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Mendocino County Today: March 28, 2013

SUPES SUPPORT WILLITS BYPASS — Despite Outpouring Of Opposition

by Willits Weekly’s Mike A’Dair

Courtesy Willits Weekly / https://www.facebook.com/WillitsWeekly

By a 3-2 margin, the Mendocino County Board of supervisors on March 26th approved a letter of support for the Willits Bypass project. The letter was brought to the Board by Third District Supervisor John Pinches, who voted in favor of sending the letter to Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

Dougherty
Dougherty

Pinches was joined in the 3-2 vote by supervisors Carre Brown (1st District) and John McCowen (2nd District). Supervisors Dan Gjerde (4th District) and Dan Hamburg (5th District) voted against sending the letter.

During three and a half hours of public comment, a total of 60 people spoke on the question of the Willits Bypass. 59 of them were against the bypass and against sending the letter. One person spoke in support of the bypass and in favor of sending the letter.

That one person was Phil Dow, executive director of the Mendocino Council of Governments (MCOG), a joint powers agency charged with allocating state and federal transportation dollars throughout Mendocino County. MCOG has allocated some $31 million to the bypass project since 1997.

In comments to the board, Pinches characterized the letter as “very simple. There’s nothing new in it. What it says basically is that the public process is over on this issue. This is a construction site now. And all we’re requesting is that the construction site be protected for the workers, and, to move on with the project. After 14 years of public process, at some point in time you have to either drop the ball or hit the ball,” Pinches said.

Comments from the public seemed to be a spontaneous outpouring of alarm at the inadequacies of the proposed bypass and at the environmental, economic and spiritual devastation that speakers believed will inevitably result in Willits and in Little Lake Valley if the project is built.

Any account in the press of what was said must necessarily fall far short of capturing the emotion in the room and any review of what was said, a touching of “high spots” at best, has to be subjective.

In point of fact, what happened in the board room on March 26 was one of the greatest days for democracy, for the environment and for common sense that I have ever seen in my career as a reporter.

Each speaker was magnificent and, to do justice to the meeting, I would have to write a 40 or 50 page transcription of the entire public comment period. I can’t do that and so must be content with offering a few leading points.

Rosamond Crowder presented a number of photographs and charts on the topic of traffic flow. She noted that the traffic north of Willits remains at 8,000 vehicles a day, which it has been since 1992. She pointed out that a four-lane freeway is designed to carry 40,000 vehicles a day, and they reach capacity at 80,000 vehicles a day. Crowder said that a web camera one mile north of Willits (www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1tmc/1_cam.php?cam=27) takes hourly photographs of traffic, and she offered one of the web cam photos’ of the jam-up at the camera site: the photograph showed an empty road, north and south.

Jeff Harris pointed out that the bypass project will incorporate some 55,000 “wicking wells” in an effort to reduce or eliminate groundwater along the proposed bypass route. This is necessary to give the freeway engineers a dry environment in which to set the pylons that will support the roadway. Harris said the technology is unproven and that the exact contours and characteristics of the Little Lake aquifer (or aquifers) are unknown.

“You can go into an aquifer and think you are going to drain it but you can punch through it and send that water down to a lower aquifer, by mistake,” Harris said. “The record on that is, we really don’t know what’s down there. Don’t rush into this. You can wait for better information.”

David Partch pointed to the problem of global climate change. He mentioned the National Climate Assessment, recently published by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, which concluded that climate change is real and that action is urgently needed.

“Climate change is here and they are saying that it will take every possible action, everything we can possibly do, in order to make it stop. And we can’t stop it, but if we do everything in our power, we might be able, even at this late hour, we might be able to mitigate some of the impacts of it,” Partch said. “In other words, we need to act, now.

“Because if we don’t, future generations will suffer immensely, if they are lucky enough to survive at all. This bypass runs directly counter to the mandate to stop global climate change. So if you send this letter, you will be giving up on future generations.”

A member of one of those future generations was in the boardroom on Tuesday and made an impassioned speech against the bypass. Her name is Rose Raiser Jeavons and she is all of 13 years old. “The current bypass design is the worst possible option for the people and for the environment of Mendocino County,” Jeavons said.

“Anyone truly studying the facts can see that it is an environmental disaster of catastrophic proportions. Caltrans admits it will cause the failure of about 20% of the businesses in Willits, which means the loss of jobs, tax revenues and quality of life. And Caltrans even says the bypass won’t solve the traffic problem for which it was designed, because the Highway 101 and Highway 20 intersection will still be a disaster, and that is in great part what is causing the problem.”

Ashton Bloomquist, a young woman who described herself as the manager of a local business, broke into tears when she tried to imagine what the Willits economy will look like when the bypass is built. “Diverting tourism dollars out of Willits will make our downtown a ghost town,” she said. “I think my five-year-old son said it best last night when he said to me: ‘Whose idea is this? We need nature. Our city needs the valley and the wildlife to be happy.’”

Willits Mayor Holly Madrigal asked that one of the public commenters read a letter from her, and Sandy Marshall did so. In the letter, Madrigal took an even-handed approach. “I have been frustrated by the rhetoric on both sides of this issue,” Madrigal wrote. “The protesters make it sound as if this project moving forward will be the equivalent of an atomic bomb going off in Little Lake Valley. Willits will survive even if this project moves forward. The citizens supporting the bypass are understandably eager to get local folks to work, but they are not looking at the long-term economic impacts to the town and its businesses. I just spoke with members of the Cloverdale City Council who state that the city is still experiencing the fiscal hit of losing their through traffic.”

The comments from the public succeeded in swaying two supervisors. Dan Gjerde and Dan Hamburg. Gjerde, who as a longstanding member of MCOG has repeatedly voted in favor of allocating MCOG funds to the bypass, noted that the thought of changing his mind on the bypass made him uncomfortable.

“It’s only about 22,000 vehicles a day,” Gjerde said. North Main Street is “just barely over capacity. You could easily divert that traffic with connector streets that would parallel Main Street.”

“But, this is kind of difficult, as some people have said, it’s not easy to vote one way and then take new information and look at things differently. So I’m uncomfortable at this point, knowing what I know about the project, in signing a letter saying ‘go for the project.’ That said, I think, as Supervisor Pinches mentions, it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where it’s not built. But, also, I don’t feel comfortable signing the letter,” Gjerde said.

Hamburg said that the bypass conflicted with newly emerging efforts to create a localized culture. “I heard so many concerns raised today,” Hamburg said. “I think the overarching concern to me is whether we are building something that maybe would have been appropriate a couple of decades ago. But now, as we’re trying to move into this, at least to my political mind, move into this more localized culture, this sort of post-petroleum age — I know it’s not going to happen in the next five years, or even 10 years — but we are trying, if we want to survive (and there were several people who spoke to this). We are trying to create a new paradigm.…

“There was a kind of, speaker after speaker today that finally wore me down,” Hamburg said, “and I’m not totally sure that nothing can be done. So it’s in that spirit that maybe something can be done to make this project more in keeping with the kind of vision that I have for the future of Mendocino County…. I know what you’re talking about. I understand the language you’re using when you talk about trying to create a different opportunity for generations to come, and the very real thing that’s happening, an overall deterioration of the planet on every level. Those things speak very dearly to my heart and I’m inclined to join my colleague from the 4th District.”

2nd District Supervisor John McCowen explained his vote in favor of sending the letter: “I’m concerned that the alternatives that have been suggested (i.e., alternative ideas suggested by the public and by various groups of people opposed to the bypass over the past 15 years) don’t really address the problem for US 101. They may address problems for Willits, but I don’t think they do it completely.”

McCowen continued: “Some say that we will build a Baechtel Road-Railroad Avenue route, and we will build a truck route too. And every one of those things you do will have its own impact to the community and direct impacts to people on those streets.

“Willits needs to do some of those things whether you have a bypass or not,” McCowen said. “But when the day comes when you’re actually talking about doing these things, you’ll see a lot of people stand up and say: ‘You can’t do that! It will have these impacts and those impacts!’ Including environmental justice impacts, putting a major route through low-income neighborhoods.

“You can all shake your heads, but that’s part of the reality of it. My concern is, we are not looking at a choice between the ideal bypass and the proposed route. We are looking at a choice between the proposed route and no bypass. I don’t find that a continuation of the status quo for the next 20 years to be acceptable, and I think that’s what we are looking at.”

Supervisor Pinches ended his comments by noting: “The project is underway. The area of the construction site is secured. All this letter does is reaffirm the commitment of the previous board of supervisors and MCOG to this project. It might be stopped at the court hearing in June, who knows?

“It’s important to me, if we can’t plan and design and go through the environmental process of projects anymore, where are we as a state? Why should we have an MCOG? Why should we have a planning process?”

Things got a little noisy as the board came to a vote. Pinches asked Hamburg to call for the vote on the issue, claiming that it was too late to ask for a political contribution, but Hamburg grew stern and silenced both the public and the board.

“I don’t want to hear any more about this,” he said. “I don’t want to hear any more jokes. I don’t want to hear anybody malign each other’s political courage. We all have different ways we come to our decisions. I think my decision has as much validity as any other supervisor’s.”

With that the vote came down, and the symbolic letter of support to Caltrans was narrowly approved.

— Mike A’Dair

BypassBOS4

Photo courtesy of Willits photographer Steve Eberhard

/http://photocogitator.com/

SUPERVISOR PINCHES will now be seen as the villain in the ongoing Willits Bypass saga, but it should be remembered that it was Pinches who suggested years ago that the Bypass be built along the abandoned rail line right of way east of town. Pinches' commonsense pitch for the existing, most direct, most ecologically viable, already engineered, cheapest route bypassing Willits would be the rail line, but the supervisor was ignored. The railroad people, aka Northcoast Democrats, insisted, and still insist, that rail service will one glorious day again chug up and down the tracks from Eureka to Marin, a fantasy that ignores the impassable conditions of the Eel River Canyon but a fantasy that conveniently employs them — Party old boys like Mitch Stogner and, in the past, Dan Hauser. Pinches is also correct that at this point the review process, ongoing for 20 years, is over.

IT WOULD BE HELPFUL to the Bypass protests if exhibitionists like Jack Gescheidt and his traveling freak show, TreeSpirit, were discouraged. He's the guy who shows up with a bunch of people who shouldn't take their clothes off in the dark by themselves, they all disrobe and drape their sagging, unattractive flesh on undefended trees. They were in Willits the other day, proclaiming, “This bold demonstration of support for woodlands, wetlands, wildlife and community was held March 23. As with all TreeSpirit events, it was peaceful inspired by the trees themselves.” It's this kind of thing that has discredited protests of all kinds for years.

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EDITOR: I have been very vocal about the protection of the Ridgewood Ranch from a zoning change that could affect the ranch for years to come. During the last several weeks I have become even more passionate about the protection of the beautiful place that I moved to in order to raise my family away from those noisy cities.

I hear things about “not from here” or “she's only been here a few years.” That makes me wonder if that is how people feel about ME? I mean how long does one need to live here to be a “local”? A year? Five years? A lifetime? Just how long? I have lived in Willits for 27-plus years now. We built our house and sent four children through the Willits Unified School system. They are all fine upstanding citizens with some of THEIR children now going to school here. So please tell me what is a “local”? Do you see me as a “dirty long haired hippy”?  “Uneducated” or a “non-tax payer”? Those are the terms I have heard bantered around about the protestors. I take issue with that. Our family has been contributing to the tax base of this county from the moment we moved here. Yet we are all lumped together in the eyes of the pro-Bypass supporters.

I find it interesting that the most derogatory remarks I have heard have come from people whom I thought were well educated. Some are friends of mine whom I thought I knew better. People who now seem to me to be very small minded. People who say things like “cut the trees down with them in them” or “shoot them down,” or “wouldn't it be fun to drive by the protesters with paint ball guns?” and many other statements too disgusting to print. People who don’t search out the facts of an issue and just go along with it because “they heard”? Funny I don't hear that kind of immature name calling from the protesters, most of whom are, like me, supportive, hard working, tax -paying citizens of this beautiful county.

Which brings me to the issue at hand. I ask all of you who weren't “born” here, what brought you here? We all have our stories. Why did you, or your parents, or grandparents move here to begin with? The beauty of the Little Lake Valley can't be found very often in this day and age. A valley that turns into a small lake every winter for a reason. Supporting fish and wildlife habitat is its job! That JOB is about to be taken away. No amount of mitigation measures are going to replace those wetlands, or save the lost grazing for the Elk and deer and cattle who all depend on it. These wetlands are headwaters to the Eel River and its very important salmon spawning tributaries. What is going to happen when all that water is “soaked up” by the so called “wicks” they will employ? I can only imagine how some of the old time ranchers in the valley feel about what is about to happen. They are “keepers of the land” as well. That is why the California Farm Bureau joined the lawsuit. I can't imagine this beautiful “one of a kind” valley with a huge berm and viaduct cutting through it. Can you?

I have read comments from residents of Cloverdale telling us that they have survived just fine and are even better off with their bypass. But the circumstances in Willits are much, MUCH different than Cloverdale.

None of the people who live and work around here deny that a solution is desperately needed. People say “well why haven?t they protested before? They had plenty of time.” It HAS been disagreed upon before and no one has listened. This is a last ditch effort to get the attention of the Big Mighty Steamroller that is CalTrans. There have been several other solutions presented that are cheaper and make more SENSE. But CalTrans has turned a deaf ear. OUR tax dollars are NOT working for the residents of Willits and Mendocino County. If they were serious about our traffic, there would be a Hwy 20 interchange of some sort. There is NOT! How many people are employed in Willits who live in Ukiah or Fort Bragg or Laytonville? How many Willits residents are employed in Ukiah or Fort Bragg? How many companies in Willits have MANY trucks arriving and departing daily? This Bypass, as designed, will NOT help those people. It won't help any of the residents that live south or north of town. It will NOT help the congestion that occurs at lunchtime or after school. It will NOT help congestion at Sherwood Road. It will NOT help the tourists congestion headed to and from the coast. And it will NOT help the always slipping Ridgewood Grade.

The Grade — now THERE is a lesson in Mother Nature! How is CalTrans going to manage a seasonal lake and wetlands when they can't manage a constantly moving mountain on the Ridgewood Grade? No amount of Styrofoam will stabilize that mountain.

So before all the name calling gets out of hand and seriously divides this community that we ALL love, let’s pay attention to the facts.

Our tax money could be better spent by using one of the cheaper, less destructive alternatives. THINK ABOUT IT!

As our beloved Ed Burton used to say, “There's a Better Way.”

Roni McFadden, Willits

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A READER WRITES: "You've written about Bob West before, the guy who is in charge of the county's maintenance people (buildings and grounds). He's little loved amongst his colleagues. Got fired last week, official confirmation was Tuesday. A grounds crew guy I know said West is "a 12 on the asshole scale." He and co-workers went to the Forest Club to celebrate last Friday after work."

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THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE toll takers are gone as of Tuesday midnight. Traffic has moved smoothly in the hours since. The following are random remarks about the Bridge going all-electronic:

(1) They are going to be wasting a lot of time and money on postage. I know that I'm not the only one who doesn't use Fasttrack, nor do I ever plan to. It'll be a cold day in hell before I use a credit card for anything, much less an online payment for a bridge toll. So, every time I and people like me cross the bridge, envelopes will have to be stuffed with the bill and sent through the mail. How is this less wasteful? Other than in being one further major blow to public employees?

(2) So I must not understand — just scan your credit card or stop first and get some sort of ticket.

(3) It works like this: A camera scans all license plates as they pass through the toll area. Those who have already paid will have the toll deducted from their account. Those who haven't paid will have a bill sent to the address the vehicle is registered under. If you don't return payment within a certain period of time, you pay a fine. You can pay your toll ahead of time online, although I don't have the link bookmarked to include it here.

(4) So it's the honor system? If you have a new car with no license plate, and you don't have FasTrak, you have to prepay somewhere. What happens if you don't? Or you sell your used vehicle to someone and you keep getting billed because they haven't prepaid? How easy will it be to send the sale info to keep you from being billed? Rental cars? Will Bay Area rental car companies charge more as a reserve in case you're a tourist who will be crossing the Golden Gate, or will they now have to have employees to research who rented the car at the time it was recorded crossing the toll area so they can bill the renter? Seems as if there may be a few holes in the plan of operation.

ONE OF THE PROBLEMS at the former Bridge Toll Booth area during initial phases of the no-toll-taker operations is that some of the signs leading up to the toll booth area are confusing and cause some driver’s to act strangely and interfere with traffic. Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, said the district had considered “tweaking the signs,” but they chose not to because “it could take months to get CalTrans approval to do so.”

THIS IS THE SAME CALTRANS that is trying to build the “bypass” around Willits.

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MORE THAN HALF of America's rivers and streams are now unable to support life after decades of pollution, it was revealed yesterday. The bulk of the damage has been done by agricultural fertilizers such as phosphorus and nitrogen washing from fields into waterways. In total, 55% of rivers and streams were classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as being “poor,” with only a fifth in good health. The agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 —from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55% of them in poor condition, 23% in fair shape, and 21% in good biological health. The most widespread problem is high levels of nutrient pollution, caused by phosphorus and nitrogen washing into rivers and streams from farms, cities, and sewers. High levels of phosphorus — a common ingredient in detergents and fertilizers — are found in 40% of rivers and streams. Another major problem is over-development, as land clearing and building along waterways increases erosion and flooding, allowing more pollutants to enter waters. “This new science shows that America's streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Nancy Stoner, from the EPA's water office. “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation's streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy.” Conditions are worse in the East, the report found. More than 70% of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast are in poor shape. Streams and rivers are healthiest in sparsely populated Western mountain areas, where only 26% were classified as in poor condition. The EPA also found some potential risks for human health. In 9% of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds thought to endanger health. The toxic chemical mercury was found in fish along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes. The Obama administration finalized regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants for the first time in late 2011.

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MONEY WORRIES

By James Howard Kunstler

Of course, everybody should have been worried a lot sooner than last week because the basic operating system of global banking is accounting fraud, and has become that stealthily, insidiously, for about 15 years now. Nothing is what it appears to be anymore. Compound interest has not really been working since 2008 because the world can't increase its energy production enough to generate the additional surplus wealth needed to cover the aggregate interest due all around the world.

What remains are games of musical chairs, Ponzi schemes, frauds, swindles, stonewalls, ruses, ploys, scams, dodges, bluffs, subterfuges, QE martingales, interventions, rehypothecations, pretenses and other modes of evading or disguising reality. The reality is that there is not enough real wealth to go around, certainly not enough to cover the giant web of obligations that masquerades as "money." So, now whenever somebody or some company or government or entity is called upon to put up or shut up, the danger arises that the whole web will disintegrate, since all the participants are broke. You want "your" money? Wait three days. Make that four days. Check that, let's say next week. How about two months from now? Oh, forget about it.... No wonder folks are spooked.

This is really getting out of hand. That's why the ills of the poor, untoward, tiny crypto-nation of Cyprus have got everyone's knickers in a twist. Cyprus is everybody writ small. Cyprus ran out of pretense. It's banks are toast. It can't take care of itself. It is too poor to be a "modern" economy. It failed trying to be a money laundromat for the brigands of Russia and the dope merchants of the Eastern Mediterranean. The tourists and retirees may even have to pack up and leave now because there will be no access to ready cash for day-to-day living.

The terms of the latest bailout announced Sunday night are curious. The New York Times reports that, "the deal would scrap the highly controversial idea of a tax on bank deposits, although it would still require forced losses for depositors and bondholders." Say, what? In fact, there is no material difference between the so-called "tax" and the "forced losses." That was just semantics. The word tax had been bandied about two weeks ago when the EU first proposed that the Cyprus government might pass a legislative act skinning its bank depositors. That didn't go down, of course, so now its just an EU mandated haircut on deposits over E-100,000 and bank bondholders. As for the deposits under E-100,000... you're welcome to them, the catch being that the banks aren't open for business... and the EU bailout money will not arrive in Cyprus until May. They are sending it by packet boat from Antwerp and hoping for fair winds.

Cyprus has to become somebody's ward again. Cyprus was either Turkey's or Great Britain's ward for most of the past 400 years. The population is ethnically split about 60 / 40 Greek / Turkish making for chronically uncomfortable governance. The island remains physically divided into two separate and hostile north-south zones. If you look at it on the map, it is nowhere near Greece, but rather tucked right up under Turkey's bosom. It is strategically a naval hub of the Middle East and is occupied both by NATO troops and by two remaining British military bases - a convenience given the ongoing deterioration in Middle East geopolitics, as nation after nation melts down, and threatens to impinge on much of the world's oil supply. My guess is that Turkey will eventually recover administration of Cyprus by dint of sheer geographical proximity. It is said to possess considerable offshore gas, but the politics there are so problematic that the stuff may not be logistically recoverable, especially with the rest of the Middle East in flames.

The current bailout deal with its confiscations and haircuts is the first time in the multi-year melodrama of the wobbling EU that big-shot EU officials had voiced the idea that they had any authority to snatch private property (money) of a member's citizens. So, instantly the notion reverberated around Europe that they could easily do the same thing in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece - the usual broke suspects - if the EU was pushed too hard. And a few nervous nellies stateside began to wonder out loud when the US government might try some confiscational monkey business, such as the much-blogged-about notion of forcing retirees to put all their money in US Treasury instruments.

More to the point perhaps was the additional notion that the money was not there in the first place. Or anywhere. It was not snatchable. The banks were insolvent. They had pissed their meager reserves away on bad paper - like every other financial enterprise around the world - and the collateral was a joke. Depositors in Cyprus banks might indeed lose their money, but the EU would not collect any theoretical plunder either, so the whole bailout exercise was just another empty bluster. Even more to the point was the additional notion that no money in any bank in any sovereign EU member would be plunderable because there is no money in any of them, and the fiasco in Cyprus was leading to the recognition of the utter bankruptcy of the system.

In other words, this charade is far from over. There will be more bank runs. They may or may not take the form of disgruntled depositors physically standing in line along the pleasant blocks of Europe's cities as the street trees burst into lovely spring bud and flower. In the first flush of activity post-Cyprus, a lot of hypothetical cash will probably just end up shifting out of Europe altogether and into the clutches of Jamie Dimon and his fellow miracle workers, primed for grand new acts of rehypothication with the inflow.

The chatter around this crisis has not included any consideration of the dark forces roiling in the alternate universe of rackets known as derivatives -- which should now be primed to detonate whatever remains of financial legitimacy even while governments and central banks rally with new sets of excuses and "ring-fence" strategies for the floundering banks. All the ruling parties this whole world round won't face the fact that absolutely nobody can cover his losses, and the losses just keep mounting with every central bank keystroke. Welcome to the age of phantom money.

One Comment

  1. John Sakowicz March 28, 2013

    “Money Worries” by James Howard Kunstler…thanks for posting.

    Also, Mike A’Dair’s coverage of Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors’s meeting was excellent. So much of the public comment was so compelling.

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