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Mendocino County Today: April 6, 2013

THE QUESTION was prompted by the frequent catch-and-release arrests of a Navarro man: “If the County Jail has empty beds, how come the judges don't keep this guy in for a while?”

THIS PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL is, I guess you could say, a “quality of life” offender. Wherever he is the quality of life plummets. He constantly commits low-level misdemeanor traffic and drug offenses, mixed with occasional thefts and catch-all low-life stuff like petty assaults on men and women.

IT'S REALLY AN ISSUE of the DA and judges not focusing on him and people like him, and the DA and the judges don't focus because they don't get the complaints directly. Phone calls to the DA's office help. “Please start putting this guy away for longer periods of time. He is not taking getting arrested seriously.” The judges are entirely insulated from the pressures of public opinion unless their personal welfare is threatened, while the DA, much less isolated, will act in response to specific complaints about specific individuals.

THE COUNTY JAIL doesn't decide who gets to stay and who gets to go home. That's a decision made by the judges who set the bail schedule and decide sentences, with an assist from the DA in deciding how hard to lean on this or that miscreant.

IN A RECENT CONVERSATION with Lt. Bednar, the Sheriff's Department man with authority over the Jail, Bednar said that it's true that Jail capacity is 301 and that the Jail has been running at an average capacity of 275, but the 275 figure is deceptive. Inmates are sorted out according to a classification system: minimum security (catch of the day drunk drivers and other non-criminal types); medium security (doing county time for more serious offenses but not hardcore); 3 levels of maximum security (various types of tough guys and persons awaiting trial for accusations of serious crimes); protective custody (snitches, softy-wofties who might be preyed upon by other inmates); special needs (crazy people who should be in the state hospital system we haven't had in California since Reagan closed it down for community-based care facilities which didn't exist.)

THE COUNTY JAIL POPULATION on any given day depends on how many people need to be housed in certain units. There may be empty beds in max units but the Jail doesn't place low rent punks in them because the tough guys would undoubtedly work them over just for the hell of it. Lt. Bednar said he realized “numbers are kind of deceiving” because “it's not a matter of an empty bed you can plug an inmate into; it depends on how the inmate is classified. Some units will be over capacity at any one time, some units under. It depands on who's coming in.” LT. BEDNAR confirmed that the Jail does house a lot of people who are mentally ill.

THE LIEUTENANT ALSO CONFIRMED that the state's “realignment” policy does not mean that state prison inmates are being sent home from state prisons. “Realignment” means certain categories of convicted persons “are not going to state prison. They are staying here, and they include some parole violators.” Bednar said he expects a small, steady rise in the local County Jail inmate population as a result of realignment, adding that there are more episodes of inmate on inmate violence because the Jail population now includes persons who would otherwise have been dispatched to state prison.

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ACCORDING to a press release from the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department, some 8,000 child pornography images were discovered in the Bourns Gulch trailer home of 54-year-old Russell Dean Harber of Gualala. Police had found illicit sexual pictures on an iPod believed to belong to Harber last month. Haber was arrested on suspicion of distribution of child pornography, a felony, when it was discovered he was sharing the images with other persons. Bail was set at $15,000.

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AVA BLOGGER Jessica Ehlers of Fort Bragg was recently appointed to the Mendocino County Mental Health Board by the Board of Supervisors as the “consumer representative” for the Fourth District.

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Genevieve Alexander
Genevieve Alexander

ON APRIL 4, 2013 at 2032 hours the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office initiated an investigation into the whereabouts of Genevieve Kathryn Alexander after her boyfriend reported her as being a missing person. The boyfriend last saw Alexander walking away from the couple's residence located at the Pomo Campground on 04-04-2013 at 3:30pm. Alexander was described as a white female adult, 30-years-old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. Alexander was wearing a maroon fleece type of jacket, dark colored pants and dark colored tennis shoes at the time of her disappearance. It was suspected at the time of Alexander's disappearance that she was having a delusional episode. A Deputy Sheriff conducted an immediate area search of the bluffs/beaches of Sunset Way, Belinda Point, Schaefer Lane and Pacific Way. These locations were identified as being locations where Alexander frequented on occasion but the Deputy Sheriff was unable to locate Alexander. On April 5, 2013 at approximately 9am Sheriff's Office investigators with the aid of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue Team initiated a further search for Alexander. During the search it was learned that a resident who lived adjacent to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (18220 North Highway 1) had contacted a person trespassing on their property on April 4 at 4pm. The person that was trespassing matched Alexander's physical and clothing description. A Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue Team bloodhound began a scent search from the location of the trespass scene and ended behind the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens along the bluff line at a trailhead that lead downward toward the beach. While conducting a search of the beach a pair of pants was found floating in the ocean a short distance out from the beach. When the pants were recovered they were identified as being the pants Alexander was wearing at the time of her disappearance. A further search of this area was conducted by personnel from the United States Coast Guard (boat & helicopter) and the Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue Team. As of Friday, April 5 at 5pm Alexander's current whereabouts are unknown and no further items of clothing have been recovered. The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens for aiding in the search efforts along with the United States Coast Guard and the many volunteers of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Search & Rescue Team. Anyone with any information relating to Alexander's disappearance or whereabouts is urged to contact the Sheriff's Office dispatch center at 707-463-4086.

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CALTRANS UNVEILS NEW $1 BILLION “MENDOCINO BYPASS”

MendoBypassOn Monday April 1 Caltrans officially unveiled its plans for a $1 Billion “Mendocino Bypass” which will alleviate Highway 1 summer tourist traffic in the quaint little village. “There was money left over from the Willits Bypass project,” Fred Frisbee, brother of Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbee Jr. said, “and people constantly complain about tourists slowing traffic while rubber-necking at the scenery. This four lane (two lanes each direction) Bypass over the ocean will prevent anyone from looking at anything except the road in front of them or there'll be consequences to pay,” Frisbee said. When asked if protesters would affect the start of the project, slated for April 1st, but delayed due to design and funding difficulties, Frisbee said, “I'd like to see how they propose to tree-sit on water.” The “Mendocino Bypass” will also feature two “Roundabouts.” “Caltrans has found that people love roundabouts so we've included two in the design of the Mendocino Bypass. We could add more if the public demands them.” Also in the planning stages is a “Fort Bragg Bypass” because, Frisbee said, “no one likes going there anyway.” The project will be funded primarily by the money from the Federal “American Recovery & Reinvestment Act,” California state trust funds and a one-time $2,305 charge (can be paid in installments) to all residents of the coast from Point Arena north to Westport and 14 miles inland.

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THE BROOKTRAILS SUBDIVISION outside of Willits continues to create financial and bureaucratic tensions and problems for the County because the thousands of small, unbuildable, unmarketable Brooktrails lots have become nearly worthless and a substantial (but still unknown) amount of property taxes are going unpaid (and the lots don’t even sell in low-cost tax lien sales which in the past allowed the County to collect back taxes and penalties, years after the fact). But the County still has to pay the taxes and fees to the Brooktrails District (under the so-called “Teeter Plan) because when the lots don’t sell, the County has to front the tax money and the service fees to Brooktrails.

On March 26, after considerable and somewhat tense discussion, the Board of Supervisors directed staff to “develop and bring back to the Board a method to cost-effectively discontinue the Teeter Plan’s relationship with the Ad Valorem property tax for the BTCSD.” But staff — especially Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford — doesn’t think there’s a cost-effective method to do it. And Supervisor Pinches remains unconvinced that it’s even necessary.

According to County Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Schapmire in a staff report for next Tuesday’s Board meeting, “Public auctions are routinely conducted on an annual basis and the offered parcels primarily consist of properties located in the Brooktrails Subdivision. The Brooktrails Subdivision contains approximately 6,000 parcels, of which 4,216 parcels remain unimproved vacant lots. From time to time, the tax collector has experienced difficulties in selling the vacant lots at public auction; prior to 2007, most of the vacant lots eventually culminated in a successful sale of the property. Even with full disclosure of the water moratorium imposed by the California State Department of Health Services in February 2003, vacant lots would intermittently sell at public auction. However, since the recession of 2007, there has been a notable increase of Brooktrails parcels that appear to be unsellable. … The 2011-12 outstanding delinquent taxes and direct assessments as of March 19, 2013 are $243,065, which equates to slightly under 10% of the total outstanding delinquent taxes and direct assessments amount for the year ($2,697,425). This amount represents outstanding taxes on both improved and unimproved parcels; to date, Brooktrails parcels with improvements seldom make it to the public auction process. … Important to note: prior to January 1, 2012, staff in the Assessor’s Office examined the assessed valuations on every vacant lot located in the Brooktrails subdivision; through this process, as well as change in ownership evaluations, assessed valuations on numerous parcels have been drastically reduced. The assessed value and subsequent property tax decline are reflected in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Through this process, in a comparison between 2011-12 and 2012-13, it is not uncommon to see an unimproved Brooktrails parcel have a decrease in annual property taxes by $200 to $300. Data on 2012-13 delinquent property taxes will be available after June 30, 2013.” In turn, Auditor Controller Ford advises against even trying to solve the problem: “The short update is: I don’t believe there is a cost effective method to remove these three taxing entities [Brooktrails Community Services District; Brooktrails Maintenance District and Brooktrails Maintenance District 1976-1] from the Teeter Plan.” Ms. Ford goes on to say that the amount of staff time necessary to figure it all out isn’t worth the potential savings that would result.

Supervisor Pinches said at the March 26 board meeting that he thinks the whole issue should be dropped. “The house is not on fire with Teeter,” said Pinches, basically saying that the County isn’t losing that much money by having to front taxes to the Brooktrails District on the delinquent properties without being reimbursed when the lots don’t sell. “A little money might be saved,” added Pinches, “but it could put Brooktrails out of existence — it would pretty much devastate the Brooktrails Fire Department. … Sales went up this year, and more will happen next year. If it gets worse, we can re-evaluate, but I don’t support [removing Brooktrails from the tax rolls so that the County no longer has to pay the taxes and fees].”

But Pinches appears to be in the minority at the moment. Supervisor John McCowen thinks there’s more to it than just the basic numbers and that a lot of tax money is going to Brooktrails that isn’t reimbursed.

Back on March 26 McCowen said he didn’t think all the parts of the problem were on the table. In addition, McCowen said, “We have an outmoded computer system here that speaks an antiquated language that no one here speaks anymore. The one employee that we had who did speak that language retired a year ago. … A new system would allow the County to get the information. The current system impedes employee work.”

So McCowen wanted to form an ad hoc committee to deal with the Brooktrails problem because to him, “Teeter is still a problem. Tax delinquent parcels are increasing,” and, McCowen said, he didn’t agree with Ms. Ford that it wasn’t worth putting in $17k of staff time to figure out what should be done. “The County put out $171k in taxes, plus $75k in water and sewer last year [although the water and sewer fees have apparently already been taken out of the County’s obligation]. But there’s still that $171k. We can identify the lots; and, doing the math, we could save $79k or more, rough cut. I think there’s more than $17k in savings.” So far it appears that Supervisor Gjerde tends to agree with McCowen that something has to be done about the Brooktrails problem, including consolidating some of the smaller lots. Supervisors Dan Hamburg and Carre Brown have not yet taken a clear position on the Brooktrails question but they may have to soon.

This Tuesday, the argument will become sharper as the Board again debates whether to form an ad hoc Brooktrails committee, especially since it would require ordering Auditor Ford to do something she, an independent elected official, is against.

In addition, historically, ad hoc committees include the Supervisor of the affected Supervisorial district, in this case, Pinches, who is against the ad-hoc committee entirely.

If they form an ad hoc committee, they’ll probably have to figure out some way to include both the very reluctant Ms. Ford and members of the Brooktrails Board of Directors, all of whom will tend to be in the Pinches camp.

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FRACKING Threatens California’s Air, Water And Earthquake Faults

By Ed Oberweiser

The gas and petroleum industries have already invaded California with an extremely destructive technology, hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Fracking is used by oil and gas companies to rework aging or abandoned oil wells. It’s also used to drill new wells and capture deep, previously untapped oil and natural gas deposits.

Fracking has been used in California without clear regulatory oversight for decades. In a 2002 study, the California Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 1995, the estimated total volume of the state’s drilling waste, both liquid and solid, was more than 1.8 million barrels. This is enough to cover more than 235 acres one foot deep. In 2011, onshore oil and gas wells created more than 2.5 trillion barrels of wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals.

As Vice President, Dick Chaney pushed through the 2005 energy bill that exempted the oil and gas companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Toxics Release Inventory, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The newest fracking technology involves drilling and then blasting a mix of chemicals, water and sand from eight to 11,000 feet underground. There are more than 596 chemicals in that mix. We can’t know what all the chemicals are because many of them are protected from scrutiny as “trade secrets.”

The fracking fluids and sand are pumped underground at a high enough pressure to fracture the rock surrounding the old well or the new well being drilled. The oil and/or gas is freed by the new fractures in the rock and collected . Fracking fluids include corrosion inhibitors, drilling additives, biocides, shale control inhibitors, liquid breaker aids and many other toxic chemicals. After the initial fracking, some of the fluids are brought back up and stored in waste pits above ground. The rest is injected back underground into old wells.

These fluids can contain, according to Food and Water Watch, benzene, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, radium 226 and other toxics. Naphthalene, benzene and acrylamide are just a few of the known carcinogens identified in fracking fluids. Other toxic chemicals present in many fracking fluids include toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and ethylene glycol. These can cause nervous system, liver and kidney problems. Approximately 25 percent of fracking chemicals could cause cancer, according to scientists with the Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

Completing a new well uses from one to 1.7 million gallons of water. Each time an existing well is refracked, an additional one to 1.7 million gallons of water is needed. One well can be fracked as many as 18 times. Californians need to ask where all this water is going to come from. Could it be taken from the proposed peripheral canal?

Each new well completion requires 1,150 truck trips. This includes 400-600 tanker truck trips for hauling water and fracking fluids. Another 20-25 trips for hauling fracking sand particles are also needed. Finally, another 200-300 tanker truck trips are necessary to remove the flowback (processed) water. More trips are needed for infrastructure, such as pipes, machinery, construction materials, etc.

Only half of the water and toxic chemical mix comes back up as processed water. The rest stays in the ground indefinitely. It can contaminate aquifers and water wells in neighboring lands by leaking through the fractures made during the original drilling and fracking.

This has already happened in Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York and other states. Readers can watch the documentary Gasland at http://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/gasland_2010/ or at http:// www.movie2k.to/GasLand-watch-movie-1117121.html to learn more about fracking’s consequences.

The processed water that comes back up is full of the same toxic soup as the water left in the wells. It’s being stored above ground in lined pools or injected back into old retired wells. Food and Water Watch estimates that between 1995 and 2009, oil and gas companies created 5,659 acre feet of toxic drilling waste in California.

Companies began fracking in sparsely populated states including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Next, they moved into the Southern states – Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. They drilled 450,000 wells in the West, Midwest and South. Then they moved East and have proposed drilling 50,000 wells along a 75-mile stretch of the Delaware River. They also proposed hundreds of thousands more wells across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Fracking threatens California’s public health with water pollution. In 1987, a US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) study found that gel used in fracking operations in West Virginia contaminated a well. Scientific assessment of other cases of possible water well contamination were interfered with by court settlements that sealed the cases’ information from public scrutiny.

The USEPA released a study in December 2011. It concluded, “The data indicates likely impact to groundwater that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.”

Drilling and fracking have also caused serious local and regional air pollution in the US. After fracking, when some of the fluids come back out of the well, many of the gases, including methane, are vented into the atmosphere. This happens while the flowback liquids are poured into the holding pools or pumped back into old wells.

The oil and gas companies have their eyes on California’s natural gas fields that lie beneath the watershed of the Sacramento River. They also covet more that lie below the highly populated San Joaquin, Santa Maria, Ventura and Los Angeles basins. These contain most of the state’s oil fields.

In 2011, 2,294 new wells were drilled in California, and 3,376 notices were filed for the reworking of existing wells. These numbers will increase. Nine California counties have already been documented as having fracking operations in them. They are Colusa, Glenn, Kern, Los Angeles, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Sutter and Ventura Counties.

The newest generation of fracking technology uses more fluid and chemicals injected at a much higher pressure. It will create more waste, pollution and seismic risk. When processed water is pumped back into injection wells to deep porous rock, it can flow in every direction -including into and around earthquake faults. The added pressure and lubrication of these faults by the processed water could cause normally stable faults to slip, causing more earthquakes.

In the Midwest, the number of earthquakes has increased from 50 in 2009 to 134 in 2011. In a study, US government scientists said this increase is “almost certainly” man-made and may be caused by wastewater from oil and gas drilling. The danger here in California with its many faults is far worse. We have two nuclear power plants sitting over, or adjacent to, known earthquake faults.

There has been little or no scrutiny by state regulators. California maintains no information about which wells have been fracked, when they were fracked or what chemicals were used. This is due to the fact that there are no regulations requiring the reporting and disclosure of this information. There aren’t any consistent and comprehensive regulations in place.

The California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Resources (DOGGR) has been assigned by the California legislature to draft fracking regulations. There was a pre-rulemaking draft workshop in Sacramento on March 21, 2013 which lasted eight and a half hours. Attendees learned that, under the proposed regulations, that companies will only have to give three day’s advance notice of fracking operations on an internet website.

People whose lands are adjacent to the proposed fracking site will not get any personal notice. There will be no disclosure of the “trade secret” protected fracking fluids’ formula to the public. After a spill has happened, only agencies and officials dealing with the consequences of a spill will be given information by the company responsible. “Trade secret” information disclosed to regulators and medical personnel must be maintained as confidential and not released to the public under the proposed regulations. Information about the proposed regulations will be available at www.conservation.ca.gov.

California Governor Jerry Brown said on March 13, 2013 that California should consider the use of fracking technology to develop its massive shale oil reserves and reduce it dependence on imported oil.

What can we do?

I urge readers to access an anti fracking site at http:// www.environmentcalifornia.org/programs/cae/no-fracking-california where they can send a message to Governor Jerry Brown to ban fracking in California. Readers can sign a no fracking petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/572/885/705/.

Another action is writing to your state senator and assembly member and urging them to support State Senator Fran Pavley’s bill, SB 4. Her bill would “require an independent scientific study on fracking addressing occupational, public and environmental health and safety be conducted by January 1, 2015.” It would also “require the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothernal Resources to adopt fracking regulations by January 1, 2015 that include full disclosure of the composition and disposition of hydraulic fracturing fluids with trade secret protection for chemical formulas extended to industry.”

Readers can se the bill at: http://sd27.senate.ca.gov/legislation/2013-legislation. The bill is set for hearing in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on April 9, 2013. Writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper and talking with your friends and neighbors about fracking are also positive steps you can take.

One Comment

  1. James Marmon April 6, 2013

    On County overcrowding.

    If Mendocino County and the 3 cities of Mendocino have their way, the jail will become the de-facto state hospital facility for mentally ill. Arresting so called vagarants and placing them in jail for the sherrif to deal with is not helping the situation and would probably make things worse. Don’t anyone kid themselves, even if the County does contract out Mental Health, it will only be for minimal services, they will not pay for comprehensive services. Hopefully our good sheriff will push back, I think he realizes that the current direction things are going are not in anybody’s best interest.

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