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Mendocino County Today: May 3, 2013

THE MEETING to discuss Mendo street people seems to have embarrassed the Mendocino Village people who called it.

DAVID GURNEY WRITES:

“On Monday, April 29, Albert Morales wrote on the MCN Announcement list: ‘This Wednesday, 11:30 am, coming up, The Kelly House will be hosting a discussion on the issues concerning the street people of Mendocino. Dan Hamburg will be attending. Many merchants feel that this street people situation is not being addressed. Attend this meeting if you feel the need to improve our relations with the street people and our tourists.’

“I went to cover this meeting as an observer, and was told that the press and public were not invited, and would not be allowed entry into the room. I was told the meeting was for invited business owners of Mendocino only, and no others would be allowed in, even as observers. I was also told by two very defensive staff members of Kelly House, Nancy Freeze and Carolyn Zeitler, that word of this meeting was not supposed to get out, and it was a mistake for the public to be invited by the below announcement. Approximately 15 people were in attendance, including Supervisor Dan Hamburg. I'll leave it up to him, to report to the public what went on in this private/secret meeting.”

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“I just phoned Albert Morales, who posted the original public invitation, and asked what went on at the meeting. Mr. Morales was evasive, claiming that it was ‘really nothing, just a matter of getting together, type of thing,’ and he wasn't aware people had been turned away. He passed off my requests for information back to the Kelly House, who have not returned calls. When I asked Morales if the Sheriff's Dept. was represented at the meeting he said, ‘No.’ State Parks? ‘No.’ (Carolyn Zeitler, wife of the Mendocino State Parks District Superintendent, was at the meeting) How about the County of Mendocino? ‘Not that I'm aware of.’ I asked him, ‘You weren't aware that Dan Hamburg, our County Supervisor, was at the meeting?’ ‘Uh, he was.’ ‘Well, wouldn't that be the County?’ Mr. Morales replied, ‘I guess so…’ He then ended the conversation without divulging anything further. Nor did he apologize for inconveniencing others with the false invitation. I have no clue as to the reasons for Mendocino's merchants’ secrecy in the handling of their ‘street people’ problem.”

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SUPERVISOR DAN HAMBURG chimed in: “One interesting thing about the meeting at Kelley House today was that it began at 11:30 and ended at 12:30. I'm talking sharp. There would be no way to accomplish that in an ‘open’ meeting. Whether it's appropriate (lawful?) to hold a non-open meeting at Kelley House is something I can't answer. But I do think there's good that can come out of the town's merchants getting together as a distinct [sic] on a regular basis to talk about common problems and try to think up solutions. For example, discussed today were: 1. The program to urge people to make charitable contributions (either of money or food) to institutions (e.g., Hospitality House, the Presbyterian Church) rather than to individuals. This is being pursued mostly through flyers and informational brochures as far as I can tell 2. Support for state parks in their efforts to clear excessive brush on the headlands 3. Efforts to discourage (tobacco) smoking in commercial areas. Fort Bragg prohibits smoking within 20 feet of store openings. 4. Ways to reach out to people in a cooperative and supportive way (this may seem ironic in a “closed” meeting, but this group does anticipate larger meetings, like the one a few months back at the Presbyterian Church which would be public); for example, there are successful programs in which people who are homeless make a contribution to community well-being in exchange for services. 5. Neighborhood Watch programs through the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. This would consist of local volunteers who would try to discourage intimidating behavior (hard to define but you know it when it happens to you). Hopefully, we're talking peace-keepers not vigilantes. These meetings are scheduled to occur every other week and as I mentioned, are held strictly to an hour (presumably because these are people who are actively running businesses). I have asked Supervisor Gjerde to sit in for me on May 15 since I'll be at a mental health board meeting in Covelo on that day.”

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MANBEATER OF THE WEEK: Ms. Kristan Marie Maclean, 25, Ukiah.

KristinMacLeanGiven the puzzled Who Me? look on her face and her minimal bail of $10,000 Ms. Mclean has us wondering, What the heck is wrong with the young men of Mendocino County? What kind of shameless wimp would call the police simply because his girl friend slapped him?

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UKIAH-AREA people are already worried that copious releases from Coyote Dam are draining Lake Mendocino at an alarming rate, that the Lake will become the mud puddle of a few years back. Of course locals know that most of the water stored at Lake Mendocino is owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency, and that Sonoma County sells a lot of that water to water systems as far south as Sausalito, and the water originates in the first place from the diverted Eel at Potter Valley through a thousand yard tunnel dug by Chinese labor at the dawn of the 20th century, and the whole show, given that several million people depend on it has gone from improbable to precarious.

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MARTY LOMBARDI, the long time face of the Savings Bank of Mendocino, and a friendly fellow indeed who has been of enormous assistance to many good things in the Ukiah Valley, is retiring and moving to Grass Valley.

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COMMENT OF THE DAY: “Eating has always been an intensely political issue: those with money eat, those without starve. With food in abundance, the only thing stopping its fair distribution is the profit motive. This explanation not only helps us understand the regularity of famines, but likewise explains the daily suffering caused by inadequate nutrition amongst the poor, be they in rich, or impoverished societies.

“It is hardly a new phenomena that global food supplies are largely controlled by a just handful of global corporations; although with ongoing mergers this number are continually concentrating their power to enhance their ability to regulate our diets. These same corporations are usually at the forefront of anti-union activism, and dedicate themselves to ensuring that their workers’ pay and conditions are as low as possible to maximize their shareholders profits.

“Nevertheless as the self-appointed guardians of most of the world’s food, it is simply not good press if these elites are seen to idly stand by as the working class starve. So when large proportions of people are forced into the dire position that they cannot afford to eat, the big-hearted capitalists of the food industry see it as their obligation (to sustain capitalism) to step forward to lend a hand. This magnanimous benefaction comes in the form of charity; although in many business leaders minds, such actions are seamlessly enmeshed with the generously funded endeavors of their corporate public relations departments. — From “The Politics of Food Banks” by Michael Barker

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JOHN SAKOWICZ posed an interesting question at the April 23 meeting of the Board of Supervisors during a routine discussion of training requirements for welfare fraud investigators in Health and Human Services Department.

Sakowicz: “I have been concerned since 9-11 about the expansion of law enforcement powers. My question to Mr. Martire [Chief of the Mendocino County Welfare Fraud Investigation Unit] is, When someone becomes a recipient of any kind of public assistance, be it TANF [a Clintonian acronym, Temporary Assistance to Need Family, aka welfare] or Food Stamps or what have you, do they give a rights to privacy? Are there any privacy protections? Do you get to see medical records? Mental health records? Do you get to see bank records without the permission of the subject? Cell phone records? Do you get to conduct no-knock searches of their home? Etc.? There are a lot of questions about the powers of this law enforcement unit within the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Martire: “Thank you for those questions. No, you do not give up your right to privacy. We have due process in this state and in this country with regards to what law enforcement may or may not do. My agency is bound to those same standards and requirements. Generally, when somebody comes in to request public assistance they must provide proof of their income. They provide that proof through their voluntarily giving us their bank information, their bank statements. We do not ask for, in most regards or most programs, medical information. To my knowledge — I am not a program expert — but the medical portion of that is extremely private and it is guarded by HIPPA [Federal Health Information Privacy Protection Act] requirements. I have not seen in my 20 years of experience any medical records or anything like that. The only other way that we would obtain information — you mentioned cell phones or bank accounts — is if we have a viable search warrant which would be signed by a judge of the court authorizing us to do that pursuant to a criminal investigation and probable cause. So we do not actively go looking for welfare fraud. I can tell you that we have some 1200 open cases of welfare fraud that we are taking a look at and those are from referrals from members of the community or they are referrals from inside the program where an eligibility worker might have questions that need to be investigated by one of my members or one of my investigators.”

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IS THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS using ad hoc committees to hide public business from the public? The Mendocino County Grand Jury thinks they are.

In a reported titled, “Board Of Supervisors - Standing Committees — “Public Access - Public Interest” dated March 20, 2013, the Grand Jury said:

SUMMARY: On January 8, 2013 at its annual formation meeting, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors (BOS) acted on the County Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) recommendation to establish, but not activate the BOS Standing Committees. The existing Standing Committees correspond to the basic categories of County business: (1) Health and Human Services, (2) Criminal Justice, (3) Public Resources and (4) General Government/Personnel-Legislative. By addressing specific issues through the Standing Committees in accordance with the provisions of the County Procedures and the Brown Act, the public is afforded the opportunity to be better informed and to participate more effectively in the discussion and decision making process of the BOS. The Standing Committees have a formal process for documentation, tracking progress and follow-up of the Committee’s issues and tasks. Instead, the BOS voted to continue last year’s process of relying on Ad Hoc Committees (AHC). AHCs are established by the BOS to address specific County issues requiring active participation, research and discussion by representatives of the BOS. Supervisors may be appointed to AHCs based on interest, knowledge or ability. The work of an AHC often occurs behind the scenes. It is not noticed or agendized in accordance with the provisions of the Brown Act. The BOS’s mission statement states “The Mendocino County Board of Supervisor’s mission is to create and maintain a responsive and responsible government that enhances the quality of life of the people of Mendocino County.” In the conscientious implementation of their mission all practicable efforts must be made to inform the public and encourage public comment and participation at open, publicly noticed and agendized BOS meetings. The Grand Jury (GJ) recommends that specific issues or tasks under consideration be assigned to the appropriate Standing Committees with periodic status reports presented at BOS meetings. In cases where an issue is expected to be resolved within the current calendar year and the matter does not fall under the purview of a Standing Committee, the BOS may choose to form an AHC. The GJ recommends that AHCs provide status reports at each regular BOS meeting in compliance with the County’s Rules of Procedures. If the matter is of greater complexity, time commitment or general public interest than originally anticipated, it is recommended to transfer the matter to a Standing Committee.

BACKGROUND: Mendocino County continues to experience a financial situation that challenges the County’s ability to maintain and deliver mandated and other important services to its citizens. These challenges increase the need for County residents to be informed regarding the issues and difficult decisions falling within the BOS’s jurisdiction. The Standing Committees support informed, effective citizen participation, governmental long-termed planning, continuity, openness and transparency. Standing Committees provide the best existing opportunity for reasonable access to information and the decision making process of County government, thus supporting meaningful citizen participation. In 2011 and 2012 no Standing Committees were convened. On January 8, 2013, the Chairman of the BOS assigned members to each Standing Committee. A discussion ensued regarding reactivating the Standing Committees. However, the BOS at the CEO’s recommendation chose to continue with the AHCs as the primary committee format. They agreed to keep the Standing Committees assigned, but dormant until activated by an action of the BOS. The GJ decided to investigate the benefits and limitations of the Ad Hoc and Standing Committee formats and make recommendations.

DISCUSSION: Participation on assigned Standing Committees is one of the duties of an elected Supervisor. No Standing Committee meetings have been convened for the previous two years. The discussions, deliberations, findings, recommendations or actions of the AHCs are not accessible to interested individuals and the general public. The BOS on the CEO’s recommendation, decided to continue utilizing AHCs rather than Standing Committees.

The Brown Act has recently been under threat, but remains the current California law. It is vitally important to all citizens because it ensures that governmental bodies covered by its provisions provide notice and a public venue for the discussion and deliberation of the agency’s business. The business of the BOS is the business of the public. By addressing complex issues through Standing Committees that are covered by the Brown Act, the opportunity for public comment and participation and responsive governance is maximized. With AHCs the opportunities for long-term planning, continuity and documentation are minimized or eliminated. AHCs circumvent the Brown Act at the risk of reducing public awareness, participation as well as documentation, regular status reporting, continuity and follow-up.

On December 18, 2012 a list of Current/Active AHCs was prepared and distributed at the year-end BOS meeting. It listed six active AHCs, including two formed in 2010. The business of three AHCs was deemed concluded and those committees dissolved. As reported in the Ukiah Daily Journal, a local business owner spoke convincingly at the January 8, 2012 meeting stating, “Ad Hocs don’t serve the public.” He hoped the BOS would return to the Standing Committee process “for the public’s interest, for the public good.”

Ad Hocs should be investigative, issue-specific and short term in duration. One example of the problems with AHCs occurred at the October 15, 2012 BOS meeting. The BOS adopted a resolution establishing an AHC to participate in planning a proposed Mental Health Court. Two Supervisors had been unofficially participating in the coalition for some time. The Supervisors frequently reported on the group’s discussions and progress informally during the Supervisor’s update. However, the update portion of the BOS meeting is usually scheduled near the end of the open meeting, precluding easy accessibility for the public to know of the Supervisor’s participation, opinions or recommendations. Additionally, the Mental Health Court AHC was never added to the BOS Standing Committees official list of AHCs. Therefore, the average citizen is almost completely unaware of the Supervisor’s interest and participation in Mental Health Court planning, further limiting the ability to provide public comment. Had the Mental Health Court been assigned to a Standing Committee, either Health and Human Services or Criminal Justice, under the provisions of the Brown Act, the public would have access to committee minutes, issue status, and the Supervisor’s participation. The status reports would be an item on the agenda, providing the opportunity for public comment. There is an additional concern regarding adequate follow up on matters handled by a dissolved AHC. This situation occurred with the Sheriff’s Office Efficiency Report. The study was completed, the report received and the AHC dissolved. Neither the public nor the BOS currently has a venue to address the status of the responses to the recommendations and the Sheriff’s efforts to improve departmental efficiency.

The primary reasons, stated or implied, for not implementing active Standing Committees were (1) No pressing need. Standing Committees were not convened in 2011 or 2012, (2) Too much work. Compliance with the provisions of the Brown Act places an extra burden on the already short-staffed Executive Office and (3) the Ad Hoc method appears to be working for the Supervisors. The GJ believes the provisions of the Brown Act and the County Rules of Procedure should not be circumvented. The Standing Committees should be activated and utilized.

The County continues to confront a difficult fiscal situation. The BOS makes tough decisions impacting the best way to fulfill its duties as elected officials. Numerous labor contracts will be renegotiated this year. Mental health services may be contracted to non-County service providers. Changes in sentencing, probation, parole and County Jail populations continue to affect the courts and criminal justice system. These and other pressing issues deserve and demand the opportunity for an informed public to access an open, formal forum for information and public expression. Utilizing the Standing Committees as they currently exist is one simple, direct method the Supervisors can use to increase long-term planning, continuity and transparency.

FINDINGS

F1. At the CEO’s recommendation, the BOS Standing Committee assignments were made as required by the County Procedures. However, none of the Standing Committees was activated and the use of Ad Hoc Committees was continued.

F2. Mendocino County use of Ad Hoc Committees does not conform to the accepted practices of other counties. Ad Hoc Committees should be investigative, issue-specific and of short term duration.

F3. The exclusive use of Ad Hoc Committees is not consistent with the intent of the Brown Act.

F4. Ad Hoc Committees do not afford the public sufficient notice or opportunity for meaningful participation in County government. Ad Hoc Committees are not reporting in compliance with the County Rules of Procedure (Rule 31). BOS Standing Committees

F5. Ad Hoc Committees limit long-term planning and continuity. Adequate record keeping, including written and published meeting minutes, is not required or currently available.

RECOMMENDATIONS

R1. The Standing Committees be activated, assigned all appropriate issues requiring special BOS attention, and used as the primary vehicle for policy guidance and direction to the BOS.

R2. The Ad Hoc Committee issue status reports at each regular BOS meeting in accordance with the County Rules of Procedure #31.

R3. Ad Hoc Committees only be formed to investigate single issues anticipated for resolution within the current calendar year.

R4. The Executive Office post and update a list of the current Ad Hoc Committees on the BOS website.

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WILD EDIBLE SEAWEED SEMINAR JUNE 8

John and Barbara Stephens-Lewallen, world-renowned wildcrafters of edible seaweed, offer the public a rare opportunity to walk with them in their sacred wildcrafting and seaweed drying locations on Saturday, June 8. The wild seaweed seminar will meet at the Greenwood Beach parking lot in Elk at 6 a.m., and walk down the trail to the north end of Elk Beach to visit the amazing seaweed garden opened by a very low tide. We will harmoniously harvest some of the best wild seaweeds in the world. John and Barbara will share information, poetry and lore from their many decades as harvesters, cooks, ocean protection activists, and students of nutrition immersed in the world of wild seaweed. At noon the seaweed seminar will move to the Seaweed Chateau in Philo, beginning with a picnic lunch, where we will spread seaweed to dry in the hot Mendocino sun, and discuss seaweed cookery and nutritional and healing use. Participants are invited to harvest up to ten wet pounds of delectable edible seaweed for personal use, if prepared to preserve or enjoy it without waste. All are welcome to join Barbara and John in making love-offerings to the ocean. For information and to register for the June 8 wild edible seaweed seminar, contact Barbara and John at (707)895-2996, or see www.seaweed.net.

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YOU WILL ALL BE HAPPY to know that we are off to a great start this season 
in Hendy Woods State Park. It started with a great turn out on April 21st for our
 Volunteer Get-together. I met some of last year’s volunteers and recruited
 some new ones. This past Saturday, one of our volunteers lead a wildflower
 walk in the grove and we've scheduled something fun every Saturday for 
the month of May. If you are interested in volunteering 
please contact me at any time.

May 4th, Bill Sterling and Peggy Dart will be leading a wildflower walk at
 10am, meeting in the day use area.

May 11th, Chuck Vaughn, the President of Peregrine Audubon, is leading a
 Bird Walk in Hendy Woods on May 11 from 10 am to noon. Meet at the Day Use
 Area. This is an opportunity to learn how to ebird and contribute any of
 your bird sightings to Cornell University. This allows you to keep track of
 your own birding data and help birds and birders globally. You could 
develop a “hot spot” for your own yard! All you need is an internet
 connection at home.

 However, our main objective is to learn and enjoy the birds that are using
 Hendy Woods now. Come sharpen your birding skills with a master birder.
 William and Valerie would love you to come and to support the Hendy Woods 
Flora and Fauna Committee and our projects to document and protect the
 creatures that are in our park. Hope to see you there! Valerie Hanelt and
 William Sterling

May 18th, Linda MacElwee will be leading an interpretive walk at 10am,
 meeting at the day use area.

May 25th, Bill Sterling will be leading an interpretive walk at 10am,
 meeting at the day use area.

Thank you and see you in the park. — 

Shelly Englert, Volunteer Coordinator, Hendy Woods Community (keephendyopen@gmail.com)

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GRANT AWARDED TO MENDOCINO LAND TRUST FOR PURCHASE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES HABITAT

Point Arena, CA – Mendocino Land Trust (MLT) has been awarded a State Coastal Conservancy grant to purchase a 73-acre property south of Point Arena from the California Institute for Environmental Studies (CIES). Not only is it a beautiful parcel, now safe from development, but there is potential habitat on the property for two federally-listed endangered species: the Point Arena Mountain Beaver and the Behren’s Silverspot Butterfly.

The Point Arena Mountain Beaver (Aplondonia rufa nigra) is a subspecies of mountain beaver that has a very restricted range and distribution; it is known to only inhabit an area of about 22 square miles in the vicinity of Point Arena, California. Behren’s Silverspot Butterfly (Speyeria zerene behrensii) has golden brown and orange wings, dappled with brown spots and bands. The undersides of its wings have silver spots, and this butterfly is only found in Northern California within coastal prairie terraces, like those located on the newly acquired tract. “We plan to steward our latest acquisition to provide and enhance habitat for these two species, as well as others” says Louisa Morris, Trails Director for MLT.

This purchase is Mendocino Land Trust’s fourth coastal land ownership, and they plan to offer volunteer stewardship workdays at this location to remove invasive plant species, pick up trash, and eventually maintain a new segment of the California Coastal Trail.

“We are very excited about this acquisition and look forward to stewarding the lands’ valuable natural resources, as well as providing coastal access to this new area,” stated Morris.

In keeping with this concept, a portion of the CIES grant will fund Mendocino Land Trust’s collaborative work to design, plan, and obtain permits to create a new segment of the California Coastal Trail, a trail system that runs the length of the California Coast.

Partners for this project include the Moat Creek Managing Agency (MCMA) and the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC), nonprofit land trusts based on the southern Mendocino County coast. Both of these organizations manage coastal trails; MCMA holds two public access easements on properties just south of Mendocino Land Trust’s new acquisition, which together will create an additional coastal trail segment about 2.5 miles long.

Mendocino Land Trust has opened more public coastal access sites over the past 34 years than any other land trust in the state. This new acquisition will add one more piece to a beautiful mosaic of protected coastal properties in the Point Arena area. In concert with their efforts, Mendocino Land Trust supports Congressman Jared Huffman’s recently introduced legislation to include nearby Stornetta lands in the California Coastal National Monument.

If you have questions or would like more information about this or other coastal trail and conservation projects, please contact Louisa Morris, Trails Director and Project Manager, at lmorris@mendocinolandtrust.org or (707) 962-0470.

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