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Mendocino County Today: February 21, 2013

SNOW ON THE HILLS Tuesday afternoon broke up the blandly balmy previous two weeks of summer-like days. At the higher elevations Hull Mountain to the east and the Yolly Bollys, snow could be measured by the foot rather than the flurry.

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ON-LINE COMMENT regarding the Sonoma County girl who froze to death at Lake Tahoe when she tried to walk home after a party: “I used to be into the whole ‘rave’ scene. Kids would take any drug handed to them, many times they had no clue what it was or what it would do to them, they just wanted to get wasted. Kids would be trashed out of their minds on a half dozen different hallucinogens, dancing robotically with blank eyes and pacifiers to stop them from grinding their teeth. I loved the music but decided eventually that I didn't like the whole dope scene, and preferred to stay home and listen to the radio rather than brave that whole scene. Meth has always been everywhere in the rave scene, in fact the ravers were among the first to use it. These parties are simply not a good idea if you're 19 and impressionable. I had the presence of mind to refuse the drugs, most kids don't.”

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THE Ukiah City Council is poised to apply for a 30-year loan of up to $4 million from the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (I-Bank) to do site prep for the billion dollar Costco corporation. If Costco can get Ukiah's taxpayers to fund the loan for the site prep Costco will condescend to build a store on Airport Park Boulevard. The city has already agreed to complete improvements to the intersections and Highway 101 off-ramps leading to the proposed bulk products emporium, intending to use Redevelopment Agency money to pave the way for Costco. But Governor Brown wisely terminated redevelopment agencies because their funding had been diverted for years, certainly by Ukiah, to spending unrelated to the revitalization of decrepit neighborhoods. Ukiah, for instance, paid the salaries of an expanded city hall staff and, in one of the most flagrant abuses of the money, authorized an outdoor patio where three councilman enjoy their after hours.

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INTERESTING CONTROVERSY at the Boonville school district. A majority of trustees has stated their intention not to renew the contract of an incompetent administrator. The district's high school teachers and staff, unsupervised and unevaluated for years, have rolled out in support of their pal. The following letter from their representative describes no known reality. The whole show comes to a head Monday night. Following the letter are my assessments of the true situation.

February 19, 2013

Dear Parents, Students and Community Members,

I am writing to you as a parent, a teacher, and as President of the Anderson Valley Teacher’s Association, urging you to take immediate action on and before February 25.

The Anderson Valley Unified School District School Board has called a Special Board Meeting on Monday, February 25 at 6:00pm in the High School Cafeteria to address the reelection of Jim Tomlin to the position of Principal at AVHS for the 2013-2014 school year.

It has come to our attention that a contingency of the School Board is preparing to not reelect Jim Tomlin to his position as principal, for reasons not being communicated to the general public.  During this Special Board Meeting, there will be a period for public comment, followed by a closed session and a vote.  It is crucial that the Board hear from the members of the community in regards to the issue prior to this vote.

It is imperative that we get as many parents, students and community members as possible to write letters to the Board and to attend this meeting to voice their support for Jim Tomlin and their concern for the future of the High School.  I speak on behalf of the vast majority of our High School Staff in stating that we stand firmly behind Mr. Tomlin and his leadership at our school for several reasons.

During his three years as Principal, Jim Tomlin has:

  • • Designed and implemented fair and consistent discipline policies that focus on the safety and well being of students, often in cases where no policy previously existed.  We have seen moderate and severe discipline issues on the steady decline since Jim Tomlin took on the job as Principal.
  • • Helped lead the school to higher test scores, guided the school through a six-year WASC-accreditation process, and helped us to achieve numerous prestigious academic awards such as our repeated Silver Medal from the US News and World Report’s Best High Schools Rankings.
  • • Has supported our sports teams, athletes and coaches through many successful seasons and league championships, including seeing our teams make it to the playoffs and 2 teams winning the North Coast Section.
  • • Has supported the teachers and staff to help create a positive and encouraging atmosphere where students, teachers and staff feel safe and supported; from this foundation has fostered a successful academic environment where learning can take place to its fullest extent.

We feel that the non-reelection of Mr. Tomlin as Principal would be a serious detriment to our school.  It opens our small school up to a potential revolving door of principals who may come with little or no connection to our unique community and its rich history and character.  It would erode the cohesive parent-teacher-student-community connection essential to our school’s function and stability that Mr. Tomlin has helped to build during his 22 years of service in the District.

Jim Tomlin has been a driving force behind why we are such a successful small school in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities, and why similar schools look to us for professional guidance and leadership. After these many years of dedicated service, Mr. Tomlin’s commitment to this school and its students is reflected in our past achievements and fundamental to our future success.

Please help support our efforts to retain Jim Tomlin at the High School and write to the School Board voicing your concerns.  Letters may be delivered directly to the District Office or emailed directly to the Board Members themselves, but time is of the essence.

Email Addresses of Board Members (from the AVUSD Website):

Ben Anderson: anderson2775@gmail.com

Erica Lemons: erica@pacific.net

Yadira Mendoza: yadira@wildblue.net

Marti Bradford: marthafbradford@gmail.com

Dick Browning: rbrowning@gmail.com

Our Board Members are our elected officials, and it is important that they hear your voice.  Please attend the meeting on February 25 at 6:00 pm in the High School Cafeteria.  There will be a period for public comment followed by a closed session deliberation and vote.   All are welcome to attend and speak.

Please pass this message on quickly to other members of the community. Thank You,

Jim Snyder, Mathematics and Media Arts Instructor, AVHS

President, Anderson Valley Teachers Association

707-895-3326 x113

THE ANDERSON VALLEY SCHOOL BOARD seems poised not to renew high school principal James Tomlin's contract. The majority board sentiment to remove Tomlin was apparently expressed at a closed session meeting of the board last week. An open meeting to discuss the Tomlin matter is scheduled for Monday, the 25th of February, 6pm, in the high school cafeteria. It should be a doozy.

CURIOUS as to how and by whom Monday's special meeting of the board was organized, I called the district office where Superintendent Collins came on the line. He said the school board had called the meeting. I called board president Martha Bradford to confirm. She said she'd called the meeting, and said she had the authority to do it as board president. Mrs. Bradford said there had been no closed session vote to fire Tomlin. She said there had been a closed session “conversation to get a feel for the direction of the board.”

MRS BRADFORD went on to say that Superintendent Collins had been sitting in on the closed session “as Tomlin's supervisor,” and that Collins “had spoken with Tomlin about it,” confirming that it was Tomlin who'd soon gotten out an e-mail to his colleagues apparently complaining to them he'd been sacked. Mrs. Bradford went on to say, and to say emphatically, that the Tomlin matter has not been resolved but she hoped it would be at Monday night's meeting where a public vote, up or down on Tomlin, would be called. “We want to get this behind us,” she said.

WE HOPE the board will stand up to the inevitable backlash from Tomlin's in-house supporters, a stance that should be easy for the board knowing, as a majority of the board clearly does or they wouldn't have begun their move on Tomlin in the first place, that most parents in The Valley are delighted that at last we have a school board majority committed to education first the people who allegedly deliver that education second.

(THE LATE TOM SMITH was on the small end of many 4-1 votes, so many that Superintendent Collins and his four board stooges got Smith removed on the phony pretext that Smith, whose wife worked for the schools, maintained an ongoing “conflict of interest.” Collins' wife, of course, taught in the schools for years with not even a mention of “conflict of interest.”) We further hope that the board will permanently retire Superintendent Collins, re-combine the superintendent and princi­pal positions into one, and hire an intelligent, energetic person to fill that position.

NO SECRET where we stand. We applaud the school board for a long-overdue move in what we hope becomes a thorough administrative house cleaning for a school system that has been rife with nepotism, staff sloth, administrative incompetence, and run in its own cabal-like interests for years now, handpicking its own school board as it went. One example of how this appalling little club operates: For years, Superintendent Collins has sat in on the school board's closed sessions. The school board, then, has not met by itself going on three decades, meaning the people you voted to represent you, not Collins, not the staff, have not been permitted to discuss management of the schools out of the hearing of the manager they theoretically supervise. Collins is not our elected school board representative. He has no business sitting in on the school board's business.

YEDIRA MENDOZA AND ERICA LEMONS have probably already found themselves subjected to whining calls and attempts at intimidation from Tomlin's staff supporters. We hope the much larger part of the community that supports a major change in the leadership of the local schools will show up Monday night to support Yedira's and Erica's right to remove Tomlin if that's what they decide to do.

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HUFFMAN IN DISTRICT, Anticipating Coming Budget Crisis

By K.C. Meadows

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) says partisanship in the nation's capital is just as bad as everyone thinks and congressional Republicans are playing a dangerous game with the U.S. economy over the severe budget cuts known as sequestration that are due to take effect in March.

But, he says, he's seen some rhetorical shifts over the past 30 days among the GOP leadership that signals they, too, want to avoid the cuts.

“This is real brinksmanship,” he said Tuesday, adding that the cuts may actually have to start going through before the GOP retreats. “They may need that reality to sink in.”

Citizens, Huffman said, will certainly see reality if the deep cuts in special education, child care, veterans assistance and many other domestic programs are enacted.

Huffman was back in Ukiah Tuesday for the first time since going off to Washington as the newly elected U.S. House Representative for the 2nd congressional district.

As a freshman congressman, Huffman said he is learning fast and soaking in everything. He considers himself a progressive Democrat and is a member of the Progressive Caucus, but points out that he would rather be known as someone who will work with anyone of any political stripe if it means good policy and worthwhile legislation. He points to his cosponsorship of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's bill to legalize hemp growing in the U.S.

Members of Congress get requests to sponsor bills from other members of Congress every day. In letters to each other, members ask for support for everything from Peach Month to national parks to housing assistance to defense projects. Huffman said he and his staff sit down a couple of days a week to go through all the requests.

“I want to limit (sponsoring other bills) to things that I think are meaningful,” he said, noting he sometimes has to tell staff no to things they suggest he cosponsor. The staff, he says, often want him to cosponsor anything a fellow Democrat sponsors as a message of support.

Among others, he has supported bills to change federal marijuana laws. One, to allow the federal government to defer to state laws around marijuana and second, to reschedule medical marijuana so that state and federal laws no longer conflict.

As for bills he will sponsor, he says he's working on legislation to remove Klamath River dams and other legislation on climate change and on coastal issues like preserving the Stornetta public lands.

Huffman has a seat on the House Budget Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice-presidential candidate in last year's election.

“Paul Ryan is a very bright and impressive guy, very intense,” Huffman said. “But so is our ranking minority member (Democrat) Chris Van Hollen. They are like budget gladiators.”

And while partisanship on the national budget is evident, Huffman says the lines are really drawn in his other committee assignment, the Natural Resources Committee, where the Republicans in control are determined, he said, “to open as much public land as possible to mining and oil drilling.”

In the new Congress, the Democrats gained a few more seats in the House of Representatives, although not enough to take control. Nonetheless, Huffman says it's clear that “the Republicans are trying to figure out a path forward.” He says they're worried about their future as a party and have become “victims of their own very effective gerrymandering,” in which safe Republican districts were drawn by Republicans that have also turned out to be ultra-conservative, and against the grain of the national electorate.

Besides the imminent crisis over sequestration and the debt ceiling, Huffman said gun control is another big topic of conversation in Washington right now. Huffman's colleague (and predecessor representing Mendocino County) Rep. Mike Thompson (D- Napa Valley) was appointed by Vice President Joe Biden to take a lead in formulating new gun safety legislation. But as a California legislator, gun safety legislation is nothing new to Huffman - nor should it be to any Californian, he says, pointing out that all of the things now being discussed at the federal level have been California law for a long time.

“None of it is new to California,” he says, adding that he does remind his constituents of that as the federal legislation proceeds.

So far, Huffman says the only real surprise in Washington is the sheer size of the congressional institution ­ all the districts, all the states, all the different members with their opinions and policy objectives.

And “the hardwired partisanship. It's worse than Sacramento.”

Huffman has joined a “no labels” Problem Solvers Caucus made up of members of both parties to see where “easy process fixes” can be achieved. Through them Huffman says he sees some progress among freshmen of both parties, who seem to - at least for now - want to break through the political stalemate.

(Courtesy, The Ukiah Daily Journal)

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WHAT HAPPENED TO PINE BLUFF?

by Catherine Townsend

When people ask me where I grew up, I have a throwaway joke: “Pine Bluff, Arkansas—a town so rough that our pit bull got stolen.”

Since I was a kid, Pine Bluff has been famous for all the wrong reasons. The headlines are grim: Most recently, it was named the second most dangerous metropolitan area in America after Detroit based on violent crime statistics such as murder, rape and kidnapping. Forbes.com ranked the city the seventh most dangerous for women.

Walking around gives you a 1 in 10 chance of being a victim of violent or property crime. It's also home to an army installation that housed chemical weapons.

An X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully are faced with a biological element that melts human skin is called “The Pine Bluff Variant” after the Pine Bluff Arsenal.

When a reporter visited the town recently to do a police ride-along, acting Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said that “the little old white lady with the kitten on her lap is perfectly safe in this town.” He seemed to infer that crime was confined to drug dealers and rough areas.

But violence in Pine Bluff isn't limited to the wrong side of the tracks. These days the town's nickname is “Crime Bluff,” and the last time I drove through I saw a boarded-up Main Street that looked like the zombie apocalypse had already happened.

The historic Pines Hotel is crumbling, and the Saenger Theater is closed. The Pines Mall where I hung out as a kid is a hive of gang activity, and most of the major retailers have shut their doors. Burnt-out cars and trash are everywhere.

It wasn't always this way. My parents lived in and around Pine Bluff their entire lives, and described teen years that were a mix of Norman Rockwell and Happy Days. They did their best to shelter me from the spiraling crime rates, and in many ways my childhood was idyllic. I grew up in a beautiful house with a yard filled with giant Magnolia trees.

PineBluff1No takers: This photograph from the late 1970s shows Catherine's family home in Pine Bluff as it looked when she lived there. Now the property is being sold “as is,” and the beautiful wall her father built is crumbling

Dad was a very successful CEO, while mom taught biology at the high school. I have many happy memories of early days at Trinity Episcopal Day School, where I thrived in the small classes and gifted and talented programs.

I remember summers biking to my grandma's house, swimming at the Country Club or Eden Park, drinking frosted Cokes at Derwood's ice cream stand and hanging out at the then brand-new mall. Pine Bluff built a Convention Center and Arts and Science Center. Back then, we had hope.

But there was a dark side, and by the time I got to junior high school I lived in a pretty much constant state of unease. My parents built a four-foot wall around our entire house, but we still had one dog stolen and another pet poisoned by neighbors.

I grew up knowing the difference between Crips and Bloods graffiti tags, and my junior high school had photo IDs to keep gang members out — soon afterward, they installed metal detectors.

The school was a huge circle with gray walls, and I was told that the one-way hall design was based on an overcrowded prison. I saw fights and drug deals on an almost daily basis, and was stabbed with a metal hair pick in the girl's bathroom because I looked at someone “funny'.

When my mom and dad separated, I moved with her, 600 miles away to Georgia. In our new town, a guy getting DUI on his riding lawnmower was big crime news.

A few years later, Dad sold his business and moved away to a safer area. Almost all of my childhood classmates’ families are gone now: Some couldn't sell their homes due to a dead real estate market, so they boarded them up and left town.

The last holdout was my grandma, who didn't want to leave her church. But after hiding in her dark bedroom in terror while watching her next-door neighbor's home being invaded at gunpoint, she relocated near my dad.

The sad part is, I know that my story isn't unique. Pine Bluff has the worst PR, but versions of this story are being played out all along the Delta region. This area, which covers parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, is one of the poorest in the country.

The childhood home I adored has been listed for months at a price that is comparable to what we sold it for more than 20 years ago — and there still no takers.

Extreme poverty is a combination of several factors: People in the area traditionally worked on farms, but increased mechanization meant those jobs vanished. Most of the city's largest employers have gone: At one point, The Pine Bluff Arsenal stored 12% of the US Army's original chemical weapons stockpile, but most of them have been destroyed.

The educational system is completely failing. And the people in charge of the city seem unwilling to accept how bad things have gotten. According to US News & World Report, the high school has a less than 30% literacy rate. Even if the job situation improves, no one wants their children to be educated in a Lord of the Flies environment.

Articles about high crime rate don't often address something that no one wants to talk about: The town's long history of racial tension. After desegregation in the 1960s, some (predominantly white) families responded by creating private schools.

For as long as I can remember, the city's problems have been framed as black vs. white issue — but the color that really mattered was green. When the economy dies, the town soon follows.

After the jobs started going away, the schools closed and those who could get better jobs and opportunities went elsewhere and took a big chunk of the city's tax base with them. Many who were left behind became stuck in a permanent recession.

A few of my old die-hard friends have stayed with them. Some hope that the new mayor will turn things around. The city is trying to change its image: I found a “Positively Pine Bluff” promotional video on YouTube that appears to be narrated by Morgan Freeman. But with universally negative comments like “If you believe this video [you're] on crack,” it appears that they they have a long road ahead of them.

Others are less optimistic. “It's dead,” a childhood friend told me. “Drive around. Or don't, actually, because parts of it are worse than Baghdad.”

The last stop on my drive down memory lane was the most depressing. The childhood home I adored has been listed for months at a price that is comparable to what we sold it for more than 20 years ago ($124,900) and there still no takers. It's being sold “as is,” and the beautiful wall my dad built appears to be crumbling.

I thought about knocking on the door, but I decided that I would rather hold onto my happy memories than risk seeing the house now. They say you can never go home again. Sadly, in this case I would never want to.

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PS. THE MOST DANGEROUS CITIES IN AMERICA: HOW PINE BLUFF COMPARES

U.S. cities and metropolitan areas were ranked by serious crime rates per-capita

1. Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Michigan

2. Pine Bluff, Arkansas

3. Flint, Michigan

4. Memphis, Tennessee/ Mississippi/Arkansas

5. Stockton, California

6. New Orleans, Louisiana

7. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

8. Little Rock, Arkansas

9. Mobile, Alabama

10. Jackson, Tennessee

(Courtesy, the London Daily Mail.)

One Comment

  1. wineguy February 21, 2013

    ADD EUREKA! to thel list of world-class HELL-HOLES!

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