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County Notes: Supervisor Gjerde’s Finest Hour

The Supervisors voted 4-1 (Supervisor Dan Gjerde dissenting) on Wednesday to ask County Counsel to draft a general sales tax measure for next November’s ballot which would essentially replace the bulk of the expiring Measure B (mental health) sales tax and would supposedly help fund emergency services and water, although those nice sounding objectives remain suspiciously vague. The Board can’t include specific targets for the money in the measure because doing so would increase the 50%+1 vote needed for the general tax to special tax status needing a 2/3 vote.

But before we get into the proposed tax discussion, let’s back up to the day before the tax measure was considered.

For your “Let’s not and say we did” file.

Out of the blue, Supervisor John Haschak suggested the county should “follow” the 2016 Pot Tax “advisory” measure which the voters overwhelmingly approved saying that “the majority” of the pot taxes raised (well over $16 million now in 2022) should go to emergency services, roads, mental health and marijuana code enforcement.

Supervisor John Haschak: “The Cannabis tax is supposed to go to designated specific areas. It seems like now would be the time to direct the Auditor Controller to set up that account so that people can see what's happening. Now that the cannabis income is way down it seems appropriate to do.”

Supervisor Ted Williams: “I would support that as well. It will create some problems for the budget because if we follow that advisory, which we should have all along, we will have some budget units short funds. Right now it's going into the general fund.”

Interim CEO Darcie Antle: “To clarify: are you directing the auditor controller to track the departments to where the funding from the cannabis business tax is allocated?”

Haschak: “Yes.”

Williams: “Do you want us also to follow the advisory?”

Haschak: “Yes. We should be. It seems like since it's a limited amount of money at this point it wouldn't be that hard to say that some of it is going to law enforcement, some is going to social services- mental health — the different advisory areas.”

Williams: “So you are suggesting not a change in allocation, just annotating the dollars that are already flowing?”

Haschak: “Right.”

Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “I think we are going to be fulfilling the advisory because the advisory said that the majority of the funds should be spent on enforcement. I think that one category alone probably we are spending the majority of the revenue on law enforcement. Mental health, county roads, and fire emergency services. If you look at our general fund allocations to fire and emergency services which are outside of Proposition 172 and which are outside the Campground Transient Occupancy Tax, between fire and emergency and enforcement we are probably spending all of our cannabis tax in the coming year could be shown as going to those services.”

Translation: We’re keeping it. We have no intention of honoring the will of the voters. We handed it over to the CEO to decide what to spend the money on. Since she must have spent some of it — who knows how much? who even cares? — on some of those things we told taxpayers we would, we guess, then we’ve magically followed the will of the voters! We’ve never expressed the slightest interest in how the pot tax money was spent. But we now want to put another tax measure on the ballot and, having ignored the will of the voters the last time, we still expect the public to believe that we’ll spend that money on the things we say we will. 

(This is apart from the Board’s near total waste of the Measure B sales tax money itself, paying over $5 million for a $1 million house, and over $20 million for a Psychiatric Health Facility that shouldn’t cost more than $10 million. But that’s another subject that will go unmentioned.)

In discussing the proposed sales tax, the Supervisors are aware that library supporters will propose a dedicated library tax in November at the same time the Board wants them to approve a fire/water sales tax on top of that. They also seem vaguely aware that inflation is high and sales taxes will probably be a hard sell — even if it’s for popular-sounding purposes like firefighting and water. (Never mind the particulars, the voters don’t seem to care what they say anyway.)

The highlight of the discussion was Supervisor Dan Gjerde’s bold position in opposition to the proposed tax and his letter to his colleagues bluntly declaring that the Potter Valley Cheap Water Mafia does not deserve another subsidy from the voting public. 

From: Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde 

To: Mendocino County Board of Supervisors 

RE: Discussion of sales taxes for November 2022 and future elections and Agenda Item 4D of the June 8, 2022 Board of Supervisors Meeting. 

At our meetings on May 17 and on June 8, with just weeks remaining to finalize any ballot measures to be included in the November 2022 election in Mendocino County, the full Board of Supervisors has recently embarked on a public discussion of new ideas for voter-approved sales taxes. The discussions were initiated at the full board level after staff learned three supervisors were contemplating ways to spend money if voters were to approve new sales taxes. 

During the May 17 meeting, Supervisor Haschak and I expressed concerns with the idea of the Board adding new sales tax measures onto the November ballot. Among our reasons: supporters of our County libraries, who understand they are acting with support from County Supervisors, were already placing a separate sales tax through the initiative process onto the same ballot. 

Since the May 17 meeting, I have not seen any evidence that it would be wise for the Board to move ahead and place a competing sales tax on the same ballot. In fact, my research shows it would be a grave mistake. 

Please consider: 

[1] It is too late. Board members have not consulted with essential stakeholders, and now there is not enough time to back-track with these key stakeholders to reach consensus on the amount of a sales tax and the distribution of sales tax proceeds. Here is one example: my recent conversations with city council members in the Cities of Fort Bragg and Willits revealed that none of these ten elected representatives had been included in sales tax discussions, even though roughly one-third of county-wide sales taxes are collected within those two cities. A successful ballot measure would include key stakeholders such as these from the beginning of any discussions. 

[2] It is the wrong moment. Consumers are experiencing the highest inflation they have seen in four decades, and their economic future is uncertain. The nation’s federal reserve banking system has pledged to raise interest rates and tighten money supply to the point that it brings inflation under control. But we will simply need to wait and see if the Fed will succeed at slowing inflation without causing a recession. Meanwhile, the public is understandably anxious. This is not a time to place multiple taxes on an election ballot. 

[3] It is the wrong pathway to the ballot. A tax should not be casually placed onto a ballot by three or more supervisors if the intent is to optimize the likelihood of voter approval. Supporters of our County libraries are taking the best pathway to the ballot. They are going to the ballot with demonstrated support from the public. They have written a citizen’s ballot measure, and local voters are signing petitions to place the measure on the ballot. In doing so they have explained the purpose and value of the tax to a sizeable share of the local electorate, likely assuring the measure will win voter approval in the election. 

[4] It is going to hurt the causes the taxes are intended to help. A countywide water sales tax, for example, is going to bring intense scrutiny to the intended beneficiaries of the water tax. Voters throughout Mendocino County will question why they are being asked to pay a water tax, when the agricultural interests served by the Potter Valley Irrigation District pay virtually nothing for their irrigation water. For starters: The typical residents of the Cities of Ukiah, Fort Bragg and Willits pay between $270 and $321 for every $1 paid by agricultural interests served by the Potter Valley Irrigation District for the same amount of water. (See details below.) Voters will rightfully question why Potter Valley’s agricultural interests, and others, are failing to step up and pay to resolve their own water rights, when they have significant untapped capacity to help themselves. 

[5] It is going to divide our communities. To be clear, the Board of Supervisors politically and financially supports the efforts by the Potter Valley Irrigation District, the Inland Water and Power Commission and others who are attempting to retain reasonable water diversion rights from the Eel River to Potter Valley and Lake Mendocino. But support has its limits. Ultimately, the debate over a flawed and unwelcome water tax will trigger devastating political division within Mendocino County, while setting back the very cause the water tax was intended to help. 

In conclusion, I hope the full board will see the wisdom of taking the time to work with stakeholders throughout Mendocino County when discussing ideas for a future sales tax, for a ballot sometime after November 2022. Engaging with residents in every corner of the County will result in a sound proposal, and the option for community members to directly place the matter onto the ballot. Not only will this inclusive process ensure the best proposal is placed onto a ballot, but the citizen-to-citizen engagement inherent in the petition process will also ensure the highest likelihood of success in a future election. 

Water costs:

$21.50 – Potter Valley Irrigation District – A Potter Valley Irrigation District customer pays $21.50 for each one-acre feet of water. (PVIRD website) 

$6,599 – Ukiah – A typical Ukiah residential customer would pay $6,599 in today’s dollars for one-acre feet of water. (3/4” water meter monthly fee of $45.66 + $14.88 for 400 cubic feet of water purchased per month, taking nine years and one month to consume one-acre feet of water.) That’s a customer price 307 times higher than the customer price at Potter Valley Irrigation District. (PVIRD & Ukiah websites) 

$5,800 – Fort Bragg – A typical Fort Bragg residential customer would pay $5,800 in today’s dollars for one-acre feet of water. (3/4” water meter monthly fee of $38.61 + $14.6 for 400 cubic feet of water purchased per month, taking nine years and one month to consume one-acre feet of water.) That’s a customer price 270 times higher than the customer price at Potter Valley Irrigation District. (Fort Bragg & PVIRD websites) 

$6,894 – Willits – A typical Willits customer would pay $6,894 in today’s dollars for one-acre feet of water. (3/4” water meter monthly fee of $38.13 + $25.12 for 400 cubic feet of water purchased per month, taking nine years and one month to consume one-acre feet of water.) That’s a customer price 321 times higher than the customer price at Potter Valley Irrigation District. (Willits & PVIRD websites) 

As if to prove Gjerde’s point, the only members of the public who thought the water tax was a good idea were the top dogs of the Cheap Water Mafia — the County Farm Bureau, Janet Pauli, Guiness McFadden, et al — who paraded to the podium to say the water tax was a great idea. No one else from the public said a word about it. (Williams took fear-mongering to a new height by crazily suggesting that if the public doesn’t vote for the completely unquantified and undefined water tax whole cities and towns in his district will “go dry.”)

McGourty listens to Gjerde’s opposition

Supervisor Glenn McGourty, another prominent member of the Cheap Water Mafia, was not pleased with Supervisor Gjerde’s presentation. 

McGourty correctly noted that Gjerde was comparing treated water costs to untreated “irrigation” water costs. But even so, $0.000066 per gallon is pretty darn low. (The average cost for bulk ag water in California is around $70 per acre foot, but even that low rate is much more than what the Cheap Water Mafia pays. If the Cheap Water Mafia had charged themselves anything like that over the years, they wouldn’t need a subsidy from county sales taxpayers. 

As the discussion lurched forward and public comment was received, a couple of commenters reminded the board that they had never tried to follow the pot tax advisory measure (mentioned above). 

Responding, now one day later, Supervisor Haschak, who had originally brought up the subject and kinda thought maybe the Board should “follow” the advisory measure, had done an about face replying that “it could be argued” that the County spent some money on that stuff so by golly maybe we did spend it where the voters said it should go. Haschak had obviously realized that bringing up that particular voter betrayal wouldn’t help sell the sales tax that he now supports. 

The only remaining question at the end of the day was how much of a tax they’d propose. Supervisor Gjerde said he would actively campaign against any proposal of more than 1/4 cent (presumably for emergency services, not water, but it’s not going to be designated, so…). Supervisor Maureen Mulheren moved that the proposed tax be 3/8 of a cent. (Each 1/8th of a cent is estimated to bring in about $1 million per year.) But that motion failed for lack of a second. Finally, Haschak proposed that staff draft the general sales tax (50%+1) proposal for reconsideration at their next meeting on June 21 but without a specific tax rate and see if they can agree on how much then.

If this proposal makes it to the November ballot as a proposed general tax, the voters will have to approve it knowing that the proceeds will be undesignated and will go directly into the Board’s General Fund where this same Board/CEO that ignored the last advisory measure will decide what it’s spent on — she same board that thinks they’ve followed the pot tax advisory measure by doing whatever they were doing anyway.

* * *

HERE’S THE LANGUAGE Supervisor Mulheren proposes for what to do with water sales tax revenues: 

“Method for the Distribution of Water Resiliency Funds $2,800,000.

“A Water Technical Advisory Group (WTAG) shall be formed for the oversight of funds budgeted by the Board of Supervisors for water resiliency projects including planning and the development of a capital improvement projects and a plan of proposed expenditures, strategically looking 5-10 years out at a time. This work plan should include projects from every area of the County on an annual basis. The WTAG shall be comprised of eight representatives, one from each of the four incorporated cities, one from the County of Mendocino, and two representatives from community services districts with latent water powers inland and on the coast, and one tribal member. Each of the organizations represented shall select its representative, and the representatives shall serve at the will and pleasure of the organization(s) they represent. Specific to the selection of representatives from the community services districts with latent water powers, representatives shall be nominated and selected by a majority vote process to serve a four-year term. Prior to the annual release of funds for water resiliency projects, WTAG approved expenditures shall be submitted for review and approval by the County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors annually at a public meeting.”

To summarize then, an Advisory Group (ala Measure B?) for “resiliency projects.” 

But no actual projects.

Remember, last year when the Board was reacting to the severe drought, they put out a call for such projects which they said were out there just waiting to be submitted for state drought relief funding. Exactly zero projects were submitted, even after the “Drought Task Force” met time and again to encourage submittals. The only projects mentioned were the ones local cities already had underway. No ideas were mentioned, not even the Cheap Water Mafia’s pet subject: raising Coyote Dam. We especially like Supervisor Mulheren’s suggestion that they “look 5-10 years out at a time.” (How many times? we wonder.)

If you liked Measure B, you’ll love Measure M (for Mulheren).

At least Measure B had a sunset clause.

Supervisor Mulheren continues:

“Accountability Resolution — While the revenue received by the County from Measure __ Sales Tax is unrestricted general fund revenue, by this resolution, the County commits to using these revenues for fire protection and water resiliency projects. The Measure __Sales Tax revenue would be distributed 60% for Fire Protection and 40% for Water Resiliency Projects.”

Not to be too repetitive but, readers will recall that the Pot Tax Advisory Measure AJ (2016) said “the majority” of the Pot Tax revenues would go to mental health, roads, emergency services and enforcement. Supervisor Mulheren’s proposed language with such specific percentages for each category would be more credible if she had made even the slightest attempt to follow the similar language in Measure AJ.

At least with emergency services, there are specific and justifiable uses for the additional revenue. But if Supervisor Mulheren and her colleagues proceed with the inclusion of a Measure B style “Advisory Group” approach to water projects, along with a “trust us” approach to spending, the tax will probably fail. If that happens, Supervisor Ted Williams will then blame the voters when the water problems get even worse than they now are.

PS. Just for fun, let’s revisit former Supervisor John Pinches’ water proposals which have never been considered by Official Mendocino County.

“Scout Lake (East of Willits) can be raised which would provide water in dry years by gravity flow to Redwood Valley and North Ukiah Valley. This is a cheap and quick project as the water line can be laid along PG&E’s natural gas pipeline right-of-way.

“Sherwood Valley is a high and wet valley where a couple of wells can be drilled and water can be piped to Fort Bragg via the county road, mostly gravity flow. Above ground, very cheap, and quick. A downhill pipe is cost-effective compared to hauling water from Ukiah uphill in diesel trucks.

“These projects can be done in less than a year with financing from state water funds out of the $7 billion bond which was approved by the voters in 2014. Very little of that money has been applied for. (Mendocino County has never applied for any project money.) All Mendocino County has done is hold senseless meetings, hire a consulting firm for $330,000 to say, ‘We are in a drought’.”

* * *


During last Tuesday’s budget discussion, former North County federal trapper Chris ‘Dead Dog’ Brennan suggested a way for the county to save up to $100k:

“Last year you got rid of wildlife services. Now you're looking at your non-lethal wildlife exclusion program. No one will tell me how much is budgeted for that. I have been told that it's $70,000-$100,000. During the last year all the nonlethal work has been done for free! So why does the County want to spend $70,000-$100,000 when you have the California Fish and Wildlife Department and their biologists and their website called Living with Wildlife doing it for free? And Wildlife Services still does free nonlethal assistance to anyone who wants it. I have gone private since I retired from the government and I have done at least 100 technical assistants since I retired in October. In fact when I was a trapper I did a lot of that and I even won an award for it. I'm the only one who got the award and I do it for free. I also trap, but anyone who calls I will give them all the help I can to solve their problem non-lethally. … This program has not started yet. You have other programs begging for money. I'd rather see the money go to something useful rather than for something that can be dealt with by the two government agencies and me doing it for free.”

Chris Brennan

Interim CEO Darcie Antle said she thought Animal Care was doing something. County Counsel Christian Curtis said he didn't know much beyond the fact that an RFP was put out. Supervisor Haschak said he was “still working on it.” 

“It will be a lot cheaper than the wildlife services,” claimed Haschak, adding, “We do have an RFP for exclusionary work.” Haschak mentioned “a lending library for non-lethal scare tactics.” And maybe some grants and maybe some stipends for educational purposes for “helping people implement these programs.” “It's a pretty robust program,” Haschak insisted, all indications to the contrary notwithstanding, “and it will come to the board in August.”

Supervisor Williams got in one of his patented non-sequiturs: “I don't feel it's the job of county government to plug holes in somebody's house any more than it is to do their laundry. We have so many public safety concerns and taking care of our employees. I hope we don't spend $100,000 for plugging holes. But I appreciate the supervisor's work on the proposal.”

Nobody had any idea how much is actually budgeted for the non-lethal services. Despite Supervisor Williams “concerns,” he didn’t ask for any budget info later or request that the anything be re-allocated. 

* * *

According to the county's website, which summarizes their prospective contracts, they put out an RFP for “wildlife exclusionary services” on November 15, 2021 with a bid due date of February 1, 2022. According to the RFP status information they received no bids. Under “intent to award” it says: “No.” Under “pending” it says: “No.” 

So they put out an RFP but nobody bid the job and they’ve given up. 

That's probably because the contract was valued at a piddling $26,000 at $500 per week for the “services” described as:

“County will pay contractor for wildlife exclusionary services at $25 an hour for up to 20 hours a week with a maximum of $500 per week.”

For that money the County expected the prospective contractor to “analyze possible access and egress points and devise methods to minimize and prevent future physical intrusions onto or into the customer property while protecting animals from harm.” And, “Construct and install exclusion devices used to prevent reentry into customer property.” And educate the customer on nuisance animals and explain ways to detour them. The contractor also must keep accurate records of the calls for service received and services provided and submit detailed reports for the number of calls for service performed on a monthly and yearly basis. They must also “conduct public presentations via social media networks.”

No wonder they didn't get any bids.

And that's where it stands to this day. Maybe the RFP itself was a scare tactic to exclude bidders from bidding.

PS. After much ballyhoo from the local exclusion services advocates who promised great benefits from terminating the deadly Wildlife Services contract last year, we have not heard a word from them about the continued absence of the exclusion services. Giddy wildlife exclusion advocate Jon Spitz of Laytonville told KZYX last year after the Supervisors canceled the federal contract that “John Haschak is working very hard to establish wildlife exclusion services in Mendocino County.”

Too bad Dead Dog didn’t leave his number with the Supervisors.

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