for nastiness. Take it away and there will be more nastiness, and it will be necessary to emasculate our children to keep them clean.” — T.S. Eliot's father, 1914

SUSPICIOUS REDEVELOPENT IN UKIAH

October 12, 2012 — This just in: Bad news for the City of Ukiah.

Specifically, bad news regarding the dissolution of city's former Redevelopment Authority (RDA). The Recognized Obligation Payment Schedule (ROPS) which the city submitted for the third time to the California State Department of Finance (DOF) on behalf of the Successor Agency for Ukiah's RDA was just denied, in part, by the DOF. This particular ROPS is colloquially known as “ROPS III.” The money involved? Millions!

Right off the bat, the DOF denied $69,000 in “general administrative expenses” that the city was trying to charge off to the Successor Agency. Could that be read as big, fat city salaries? Hmm. Then, the DOF denied $6.2 million in unenforceable “agreements, contracts, and arrangements” between the city and the Successor Agency. Hmm. Could that be read as cooking the books? Finally, the DOF denied $2.5 million in “infrastructure improvement projects” that were not substantiated. Hmm. Could that be read as sloppy accounting?

Most importantly, could it be the Oversight Board for the Successor Agency to the Ukiah RDA was not given good information about the ROPS III, which the Oversight Board needed to approve before it was submitted to the DOF? Indeed, why this bad news now from the DOF?

I'll answer my own question: It is my personal belief that it's in the “best” interests of the City of Ukiah not to keep the Oversight Board fully informed. Again, that's a personal opinion.

Keeping the Oversight Board in the dark is easier to accomplish than one might think. Why? Because the Oversight Board is largely comprised of appointees who do not work for the City of Ukiah. They are not city staff. The appointees largely represent the tax entities that AB 126 intended to be the beneficiaries of the dissolution of the RDAs.

School districts and the college district should the biggest beneficiaries of the RDA's dissolution — as intended by AB 126, the bill that set in motion the dissolution of Redevelopment Authorities across the state — but other beneficiaries could also include the cemetery districts, the water and sewer districts, fire districts, etc. And none of these guys work for the City of Ukiah. Hence, they're easily kept in the dark. I've actually had one board member tell me off-the-record that, “We are like mushrooms. Kept in the dark. And fed manure.”

So, let's review how the dissolution of Ukiah's RDA really works.

It's the job of these appointees from the districts on the Oversight Board to maximize the money the districts will get from the dissolution process. Meanwhile, this sort of sets up an obvious conflict with the city. Why? Because it's the city's job to maximize the money for their employer — Ukiah. That's why the Oversight Board is represented by their own legal counsel. Too many conflicts of interest. Too much to keep track of, as DOF hands down policies and procedures regarding ROPS and other RDA dissolution business. The California Supreme Court decision that upheld AB 126 never spelled out how AB 126 would be enforced. The Court left that up to the DOF and the State Controller's Office. It's all fraught with complexities. So, the Oversight Board hired their own lawyer to figure it all out. And the Oversight Board has no salaried staff of its own, the Board relies on city staff for financial and other administrative work. The Mendocino County Auditor is supposed to oversee the city's work. But does she?

Calling County Auditor Meredith Ford. Earth to Meredith Ford. How do you read? Over.

To complete the cast of characters, City Manager Jane Chambers and Assistant City Manager, Sage Sangiacomo, along with City Counsel David Rapport, and City Finance Director Gordon Elton, do the heavy lifting for the City of Ukiah on all ROPS and other Successor Agency work.

Not bad people. Just folks earning a paycheck.

So, back to today's correspondence from the DOF. There's a news story in here somewhere in today's new development. And we need a good investigative reporter to look into it. Think about it. The DOF denied $69,000 in expenses. And $6.2 million in unenforceable contracts. And $2.5 million in unsubstantiated infrastructure improvements. All that begs a lot of questions. What did the Oversight Board know before ROPS III was submitted? And what didn't they know? Did the City of Ukiah disclose everything to the Oversight Board that it needed to know? The Board does, in fact, act as sworn fiduciaries. Or was the city trying to pull a fast one?

For the record, I sit on the Oversight Board for the Successor Agency for the Mendocino County RDA, and we have no such problems with either the DOF or the State Controller's Office. Admittedly, the County RDA is a lot smaller that the Ukiah RDA by several orders of magnitude. Yet, the issues are pretty much the same for all former RDAs — big or small.

Kyle Knopp, Chief Deputy CEO, and Tammi Weselsky, senior analyst — both of the Mendocino County CEO's Office — do the heavy lifting for County's Successor Agency. They keep the dissolution process humming along, with no negative surprises. — John Sakowicz, Ukiah

* * *

October 13, 2012 — Ukiah gets another rejection letter from the state, — Ukiah Daily Journal Staff

The City of Ukiah got another letter from the state of California telling it that some major projects the city had planned to spend redevelopment money on are not going to be approved.

Among them are about $6 million which the city spent or is planning to spend on land and road improvements to bring a Costco to town, and about $2.5 million in funding for downtown projects and the Ukiah Depot area.

Also rejected were a tens of thousands in staff expenses on redevelopment work.

With an eye to bringing more money into the state's coffers, California legislators in 2011 passed laws disbanding redevelopment agencies statewide. They said cities were abusing the program originally designed to turn around blighted urban areas by providing tax-paid boons to developers and using redevelopment to boost city staffing levels. Under redevelopment, cities were allowed to keep the property tax money generated by the development projects after paying the bond debts on them and the state decided that money should go back to funding schools and counties.

Ukiah Assistant City Manager Sage Sangiacomo said Friday evening that the latest letter from the state is just a another step in the process of untangling the mandates of these new state laws.

Sangiacomo said that the state analysts reviewing the many documents and lists of projects cities across the state are insisting should continue to be funded, are lower level employees who are basically just saying no to everything and "checking the boxes."

Now that this latest denial letter has arrived, Sangiacomo says the city has five days to request a "meet and confer" session with state officials to provide more documentation intended to sway state officials to the city's point of view.

Sangiacomo said he's hearing from other cities that their meet and confer sessions generally also end in blanket "no's" from state staff. He said cities like Ukiah could well have to turn to the courts - as many California cities have already done - to protect what they see as legitimate expenses they bonded for as part of long range plans for infrastructure and economic improvements.

In the meantime, for the Costco project, the city has also begun a parallel process the state has put in place post-redevelopment, which allows cities to get special reviews of their development projects with an eye to coming up with a management plan for the project which would allow it to continue even without redevelopment. The city is using this process in the case of the Costco project. That process should be complete in the first quarter of 2013.

Also in the meantime, Costco is moving ahead with its environmental impact review for a new store in Ukiah.

Sangiacomo said that he is hearing from other city officials throughout the state that the dismantling of redevelopment has not brought the "fiscal windfall" the state had hoped for and that, in fact, it has stopped local infrastructure projects statewide.

"I don't think we have begun to see the economic impact of the loss of redevelopment," he said, adding that schools are not seeing the added funding they thought was coming either. Much of that is due, he said, to the fact that much of the money is still tied up in long term bonds the cities issued and will be repaying for years to come. Add to that, he noted, that cities like Ukiah are now spending more and more on staff time to navigate the state's mandates and deadlines on redevelopment and you have a losing formula. (Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

AH-E-AH-E-AH-E-AH-E-YAH! — Commemorating the Spirit of Tarzan by Steve Grimes & Bess Bair

October 2012 marks the centennial of the first publication of Tarzan of the Apes by Edger Rice Burroughs in the All-Story Magazine.

If 100 years of Tarzan and Jane in the jungle has inspired, empowered or engaged you, or you have ever uttered a Tarzan yell as you jumped into the river, you know the feeling we celebrate this month.

But did you know that there was more to Tarzan than just swinging thru the trees?

Tarzan also had an estate in Africa — spoke French before English — is a master linguist — discovered lost cities in Africa — is an English lord — has acute senses of smell and hearing — has a birth son — is a grandfather — fought in both World War I and World War II — was given youth serum by an African witch doctor — traveled to Pellucidar in the earth’s core — has his own stamp — was featured in over 40 movies and was portrayed by 20+ actors including Edger Rice Burroughs own son in law?

Here are 30 suggestions from our personal celebration to-do list that you might also enjoy as we each reawaken the spirit of Tarzan.

1. Read Tarzan of the Apes by Edger Rice Burroughs. (ERB)

2. Swing from a rope tied to a tree.

3. Give out a Tarzan call.

4. Watch Tarzan the Apeman (1932) starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

5. Go for a walk or jog thru a lush, forested area.

6. Pee outside.

7. Use new Edger Rice Burroughs forever stamps.

8. Climb a tree.

9. Read The Return of Tarzan by ERB sequel to #1.

10. Pick and eat fruit.

11. Watch Tarzan and His Mate (1934) starring Weissmuller and O’Sullivan.

12. Rescue or protect an animal or human.

13. Go barefoot outside.

14. Go swimming in a natural setting.

15. Read any book by Jane Goodal.

16. Play in a tree house.

17. Admire the Tarzan illustrations of Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning and Frank Frazetta.

18. Sleep outside.

19. Read Tarzan comics.

20. Read Jungle Tales of Tarzan by ERB, stories of Tarzan’s youth.

21. Eat a grub.

22. Hang from a tree limb.

23. Protect primates.

24. Honor the elephant.

25. Plant a tree.

26. Read Tarzan Alive (1972) by Philip Jose Farmer.

27. Wear a loincloth.

28. Shave with a hunting knife.

29. Honor nature in word and deed.

30. Have a Dum-Dum celebration with drums, yells and frenzied dancing.

Inspired by Tarzan and Jane, we continue to swing thru the forests of Mendocino County on the lianas of love. Listen for our mating call echoing thru the trees and we will listen for yours.

EPHEMERALIZATION by John Wester

Hard to challenge reasons why

It’s better doing more with less;

But everybody has an eye

For individual happiness:

Some think “more” can help them cope

Looking out for number one;

Others together, think if there’s hope

They’ll find a way it can be done.

Those who have it all, think not--

The way it is will always be

Though everybody has a shot

At breaking free of poverty.

So there you have it, down to war,

Making more than there was before.

* * *

I watched an interview with the Dali Lama who said, overall, there is less violence in the world today than there ever was. I thought that was interesting thing to say since so many think otherwise. How would you measure something like that? Ordnance exploded? Deaths? Farms and factories ruined?

Buckminster Fuller, the engineer, architect, futurist, said that as civilization progresses, it does more with less. He called that concept, ephemeralization. A single smart bomb probably does more than carpet bombing. Likewise, less time is needed to produce a rifle or grenade. Cannabis might be a counter example, if you compare its strength these days to the weed you got in 60s. Two hits instead of two joints might do you. But Buckminster Fuller was talking about technology, communication and common sense.

The rest of the sonnet was inspired by a slogan of the United Farm Workers, Si Se Puede. I’m including two pictures taken at Chicano Park in San Diego. The pictures are of one of the murals there and they were taken 25 years apart. One picture shows a banner with Si Se Puede written on it. Si Se Puede, roughly translated means, It Can Be Done. The other picture is the original, and you’ll see that the slogans on the banner are different.

The murals around Chicano Park are painted on the pylons and supports to the freeway onramps to the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. The murals periodically get restored and added to. This one is the entire mural, which includes the two images here. That mural was there from close to the beginning and recently restored. The entire park has as many as 67 murals representing the myth, the culture and history of Mexico including Mexico’s legendary beginnings, Aztlan. The murals were painted by various teams of artists, and what is represented is a community decision. A very political one as you can see between the banners in the two versions of the same scene in the pictures I’ve included.

The area where Chicano Park is located was known as Logan Heights since 1905. Before that it was called the East End, meaning the east end of San Diego. In recent memory it has always been known as Barrio Logan because Mexicans began immigrating to the area as early as the late 1800s and especially during the Mexican Revolution which lasted nearly 10 years from 1910. At one time the neighborhood, Barrio Logan, reached to the San Diego Bay where residents could enjoy the early Roosevelt-built WNP beach and pier on the San Diego Bay. That lasted only a short while because the US Navy permanently blocked access to the beach during WWII and built docks for supply and warships. In the 50s the neighborhood was rezoned as mixed residential/industrial which allowed junk dealers and repair shops to move in. That might have been fine if the residents of Barrio Logan owned those businesses, but it wasn’t the case.

In 1963 Interstate 5, on its last leg to the Mexican border, cut Barrio Logan in two, taking out much of the neighborhood. And in 1969 the San Diego-Coronado Bridge was started and the pylons and supports for the elevated onramps to the bridge divided Logan once again from 25th and Logan Avenue to the San Diego Bay. The Interstate and the Coronado Bridge resulted in the destruction or removal of 5000 homes and businesses. In 1967, before in bridge was built, the community organized and demanded that a park be created under the pylons, a park that stretched from Logan Ave all the way to the bay. The State agreed to lease nearly 8 acres beneath the onramps and support pylons, but not before trying to back out of the deal.

On April 22, 1970 a Chicano activist noticed a bulldozer in the area where the park was planned. A heavy-equipment operator himself, he asked a worker what was going on. Instead of the promised park, they were building a parking lot and a police station for the California Highway Patrol. The community organized and occupied the area where the CHP station was being built. The community succeeded and Chicano Park was the result.

The murals were conceived by artist Salvador Torres who was a resident of Barrio Logan. Torres had studied art at San Diego State and the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland in the early 60s. When the park was initially promised he proposed murals on the bridge pylons to represent the history of Mexico. In 1971 he attended the inaugural ceremonies for the Siqueiros Polyforum, a cultural center in Mexico City that had been 7 years in the making. The Polyforum had a mural created by David Siqueiros that covered 50,000 square feet. Siqueiros was one of the 3 great Mexican muralists of the 20s and 30s along with Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco. This mural at the Polyforum was Siqueiros’ largest and his last. Salvador Torres, whose family had lost a house to the Coronado Bridge, attended the forum as a representative of an artist group from Barrio Logan. In Mexico City at the ceremonies of the Polyforum, Torres was impressed by how the mural conformed to the inside structure of the community center, and he envisioned the same for the Coronado Bridge.

The picture of the part of the mural with the banner Si Se Puede shows a man holding a child. It was taken from a photograph which was taken at one of the demonstrations when neighbors from Barrio Logan occupied the area. In both pictures, beneath the banner, the man is holding a child. That man was my friend Frank Rivera who showed me the mural back in the 80s. He told me that he didn’t know the kid, but when they were all getting together for the picture, he saw a little girl standing aside looking like she wanted to be in the picture too--so he picked her up.

Before Frank died a few years ago, he and I would go to a bar Sunday mornings just a block from the murals on Logan Ave. I hadn’t seen it in years and I had an appointment at a print shop located just two blocks from Chicano Park to plan for a chapbook I was doing. I’d read in the papers that Barrio Logan had been recently awarded a grant to restore the murals. I got to the printer’s early so I could take a look at what they were doing with the murals. I wanted to see if they had done anything with the mural showing Frank, which had deteriorated over the years.

They were. In fact they had scaffolding around that particular mural and painters were working on it. The mural, first done years ago, I think, had changed over the years each time it was restored. The original photograph had been lost so new ideas were being introduced into that particular mural. They had worked on it since I first saw it and the person holding the child no longer looked like Frank. The man, who was Frank, now, looked pure, Indian although Frank himself was very indio and very dark.

On the scaffolding on the wall was a team of 3 artists who were working hard at it. I told one of them that I knew the guy holding the kid. An artist, whose name was Guillermo, came off the scaffolding to talk with me and asked if I could get a picture of Frank for him. Frank had grown up in Logan Heights after he had lived with his grandmother in Tijuana until he was 8. As you can see from the pictures I included, the child he is holding also looks very different. But I have a theory about that.

I called Frank’s widow, Juanita, and told her what was up. After I had seen the printer who was in a shop two blocks from the murals, I drove over to City Heights and picked her up. She brought some pictures of Frank for Guillermo, the artist. The pictures ranged from the time when Frank posed for the photograph in the early 70s, to a few others near the end of his life a few years ago.

Juanita who is Afro-American always says what’s on her mind and she told Guillermo that that the picture didn’t look anything like Frank. Guillermo said that they were going for the Aztlan look (basically the starving Indian) to tie in with the Aztec sculpture behind Frank.

When I saw the mural after they were finished, Frank looked a little more like Frank, but still nothing like the original you can see from the photo of the mural 25 years ago. And the child was entirely different from the child Juanita and I saw when she had given Guillermo copies of the photographs. I had teased Juanita on our way back to her house that Guillermo seemed to take have taken an interest in her. When I saw the mural again I began to wonder if Guillermo had tried to imagine what Frank and Juanita’s child might look like.

Much later I had some business to do with the printer who was doing my chapbook. The scaffolding was still up and some painters were working on one of the murals. I asked them if Guillermo were around. They said he’d gone back home, that he wasn’t from around San Diego. I asked them when they’d be finished. In a couple of days, they told me. Their money had run out.

One Comment

  1. John Sakowicz October 16, 2012

    Regarding Saturday’s story in the Ukiah Daily Journal (UDJ) about ROPS III, and mentioned above in the “Mendocino County Today” blog, I thought the UDJ’s article was very one-sided.

    The only comment — the only comment! — sought by the UDJ was from Sage Sangiacomo, who, of course, works for the City of Ukiah as the Assistant City Manager and who has a vested interest in the ROPS III outcome.

    Mr. Sangiacomo is anything but objective.

    Why? Because Sage Sangiacomo’s salary is, in large part, paid directly out of ROPS III monies, as are significant parts of the salaries of Jane Chambers (City Manager), Gordon Elton (City Finance Director), Ian Roth (Assistant City Finance Director), and David Rapport (City Attorney).

    So what’s with the UDJ citing only one source?

    Only one source? We’re talking about $69,000 in administrative expenses that the California State Department of Finance (DOF) denied. We’re talking about $6.2 million in unenforceable obligations that DOF denied. And we’re talking about another $2.5 million in unsubstantiated infrastructure improvements that the DOF denied.

    No nine million bucks. Probably no Costco. Probably no new County Courthouse. And only one news source has comment?

    Only one source!

    How about asking Lee Howard for comment? Lee is an Oversight Board member who was appointed by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. And he is a fiscal hawk…the guy who is representating taxpayer interests.

    And what’s with the UDJ not identifying the reporter who wrote Saturday’s story. No byline. What’s up with that?

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