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Mendocino County Today: December 10, 2012

MSG. You've all seen the signs in the windows of Chinese restaurants. Or some Chinese restaurants anyway, particularly in those neighborhoods where the vegetarians are more likely to roam. “No MSG,” the window notices assure the chemo-phobes.

SO, THE OTHER DAY, I'm joined for lunch at a Chinese restaurant on Clement called Happy Garden by two meat eaters and a vegan — three meat eaters including me. Happy Garden is a no-frills joint popular with Chinese who come there for authentic old country dishes, many of which are advertised in Chinese on the walls of the place. There's an English-language menu for Roundeyes, of course, but the more exotic concoctions, exotic to non-Chinese, are posted in the mother tongue.

THE FASTIDIOUS have problems with the Garden because its housekeeping standards don't seem high priority. The ancient, once green baize rug is a canvas for the million meals of yesterday. Take it up, get a calligrapher to scroll something inscrutable on it — “Green frog rides the old tiger” — frame it, and sell it to SFMOMA.

THREE OF US order Mongolian beef, which is the best in the City. At high end restaurants you'd pay $15 a plate. At the Garden, $15 stuffs two people. Everything they do at the Garden is excellent-o!

THE VEGETARIAN of course quizzes the waiter as to what's good but pure on the menu. There ensues a two-party discussion of what constitutes seafood which concludes that fish is seafood, as is the seafood soup the vegetarian orders that contains shrimp, crab, scallops, and Pier 39. Whatever, so long as the ingredients come from the water and don't include…

“MSG?” the vegan asks the waiter. “You want some?” the waiter asks back. The vegan shrinks in terror. “Oh, god, no. No MSG! Do you use MSG here?” The waiter says, “Of course. Our customers want. Make food taste better.” The vegan, a stricken look on her face, absorbed the bad news. She stared at the waiter as if he just might be trying to kill her. “It's very bad for you,” the vegan informed the waiter. “Maybe,” he says. “Very expensive, too. Fifty pounds, eighty dollars. No MSG save us money, but customers want.”

THE BIG THINGS on Tuesday’s Supes agenda are all continuations of matters The Leadership has hashed out before: a new retirement tier that’s supposed to save pension money someday, for instance, (but which is already highly prescribed by a new state law called PEPRA, the Public Employees Pension Reform Act. So the only thing to discuss locally is how and when it will be implemented. Will the County’s annual pension contribution be reduced? Not much and not for a while. The earliest anticipated savings is for 2018, if then.

THE BOARD will also discuss “Williamson Act Subvention,” basically how much the state will reimburse the County for lost property tax after a rancher promises to keep his land in agriculture rather than develop it and gets a tax break for doing it. (The Williamson Act allows ranchers to get tax breaks for simply promising not to sell their land to developers, no matter how unlikely that prospect may be.) In recent years the state has cut back reimbursements to counties. But lately there’s a new, even more complicated law that allows limited reimbursements under certain conditions, the primary condition probably being the state of the rancher's personal relationship with his state representatives.

THE OTHER MAJOR discussion for Tuesday is Supervisor Dan Hamburg’s pet project, the PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy). If implemented the program would create a county-wide finance assessment district allowing commercial (not residential — mortgage holders don’t like the idea because it means the government gets paid its taxes before the mortgage holder does) property owners to finance renewable energy and energy saving improvements through a voluntary assessment on their property tax bills. In theory, commercial property owners benefit by avoiding the upfront installation cost, eliminating concerns that they will sell the property before recovering the investment from utility bill savings. It’s a very complex arrangement that’s supposed to be a win-win-win in the end. Basically, it’s a just another way to finance solar systems or energy efficiency retrofits, where the County (through a third-party money-management outfit) would loan the money for the energy improvement which is paid back through property tax bills. Hamburg likes it because of the potential “green” benefits and because it might translate to more business for local renewable energy outfits. But the arrangements are so complex (and tailored to each property owner's assessment and loan value) that whole companies have sprung up to manage the “districts” and the properties that participate. If done right, Hamburg’s expectations may well prove helpful. But this is Mendocino County and lots of these arcane financing schemes — the Williamson Act, Brooktrails and the Teeter Plan, school bonds, pension obligation bonds/refinancing, etc. — have a way of backfiring and going south when things don’t turn out as planned. Making matters worse, the County would have to turn over the whole program to a “vendor” with the staff and financial expertise to manage it — and once that happens the county will be stuck with and highly dependent on that vendor, come hell or high water. On Tuesday, the General Services staff will report back on the status of a request for proposals to potentially recruit a PACE management vendor.

PUT US DOWN as NO ON PACE. If these were good ideas — and the idea of financing energy-saving systems with future savings is a good idea — (or if banks made reasonable loans anymore) banks or PG&E would already be doing it (like they used to, actually). Getting local government involved in what sounds like a helpful — but complicated and unproven — program just because banks and lenders won’t do it is a bad idea. Let the people who are in the business of loaning money loan the money — not the County.

OAKY JOE'S 2013 CALENDAR is out, a collector's item for sure, and one sure to live on among Mendocino County arcania, if that's the word, as long as there are collectors and local history troves. Mr. Joe, as many of us know, is a legendary pot grower and, it seems, catnip to the young ladies who grace his calendar. The beauties, however, share pictorial billing with a thriving marijuana garden, presumably Joe's. I was dependent on Joe's 2012 calendar all year, right up until December when I tardily realized that December's dates were wrong which, you might say, is to be expected from a guy who very much enjoys his product. When Joe stopped in the other day with a couple of calendars for us, he insisted they were free because we're veterans, and whatever money he makes from his calendars goes to veterans. We insisted he take a twenty because he's gone to a lot trouble to create these things and he's done an excellent job on them. I think the calendars are totally boffo, and I'm not a grower or a toker, or even a person who thinks marijuana is particularly beneficial except to people with specific medical conditions. Every time I say I think dope makes people dumb and slow all my pot friends get mad at me, so I won't say that until next time I say it. Joe himself said he wasn't sure where people could buy the calendars yet, but I'll bet the County's book stores would sell them. Myself, I'm looking to buy about five more for Christmas gifts, if I can only get in touch with him to find out where.

ON NOVEMBER 30, 2012, at about 9:30pm, Mendocino County Deputy Sheriffs consensually contacted Bret Bengston and another subject standing near a vehicle parked in the NorCal Gasoline gas station parking lot at 18770 North Highway 1 in Fort Bragg. The deputies observed marijuana in plain view in the vehicle and Bengston provided a false name when asked for identification. Bengston claimed ownership of the marijuana, provided his true name, and was subsequently arrested for outstanding arrest warrants. A search of Bengston revealed that he was in possession of a large amount of methadone pills. Further investigation by the deputies produced information that Bengston has been selling the methadone and the marijuana. Bengston was arrested for possession of marijuana for sale and commercial transportation of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance for sale and commercial transportation of a controlled substance, as well as the arrest warrants. The deputies seized 225 methadone pills and 7.6 pounds of marijuana. Bengston was booked into the Mendocino County Jail with bail set at $110,000. (Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office)

HERE’S KC MEADOWS of the Ukiah Daily Journal on the County’s legal fight with the feds and their subpoena of marijuana records from the County and who should pay.

COUNTY SHOULDN'T HIRE ANOTHER LAWYER. We (at the Ukiah Daily Journal) are at a loss to understand why the Mendocino County supervisors feel it is necessary to spend thousands of tax dollars to hire an outside attorney (or attorneys) to work out the county's response to a federal subpoena for the county's medical marijuana zip tie and permit records.

To begin with, we were under the impression that the county pays its brand new County Counsel Tom Parker a healthy six-figure salary because he has a law degree and knows something about handling the county's legal affairs. Furthermore, Parker heads an office of more and also highly paid attorneys. Parker was not here when the county enacted its medical marijuana programs, nor was he among those subpoenaed for information, so we hope not to hear any excuses about conflicts of interest or the possibility of having to testify to anything.

The county did not need to go behind closed doors (and should not have) to discuss a) whether to hire outside attorneys to handle this matter or b) what the feds might or might not be up to in issuing the subpoena, or c) whether or not to hand the information over. This county is the witness, not the defendant, in a court action. No need for all this secrecy.

No one knows why the U.S. Attorney's office has convened a federal grand jury and why that grand jury wants to know how much money this county has collected in fees for "permitting" marijuana cultivation, who has paid those fees, where the money is, and how the fee system was implemented. The Daily Journal has contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office, the regional FBI office, the DEA, and the federal court in San Francisco and no one is talking about what's behind all this. Supervisor Dan Hamburg says he thinks the feds want to claim the money we've collected from pot growers, several hundred thousand dollars. The reason he might think that, is because the feds want to have the bank account numbers wherever money has been deposited.

There is another possible explanation, which is that the feds think there is something fishy in the balance sheets - in which case the county has a good reason to hand the financial info over immediately and find out if that's true. Or, the feds may have reason to believe that there is a larger nationwide or international criminal element hiding among the county's permittees, in which case, again, the county should cooperate.

But since the county's only decision thus far is simply, give the info, give some of the info, or don't give the info, why do we need an outside attorney to help us? Why aren't we at least first requesting help from the California Attorney General's office before coughing up local tax dollars. After all, medical marijuana is legal under state law. And, this and every other California county is an arm of the state.

The county, we assume, has nothing to hide about its good faith efforts to put into place a program that tried to manage, to the best of its ability, a marijuana cultivation explosion in the name of medicinal herb.

We understand that handing over the names of growers with county zip ties, or cooperative cultivation permits might discourage future cooperation with voluntary regulation efforts. But all the people who signed up knew this was a possibility.

And, if the county feels it must protect its local growers, why not just provide the financial info and see if the feds really, really want the rest? Federal courts have, we believe, protected the names of state-permitted medical marijuana growers under laws protecting the personal privacy of patients.

At any rate, since the county made its decision in secret, it has not provided the public with a good reason to hire an outside attorney. If there is one, we'd like to hear it. (Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal.)

SHASTA DAM RAISE PROPOSAL: Bureau extends public comment period. By Dan Bacher

The US Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday an extension of the comment period for the Draft Feasibility Report on the "Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation," the controversial plan to raise Shasta Dam to increase the reservoir's capacity, to Monday, January 28. The public comment period was originally scheduled to end on Friday, December 28.

"Reclamation initially released the Draft Feasibility Report in February 2012," according to Pete Lucero, Bureau spokesman. "Any additional comments from interested individuals, agencies and organizations will be accepted through January 28. All comments received will be considered as we complete the remaining engineering, environmental, economic, and financial studies and related reports."

The raising of Shasta Dam is opposed by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, fishing organizations, conservation groups and environmental justice advocates for a multitude of reasons. It would flood many of the Tribe's remaining sacred ceremonial sites on the McCloud River that weren't already flooded by Shasta Dam.

The dam expansion project, in tandem with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build to build the peripheral tunnels, would also hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.

The announcement took place just one day after it was revealed that the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California will vote December 11 on a proposal including the raising of Shasta Dam as a "state legislative action priority." (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/05/1167557/--MWD-to-vote-on-support-for-legislative-action-to-raise-Shasta-Dam)

The MWD staff recommends support for "administrative/legislative actions to remove existing prohibition for state funding to raise Shasta Dam."

See page 3 of the MWD document at: http://mwdh2o.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=12&event_id=208&meta_id=66253

"An 18.5 foot dam raise would damage or flood about 40 of our sacred sites, and permanently submerge our Coming of Age ceremony site," said Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. "Help our efforts to protecting sacred sites, clean rivers and healthy salmon runs! Tell them you support the protection of Winnemem sacred sites and our freedom of religion!"

What can you do?

First, contact MWD Executive Officer Jeff Kightlinger, (213) 217-6139 and OfficeoftheGeneralManager2 [at] mwdh2o.com, indicating your opposition to the Shasta Dam expansion.

Second, send your written comments regarding the Bureau's proposal to raise Shasta Dam via email to BOR-MPR-SLWRI [at] usbr.gov or by mail to the address below. The Draft Feasibility Report is available on Reclamation’s website at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/slwri/index.html.

Katrina Chow, Project Manager

Bureau of Reclamation

2800 Cottage Way, MP-720

Sacramento, CA 95825-1893

For questions, contact Katrina Chow at 916-978-5067 or fax your request to 916-978-5094. To request an electronic copy of the draft documents, contact Louis Moore at 916-978-5106 (TTY 916-978-5608) or by email at wmoore [at] usbr.gov.

Copies of the documents may also be viewed at Reclamation’s Regional Library, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, by calling 916-978-5593.

For additional information about the "Shasta Lake Water Resources Investigation," please visit http://www.usbr.gov/mp/slwri/index.html.

For more information about the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, go to: http://www.winnememwintu.us

PRIVATIZING THE OCEANS — Walton Family Greenwashing. By Dan Bacher

Much recent media attention has focused on Walmart’s announcement that it is canceling Thanksgiving plans for many of its employees. These workers will now have to work on the holiday as the retail giant kicks off its holiday sale at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, rather than waiting until midnight on “Black Friday.”

“The result is troubling for advocates for workers’ rights, as Walmart has encroached repeatedly on a holiday that traditionally involves plenty of time spent with family and away from work,” according to a statement from the Corporate Action Network. “The decision to move up the start of Black Friday sales to Thursday could be an attempt to thwart the workers’ organization efforts scheduled for Black Friday.

Labor, social justice and human rights groups are supporting a nationwide boycott of Walmart on Black Friday to back the strike of Walmart workers that day.

However, less well known to the public is Walmart’s ambitious campaign of corporate greenwashing in recent years.

The Walton Family Foundation proudly reported “investments” totaling more than $71.4 million in “environmental initiatives” in 2011, including contributions to corporate “environmental” NGOs pushing ocean privatization through the “catch shares” programs and so-called “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.

According to a press release from the Walmart Headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas, the foundation made grants to more than 160 organizations in the U.S. and other countries “that work to protect natural resources while strengthening the local economies that depend on them.”

The foundation directed an overwhelming majority of the grants toward its two core environmental initiatives – “Freshwater Conservation and Marine Conservation.”

“Our work is rooted in our belief that the conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense,” claimed Scott Burns, director of the foundation’s Environment Focus Area. “The foundation and our grantees embrace ‘conservationomics’ – the idea that conservation efforts can and should bring economic prosperity to local communities.”

The foundation donated $30.5 million to Marine Conservation, $26,842,289 to Freshwater Conservation and $14,022,907 for “Other Environment Grants”

The Top Five Grantees were Conservation International, $16,208,278; Environmental Defense Fund, $13,683,709; the Marine Stewardship Council $3,122,500; Nature Conservancy $3,024,539, and the National Audubon Society, $2,739,859.

Conservation International features Walton and Stewart Resnick on Board

Conservation International, the top recipient with $16,208,278, is an organization noted for its top-down approach to conservation and involvement with corporate greenwashing.

The Walton Foundation press release claimed that, “Conservation International continued to implement a three-year program to empower local communities to manage and conserve fishing resources on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.”

However, the group’s board features some of the most controversial corporate leaders on the planet, including Rob Walton and Stewart Resnick.

Rob Walton, Walmart Chairman, serves as the Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservation International. Serving with him on Conservation International’s Board of Directors is Stewart Resnick, the owner of Paramount Farms.

Resnick has been instrumental in campaigns to build the peripheral canal to increase water exports to agribusiness and Southern California, to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt and to eradicate striped bass in California. The Center for Investigative Reporting describes Resnick as a “Corporate Farming Billionaire and One-Man Environmental Wrecking Crew.”

Resnick is notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a big profit, as revealed in an article by Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009.

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” said Taugher.

Taugher said the “environmental water account” set up in 2000 to “improve” the Delta ecosystem spent nearly $200 million mostly to benefit water users while also creating a “cash stream for private landowners and water agencies in the Bakersfield area.”

“No one appears to have benefitted more than companies owned or controlled by Stewart Resnick, a Beverly Hills billionaire, philanthropist and major political donor whose companies, including Paramount Farms, own more than 115,000 acres in Kern County,” Taugher stated. “Resnick’s water and farm companies collected about 20 cents of every dollar spent by the program.”

Likewise, the Nature Conservancy, a group that received $3,024,539 from the Walton Family Foundation, in 2011, is also known for its strong support of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels that Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests so avidly support. A broad coalition of fishermen, Indian Tribes, environmentalists, family farmers and elected officials opposes the construction of the tunnels because they would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other species.

Environmental Defense Fund’s drive to privatize fisheries

Environmental Defense Fund, with the second highest donation at $13,683,709, is known for its market-based approach to conservation and its push for “catch shares” that essentially privatize the oceans. The relationship between the group and the retail giant is so close that it operates an office in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.

“Environmental Defense Fund released its ‘Catch Shares Design Manual: A Guide for Fishermen and Managers’ to provide a roadmap to catch share design, which is a focus of our Marine Conservation initiative,” according to the Walton Family Foundation.

A catch share, also known as an individual fishing quota, is a transferable voucher that gives individuals or businesses the ability to access a fixed percentage of the total authorized catch of a particular species.

“Fishery management systems based on catch shares turn a public resource into private property and have lead to socioeconomic and environmental problems. Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents – namely large commercial fishing interests – this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices,” according to the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

True to form, Sam Rawlings Walton, the grandson of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, serves on the Board of Trustees of EDF.

Times articles put spotlight on Walmart

Two New York Times articles in April 2012 put Walmart and the Walton family’s “dirty laundry” in the international spotlight, leading to a renewed call by the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) for the public to support their boycott of Walmart.

The Times articles covered Walton family support for anti-fishing, pro-privatization efforts in North America, followed by the publication’s exposure of alleged $24 million worth of bribes in Central America to speed up the chain’s expansion into Mexico.

“The headlines prove that Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation are no friends of local communities anywhere, and their ongoing efforts to destroy coastal fishing businesses through support of arbitrary marine reserves and privatization of fish stocks nationwide should not be supported by anglers,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. “We’re asking coastal fishermen who support open access, under the law, to healthy and sustainable fish stocks to send a clear message to this arrogant corporation that we’ve had enough of their greenwashing and grafting efforts.

Donofrio noted that Walmart made world headlines following a New York Times story that charges the Bentonville, Arkansas company and its leaders of squashing an internal investigation into suspected payments of over $24 million in bribes to obtain permits to build in Mexico.

Reporter’s lapse shows complicity of corporate media

The bribery scandal was exposed on the same day that the Gloucester Times of Massachusetts exposed a reporting lapse in another recent New York Times article about the relationship between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Walmart partnering together for “more enlightened and sustainable operations.”

The New York Times had earlier reported that EDF “does not accept contributions from Wal-Mart or other corporations it works for.”

However, when confronted on the fact that the $1.3 billion Walton Family Foundation (started in 1987 by Wal-Mart’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and directed presently by the Walton family) has been underwriting EDF’s successful effort to replace the nation’s mostly small-business, owner-operated fishing industry with “a catch shares model designed to cap the number of active fishermen by trading away ownership of the resource to those with the deepest pockets,” the author of the New York Times report conceded by email that in her rush to meet deadlines, she had not considered the relationship between the Walton family and Wal-Mart, according to Donofrio.

“I didn’t think to check the EDF board for Walton family members, or Walton Family Foundation donations,” said reporter Stephanie Clifford, adding “None of the third parties I’d spoken to had mentioned that connection, which isn’t an excuse – I should have thought of it myself, but didn’t.

RFA is hoping that saltwater anglers and fishing business owners help send Walmart stocks tumbling by refusing to shop at the corporate giant any longer.

“The Walton family uses their fortune to buy off friends who’ll cover for their despicable business practices, whether it’s corporate greenwashing with EDF, rebranding efforts through national trade association campaigns, or apparently by way of directed bribes to local officials in other countries,” Donofrio said. “Don’t just stop buying fishing tackle at Wal-Mart – stop supporting this company altogether and let’s quit supporting complete buyouts and takeovers of local communities.”

In August 2011, RFA asked fishermen to publicly boycott Walmart stores following issuance of a news release from Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas where the Walton family announced investments totaling more than $71.8 million awarded to various environmental initiatives.

Over $36 million alone was handed over to “Marine Conservation” grantees including the Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund and EDF. All of these organizations are notorious for their role in corporate greenwashing efforts across the globe.

The RFA pointed out that by contributing over $36 million to NGOs promoting alleged “marine protected areas” like those created under Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative and catch share programs in 2010, the Waltons were contributing to the demise of sustainable recreational and commercial fisheries and the privatization of the oceans.

Commercial fishermen back boycott

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, supports RFA’s boycott of Walmart.

“People who are concerned about our environment or labor rights should all be boycotting Walmart,” said Grader. “Their polices are clearly intended to commodify our natural resources and put them under the control of large corporations.”

“The Walton Family Foundation is funding the Environmental Defense Fund, which wants to commodify water through water marketing and privatize our fish through catch shares program,” said Grader. “These are tools used by corporations to further the growing disparity between 1 percent and rest of us.”

Dan Bacher can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com

One Comment

  1. chewsome December 10, 2012

    At least six credible Attorneys have offered the County to volunteer their services to challenge the Mendocino federal Grand Jury subpoena, including some with noteworthy track records in their fields of expertise.

    There may be a question of a Brown Act violation for Chairperson McCowen and the Board, for letting 7 or 8 speakers address the Supervisors with Public Comment for more than 10 minutes, on this topic of federal Grand Jury subpoena, without having topic on public noticed agenda.

    This perceived violation of the Brown Act, may have tainted the closed session discussion and vote.

    The County would need to be informed in writing within 30 days to correct the error, by voiding their original closed session action, properly giving public notice, to comment in open session and re-hearing what aspects of the matter deemed to be necessary in closed session.

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