BIG ORANGE ON THE RAMPAGE
by Will Parrish
Since Thursday, CalTrans' destruction along the southern portion of the proposed Willits Bypass route has been unrelenting. The roughly 1.5-mile long and 200 foot wide swath where Big Orange's contractors' have been sawing, excavating, and chipping is bracketed by The Warbler's tree on the south and a newer tree-sit in a pine grove roughly 1.5 miles away. A pair of young men scaled these trees into 4x8 foot platforms in the early morning of Monday, March 18th.
Though many of CalTrans' activities have been clearly illegal, there are neither any regulatory agencies nor any courts, nor any elected bodies, that are standing in the way. The only injunction against CalTrans' rampage that remains now is the tree sits.
As I write this Tuesday afternoon, CalTrans' contractors are sawing down oak and madrone trees on the east side of Highway 101 right under The Warbler's ponderosa pine. Four people have just been arrested after standing in front of the contractor's chainsaws and machinery, including Naomi Wagner and Ellen Faulkner of Earth First!
A large amount of “vegetation removal,” so-called, has occurred every day since Thursday. That has included destruction of oak trees that are hundreds of years old. Yesterday, CalTrans contractors felled pine trees right next to the tree sitters in the Ponderosa grove. Some of the trees fell within 10 feet of the tree sitters. Simultaneously, the California Highway Patrol dispatched a helicopter to circle around both tree sit areas, gathering some sort of surveillance information.
The chopper was so close to the ground on The Warbler's end that it kicked up a small dust storm and caused the CHP officers on the ground to throw their arms across their faces to shield their faces.
Indeed, Big Orange's illegal activities are occurring on the basis of perhaps the single largest mobilization of Highway Patrol officers anywhere in California. At the peak of the operation, there were roughly 60 CHP officers, at least two game wardens on quads, CHP choppers conducting aerial surveillance, round-the-clock police deployments on three different access routes, and a relatively short-lived check-point on East Hill Rd.
Such is the level of opposition to the Bypass, it is clear, that the CHP and CalTrans felt the need for veritable military occupation of Willits, at least of a portion of Willits.
This past Thursday, I woke up beneath the The Warbler's Ponderosa pine at around 6:50 a.m. I was almost immediately surrounded by California Highway Patrol squad cars. I and the other tree sit supporter on hand were outnumbered by the CHP's men by roughly 15 to 2. Since then, at any given time, there have been anywhere from 5 to 25 CHP officers stationed in the meadow near DripWorks to guard the site against anywhere from two to ten tree sit supporters.
Eleven people, including me, have been arrested in actions against the Bypass since the police occupation began.
Many of CalTrans' activities are clearly illegal. Some of the trees their contractors cut on Monday fell within 10 feet of the tree sitters, in contravention of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. CalTrans' bird surveys, which they are required to conduct under the 1927 Migratory Bird Act Treaty, are incomplete and utterly contradict Big Orange's Environmental Impact Report.
This past Thursday, at a CalTrans foreman's instigation, one of their contractors drove a bobcat through an Army Corps of Engineers-designated “jurisdictional wetland” area that CalTrans' own biologist had marked off as protected with orange tape and pointed out to the foreman only a few minutes before. The contractor's vehicle then spilled oil into the wetland pool. The entire incident was captured on video which is posted at www.saveourlittlelakevalley.org.
As The Warbler noted to me, “It's obvious they're used to getting away with anything they want to, and it's obvious why they feel that way when you see how many cops there are protecting them.”
Around 100 people attended a Board of Supervisors meeting this morning where Supervisor Pinches sponsored an agenda item to “reaffirm support” for the Bypass. The Supervisors had not yet voted on whether to send the support letter that Pinches proposed as of this writing.
I'll be reporting in greater detail next week. The opposition to the Bypass has not been vanquished; it seems only to have just begun.
BREAKING NEWS: After hours of public comments expressing opposition to the Caltrans bypass as currently designed, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to support sending a letter “expressing continued support for the Willits bypass project” that characterized the opposition as “a small segment of the local community,” with Supervisors Dan Hamburg and Dan Gjerde dissenting. More on Tuesday's meeting tomorrow from Willits Weekly's Mike A'Dair.
IN OTHER NEWS TODAY, there were at least four more arrests, at the Warbler tree-sit on Highway 101, as Caltrans contractors started logging the oak trees around the tree-sit. Those reportedly arrested include Naomi Wagner, Ellen Faulkner, Matt (last name unknown) and Steve (last name unknown). Calls to the Sheriff's booking office were not answered, and charges are still unknown.
THE SONOMA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES, as expected, gave final approval on March 19th to two contracts, one with SEIU (which includes the lowest paid county workers) and the other with the Administrative Management unit (which includes the highest paid employees, including Department Heads and the Supes themselves, and why management gets a bargaining unit is one of those questions no one asks anymore).
LAST AUGUST, the SoCo Supes adopted a "Resolution of Intent" specifying cuts for Admin Management, but said they would only take effect after agreement was reached with SEIU. But once SEIU came to terms, the Supes sweetened the deal for themselves in a closed door decision that was kept under wraps until SEIU signed off on their contract. The Supes gave a 3% raise to the Admin Management group and reneged on a promise to end the deferred compensation match for Dept. Heads and the Supes themselves.
RIGHT ABOUT HERE, let's consider a recent media program in the Bay Area that lamented the absence of coverage of local government. The same program also moaned at the absence of "investigative reporting." Local government requires reporters. Newspapers can no longer afford reporters to do it. Ditto for investigative reporting. Hooey, we say. We say the demand for thorough reporting on complicated issues, of which there's never been more, although you've got to search it out, is virtually non-existent among the gizmo-frazzled reading public, most of which can't focus on much of anything more complicated than the adventures of the Kardashian girls.
ANYWAY, SONOMA COUNTY is touting the contracts as a successful effort to rein in runaway pension costs, which have resulted in a pension-related debt of nearly a billion dollars, including an unfunded liability of $353 million plus more than $600 million in Pension Obligation Bonds (POB). The County of Sonoma claims it needs to save $150 million over the next ten years, and that the two approved contracts equal 75% of the necessary savings. Which seems to ignore the nearly one billion dollar hole the County has already dug itself. The projected "savings" amount to less than half the current unfunded liabilities and ignores the more than $600 million in POBs. The County claims the new contracts will result in savings of 2.5% from SEIU, 5.1% from managers, 6.8% from Dept. Heads and 8.5% from the Supes. Except no one is taking a pay cut as a result of these deals, which instead provide for a 3% cost of living increase for everyone but the Supes. The deal with SEIU also provides for one-time cash payments of $2,000. and health care allowances of nearly $1,000 a month. The savings are supposed to come from reductions in such things as vacation cash-outs, but the Supes, the County and SEIU have failed to clearly explain the pension-related savings or how they will offset the enhanced salary and benefits.
THE STAFF ANALYSIS also fails to distinguish between savings that are attributable to the new contracts and those that are required by the Public Employees Pension Reform Act (PEPRA). For instance, Sonoma County previously had a sweet deal for Department Heads who automatically received a 5% pay raise upon announcing their retirement, and the Sonoma Supes, already the third highest paid in the State of California, had half their retirement cost paid for by the taxpayers. Including give aways like these, which are clearly outlawed by PEPRA, skews the calculations of the projected savings to make it look like the Supes and Dept. Heads are taking a much bigger hit from the new contracts than they really are (if they are taking a hit at all, considering the 3% pay raise and the continuation of the deferred comp match).
SEVERAL SEIU MEMBERS AND RETIREES told the Supes how hard it was to make ends meet on pay and benefits that are generous by private industry and non-profit standards. Supervisors Susan Gorin, Mike McGuire and Shirlee Zane, who were all backed by SEIU for election, all shed crocodile tears on behalf of the employees and called for the board to revisit the continuation of the deferred comp match, then voted in favor of the contract. Which is odd, since the three SEIU-backed Supes are a majority and could have refused to go along with continuing the deferred comp match. Except that would have come out of their paychecks. Staff helpfully explained that the real reason to continue the deferred comp benefit is because staff has so far been unable to find a legal way to grant a corresponding benefit (in the form of a health care allowance) to the Dept. Heads and Supes. So the Supes will continue to receive $134,000 in base salary, plus additional pay and benefits (including the infamous deferred comp match) that push their total compensation to around a quarter of a million dollars each per year. If you've missed the point of all this it is that Sonoma County is not viable as a long-term entity and may not be viable even as a short-term entity.
BY CONTRAST, the Mendocino County Supes, over the objection of the eternally grasping Kendall Smith and Dan Hamburg, cut their base pay 10% last year, in real dollars, from $68,000 to $61,200. Hamburg, along with everyone but Smith, was also voluntarily taking the 10% pay cut, but sided with Smith on the vote out of some odd sense of loyalty to the Fort Bragg bunco artist. Smith argued that her pay was already 25% undermarket, and she would gladly take a 10% pay cut after she first received a 25% raise. Smith, along with Colfax, were also the only Mendo Supes who received a deferred comp match, another "me first" benefit finagled by Smith. (If you ask under what market are people like Smith and Colfax undervalued, you won't be invited to Democratic Party wine and cheese functions.)
NEW FOURTH DISTRICT SUPE DAN GJERDE, who forced Smith's retirement simply by announcing he would run against her, was also an advocate for the 10% pay cut, which looked like a no-brainer to everyone but Smith if you're asking struggling line workers to take pay cuts. Gjerde has also taken it upon himself to correct another of Smith's many flagrant abuses of office. After Smith got dinged by the Grand Jury for cheating on her travel reimbursement claims, she pushed through a change to pay each of the Supes a set monthly amount for in-county travel, instead of having each Supe submit claims for actual miles traveled. The travel allowance for each Supe varied based on the size of their district and the mileage from their home to the County Admin Center. Smith also pushed through an allowance to allow only her to charge the County for two motel nights every week the Supes met. This allowed Smith to double dip by billing the County for her motel stays while also collecting the travel allowance for the travel she was not taking. Because it is an allowance instead of a reimbursement, she could pocket the money with no consequences. The travel allowance, unlike a reimbursement, also counts toward retirement, which has allowed Smith to pad her retirement income by several thousand dollars a year. In contrast, Gjerde pays for his own motel room, rightly reasoning that the taxpayers should not be expected to pay both the travel allowance and the motel cost. Gjerde could take it one step further, as the Grand Jury has recommended, and go back to the system of reimbursement for miles actually traveled, a system that seemingly worked well until Smith, and her partner in crime, former 5th Dist. Supe David Colfax, began abusing the policy. Colfax was equally remiss, but was smarter at stonewalling the Grand Jury.
SEIU IN MENDOCINO COUNTY continues to gear up for new contract negotiations. SEIU settled for a 10% pay cut last year after first bungling their way to a 12.5% pay cut for their sorely put upon membership. The inept SEIU leadership is aware that many of their members are questioning the value of paying SEIU to consistently misrepresent them, and seems intent on convincing the members that if they show a united front they can win back the 10% wage cut. Except all indications are that County revenue has remained flat for the last four years at the same time that costs for medical care and retirement keep going up. And unless SEIU can show where the money is coming from to pay for a raise, the present members of the Board of Supes are unlikely to vote for a pay raise after struggling to balance the budget with cuts and layoffs for the last four years.
SEIU has put out a lamebrain flier proclaiming Purple Power! Demanding Respect since 1921. For nearly 100 years - since the first SEIU janitors in Chicago - till now with SEIU 1021 workers in Mendocino, the issue has always been respect. We earn that every day as we serve the people of our county. And it's never more important than when we are at the table negotiating a contract. To show our united support for our bargaining team, join us in wearing something purple and/or your SEIU t-shirt every Tuesday. PURPLE UP 4 PURPLE POWER! Every Tuesday till we have a contract.
ASIDE from the somewhat fanciful comparison to Chicago janitors of 90 years ago, many of whom were radicals and not purplish lib-labs, SEIU appears to have learned little from the last round of contract negotiations. SEIU portrayed the County, symbolized by CEO Carmel Angelo and the Board of Supes, as mean oafs intent on crushing the spirit of American labor! It was time for County employees to show the Supervisors who's boss. SEIU sought to rally support from other unions, the local business community and the general public, but fell flat on their uncomprehending purple pusses, which is what happens when you have an overpaid labor union leadership making decisions from view window offices in Sacramento.
THE BASIC PROB for SEIU is that County revenue sources are flat and expenses are up. Almost everyone in the community except the SEIU leadership seems to understand these basic facts. The SEIU leadership usually fails to show up when the Supes are discussing budget issues, and when SEIU does show up they invariably display a mis-understanding of budget basics. And the SEIU leadership shows no interest in understanding budget basics because that would undermine their argument for a restoration of the pay cut. If SEIU really wants to see a pay increase, they should become advocates for smart budget decisions, like ending the Teeter Plan general fund subsidy of Brooktrails (which was on the agenda for March 26). Or SEIU could get behind Supervisor Gjerde who wants to see the County Assessor step up efforts to collect property tax for all the un-permitted improvements that scofflaws have erected everywhere in the unincorporated areas of the County. For the last thirty years or so, there has been little discernible effort on the part of the County to make sure everyone is paying their fair share of property taxes, resulting in a situation where normally honest people are encouraged to skip the permitting and assessment process. But in place of strategic thinking, the best the SEIU braintrust can offer is a purple flyer encouraging a high school pep-rally type mentality.
SEIU IS ALSO SUING in a quixotic effort to prevent the County from contracting out mental health services. Mental Health has been a budgetary and service delivery black hole for the last twenty or more years. Repeated efforts to "fix" mental health have come to naught. Finally, the County, with the active encouragement of the Mental Health Board and mental health advocates, including the Mendocino County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), decided to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for adult mental health services. The thinking seems to be that a private operator could not do any worse than the present failed system and might actually do better, maybe much better, because the private operator will be accountable to meeting performance standards in ways that the publicly-run mental health system is not. The RFP has been in the works for going on two years, but SEIU only got around to suing last month, right when the County is in the process of evaluating the proposals that have come in, at least one from the local cadre of caring professionals.
SEIU INTERIM LABOR REP Sandi Madrigal, in response to questions from the Ukiah Daily Journal, wrote that the fact that the County currently contracts out for over 60 percent of mental health services "shows that the county has a tendency to shed itself of responsibilities for its residents and to funnel public funds to private entities." The "private entities" to whom public funds are being funneled are local non-profits like the Youth Project and Redwood Children's Services who manage to deliver the needed services within budget and without generating complaints. Madrigal also asserts "the County has given up on trying to deliver the proper services. It's not a matter of money - the County is paying private companies to do the work. It's a matter of having the will to do it right." Which seems to make the case for the County contracting out - because the fact is - the local non-profits are getting the job done in a way that the County was not able to do, despite years of trying different strategies and different managers.
MADRIGAL DODGED THE QUESTION when asked if the SEIU lawsuit was about preserving union jobs, saying that the union is just making sure that the County carries out its responsibilities (please, Sandi), adding "we are of and for the community, we can do it, and it's the right thing to do." All of which ignores that they, the County employees, have not been doing "it" for some time now, hence the RFP. Diane Zucker, a NAMI member and self-described union person is quoted as saying the County is doing "very poorly" and looks to the non-profits to deliver services that have not been available, including adequate crisis response, supportive housing, improved case management and an employment program. Zucker agrees that government jobs should be preserved, as any true liberal would, but concludes that "the important thing is that the services are there for the people that need them." And right now, all too often, the services are not there for mentally ill adults.
SONYA NESCH, in what seems like an odd twist, has been hired by the County Mental Health Dept. (now euphemistically called the Dept. of Behavioral Health) to teach a series of classes in Gualala titled "Shedding Light on Mental Illness." Nesch has been a harsh critic of County Mental Health, the Supes, and the CEO for not implementing Laura's Law which she sees as a panacea for the treatment of the mentally ill. Among many points of disagreement between Nesch and the County are whether or not Mental Health Services Act funding can be used to implement Laura's Law in Mendocino County (it can't, which is why that authority is contained in one or more bills now before the state legislature). And whether or not it would have prevented the tragic murders of Matt Coleman and Jere Melo and the death of Aaron Bassler, who gunned them down without warning (it would not have, as clearly documented in DA Eyster's report on Bassler's death, because Bassler, based on all the known facts, did not qualify for Laura's Law).
COMMENT OF THE DAY: When you add binge drinking to the "boys will be boys" culture that has enabled bullying and sexual assault by high school/college age boys for decades, (especially among hero-jocks), bad things are going to happen. And over the last decade, the "don't snitch" mentality that has come out of the hip-hop/gangsta culture is only adding gas to the fire, as has been evidenced in Steubenville and elsewhere as victims are attacked for bringing charges against their abusers. Jocks + booze + don't snitch = rape with impunity. Another aspect of our culture that is in great need of confrontation and reform is that of our schools; from high schools to colleges and universities, that are culpable in maintaining this wildly dysfunctional and outlandishly chauvenistic idea that if a young woman is inebriated, (or even if she's not), a little "messing around" is just a part of growing up. A lawsuit was announced just yesterday against the University of North Carolina, after a female student was threatened with EXPULSION because the charges she made against her alleged attacker, another UNC student, were creating an academic environment that's allegedly intimidating for HIM!!! But what can one expect to happen in the future when our own conservative political leaders, the ones who claim to stand for "family values," are ignorant and misogynistic enough to introduce the concept of "forcible" rape into an anti abortion legislative proposal, in the attempt to differentiate between a rape by violence and the rape of a drugged or otherwise incapacitated woman, thereby suggesting that victims of the latter category should be given less cosideration and protection! Shame! The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," (HR-3), was sponsored by, among others, Paul Ryan, and the now infamous Todd Akin who misspoke and called the concept "legitimate rape" in an interview, thereby destroying his 2012 Senate bid, (thank God), and shining a light on the lengths that the GOP will go to recriminalize abortion, even if it reinforces the mindset that date rape and incest are somehow lesser evils because the victims aren't beaten half to death as they're assaulted! Stay classy, Republicans.
THE PUBLIC OPPOSES THE PERIPHERAL TUNNELS
(Letters to the Editor, Sacramento Bee, 3/26/13)
The Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels is proceeding forward without any approval by the voters because the Brown administration knows that the project would be overwhelming defeated just like the peripheral canal plan was in 1982.
The tunnel plan is simply a corporate water grab by agribusiness, oil companies and Southern California water agencies. The "habitat restoration" in the plan is added as an afterthought by state officials to green wash the destruction of the largest estuary on the West Coast.
The tunnels will spread the carnage of Central Valley Chinook salmon, steelhead and other fish north to the Sacramento River while the massive fish kills at the state and federal water pumps in the South Delta will continue. How can we trust the state to construct state-of-the-art fish screens on the new intakes when they have failed to install them at the existing pumps? — Dan Bacher, Sacramento
by Supervisor Dan Gjerde
Opportunity to prohibit oil rigs. Many of us remember the marathon hearing at Fort Bragg's Eagle's Hall back in 1988 when the federal government proposed oil leases off the Mendocino Coast. In 1996 the people of Fort Bragg overwhelmingly voted for Measure C, codified as ordinance 790, stating that the City would prohibit onshore and offshore oil facilities. Unfortunately, the Coastal Commission prevented inclusion of the oil ban in the city's Local Coastal Program.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey worked for more than a decade to pass legislation that would block oil rigs as far north as Point Arena. Her proposal to expand the Bay Area's Gulf of the Farralones National Marine Sanctuary was unanimously supported by the boards of supervisors in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Although her legislation failed to pass both houses of Congress, a few months ago President Barack Obama announced his administration would consider the proposal. Seeing an opportunity, I worked with supervisor John McCowen to write a resolution supporting the proposed expansion with a request that the administration consider the entire Mendocino Coast. I'm pleased to report that the Board of Supervisors approved the resolution with a unanimous vote. When the administration returns to the Mendocino Coast for more meetings this fall we will see if the long-sought protections are contemplated for our entire coastline.
Protecting waterways and resource lands. Last year, assemblymember Wesley Chesbro worked with resource land managers and the Jere Melo Foundation to discourage illegal water diversions and damage to the natural environment. Chesbro's legislation, AB2284, was an attempt to protect lands from activities common to trespass marijuana grows. As signed into law, counties can authorize law enforcement to stop vehicles transporting irrigation pipe on unpaved roads within designated public lands and to private resource lands as small as 2500 acres when law enforcement has written authorization from private landowners. It also creates new civil fines for people convicted of environmental crimes such as water diversions, littering or pollution of waterways when done in conjunction with producing or growing a controlled substance on parks and other public lands, as well as private land that is zoned for timber production. The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted to opt into this law and we hope this gives resource managers an effective tool to protect our County's natural environment.
Looking for long term results. When not participating in meetings, I've spent much of my time researching what the County can do to achieve three things: one. Successfully maintain county roads, 2. Sustainably manage the County's pension system, and 3. Improve the health of the community.
Roads. In this column I will summarize what I found so far about the county's roads. The county owns 630 miles of paved roads with another 354 miles of unpaved road.
Unfortunately, many of Mendocino County's paved roads are in poor condition with a weighted score of 37 out of 100. In fact, only Amador County's paved roads rated worse than Mendocino's. The average in the state is 66 out of 100. To see the report go to the website: savecaliforniastreets.org.
However, the City of Fort Bragg has proven the value of new paving technologies. When Fort Bragg streets were rated in 2007, South Corry Street was rated a very poor road, just 23 out of 100. After the structural dig outs, a leveling course, a layer of rubberized chip seal and then a cape seal, in 2010 the road was rated 94 out of 100. Traditionally, engineers would recommend a total reconstruction of a very poor road which could cost $140 a square yard. Fort Bragg only paid $16 per square yard. I recently gave the South Corry Street example to County staff and they are considering rubberized chip seals for at least some county roads.
That said, it's not yet clear where the county can find the money to put all of its roads on a schedule to be resurfaced once every 15-20 years, even with chip seals. The cities of Fort Bragg, Willits, and Point Arena all have voter-approved sales taxes to pay to resurface city streets. State law would need to be amended before residents who live outside of the cities can be given the chance to decide if they want a similar sales tax to maintain county roads. Along these same lines, the County Transportation Director is working with other transportation engineers around California to seek new funding for local roads.
In the meantime, I'll keep gathering information and will give the Board of Supervisors a memo with thoughts and questions to consider as we discuss next year's budget.
(Dan Gjerde is a Mendocino County Supervisor, newly elected from the Fourth District. Prior to representing people with the county, Mr. Gjerde was a member of the Fort Bragg City Council for 14 years. Contact him gjerde.mendocino.ca.us.)