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Mendocino County Today: Sunday, Apr 12, 2015

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If Valerie Kim keeps up her truly excellent reporting — thorough, smart, fair, nicely rendered in a pleasantly modulated radio voice — Boonville's beloved community newspaper is going to have to call off its Thirty Years War against KZYX. Given the lame-o management of the place we hope Ms. Kim isn't some kind of weirdly accidental hire. We hope our praise of her work won't end her employment, but she really is a good reporter.

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MATH DEPARTMENT: San Francisco is a small city of about a million people served by 35,771 employees. Vast Mendocino County is home to a mere 90,000 people served by 1,064 employees. San Francisco, then, employs 36 persons per thousand citizens, Mendocino County 12 per thousand.

A MUCH MORE DEPRESSING stat, unless you pay taxes in San Francisco, is the $4,000 the City of Fort Bragg doled out to Sue Hahn for "facilitating" their city council's "goal-setting retreat."

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PRINTED NEATLY on the back of an envelope from Willits containing a renewal check, "You may recall that on a scale of one to ten, I awarded Tom Woodhouse a two. Perhaps that was a bit too generous."

PERHAPS. We'll give Woody the benefit of the doubt and say there's more to the feeb than meets the critical eye. As an elected newbie on the County board of supervisors, maybe Wood is just nervous. On the other hand, it's already pretty clear that he's a guy who really, really, really needs to be loved, in which case he's mos def at the wrong party.

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ADD SODDEN THOUGHTS. On a slow news day recently — Boonville isn't exactly what you'd call one of the world's crossroads — we went deep into the hypotheticals. The question before the house was, If All the Elected Bodies in Mendocino County Played Electoral Musical Chairs Once a Month, Would Anybody Know the Diff? Or Notice? Or Care if They Did Notice?

FLESHED OUT, the County School Board would become the County Board of Supervisors, The Willits City Council would become the MCOG board, while the Fort Bragg City Council drove to Boonville to become the Anderson Valley Health Center's board of directors, as KZYX's trustees traded places with the County's Mental Health Advisory Board. And so on.

UNANIMOUSLY, we agreed that not only would policy decisions be the same as always, no one would notice any change, and on the off chance someone did notice, they wouldn't care.

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Ortner Management Group
Ortner Management Group

REGARDING the Ortner Management Group, a private company based in Yuba City, and proud owners of half Mendocino County's public mental health budget, the point we never tire in making, is that the "program" proposed for the Old Coast Hotel in the center of Fort Bragg will serve carefully selected persons who don't present any special difficulties because they've stopped presenting special difficulties. But they are good as gold reimbursable funding units paid for in full and then some by the federal and state governments, hence their attractiveness to the Ortner business. The more difficult mentally ill people, who also tend overwhelmingly to be addicted to methamphetamine, are ignored by Ortner and ignored, mostly, by what remains of the County-funded Mental Health Department. These people used to be housed in a state hospital system. Of course that was before America lost its way, circa 1967. Now, as we confirm daily with our own eyes, the mentally ill are pretty much free range, the default responsibility of law enforcement. The non-fundable insane, the insane that vultures like Ortner can't get government money for, wind up for short stays in the County Jail. The overall problem of homelessness and mental illness, often one in the same, is not being addressed in Mendocino County although Ortner is getting $7-8 million a year for allegedly doing something about it, his cynical plans for central Fort Bragg notwithstanding.

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THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN ABOUT THE SOCO WINE INDUSTRY but apply exactly to Mendocino County. Yeah, yeah. We already printed them in Shepherd Bliss's piece, but we liked them so much here they are again…

Conventionally-grown grapes are water-intensive, but they do not need to be. Most grape-growers in the U.S., until the 1970s, and currently many in Europe, practice dry farming. The wine tastes better, though there may not be as much production.

“Now is the time to look to dry-farming again,” writes John Haggard in his monthly “Wine Banter” column in the AprilSonoma County Gazette. He owns Sophie’s Cellars. Many grape-growers and wine-makers benefit the region and are concerned with playing their part to respond to the drought in a socially responsible way. “With the drought that we’re currently in, perhaps (dry farming) is the direction we might move,” Haggard continues.

“Vineyards were never watered before l970 in our county,” writes Janus Matthes, of the Sonoma County Water Coalition and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Matthes suggests labeling dry farmed wines in order “to support true water sustainability.”

“We [in Napa] are drawing 1.2 billion gallons of water and putting it on vines that don’t really need it,” Frog’s Leap Winery owner John Williams is quoted as saying in the local daily Press Democrat (PD). “The entire valley was dry-farmed for 100 years until 1976, when the first drip irrigation systems were installed,” Williams said.

Dry farming would help develop sustainable practices, as would being organic. However, it would not be enough to deal with the serious water shortage and other problems. For example, too many natural forests are ripped out to be replaced by artificial vineyards and the quality of life in many rural areas is damaged by these industrial bottling factories. Animals, plants, and nature itself suffer from the practices of many vineyards and wineries.

Our Limited Water Future

The wine industry used to be seen as a darling in Sonoma County, but from reading letters to the PD editor, that has changed. Guy Erdman of Forestville suggests an examination “of the blind infatuation we have had for the wine industry,” which he describes as “water-guzzling” with “unregulated water consumption.”

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FakeLawyerUKIAH, April 10. -- Jury Trial Result: A jury returned from its deliberations Friday afternoon with four guilty verdicts against Edward Robert Starski, age 31, of Hidden Valley, and three guilty verdicts against Starski's stepfather, Larry Charles Cornett, age 59, of Middletown. 
Starski and Cornett were found guilty of conspiring to commit grand theft from Mendo Mill, a felony. They were both also found guilty of conspiring to commit the unauthorized practice of law, a felony.


Starski and Cornett were further found guilty of attempted grand theft from Mendo Mill, a felony, meaning they attempted to defraud Mendo Mill of an amount greater than $950. 
Finally, Starski was found guilty of the unauthorized practice of law, a misdemeanor, meaning he was fraudulently representing himself to Mendo Mill and trying to act as if he were an attorney licensed to practice law in California.
 Both defendants were referred by Judge Behnke to the adult probation department for a background study and sentencing recommendation. The two defendants were ordered back for formal sentencing on May 20th at 9:00 am in Courtroom B.
 Anyone interested in this case is welcome to attend that hearing.
 Starski chose to represent himself at trial (you know that old saying!) Cornett was represented by Deputy Public Defender Heidi Larson.
 The prosecutor who presented the People's evidence and arguments to the jury was Deputy District Attorney Joshua Rosenfeld. The investigation that lead to the filing of charges was undertaken by the District Attorney's Bureau of Investigation, and specifically Chief DA Investigator Kevin Bailey.

(DA’s Press Release)

Fake lawyer picture (probably not Cornett) courtesy Mendocinosportsplus

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As the attorney for Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg, I was dismayed to find Mayor Dave Turner, for whom I have great respect, quoted in the City's press release saying that he is "saddened that a group calling themselves 'Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg' would waste our taxpayers money and court time on a frivolous action that the court pointed out several times was premature."

I fear Mayor Turner is getting selectively misinformed by his own staff. Turner wasn't in court on Thursday of last week so he has no first-hand information. It was only after the city attorney repeatedly informed the court that the city "had not approved" any funding of the Old Coast Hotel project and that "no decision" has been made and might not even get made by the scheduled April 13 Council meeting that the judge decided not to issue any restraining order presently. Certainly against the wishes of the city, he then calendared a full hearing on CCFB injunction request for April 24, cautioning the city that he expected it would take no steps to fund the project before that time or if it tried to do so, he expected to see me back in court seeking the TRO.

That's the city's "victory"?

And then to blame CCFB is a second misguided response. It is the city that has fast-tracked this project by holding one poorly noticed hearing in early January and, in contrast to what the city attorney said in court, "approving" the funding at that time. The Council was asked repeatedly to conduct a second hearing and presented with well over 1000 signatures of folks wanting just that. The Council turned a deaf ear. After suit was filed, the city made noises like it would agree to not act pending a TRO hearing in mid-April but then backed out of the agreement altogether. Only then did CCFB decide to go to court and ensure the city didn't do and end run on the project and "moot" the issue so a judge could not review it.

Rod Jones, lawyer for CCFB


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Adam Kufeld, Comptche, California. Public Expression, Board of Supervisors Meeting, April 7, 2015:

“My property is about half way between Ukiah and Mendocino. In the news last night NBC had a report on California which said that we face probably the most dangerous fire season in the history of California. This was last night. They used the word inferno. We are concerned now that Calfire by their own admission is allowing a practice that is adding fuel to the fire. They're talking about reducing fuel loads which we all agree is important and we also need to deal with the fuel loads around our homes. But right now there are hundreds of thousands of dead trees surrounding our neighborhoods. MRC is planning to harvest over at least 1200 acres in our area alone. In the second review team meeting we had Mr. Minor of Calfire, when asked directly whether the practices of the leading industry in the area were leading to an increase or decrease in the fire danger, he admitted that it would increase the fire danger for a least a year or two. The other gentleman from Calfire whom I respect, at the same time said it will make a difference in the next few years. We are really concerned not about what happens in eight years when the trees are deteriorating. What happens now, this season, when the trees that already have been killed last year and that will be killed this year will be left standing and become fuel for the fire that could go from just a fire which is bad enough to an inferno? All of us in this meeting know that if that happens this season we are going to have to look at this whole area and see how many hundreds of thousands of dead trees we are surrounded with. Anybody who has seen a tanoak go up in flames knows that it's like a Roman candle because they are full of oil. I was up in a plane not long ago flying over taking photographs. It is mind-boggling how many dead trees there are. All you have to do is imagine if a fire starts and a wind starts, Mendocino County will go up. The discussion about clearing brush around our homes will be moot. We will be dealing with much bigger issues. If Calfire continues to approve THPs without a provision that MRC or whoever is logging doesn't take those trees out, we will continue to face a greater and greater danger every year and sooner or later it's going to fall on everyone's shoulders who has chosen to look the other way because big corporations like MRC are too difficult, too much work, too bureaucratic, too expensive or whatever it is. We have to start dealing with it now because we are facing an entirely different kind of situation than we ever have.”

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CATCH OF THE DAY, Saturday, April 11, 2015

E.Alvarez, J.Alvarez, Buenrostro, Couthren
E.Alvarez, J.Alvarez, Buenrostro, Couthren

EDUARDO ALVAREZ, Ukiah. Vehicle theft, evasion.

JAVIER ALVAREZ, Hopland. Probation revocation, false ID, resisting arrest.

CHRISTOPHER BUENROSTRO, Ukiah. DUI-Drugs, suspended license.

ZEBULON COUTHREN, Willits. Under influence of controlled substance, court order violation.

Culbreth, Engkabo, Erickson, Gebreegziabher
Culbreth, Engkabo, Erickson, Gebreegziabher

SHANNON CULBRETH, Willits. Drunk in public, resisting arrest.

PASTOR ENGKABO, Calpella. Pot possession for sale, child endangerment, county parole violation.


YONAS GEBREEGZIABHER, Domestic battery, resisting arrest.

Hoaglin, Lewis, Nelson, Rangel
Hoaglin, Lewis, Nelson, Rangel

GARRIE HOAGLIN, Covelo. Parole violation.

DANA LEWIS, Willits. Drunk in public.

SHANE NELSON, Ukiah. Drunk in public.

JOSE RANGEL, Palmdale/Willits. Burglary.

Thomson, Ward, Wolfe
Thomson, Ward, Wolfe

MATTHEW THOMSON, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.

MEGAN WARD, Palmdale/Willits. Burglary.

LARRY WOLFE JR., Ukiah. Running a stop sign, speeding, reckless driving, evasion, parole violation.

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A federal agency’s decision to consider protection for a large silvery minnow found only in Clear Lake, hailed by environmentalists and Indian tribes, is also renewing concern over its potential impact on water use and economic development around the lake.

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LIKE THE BAPTIST PREACHERS the young reporter had listened to and struggled to understand in his childhood, the old man sees meaning behind meanings, or thinks he does, and tries his best to tell what things “stand for.” “Pomegranates are about the size and shape of large oranges or small grapefruits, only their skins are red,” he says… “They're filled…with juice as red as blood. When they get ripe, they're so swollen with those juicy red seeds that they gap open and some of the seeds spill out. And now I'll tell you what pomegranates stand for. They stand for the resurrection… All seeds stand for resurrection. The Easter egg stands for resurrection. So do the eggs in the English sparrow's nest up under the eaves in the “L” station. So does the egg you have for breakfast. So does the caviar the rich people eat. So does shad roe. — Joseph Mitchell

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Commenter1: If earplugs are required to sleep that fits the legal definition of a nuisance. Disturbing to a person of ordinary sensibilities.

Commenter2: That means nothing. Just because one person might want earplugs, doesn't mean the next one does?

Commenter1: What if the earplugs don’t work?

Commenter3: I can hum a few bars of this tune too. All farming is obnoxious to its neighbors. We people who eat and like to drink wine accept this. Here is where we are all failed, disclosure. We bought our house totally unaware pear sprayers would run 15 (yes, 15) hours a day! The glasses in my cupboards rattled all day. I would keep them all separated so as not to go mad. My husband would come home from work and blow up after 25 minutes of it. I believe buyers are deliberately kept ignorant of these "nuisances." We certainly would not have bought this house if we knew, and yes we should have known, but, we didn't.

Commenter4: I liken this guy to the same people who move next to an airport then sue because of the noise.

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by Adrian Baumann

While the Mendocino County Small Farmers Association, a marijuana group of unclear purpose, has made claims it is also a non profit group, The Willits News could not locate any such registration and a spokesman for the California Tax Franchise Board says the SFA never filed for one. The Small Farmers Association Facebook and web pages solicit donations as a non profit and several persons claiming to be affiliated with it have stated publicly that the association is a non-profit. When The Willits News requested details of this alleged non profit status, no verifiable information was forthcoming from the association. A search of state records shows the association’s corporation status as suspended; and the group did not appear on state or federal listings as a non-profit.

The group’s purpose is either to educate or advocate for cannabis farmers, depending on who’s asked, and played a central role in the development of Mendocino County’s 9.31 marijuana ordinance.

The group provided charter paperwork to The Willits News which lists its name as “9.31 Farmers Inc.” While that name does not appear on the California Secretary of State’s database of corporations, the name “Small Farmers Association” does appear, filed on the same date as the paperwork provided, to an address in San Jose.

According to the state’s database the status of the organization is “FTB suspended,” that is Franchise Tax Board suspended. The State Franchise Board’s website explains, “When FTB or SOS suspends an organization, it cannot legally transact business, defend or initiate an action in court, protest assessments, or file a claim for refund of paid amounts. Your organization also loses the right to use the entity name.” Their status is currently suspended for a failure to file returns as of November 2014. Brian Wooten, principle compliance representative in the executive and advocate services office of the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) said, “They didn’t file any returns didn’t pay any balances, basically did nothing.” He added, “These folks were suspend due to the fact that they have not filed any returns or paid any taxes… It appears that they never received exempt status… So right now as we speak they would be treated as a normal corporation and they would have a minimum tax due.” Minimum California taxes are $800 per year for a corporation.

Neither the name Small Farmers Association, nor 9.31 Farmers Inc. appear anywhere The Willits News could find on the IRS’s database of non-profits and entities which have filed tax exempt paperwork. Non-profits, especially the 501(c)(3) kind which the association claims to be, and which the charter paperwork states it is, are required to file annually with the IRS.

Furthermore, when pressed for an “Employee Identification Number,” a nine digit number used by the IRS to keep track of such entities, the number provided by the SFA corresponded to no organization listed by the IRS. The number drew a total blank.

Asked about the failure to find a record the group had no explanation. Julia Carrera responded via email, “The State and Feds issue EIN numbers…[sic] we have no control over whether it’s on the website or not.” Carrera also stated that the Franchise Tax Board must have outdated or erroneous data and she would be looking into it. “Our government moves slowly, and updates may or may not happen.”

When Carrera, who claims to represent the SFA, was asked about whether the SFA is a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organization. Carrera stated that the group was a 501(c)(3) contrary to the information listed on their website’s donation page. When this was pointed out to her, Carrera stated that she could not be sure which kind of organization the SFA is because she is dyslexic.

The distinction between 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) is a tricky one; the former include groups as varied as food banks and little leagues, the latter tends to focus on policy agendas, without being strictly political action groups. Though the distinction is subtle, it is one worth making because of the frankly political nature of the SFA’s activities.

Non profit 501(c)(3)s have serious restrictions curbing political and lobbying activities while 501(c)(4) organizations are not as restricted. Either way, knowledge of such distinctions is important to groups working to advocate for citizens. Carrera has appeared before the board of supervisors, before the Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee, and has spoken on various occasions directly with supervisors.

As late as Wednesday, the donation section of the SFA’s website stated, “We are a farmer funded 501(c)4 educational organization… It costs $2,100 a month to operate and the majority of that goes to paper production for things like brochures, membership papers, lobbying. Lobbying is a big part of our expenses with every trip to Sacramento costing $750. Would you like to sponsor a lobbying trip to Sacramento?”

Within minutes after The Willits News spoke with Carrera, the SFA website was altered. The 501(c)4 was changed to 501(c)3; and the word lobbying was deleted from the list of monthly operational expenses, although the reference to sponsoring a lobbying trip remained.

During the heyday of the 9.31 program Carrera was the primary inspector, collaborating closely with the sheriff’s department. She was also at one point registered as a lobbyist with the state, though it is unclear if she is currently still a registered lobbyist. She stated that she is the “representative” for the group, but did not specify her exact relationship, except to say that she files a 1099 tax form. These kinds of forms are commonly used by independent contractors.

During an interview Carrera denied the group performed any advocacy role, or held any policy positions. Commenting on a letter sent by Board President of the SFA Noel Manners to Supervisor Tom Woodhouse and The Willits News, Carrera said that he should not have said that he was president of the board. At one point Carrera said, “We’re advocating for a change in the existing ordinance to protect small farmers to increase the plant count in a drought.” She then flatly denied that the SFA holds any policy position, or performs any advocacy work, saying, “We’re trying to empower the people, we don’t have a policy.”

The chartering of marijuana advocacy groups, and their status as nonprofits, can be problematic precisely because of the federally illegal status of marijuana. Other advocacy groups have opted to charter as for-profit entities, allowing them greater leeway. The status of a non-profit carries with it special requirements and burdens to ensure the group is genuinely charitable, political, or meets other definitions under the specific statute.

(Courtesy, the Willits News)

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THE BOONVILLE WINTER MARKET will meet in front of the Boonville General store and Seebass Winery Saturday 4/18. Our final market on Apr 25 will be at the Fairgrounds in Boonville, as part of Goat Fest.

If you are a regular attender of the annual Wildflower Show, we hope you will be pleasantly surprised to find "all things goat" in the grove and surrounding area.

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The First Annual AV Goat Festival, scheduled for Sat Apr 25 at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, is really coming along. An excellent crew of local food activists and goat enthusiasts are working hard to create a full day of Family Fun, Goat Education, and Goat Celebration.

Along with such fun events as "Best Dressed Goat Contest" and "Celebrity Goat Milking Competition," we are developing an all day schedule of workshops on two themes: Goat Dairy Products and Goat Husbandry. We are also hosting a Birria Cook-Off and a dance at The Apple Hall (the Zumba fundraiser has been canceled for this event.

Did I say full day? 10 am to 4pm

As you might imagine, we have plenty of opportunities for people to get involved. If you are interested in being a volunteer, a presenter, or a vendor, please use one of these ways to connect:, on Facebook at Anderson Valley Goat Fest, call Jim Devine (707) 496-8725

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Here are some fun farmer events.

The next potluck is not until Tuesday April 21st. But there were some exciting things piling up in my mailbox and I wanted to share with all of you. Please check out some of the things happening in this wonderful community!

Always feel free to write with any workshops or events that the people need to know about!

Hope to see you all soon!

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Farmers Guild Work Party @ Green Uprising:

Don't forget the farm tour, work day and potluck at Green Uprising Farm on Sat. April 11 at 10am. We have lots of big plans! The number one goal is to plant our potatoes. Julia Dakin is coming with her horse on Friday to help with furrowing. But, please bring extra shovels if you have them. We may also do some barn cleaning and some hugelkulture (new raised beds on a base of our orchard prunings!) Michael is baking his famous sourdough bread and we will slather it with Besto Pesto (best picks from the garden) and goat cheese. And, there will be some newborn goat kids to snuggle. So, please come! 2301 East Hill Road. Call 707 216-5549 if you need directions.

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Vote for the Farmers Guild:

Each Earth Day, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op selects a handful of organizations to compete for their "Make Every Day Earth Day" campaign. Between now and April 22, cast your vote for The Farmers Guild and, if we win, every time you bring your own bag to the Co-op, they'll donate five cents to our work supporting sustainable farmers for the next generation of food! Vote

Bokashi Workshop:

We are excited to announce a "Regenerative Earth" class, being held by Simran Raphaell onSunday, April 19th from noon to 4pm at the Little Lake Grange in the town of Willits.

Simran will talk about fortifying new soil and reusing exhausted soils to make them better and better every season! Also covered with be the value of Bokashi, how it is made and how to use it with great success in your gardens through foliar feeding/compost tea extracts, mulching, top dressing/side dressing, and soil amending. Other important subjects include: Disease/Pathogen prevention, Onsite waste to resource management, Simple ways to make BioChar at home (raw char/carbon for soils, etc), putting the "Bio" in Biochar- aka~charging or "activating" Biochar and how to get the most by working WITH Nature .

Everyone will be able to take some bokashi home with them to use in their own gardens.

The cost for these 4 hours (give or take) is sliding scale, $50-80.

Please contact Lucinda ( for further details.

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Painting Party:

Interested in helping paint the next Inland Mendocino Farmers Guild Work Party Poster?! Contact Sara Grusky at

Hopland Research and Extension Center:

There are a lot of exciting events going on!

4/22 - Earth Day in the Vineyard

5/11 - Sheep Shearing School

5/13 - Wool Classing Workshop

5/19 - Northern California Chaparral Fire Hazard Summit

5/23 - Barn to Yarn

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People rushin' everywhere
If they'd only slow down once
They might find something there
Green trees and timber land
People workin' with their hands
For sure a different way to live
Gonna keep my cabin at hand
Retreat and live off the land
All around Ukiah

The mountain streams that rush on by
Show the fish a jumpin'
And reflect the open sky
The fresh clean smell of the pines
Symbol of unchanging times
All around this sacred land
Strangely, though, I've found my way
Right here I'm gonna stay
In this land Ukiah

— Doobie Brothers

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by Stewart Bowen

What follows is unclassified. At least as far as I know. It comes from my fading memory and the so-called "open literature." The connections, if any, are pure speculation on my part. This train of thought was triggered by the recent film, "Argo" (2012), about one aspect of the Iranian Hostage Crisis at the end of the Carter administration.

My flirtation (if I can even use that word) with this historical event came in the winter of 1979/1980. At that time, I was running the Test Department for a small Bay Area aerospace company specializing in engineering and producing precision explosive components for military aircraft and missiles, e.g., crew ejection systems and missile stage separation systems. Our customers were mostly the prime aerospace contractors and Uncle Sam himself. This particular inquiry came from McDonnell Douglas, St. Louis. Although I never saw the words on any piece of paper, it was clear from the outset that this project had the highest priority. It was urgent in the extreme. No limit on overtime; no expense spared. It ran almost 24/7 right through Christmas. By my recollection, it took something like six weeks from start to finish — something of a record in the aerospace business.

The assignment was this: We were to design, build and test a destruct system that, on remote command, would destroy the electronics bay of a long-range cruise missile — destroy it beyond any possibility of reassembly. As I recall, we were to build four "shipsets," test one and ship three to St. Louis by special military aircraft out of Travis Air Force Base (our neighbor). Questions in my mind at the time: Why didn't such a thing already exist and why did somebody need it so urgently RIGHT NOW?? The speculation started.

I only remember two acronyms for sure on this special project. (The aerospace biz was big on acronyms, probably still is. We could hold almost complete conversations just using acronyms. Example: "We need a ROM RFQ for the Delta IV RETA/FETA ATP to support the RTP/PO ASAP." You probably get the last one. Don't ask me to translate the rest.

The acronyms I remember for sure are BGM-109D and DSMAC. The first makes more sense to the uninitiated than the latter. GM, as you have already guessed, stood for Guided Missile. I believe the B stood for Basic or perhaps Baseline — a missile whose launch environment could be reconfigured without re-designing the weapon from scratch. That is, with minor changes, it could be launched from land, sea or air. In fact, the BGM-109D was an early version of the Tomahawk cruise missile. In my mind, at least, the name "Tomahawk" implies a ship-launched weapon. Now it's important to note that operational evaluation of the Tomahawk didn't begin until January of 1981, a full year after the program I am describing. It didn't actually enter service until 1983, according to our good friend, Wikipedia. The other important thing to note is that all of this preceded the GPS system by at least ten years.

Which brings us to the second, more esoteric acronym. DSMAC stands for Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation, a mouthful for anyone. In other words, the Tomahawk would compare where it was at any given time with the pre-programmed course based on visual cues recorded previously. (Presumably, this is where we might veer into classified territory.) DSMAC was the greatest advance in guiding guided missiles since inertial navigation based on gyroscopes. And gyroscopes date clear back to Hitler's V-2 program run by Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who came over to our side after the war. Gyroscopes, at least in those early years, were pretty crude mechanisms. Maybe this explains why some pundit with a twisted sense of humor said "von Braun aimed for the stars, but sometimes hit London." Not funny to a Londoner.

But back to DSMAC. It was important to someone that if — IF — one or more of these weapons were to be used prematurely against an un-named enemy, it was critical not to leave the DSMAC module lying, say, in some desert where it could be recovered and studied. Or at least not leave it in one or several pieces. What was called for was "smithereens" — remnants that absolutely, positively could not be reassembled and reverse engineered. That's where we came in. McDonnell-Douglas shipped us an actual DSMAC module and we went to work. (Maybe it was an elaborate mock-up, but I was told it was the real thing and we were going destroy it. What still puzzles me is that it wasn't classified. At least the external view wasn't classified. I don't think our customer had time to build a mock-up, but one may have existed for other purposes.)

After watching "Argo,", I asked myself how it's possible for a nation (Iran) to nurture such vehement and enduring hatred for another country (US) for decades? Perhaps the answer begins in the summer of 1953 when the CIA (and MI-6) engineered a coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran (Mohammad Mosaddegh) and installed our guy, Reza Shah Pahlavi, who invited the oil companies back into Iran. And, of course, we backed the Shah to the hilt, even selling him the latest and greatest made-in-America weaponry in the form of F-14 "Tomcat" fighters. (Digression: I seriously considered going to work for the Shah — in the guise of Grumman Aircraft Corp. — in the early 70s to help maintain the emergency crew egress systems on his shiny new toys sitting on the runway in Isfahan. I had visions of starting a world class collection of Persian rugs. Hah! In retrospect, that would not have been a good career move!)

The animosity between the two nations continues to this day. Although it was years after the period discussed here, relations were probably not helped by the downing of an Iranian airliner in July of 1988 by a surface-to-air missile from the USS Vincennes.

Two hundred and ninety died including sixty six children. "Oops!" said the captain of the Vincennes, which was in Iranian waters at the time, "We thought it was an F-14." This tragedy got very little coverage in the Western press and, only rarely, has it been connected with the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 five and a half months later (270 fatalities). This writer is anything but an apologist for the Iranians, but this double tragedy casts light on the mindsets on both sides.

Early in the Iranian hostage crisis, President Carter made the decision to launch a secret military rescue mission called "Eagle Claw." After several months of hasty preparations, in which my company probably played a part, the rescue mission was launched on April 24, 1980. As most of us now know, Eagle Claw couldn't have gone much worse. Eight RH-53D helicopters (Sea Stallions, modified for mine sweeping) took off from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to rendezvous with several C-130 transport and tanker planes at "Desert One," a remote, top secret site inside Iranian territory. Due to sand storms, radio silence and other complicating factors, only six helicopters made it to Desert One and one of those had lost its primary hydraulic system. The crew was willing to continue the mission, relying on the back-up hydraulic system, but the squadron commander was not. He decided to ground the crippled helicopter. Shortly thereafter, the overall commander decided to abort the whole mission. But even after that, things continued to go downhill. During refueling, a helicopter ran into a C-130 tanker. Eight US military people died in the crash. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for much of this background.)

Shortly after Christmas of 1979, we completed our mysterious assignment. No one mentioned environmental testing, my specialty. There wasn't time for vibration or humidity testing. But then this hardware wasn't going into long term storage in a hot, humid explosives magazine nor was it going to accrue hundreds of hours of flight vibration hanging under the wing pylon of a B-52. It was going to be used ASAP.

Our customer had given us a fairly generous do-not-exceed weight allowance and we used most of it: high-core-load (RDX explosive), copper-sheathed linear shaped charge. Smithereens were achieved. Afterwards, the smithereens were gathered up, bagged, and shipped back to the customer. If the DSMAC module we blew to kingdom come WAS the real thing, it was a damned expensive piece of electronic gear we destroyed. The three remaining destruct system shipsets went to Travis AFB on our licensed truck and from there flew to parts unknown.

And here is my speculation. (I'm hoping I don't get a midnight knock on my back door.) One shipset may have been held in reserve. Two, or possibly three, were installed on BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles — very early versions which had not yet been fully tested and proven. Presumably, they were aimed at carefully chosen targets in Tehran to create a diversion and general confusion which, in that age before cruise missiles became operational, they surely would have accomplished. But they were never launched and most of us will never know the whole story.

Some weeks after the final test, we received a commendation from the Defense Department for "vital services rendered to a grateful nation." Or some such wording, according to the president of the company. But I never saw it. This award didn't officially exist. It may have hung in the room that also didn't exist. I never saw that either, but supposedly it was an ultra-secure, heavily-shielded room with no communications going in or out. Presumably it was a repository for classified information. If you asked about it, the response was usually "What room?" And so: "Award? What award?"

* * *

REMINDER: Arena Theater Film: The Russian River, All Rivers, Tuesday 7 pm … one showing only at Arena Theater.

The Russian River: All Rivers
The Value of an American Watershed

Tuesday, April 14th, 7:00 p.m.
Arena Theater
214 Main Street, Point Arena, CA

Meet the filmmakers and hear their story.

"Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land." — Luna Leopold

"Spectacular film footage…" — Michael Krasny, KQED

Sponsored By:

  • Friends of the Gualala River
  • Go Local Mendonoma Coast
  • Jeanne Jackson, Mendonoma Sightings
  • KGUA Radio
  • Moat Creek Managing Agency
  • Point Arena Lighthouse
  • Redwood Coast Land Conservancy
  • Redwood Coast Watersheds Alliance
  • The Conservation Fund


  1. Eric Sunswheat April 11, 2015

    KZYX management strategy with news department, appears to be to co-opt vocal opinion leaders in the community with on air interviews, to win them over by flattery with favorable Public Relations publicity, which in my opinion, is why Sister Jasmin was first interviewed early this year, on the Monday protest demonstrations for Peace outside Point Arena post office.

  2. Bill Pilgrim April 12, 2015

    RE: Photo Caption Quiz:

    “I also crashed one these nose-down in “Nam back in ’65.
    …Walked away from that one, too.”

  3. Judy Valadao April 12, 2015

    The piece regarding Ortner hit a home run. This is what so many in and out of the community of Fort Bragg have been saying for a long time only to fall on deaf ears. When I contacted Dan Hamburg and McCowen about their statement of approval for the Old Coast Hotel project McCowen didn’t bother to answer and Hamburg answered by either quoting or copying and pasting his answer directly from the Hospitality Center’s website. I asked for his opinion on help not being there for those who need it, I didn’t ask for a copy and paste answer. Why does no one seem to want to discuss this? That include the Fort Bragg City Council. As Scott Deitz said “I voted for it and it’s done”. Thank you to this paper (AVA) for allowing both sides to be heard, unlike our local paper that is so one sided they could downsize their paper even more and still have more room than they know what to do with. This issue isn’t about not wanting to those in need, it’s about wanting to make sure ALL those in need get that help. Our county is paying for a program that pretty much says “If we can’t be reimbursed for services you receive you aren’t going to get those services”. Instead you go over to Ukiah for a free nights lodging then released back on the street with no help and no hope. Ortner should be responsible for these people as well, after all aren’t they being paid to do just that? Of course that would take from the money going into the pocket of OMG. That is my opinion.

  4. burnunit April 12, 2015

    The Iranians received more than the F-14. When I was in the Navy and stationed at NAS Moffett Field from ’73 to ’77, there were many Iranian pilots and aircrew on the base, training in the four turbo prop powered P-3 Orion. The P-3 was used primarily for anti-submarine patrol.
    The Iranian P-3s were painted in a sky blue, camo motif. Our P-3s were painted in Navy grey.
    Just a rememberance from my days on the transit aircraft line at NAS Moffett Field.

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