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Mendocino County Today: March 13, 2013

AS PREVIOUSLY REPORTED, Mendocino County has engaged Fitch Associates (the go-to consultant for emergency medical issues) to explore the feasibility of establishing an Exclusive Operating Area (EOA) for ambulance services in Mendocino County. Fitch did a previous assessment two years ago that arrived at the obvious conclusion that emergency services in our geographically expansive county — 87,500 eccentrics spread over 35,010 square but mountainous miles — were a patchwork of critical services supported by inadequate resources. An emergency services EOA, as we understand it, would grant an exclusive right to operate to a single company, based on an RFP process. We are told that ambulances currently operating in the outlying areas would be allowed to continue, but it is not clear to us how independent ambulance service, such as that which serves Anderson Valley, would fit into the idea of an exclusive operating area.

RURAL EMERGENCY SERVICES have been chronically underfunded for at least the last quarter century. Every few years, the discussion of how to adequately fund outback emergency services arises and the County goes in search of a solution so long as the solution does not include County money. It may be coincidental, but it seems odd that the contract to explore an EOA comes on the heels of the City of Ukiah discontinuing its ambulance service. If the study concludes that an EOA is feasible for Mendocino County, the next step would be to issue an RFP, basically a bidding process. We are already hearing concern that a mega corporation, specializing in emergency medical services, could respond to the RFP with a low-ball price, get the contract, run at a loss for a couple of years, and then threaten to pull out unless the County comes up with more funding. At that point, the company, having eliminated all the local competition, would be in a position to call the shots. According to information included in the March 12 Supe's agenda, the consultants will meet with the cities, fire districts, hospitals, ambulance providers, dispatch centers, the "community, " and whatever other "stakeholders" might be identified by the County. And all this is going to take place in time to present a final report and recommendations to the Supes on May 15. Which makes it seem more likely than not that the report has already been written by Mega Meat Wagon Inc.

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THE CITY OF UKIAH, at its meeting last Wednesday (March 6) continued its discussion of "strategic planning," a futile gab session that occurs in the context of no strategy other than to stumble on from disaster to disaster. Ukiah has been talking to itself for the last four or five years. Mercifully, there was no further mention of the wacky "process enneagram" that City Manager Jane Chambers tried to explain a couple of meetings ago. According to the staff report, the City of Ukiah: 1) Maintains the historic downtown as a regional center of civic and economic activity, which also serves nicely as Delusion Number One given the condition of central Ukiah, especially its crumbling anchor building the Palace Hotel where the owner has struggled for a year to prove that she owns it — the decrepit Palace plus and the empty storefronts lining School St., some of which have been gathering dust for years; 2) Promotes valley wide planning based on sound principles - there is no mention of what the "sound principles" are and there is no, and never has been any evidence of any planning in the Ukiah Valley; 3) Developes a prioritized plan for maintaining and improving public infrastructure - again, there is no evidence of any planning or prioritization, especially in the City of Ukiah, except for chasing after a new courthouse, which will not even be located in the "historic downtown"; 4) Creates a responsive and effective workplace environment, council and staff together - which ignores the basic reality that the city administration, with no complaint from the Council, has targeted line staff for layoffs and wage cuts while protecting their own highly paid positions; 5) Facilitates creation, retention, and expansion of local jobs, local businesses, and new business development for a vibrant city and regional economy - which also ignores the reality that the City of Ukiah has done nothing to create jobs or create a vibrant economy (unless you count the $27,000 outdoor dining platform that they directed be built to help their favorite restauant).

THE UKIAH CITY PLANNING COMMISSION is currently in the process of reviewing an Environmental Impact Report for Costco, which might actually be serious about opening a store in Ukiah after teasing inland bulk buyers with the idea for the last 15 or 20 years. Last year the Planning Commission turned down the proposed conversion of the existing WalMart into a Superstore because, they claimed, the traffic impacts would be too great and the expansion would hurt downtown business. The proposed WalMart expansion, which faced organized opposition from the existing grocery stores and horrified shrieks from Inland Lib, would have consisted mainly of grocery items and would only have generated a small increase in sales tax. Costco will also offer lots of grocery items, but is expected to generate $500,000 or more in annual sales tax for the city, so even if the Planning Commission objects, it is a slam dunk that the City Council will rubber stamp the Costco EIR. And everyone wants a CostCo. It would be a brave civic entity that got in the way of a CostCo, and whatever other virtues the Ukiah City Council might possess, flipping off majority public opinion is not among them. In fact, the city is already committed to spending between $4 million and more than $6 million in traffic infrastructure improvements as an inducement to Costco, a nice gift of public funds to a corporate monolith, making approval of the EIR a mere formality.

THE CITY COUNCIL can be expected to point to a new Costco as evidence of their committment to economic devleopment and business expansion, which ignores the reality that most of the business for Costco will come at the expense of existing county businesses, many of which will go out of business. Costco does pay better wages and benefits than Wal Mart, but it is equally effective at undermining local stores, which simply can't compete with the retail giants. But the purplish libs who dominate the Ukiah City Council will annoint Costco, based on the sales tax it will generate, as a "good" big box store, unlike Wal Mart, which epitomizes "bad" big box. The distinction will be lost on the local merchants driven out of business by Costco, which also intends to install a 16-20 pump cut rate gas station. The extra traffic drawn in by cheap gas insures that traffic on Airport Park Boulevard, once Costco opens, will slow to a crawl, when it moves at all. And, of course, the increased sales tax flow to the city will fund more blah-blah people shuffling around Ukiah City Hall with their coffee cups.

THE COUNCIL spent two hours discussing a list of "supporting strategic statements" that purportedly further the "strategic plan" (which is just a list of concepts, and really no plan at all). The list was pared down from a longer list developed by the Council at an earlier stategic planning meeting. Councilmember Benj Thomas' suggestion that the city hire a "pastor/ombudsman/ethicist" failed to make the final cut. Thomas previously expressed concern that city budget decisions could become a struggle beween "values and the bottom line. I don't want to lose track of our values." (Er, what values?) Thomas thought having a pastor (of the We-ness, Us-ness type, You-ness type, of course) on staff would help the council make morally sound budget decisions, or at least that layoff notices would be delivered with compassion. The State Street "road diet," which would reduce State St. from four lanes to two lanes in the most congested area of town, was not included on the short list, at least not by name, but sources say the city is determined to move forward with the plan. Included on the list was negotiation of a tax sharing agreement with the County, which is required before annexation can occur. Several councilmembers said the process was so well underway that it could be removed from the list. Which is odd since the County disbanded its ad hoc tax sharing committee in December. CEO Angelo has reported that the city and County continue to meet but has publicly stated that she does not favor bringing back the ad hoc at this time. Which doesn't exactly sound like an agreement is near.

MEASURE S RENEWAL, the half-cent sales tax for public safety, was kept on the list. Measure S was approved with a ten year sunset clause and was supposed to give the city time to get its financial house in order. Instead, the city has continued on with a business as usual attitude. The mid-year budget report, which was presented to the Council at the same meeting, shows that the City of Ukiah is on track for over $1 million in deficit spending this fiscal year, with million dollar deficits forecast for several years into the future. Loss of redevelopment funding was a heavy blow to the city budget, since Ukiah was diverting $1 million dollars a year to pay for administrative salaries. Without renewal of Measure S, the city will sink even further into a sea of red ink. Measure S was supposed to pay for additional police officers, but one of the "strategic statements" was to consider funding for one or two additional police officers. Now that Measure S is coming up for renewal, it looks like the City Council wants to show the voters that they are getting something for their money.

THE UKIAH CITY COUNCIL, without any apparent sense of irony, also approved a resolution in support of Zero Waste Week (March 17-March 23). Back in 2011, and over the vocal opposition of community members, the council approved a 15 year sweetheart deal with its waste hauler, Ukiah Waste Solutions, which claimed it was losing money. But because of the way garbage companies are organized it is virtually impossible to track their finances. In the case of Ukiah, one company picks up the garbage and recyclables, and pays to dump them at the Ukiah Transfer Station, which is owned by a second company and operated by a third, which then pays double the market rate to take the green waste to a fourth company, and sells the recyclables to a fifth company, and all of the above lease their trucks from a sixth company. (Got that?) And just by coincidence all six companies are owned by the same three people. With so many "related party transactions," cooking the books to show a loss is child's play. The company also got over on the Ukiah City Council in a number of other ways that enriched the company at the expense of the residential and commercial ratepayers of Ukiah. As if the financial windfall handed to the company wasn't enough, the city council prevented implementation of the immediate diversion of food waste from the landfill!

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COLD CREEK COMPOST, based near Highway 20 at Potter Valley, a locally-owned business, offered to take 100% of the Ukiah food waste two years ago. The Ukiah waste hauler, for reasons too involved to go into here, is required to deliver the equivalent of the green waste collected annually in Ukiah to Cold Creek. The green waste, fittingly enough, is collected in green plastic bins, or toters, from the collection routes in Ukiah. Cold Creek offered to take the food waste, right along with the green waste, in the same cans that already get picked up each week. Empire Waste Management has been accepting food waste in the green cans for years in the unincorporated area that surrounds Ukiah, and trucking it to Cold Creek to be recyled into compost. And Ukiah could do the same thing, starting tomorrow, or starting back in 2011, if the city council had wanted to, just by telling their waste hauler to start accepting food waste in the green can. What could be greener? What could do more so simply to promote zero waste? Such an action should be a slam dunk for the inland libs who dominate the Ukiah City Coucil. Except for just one thing: the Ukiah waste hauler wants to keep the food waste for itself. And what the Ukiah waste hauler wants, it gets. At least from the city council.

THE GRAND JURY last year noted the Ukiah garbage contract give-away. Commenting on the food waste flap, the Grand Jury concluded: "The grand jury wonders how much longer it is going to take the city to assess its options. Its current option - and the best it is ever likely to find - sits underused in front of its face." The Ukiah waste hauler claims it intends, someday, to convert the food waste into energy, and that if people start putting food waste in the green bin now then it will be too hard to tell them in the future to put it into a different container for separate collection. First, it is nice to know the level of contempt the local garbage company has for the intelligence of the people it serves, and second, since two thirds of the food waste is generated commercially, if only half of the residential customers are smart enough to be retrained, the company will still be able to collect about 85% of the food waste. Which means the stated reason for not putting food waste into the green bin right now, today, is bogus. The real reason is that the Ukiah waste hauler competes with Cold Creek Compost and has its own composting operation (which is not permitted to accept food waste). And the attitude seems to be, if they can't have it, no one can, (or at least not their competitor). And the Ukiah City Council, which refuses to implement an obvious zero waste milestone, is congratulating itself on being "green" because they passed a resolution saying they are in favor of the very kind of thing which they refuse to do.

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EMBATTLED LAKE COUNTY SHERIFF Frank Rivero, who has recently been labeled "a liar" by the Lake County District Attorney, has agreed to settle a lawsuit with the Lake County News, an on-line news service founded by Elisabeth Larson and John Jensen. The husband and wife team alleged unfair treatment, discrimination and the illegal withholding of information after Rivero blacklisted them from receiving Sheriff's Office press releases and other public records. (The AVA has had the same problem periodically over the years, but presently enjoys a mutually satisfactory relationship with the forces of law and order.) According to the settlement, which outlines the laws governing state public records act requests, Rivero can be held in contempt of court if he illegally attempts to withhold information in the future. Rivero maintained he had done nothing wrong and said the settlement, which he characterized as a draw, just confirmed existing law. But if it was that simple, why did a take a lawsuit to get the Sheriff to agree to follow the law? A future hearing will determine if Lake County has to pay legal fees related to the lawsuit for the Lake County News.

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SEIU SONOMA COUNTY, after more than a week of study, has decided that "yes" means "yes", at least in terms of the contract negotiated with Sonoma County. The membership voted 52-48% in favor of the contract, but only two of six bargaining units within in SEIU voted in favor. According to the current bylaws of SEIU 1021, the "local" that embraces much of Northern California, majority rules. But the bylaws of SEIU 707, which was eliminated in a corporate style merger in 2007, each unit had to vote approval. SEIU honchos, following extensive consultation with a battery of lawyers, finally decided that the current bylaws prevail. The prevalence of a situational ethics approach to serious issues among the posturing "left" inevitably leads to a delusion that the bylaws of an organization that ceased to exist in 2007 would trump the bylaws of the successor organization that is in operation today.

THE CLOSE VOTE signals an increasingly militant mindset, at least on the part of SEIU, which represents a majority of the county workforce in both Sonoma and Mendocino. The Sonoma County contract provides for a 3% cost of living increase (after an initial freeze), a one time lump sum payment up to $2,700, and an increase of several hundred dollars a month in the county's contribution to healthcare costs. The agreement is expected to set a benchmark for Sonoma County's ten other bargaining groups. Critics say the agreement does not go fast enough or far enough to achieve the savings necessary to pay for critical services, like roads and long-term unfunded pension liabilities, currently at $353 million and growing. The county says the increased benefits are more than offset by pension cuts, but the nature of those cuts has not been clearly spelled out. Here in Mendocino County, SEIU is reportedly gearing up for an effort to restore the 10% wage cut agreed to last year, but unless SEIU can identify some currently unknown revenue stream to fund an increase, it seems likely that this year's negotiations will make last years look like a June school picnic.

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RECOMMENDED VIEWING: The Gatekeepers, a documentary film featuring six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. These guys aren't liberals, as they make clear with their occasional recollections of knocking off this or that guy, one with an exploding telephone, but all agree that their many tactical successes have occurred in a strategic vacuum, and all six are for a long-term goal of accommodation with the Palestinians out of the very real fear that without an accommodation millions of people on both sides are doomed. The film ought to be required viewing for Americans, many of whom haven't the faintest idea of the political Middle East. Along with The Gatekeepers, we suggest a book called "The General's Son — Journey of an Israeli in Palistine" by Miko Peled, introduction by Alice Walker. Friends gave me the book, which I found a fascinating account of the transformation of a famous Israeli general, Matti Peled, from hawk to advocate of a two-state solution. Author Miko Peled is the General's son.

I FOUND a new movie called "Compliance" much more disturbing than The Gatekeepers, probably because The Gatekeepers, apart from some vague battlefield shots, is six very smart old guys sitting around talking, while Compliance — "inspired by true events — is a vivid account of a sadistic prank that ends in a rape, all of it graphically depicted. I thought the depiction of workingclass people as easily duped was unfair, especially when you consider all the upscale "smart" people in this country who are duped by the millions every four years at election time. In a nation of dupes is it surprising that a fake cop can persuade a teenage fast food worker into humiliating herself? This thing is, however, very well written and brilliantly acted, but it's a painful 90 minutes watching the horror unfold.

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HADRIAN THE SEVENTH — This amusing 1904 novel about a renegade pope is timely. Dan Foxprovides a good summary of the plot:

Hadrian the Seventh tells the story of George Arthur Rose, an unashamedly transparent avatar for Rolfe. The chain-smoking Rose is a failed writer, living in poverty in a London garret with no one other than his imperious cat Flavio for company, and nursing bitterness at having been rejected from the Catholic priesthood. One night he is visited by two envoys from the Vatican, including a Cardinal Archbishop. They inform him that the Papal Conclave has been in session to elect a new Pope, but the discussions have reached stalemate. By a strange twist in events, the Conclave has decided to offer the Papacy to Rose, which he accepts, taking on the name Hadrian VII in homage to Nicholas Brakespear, the last and only English Pope, Hadrian IV, in the 12th century.

ROSE travels to Rome and, once ordained, sets about exacting revenge against every person and institution that has ever crossed him or disagrees with him, and dragging the Roman Catholic church through a set of reforms. Pope Hadrian wants to redesign the crucifix, re-decorate the Vatican and redraw the boundaries of various European nations. Oddly, his decrees do not include lifting the church’s ban on homosexuality, and Hadrian rails against socialism despite deciding to re-distribute the Vatican’s wealth to the poor. The story ends with Rose assassinated by an anti-Catholic Scotsman.

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FROM THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER:

David and Charles Koch, billionaire industrialists who own Koch Industries, America’s second-largest privately held company, have expressed interest in the Tribune Co. newspapers. The Chicago-based empire emerged from a long bankruptcy Dec. 31 and has hired investment firms Evercore and JPMorgan Chase as offers have come in for its print properties.

The Kochs, who some sources say are interested in the clout they could gain through the Times’ editorial pages, could bid on their own or combine in a bid with Doug Manchester, the San Diego real estate magnate who bought the San Diego Union-Tribune in November 2011.

Missy Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, issued the following statement to: “As an entrepreneurial company with 60,000 employees around the world, we are constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor. We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in today’s news stories, but it is our long-standing policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring. ”

Love that bit about respecting journalistic independence, which no doubt would be reflected in the pages of a Koch-owned L.A. Times on matters such as, say, global warming.

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TenReasons========================================================

MENDOCINO COUNTY CEO REPORT FOR MARCH 12

Pat Meek, Human Resources Director: Pat Meek, Mendocino County's Human Resources Director, will be retiring on March 26, 2013. Pat has served the County for over 30 years in a variety of classifications. Pat spent most of her 30 years in Social Services and was promoted to Human Resources Director in August of 2011. Pat has been an inspiration and role model to many that have had the privilege of working with her. Pat has been a caring and competent overseer of the Human Resources Department, and her presence will be truly missed;

- Jim Brown, Chief Probation Officer: After 30 years of meritorious public service, Jim Brown, Mendocino County Chief Probation Officer, has served notice of his intention to retire from service, effective at the end of March 2013. Appointment of the Chief Probation Officer rests with the Superior Court Judges and dialogue is underway with the CEO. Please join the Executive Office in congratulating Jim upon the occasion of his retirement, and acknowledging his leadership, particularly with the recent implementation of the collaborative and successful AB 109 program;

Evacuation and Shelter - Fir Street Apartment Complex Fire: At around midnight on Monday, March 4th, a large fire broke out at the Fir Street Apartment Complex, destroying 8 units and evicting more than 50 people, a large portion of which were children. The County of Mendocino and the Red Cross responded immediately with emergency aide, including shelter assistance from the HHSA Disaster Response Team, which was deployed at the Ukiah High School small gymnasium. These dedicated County employees provided invaluable support and assistance to our first responders in times of need. The Executive Office would also like to recognize HHSA staff for meeting with the families at the shelter and offering their services;

3 Comments

  1. izzy March 13, 2013

    “35,010 square but mountainous miles”?

    Hopefully, the above figure is a typo. If it comes from Fitch Associates, we’re already circling the 7th Hell of Consultancy. As far as Wasted Zeros Week is concerned, it would sure be interesting to know who the same three owners of all those garbage companies are.

  2. Gupatii March 13, 2013

    I didn’t realize Mendocino County was as large as the state of Maine. Getting bigger all the time.

  3. John Sakowicz March 13, 2013

    Very astute observations about the City of Ukiah in the March 13, 2013, “Mendocino County Today” blog…especially the part about Ukiah’s capitulation to C&S Waste Solutions, which has the monopoly on city garbage.

    Unfortunately, the City of Ukiah locked itself into into a long-term contract that wasn’t put out for open bid, so Ukiah residents shouldn’t expect any reforms. What they should expect are rate hikes.

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