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Letters (August 25, 2022)

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Terry Sites AVA page one article last week resonated deeply with this half century resident of the Valley.

The whole history of Anderson Valley post-native people is waves of immigrants from the earliest Illinois Germans, the mid-westerners, Italians, Finns, Arkies, hippies, retirees, winery people, Mexicans, etc., is what makes this place such a diverse, interesting place to live. And, yes, each of us and our reason(s) for moving here are part of that history. I know for some of us it’s hard to move our recollections onto paper, but I say just relax, have a cup of coffee or a beer, and pretend you’re telling your neighbor next door your story. Try it.

And in the longer run, very important, you will be contributing to our collective history, of Anderson Valley, of rural California, of America. Your grandchildren interested in their roots will appreciate it. And so will professional historians who will find your memories one day in an archive somewhere, maybe the AVA’s, maybe the Historical Society’s, maybe in the family attic.

So thank you, Terry Sites, for your proposal, “start jotting down what you remember about your beginnings here and submit it to this paper….” I know the AVA’s editors, along with its readers, will appreciate it.

Brad Wiley


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Dear Supervisors,

As I understand the purpose of the Brown Act’s requirement for posting an agenda for your meeting is to enable the public to determine if they are interested in any particular item so that they might, if they wished, attend the meeting or otherwise communicate with the Board.

I find your agenda irritating and deficient.

Irritating Because of the Excessive Use Of Capitals That Hinder a Quick Read. These Are Not Newspaper Headlines.

Deficient because you do not use plain English to succinctly and simply state the gist of the item, the public is not given an easily understood notice.. This is particularly egregious in the consent calendar, which recently has not been less than 20 items. All Items Suffer From Excessive Capitalization; Many are Laden With Numbers referring to This Act or Ordinance or Statute or Resolution; To Cap It All Off the Exact Same Verbiage is Repeated Under Recommended Action. Each item is a research project, all the more time-consuming if one doesn’t know that the bulk of county contracts are boiler plate. A member of the public has three days to do this research. Try it yourselves and see how long it takes.

Please a little less laziness and a little more clarity and transparency. Also, some explanation of why retroactive approvals are needed. Do you not have adequate controls over your contractors?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to more accessible agendas.

Linda Bailey


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Dear Supervisors,

The Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Committee hereby joins the chorus of those in our community calling on you to form a standing committee to deal with the issues surrounding the cannabis department and the development of a local cannabis industry. This is an issue of great importance and concern to the people of Mendocino County, and we want to see that our supervisors prioritize the issues that matter to us.

As is obvious to everyone now, the roll out of the cannabis permit program has been fraught with hiccups and missteps since the inception. Many local growers who stepped from the shadows to become legal producers still have not received their permit which is necessary to attain state licensure. The county has been awarded a substantial amount of money to distribute to the people who have stepped forward into the legal market in order to assist in their transition out of the illegal market. This process too has been fraught with problems.

The development of a legal, robust and profitable cannabis industry is of vital importance to our economy and our communities. To safeguard our quality of life, we, the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council, request that the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors form a standing committee that includes stakeholders from the cannabis industry,the Mendocino Cannabis Department, the community at large and defenders of the environment.


The Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council

Jini Reynolds (Vice Chair), Katrina Frey (Treasurer), Chris Boyd, Marybeth Kelly, Sattie Clark, Patricia Ris-Yarbrough, Adam Gaska

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The local media has published a couple of articles encouraging people who feed wild birds to take down their bird feeders due to avian flu. People should know that there is a different opinion about this among local and national birding groups. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Native Songbird Care and Conservation and others do not recommend removal of wild bird feeders unless there is poultry nearby (poultry are more susceptible to infection). Songbirds are unlikely to get avian flu. Tarps can be put over a chicken pen to keep any possible contaminated droppings away from the chickens. Enjoy your birds.

Wayne Salk


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Modern media makes us think we can forget about integrity, about why due process in the law is so very important. The media is screaming for Mr. Trump’s head. After all, according to the current talking heads, the former president must be guilty of all sorts of crimes, since, according to the media anchors, he took all sorts of classified documents with him away from the White House when he finally flew to Mar-A-Lago. And in Twitter and Facebook all sorts of pro-Trump misinformation reigns supreme. “Annie (or Joey) get your gun!” Now most likely an assault rifle.

But, hold on a minute! Did the former president really know what he was doing was wrong? If Mr. Trump did know it was wrong, did he do it because he had some nefarious, evil intent in mind!? Maybe so; maybe no.

These are questions only Attorney General Garland, and the Justice Department must quickly find out. And beyond a shadow of a doubt!

We, the people, who are in no position, at least not yet, in spite of our opinions, political beliefs, and feelings, must be patient and wait for the answers to emerge. They will in time.

Frank Baumgardner

Santa Rosa

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After the Tubbs fire, a lawyer from San Diego bought the house next door to me, which had been a long-term rental. I was told the house would be used by law firm staff while they were working on wildfire claims. Within six months, the property was listed on Airbnb — three bedrooms, sleeps 10, fireplace. The homes in my neighborhood are 8 to 10 feet apart. You can park two, maybe three cars in front. We have no driveways.

This “hotel” next door, managed from San Diego, became a party place. It had overgrown landscaping and landscape lighting that was on 24/7. My neighbor on the other side discovered the lights were very hot. A complaint was sent to the rental manager. Nothing happened. The landscaping caught fire early one morning. The Santa Rosa Fire Department came.

The “hotel” had no garbage service. My cans were used. I complained to city code enforcement, and they promptly cited the property owner. I complained to Airbnb. Santa Rosa police were called many times when noise ordinances were violated. I complained to the manager. She threatened me. The property was sold last January. It appears the new owner will live there. I hope so.

I remain permanently traumatized by the experience. I’m not alone.

Chris Thwaites

Santa Rosa

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Dear Editor,

My brother, Clayton was born in 1983 in Southern Indiana. His life ended in 2021 in a small town in Kentucky. He was 38 years old. According to the CDC, he was one of 71,238 fentanyl deaths in the US last year, and one of 2,250 overdose deaths in Kentucky. Seventy percent of those deaths were due to fentanyl. If 2021 is any indication of what’s to come, many more of our loved ones will have perished at the end of this year from synthetic opioid use. Government officials refer to the fentanyl massacre as part of the battle against opioid addiction. They call it a nation-wide pandemic. There seem to be so many pandemics lately.

I spend a lot of my nights alone, thinking about my brother and what his life meant. If I’m being honest, almost all of my nights are spent like this.  I try to make sense of the events that led to him turning to heroin. I make lists of the events that happened immediately after he died so I’ll never forget.

I woke up in Laytonville, California on June 6th 2021. I took my phone off of airplane mode, and got a lightning round of texts from my mother saying, “911,” “Call me back,” “Clayton is dead.” I called my mom. She told me she’d found my brother in the back bedroom of her apartment; A room that had once been his childhood bedroom. He was on the floor. He was on his side, curled into himself. He was rigid. He died around one a.m. She’d been asleep, just two walls and some 30 feet from where he’d taken his last breath.

My mother told me when the paramedics came, she’d overheard one of them refer to my brother as “trash.” My mother, usually someone who paints the truth with pastels, was horse, shaken to her bones, and raw with the reality of how she felt she’d failed him throughout his life. I flew to Kentucky from San Francisco two days later. At my mother’s home, I cleaned the bedroom my brother died in. His belongings were everywhere. He was kind of a messy guy. The police said to wear gloves and a mask because trace amounts of fentanyl may still be present in the room and absorbing even a small amount could be deadly.

I tried to sleep in his room that first night because I didn’t want to be afraid. I didn’t want him to think I was afraid of him or who he’d been if his spirit was still around. It felt like an act of love to stay there and be with him, But I couldn’t do it because I was actually afraid. I slept in my mom’s bed with her. I kept repeating in my head, “Where did you go, Clayton?”, over, and over, and over again for weeks.

My brother wanted to be cremated. He’d said so to my mom a few times in his adult life. He often felt like he wouldn’t have as much time on earth as other people. My family and I went to view his body at the crematorium in Louisville. It was a one-story building in an industrial area. There was a bird perched on the roof above the entrance door, looking down at us. He was singing. It seemed that he stayed there singing longer than a normal bird might have.

Inside the crematorium there was a viewing area. Behind a large, glass window was my brother's body, on a gurney, wrapped in a bright, white sheet. Behind his body was a furnace. The only part of him we could see was his head, which was red and swollen. It looked maybe two or three times the size of a normal head. His eyelids seemed to be swollen shut. I sat with my family and stared at him through the glass. I wanted to touch him. He didn't look real. I constantly wonder if he had any idea he was dying, or if it was the instant evaporation of his soul from his body.

Before my brother died, I hadn’t seen him in maybe two or three years.  We hadn’t even really spoken except for a few texts about three months prior to his passing. I don’t remember what sparked our text conversation, but I remember telling him I didn’t understand the “heroin thing”. I remember him telling me he had been clean for some months. He also told me he loved me. I wasn’t able to say it back. Not because I didn’t love him. I did and do love him very much. I don’t know what to say for myself, but not being able to say it back haunts me. It’s a feeling wrapped up in darkness, and encased in cement, that sits on my chest and drags me to the floor each night. When people say love is the only answer, I don’t agree while turning around to roll my eyes anymore. I just plain old agree now.


Annie Evarts


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AVA Readers,

I am completely heartbroken at the "murder" of the little boy left in the care of Edward "Two Feathers" Steele. In all my 36 years of living in this county, this tragedy is by far the worst. Just to put this in context: tweeker mom and dirtbag bag boyfriend fight for who knows how long in front of these two babies; mom goes to jail; the two babies are left in the care of some unknown tweakers at Motel 6 where later on Two Feathers takes possession of the kids and then leaves the motel. 

By the way, what cop thought it was a good idea to leave the kids at Motel 6 without so much as a welfare check? Motel 6 is a known methamphetamine haven, the worst this town has had in many years. I would not leave my dog in the care of anyone at the Motel 6. The cops had a responsibility to check on the welfare of the children and provide them safe haven until the appropriate agency could intervene. 

Instead, Two Feathers takes them on a grueling walk in the sweltering heat and abandons them on the railroad tracks. Nobody, especially a little one year old child, deserves to die alone scared, thirsty and suffering.

Shame on the responding cops for leaving those kids at Motel 6 without checking on them. I hope Two Feathers gets what he has coming and there are consequences for the cops involved in aiding in the murder of this little boy. It is cases like this that cause me to doubt the existence of a God. If there is a God I hope this little guy is wrapped in His tender loving arms sipping a nice cold soda and safe from the Two Feathers of the world.

May you raised may you rest in peace, little man.


Alan Sonny Crow

Mendocino County Jail, Ukiah

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Years ago, I was a regular at Golden Gate Fields, having fallen in with a claque who somehow never seemed to have jobs when the races were in session. I think, sad to say, we thought more about winning a $2 bet than the well-being of the horses.

I’m still a horse lover, not so much a racing fan. Having just read Geraldine Brooks novel “Horse,” I was struck by this passage as spoken by a one of the characters, a vet who once tended racehorses:

“We race horses before they should be ridden, before they’re finished growing … We race them at two and train them hard before then. We pump them full of bute to get them on the track when they’re hurt and should be resting … So many trainers asked me to fix the horse up for one more race. (Sometimes if) the horse managed to run well through the pain I’d masked with steroids and analgesics it’d be just one more after that. Finally, that same horse, that beautiful, brave animal that had given its best would either break down and be destroyed or stop winning and basically be thrown away.”

Maybe it’s time to rethink racing and think more about the horse than a race run and won.

Michael O'Looney

Santa Rosa

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I am tired of hearing that electric cars and solar panels are a perk for the rich. That is because I have both and I am not rich. My background is solidly working class. My dad had a 9th grade education and my mom, one of 12 children, worked as a live-in maid in order to finish high school. The Junior college and state university systems allowed me to get through college.I retired from teaching in 2007 and the most I made in my 26 years of teaching was $52,000/year. My current income is about the same thanks to a working wife, a couple of rentals, and a pension. Most of my life I have lived in a house that was one of those Mendo County specials; half house and half old mobile home. When I retired I tore out the mobile home and rebuilt that half of the house. I hired Mendocino Solar to install a solar system on the roof. That cost me about $23,000. I have always been good with money and had jobs in construction and as a merchant seaman where I could save and get a head start in life. I came to the coast in 1977 when housing was cheap. Several years back we bought a Chevy Bolt. It was the only new car I have bought. Thanks to the tax write off, a $3,000 discount at Platinum Chevrolet, and a free charger from Sonoma Clean Power, we could afford it at $23,000. So we are into panels and an electric car for under $$50,000. Most important is the fact that our savings will pay it all off in a relatively short time since we put in more power than we use. We save about $150/mon on the electric bill since my rented guest cottage is on our meter. The panels cover charging the car so we are saving somewhere around $300/mon by driving on by those gas stations. At a savings of more than $5,000 a year the panels and car will be paid off in 10 years. Obviously, this is a financial plan that is available to lower income families in our country. The solar panels cover the increased demand for electricity and the cars are affordable. If I was to calculate the “average” cost of gasoline powered cars and included the top level Mercedes, CadilLacs, and Rolls Roices (I don’t even know how to spell these cars), it would also look like only the rich could afford a car. Get your math right and provide people with correct information. 

Don Cruser

Little River

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Non-hosted rentals do nothing for preserving the cohesion of a residential community, the holy grail of fine cities. People who come and go do not add to community integrity. They use the exiting community, all to provide extra income for operators who do not even live there ("City puts cap on vacation rentals," Aug. 11).

Tourists have plenty of opportunity to fill Santa Rosa's coffers. They are not going to stop coming to Wine Country because they cannot find a non-hosted rental in an established community neighborhood. City leaders need to credibly listen to people who live in these communities, rather than service the operators who profit this way, at the expense of residents who make Santa Rosa their home.

Non-hosted rentals have no place in our residential communities. Phase them out starting now, and only allow hosted rentals. Non-hosted operators like these will find another golden egg to exploit.

Donna Bley

Santa Rosa

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TO: Michael Hart, CEO

Sierra Railroad Company

1222 Research Park Drive

Davis, CA 95618


Re: Public Utilities Commission’s Response to Mendocino Railway’s Request

Dear Mr. Hart,

This letter is in response to your July 26, 2022 e-mail to the California Public Utilities Commission’s (Commission) General Counsel, Christine Hammond.

In your July 26, 2022 e-mail, you request a letter from the Commission stating that Mendocino Railway is a regulated public utility railroad. Your request is similar to one received from Robert Jason Pinoli, General Manager of Mendocino Railway on October 31, 2018.

On December 7, 2018, the Commission responded in writing to Mr. Pinoli, stating that Mendocino Railway is a Class III railroad. Based on Mendocino Railway’s representations to the Commission, the Commission considers Mendocino Railway’s rail operations largely un-changed since that time.

This letter confirms that Mendocino Railway is a Commission-regulated railroad. The Commission’s website lists Mendocino Railway’s status as a Class III Commission-regulated railroad.1 While Mendocino Railway is a Commission-regulated railroad, it is not a public utility within the meaning of the California Constitution, the California Public Utilities Code, and the Commission’s orders.

The status of Mendocino Railway has previously been determined by the Commission. In 1997, the California Western Railroad (CWRR) - which was the company operating the excursion service commonly known as the “Skunk Train” at the time - applied to the Commission for status to reduce its commuter passenger services. In the course of this proceeding, the Commission determined that CWRR did not constitute a public utility to the extent it provides excursion rail service, which constituted 90% of its overall business. (D.98-01-050 (January 21, 1998) 1998 Cal. PUC LEXIS 189 [“In providing excursion passenger service, CWRR does not function as a public utility.”].)

The Commission found that, while CWRR was not a public utility, it was still subject to Commission regulation regarding the safety of CWRR’s rail operations. D.98-01-050, Conclusion of Law 3. CWRR agreed with these findings and did not challenge the Commission’s determination that it was not a public utility.

It is my understanding that Mendocino Railway later purchased the CWRR in a bankruptcy proceeding and has continued to provide excursion train service on the Skunk Train. The Commission is not aware of any changes to the excursion services provided by Mendocino Railway that would cause a change to its 1998 determination that Mendocino Railway is a regulated railroad but not a public utility. As such, the 1998 determination is still the applicable law with regard to Mendocino Railway’s status. While some California railroads do constitute public utilities, “railroads” and “public utilities” are not synonymous under the Public Utilities Code. The Public Utilities Code gives the Commission authority to regulate the safety of rail operations in California, regardless of a railroads status as a public utility. (See, e.g., Pub. Util. Code, § 309.7 [The Commission “shall be responsible for inspection, surveillance, and investigation of the rights-of-way, facilities, equipment, and operations of railroads and public mass transit guideways, and for enforcing state and federal laws, regulations, orders, and directives relating to transportation of persons or commodities, or both, of any nature or description by rail”]; Pub. Util. Code, § 765.5 (“provid[ing] that the commission takes all appropriate action necessary to ensure the safe operation of railroads in this state.”].)

The Commission also works in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration as federally certified inspectors to ensure the implementation of railroad safety laws and regulations. (49 C.F.R. § 212.1, et seq.) The Commission also recognizes the regulatory authority of the Surface Transportation Board pursuant to 49 United States Code section 10501, et seq.

The Commission’s jurisdiction is limited to safety oversight over Mendocino Railway’s rail operations, to ensure that Mendocino Railway is operating its rail vehicles safely and in compliance with the law. The Commission does not regulate other aspects of Mendocino Railway’s operations, such as fare prices or schedules, and the Commission’s authority would not pre-empt, for example, generally applicable land-use or environmental rules or regulations as such rules or regulations relate to non-railroad operations.

In addition, your July 26, 2022, e-mail recounts your difficulty with having Commission staff state that Mendocino Railway is a public utility, and also states that at a recent conference that included other California short-line railroads, “[o]ne of the government officials present simply suggested that we throw the next CPUC inspector off the property saying we are not regulated and not subject to his authority.”

As explained above, Mendocino Railway is a Commission-regulated railroad, but not a public utility within the meaning of the California Constitution, the California Public Utilities Code, and the Commission’s orders. As a Commission-regulated railroad, the Commission is authorized to access railroad property for inspections, as part of the Commission’s obligation to ensure the safe operation of all railroads in California. (Pub. Util. Code, § 309.7.)

It is essential that Mendocino Railway have a complete understanding of its obligations as a Commission-regulated railroad, which includes allowing Commission inspectors access to its property. If Mendocino Railway were to throw Commission inspectors off of its property as your e-mail suggests, or otherwise impede or prevent Commission inspectors from accessing Mendocino Railway’s property, this would constitute a blatant violation of the Public Utilities Code, punishable by fines or other penalties. Further, obstructing a public officer from carrying out their duties is a crime, as is threatening a public employee to refrain from carrying out the performance of their duties. (Pen. Code §§ 71; 148, subd. (a)(1).)

Ensuring the safety and integrity of Commission inspectors is of paramount importance. Any act of obstructing or attempting to remove Commission inspectors from railroad property will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

We hope this letter answers your inquiry as the Commission continues to exercise its regulatory mission to ensure safe operations of Sierra Railroad and its related entities.


Jonathan C. Koltz

Assistant General Counsel

Legal Division, Public Utilities Commission

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