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Well Ordinance Still Stuck; Big Oil Fleecing Still Un-Stuck

Commercial Water Well Ordinance Update

Last week I told you about a draft ordinance that would regulate private sector groundwater wells whose owners sell, or plan to sell water commercially, as well as individuals or entities that transport water from these commercial groundwater wells to customers. 

I explained that from September 2021 through July 2022, I served, along with approximately six other appointees, on a committee working under the auspices of the Board of Supervisors Ad Hoc Drought Committee comprised of John Haschak and Glenn McGourty.

It should be noted that the impetus for developing this ordinance occurred last year (2021) during extreme drought conditions when the local cannabis industry was in a record state of over-production, coupled also with record usage of both legal and illegal sources of water, some of which is transported by water trucks. 

We all remember the public outcry surrounding those issues.

At the July 12, 2022 BOS meeting, the Board voted 4-1 to approve the draft ordinance prepared by the committee, and forward it to the Planning Commission for further review. 

We discovered that the draft ordinance has been in the office of County Counsel Christian Curtis since last summer and is estimated to be forwarded to the Planning Commission in February of 2023.

I said that I found this turn of events to be surprising as well as unacceptable. 

This County just renewed its declaration of a local emergency due to drought conditions and imminent threat of disaster in Mendocino County. Yet it appears that in instances such as this critical matter, there doesn’t seem to be any corresponding sense of urgency to get something done that is of the highest priority. 

I asked Supes Haschak and McGourty to help in breaking the logjam at the County Counsel’s office so that the draft ordinance can be expeditiously forwarded to the Planning Commission, as was the intent, I believe, of the Board’s action at the July 12th meeting.

At this week’s BOS meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Haschak asked County Counsel Curtis what was the hold up with the draft ordinance.

Curtis tersely replied, “At this point, I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to move it along. It is something that is going to require additional analysis before we go to the Planning Commission.”

That’s all he said.

No illumination of why there’s nothing “that can be done to move it along.”

No explanation or details on exactly what “additional analysis” is required “before we go to the Planning Commission.”

This is what is known as a non-response response.


“…I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to move it along …” 


The damn draft ordinance is sitting on his desk. If it was a snake, it would have fanged him by now.

We have received quite a few comments on this fiasco. Here’s a sampling:

“Jim, I have a couple questions. First, is it SOP for draft ordinances to go to COCO for review BEFORE the PC takes a stab at it? I would think rather that the ‘final’ version, after PC weighs in on it, would be something COCO looks over just to make sure it is ‘kosher.’ Maybe it's just me, but it seems like COCO is being used as an excuse to either delay (or possibly sabotage?) certain legislation or regulations that ‘unknown person(s)’ in a position of influence dislike. Approving the ordinance in July, and then maybe it goes to the PC after February? Which begs the second question: who makes these calls? Is there is some sort of ‘shadow’ government of county personnel in a position to thwart the intentions of the BOS as they see fit? And who, or what governmental position, might that be? One thing we know for certain - it's not Carmel anymore (as she has often been accused of). 

As you're probably aware, holdup by COCO was a huge factor in the delay of grant awards to equity cannabis farmers. That appears to have been resolved after many months of delay and concomitant frustration. Is it, perhaps, merely a situation where County Counsel simply is suffering from the lack of manpower as, apparently, does the entire county government apparatus?” — Charles

 “Hi Jim, Just watched the latest BOS meeting on water. What a debacle—they didn’t even know what Howard [Dashiell, MDOT Director, where Water Agency currently resides] had laid out and that they approved. Do your homework. Haschak seems the only one with a minimal grasp. I am concerned that tomorrow they will ignore/put off/shelve the Fish and Game Commission’s cogent request. Riparian protection is crucial for aquifer recharge, both slowing down steams and prolonging stream flow. Also reduction of impervious surfaces—e.g., parking lots that allow infiltration like Mendocino Hotel. These actions are totally within their power, their premier power over land use. Delay simply means more incremental destruction.—Anonymous

 “I often wonder why the County even has a very well paid County Counsel office when we appear to hire very expensive outside counsel for everything. If we did away with it, maybe all employees could get their COLA.” —Anonymous

 “Maybe if the BOS approves another exorbitant and undeserved pay raise to the County Counsel it would speed up the process. Or not.” —Stephen Rosenthal

These comments all come from some very bright people whose insights are impeccable. They don’t need any help from me trying to explain what the hell is going on. They got it all figured out.

Weather Forecast

For the past 10 days we’ve been experiencing a cold, low pressure weather system dominating the Northcoast area, resulting in scattered showers, periods of heavy rains, mountain snow and breezy, sometimes gusty winds. 

In the past week in the greater Laytonville area, where approximately 3,500 people live, we received 1.99 inches of rain, raising our season total to 4.85 inches. The historical average for this time in November is 8.93 inches. November is the first of five consecutive months of double-digit precipitation numbers that average a little over 10 inches. Again historically, annual rainfall is approximately 67 inches. Our rain year runs from July 1st to June 30th.

My newspaper, the Mendocino County Observer, is an official National Weather Service station. Over the years, our weather records have been subpoenaed in court cases, used for Dept. of Environmental Health “wet winter” septic system tests, as well as by various individuals and companies for countless purposes.

I qualify, at best, as an amateur weather forecaster but I have a pretty good record with roughly 90 percent of my mid-to-long range forecasts being accurate. I normally make my initial forecast at the end of August, and then update it several times over the winter.

This August my prediction was essentially identical to last year’s because it’s clear we’re now seeing our third consecutive La Niña event, a rather rare occurrence seen only twice since 1950. A majority of meteorologists say it’s highly probable (about 75 percent) that La Niña will remain with us the entire winter.

I develop my forecast by collecting professional meteorologist’s predictions and data, and then refining that information with my local records, creating a hybrid data base I then mix, match, and contrast synthesizing it into a forecast.

Yes, there’s definitely some guessing — educated I like to think — involved in this process, but it mostly works to a fairly high degree.

La Niña is known for splitting the West Coast in half, with below the dividing line bringing dry conditions to the southern half and a wetter winter to the northern half. I’ve noted that Mendocino County historically serves as a cusp dividing wet weather events, whether they be driven by La Niña, El Niño, or “normal” winter storm events.

Anyway, I’m once again forecasting that Mendocino County will closely replicate last year’s weather patterns and precipitation totals when we rebounded from the previous year’s record-setting lows in rainfall. Most areas saw precipitation that equaled about two/thirds of historical averages. 

For example, in the Laytonville area in 2020-21, year one of La Niña, only 29.41 in. of rain fell, a record low.

In the second La Niña year, 2021-22, rain gauges filled with 47.25 inches, approximately 70 percent of our historical normal of 67 inches.

So I’m fairly confident that we’ll undergo another good rain year.

Now when it comes to winter temperatures, most experts — everybody from the National Weather Service to the Weather Channel — believe it’s going to be warmer-than-average everywhere in the state, though Southern California has a slightly higher chance of a hot winter than Northern California does.

One last thought: New research suggests recurring La Niña years are growing more common due to climate change.

I’ll leave it at that.

Big Oil Continues to Fleece Californians

Consumer Watchdog, California’s premier citizens advocate organization, reports that California’s five big oil refiner third quarter profits reports show that four of the five together posted 30% higher profits per gallon from gasoline sold on the West Coast than anywhere else in the nation or world. Chevron does not report profits per gallon on a quarterly basis but will have to monthly under a new transparency law that kicks in in January. 

The four big oil refiners who reported their West Coast profits — Marathon, PBF, Valero and Phillips 66 — together posted an average 73 cents per gallon profit in the 3rd quarter in the West. California oil refiners have only exceeded the 50 cent per gallon mark three times in the last twenty years. Capping windfall profits at 50 cents, the four refiners would owe Californians a rebate of $1.8 billion for their windfall profits this year, according to Consumer Watchdog’s calculation. 

“These profit reports show exactly why Californians need a windfall profits cap,” said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court. ”Oil refiners are taking advantage of Californians by making 30% more profit in the Golden State. The proof of the Golden State Gouge is in the profit reports and it’s time for the legislature to answer Governor Newsom’s call for a price gouging rebate.”

Marathon Petroleum, the last of the five big California refiners to report quarterly earnings, posted net profits of $4.5 billion, more than six times the profit of $694 million for the same quarter a year ago. Marathon made 85 cents per gallon in profits at West Coast pumps in the third quarter, the highest among its three regions. Marathon made $257 million in windfall profits for the quarter.

“That money should go back to drivers in a rebate,” said Consumer Advocate Liza Tucker. 

A new state law, SB 1322, will require oil refiners to post their profits per gallon from refining monthly beginning in January. This will give California the basis to monitor for price gouging in real time and, if a price gouging rebate is enacted, to give the excess profits back to drivers. Governor Newsom has called a special legislative session in December to consider a windfall profits cap and price gouging rebate for California consumers. 

Oil companies report gross refining margins reflecting the difference between the cost of crude oil bought and the price of petroleum products produced and sold by the refiner. From there, Consumer Watchdog calculates cents per gallon profits by dividing the gross refining margins on a barrel of crude by 42—the number of gallons in a barrel. Marathon operates refineries in California, Washington State and Alaska. 

Marathon doubled third quarter refining margins over the same quarter last year. It reported refining margins of $35.83 for the West Coast, up from $15.56 cents last year. For the Gulf Coast, the company reported $27.39, up from $13.03 last quarter. Marathon reported $31.04 for the Mid-Continent region, up from $15.44 for the third quarter last year. 

Over time, refineries in California have shut down refineries and started converting others to making renewable diesel and other fuels. 

Marathon is completing the conversion of its Martinez refinery (now idle) to produce 730 million gallons of renewable fuel per year by the end of 2023. That comes to two million gallons a day. According to the California Energy Commission, the facility has a refining capacity of 166,000 barrels of crude per day. At 42 gallons in a barrel that converts to a capacity of nearly 7 million gallons of gasoline a day that could have been produced.

“That will restrict the market and help drive gas prices at the pump up,” said Tucker. “It is the same story with Phillips 66. They are converting their Rodeo refinery to produce 800 million gallons a year of renewable diesel, renewable gasoline, and sustainable jet fuel beginning in 2024.” With a capacity of 78,400 barrels per day, the refinery could have produced 3.3 million gallons of fuel a day that will be lost to the market.

Where’s state Attorney General Rob Bonta on all this?

California has anti-gouging laws and there’s certainly prima facia evidence that folks — especially workers and the middle class —are getting the royal screw from Big Oil.

Farm Report

Here’s this week’s Farm Bureau news.

Virus Ravages Lettuce In Salinas Valley

A virus spread by insects is causing widespread damage to lettuce crops in the Salinas Valley. The impatiens necrotic spot virus, or INSV, is spread by thrips, tiny insects that reproduce rapidly and feast on vegetable crops. Salinas Valley produces more than one-half of America’s lettuce, and farmers in the region are predicting big financial losses from INSV this year. They say they expect the crop loss to be worse than in 2020, when the bug-spread virus cost growers an estimated $100 million in lost revenue. 

Dairies Harnessing “Cow Power” For Fuels Production

The Golden State has become a leader in harnessing “cow power” to produce renewable fuels and other clean energy. Currently, more than 100 methane digesters are operating in California, and more than 100 others are in various stages of development. Although dairy digesters have been around for decades, their numbers have exploded in recent years, thanks to state funding aimed at helping dairy farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under Senate Bill 1383, the sector must produce 40% less methane than in 2013. 

Ongoing Drought Challenges Efforts To Protect Groundwater Supplies

California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requires local agencies to balance aquifer supplies in different state basins by 2040 and 2042. But some farmers say severe drought and ongoing economic challenges are making that more difficult. Farmers are facing severe cutbacks in surface water supplies and rising costs of agricultural production. As California is in the process of reviewing plans to protect groundwater supplies, some farmers fear the solution is to remove more farmland from production. 

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, 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:

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