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Mendocino County Today: November 9, 2012

FINAL ELECTION NIGHT RETURNS for Mendocino County were not posted until 1:43 Wednesday morning. Many thousands of ballots remain to be counted and no further updates will be provided until final election returns are reported several weeks from now. By which time everyone will have forgotten that we just had an election, not that the final results are likely to matter much, except for the candidates, in this or any other election year.

WE SEEM TO REMEMBER a time, not so many years ago, when the local elections officials prided themselves on getting the ballots counted and the returns out as soon as they could. There was some awareness that candidates and voters in Willits or Fort Bragg might be anxiously awaiting the local city council results. We understand that polling place ballots must be driven to the elections office in Ukiah to be counted and that each precinct must first go through the process of accounting for all ballots. But Willits, twenty miles from election central, had to wait more than four hours after the polls were closed to get the local results. And Fort Bragg, another 35 miles into the hinterlands, had to wait until 1:43am, nearly six hours after the polls were closed, to get the final results.

WHEN MARSHA WHARF, former registrar of voters, started doing away with local polling places, complaints were answered with the explanation that the change would save money and increase voter turnout. Sue Ranochak, Wharf's successor, is sticking to the party line, but we question the cost savings and are doubtful about the claimed increase in voter participation. We support giving voters the option to vote a permanant absentee ballot if that is their preference. But for many voters, going to the polls with their neighbors was an integral part of the election day ritual. Now, election day has been replaced with mail in ballot month. And election night results, which were definitive except in the closest of races, have now been replaced by post election limbo which drags on for the better part of another month before the many thousands of outstanding ballots are processed, sorted, manipulated (who knows?) and finally counted.


Mendo went along with state votes on all but two of the ballot measures for 2012: Death Penalty repeal (Mendo, yes; California, no); and GMO labeling (Mendo, yes; California no). Otherwise Mendo went along state lines only moreso in most cases.

* * *

AVA Recommendations, Statewide result, and Mendo’s vote

PROP 30: Governor Brown's temporary tax plan: (AVA: Recommendation: No.)

Statewide Yes: 54%, No 46%; Mendocino County Yes 61% No 39%

PROP 31: Two year State budget: (AVA: Recommendation: No.)

Statewide Yes: 39%, No 61%; Mendocino County Yes 35% No 65%

PROP 32: Limit union political contributions. (AVA: Recommendation: No.)

Statewide Yes: 44%, No 56%; Mendocino County Yes 36% No 64%

PROP 33: Let insurance companies set auto insurance Rates. (AVA: Recommendation: No.)

Statewide Yes: 45%, No 55%; Mendocino County Yes 35% No 65%

PROP 34: Death penalty repeal. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.)

Statewide Yes: 47%, No 53%; Mendocino County Yes 53% No 47%

PROP 35: Radical increase in jail time for pimps that would also require that they register as sex offenders. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.)

Statewide Yes: 81%, No 19%; Mendocino County Yes 80% No 20%

PROP 36: Three strikes law reform: (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.)

Statewide Yes: 69%, No 31%; Mendocino County Yes 77% No 23%

PROP 37: GMO Labeling. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.)

Statewide Yes: 47%, No 53%; Mendocino County Yes 58% No 42%

PROP 38: Alternate/phony tax measure. (AVA: Recommendation: No.)

Statewide Yes: 28%, No 72%; Mendocino County Yes 31% No 69%

PROP 39: Compels out-of-state corporations to pay proportionate taxes in California. (AVA: Recommendation: Yes.)

Statewide Yes: 60%, No 40%; Mendocino County Yes 69% No 31%

READER MICHAEL SLAUGHTER ASKS: “All print media is on the ropes. (Excuse me unwashed grammarians, but ‘media’ is plural.)” … So is ‘media’ plural — or aren't they?”

THEY IS, bro, they is.


MENDO MAKES A COOL $130k. According to the following press release, “Tuesday, at approximately 9:45pm, deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s office were on routine patrol when they observed a vehicle traveling on Highway 101 near Laytonville. The vehicle had illegally tinted windows in violation of vehicle code section 26708. Deputies conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle at MPM 76.00 on Highway 101 and contacted the male driver, 36 year-old John Denney of McKinleyville. Sheriff’s K-9 Deputy “Ben” was on scene and alerted to the exterior of the vehicle, indicating the presence of drugs in the car. During the search of the vehicle, deputies located four, very large, empty, rubberized “sea bag” type of duffle bags, often used to transport marijuana. Also found was one pound of bud marijuana, numerous documents that showed marijuana sales and transactions, a TASER, and more than $130,000 in US currency. Denney was arrested without incident, transported and booked into the Mendocino County Jail for possession and transportation of marijuana and possession of money intended for a drug transaction. His bail was set at $50,000. Denney posted bail and was released prior to this press release.


Caltrans —‘The Willits Bypass Is Good For The Fish’

by Mark Scaramella

Commenting on last week’s ruling by a San Francisco federal judge that work on the Willits Bypass can proceed despite legal objections from environmentalists and the Farm Bureau that the Bypass is bad every which way, Caltrans District 1 Director Charlie Fielder said, “We are pleased with the ruling. Our extensive mitiga­tion plans not only preserve native species and improve the quality of the watershed in the Little Lake Valley, they will also greatly increase the overall quality of fisheries in these headwaters of the Eel River.”

Fielder noted that Caltrans mitigation plans include removing culverts on Haehl and Upp Creeks to open up the headwaters sections of these creeks to spawning fish. Installation of natural bottom culverts on Ryan Creek will allow summering juvenile Southern Oregon-Northern California Coho salmon, a species designated as threatened, to seek summer rearing habitat and greatly increase the species' chances for long-term survival. Fencing will be installed along all of the creeks to keep cattle out of the creeks and riparian zones, increasing water quality and fisheries habitat.

With the fish taken care of, the large loss of farmland dealt with, and the pesky last-minute lawsuit out of the way, Caltrans and their contractors, Dublin-based DeSilva-Gates Construction, and Utah-based Flatiron West Inc., can proceed with the bypass, which Caltrans says “is designed to relieve congestion, reduce delays, and improve safety for traffic and pedestrians along Highway 101 through Willits.”

The nine-plus mile Bypass is currently estimated to cost about $210 million, some $136 million of which will come from Proposition 1B (2006) highway improvement bond funds.

Last February we pointed out that the unique geology of Little Lake Valley will present major challenges to construction.

According to Humboldt State Geologist Adam C. Woolace, “Little Lake Valley (town site of Willits) is an intermontane [between mountains] basin within the northern California Coast Ranges that contains a record of basin sedimentation and deformation during the Pleistocene. (Little Lake Valley is remarkable [my emphasis] because it is a basin containing a thick section of Quaternary to upper Neogene sediment situated at a major drainage divide between the north-flowing Eel River and the south-flowing Russian River. Well logs indicate that Quaternary and upper Neogene sediment fills the valley to depths greater than 140 meters [460 feet]…)”

Meaning the Bypass will be anchored in what amounts to a gravel pit 500 feet deep, not to mention on an earthquake fault line.

Woolace adds, “Quaternary and upper Neogene sediment fills the valley to depths greater than 140 meters.” And, “Valley fill mainly consists of fine grained lacus­trine and overbank sediment and coarser grained gravel alluvium…”

In plain English, that's several hundred feet or more of, basically, sediment. Little Lake Valley is full of the geological equivalent of fine and course silt and relatively loose sediment that have accumulated in the basin over the eons.

None of this is news to anyone who has lived in Wil­lits for any length of time. Nor is it news to Caltrans because, among other things, Caltrans has engaged in almost continuous highway repairs, bank stabilization and reconstruction on the Willits Grade south of Willits off and on for many years where slides and slipouts are common.

Caltrans' own assessment of the Little Lake Valley geology, as contained in the voluminous Bypass plan­ning documents admits that, “Overall, [the selected route of the Willits Bypass project] appears to have the fewest geotechnical challenges.” Meaning that all the options considered had serious “geological challenges,” but Caltrans picked the one with the “fewest.”

Excerpts from Caltrans's District Geotechnical Design Report For Willits Bypass (Phase 1) are reveal­ing:

“… settlement will be significant for portions of the project. The immediate settlement is expected to occur during the loading process, the primary settlement will occur during the loading and settlement waiting period, and secondary settlement is expected to occur for many years after construction is complete. … As shown, the calculated time required to achieve 90% primary con­solidation varies significantly from 30 to 3600 days [one month to almost ten years!]. These variances are depend­ant upon the thickness of soft soil layers, their properties, and fill heights. … Based on past experiences, settlement may [!] occur more rapidly than calculated due to sand lenses and organic fibers within the clay..."

“Dense to very dense sand (or silt)” is still sand or silt.

The state geologist who did the backup paperwork seems to recognize that there will be settlement and that things “should” be done about it.

Unfortunately, when you’re talking about government contracts awarded to the Low Bidder, “shoulds” usually become “can’t affords.”

The Willits bypass includes about three miles of elevated viaduct. But the geological report doesn't specifically address the geology of the ground under the elevated viaduct segment where, of course, the most settlement can be expected to occur. (Although the plans mention the testing borings in the area of the viaduct, they don’t draw any conclusions from them.)

There’s no specific mention of the pylons and how much settlement can be expected beneath them, even though that’s where the most settlement will occur. The geological report seems to assume that the settlement will only occur because the pavement will be placed over the loose silt, which will then “settle.”

Summary: the project will built on “hard fat clay” … “elastic silt” … “dense to very dense sand” (which sounds like an oxymoron to the casual reader) … “clayey sand” … “and silt” which will require “long-term maintenance.”

It’s far from clear how the geologist calculated the amount of settlement they estimate or how long it will take — give or take 50 years — since Little Lake Valley is a geologically unique area and core samples and borings themselves won't tell you how much weight can be supported by the sand underneath the pylons, even if it’s “dense” sand. Nor is it clear that the borings were taken where the pylons will be installed. The pylons themselves appear to be anchored only about four feet into the loose ground.

You'd think that for all the millions of dollars and the many years that Caltrans has had to prepare for the Willits Bypass that they'd at least have had an independent geologist review this stuff to see if an elevated viaduct is viable.

Instead, we get official announcements about how great the bypass will be for fish!

And this is a downsized Bypass, a partial Bypass.

The project’s critics are right that highway traffic is down compared to when the project was first proposed. And they’re right that more money should have been spent on local traffic and safety improvements before millions were set aside for a Bypass that looks more and more like a garden variety boondoggle every day.

It's really not even much of a Bypass.

1. there's no Highway 20 interchange — it was removed from the design to save money — meaning that traffic to the Mendocino Coast, a third of which passes through Willits and could have been bypassed with an interchange will still go through downtown Willits.

2. The pilings will sink into the notorious Little Lake Valley fill which will crack the elevated road surface, making it a constant source of maintenance and road closure, putting the “bypass” traffic right back on Main Street Willits, which by then will have been turned over to the City of Willits for maintenance. And Willits hasn't obtained — much less asked for — a guarantee from Caltrans to pay for such road maintenance.

Because of these geological problems, combined with the state’s historic difficulty in adequately funding large road projects, there’s a good chance that the project will run out of money mid-way, leaving the Bypass in mid-air.

Caltrans also has no area-wide drainage management plan in place, either during construction or afterwards. Road construction always changes drainage patterns, as anyone familiar with the Cloverdale bypass and associated lawsuits can tell you.

The Willits Bypass involves “seven mainline structures and four ramp structures. The major structure in this group would be the Floodway Viaduct that would span the Little Lake Valley floodway. This viaduct would be designed to convey the base flood without substantially increasing the 100-year water surface elevation.”

In other words, a big segment of the Bypass will be an elevated roadway that will look something like this cartoonish Caltrans-provided sketch under which considerable flooding and water flow will be channeled, further eroding the stability of the sand under the pylons:

According to Caltrans, “To minimize or prevent settlement, Caltrans will incorporate foundation treatments or long-term settlement periods into the design and construction of the project.”

But nowhere in any Caltrans planning document does Caltrans say what those “foundation treatments” will be.

The cross-section of the viaduct supports shows that the footings for the pylons will only go four or five feet into the unstable ground.

Viaduct Elevation Cross-Section

(Maybe Caltrans is simply hoping that the whole thing will settle at the same rate and the whole viaduct will slowly sink to earth — after everyone responsible is gone.)

Nor is the statement that Caltrans will incorporate “long-term settlement periods into the design and construction of the project” explained. (We found no reference to settlement periods in the design documents.) It seems to mean that Caltrans will put the pylons in and let them sit there for some period of time while building the actual elevated roadway. How one might incorporate “long-term settlement periods” (of up to ten years) into the design of the project remains a mystery.

Even though the “geological challenges” that the Willits Bypass presents will be considerable, the Caltrans planning documents merely say that “foundation treatments” and “long-term settlement periods” will somehow “minimize or prevent settlement.”

By their own geological reports there will be no “prevention” of settlement for the viaduct and the primary way to “minimize settlement” seems to be to wait for up to ten years.

Prediction: Bypass construction will begin next year. Not long after that (probably the first wet winter), Caltrans will discover that things are sinking and cracking and slipping and sliding. The project will have to be put on hold while Caltrans reconsiders what to do. Costs will increase dramatically. Large cost overruns will be projected. The State being chronically broke, there won't be enough money to finish the project. Highway 101 through-traffic will continue on its congested way through downtown Willits, which will be left with a partially built, crumbling monument to bad planning: a freeway to nowhere — and no bypass. Stuck in the mud. ¥¥

One Comment

  1. chewsome November 9, 2012

    On the Willits Bypass, at least the Mendocino County of Governments didn’t use the local cost share state funds to pave over the County for outsiders to clog up the roads.

    Also, to not yet build the Potter Valley Eastside Road reconstruction widening project which is still struggling to relocate perhaps 90 PG&E power poles, after doing archeological studies on all the affected properties for easement purchase.

    This ‘shovel ready’ project hopes for Obama economic revitalization windfall funds to chop down roadside shade trees along the 3-4 mile road strip, before bringing in a giant rototiller to mix up the existing road bed and straighten it with new binder material, so two way traffic can blind each other at night with arrow straight line of vision.

    But hopefully the Willits Bypass will continually suck up the rest of County road dollars so that we can go back to horse and buggy days and eat black walnuts along the side of the road.

    And, at the same time bump up the bandwidth on our Internet communications, now that we know the commuter rail may only come north as far as Cloverdale, while the Willits Eureka train track slips further into the Eel River, unless someone, perhaps PD’s Doug Bosco no less, really really needs that gravel at Island Mountain, and tells us about it in The Press Democrat.

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