Hola, the mighty Anderson Valley Advertisers. Your lowly District 5 candidate is happy to answer your questions.
Q. Personal information: Are you married? Children? Where do you live? How long in the county? Political affiliation?
I have two grown children with good Irish names. Kyle is the manager of Data Securities with Bosch near Detroit and Erin is a marketing manager for Google, working remotely from Denver CO. I live near the bustling Mendocino burb. My partner of twenty years is Dr. Barbara Barkovich. We are Bay Area refugees having moved here in 2004. I am registered to vote as a republican mostly because I admire the genuine nature of people in the local GOP and their traditional American values. I have no use for the national political parties, Republican or Democrat.
Q. What would you do to improve or change the County’s marijuana permit program?
There is a lot to absorb for someone not steeped in the background of the County’s marijuana program. Some of the problems can be traced to changes in CA laws and regulations that make unclear what CEQA requirements must be met. However, it can’t explain entirely why the County’s cannabis permitting has been plagued by unclear goals and indecisive action. Regardless of the causes, the permitting process is a patchwork of requirements, clarifications and modifications that no one seems to fully understand. Those cultivators that have paid for applications and have been paying taxes but do not have permits have been treated very unfairly.
I also learn that permitting is slow because there is not enough staff to keep up with the number of applications. Staffing shortages are at the root of many county-wide issues as I discuss below. However, this shortage of resources is exacerbated by the County’s insular nature.
Here is an example of the unwillingness of the County to use suggestions from outside parties. Mr. Paul Garza tells me that West Company suggested that the County having regular training sessions for potential applicants on how to successfully complete an application. This would reduce the amount of time staff spends on reviewing and returning faulty or incomplete applications. The County rejected the idea.
Finally, six sigma tools would be able to analyze the permitting process and fix most of the problems. Businesses use six sigma but it is likely a foreign language at the County.
Q. What would you do to improve the lamentable housing crisis?
I have several plans in mind although I cannot lay claim to them myself. Ms. Geri Morisky (Grassroots Institute, Community Land Trust Work Group) has informed me of an initiative called Housing Mendocino, a new county-wide community land trust (CLT) that has much promise. I will be working with her in the future on this. Mr. Paul Garza, chair of the West Company, has discussed a similar concept which he refers to as a Housing Trusts to keep homes affordable. A coop owns the homes and sells them at affordable price. The homeowner in return enters into an agreement to return the home to the coop, capturing a reasonable amount of equity in the process. This means the house is not sold at market value but remains affordable over time.
Ms. Morisky also suggests that the County review crucial issues such as rezoning which prompts me to ask for a General Plan change to specifically revise decades old zoning. An example would be to relook at “range land” zoning that prevents housing development there.
I would most certainly introduce some restrictions on the use VRBOs. There are 550 such units that would be better purposed as permanent homes for medical provider, educators, and law enforcement officers to name a few. I would eliminate the TOT for those whose home is a trailer in a campground. I would conduct a survey of unused parcels in the County to inventory useable sites for new housing development. New housing is on hold in Gualala because of the lack of water so we must look for an innovative way to get that water.
In short, I would treat lack of affordable housing like covid – an emergency that requires a focused effort and clearing the obstacles in the way of ending the emergency.
But the long-term solution is, once again, economic development. Mr. Garza makes the case that our current industries – tourism, retail, healthcare and government -- serve internal markets and thus don’t generate many new jobs. Whereas these have job multipliers of 1.1 to 1.2, industries that export outside of Mendocino County have multipliers of 5 to 10. Which is why the County flourished when it exported fish and timber.
This will solve the housing shortage because housing developers will evaluate Mendocino County as a job creating community with a reliable demand for housing and invest development money here. This will create housing for everyone.
Q. Do you agree that combining the Auditor Controller with the Tax Collector was a good idea? Do you propose any other organizational changes?
No, I don’t agree. It was a dreadful decision that eliminated meaningful financial checks and balances. I did speak with Ms. Schapmire after this decision was made and learned that only Supervisor Haschak, the lone dissenting vote, asked for her input. The others including Mr. Williams did not. She observed that these Supervisors arrogantly believed they had all the information needed. As for the purpose of this consolidation, she stated her opinion to be that it was done in order to rid the Supervisors of a pesky elected official. This decision, it seems to me, is like many others in which the political needs of the Supervisors and the CEO take precedent over the principles of good governance.
As for organizational changes, I have a few. I would reinstate the office of Treasurer/Tax Collector. I would appoint an Economic Development Coordinator either through outside hiring or reassign a qualified existing manager. I would do an internal audit to see what jobs are not relevant to the County’s goals and reassign people to jobs that are. I would create and make us of a Financial Committee with two Supervisors as chair and vice chair and including staff and members of the public. (This was the format of the Finance Committee that I chaired as Treasurer of MCHD.)
I absolutely would not consolidate the IT of the Sheriff and the County and I would take steps to ensure the Sheriff’s independence from the Board as much as possible. The Board and management of a hospital are required by law to have an arm’s length relationship with the medical staff. For the obvious reasons that you don’t want those people interfering with medical decisions. In return, the medical staff is obligated to police itself. This is the relationship that I would apply to the County CEO, the Supervisors and the Sheriff.
Lastly and with the hope you are still reading, I will weigh in on the CAO vs. CEO model. It makes little difference whether the Board has a CEO or a CAO reporting to them. The mindset is what is important. The CEO model to suggests the Board doesn’t want to get its hands dirty with operational issues, just make policy. The CAO model to means the Supervisors are part of a working Board. I am not advocating direct management of departments but would rather assign each Supervisor to work alongside of one new department every year. Attend meetings and observe how the department actually operate. Only in this way, I believe, can an elected official really understand how the County works. Better policy will be one result and another will be Supervisor invested in outcomes. No more of the imperious CEO.
Q. A Strategic Plan has cost the county $75,000 plus travel. Would you have approved this expenditure?
To approve any new project, I would need to be convinced of a few things.
First, is there a clear description of the proposed work scope including how the project directly supports one of the County’s stated goals? Second, is there a schedule with an adequate number of milestones and deliverables (or other forms of metrics?) And is there sufficient detail in the cost estimate do convince me it was carefully thought about. Third, is there is one person that owns the project and is accountable for progress and results?
The County like every organization needs a Strategic Plan if only for the minimal purpose of reminding people why the organization exists if the first place. But Strategic Plans have a long history of being done with great fanfare only to collect dust on the shelf for lack of use.
Given all this, I don’t think I could approve the expenditure until the County becomes more serious about effectively serving the needs of the County.
Q. What is your opinion of the County’s budgeting and budget reporting process?
The budget process is an exercise in mindless number crunching. Pages upon pages with numbers signifying nothing. A budget should tell the story of what County government (or any organization) wants to do and why. It is said that a song is a story elevated by music. In a similar way, a budget is an organization’s story elevated by funding. What exactly is the County’s story? Hard to know when budgets are disconnected from the County’s goals.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. That is why timely, regular budget reports are necessary. These reports exist to raise red flags when the budget plan starts going off the rails, an example of which was the drop off in cannabis revenue. Whereupon the BOS could have asked for corrective actions to get the budget back in line but they didn’t.
Q. What are the incumbent's major deficiencies?
I have been told by people who voted for Mr. Williams four years ago that, after being enamored of his many innovative ideas, they are very disappointed with his lack of follow through on any of those ideas. And will not vote for him accordingly. There are two differences between Mr. Williams and myself that highlight what I think are his major deficiencies. First, Mr. Williams surrendered his independence to the County CEO and became a reliable, unquestioning vote for her agenda. It seems pleasing Ms. Angelo was a higher priority than representing the people. As your readers will know, I have been outspoken on issues, not going along to get along as some would prefer. Next, Mr. Williams has not displayed a sense of urgency in solving the many crises that confront the County including and especially the lack of economic development. Whereas that is the primary reason I am running for this seat. The County is grinding to a halt and cannot afford one or two more years of just sliding along, which is what I sense is Mr. William’s agenda -- preparation for seeking higher office.
Q. What would you do to remedy water shortages in the Town of Mendocino in the short-term?
At least a partial solution was found when the Mendocino Community Services District was granted a $4.9M grant from the state to add a 500,000-gallon water storage tank to its system. Given the lengthy CEQA process, it will take an estimated five years to come to fruition. I have been given ideas for other projects that may or may not be feasible but worth investigating. An example is laying down a water pipeline on the Big River upstream of the Town. Some obvious challenges would need to be worked out.
What strikes me about this project and many others that the County contemplates is the over reliance on getting federal or state grants to fund critical projects. The problem is, as a former boss once told me, hope is not a business plan. A thriving economy throws off financial resources that make it possible for us here in the County to fund and undertake projects with local control.
Q. Are there many unpermitted and unassessed buildings in District 5?
I know from reading the AVA that an inventory of unpermitted and unassessed building has not been done. Or an inventory of unused parcels that might be sites for housing developments. Conducting such a survey and synthesizing the results doesn’t strike me as a big chore. Having this information would contribute to solving the housing shortage.
Q. Are you satisfied with emergency services? Williams has denied additional funding for ambulance services.
I am familiar with the request of the Anderson Valley Community Services District for $60,000 to shore up staffing of its ambulance service. And that it was denied by Mr. Williams because a “county wide solution” was needed first. Well, that’s like the Emergency Room doctor who, upon see a dying patient, says more tests are needed before he can do anything. The plight of the AVCSD is that of every County agency, special district, school district, non-profit and business in Mendocino County. They are all severely understaffed and we all know why. There is a solution here and it lies in the budget item known as contingency. This is money set aside for unexpected expenses and the request of the AVCSD should qualify. It’s only 1% of the budget and should be doubled of tripled while the County’s many problems undergo triage.
Q. Do you regularly zoom Supe’s meetings?
If only I had the patience! I have watched some but discovered I was not being adequately informed on the issues. So, I rely instead on the AVA and people posting clips to learn about the proceedings. One reason I find these hard to watch is that the meetings are lifeless and don’t include vigorous discussion or debate on the issues. I am especially appalled by the practice of spending mega-millions via the Consent Calendar. I was equally appalled by the Supervisor’s lack of questions or comments when presented with the mid-year budget that showed a $12M deficit when just a few weeks earlier there was a reported $20M surplus. Is $32M just considered to be a rounding error?
Q. Why do you think you create so much hostility from local liberals?
It seems you saved the best for last. Most everyone is made uncomfortable by change. I find the Left or Hard Left (not what liberals used to be) are the most annoyed by change because they think they have everything figured out. Theirs is a superior view of how society should be ordered and a large part of their self-identity. For them, my views and opinions are not just different or a challenge to their own, but a sign of disrespect. Thus, the hostility.
I would add that many on the Left and a few on the Right prefer elected Board members to just get along, not create waves. Go along to get along, as the saying goes. I seem to provoke anger for taking a contentious position.
My hope is that everyone can put aside their differences for this local election and focus on those things we can agree on – Mendocino County is grinding to a halt before our very eyes and we must act with a sense of urgency to develop our economy and infrastructure and hold our government accountable when it gets in the way. Maybe that takes voting outside your comfort zone.
Your lowly candidate,