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Off the Record 12/30/2009

BACK ON MONDAY the 14th of December, the Board of Supervisors, as expected, voted 5-0 to allow a quarry operation on Poonkinney Road, an area lying between Highway 101 and Covelo, a very rural area not suited to industrial enterprise. The quarry is situated just off a one-lane rural road so narrowly serpentine that CalFire, whenever it's in the neighborhood, declares it one-way only. Neighbors of the proposed quarry, a smallish operation if finally permitted, are divided on it; some are in favor, some aren't, and name a place in this country at this time where there's a consensus opinion on anything. Last time the quarry was proposed, the project went all the way to the state appellate court where the quarry lost because Mendocino County's environmental impact report was found to be spectacularly defective. Needless to say, it was largely the intellectual work product of now-supervisor John McCowen, then sitting as planning commissioner.

THE OWNER of the Poonkinney quarry, Mr. Clyde Williams of Willits, says the quarry has been active for a hundred years. He also says the Indians are for it, and that the people living near it could adjust every way they'd have to adjust if he re-activated it. Neighbors say the historical record is so hazy as to be non-existent, and what do quarries have to do with Indians living twenty miles to the east in Covelo? But Williams' quarry has again been approved by both the Planning Commission and the Supervisors, and again the neighbors opposed to the quarry will appeal, buoyed by their last win and doubly buoyed by the unchanged realities that won them $80,000 in legal fees from Mendocino County the first time around. Will Mendocino county lose another $80,000 plus the estimated $20,000 it cost County Counsel to lose that first appeal? Probably. The County has also spent “over $300,000 in road repairs to help this man get this business going,” according to one quarry opponent, and now the supervisors have again propelled it into the courts. It's the same case, basically, as the one the County lost last time, and here we go again.

AT THE POONKINNEY hearing before the supes, Mrs. Matilda Williams, wife of quarry man Clyde Williams, waved a copy of the AVA, demanded, “Who are the Poonkinney Road Association? Who are they? They don't have to ID themselves. People will not say who they are or give their addresses. Maybe they're representing Poonkinney Road Association, maybe Al Qaeda. Who knows?” (Al Qaeda likes explosions. They'd be for a quarry.)

THE RUSSIAN RIVER Flood Control District is reportedly “discussing” the installation of water meters for all its customers. They have gone so far as to form a committee to figure out how to do it. But Mendo history tells us that the formation of a committee is where good ideas go to die. District Board President Lee Howard told his fellow members last week “The reality is we do not have any choice any more. The State Water Board is going to say, Are you able to give us accurate readings?” That answer is No, but will a committee act to at last get meters on inland water use? Don't bet on it.

KZYX has canceled a scheduled on-air debate between Elk's Joel Waldman and Jeff Blankfort, host of the station's popular and informationally crucial, Takes On The World. Blankfort's program is just about the only venue in America where you can hear audio criticism of Israel. Waldman says his appearance on Blankfort's show “had been advertised with promotional spots periodically broadcast to support the State of Israel's right to exist. My unique combination of anti-communist (in current parlance, read anti-terrorist), neo-Zionist socialism promotes the Two-State solution. In order to counter the Arab propaganda and distortions broadcast regularly from the largest single source of air pollution in Mendocino County, I had agreed to take the position of the 'Israeli Lobby'.”

IN OTHER WORDS, a great comic event has been lost to the station's listeners! Joel does tend to get carried away, but Blankfort is an old pro, a veteran of years of argument with far more formidable adversaries than Elk neo-Zionists. What possible harm could come from an hour of Blankfort effortlessly swatting Waldman's fulminations back at him?

BUT STATION MANAGER John Coate, apparently trembling at the prospect of raised voices, and just as apparently loathe to permit Blankfort to choose his own guests, wrote to Waldman: “As Executive Director of Mendocino County Public Broadcasting and General Manager of KZYX&Z I am making an executive decision to intervene in this dialogue and declare that I believe it too likely that this discussion would devolve into an unacceptably hostile dialogue on the air and thus I will not allow it to happen on Takes On The World tomorrow. I know of no subject more fraught with controversy than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I had hoped that a spirited but civil airing of views could occur about it on the air. Perhaps that is still possible, but under these conditions I have no confidence that it will. That is not to say that such a dialogue can't or won't happen in the future — maybe even the near future. But based on the nature of these email exchanges, I won't let it happen — not tomorrow anyway…”

WALDMAN'S APPARENT SIN? He described the station as, among other things, “Our local listener-supported station tends toward keeping a safe, and controllable cast of like-minded drones on the air. I recommend listening to the station to provide yourselves with aural wallpaper, a kind of elevator music for those who enjoy the sounds of human voices. Disregard the content; just keep sending money.”

HARD TO ARGUE with that assessment, but Waldman's notion that public radio KZYX is top heavy with “pro-Arab” sentiment ignores the literally hundreds of hours of pro-Israeli comment emanating from NPR.

SUPERVISOR JOHN McCOWEN has boldly proposed to terminate the County’s contract with its DC lobbyist, a function you might be excused for assuming is the responsibility of our congressman. “What value do we receive?” asked McCowen, running down a list of ho-hum items the lobbyist allegedly helped to secure for the County: Partial funds for a raising of the Coyote Dam feasibility study; part of the county’s microwave system funding; Noyo Harbor dredging funding… McCowen thought that if credit was due for these things most of it should go to Congressman Thompson’s staff and local officials. “I think we can forego this and spend some money on someone to assist with grant writing” which would be under the Supes control, suggested McCowen. “I question the value of this contract.”

AFTER THE USUAL tediously repetitious discussion about the value of the lobbyist, with supervisors Colfax and Smith supporting the $72k/year consultant because he might, just might, maybe, someday, stumble across some federal money the County could snag, the Board first voted to terminate the contract 3-2 (Colfax and Smith dissenting) only to see Supervisor John Pinches reverse himself later in the day when Pinches declared the contract shouldn’t be terminated without a back-up plan to grab whatever stray cash was floating around Washington. So Mr. Schlesinger of Alcalde and Fey Consultants will get at least six more expensive months on his consulting contract. CEO Tom Mitchell told the Board that Schlesinger was worth keeping because he helped Mitchell and Supervisor Smith get to appointments when Mitchell and Smith, on the public dime of course, last visited our nation's crumbling capitol!

THE ONLY intelligent comment during the consultant discussion was from James Houle of Redwood Valley. After listening to endless postponements of budget decisions Mr. Houle said, “The county is overstaffed if they can get along with all these people taking so much time off. We're all a bit nervous. I propose that you 1. Freeze salaries before you get into deeper budget doo-doo — freeze them at $85,000. And 2. Cut all salaries of all departments to a maximum of $85,000. … You are trying to do piecemeal patching of a bankrupt county.”

SUPERVISOR JOHN PINCHES was visibly upset with CEO Tom Mitchell for not including his Scout Lake water development project on the County’s list of priority funding targets, which did include emergency generators at the Ukiah Airport. “Is that (the generators) on the same parity as getting a viable water source for the people of Mendacina County?” asked an indignant Pinches. “My message or the message of this board is not getting through! What is more important to this county? … What are we going to do when we run out of water? What are we going to do if we don't get significant rain this year? … All this paperwork hasn't brought us nuthin'. And when it comes to the priorities, water issues are 'Integrated Water Resource Management Planning.' We've had that goin' on 20 years now and it hasn't brought us a gallon of water! Where's our Water Agency? … Every week we talk about extending our drought. We're not doing nuthin' about it!”

MITCHELL didn’t help matters by blandly informing Pinches that the Scout Lake Project wasn’t far enough along to seek funding for. “I don't have a transmission system,” said Mitchell. “I don't have any of the capital infrastructure needs. We are not at the point yet where I can ask for funding.”

“WHAT COMES FIRST, the chicken or the egg?” replied Pinches. “We gotta have some money to even move the project along. We don't have the project. Now you're saying we gotta have the project totally designed before we can move forward. With that process we're never gonna get anywhere! … It's kinda like a cub bear trying to get out of a trash can. We're not gripping anything. We’re not takin' hold. We gotta move this forward. Thousands of people are dependent on this. Nobody is stopping this. It's us! Scout Lake is damned important to Mendacina County. I'm getting a little bit impatient and starting the first of the year I'm going to get a whole lot more impatient. If you want me to fill this board room with hundreds of people demanding some action, I can do that! I don't think that's necessary. But when I see a list that includes airport generators as priorities and has nothing about water development it drives me nuts!”

THE OTHER Supes got Pinches to calm down a bit, and finally Mitchell grudgingly agreed to put Scout Lake on the funding list, sort of. Whether it's wholly there or not remains unclear.

THE SUPERVISORS also discussed the recommendations of the hand-picked salary review committee. Basically, the committee said that the Supes should not even be talking about raises for themselves while the County budget is in deficit and the economy is bad, concluding that Supervisors Colfax and Smith, the only two elected officials who have not taken voluntary time off along with all other county employees, should “stand up and show leadership” by taking time off along with everyone else.

ALL FIVE SUPERVISORS had good things to say about the panel’s recommendations. Supervisor Kendall Smith, as usual, was the most condescending. She said was “very concerned” about the budget cuts and the impacts the cuts were having on poor people in the County. “It’s very painful. We recognize that,” she said. “Thanks for putting it on our radar screen. We hear that.” Having felt up everyone's pain as per her Clintonian role model, Smith turned center stage over to supervisor Colfax who also somehow managed to avoid a tirade on a subject that usually launches him into a state of near apoplexy — his personal welfare. Colfax really wanted more money for a job he has described as under-compensated and “crappy.”

THE FIFTH DISTRICT solon staggered through his comments on the pay panel's recommendation that he not get any more money. “I suggest we accept the report. It would be helpful to, uh, then, uh, make that, uh, acceptance, something that this, uh, the county, uh, our CEO, would, uh, review, take some of these very, very good, uh, recommendations, and, uh, review them, and develop implementation measures. I'd like to thank the people who spent time on this. This is a good piece of work and, uh, we do appreciate it.”

COLFAX turned the panel’s recommendations over to CEO Mitchell “for review” where, as Colfax well knows, they will never be heard from again.

SCOTT SCHNEIDER, Executive Director of the Mendocino County Lodging Association, was trying to put a positive spin on some distinctly lackluster tourism numbers last week in an interview with “In today's economy flat is the new up,” said Schneider. Down is also the new up according to the Obama Administration, but Schneider wants to draw more tourists to Mendocino County. His breakthrough concept? Pot tourism! “It would be interesting to do a guided tour, maybe on video, to talk about it because so many people are interested in it,” said Schneider, as visions of a StonerLand theme park with Pebs Trippet as gate-greeter began a dash across our imaginations. However, it soon dawned on Schneider that Dude Tours might not be exactly, ah, effective. “I don't really know if our marketing efforts… if we really want to spend the dollars to attract those visitors.”

CONGRESSMAN Mike Thompson claimed credit last week for new airline rules requiring that airlines provide the barest of necessities for passengers trapped on tarmacs awaiting take-off or get-off. The new rules require airlines to provide passengers with food, water and operable restrooms after two hours and to return passengers to the terminal if the delay is longer than three hours.

LAST SATURDAY, the president of the Airline Passengers Association told KGO consumer talk show host Michael Finney that she was amazed that they even had to ask for such basics, but, “We were told by Congressional staffers that was all we could realistically get.” Finney replied, “Yeah! You basically got them to make the Geneva Convention apply to passengers being held captive on a plane!”

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