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HOT TEMPERATURES will occur across the entire region today, followed by a gradual cooling trend taking place through mid week. Otherwise, marine stratus will return to the coast late tonight. In addition, rain chances will be near zero across Northwest California during the next seven days. (NWS)
YESTERDAY'S HIGHS: Ukiah 100°, Yorkville 97°, Covelo 96°, Boonville 95°, Fort Bragg 67°
DEPUTY DA BETH NORMAN MAKING HER EXIT
by Mike Geniella
Beth Norman, a prosecutor who was once appointed to serve as acting District Attorney for Mendocino County in the middle of a contentious election, was celebrated Saturday night by her colleagues, family, and friends at a retirement party.
While Beth’s long legal career is worthy of applause, count me among those who honor Beth for her honesty, integrity, kindness, and compassion.
I was present on Jan. 12, 2007, when the county Board of Supervisors named Beth acting district attorney of an office under stress.
Everyone were relieved that an individual with immense character, and strong sense of duty was temporarily taking the reins in an office buffeted by politics.
The late District Attorney Norman Vroman, a maverick lawman who had once served a federal prison term for tax evasion, suddenly died a few weeks before the November general election and threw things into turmoil.
Keith Faulder, now a Superior Court judge but then a prosecutor for Vroman, was first named interim DA in the wake of Vroman’s death.
Then Faulder decided to seek office himself. He legally challenged former Elections Clerk Marsha Wharff and the Board of Supervisors’ initial decisions to not call a special election after Vroman died and instead allow coast prosecutor Meredith Lintott, who pulled more votes in the June primary over Vroman, to take office.
Faulder appealed to a state court of appeal, which ordered Mendocino County to hold a new election for district attorney and seal the results of the Nov. 7 election because the incumbent died shortly before the vote. The First District Court of Appeal court ruled that under a state law passed two decades before Vroman’s death election officials were required to conduct a special election whenever an incumbent and a single challenger were running for a nonpartisan office such as district attorney and one of them dies within 68 days of the election.
Vroman, 69, died of a heart attack 47 days before his hotly contested re-election bid with Lintott in the November election. Lintott received the most votes among three candidates in the June primary, but she fell short of a majority. The state court ruling allowed Faulder, Vroman's former assistant who has been acting district attorney since Vroman's death, to run against Lintott. Faulder had not run in the primary.
Lintott eventually won the special election over Faulder by a 46-40 percent margin.
Lintott soon after named Beth, an office veteran since 1988, her assistant DA.
Politics again intervened in Beth’s career when current DA Dave Eyster defeated Lintott and took office. He demoted Beth and brought in his own assistant DA.
Beth has continued to serve as a senior deputy district attorney in the office. She is a mentor to many younger prosecutors in typically their first jobs. They happily gathered with Beth at post-work gatherings at watering holes across from the downtown Ukiah courthouse for fun, or stress relief.
High School students know Beth for her long work in the Mock Trial Program. She also is a veteran of Drug Court and Behavioral Health Court programs.
In total Beth served 34 years in the DA’s office, managing virtually every type of case. She routinely appeared at state Parole Board hearings, arguing successfully against the release of inmates who had created of some of the most heinous crimes in Mendocino County.
Former District Attorney Susan Massini, retired and living in Oregon, calls Beth a ‘trail blazer.’
Massini believes Beth successfully prosecuted the first case in California and achieved a second-degree murder conviction in a groundbreaking DUI case. Beth also reported the first delayed reporting child sexual assault case in the state, Massini recalled.
Beth was one of two beginning attorneys who grew up in the North County that I hired. Both women, and daughters of law enforcement officers. I am proud to have hired her, and I count her as a friend,” said Massini.
In 2019, Beth was honored by the Women’s Bar Association, and described her life and accomplishments:
“Beth Norman was born in Ukiah but grew up in Willits where her parents resided. Her father worked for the California Highway Patrol, and her mother was a registered nurse.
During high school, she was the student body President. After high school, Beth furthered her education and attended the University of the Pacific. Upon graduating, she began her legal education at the University of North Dakota.
Prior to starting at the Mendocino District Attorney’s Office, Beth worked as a law clerk in various Civil Law firms. Then, in January of 1988 she began her first job as a Lawyer at the District Attorney’s Office and has been there since.
During Beth’s career, she has had the opportunity to grow tremendously in her profession. In 2007, she was the appointed District Attorney for three months until the election. Thereafter, she served as the Assistant District Attorney for three years. Currently, Beth serves as a Deputy District Attorney IV. As such, she has worked on a variety of different cases: Homicide, Molestation, and Domestic Violence to name a few.
Additionally, Beth has worked on a grant for three years for child abuse prosecution; as well as serving on a state-wide committee for child molestation issues and prosecution. Furthermore, she served with the Drug Court for many years. Over the past three years, she has been with the Behavioral Health Court.
On a personal level, Beth is married, and has two dogs and two cats. Her favorite hobbies include open water swimming (including swimming from Alcatraz), running marathons, beer tasting, and golfing.
So, here’s to Beth, a homegrown individual who serves her community well.
HEALTH CARE DISTRICT BOARD SPECIAL MEETING, Monday July 11
The Mendocino Coast HealthCare District will hold a Special Meeting on Monday, July 11 at 6 PM for an Open Session to discuss the LOCATION OF OUR AMBULANCE SERVICE which will continue to provide their usual service.
Additional info at the website: www.mchcd.org
ZOOM access: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/3453214116
Please join us
Call with questions to: Norman de Vall, MCHCD - Secretary
Scott Pratt: I wanted to be sure and share some information that was learned after the fire on The Prather land below us on Indian Creek. [Friday, July 8th, 1pm]. After The fire was out and things were getting mopped up, CalFire had their investigators up there trying to find the cause. I want to thank CalFire for their extensive time working with me to figure out what happened. Hopefully everyone will learn from this incident.
As it turns out, a small tractor that was driving up to our place (not our tractor), was the culprit. It was not a particularly old tractor or a large tractor. And it was a good, solid John Deere. It did not, however, have a spark arrester. After looking around at other tractors I see that many, many tractors do not. There are certain situations with diesel tractors when they run at a medium RPM and then are revved up, maybe while shifting, they blow some bits of molten carbon out of the exhaust. You really can’t see them unless you do, as we did, a test with a can and collect the bits when it happens. It isn’t a lot. Looks like maybe five or six grains of course sand.
Anyway, I checked out our own tractor and we do have a spark arrester. The real intent of this post though is to urge you to check your tractor. If you see just a pipe or angled cut-off pipe coming out of the engine with no cap and no other attachment, Get online and buy a spark arrester! Less than $100 and worth every penny of course. Even if your tractor has a muffler, that does not prevent this carbon blowing phenomenon.
Amazon sells similar spark arresters. Well worth it. Do not wait!
IN HONOR OF THE COURTHOUSE DESIGN, A SING-A-LONG
Cement Mixer (Put-Ti Put-Ti)
by Alvino Rey & His Orch.
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
A puddle o'vooty, puddle o'gooty, puddle o'scooty
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
A puddle o'veet! concrete
First you get some gravel, Pour it in the vout
To mix a mess o' mortar you add cement and water
See the mellow roony come out, slurp, slurp, slurp
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Who wants a bucket of cement?
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
A puddle o'vooty, puddle o'gooty, puddle o'scooty
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
A puddle o'veet! concrete
First you get some gravel, Pour it in the vout
To mix a mess o' mortar you add cement and water
See the mellow roony come out, slurp, slurp, slurp
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Cement Mixer! Put-ti, Put-ti
Who wants a bucket of cement?
* * *
NO ONE except our nine judges wants the new County Courthouse, although none of the judges have dared to say anything publicly about the misguided project. And, natch, the Supervisors are silent, too, as is Ukiah's City Council.
THE DESIGN — Neo-Cement Factory — was predictable enough given these bleakly unimaginative architectural times. We suggested a structure consistent with California history, maybe a mission-style building similar to the one at the south end of Ukiah built as a brewery, presently some kind of dope factory.
BUT, BUT, BUT what about security? One of the feeble arguments for a new Courthouse from its sole public proponent, former Superior Court Judge David Nelson, is that the present Courthouse is insecure. Nelson cited a thirty-year-old episode where a mommy tried to hand her murdering son a handgun out on the street. The handoff was unsuccessful, of course.
THE OTHER pro arguments for a new Courthouse have to do with the ancient age of the present Courthouse, so ancient it can't be upgraded.
* * *
WHY THE NEW COURTHOUSE IS A BAD IDEA
District Attorney David Eyster lists his objections:
The primary problem with the current courthouse is the expense, staffing, and all-day delays in bringing prisoners from Low Gap to the courthouse? Those bottlenecks will NOT be resolved by a new building.
Traffic impacts on Perkins directly across from Hospital Drive?
The cost of having to build new office space for the DA and his staff, who are currently housed on the ground floor of the courthouse? Where will it go? Who pays?
What is the specific, doable plan for the future use of the abandoned old courthouse.
The current courthouse could be renovated and expanded at much less expense.
It’s for nobody but the judges. No thought given to other impacts.
No effort made to solicit feedback from any local authorities or people.
A new County Courthouse is not workable from a logistics perspective.
It will make a big dent in Ukiah’s already struggling downtown.
What you’ve been told is that the present Courthouse is a dangerous building because it is not earthquake-safe. In the last earthquake, as Napa was falling, this place looked out onto downtown Ukiah with no impact on it. They say it’s dangerous for security. I can show you how that can be fixed. The front the Courthouse is just plain ugly. I think that’s a selling point to rehab this building because the ugly front facade takes up a lot of space that can be re-done as s usable, attractive work area. The back side of the Courthouse is perfect and beautiful. And it is historically significant. The front of the Courthouse can be made beautiful, too.
Down past Rainbow Ag and the new sports bar there’s the railroad station. On days like this — bright, sunny, cheerful — maybe it’s relatively easy for us to get 50 to 100 cases up and down Perkins without the files falling apart on the street. But last year when all the cats and dogs were falling out of the sky, explain to me the means of getting the cases down the street safely and whole. We’d have to have drying rooms for our files.
As I sit in my office and watch State and Perkins, I see lots of accidents. Golf carts running around downtown means there’s lots that can go wrong with that. This is an after-the-fact response to the judges’ position of, This is what we’re doing. Ok, they said, you can help us by buying property down here for your offices. I don’t have that kind of purse, and the last time they discussed it with the County, they said no to any purchases of property for Courthouse offices. The County doesn’t have the money, either.
The cost will inevitably go up.
Disruption to and/or relocation of public defender offices.
Travel to and from the new site is and will be at best problematic.
The jail expansion is overrunning and the County is expected to pick up a big part of the tab for that out of the General Fund. In all likelihood the new courthouse will experience the same. All kinds of unanticipated costs and delays. By the time the high-priced consultants get finished with the gold plated ugly design it will cost much more than anybody thought, and be delayed and delayed as they figure out how to pay for it — but because it’s the judges they’ll have to.
The judges say it’s dangerous to have criminals shipped back and forth from the jail to the courthouse with potential contact with the public and they need a new courthouse with a sally port for safe prisoner transport. But in all these years they’ve been saying that, even with the more dangerous criminals now shipped back to Mendo with prison revisions lately, there has not been one incident or problem connected to that particular judicial paranoia. Not one.
* * *
Local law enforcement is against it.
DEPUTY CRAIG WALKER “appearing strictly in my capacity as President of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association,” said:
“Our organization is concerned about the county’s potential exposure to costs that will be in our opinion forced upon us by the relocation. The proposed new courthouse would house strictly court employees and that the county employees who currently are housed within the existing court facility and nearby would have to travel that extra distance. We don’t think that’s a feasible alternative for the medium or long term. The county will be forced at some point to construct another building down by the new courthouse or lease space at substantial cost and that the taxpayers would then be on the hook for maintenance of the old and abandoned facility and all of these things could easily run into the millions of dollars in cost for the county that the state which would mean less money for essential services. None of that was factored into their planning. So for those reasons our organization is adamantly opposed to relocating the courthouse. We feel that some reasonable renovations to the existing structure could be made at a fraction of the cost. We realize that this project is being driven by the State Office of the Courts and not by the county and not by some other local agency. Nevertheless, we think that because of that ancillary exposure to the County and to the county employees that we really need to work together and oppose this project and we will be contacting the Governor’s office and the Administrative Office of the Court to express our displeasure and we would like to think that you would join us in that regard. Thank you.”
A READER WRITES: “Another problem with a new courthouse on Perkins street, other than the area already having traffic backed up for blocks at certain times of the day, court staff having to either walk back and forth from downtown to the new site (yea, I’m so sure people will walk), or get in their cars and drive for three blocks, and the general uglification of Ukiah .Just imagine a typical summer day in Ukiah with a 110 degree sun bouncing off a glass structure. Imagine the cost of cooling that behemoth, and we all know it’s gonna get hotter every year. I don’t understand why we citizens have not had a say in any decision-making. Cause when the accidents start happening, and we know they will, and the as yet unknown and unforeseen expenses become a reality I can only imagine the annoyed and bewildered staff. Ooops, forgot that piece of paper, gotta jump in my car and drive three blocks and back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.”
THE AVA: This is the second judicial swindle in my years in Mendocino County, the first being the termination of the county’s far flung justice courts, including the one in Boonville. That move came courtesy of the lawyer-dominated state legislature on the false basis that only lawyers were capable of dispensing justice, a proposition the legislature wouldn’t dare put to a vote. This move was purely for the convenience of 9 (count ’em) new superior court judges, each of them compensated at levels of pay and emoluments not available to most Americans. We now have more superior court judges per capita than any other county in the state, hell, maybe in the world.
SO WE LOST our justice courts, resulting for many of us in long drives to the County Courthouse in Ukiah to get screwed over, er, get our matters heard.
WORST OF ALL, the new courthouse will be a major eyesore for a town already synonymous with architectural squalor. A re-model of the old courthouse, the traditional courthouse that goes all the way back into the 19th century, if it were a restoration of the beauty of the original, Ukiah and the rest of the county’s sorely put upon citizens could point to it with pride.
OPEN WIDE, MENDOLAND as the new courthouse gets shoved down your unsuspecting throats. Your 9 fat cat judges are getting themselves a brand new courthouse that nobody except them wants.
BRING FIBER TO COMPTCHE
Hope all is well. We’re in the last few days of our support letter campaign and I just wanted to share the letter I’ll be sending to the CPUC. I wrote it to amuse and inspire the CPUC staffers; hopefully, your readers will find it so as well.
* * *
The Comptche Broadband Committee is in the final stretch of a support letter writing campaign. Before the California Public Utility Commission is an Advice letter that, if approved, will commit AT&T to bringing fiber internet to Comptche. We have asked the residents of Comptche to fire up their word processors, ask that the CPUC approves the advice letter, and show their support. They have until this Wednesday at midnight to get me those letters.
What follows here is my letter of support:
July 9th, 2022
President Alice Reynolds
Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen
Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma
Commissioner Darcie Houck
Commissioner John Reynolds
California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102
Re: Proposal of AT&T to Bring Fiber Broadband Services to Comptche, California.
Dear President Reynolds and Commissioners:
I am a resident of Comptche, California. I am writing to support the efforts of AT&T to bring fiber to my community, because there currently is a severe shortage of providers in Comptche that can connect my household with reliable, fast Internet to perform common commerce and communication.
Being bandwidth starved in today’s American culture is an exquisite form of torture. Endless hunger for the data that fuels today’s geist. Inopportune delays for sending and receiving the day’s interactions are a constant molasses flooding our lives. Wardriving to get operating system updates and other big downloads. An afternoon of YouTube blows out the bandwidth cap for the month. Sneaker Net, and sending disks through the mail because that’s the highest bandwidth possible. Zero bars on the cell phone. Killing a treasured redwood because where she stood was the only place to put the antenna. Our remote and rustic town of Comptche makes every dimension of the problem more difficult.
No one here trusts AT&T. You guys at the CPUC are our heroes, because you help us compel AT&T and the powers to be to provide all in California that which we need to function in today’s society. Same for TURN, an organization we trust and respect. We find it queer that we’re on the opposite side of a TURN position, but you must admit their objection to the Advice letter was a bit cookie cutter and low effort.
I am the co-chair of the Comptche Broadband Committee. We organized this support letter campaign for Advice Letter 49018A, with a template you no doubt recognize. One of the hardest aspects of this support campaign has been to ask people to write letters of support to provide AT&T fine relief when those same people have a lot of sympathy for those fines. Nevertheless, we say with one voice to allow AT&T this relief and approve the advice letter so that we can replace our antiquated copper networks with something faster, more reliable and able to propel us into the future.
We here in Comptche have learned that we have to organize in order have our place at the table. We also live by the code of the West, and part of that is if you mess with our neighbors, you’re messing with us. Believe us when we say we won’t rest until all of our neighbors have internet access equal to what Comptche will obtain should the Advice letter be approved. We hope that industry and the CPUC help us make that best digital future possible for us all.
For these reasons, I strongly urge the Commission to grant AT&T’s request to bring fiber broadband services to all of Comptche’s residents as soon as possible.
POSSIBLE REPERCUSSIONS OF MCN'S SALE
From watching the whole video of the MUSD Board meeting I learned that they can reject any and all bids for any reason. So they are not locked to selling to the highest bidder.
They chose to divest from CNN because they can't find qualified people to fill even an interim general manager position for the salary offered.
They had two options: sale as surplus property under the Cal Education Code, which doesn't allow negotiating terms with potential buyers, or seeking a waiver from the state to allow a negotiated sale. The latter route would likely take about 6 mo. to complete. The sale as surplus property could be done in two months.
The vote was 5-0 to proceed with seeking bids under the surplus property rules. The next board meeting is in mid August.
It is NOT likely that any new owner of MCN would continue with the listservs as they are because they generate no income and some liability.
However listservs are available from other service providers, so someone could start replacement listservs, and some already have.
In my long held opinion the listserv is an anachronistic format that would be better replaced by a web forum. See any of the many web forums out there for examples. There are many Mendocino Coast “groups” on the Facebook platform.
For those who are adamant about never using FB for anything, there are other platforms, including Google Groups. In fact there is a Google Group called Mendofoghorn that was started in 2010 by Mollybee. It didn't take off at that time because people wanted to stay with the MCN listservs that they were used to. But it is still online at groups.google.com/g/mendofoghorn
[Quote from results page of Google search for “Google Group”] Google Groups is a service from Google that provides discussion groups for people sharing common interests. The Groups service also provides a gateway to Usenet newsgroups via a shared user interface. Google Groups became operational in February 2001 -- Wikipedia
A CHARRED COVELO BUILDING Proves The Perfect Canvas For A Mural Depicting Missing Woman Khadijah Britton
PHILO DOG DIN
Does anyone else hear the barking dog(s) on the corner of Hwy 128 & Blattner? They’ve been barking for the past 2.5 hrs- wow! How can you let that go on!? It’s 11:25 pm and no one is putting them in or tell them hush! Wow!! They bark all night!
[x] They bark at the end of blattner too.
[x] The end not the beginning. Up by Charmian's house.
[x] I hear that too at my house but I don't complain about it. They live across the street. They are dogs we live in the country ! Dogs will be dogs.
[x] These are my neighbors dogs not the same ones as you are talking about it.
[x] I have the same thing in Yorkville, I called humane last summer, we’ll see what happens this year!
[x] Everyone on blattner has big dogs and I know all of the owners of these dogs. I happen to have a few dogs myself, we get that the barking can get very frustrating and “rude” but it’s a dogs nature to bark if they are guard dogs, even if they weren’t. Do not assume we don’t go out and try and “hush” them. If the barking continues it is because they are sensing something out of the normal.
SUB-LEASE BLUES: I subleased my old oakland apartment to someone who didn’t pay the last months rent and said to put the cleaning deposit towards the rent then asked to stay an extra week… and didn’t pay - then when they left they left the place a mess and with a broken window. But honestly I’m glad the girl is gone and out of my life. She’s the worst person I’ve had to deal with in awhile. Rio supposedly works in harm reduction and her then boyfriend Ezra who also lived there works at a dispensary in San Francisco. What losers to screw over a single mom who gave them a great price on a rent controlled apartment. When I asked them to help pay for the extra 11 days at the apartment and the broken window they ghosted me. Stay classy, assholes. (C.A.)
DEB SILVA: In Sunday’s MCT Jeff Burroughs wondered about a "town" named Fairbanks on a 1916 map he found. I did comment that Fairbanks was associated with a man named Mandal Whipple Fairbanks but there is more that Jeff might be interested in knowing. I'm attaching a couple of articles, one is Fairbanks obituary and the other is one of those "days gone by" things that is interesting. Besides reporting on Fairbanks post office there's a little background on MW Fairbanks who was a total gun nut, had an armory and a gun patented!
MW was featured in a number of newspaper articles back in the day. He was a sheep rancher, he apparently had a dicey divorce from his first wife Ella as there were a number of public notices regarding that, and his wife at the time of his death was Isabel (Gallagher) Fairbanks.
Cemetery Valerie might be interested in MW's obit. Fairbanks is buried on his ranch alongside his young son.
Sometime in 2020 I began to read about this proposal called the “two basin solution”. Every time I would read an article with this reference, it would make me wonder and shudder as I would contemplate the loss of the water supply that feeds Lake Mendocino.
Finally in May of 2022, I spoke to our Board of Supervisors asking them for leadership regarding this extremely important issue. I was somewhat aware of work being done by Inland Water and Power Commission and the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, but I wasn’t aware of any organized response to educate and rally the local citizens to confront this threat.
Since the water supply from the Project is used for fire suppression, fisheries, domestic and agricultural water supply, recreation and tourism affecting over 600,000 people in not only our county but also Lake, Sonoma, and Marin, I believe that destruction of this infrastructure is unthinkable. As in just about every situation, solutions are complex when we wish they were easy and black or white.
The Board of Supervisor’s recent proposal to bring a tax measure that would utilize the expiring assessment from Measure B to fund county fire and water needs certainly was never meant to be a threat to the proposed library initiative A that the virtuous and diligent efforts by our friends and neighbors qualified for the November ballot to establish permanent funding for our libraries. The issue is timing, that we are in the third year of a drought and we must deal with significant water issues county wide.
When I began composing this letter the board was discussing Supervisor Mulhern’s proposal to use the expiring tax money from the Measure B mental health initiative to fund fire and water needs. The short time to get this on the November ballot, lack of unity with the Board regarding the percentage of taxation, etc. caused the board to recently drop water from this discussion and proposal and and focus a future tax initiative solely on funding for fire needs.
We must have a vision for our future and therefore need to create a funding mechanism for water projects. By far the best way to bring about an initiative is from a grassroots petition effort from the citizenry. If we are successful in getting enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot we will know better if we have the needed support and also it would take 50% not 67% of the votes to make it pass.
Furthermore, then the funds must be directed to this specific cause and will be non-discretionary, so everyone will be confident that the money is spent solely for this purpose. There isn’t time to do this before the next election in November. So we must begin now in preparation for the 2024 election and in the meantime hope that voters do not forget our current reality of drought which may have improved by then.
As residents of Mendocino county we must not be naive. Those who wish to stop the less than 2% Eel River water diversion to feed the Russian River, who originally spoke of a “two basin solution”, don’t really care about leaving us any water now that PGE has been directed to start the license surrender process. They have a severely misguided perception that the Eel can be saved by destroying the Project infrastructure and that seems to be their sole focus. The water needs for the people in the Russian River basin are not their concern.
No matter where you live in the county, the Ukiah Valley as the county seat is an economic hub for services, supplies and jobs. If there is no water to support these endeavors what is the alternative? If Mendocino County doesn’t stand together to support the water supply from the Potter Valley Project it will be a mistake equal to our lack of insight that caused us to only end up with less than 10% of the water rights of Lake Mendocino.
Hindsight is always 20-20, so we must get a united vision to move forward. I am willing to be a catalyst to help us unite to gain this water right. I welcome ideas, and participation on any level to move forward now.
Please if you wish to contact me you can call me at 707 485-7567 and please leave a message.
Your neighbor, friend, and lover of Mendocino County,
MARIN JR-JR ALL-STARS 5-1 IN VEGAS TOURNEY
PROPOSED LAW ALLOWS EXTRA REGULATION OF WELLS
by Jim Shields
We officially closed out the precipitation year on June 30 with a very wet total of 47.25 inches, which is 70.5% of our historic normal of 67 inches in the greater Laytonville area.
So we are in great shape compared to most of California where drought conditions range from “Severe Drought” to “Exceptional Drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The rain that fell during the July Fourth holiday period was a rare phenomenon.
The historic average for month of July is only nine-hundredth (0.09) of an inch. The two-days of light rain totaled a little over a quarter of an inch at 0.26 inch.
Proposed Regulations Of Water Wells
The governor of our state and the state legislature are getting into the act of exercising never-before-seen public control of privately owned groundwater wells.
Assemblyman Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) and representatives from Community Water Center (CWC) are sponsoring legislation that would change the way new and expanded water wells are approved in California, and focusing on areas that are experiencing rapid decline in groundwater reserves.
“New water wells and groundwater extractions are being approved without adequate analysis of their impact on the drinking water of disadvantaged communities,” said Bennett. “Approval without that analysis can cause significant negative impacts on over-drafted water basins and disadvantaged communities drinking water.”
Bennett’s bill, AB 2201, took a step forward last week as it survived a fight in a California state Senate committee.
The proposed law passed the California state Senate Governance and Finance Committee on a 3-1 vote. The legislation now moves to the California state Senate Appropriations Committee.
Bennett told the committee that the goal of the bill is to provide some teeth to groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA), which are tasked with coming up with sustainable groundwater usage plans under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act passed in 2014, to oversee new and expanded wells.
Under the proposed legislation, any new or modified groundwater well proposed in water basins that are deemed medium or high-burden basins will need to undergo a review by the local GSA for review and public comment. After review the local GSA will then determine whether the new well fits within the SGMA plan for that basin or if the proposed well would not be sustainable.
“Right now GSAs do not have any teeth to either review new wells or stop new wells from going in,” Bennett told the committee. “This legislation would provide the GSA some power to determine whether a proposed well meets the goals of SGMA and whether it should be approved or not.”
In the past few months, Governor Gavin Newsom has issued several Executive Orders that do not allow new wells to be drilled. But those orders are specific to this drought period and will sunset when the drought is deemed over.
According to Court News Service, opponents argued that the proposed legislation would have the state of California impose rules on new and existing wells from Sacramento and take away any local oversight. Bennett disagreed with that contention and said the legislation would provide local control and oversight as the GSA knows their area the best.
“There are a number of out of state and well-monied investors coming in buying up land which has had no wells; they then plant almonds and dig a number of wells with no oversight of whether the new wells meet the SGMA goals, leading to basins being further overdrawn,” Bennett told the committee.
Since the legislation was introduced, it has been amended a number of times and because of those amendments, a number of farming groups have now changed positions and support the legislation. The amendments exclude low-flow wells for domestic use and shallow wells for existing small farmers from needing to undergo the GSA review.
Even with the amendments, a number of farm bureaus, central California counties, communities and other groups expressed their opposition to the proposed legislation. A number of GSAs said the current SGMA provides opportunities to block future wells if they prove to be unsustainable and would like time to go through that process before legislation is passed.
Both sides agreed that the continued issuance of executive orders by Governor Newsom banning new well drilling is not the way to solve the problem.
“The democratic process allows for conversations like this to happen and for changes to be made to address concerns raised by opponents. This is a better process than the current executive order which underwent no consultation and provides only a short-term solution. This legislation will make sure that there is enough groundwater for both farmers and communities for future generations,” Bennett told the Committee.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org)
CATCH OF THE DAY, July 10, 2022
DAKOTA ANDERSON, Ukiah. Criminal threats.
JOSIAH ARMIJO, Willits. Domestic battery.
JACOB BOGGS, Covelo. DUI-alcohol&drugs, paraphernalia.
SCOTT FRANKS, Ukiah. Carjacking, criminal threats, assault with deadly weapon not a gun, access card fraud, paraphernalia, bringing controlled substance into jail.
BRYAN GRIZZLE, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
JAMES HARNETT, Ukiah. Controlled substance, paraphernalia.
JOY INGALLS, Lakeport/Ukiah. DUI.
LIZARO LLANES-FIGUEROA, Miami, Florida/Ukiah. Exceeding speed limit in commercial vehicle by more than 15mph.
JESSE MARTINEZ, Fort Bragg. DUI, suspended license for DUI.
DONNA MYERS, Ukiah. Suspended license, failure to appear, probation revocation.
JESUS NAVA-SANDOVAL, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ, Ukiah. False ID, probation revocation.
PAUL SCHOCK, Philo. Under influence, paraphernalia, pot possession for sale, providing pot to minor.
JENNIFER SMITH, Willits. Failure to appear.
KUA TURNER, Fort Bragg. Domestic battery, burglary, robbery.
JOSHUA WILSON, Cloverdale, DUI, probation revocation.
UKRAINE, SUNDAY, JULY 10TH
Ukraine criticizes Canada’s decision to return Russian gas turbine to Germany
Chasiv Yar strike kills 15, leaves dozens under rubble, officials say
Battleground updates: Slovyansk hit, evacuations urged in south.
Nearly 24 hours after Russian rockets razed an apartment complex in eastern Ukraine, emergency workers were feverishly searching the rubble for survivors of the attack, which killed at least 15 people, the latest instance of mass casualty in a war that has already claimed thousands of civilian lives.
The toll probably will rise, Ukrainian officials said, with more than 20 people believed to be trapped beneath the wreckage in the town of Chasiv Yar. Rescuers pulled six survivors from the debris pile, the most recent emerging after almost one full day of digging. “There are 15 names in the list of the dead and, unfortunately, this is not the final number,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Sunday, adding that the strike shows how Russia “kills absolutely deliberately.”
The attack occurred near the front line in Ukraine’s Donetsk province, one half of the Donbas region, and it underscored the intensifying fight for ground there after Russia captured nearly all of neighboring Luhansk. At the same time, Ukrainian authorities appear to be preparing for intense fighting in the south as they seek to recapture territory from Moscow. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk urged residents of the Russian-held Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to evacuate, saying Ukrainian forces were set to “de-occupy” the area.
Ukraine on Sunday criticized Canada’s decision to send a turbine to help Germany get gas from Russia.
Kharkiv province is probably a target for annexation by Russia, according to analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, citing Moscow’s declaration of the area as an “inalienable” part of Russia.
Police in the southern city of Kherson said they had opened criminal proceedings against Russia over accusations that Russian forces “continue to purposefully destroy crops.”
VIGILANTE CLIMATE ACTIVIST GROUP DEFLATES BAY AREA SUV TIRES OVERNIGHT
by Sam Moore
“ATTENTION – Your gas guzzler kills. We have deflated one or more of your tires. You’ll be angry, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s your car.”
The letters placed on windshields, along with said deflated tires, are what greeted several Bay Area drivers on the morning of July 5. The letters contained a message written by an international group that deflates the tires of SUVs and other larger vehicles in the name of fighting climate change.
“We did this because driving around urban areas in your massive vehicle has huge consequences for others,” the leaflet says. “We’re taking actions into our own hands because our governments and politicians will not.”
The incidents took place in Vacaville and soon went viral through Facebook and Reddit posts. This is the first known instance of members from Tyre Extinguishers, the group responsible, deflating tires in California. The U.K.-based group made their U.S. debut over the past few weeks by deflating tires in Chicago, New York City and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
“As far as we know, this is the first action in the Bay Area - the first of many!” Marion Walker, a spokesperson for Tyre Extinguishers, said in an email to SFGATE. According to Walker, the group’s autonomous nature prevents other members from knowing who is deflating tires and where.
Lt. Katie Cardona with the Vacaville Police Department said the department received one report on July 5 of a tire on a resident’s Honda Pilot SUV being deflated overnight.
“We are aware that there are reports of additional tire deflations on social media, but those have not been reported to us,” Cardona told SFGATE. She added that the incident involving the Honda Pilot is being investigated as a case of vehicle tampering, which is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.
Despite the Tyre Extinguishers claiming to target SUVs in urban areas — “You will have no difficulty getting around without your gas guzzler, with walking, cycling or public transit,” the leaflet says — the group’s first Bay Area deflations took place in a largely unwalkable suburban neighborhood.
“We encourage people to target rich urban areas, but SUVs are a menace everywhere. This is an emergency,” Walker said. Users on Facebook and Reddit were livid over photos posted of the leaflet, which garnered thousands of comments across the two platforms.
“If they do this to my car which I need to drive a whole 45 minutes to work and 45 minutes back from work at 10 p.m. when no public transit are working, well … [I’m] willing to take a week off to hunt them down and make sure whatever they’re using to puncture tires will be impaled somewhere on their body where the sun don’t shine,” a disgruntled Reddit user commented. (Police said there were no reports of vandalism to tires, and Tyre Extinguishers’ website only instructs people how to deflate tires, not to slash or damage them.)
The Tyre Extinguishers posted on their website yesterday that 12 SUVs had tires deflated in Vacaville, and encouraged members to avoid “cars clearly used for people with disabilities, traders’ cars (even if they’re large), minibuses and normal-sized cars.”
“We want to make it impossible to own an SUV in the world's urban areas. Deflating tyres repeatedly and encouraging others to do the same will turn the minor inconvenience of a flat tyre into a giant obstacle for driving massive killer vehicles around our streets,” Walker said.
THE MURDER OF SHIREEN ABU AKLEH
The U.S. State Department said the killing of American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh was “the result of tragic circumstances.” The Israeli rights group B’Tselem derided the announcement as “whitewash,” as did the Abu Akleh family. While the State Department condemned Russia’s killing of journalists, Abu Akleh’s murder, and Jamal Kashoggi’s, is not a reason to sour our relationships with our “friends.”
To think that Israeli soldiers, in one of the most highly trained armies in the world, didn’t know they were shooting at journalists is indeed whitewash, as there were no Palestinian fighters in that area. But was it a targeted killing? Well, an Israeli military spokesperson said that the journalists were “filming and working for a media outlet … They’re armed with cameras …” What kind of country characterizes journalists as being “armed” with cameras?
Why was Abu Akleh murdered? She said it best: “I chose journalism to be close to people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I could bring their voice to the world.” When a country doesn’t want the eyes of the world on it, that talk is considered seditious and must be dealt with accordingly. And, of course, with impunity. And we complied.
MARILYN DAVIN: On supposed post-abortion “guilt” – just have to respond. Seven or 8 years ago right before I quit my board position of the very large local Democrats Club in a huff, I was at our monthly lunch. Ten woke women and one man (an unequal membership common to many such clubs) were discussing abortion politics over shrimp and avocado salads. One board member, a lifelong Democrat born and raised in the woke empire of SF, announced loudly and passionately that every woman who has an abortion suffers guilt and related angst for the rest of her life. (And this was a progressive Democrat!) Let it go, I told myself, though in this case I just couldn’t. I put my fork down, looked up, and told the group that the myth of abortion/guilt was complete and utter bullshit. I knew this because I had had a safe and legal abortion myself at 6 weeks the year after Roe, and I was even married. But I had just started my junior year and just couldn’t have dealt with a baby given my heavy load at Berkeley, though giving you my reason is purely voluntary and should not matter. We accept all manner of accidents as the price of being human, yet persist, as a nation, in condemning the accidentally pregnant. A fetus is no more a baby than the egg you ate for breakfast is a chick. And there will always be individuals racked with guilt about many things: the wrong spouse, the wrong major, getting divorced – you name it. So of course there is certainly a tiny minority of women who regret their abortions. You’ll probably see a few of them on Fox News.
STEPHEN ROSENTHAL: The photo of Marichal and Mays and the blurb that accompanies it reminds me why, after lifelong fandom and serious almost daily participation when I was younger, I’ve given up on the game of baseball. For those who don’t know, Spahn and Marichal both pitched the entire 16 innings, each recording well over 200 pitches. Willie Mays used to play every inning of every All-Star Game, and he played in 24 of them.
Baseball has become the most boring sport imaginable and not worthy of a minute of my time. To some extent analytics is to blame. But greed (owners and players), catering to a generation of limited attention span Smart Phone addicts and a clueless Commissioner who clearly doesn’t understand or love the game have all contributed to its demise.
MORE SF SUMMER READS FOR THE HUNGRY BOOKWORM
by Sarah Wright
Earlier this summer, I wrote about my dad’s San Francisco-themed reading list. Since then, I’ve gotten an outpouring of responses from bookworms, San Francisco longtimers and recent transplants, like myself, full of suggested addendums to the list.
What I love most about these notes is seeing the many and varied interpretations of what makes a given book an essential SF read. For Josiana Limones—who recently moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest—reading about the city and its surroundings is all about deepening her connection to the region.
“Reading a history of SF gives one a linear, or one-dimensional, Wikipedia-like view of the city,” Limones wrote. “Reading about the city through the eyes of an author with a story woven around the facts, regardless of fiction or non-fiction, gives one a three-dimensional view. Maybe even a fourth dimension.”
So without further ado, let’s dive into the fourth dimension—here are 10 more books we can all add to our list, thanks to suggestions from our readers!
Cool, Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, Gary Kamiya - Across 49 chapters, Kamiya takes readers step by step as he walks the city’s grid. Neighborhood by neighborhood, he opens up a lens into the city’s past, present and future. Check out Spirits of San Francisco for another SF-based Kamiya read.
Valencia, Michelle Tea - Dive into this first-person narrative of lesbian culture in the Mission District—full of debauchery and chaos—that’s right on trend with nostalgia for 1990s city living.
On The Road, Jack Kerouac - Yes, we skipped this classic in the first round. Kerouac is one of San Francisco’s most famous Beat writers, and this, his best-known novel, begins in the city, before taking readers across post-war America.
Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco, Alia Volz - Remember the days before cannabis dispensaries were so ubiquitous? Volz gives readers a taste of her family history running Sticky Fingers Brownies in the ’70s, delivering weed to patrons across the city—and later to AIDS victims in the ’80s.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers - Author Dave Eggers, who is also one of the founders of local writers’ nonprofit 826 Valencia, writes this fictionalized memoir about the struggle he and his brother faced when both their parents died. See also by Eggers: The Monk of Mokha and The Circle.
Noir: A Novel, Christopher Moore - Can’t get enough of Dashiell Hammett? Try Christopher Moore for an over-the-top parody of the the noir mystery that lurks behind every corner in San Francisco, featuring lively characters who will make you laugh out loud as they romp through the city.
We Run The Tides, Vendela Vida - Eighth Grade meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in this coming-of-age novel set in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood in the 1980s.
Calico Palace, Gwen Bristow - Re-immerse yourself in California’s gold rush history with this novel, as its protagonist follows true love to San Francisco and offers a window into the early days of the city and those who built it from the ground-up during the age of the ’49ers.
Virgin Soul: A Novel, Judy Juanita - Going to college in the 1960s Bay Area amid the rise of The Black Panthers, the novel’s protagonist Geniece doesn’t just struggle with love and learning, but with the heart of Black liberation.
Fogtown, Peter Plate - Just one day in San Francisco, a la Do the Right Thing, can stir up a whole lot of trouble. In this mystery, Plate lets San Francisco’s grit shine.
(Courtesy, the SF Chronicle)
JAMES CAAN (1940-2022), Playboy interview, February, 1976:
THE WEED ODYSSEY
by Paul Modic
Remember when we just put some seeds in the ground
and waited for October to come around?
In those early days the plants were very healthy
and after a few years we all felt wealthy
From living on food stamps to thousand dollar pounds
there was never any powdery mildew around
We were beginners with the crops we were raising
it was a moment in time, the money amazing
Hiking for hours up and down mountains
looking for springs and places for gardens
There were lessons to learn especially about mold
the enemy within that destroyed the gold
Wood rats, ripoffs, and Camp claimed their share
copters invaded and the hippies got scared
We hid plants under trees and even up in them
with loppers we carved out our camo kingdom
After Camp came the nineties and the greenhouse years
hiding plants behind Reemay curtains calmed the fears
Then the mites joined the mold in a symphony of terror
vacuuming webs off buds in the most stressed-out era
When predator bugs failed with Pyrethrum you bomb it
then the last hippie ethics were spewed like vomit
Growers counted the cash as the prices were soaring
exotic beaches in Costa Rica needed exploring
With houses and land the hippies became entangled
as the sinsemilla boomed across The Triangle
When coke came along we were like Hollywood
we snorted that sweet powder whenever we could
The frisky hippies had sex and then crying babies
and built country schools in the booming eighties
It was an unusual way for those kids to grow up
learning not to call the cops no matter what
Teenagers got the green thumb and planted out Usal
and biked the crop home in backpacks every fall
When medical was legalized the price dropped lower
every stoner from everywhere came to be a grower
If you still wanted to continue making bank
you had to grow a hundred plants of dank
It was harder to sell if your weed lacked aroma
the market wanted clones that put you in a coma
Hordes of wannabe trimmers came for awhile
foreign girls on the street greeted us with smiles
Everyone was in it for the cold hard cash
the colorful workers vanished after the crash
The whole mess was legalized in twenty sixteen
and the enforcer John Ford showed up on the scene
So that's the story of a very green dream
we rode it for decades starting when young and lean
It was an utter surprise which dropped in our laps
a forty year boom which finally collapsed.
In Foreign Affairs Prof. Barry Posen writes about Ukraine’s Implausible Theories of Victory:
Ukraine’s backers have proposed two pathways to victory. The first leads through Ukraine. With help from the West, the argument runs, Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield, either depleting its forces through attrition or shrewdly outmaneuvering it. The second path runs through Moscow. With some combination of battlefield gains and economic pressure, the West can convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war—or convince someone in his circle to forcibly replace him. But both theories of victory rest on shaky foundations. In Ukraine, the Russian army is likely strong enough to defend most of its gains. In Russia, the economy is autonomous enough and Putin’s grip tight enough that the president cannot be coerced into giving up those gains, either.
Ukraine’s leaders and its backers speak as if victory is just around the corner. But that view increasingly appears to be a fantasy. Ukraine and the West should therefore reconsider their ambitions and shift from a strategy of winning the war toward a more realistic approach: finding a diplomatic compromise that ends the fighting.
Lt.Col. (ret) Daniel Davis agrees with Posen
In short, there is no valid military path through which Ukraine can hope that trading space for time will result in stopping Russia’s methodical progress through Ukraine — much less reverse it. To continue contesting every town and city is to ensure the Ukrainian casualties continue to mount and its urban areas destroyed. In the end, Russia is still likely to achieve a tactical victory.
It is necessary, in light of these physical realities, for U.S. and
Western policies to change. Continuing to give verbal support to Ukraine and claiming that eventually, Kyiv’s side will win the war is not likely to change the outcome and is likely to result in a policy failure for Washington.
— Moon of Alabama
ON-LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
I promised not to read COVID stories any more, but some gatherings are taking place that are apparently still unsafe.
According to the recent US COVID Stats, only about a third of Americans are fully vaccinated, and vaccine refusers are 5 times more likely to get COVID.
The choice is obvious, to me, but I have largely stayed home for 2&1/2 years, retired completely as has my partner, and I basically just started going to the grocery store with my spouse again, and she wears mask and gloves…
Even Biden and Newsom tested positive, as did Nancy Pelosi, Fauci and ad infinitum…
The Virus will mutate to a less lethal form, but it isn’t going to go away, and our lives are immutably altered, while the economy crumbles, Trumpflation rages and the stupid fucking Russians are bombing, shooting missiles at civilians, and destroying life in Europe for everyone else…
At home, the population should be frightened to go out, since random shootings have become popular, and, because someone might steal your catalytic converter…
So, go and hide, and get solar panels, a heat pump and Tesla Powerwalls, plus stock up on your emergency supplies, water and fuel for your generator etc, because the summer hasn’t even started, and the world is beginning to look more dangerous again…
“Climate Change” not because of pollution, it’s because of overpopulation, and, there is no housing shortage, just a bunch of rich-ass baby boomers buying all the houses to hold as investments, presumably so that their descendents will have more assets to sell to pay the ridiculous cost of long-term care and medical expenses for their “about to expire” parents…
And no, if I get a call for extended warranty, I will block the number, and I won’t even answer the fucking phone, next time…
LONG GONE, but speaking clearly to our age — Shelley, the poet of moral and political corruption
Shelley’s greatest gift was in the deftness with which he interwove the poetical and the political. Poetry had, for Shelley, of necessity to appropriate a political dimension. And politics required a poetical imagination. That was why, as Shelley put it in a celebrated line from his essay A Defence of Poetry, “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
CAROL MATTESSICH: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecies of Clarence Thomas
Today’s felt absence of physical security is the culmination of a decades-long war against social welfare. In the face of a state that won’t do anything about climate change, economic inequality, personal debt, voting rights, and women’s rights, it’s no wonder that an increasing portion of the population, across all races, genders, and beliefs, have determined that the best way to protect themselves, and their families, is by getting a gun. A society with no rights, no freedoms, except for those you claim yourself—this was always Thomas’s vision of the world. Now, for many Americans, it is the only one available.
Corey Robin's essay in the New Yorker: newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-self-fulfilling-prophecies-of-clarence-thomas
DROUGHT & HEAT RELIEF TIPS
by Tommy Wayne Kramer
Given California’s ongoing drought conditions and prospects for dry seasons to come, it’s time we took a hard look at steps average Ukiahans can take to help.
1) Prepare now for spikes in summer temperatures by removing and discarding old worn-out insulation from your home’s attic, thereby allowing more space for air to circulate and help cool the hottest spot in your house.
2) Sprinkler systems should be maintained at their most efficient settings in order to create favorable impacts on water supplies. Experts agree running sprinklers 24 hours a day, every day, helps combat harmful fluctuations in water flow and eliminate wasteful evaporation by keeping soil, sidewalks and driveways consistently moistened. Numerous crops (rice, kelp, trout, seaweed, mosquitoes) thrive in such conditions, helping turn wasteful “ornamental” landscaping into productive farmland. Contact the Mendocino Agriculture Commission for tips and literature to install rice paddies and wildlife wetlands in your back yard. You may qualify for state and federal subsidies.
3) In winter months keep indoor temperatures at a steady 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This will minimize wear on your heating system’s vital thermostatic unit. Also, maintaining 78 degrees in your home avoids costly “peak” heating hours.
4) Scientific tests suggest beanies with wind powered propellors produce eco-positive cooling for adults and children alike. (Clinical trials also show beanie headgear combined with solar powered full body wetsuits, utilizing urine and perspiration as cooling agents, potentially reduce body heat by up to five degrees.)
4) Encourage children to play outdoors during cold, rainy winters. Doctors agree there’s no substitute for exercise, plus vigorous physical activity helps the li’l tykes stay warm.
5) Keep doors and windows open in winter months to help your furnace “breathe.” Do not allow old, over-used stale air to accumulate in your heating system.
6) Run air conditioning during winter months when there is less demand for home cooling.
7) Prevent toxic automobile batteries from entering fragile landfill ecosystems by allowing your securely garaged car or truck engine to idle overnight at low, safe rpms. In the morning, a pre-warmed engine awaits, with no wasteful wear on the battery.
My Bitcoin, Your Money
You and I missed some of the best and brightest investment opportunities of the recent past, which makes us a ripe target for Bitcoins.
Bitcoins are just like pet rocks, Beanie Babies, Mona Vie supplement juice or a Ponzi scheme, but better. Selling people Bitcoins has the advantage of being invisible so when someone gives you money for Bitcoins they don’t expect anything in return. And nothing is exactly what you’ll provide, with a firm handshake and confident smile. Print out a certificate if they need something to hang on the wall.
A New York Times article reported that a man bought two Papa John pizzas with $40 of Bitcoin in 2010, now worth $400 million. That’s enough pizza to last a lifetime!
So Bitcoins are much like pixie dust, except that on the other side of the double-entry bookkeeping ledger we see Bitcoins more like a kettle of leprechaun gold at the end of a rainbow in a Lake County swamp run by the Alligator Bros., Inc.
First: Are bitcoins money? Well, yes, in the same sense that pixie dust is truly magic or a Jackson Pollack painting has genuine value.
Next, remind yourself that money has not always been shiny coins and small sheets of paper in a pocket, and has undergone many changes, including the word “money.” It was once called “barter” and that’s when I gave you a pig and you gave me a bushel of apples.
My ancestors would have handed over the pig in a sack (aka a “poke”) and yours would have put rocks and hay in a basket and covered them over with apples.
Carrying pigs and apples in our pockets proved cumbersome so it was decided that since gold was worth killing for, it was valuable enough to trade for a house or a horse or a wagonload of pigs.
Many societies began printing and stamping out monies of their ohwn design and value; most of those societies disappeared, wealth buried with them, unless their coins were gold. Few were.
Good luck if you uncover a trunk of German rentenmarks, a type of currency in Germany 100 years ago. A loaf of bread that cost 250 rentenmarks would, within a few months cost 200 million rentenmarks.
Etcetera etcetera, until in our era we arrive at Cabbage Patch Dolls and Mickey Mantle baseball cards, and from there a short hop to cocaine and Prada purses.
Now comes Bitcoin. No one says that what happened to rentenmarks will happen to Bitcoins of course, but certainly no one in the Biden administration can say it won’t.
Remember that things of so-called value, including scraps of paper kept in a pocket or a bank vault, are worth whatever other people, or one person, will pay for them. Unless they decide to kill for them.
(Note: Even today, people kill for apples and pigs.)
Hope this clarifies matters. I know I learned something; I’m going to invest in pork bellies and Gravensteins.
THE FINANCIAL BUBBLE ERA COMES FULL CIRCLE
An unstable encounter with a $50 billion stablecoin.
by Matt Taibbi
I spent much of the last month researching the #CryptoCrash, and the last week and a half engaged in an increasingly maddening search for a civilized and respectful way to write about one particular actor: Circle Internet Financial, makers of USDC, at $55 billion the second-biggest stablecoin in the world.
I’m giving up the hunt for “civilized and respectful.” That dog lived a long life, but it now must be taken out and shot. I’ve dealt with many frustrating institutions, from Bank of America to the press office of the FSB, but none produced such headaches. They’re the mother of all black boxes, and God help anyone invested in them.
Trouble started with one question. On April 12, Circle announced it had raised $400 million with investments from BlackRock, Fidelity, Marshall Wace and Fin Capital, noting BlackRock and Circle had entered into a “broader strategic partnership” that would include “exploring capital market applications for USDC” that would “drive the next evolution of Circle’s growth.” This would involve the establishment of a new, BlackRock-managed, government money market fund, the Circle Reserve Fund, through which BlackRock would become “a primary asset manager of USDC cash reserves.”
Sources called with concerns. The fund’s registration statement says “shares are only available for purchase by Circle Internet Financial, LLC.” Not only is this unusual — one legal expert I spoke with said he’d “never seen such a fund… available for sale solely to a single entity” — but it raised a potentially troublesome issue for USDC holders. If Circle is to be the sole counterparty to a reserve fund, that would mean reserves would belong to the company, not its users. This could raise the same issue that recently dogged its partner, the digital exchange Coinbase, when it revealed in an SEC filing that “In the event of a bankruptcy, the crypto assets we hold in custody on behalf of our customers could be subject to bankruptcy proceedings and such customers could be treated as our general unsecured creditors.”
The firm insisted “your funds are safe with Coinbase,” but as noted in another story coming out today, the damage was done, and the news triggered market mayhem. Coinbase isn’t the same kind of company as Circle, but the issue of bankruptcy remoteness is relevant to both. It’s at the core of the whole dilemma of the cryptocurrency markets. Certainly the question of who actually owns and controls reserve assets exists, or seems to exist. Here Circle is unlike some competitors, whose user agreements specifically spell out that reserves are, say, “fully backed by US dollars held by Paxos Trust Company, LLC,” or “custodied pursuant to the Custody Agreement entered into by and between you and Gemini Trust Company, LLC.” Those describe trust agreements, which are truly bankruptcy remote.
Circle’s BlackRock fund suggested a different arrangement. Also, the new fund would be “permitted to invest up to one-third of its total assets in reverse repurchase agreements.” Would Circle be making use of that provision?
After 2008, we learned some firms really hated being boring old depository banks, because regulators didn’t allow them to do anything really risky with giant sums of customer cash they held that could easily earn huge returns at scale. It’s like walking into a casino with a trillion dollars in chips and being barred from all the really fun tables. This is how the so-called “London Whale” episode took place. A wing of JP Morgan Chase called the Chief Investment Office, whose ostensible purpose was to reduce risk at the company, started to make enormous returns of $400 million or more on trades its officers didn’t feel were directional bets at all, but hedges. The company felt these trades were only sort of risky. “We believed that what we were doing at the time was consistent with [American accounting practices],” is how one executive later described their attitude.
Then those “hedges” turned into giant suckholes of loss, and instead of unwinding them, the bank doubled down, and next thing you knew, they had a $12 billion bomb crater and Elizabeth Warren was screaming at an eye-rolling Jamie Dimon on television.
After 2008, remember, Chase had the reputation of being Wall Street’s “good bank,” or at least the non-stupid one, with the New York Times even describing Dimon as Barack Obama’s “favorite banker.” But the London Whale episode revealed the company’s extreme impatience with the idea that they owed it to anybody, either regulators or depositors, to refrain from engaging in certain types of risky behavior. This impatience was written all over executives’ faces at subsequent Senate hearings.
The big tell, always, is when finance executives start giving what one analyst described to me as “nuanced answers to yes and no questions.” In the Whale episode, Michigan Senator Carl Levin had to ask repeatedly if the bank had lied when it said in a public conference call that the chief banking regulator, the OCC, was getting data about those infamous trades on a “regular and recurring basis.” Chase Vice Chairman Douglas Braunstein kept talking around the question, first saying “I believed it to be a true statement at the time” that the bank was being “fully transparent” with regulators, then hedging again and again and again, before finally conceding, “They did not get the detailed positions regularly.”
Getting back to Circle, I reached out with simple questions. Do USDC holders bear bankruptcy risk, or not? Will they be making money lending their reserves or not? The firm at first was solicitous and seemed anxious to educate about their company structure. Then the answers became contradictory. Then they became “nuanced.” Finally there was so much spin, the company’s name began to make unpleasantly ironic sense.
For instance, Circle “is not a trust,” but believes it holds funds in trust; USDC both is and is not a virtual currency (it may be a “stored value product”); and in the unlikely event of a bankruptcy, USDC holders would be “shielded from Circle creditors,” although nothing is bullet-proof and of course there’s risk. How are USDC holders shielded from Circle creditors and “separated from a bankruptcy estate”? According to the firm, customers first of all are guarded “per the protections afforded under state money transmission laws.”
Without being cheeky, this is a little like saying the DMV is making sure you’re driving safely. Moreover, Circle is only regulated in the states where Circle has licenses, and the firm has obtained licenses only in those states were licenses are required (what happens to USDC holders in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Wyoming, for instance?). Beyond that, by their own public admission, “not all states in which we are licensed regulate virtual currency activity as money transmission.”
Regarding the BlackRock fund’s provision allowing them to borrow up to a third of the reserves, I learned that government money market funds typically do not borrow, but also that the company would enjoy access to the Fed and its repo borrowing program.
The dealbreaker came after reading Circle’s User Agreement, which contains the following passage:
Circle is not a fiduciary, and Circle does not provide any trust or fiduciary services to any User in the course of such User visiting, accessing, or using the Circle website or services.
I had reason to be surprised to learn that Circle is not a fiduciary and does not provide any trust or fiduciary services. When I expressed that surprise to a Circle spokesperson, recalling certain recent communications involving the exact word, “fiduciary,” their response was:
The paragraph cited from the Circle Account User Agreement refers to Circle’s custody of supported digital assets in a Circle-hosted wallet, and does not relate to USDC reserves management.
Answers don’t get much more “nuanced” than this. The company was now saying Circle is not a fiduciary, and does not provide any trust or fiduciary services to anyone visiting, accessing, or using the Circle website or services, unless those services involve the company’s management of USDC reserves. In that case, the firm does believe it has a fiduciary responsibility with respect to reserve funds, as required by state law, ostensibly in those states where Circle both has a license and virtual currency is regulated as money transmission.
Asked where exactly its reserves are right now, the company replied:
As we have shared publicly, the cash portion of the reserve is held with a number of banking partners, including Silvergate Bank, Signature Bank and New York Community Bank. The US Treasury bills are purchased by BlackRock, and are held in custody at BNYMellon. We have not published a detailed breakdown of how much cash is held with which bank partner. We are working with many leading banks to onboard them and add them to our group of partners.
This is a non-answer. Circle discloses where some of its reserves are, but not all, and not how much of what is where. Now, Circle separately features a Yield program, which offers guaranteed returns. These were never as high as Terra’s preposterous and obviously Ponzoid 20% guaranteed returns, which quickly attracted $60 billion that vanished even more quickly, but the program exists nonetheless, at one time offering 12-month yields as high as 10.75%.
In the time it’s taken to write this piece the guaranteed return has dropped from 6% to 1% to 0.5%. In characteristic fashion, Circle’s web page on the subject contains both the incorrect statement, “Circle Yield’s interest rates offer superior returns compared to traditional fixed-income investments” like 1 month CDs and 8-week T-bills — this is no longer true — and the correct statement, “In comparison to traditional fixed-income investments, products like Circle Yield can offer superior returns.”
The company maintains that the program is relatively small, that there “is currently less than $300M in loan volume outstanding for the Circle Yield program,” and “no ‘exposure,’ as we are over-collateralized at 125%.” (It is “over-collateralized” by plummeting Bitcoin). All the same, the company began this past Tuesday, July 5 to allow customers with active loans to withdraw funds from Circle Yield before the conclusion of those loans, with no penalty, until August 2, 2022 at 11:59PM ET. Asked why they did this, the firm said:
There is currently much uncertainty in the digital asset lending and borrowing markets. Circle Yield is a regulated, 125% overcollareralized, fixed-term product, offered to businesses only, and has performed as designed during these turbulent times, with borrower margin calls being met in a timely fashion to sustain the 125% overcollaterlization. However, we recognize that our customers might wish to withdraw their assets entirely from these markets at this extraordinary time… We have made a one-time change to the legal product structure to enable all our customers to withdraw their funds if they so wish during this time of uncertainty.
Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, the firm also believes federal bankruptcy laws should protect USDC holders, but this belief depends on the notion, which Circle states for the record, that “USDC reserves are held in segregated accounts for the benefit of USDC holders, not Circle,” and “USDC reserve funds are held for the benefit of USDC token holders,” because “Circle does not and will not use USDC holders’ money to run its business or pay its debts.”
If Circle does not and will not use USDC holders’ money to run its business, how is it projecting to earn $438 million in revenues from its USDC reserves this year, and over $2.188 billion next year? Again, is USDC a utility-like product content to earn little caring for giant piles of money, or more like a profiteering financial firm that earns money creatively leveraging up its assets? This raises another question that first came up last year. If Circle is holding its reserves in segregated accounts strictly for the benefit of customers, why was it, at least at one time, keeping a not-insignificant portion of its reserves in commercial paper and instruments like Yankee CDs?
Last summer, after Allaire announced plans to go public via a $4.5 billion SPAC deal, Coinbase said that all of its USDC holdings were “backed by a dollar in a bank account.” As Bloomberg wrote, the promise “was important for the stablecoin, which unlike Bitcoin has a set price and can be redeemed by users for regular currency.”
However, after being contacted in August by Bloomberg reporter Joe Light, Coinbase president Emilie Choi began issuing a series of amended statements on Twitter, for instance: “We know that a lot of customers get USDC on Coinbase, and we previously said that every USDC is ‘backed by a dollar in a bank account.’ Our language could have been clearer here.”
Circle then said that it had been backed entirely by cash until March, 2021, when it began to buy U.S. Treasuries to “accommodate the coin’s rapid growth,” as Bloomberg wrote. In fact, the very first time that Circle made a major disclosure in describing its reserve assets, releasing in July of 2021 an attestation by what one former regulator chucklingly called a “grownup” auditor Grant Thornton, it turned out only 61% of its reserves were in cash, with a surprisingly high amount held in riskier or less liquid investments like corporate bonds and commercial paper.
A spokesperson for the company also said that, as the news outlet put it, “the coin’s reserves moved to a broader portfolio of investments in May 2021.” In other words, by a seemingly extraordinary coincidence, Circle only branched out into riskier investments in the exact month before its first major audit-like disclosure, and just before Bloomberg ran a story saying that the “backed by a dollar in a bank account” representation was “not true.”
The response was brutal. “You can’t market a product with falsities,” Columbia Law School lecturer Lev Menand told Light. Such companies “say trust us and that’s all well and good until there’s a problem,” was how Georgetown professor Adam Levitin put it.
Circle from there began to make new gestures toward transparency, publishing regular attestations from Grant Thornton, each of which appeared to show moves away from riskier holdings and toward cash and short-term treasuries. For example, in July, 2021, Grant Thornton attested that 47% of the assets backing USDC were cash and cash equivalents, while 16% were in corporate bonds, and 8% were in commercial paper. Within a month the auditor was saying 100% of Circle’s reserves were “cash and cash equivalents,” although “Circle Internet Financial, LLC’s management is responsible for its assertions.” Then in early December, when Allaire testified before congress, he said (emphasis mine):
The dollar-denominated reserves backing USDC are held conservatively in the care, custody and control of the U.S. regulated banking system. These are strictly held in cash and short-duration U.S. treasuries and we have consistently reported on the status of these reserves and their sufficiency to meet demands for USDC outstanding with third party attestations from a leading global accounting firm.
Strictly speaking, this wasn’t true. Circle had indeed reported on its reserves, but hadn’t done so in detail until that spring of 2021, when it announced a sudden move into riskier investments. The Grant Thornton attestations soon after began dropping the detailed breakdowns from its reports, and moreover tweaked its language from saying reserve accounts were “correctly stated” to “fairly stated.” These reports include the curious lines, “Circle Internet Financial LLC’s management is responsible for its assertion,” and “Individuals who acquire and utilize USDC tokens and other crypto assets are responsible for informing themselves of the general risks and uncertainties.” The firm in its most recent “report” used the word “opinion” four times and “audit” zero times. Grant Thornton did not respond to requests for clarification as to whether or not they consider these reports audits, though the company, Circle, considers itself audited.
Circle’s rep has always been as the good crypto, not a target of armies of short-sellers like Tether. As far back as 2018, it made news by ostensibly seeking to become the “first cryptocurrency company to obtain a banking license,” and the company over the years has emphasized that it is “focused on providing even greater transparency, quality and scale for USDC reserves,” because “trust and transparency are our ultimate goals.” Four years after it first declared its intention to be the first coin with a bank license we’re still reading headlines like, “Circle Will Apply for U.S. Crypto Bank Charter in ‘Near Future,’” in the hopes now of becoming the fourth stablecoin to get licensed. The company does not believe current law allows it to become a bank, but similar companies didn’t seem to have had a problem.
None of this has dented Circle’s momentum or reputation. In fact, in mid-February, Circle and its partner, Bob Diamond’s Concord Acquisition Corporation, announced they were doubling the size of their SPAC (click herefor a TKvideo refresher on what a SPAC is). The February agreement set the value of the new Concord-Circle deal at a whopping $9 billion, with a big chunk of that value, they said, coming from the booming success of USDC in the marketplace:
The new agreement… reflects improvements in Circle’s financial outlook and competitive position – particularly the growth and market share of USDC, one of the fastest growing dollar digital currencies. USDC’s circulation has more than doubled… reaching $52.5 billion as of February 16, 2022.
Diamond is perhaps best known for bringing American-style huge CEO compensation to Europe, and for stepping down as Barclays chief after Britain levied a then-record $92.7 million fine for manipulating the LIBOR interest rate benchmark. Less-well-remembered is his role in the largest bankruptcy in history, Lehman Brothers, an episode I wrote about in The Divide.After Barclays acquired the shipwrecked firm for pennies in September of 2008, the bank’s creditors sued, claiming Barclays absconded with between $4 and $7.6 billion in funds owed to them through a variety of schemes. The creditors mostly lost that case, which was eventually settled for $1.28 billion. This is relevant because the question of whether or not USDC reserves are truly bankruptcy remote is central to this story. Asked about this, Circle replied, “We are delighted by the support and involvement of all of our shareholders.”
Meanwhile, the players from the Circle side have their own history. Jeremy Allaire and at least one other future Circle officer were accused in 2002 of making misleadingly positive statements about a failing product called Spectra while selling “over $53,000,000.00” of stock in their company, Allaire Corporation, in the first three quarters of 2000. In August of 2000, Allaire was asked about an annual goal of 100% growth, and reportedly said, “We definitely think that is achievable.” A month later, the company announced a substantial third quarter loss, and its share price dropped 40% in three days, prompting the action.
Massachusetts District Judge William Young used remarkably strong language to reject a motion to dismiss the suit, saying, “It is difficult to conceive of a complaint pled with more particularity than the one presented,” and “in many respects, if this complaint is not specific enough, no complaint is.” He added:
Essentially, the Plaintiffs invested in a company which promised to build the best mousetrap ever. When it was done, the mousetrap was ugly, did not catch mice, and, as word got out, people stopped buying.
The case was eventually settled for $12 million, without an admission of wrongdoing. In conversations with former regulators, some raised a question as to whether or not the Allaire Corporation case might prevent Circle officers from ever obtaining a banking license, given that charters are only given to persons of “good character and responsibility.” Opinions on the matter were very mixed. However, it was certainly not a non-issue.
“Any case involving alleged fraud will be a matter of great concern to the banking regulators,” said former FDIC General Counsel Mike Krimminger. “If there were a settlement with no admission of guilt, there might be explanation that could be acceptable to regulators, but it will still be a real concern that could be fatal to an application.”
In any case, when asked this week why that old story shouldn’t make investors in a different, newer mousetrap nervous, a Circle spokesperson replied:
The case settled without any finding of wrongdoing… The defendants disputed the factual allegations, and as with the vast majority of securities class actions, the case settled. The factual allegations were never tested in court, and there is really nothing more to say about this 20 year old case.
In 2008, when reporters and investigators began pulling at the threads of terms like “fully hedged” or “triple-A tranche,” they often found there was almost no way to stop pulling, even if they wanted to. In fact, by the time people stopped pulling, the entire global financial system was basically a pile of string. It may very well be that the same experience awaits anyone who pulls at threads like “100% backed” or “secure wallet” or other such catch-phrases from any one of dozens of crypto companies. In other words, these issues may not be unique to Circle. But make no mistake: this is the definition of an “opaque ledger.” If every crypto company will struggle this badly to answer basic questions like Where’s your money?or What’s your risk?,the storm hasn’t even started yet.