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Mendocino County Today: May 9, 2013

CONDOR

By Will Parrish

Condor2On the morning of Friday, May 2nd, the newest tree sit in Little Lake Valley arose in an Oregon ash grove just east of Highway 101, roughly a mile north of Willits High School. The tree sitter, whose adopted name is “Condor,” is perched in the grove's only oak tree. It is a valley oak at least 200 years old, one of precisely 1,815 oaks CalTrans inventoried to cut down on its proposed Willits Bypass route when its contractors prepared a draft Environmental Impact Report about a decade ago.

Most of those oaks have now fallen before their time, including scores late last week on the hillside opposite where The Warbler’s tree sit was located. Any day, Big Orange may begin excavating that hill to use its soil as fill to build a 20-to-30-foot high, 200-foot-wide earthen wall across five miles of savannahs and wetlands meadows, which is what most of this freeway would essentially be.

A few hours after settling into the tree, Condor hung a banner from a branch that reads "Gov. Brown -- Do The Right Thing, Please." On that same afternoon, roughly 20 members of Save Our Little Lake Valley (SOLLV) filed into a conference room in Sacramento's State Capitol building to meet with well-placed staff members in Gov. Jerry Brown's administration. SOLLV’s intention is for the Gov. to score political points by calling out the Bypass as the monument to waste and folly that it is.

The odds that Brown, whose name isn’t exactly synonymous with political courage, will intervene in the project are long. But it is notable that high-placed members of the staff took roughly an hour to listen to the Willits contingent’s suggestions and grievances. The resistance to the Bypass has created enough of a stir that Brown and his staffers have become curious about it. The tree sit, with its banner, might enable the Gov. to deliberate on the project for a few extra minutes.

Most significant about the new tree sit is that it indicates direct action resistance to the CalTrans Bypass is persisting. CalTrans’ contractors are poised to begin moving earth, testing pylons for the elevated viaduct portion of the proposed freeway, and cutting trees in riparian (i.e., creekside) areas of the Bypass route in the coming weeks, and they will surely be met with on-the-ground opposition at all of those stages.

The “Condor” tree sit is the first to occur in the Little Lake Valley wetlands. Oregon ash is a species found along streams and in moist valleys, occurring from the west base of the Sierra Nevadas to the California Coast, on up through the Pacific Northwest. It has a symbiotic relationship with a large number of wetlands plants, which are found in abundance among the lush ground cover beneath the trees, which number at least 100.

Ironically, the wetlands “mitigation” proposal first formulated by the Army Corps of Engineers, which I described in last week’s AVA piece entitled “The Wetlands Mitigation Charade,” revolved around managing the land such that Oregon ash to emerge as the climax species in various areas.

The Brown admin staff members who took part in the meeting are Director of External Affairs Alexis Podesta, Deputy Secretary of Communications & Strategic Planning Gareth Lacy and Business, Transportation & Housing Agency staff member Brian Putler were among those at the meeting. State Senator Noreen Evans’ chief of staff, Djibril Diop, sat next to them and announced he was on hand “in solidarity with” the SOLLV reps: perhaps the strongest statement of support from State Senator Evans’ office so far.

If Gov. Brown did look closely at the Willits Bypass, he might find that there’s ample political room for maneuver here – as State Sen. Evans has found. The project would likely cost around $500 million when all is said and done, fill in a larger amount of wetlands ecosystem than any other project in Northern California in the last half-century, and accomplish remarkably little vis-à-vis its stated goal of alleviating traffic congestion.

As I have noted before, Big Orange largely engineered this congestion in the first place when it striped the needless center turn lane from the Howard Hospital all the way to the Highway 20 intersection in the early-1990s.

Reportedly, Brown’s staff members will meet with CalTrans reps this coming Thursday, and then Brown will deliberate on the matter.

In addition to the meeting with Brown’s staffers, SOLLV members also met with staff members from Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office and from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Perhaps the other most notable aspect of the trip, though, is that State Assemblyman Wes Chesbro and his staff refused to meet with the SOLLV contingent. When the SOLLV members came to Chesbro’s office door to attempt an impromptu meeting, they discovered a sign hanging on the door announcing that Chesbro’s staff was at an off-site luncheon meeting. The door was locked.

We have been unable to corroborate reports that their lunch consisted of baloney sandwiches.

The tree sitters – mostly young people, some from Mendo, and a few not — are compelled to risk themselves by living on 32-square-foot platforms 70 feet in the air because the dominant system – with its basis in militarism, corporatism, and specific sub-sets of both such as the fossil fuel industry -- is hopelessly tilted toward powerful, gigantic, and well-placed entities like CalTrans. Given that the mechanisms that purport to protect places like Little Lake Valley from wasteful and destructive projects like this have failed, few other recourses remain other than additional, extremely costly lawsuits.

For very specific examples of how the system has been gamed in CalTrans’ favor in the case of the Willits Bypass, see the pieces I published last week in the AVA, entitled “The Bypass Mitigation Charade” and “What Next For CalTrans and the Willits Bypass?”

As I write this, the California Transportation Commission is meeting in Los Angeles where its members have doubtless approved nearly $31 million in new additional funding for the bypass mitigation charade. We have not yet received word from the meeting.

“Condor” has been a tree sitter in the anti-CalTrans Bypass campaign before. He assumed the name “Eagle” in March and sat in an oak tree very close to The Warbler’s better known Ponderosa pine tree sit for several days, before a SWAT team removed him from an arm of the ancient oak on April 2nd. He had wrapped his arms in a metal lock box around one of the tree’s branches, requiring the SWAT team to cut him out with a high-powered saw in a process that took roughly two and-a-half hours.

So far, District Attorney David Eyster has not filed charges against any who have been arrested in the course of opposing the Bypass, save for the so-called “violent tree-sitter” who is alleged to have hurled feces and was later shot by a SWAT officer with three bean bag pellets. “Condor” appeared in Judge Henderson’s courtroom at the Mendocino County Courthouse this past Thursday, where he was informed that the charges against him were in limbo, then he was up in the tree the following morning.

Regardless of his current legal standing, I can attest to Condor’s quiet conviction and his deep affection for oak trees, in particular. A resident of Humboldt County, he has taken part in a handful of other tree sits in the past few years. As he says, “The trees are defenseless, so it takes a human to stand up and protect them.”

Following “Condor’s” (nee, “Eagle’s”) extraction on April 2nd, a participant in the campaign against the CalTrans Bypass who had also befriended him wrote the following dedication:

“Blessings to you, brave soul. You gave it your best. Locked yourself 60 feet up to the arm of an ancient black oak. In a forest so old and clear, storied and wise. An oak that fell with a thundering crash, at the hands of men who knew nothing of its story. An oak that will never again carry out its invisible work in this world. That will no longer breathe with us, will no longer shelter soft animals in its nooks, or tend a garden of mushrooms at its roots, or hold salamanders, birds nests, and an intricate tapestry of lichens and moss. An oak that will not grow cavernous and gnarled with age. That will not collapse when it is ready, in the mighty breath of a thunderstorm. That will not remain for years decaying gracefully in the midst of a secret society of decomposing critters. An oak that will not nurture the sweet, dark soil for future life. An oak, in a forest that evolved magnificently over countless thousands of years, wiped off the face of the earth by bulldozers and graders for a days wage. You could not turn away. You surrendered to that love. You gave yourself up to honor that beauty. To make a stand with the ancient ones. Thank you.”

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HEIDI KRAUT was declared the winner of this week's special mail-in election to fill the Fort Bragg City Council seat vacated by now-Supervisor Dan Gjerde. Kraut received 510 votes, Madeleine Melo, widow of the late councilman Jere Melo who was murdered by Aaron Bassler in 2011 received 406, and Derek Hoyle got 109. Results are still preliminary however, pending certification by the County Elections Office. 1,031 voters voted for a turnout of 31.5%. Ms. Kraut manages the Mendocino Coast Hospice Thrift Store, has a BA in Political Science from Texas A&M, is a graduate of the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking program and is a licensed realtor and Notary Public. In her campaign statement she said she liked small businesses, wanted to move ahead with plans for the abandoned GP Mill Site, especially a coastal trail, and the usual clichés about good planning, leadership, quality of life, rewarding employment, etc. You can reach Ms. Kraut at heidikraut2013@gmail.com.

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FAMED PHYSICIST Stephen Hawking announced Wednesday that he would not attend a major international conference in Israel in June. Hawking said he was acting to respect a Palestinian plea to boycott contacts with Israeli academics. The University of Cambridge released a statement Wednesday which said that Hawking had told the Israelis last week that he would not be attending “based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.” The boycott is in protest of Israel's treatment of Palestinians which, we should know by now, has its more contemporary origins in the 1967 war during which Israel captured the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Since the appropriation of these territories, Israel has settled more than half a million of its citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and has governed the trapped Palestinian populations along the lines of the former South African apartheid state.

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PRESIDENT OBAMA set to approve FBI plan that will allow them to wiretap you over the internet by backing sweeping FBI proposals to overhaul surveillance laws making it easier for the feds to wiretap people communicating via the internet rather than by traditional phone services. Since 2010 the FBI has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders.  To date the proposal has failed to get passed with technology companies raising objections that tougher laws would block Silicon Valley innovation. FBI director Robert Mueller III has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is ‘going dark’ because it hasn’t been able to keep up with the fast evolving world of communications technology.  The agency believes tougher laws are necessary to help it combat threats to US security such as last month's bombing of the Boston Marathon. The White House is currently reviewing a revised version of the FBI’s proposal which focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders. Lawyers for the technology sector are warning that the laws will make communications less secure and more open to hackers and that technology innovators may go abroad because of too stringent laws. According to the FBI, the proposal is aimed only at preserving law enforcement officials’ longstanding ability to investigate suspected criminals, spies and terrorists subject to a court’s permission. The new proposal would enable judges to fine communications providers $25,000 a day who fail to comply with FBI requests for access to user's information. Currently, such orders instruct recipients to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, leaving wiggle room for companies to say they tried but could not make the technology work.  Foreign-based communications services that do business in the United States would be subject to the same procedures, and would be required to have a point of contact on domestic soil who could be served with a wiretap order, officials said. (Courtesy, the Daily Mail of London)

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STATEMENT OF THE DAY by Alfredo Lopez, from ‘Social Networking and the Death of the Internet’: “Social Networking displays information about you as an individual while restraining your ability to contribute information and thinking about the rest of the world. In fact, its structure often makes that contribution more difficult. With Twitter, for example, you have 140 characters to make your statement. How much thinking can you communicate in 140 characters? Twitter feels like a room in which a large number of people are shouting single sentences — a lot of noise, even a few ideas but mainly just individualized statements bereft of context, knowledge or the need to exchange perspectives with anyone. Facebook carries so many one-sentence statements that writing anything longer seems strange and even rude. The incremental ‘take-over’ of the Internet by these programs has one other, even more serious, impact: it’s oppressing people, particularly young people, by repressing their thinking and communication, the very benefits the Web has given us.”

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OREGONIANS TALK GUNS. This from the front page of the Monday Oregonian, an "occasional" series called Oregonians Talk Guns. These are the words of one Trevor Leejack Francois, 18 yrs. old, of Gresham:

“…I feel powerful with my guns. My dad doesn't like me keeping them in my room, but I can't live without them. I feel lost when they are not with me. We live in a crazy world, and I guess the guns help me feel safe… I think it's important that people who are mentally unstable be kept away from guns, but sometimes you can't control it, you know? No matter what the laws are, you just can't control it."

Any questions?

— Jeff Costello

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TODD WALTON WRITES: June is fast approaching when my novel Inside Moves will be reissued by Pharos Editions in a handsome paperback edition with a flattering introduction by the marvelous Sherman Alexie. Simultaneously, and for the first time ever, Inside Moves will be released in all e-book formats (without the Alexie introduction.) Copies may be pre-ordered now at your favorite local bookstore or from online booksellers. Of course I'd love for you to purchase a copy or three (summer reading, early Christmas shopping), but I'd also be most appreciative if you would share this news with a friend or seven and urge your local bookseller to stock some copies. Inside Moves has been out-of-print for over 30 years and will now have a new life for a time. I recently read the book again for the first time in thirty years while making the audio version for Audible, and I was fascinated by this creation from the young me, a me I barely remember. I enjoyed the book immensely and could see why the story caused such a sensation when it first came out in 1978. Here are a few links to online booksellers.

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780988172517

http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780988172517-0

http://www.amazon.com/Inside-Moves-Todd-Walton/dp/0988172518/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367904258&sr=1-5&keywords=todd+walton

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/inside-moves-todd-walton/1001061848?ean=9780988172517

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CALTRANS WILL TARGET $26 MILLION TO PROTECT ENVIRONMENT

EUREKA – Caltrans will direct $26 million in funding to make significant environmental improvements on more than 2,000 acres of lands it purchased for the Willits Bypass Project. "Caltrans takes seriously its responsibility to preserve the species and habitats on these lands,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “We will protect these wetlands and fisheries in the Little Lake Valley while preserving grazing on much of these lands." To offset the project’s impacts to 80 acres of wetlands, Caltrans will provide compensatory wetlands mitigation in the Little Lake Valley at a 15:1 ratio. In addition to the more than 1,200 acres of wetland compensation, over 140 acres of riparian habitat will be established and rehabilitated, totaling over 10 miles of improved streamside habitat for salmon and steelhead. The mitigation wetlands will be planted with more than 800,000 plantings of local native wetland grasses, shrubs and trees to enhance the vegetative complexity of the mitigation sites. Culverts will be improved to open up critical upstream rearing habitat for listed steelhead and Coho salmon on Haehl, Upp, and Ryan Creeks. Conservation Easements will be placed on the lands to ensure they are protected in perpetuity. The California Transportation Commission allocated the funding to Caltrans today. Caltrans’ recent agreement with the California Farm Bureau Federation provides the University of California, Davis, and the University of California Cooperative Extension access to the properties for a long-term study of how natural resources can be preserved. The Willits Bypass Project will relieve congestion, reduce delays, and improve safety for both traffic and pedestrians along U.S. Highway 101 through Willits in Mendocino County. This $210 million project, now under construction, is primarily funded ($136 million) by Proposition 1B, a 2006 voter-approved transportation bond. To date, nearly $15.5 billion in Proposition 1B funds have been put to work statewide. For the latest information about the environmental improvements and the Willits Bypass Project, please visit willitsbypass.wordpress.com. (Caltrans Press Release)

FOR AN EXPLANATION of how these bogus mitigations were developed see https://www.theava.com/archives/21677

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MENDOCINO COUNTY YOUTH PROJECT and Mendocino Family and Youth Services held a reception honoring the 6 Jim Levine Legacy Scholarship Award winners on May 7, 2013. In addition, the event also shared the announcement of the MCYP Board’s community initiative to break down and resolve the barriers keeping our children and youth from attending school. The 2013 Jim Levine Legacy Scholarship awardees are: Alethea Davies of Point Arena High School, Clarisa Anguiano of Anderson Valley High School, Carina Ocampo of Anderson Valley High School, Kylie Richards of Fort Bragg High School, Nallely Rubio of Fort Bragg High School and Dakhota Wilson of Redwood Academy of Ukiah. Each graduating senior receives a $500 scholarship, to be paid directly to the university, college or trade school the student enters in the Fall of 2013, to be used for fees, books, and other school items.

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METH CHEMICAL AWARENESS PRESENTATION

Provided by Health & Human Services Agency Public Health

Environmental Health

Briley@AlbionEnvironmental Health (EH) HazMat Specialist Wayne Briley was invited to present on May 1 in Albion his Meth Chemical Awareness Presentation to First Responders and the public at the Albion Elementary School. Hosted by Albion Fire Department, attendees were treated to a scrumptious dinner of chili and sourdough bread. Attendees gathered, ate, visited and then heard Mr. Briley’s presentation.

Briley opens his talk with the disclaimer of not being an expert but someone who has spent years responding to and performing analysis of discarded drug chemicals and arranging the clean up of them as well. He has collected a library of photos and catalogs of stories to match. He provides ways to be aware and safe.

Wayne’s talk is both “riveting yet horrific” said Albion fire fighter Scott Roat who invited Briley to present to the First Responders. Firefighter Roat gathered approximately 75 attendees of First Responders, public and Land Trust employees to the event. Represented in the audience were Albion-Little River Fire, Elk Fire, Mendocino Fire, South Coast Fire, Anderson Valley Fire, Comptche Fire, Fort Bragg Fire, Mendocino Land Trust and the public at large.

Roat went on to say that “attendees are now much safer with regard to identification, precautions and response concerning scene safety. Personally I had no idea of the level of dangers or the form in which they might present themselves prior to receiving this information and was a bit alarmed that we might be sending emergency personnel into scenes without having information around this potentially deadly problem. I strongly feel this information for First Responders is timely and relevant in keeping our teams safe. We are grateful for this information.”

Environmental Health helps protect First Responders in another way. This division of Health & Human Services Agency Public Health is the Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) for the County. The EH CUPA Unit performs annual Haz Mat inspections on all businesses that maintain above threshold hazardous materials. Businesses such as auto/truck repair shops, factories, manufacturing and large storage facilities must have a Hazardous Materials Business Plan. The CUPA Unit is also responsible for inspections of not only hazardous materials, but hazardous waste and underground storage tanks. Inspection records are provided to local fire districts and to the Redwood Empire Hazardous Incident Team (REHIT). If a hazardous materials incident and/or fire occurs at one of the inspected sites, First Responders know what to encounter and how to safely and effectively respond to the site. Such records can help prevent unfortunate situations such as recently happened in West, Texas.

REHIT is the County’s Haz Mat Response Team. The team is comprised of Haz Mat Technicians and Specialists comprised of personnel from nearly every fire district in the County, Cal Fire, Cal Trans and the CHP as well as EH staff. They respond to any hazardous material emergency in the county. These can be as small as a household chemical spill up to traffic collisions involving large trucks and chemical drug lab waste and diesel spills.

If you have any questions regarding the handling or disposal of hazardous materials, please contact the Environmental Health Division at 707-234-6625. (Mendocino County HHSA Press Release)

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SAY YOU NEED A HIP REPLACEMENT. Based on data collected by the federal Heath and Human Services Agency, the average amount that Ukiah Valley Medical Center would charge Medicare would be the highly inflated amount of about $88,000. Medicare, in turn, would pay UVMC about $17,000 baed the crazy payment rates Medicare uses. Then you’d probably have to pay about 20% of that if you were 65 or over (as most hip replacement patients are) and didn’t have MediGap insurance, or about $3,400. By comparison, the same procedure at Santa Rosa Memorial would be about $207,000 for which Medicare would pay $30,000. In fact, it looks like Ukiah Valley’s charges on most of the procedures in the HHS report are substantially less than for hospitals to our immediate south in Sonoma and Marin Counties. Treatment for poisoning and toxic effects of drugs ran from a nominal charge of about $15k at Ukiah Valley Medical Center to about $40k at Marin General Hospital. Medicare ended up paying an average of $4,800 to Ukiah Valley and about $11k to Marin General, according to the data.

BUT SUCH COMPARISONS don’t mean much, because you can’t effectively shop for emergency procedures such as heart attacks, strokes, and poisonings (although you probably could shop for hip replacements). In addition, the level of rip-off also depends on other things such as “the market,” overhead, the negotiating ability of the hospital with both Medicare and their suppliers, whether the procedure is an assembly line type operation or a specialty at a given hospital, length of in-hospital stay (we tend to think UVMC goes to great lengths to push you out the front door as quickly as possible), etc. At present we haven’t been able to find the comparative pricing data for Coast Hospital in Fort Bragg. But stay tuned. For more of the sticker shock info for various other North Bay hospitals, the Press Democrat has compiled some of the information in a searchable database for some typical hospital procedures at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/99999999/MULTIMEDIA/130509589

 

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