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Mendocino County Today: March 18, 2013

FEDERAL JUDGE CLAUDIA WILKEN ruled last week that inmates held in Pelican Bay's iso cells for years at a time can proceed with their federal lawsuit charging that these cells amount to mental torture. The state had tried to get the suit tossed.

I HAPPEN to have a friend, Domingo Ramirez, who did two stretches, one of seven years, the other eight years, in Pelican Bay's “Security Housing Unit,” as it's called, where inmates can go for years with very little human contact. Domingo is a very tough guy. “I just read a lotta books,” he said of his coping strategy. “It's not that bad.” But it is. And pointless, too. There are other ways to keep the, ah, unamenable away from the amenable without resorting to medieval tactics like the SHU at Pelican Bay. Domingo? Last time I heard from him he couldn't leave his San Jose neighborhood without the written permission of his parole officer.

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THE FEDS seem to have been woofing Mendocino County over the federal subpoena of the County's pot records. The hearing scheduled for Tuesday, March the 19th in San Francisco has been put off indefinitely. Neither side has requested a new date, meaning it's probably over. Of course, Mendo is out some fancy legal fees, and the whole issue of whether or not the county can attempt to regulate its primary export crop, remains in limbo.

MENDO WAS SCATTERSHOT SUBPOENED back in October by the US Attorney's Northern District Office for pot-related records related to the permitting program allegedly held by Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford, Sheriff Tom Allman, Sheriff's Office Financial Manager Norman Thurston, Sheriff's Capt. Randy Johnson. (Johnson oversaw the County's now abandoned medical marijuana garden inspection program, and lives in Potter Valley next door to a large grow maintained by his father and his brother. When it was busted Johnson said the next door gardens were, like, next door and had nothing to do with him.)

THE SUBPOENING FRISCO FEDS, drawn from the lower third of law school graduates and repeat BAR exam takers, demanded “any and all records” for the County's medical marijuana cultivation ordinance from Jan. 1, 2010 to the present.

SIMPLE AS THEY WERE, the federal subpoenas undoubtedly represented a couple month's work product from the sloths of Golden Gate Avenue, which also asked for all types of communication regarding 9.31, including correspondence with third-party medical marijuana garden inspectors and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. The medical marijuana industry of course urged the County to resist the subpoenas and protect the information.

OUR MENDO ordinance was a minor masterpiece of careful codifying. Under “Chapter 9.31 of the Mendocino County Code,” beginning in 2008, medical marijuana collectives could obtain permits to grow up to 99 plants from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office, an exemption from the County's limit of 25 plants per parcel if they accepted the many permit terms and underwent periodic inspections. And the County got at least a tiny share of the multi-millions generated by cannabis production in the County.

MENDO hired San Francisco attorney William Osterhoudt to pursue the County's resistance to the subpoenas. Osterhoudt promptly filed a motion to quash the subpoenas on the grounds that they are “overbroad and burdensome” in scope, and are an “improper intrusion” on the county's and the state's ability to govern its citizens. Which they obviously are.

THE COUNTY'S MED POT program started in June 2010 and ended in March 2012 when the US Attorney's Office threatened legal action against the permitting program and county officials.

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DUE TO UNEXPLAINED DELAYS in the posting of the recordings of the Board of Supervisors meetings we only recently had an opportunity to review the Board’s discussion of the mid-year budget report from their February 12, 2013 meeting. It’s not a pretty picture.

AUDITOR MEREDITH FORD summarized overall revenues as positive this fiscal year (through the end of June), but only because of a one-time infusion of about $1.2 million in “unencumbered redevelopment funds” which apparently became available as part of the winding down of the County’s Redevelopment Agency. Take that away and revenues would be significantly down.

SUPERVISOR PINCHES: “Our revenue increases are not projected to be over $200k per year. That’s going to lead to a tremendous problem when we talk about the pension costs going up. To project your revenues in this big of an operation as only $200k a year increase for the next five years is very alarming.”

FORD: “This was an extremely conservative estimate. We don’t really have a good indication of how much the economy is going to grow in the next few years. I just used a flat revenue projection for our secured rolls for the next few years and it’s really slow increases for the following years. I don’t want to over-project. It’s better to be conservative than to expect too much and not realize it.”

PINCHES: “I just brought that out because there’s a lot of effort to say at the federal and state level how happy days are here again. But if you look at these numbers, even though Meredith says these are conservative numbers, that’s a pretty alarming projection for the next five years.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “Which is one of the reasons we’re trying to build reserves.”

THE COUNTY'S BUDGET OFFICER Kyle Knopp: “One of the primary drivers in that low revenue growth rate is the county’s dependence on the property tax revenue. The current secured property tax is the largest component which accounts for about half the discretionary income to finance the county. So when there’s one specific revenue stream that accounts for about 50% of your discretionary revenue, changes in that revenue stream over time will dictate the amount of financing available to the County. In 05-06 the County was beneficiary of increases as a result of the housing bubble — a lot of property transactions at higher values and frequencies. However, entering the great recession one of the prime components was related to property value and people’s mobility in housing. Since then the property tax revenue has stalled out. We have been fortunate. Other counties have seen a precipitous drop in that revenue. It’s not the case in Mendocino so far; we’ve leveled out at this $28 million per year figure for the last couple of years. In the long run the growth will start to occur again. But the next two or three years will see low or no growth in the most important single source of revenue to the County. These are revenues that provide funds for the jail, the Sheriff, the Auditor, the District Attorney, Public Defender and even a base amount for Health and Human Services. These are this board’s discretionary dollars. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the budget over next couple of years as we see the cost of operations move upward in terms of pensions, healthcare, utilities, and general inflationary pressure. This is something to be considered. It’s very important.”

SUPERVISOR DAN GJERDE: “And to maintain county roads. Are there any strategies to make sure property owners are paying their full amount of property taxes?”

KNOPP: “There has been some discussion of the amount of Proposition 8 reassessments in the Assessor’s office. By law they are required to go back and do reassessments first. That backlog means they have to reassess properties downwards first. There’s also some discussion regarding some of the unsecured property tax revenue coming into the county and the potential to increase it. Unfortunately, all of these options require some resources for them to see a benefit. So far the cost-benefit analysis has not been conducive to that.”

GJERDE: “I understand when someone requests a downward assessment, the County is required to do that once and then continue every year until the market rises until they are no longer deserving of decreases. So you have thousands of properties being re-evaluted downward for essentially a decade.”

COUNTY COUNSEL Tom Parker: “Correct. Once a property is in Proposition 8 status, it has to be evaluated every year by the Assessor to find out if the market for that property has recovered. If not, it’s not enough to bring it back up to its Proposition 13 value. It’s a lot of work.”

GJERDE: “So that ongoing effort in the Assessor’s office takes away from time they would spend looking for buildings that have popped up without building permits. They are not paying secured property taxes, so there’s a diversion of staff time required by state law. I’m not sure how to deal with that, lacking additional people in the Assessor’s office. That could be contributing to flat-lining revenue increases because parcels that are gaining new buildings are not on the tax rolls.”

PINCHES: “Back in 1980 after Proposition 13 passed, we had 12% increases every year. But over the last three years, it’s been minus. We are not getting 12% increases. We’re doing good to keep our assessed value up where it is. But it’s not increasing like the double-digit years. It’s minus in last three years. That’s where your revenue problem is.”

FORD: “Collection of property taxes is the Treasurer’s area. The delinquency factor has actually decreased a little recently. We’re doing well, where the amount County fronts for the Teeter Plan is basically keeping pace, because the tax roll has increased a little.”

GJERDE: “My concern is the amount of time available to find unpermitted buildings that need to be added to tax rolls. If staff time is going to evaluating downward assessment requests, it’s a multi-year effort every year for the foreseeable future and there’s not enough time to look for new buildings to add to the tax rolls.”

NO ONE seemed interested in inviting County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Susan Ranochak into the Boardroom to discuss the problem.

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SFStPatsSAN FRANCISCO'S St. Patrick's Day Parade featured, as the fatso-watsos are euphemized in the emergency rooms, several thousand “well-nourished” Americans, many of them marching behind union local banners. A street drunk muttered, “Here comes Local 9 of the fat fuck's union,” and I was reminded of those photos of yesterday's San Francisco parades up through the 1950s when an obese marcher was a rarity. There were so many triple X's on Market Street last Saturday, a fairly warm day, I wondered if they'd make it to the Civic Center before their cardiac arrests caught up with them. The Chron described the crowd as a “throng.” It wasn't. The Giants brought out the throngs. The annual Chinese New Year's Parade also draws a legit throng. This thing was fairly sparse most of the route. And there was much unpleasantness associated with Saturday's event, most of it springing from mass drop-fall drinking, which seems to have become the point of San Francisco's St. Patrick's Day. You had celebrating drunks, most of them young, on top of the now accepted sad spectacle of lost souls passed out in doorways and on the sidewalks, so many on Sutter you might have thought one of our mad gunmen had opened up on the crowd. There were also lots of young women in wedding dresses. “O, it's just a thing we do every year, a pub crawl in wedding dresses.” We do? I saw a pillow fight in Justin Herman Plaza one evening. I think the city has a major “cute” problem. I was young once. “You? Young?” Yes, and I remember being dumb and naïve, but I don't remember being lame. The afternoon was more bummer than transporting in any sense of the happy that was supposed to be the point.

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CITY OF UKIAH 
PLANNING & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT

Attention: Kim Jordan, 
300 Seminary Avenue, Ukiah, CA 95482

March 14, 2013

Subject: Comments on the Costco DEIR: Traffic Impact Analysis

The Costco DEIR does not provide for the mitigation of traffic problems associated with their proposed superstore. I refer specifically to Section 3.10 which discusses Transportation and Traffic and to the Appendix E Traffic Impact Analysis. No funds have been committed by the applicant for traffic mitigation measures and the City of Ukiah has not allocated any public funds as yet for this purpose.

The measures suggested in the DEIR are similar to those shown in the DEIR for Walmart in 2011 and were judged inadequate at that time. In fact, the Analysis is still based upon out-of-date traffic data for the February 2011, the month with the lowest traffic volumes. Why the Planning Department did not direct ALH to correct this obvious error is difficult to explain, to say the least. The proposed merger of the Southbound off-ramp from Hwy. 101 destined to turn West on Talmage Road onto what is now the turnabout restricted to traffic turning Eastbound onto Talmage is suggested but has not been included in the DEIR nor has funding been provided by Costco.

As things now stand, we have a Project that is woefully incomplete and does not address traffic mitigation, pedestrian access or bicycle safety adequately. Furthermore, no funding for these measures is included in the Costco application. The City initially took out a 20-year Bond in 2011 for this self-same road work. The State Department of the Treasury has forbidden Ukiah from using this Bond to finance Costco Roads and the City has been forced to carry the Bond on its books for at least 10 years before being able to pay it back at interest rates that escalate each year until 2021. The total cost of this screw-up will be over $10 million: $6.2 million in principle plus approximately $4 million in interest.

Certainly not discouraged by this impass, the City Council has recently applied for a new 30-year loan, financed by a small State sponsored revolving fund called “I” Bank for the Costco Roads. If this is approved, then the City will have undertaken two loans for the same private sector infrastructure work. The total cost of these loans, including interest, will reach more than $18 million by the time they are paid off, all to fund $6 million of road work that only benefits a profit making enterprise and adding one more huge food and beverage store to an area that already is well-supplied by seven supermarketse and 19 small groceries.

Many of your citizens are concerned that should the City be able to finance these road improvements, Walmart will reapply for their own Superstore that you turned down over a year ago. This will add an eighth big supermarket and place more traffic burdens on the two-lane Talmage Bridge over Hwy 101. The impact of both Costco and Walmart upon traffic certainly needs to be considered. Before reporting this Costco DEIR out of your Commission, you must demand that the City Council make a Cost/Benefit Analysis of the entire project and show how they believe the City of Ukiah can possibly repay their indebtedness for this private sector road work while still meeting their other financial commitments.

James Houle, Redwood Valley

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CITY OF UKIAH PLANNING & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT

Attention: Kim Jordan, 300 Seminary Avenue, Ukiah, CA 95482

March 14, 2013

Subject: Comments on the Costco DEIR: Urban Decay Report

The ALH Urban & Regional Economics Analysis prepared last August by Environmental Science Associates, Inc. does a very inadequate job of characterizing the sales impacts of the proposed Costco Store upon retail food and beverage businesses in the Ukiah Market Area. Of all commercial sectors, ALH believes the food and beverages sector will be impacted most severely. There are a total of 26 groceries and supermarkets stretching from the Hopland to Willits and eastward to Lake County that ALH identifies as likely to experience some impact upon their sales volumes. Of these, seven are quite large including 2 Safeways (Ukiah and Willits), 2 Grocery Outlet Stores (Ukiah and Lakeport), Lucky (Ukiah), Raleys (Ukiah), and Food Maxx (Ukiah). ALH says there is “a potential for one of these larger supermarkets to close” and that large scale vacancies may occur amongst amongst the nineteen smaller neighborhood groceries (they describe these as discount stores, conventional stores, niche markets, and ethnic oriented stores). They are not troubled by this impact upon smaller groceries and do not even bother to estimate the number likely to close.

They then assure the reader that these smaller volume enterprises won't “cause substantial hardship to the commercial marketplace” while giving no evidence to support this rosy conclusion. Urban Decay is stated to be the most severe impact that closures can have upon the marketplace and since ALH sees little probability of vandalism., graffiti, loitering, or deterioration of structures, they do not appear the least bit worried about a downward spiral of business closures. “There is limited evidence to suggest that closed store spaces will exhibit traditional signs of deterioration and decay”, they assure us.

The City Council has expressed fear of “Urban Sprawl” and feels that large out-of-town big box superstores will somehow contain and inhibit this sprawl. But when single family zoning forces residents to be dependent upon autos to reach shopping malls where big box enterprises are sequestered, and to drive a considerable distance to schools, health and government services, we find ourselves 100% reliant upon our cars. Those families unable to afford 1 much less 2 cars are very isolated. The Redwood Business Park is a fine example for pedestrians: lacking adequate sidewalks for walking shoppers, unreliable bus service, and separated ¾ to 1 mile from high density moderate income neighborhoods, a distance that ALH feels is much too far to walk, even if there were sidewalks. When Costco shuts down many of these smaller neighborhood groceries that have served the poorer neighborhoods along North and South States Street, the sense of isolation will be complete and the opportunities for vacant store fronts and urban decay will be enhanced. Surely the type of myopic urban planning that ALH has produced must be rejected.

James Houle, Redwood Valley

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FRIENDS OF WYATT PHILLIPS Spaghetti Dinner with live music by Double Standyrd — At the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds on March 23rd there is a very important fundraiser in the Fine Arts Building. Wyatt Phillips is a senior attending Ukiah High School. Wyatt was diagnosed with Leukemia last year. The disease and its effects hit Wyatt so quickly that he had to be taken by ambulance to UCSF for immediate emergency treatment. He has subsequently undergone an intensive Chemotherapy regimen. The Redwood Empire Lions Club is helping to host a Spaghetti Dinner with Live Entertainment by Double Standyrd. March 23rd at 530pm at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds Fine Arts Building. There will be a bake sale, silent auction and raffle all to help raise funds to help the Phillips family with Wyatt’s treatment expenses. Tickets are on sale at InsuranceMommy.Com, Rainbow Ag or by calling Gayla at 391-8114

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BAY DELTA CONSERVATION PLAN draft documents to be released

by Dan Bacher

Beginning Thursday, March 14, the California Natural Resources Agency plans to release a preliminary draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels.

A public review draft plan and formal comment period will be announced later this year.

“The preliminary draft chapters will be available for viewing on the day of the release on the BDCP website,” according to an announcement on the BDCP website. “The release will occur in three stages and each release will be followed by a public meeting.”

BDCP proponents claim the project would meet the co-equal goals of “ecosystem restoration” and “water supply reliability.” On the other hand, a broad coalition of fishermen, family farmers, Indian Tribes, environmentalists and elected officials opposes the construction of the twin tunnels because of the big threat they pose to Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green and white sturgeon and a host of other fish species.

Millions of fish would continue to be killed in the state and federal water export pumps if the peripheral tunnels proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan were built, according to a groundbreaking new white paper released by the California Sportfishing Alliance (CSPA) and Restore the Delta (RTD) on March 7.

The paper also dispelled the notion promulgated by the state and federal governments that the problem of massive fish kills would be solved by installing some some “magic” new fish screens on the proposed North Delta Intakes. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/03/07/1192455/-Peripheral-tunnels-could-increase-fish-kills-from-water-exports)

“Proponents of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and its peripheral tunnels suggest that only by diverting water from the Sacramento River can the Delta be restored because of immense fishery losses at the South Delta export pumps,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings, who wrote the white paper. “This is simply incorrect! Fish losses could even increase with the addition of a North Delta diversion point.”

To read the full paper, go to: http://www.restorethedelta.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/CSPA-BDCP-Fish-Screens-Revised.pdf

The anticipated schedule is as follows:

STAGE 1

March 14 BDCP release:

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Existing Ecological Conditions

Chapter 3: Conservation Strategy

Chapter 4: Covered Activities and Associated Federal Actions

March 20 Public Meeting on Chapters 1-4

Ramada Inn, West Sacramento, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

STAGE 2

March 27 BDCP release:

Chapter 5: Effects Analysis

Chapter 6: Plan Implementation

Chapter 7: Implementation Structure

April 4 Public Meeting on Chapters 5-7

STAGE 3

Week of April 22 release:

Chapter 8: Implementation Costs and Funding Sources

Chapter 9: Alternatives to Take

Chapter 10: Integration of Independent Science into BDCP

Chapter 11: List of Preparers

Chapter 12: Glossary

Week of April 29 Public Meeting on Chapters 8-12

For more information, go to: http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/BDCPPlanningProcess/KeyAnnouncements.aspx

2 Comments

  1. John Sakowicz March 19, 2013

    I miss my friend, Jim Houle, on the Grand Jury. I wish he would run for office or something.

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