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County Notes (January 12, 2023)

Among the new Consent Calendar rules in the Board of Supervisors 2023 Rules of Procedure are some crazy high cost thresholds.

“Consent items consist of items that are routine in nature and that do not require individual consideration. Such items may be moved from the Consent Calendar to Discussion for separate consideration at the request of a Supervisor, or the County Executive Officer,” explains the intro.

“The following matters are appropriate for the Consent Calendar: 

• Equipment purchases less than $750,000 

• Service purchases of less than $750,000 

. . .

• Agreements/contracts or extensions/ amendments/change orders to contract which do not individually or cumulatively exceed $750,000 

• Unbudgeted expenditure which is absorbed within existing budget and is under $100,000 

Then they add: [NOTE: This is a partial listing.]”

Our first impression was that this was just a typo, that somebody added an extra zero or two, by mistake. But no, they actually think that agenda items of less than a whopping $750,000 are “routine.” It’s yet another indication of this Board’s reckless attitude about public expenditures, their lack of oversight of departmental expenditures and a reflection of their extreme indifference toward County operations.

PS. There was no section concerning the Consent Calendar in last year’s Rules of Procedure, making this unprecedentedly high threshold even more outrageous. They just throw it out there. There is also no mention of restrictions on retroactive consent calendar items, a subject that previous boards specifically frowned on and required explanations for (although they seldom failed to approve them). There are three sizable retroactive items on next Tuesday’s Board consent calendar, plus one on the regular calendar.)

* * *

SPEAKING OF PROFLIGATE SPENDING, despite continuing to claim that money is tight, and despite near torrential rain amounts falling on the County, the Board proposes to spend $223k this year for an expensive consultant “to Serve as The Water Resource Specialist and to Create a Mendocino County Water Resource Team to Serve as the Mendocino County Water Agency.” Yes, we know, there’s still a drought. But couldn’t this be postponed if money is tight?

* * *

HERE’S ANOTHER ODD ONE: “Adoption of Resolution Approving Department of Transportation Agreement Number 220039, Amended and Restated Franchise Agreement Between the County of Mendocino and Solid Wastes of Willits, Inc., Effective January 1, 2023, Through December 31, 2029 [sic], for Residential and Commercial Garbage, Recyclable Material and Organic Waste Collection for Solid Waste Franchise Area Number One (Willits, Westport, Laytonville, Covelo and Leggett Areas).”

WE ARE NOT SURPRISED THAT TRASH COLLECTION RATES ARE GOING UP under a new contract, especially given higher fuel costs and dump fees, but a seven year contract? It’s unheard of. In the past the outyears were options and they didn’t extend over seven years! We don’t see how this benefits the County or Solid Wastes of Willits.

* * *

IN THEIR LATEST GRANT APPLICATION for $5 million more in state “local equity grant” funding, Mendo offers this explanation for why they need the money:

“Mendocino County has been subject to more paramilitary cannabis eradication than any other county in the state except Humboldt County. Initially the communities most targeted were the “back to the land” migrants who grew these cash crops to supplement their income in this high poverty (over 19%) rural county. The county is home, still, to these households along with their descendants. 

“The cannabis market initiated, and maintained, by these residents provided much needed economic opportunities for county residents. Eventually the cannabis economy generalized throughout Mendocino County, which included existing cultivators, but also and bringing in new migration pulled by market opportunities. About 10 years ago the cultivation market crashed and local and state regulatory policies around cultivation became increasing volatile between 2008 and 2016. 

“In a prohibition impact survey administered by the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, populations impacted within Mendocino County included those living in Covelo, Redwood Valley, Laytonville, Round Valley, Anderson Valley, Willits, Potter Valley, Ukiah, and Mendocino Village among others. Specifically, those growing in the legal medical marketplace were put at risk of Federal law enforcement activities by a well-intentioned policy of the locally elected County Sheriff- the “zip tie” program. Personal impacts reported in the survey include arrests, loss of income, asset forfeiture, loss of employment, police harassment, and trauma associated with enforcement. Personal impacts that were reported indicated that the paramilitary cannabis eradication that our County endured damaged the ability of those involved to take care of their families, participate in community organizations, and trust in government. The top two impacts identified were access to safe banking, and lack of trust in government.”

THAT’S FUNNY. Because County Counsel Christian Curtis continues to have doubts about the federal legality of this state program which provides money to pot growers (who are supposed to give it back to Mendo for administration, among other things), even while Mendo uses much of the money to fund the pot permit bureaucracy off the top.

AND WHAT IS MENDO DOING WITH THEIR BIG SHARE of the “equity grant” money?

“Additionally the County has contracted with 4Front Partners d.b.a. Elevate Impact Mendocino to provide: a. Cannabis Equity Grant Program Administration through the Elevate Impact Mendocino website for equity grant development, grantee education, reviewing eligibility and grant application review, grant disbursement with the county, post grant technical assistance, and finally tracking of the grant funds and use; b. Business Development Technical Assistance to qualified equity entrepreneurs including but not limited to: business planning, accounting/bookkeeping, loan applications, human resources, business operations and emergency preparedness; c. Cannabis Cooperative Technical Assistance to provide seminars to qualified equity entrepreneurs including but not limited to: introduction to cannabis as a corporate model, role of governing documents including mission statements and bylaws, cannabis leadership models, and state regulations and policies. The County continues to contract with Elevate Impact Mendocino.” 

DESPITE THIS, Mendo still has only a few pot permit applicants with state licenses, out of about 1200 that initially applied. (Very few new permits have been applied for since the first bunch back in 2017 as pot growers started realizing that there’s little chance of getting a state license even if they spend hundreds of thousands on consultants, lawyers, dubious mitigations, appeals, and other state agencies. Not to mention the difficulties some growers are having trying to prove to the pot bureaucracy’s satisfaction that they were negatively affected by the War On Drugs in the past.

* * *

DORA BRILEY COMMENTS on the Board’s proposal to raise the consent calendar threshold to an unbelievable $750,000: 

“Used to be anything over $50,000 had to go to the BOS. Now $750,000? Wow, huge jump there! So what can departments write now? Use to be $25,000 and under. And the CEO can approve up to what now? Use to be $25,001 to $50,000. Have those limits changed? I’m guessing so, but to what?”

* * *

THE JAIL EXPANSION COST OVERRUN ESTIMATE, number 3 in just the last few months, has gone up another $1 mil. According to the County and its high-priced Sacto architect, most of the overrun is attributed to unreasonable delays in final approval from the State Fire Marshal’s office. The project is now expected to cost about $37 million, about $12 million more than the $25 mil the state granted for their project. This means that even after borrowing about $10 million at prevailing interest rates last fall (i.e., doubling the cost to the County by adding $5 million in interest payments) they’re now claiming to be almost $1.5 million short. Even if you believe that the state fire marshall is the main culprit in the overrun (we don’t; we think it’s also got a lot to do with over-design and over-management by Sacto consultant Nacht & Lewis), we have yet to see one request from the County to the state (i.e., reps McGuire or Wood, or the state agency the granted the first $25 mil) to cover most of the overrun since the project is state mandated and the overrun is (supposedly) caused by a state office. One or two supervisors mentioned contacting the state last fall in passing, but there was no follow up.

TO GET JUST A GLIMPSE of how gold-plated this expansion is, all one has to do is look at the project description (and then tell us that the overrun is all the fault of the state fire marshal.)

“PROJECT DESCRIPTION: This project will design and construct a new stand alone building adjacent to the existing county jail located on county owned land. The building will provide a new housing unit with programming and treatment space, and a new public visiting center. The new housing unit will include approximately 60 rated beds; a safety cell; respiratory isolation cell; recreation yards; housing unit control; nursing station; medical exam room; dental exam room; program/group rooms and staff support space. The new public visiting center will include contact and non-contact visiting rooms for families and attorneys. The project will include, but is not limited to; electrical; plumbing; mechanical; heating; ventilation, and air conditioning; security; site improvements; fire protection systems; security fencing and all other necessary appurtenances.”

THE CURRENT JAIL has about 300 beds.

NOBODY KNOWS how much operating the new wing will cost. No serious analysis has been done. Nor does anyone expect staffing the new wing to be easy; the Sheriff has trouble staffing the existing jail as it is.

THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE who have never raised a single objection to the state’s imposition of a wasteful new courthouse and the impact it will have on the County’s bottom line. Nobody has even attempted to estimate the impact of the new Courthouse on County ops. They have no idea what they will do with the mostly abandoned old courthouse, or whether a new (costly) DA’s office will be built over by the old train depot where the new courthouse is planned.

MENDO PREFERS to just sit back and let the state trample all over them and their budget as they waste hundreds of thousands on silly “strategic plans” and “general plan updates” which will be gutted by the forces they can’t even bring themselves to object to.

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