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Off the Record 7/15/09

TYLER NELSON is the son of Hopland Grape Grower and County Planning Commissioner Greg Nelson. Tyler appeared on News last week, posed as he stood beside the Nelson’s huge full-to-the-brim pond as he sung the praises of drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is better than flood irrigation or sprinkler irrigation, but how much better? Don’t ask. Nobody keeps records. But throw in frost protection and even with drip irrigation the wine industry is by far the biggest water consumer on the Northcoast. And drip irrigation occurs more out of necessity than scrupulous regard for inland Mendocino County's overdrawn water resource. As JA Peterman of Redwood Valley pointed out in a fine recent Ukiah Daily Journal editorial, inland water purveyors and water districts have no idea how much water is used on vineyards, how much is used for frost protection, what alternatives may be available, and so on. Previous Grand Jury reports have called for water gages and monitoring, a conclusion the Supervisors declared they agreed with, but never asked County Counsel to follow up on in the form of a gaging ordinance.

ALL THINGS being equal, drip irrigation does save some water, but, as we’ve reported previously, modern rootstocks are genetically selected to be shallow rooted and very water dependent. Being water dependent makes it easier to deliver pesticides to the rootstocks and allows the grower to fine tune the ripening process by delivering water in calibrated amounts to each vine depending on temperature and grape variety. It also translates to more grapes demanding more water, albeit drip.

SO THE SONS OF THE SOIL place blame for profligate water use on… “One thing that has come to bite us in the backside more recently,” said young Nelson. “is the... our scientific advice that we get from the UC extension program has suggested using a certain type of several different types of rootstocks that are very sensitive to water so when we have rough times like this when we don't have water to use those rootstocks really suffer and the quality potentially can go down on the grapes.”

IF MENDOCINO COUNTY'S booze biz had stuck with dry farming and deep rooted rootstock none of this would be a problem. And the grapes would be better. But...

ON TOP of their water problems the Northcoast’s high-end wineries are also starting to feel the financial squeeze. In previous weeks we’ve reported on the financial woes of the local timber industry and the (somewhat inflated) difficulties facing the local lodging industry as America's Great Shopping Spree transitions to, ah, an austerity that will leave few people with the money for $300 weekend rooms and $40 bottles of Pinot. The market for wine at more than $25 a bottle is drying up. And some grape growers — especially the “highly leveraged” ones (i.e., in debt up their eyebrows), are feeling the pinch. Premium grapes are selling for less than two-thirds of what they sold for last year; even growers with contracts are either getting stiffed or heavily leaned on to lower prices. As inventories of unsold expensive wine sit unsold on market shelves and in warehouses, growers are being told that wineries want fewer grapes at lower prices. According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, wineries who buy grapes on contracts find themselves with too much product, so they put those grapes on the open market, further pushing down prices. The small growers who depend on the spot market for sales are finding that buyers are paying less and less. Some hard-hit wineries have quietly put themselves up for sale, but buyers are few and far between.

WINE INDUSTRY layoffs, according to the Wall Street Journal, have so far been less than those at, say, KZYX, because the small local winemakers are already down to minimum staff and few employees. But the bigger players are also shrinking. Kendall-Jackson laid off 12% of its staff in January and more layoffs at Ol' Windy's highly leveraged enterprises are expected. In June, the company that owns the Beringer, St. Clement and other high-end labels, said it would eliminate 120 jobs this year.

SPEAKING OF KZYX, remarks at last week's Fort Bragg meeting of the station's besieged management and board of directors saw several speakers wonder why there weren't more young people in the audience and among the station's listeners. I certainly don't presume to speak for America's Future, but I do dare to suppose that young people aren't involved in Public Radio Mendocino County because to them KZYX is all the crazy uncles and aunts of America — squared — in one room, and why would any sane young person seek them out?

PITY CHRISTINA AANESTAD, KZYX's fired reporter, to be further saddled by the support of every lunatic in the county whose behavior at last week's meeting in Fort Bragg merely solidified management's unsupported decision to fire her. Of course GM Coate says he didn't fire Ms. Aanestad; he says the station's dire financial straits forced him to eliminate her position. That Monday. In a hurry. First thing in the morning. Without informing his captive board of directors. You'd have thought the station would be broke by noon if Ms. Aanestad wasn't immediately gone. But Coate really would have caught hell from the screaming meemies if he'd simply offed the kid without his baloney about fiscal circumstances so dire Ms. A had to go now.

BUT LAST WEEK'S meeting in Fort Bragg makes Coate's precipitous ax look downright reasonable. No, I wasn't there. I didn't have to be. I've seen these nutballs in action so many times over the years I don't have to be there when they do their public meeting thing. I know what they do. I also know that everything they touch turns to merde, everything. And they'll destroy Christina Aanestad to save her.

I THOUGHT Ms. A's reporting had gotten better and better, and since it was the only local reporting the station was doing I was surprised at her abrupt departure, but not surprised at how it was done, and not surprised that her position has now been further weakened by the crazy contingent. Ms. A would be wise to distance herself from them before they drag her all the way down, but maybe she's half there already. When Ms. A mentioned to me that her sudden unemployment now gave her the time to take a trip to the Southwest with a certain inland gent, I thought to myself, “Jesu Cristo spare this child, she knows not what she does!” Any trip with this guy is like strapping yourself to a chimpanzee for a month. Or eloping with The One True Green. The poor girl needs an intervention, fast! Then, on the KZYX News, of all places, Sherry Glaser came on with a “commentary” introduced as a song that consisted of her weeping for what seemed like an hour, weeping, she said, for the world's woes. In a previous “commentary,” Ms. Glaser told listeners about how she and some other bare breasted fog basted beauts had flashed President Obama's motorcade, and I marveled at the President's restraint in not issuing an emergency directive ordering America's women to immediately burkha themselves from that day forward. Maybe Coate and KZYX's board of directors are simply trying to disencumber themselves of lunatics, and more power to them if that's what they're doing, but Ms. A is still salvageable, I'd say, and it was cruelly unfair what Coate did to her and doubly cruel the way he did it to her, and for all the counterproductive huffing and puffing the exhibitionists are doing helping Coate keep Ms. A fired, he now has a free rein at converting the station to the NPR and music format characteristic of most of America's public radio and hugely desired by the millionaire Democrats who make the largest donations to the Public Radio Mendocino County.

AT V'CANTO last Friday night, the fine bar and restaurant on Laurel Street in Fort Bragg, KZYX's news director, Paul Hanson, spotted the AVA's Freda Moon and Bruce McEwen. McEwen described what ensued: “A fat, vain fellow seated down the bar named Paul Hanson had some sneering words for Freda and I, called the AVA a yellow rag full of lies and tried to grab it, but I was too fast for him. I snatched it up and laughed at him. He left in a huff, crying about being a Vietnam Vet, a guard dog handler at the air base in Saigon…”

I E-MAILED HANSON for comment. He said it was all untrue. What Hanson didn't say is that the next day he called V'Canto's owner, Jim Muto, to apologize for his unseemly outburst the evening before. Hanson also e-mailed Freda Moon to say, as seeming justification for his Friday night freakout, “Your newspaper attacked me three times within the first 90 days of my living in California between April and June of '08. As I told Bruce in an email this morning each and every one of those attacks was lies and bullshit…"

IF I'D KNOWN Hanson was coming down from Oregon I probably would have pelted him with lies and bullshit the first day he was in the state, lobbed him a face full right at McCloud, where I could have done it from the bar of the old hotel, if it's still there. But when I looked back at what I actually said about the Dick Cheney look-alike it wasn't lies; bullshit maybe, but not lies. I'd offered a few gentle opinions about Hanson's preoccupation with the weather and had softly critiqued his rip and read approach to news programming. (Rip and read reporting is grabbing whatever self-serving gibberish an authority figure hands you in the form of a press release and reading it on the air, no questions asked.) My opinions about KZYX and Hanson's job performance are my opinions. Opinions are often bullshit, of course, but they aren't lies. Lies are deliberate misrepresentations of facts. There's a difference between fact and opinion, as most media people know, even in the degraded and, some would say, me first among them, degenerate media market of Mendocino County. Media people wrapped so tight they go off in bars at the mere sight of this newspaper, well....... Well, looks like I'll have to make room for two fat guys on my therapy couch. PS. Complaining to second and third parties about me is not only stupid, it's terminally chickenbleep. Got a beef with me, come and see me, available work hours high atop the Farrer Building overlooking beautiful downtown Boonville, me and Antonia Lamb and Anna Taylor and Mitch Clogg, reading our horoscopes and thinking the very best of everyone.

STEVE TALBOT, who made the terrific documentary film “Who Bombed Judi Bari?”, has just finished a music series for PBS called “Sound Tracks.” Steve will sneak preview “Sound Tracks” at the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, on Thursday, July 23rd, 6pm, reception at 5:30pm. Talbot's irrefutable and, in fact, irrefuted film on the Bari bombing, makes it clear that Bari's ex-husband, Mike Sweeney, did it. Talbot has since said at various forums that the late Bari told him she was certain Sweeney tried to kill her. Naturally, Sweeney occupies a well-paid County job as a garbage bureaucrat.

AVA READERS may recall that District Attorney Meredith Lintott indignantly informed Supervisor Kendall Smith early last month that the DA's pot case prioritization was “not a topic for public discussion.” But last week the DA's triage approach to marijuana prosecutions became public when an internal DA memo issued by Lintott was leaked to the Ukiah Daily Journal. In the memo Lintott cites “staff shortages” as the reason she is only prosecuting cases involving at least 200 plants — unless there are other factors in the bust besides pot growing factors like weapons, children found in unwholesome circumstances or found unattended, clear indicators of sales, or the gardener's criminal history. Otherwise, “Cases submitted for prosecution where the total plant count is under 200 plants and/or the total amount of processed marijuana involved is less than 20 pounds shall be rejected,” Lintott declared.

THE FACT that many smaller pot cases are sitting unfiled in the DA’s office is not news. We know of several small-garden arrests from last year that are still awaiting charges. But what is news is the 200 plant threshold. When former DA Susan Massini was faced with similar pot case overloads in the early 90s, Massini did more or less the same thing but put the threshold at 25, assuming that more plants than that were not “mom and pop grows.” By the time the late Norm Vroman was elected DA, Proposition 215 had passed; Vroman and then-Sheriff Tony Craver quickly moved to establish guidelines for small gardens that would not be prosecuted. Those guidelines varied over the years but never got anywhere near 200 plant limits. The 200 plant threshold is an indicator both of how big the “small gardens” have become and an indication of how short-staffed the DA is.

SHERIFF ALLMAN was quick to announce that he was still continuing to arrest large commercial and syndicate growers, out-of-towner growers, public lands growers, and trespass growers, a policy generally supported by the public, pot and non-pot. But Allman is still arresting people for “nuisance” grows based on neighbor complaints which are unlikely to be pursued by the DA.

MEANWHILE, the asset forfeiture process continues even if charges aren't filed on the bustees. Allman and Lintott ought to develop simplified guidelines for asset returns where no charges are filed, and certainly ought to simply asset returns where there are acquittals.

A READER WRITES: “A local Willits resident, long-time pot grower, known only to us as Jay-Kat, has been carrying on Mendo-style commerce in West Oakland of all places. Not a great place for a 30-something white boy. Last week while selling some weed to some Oaktowners he had his shirt pulled over his head and a gun crammed in his ribs and his backpack full of pot taken from him. He bolted and ran. He was lucky to get away with his life. They got his backpack full of pot, of course. Jay-Kat, however, has apparently become suicidal. He’s gone to the Oakland Police Department and he wants to do a ride-along with some Oakland cops to identify all three of the pot-muggers. And, I’m told, the cops have been up to his place North of Willits where his grow site is to verify his story! What a moron. So he’s going to talk to some of the most corrupt cops in the state and try and ID guys who may be informants or undercover agents or snitches for the OPD. And even if he does find the guys, and point at them and say, ‘Yeah, it’s these three guys right here,’ how long do you think he’ll last after that? I guess some pot guys around here combine stupidity with suicide. Maybe it’s all for the best. Darwin applies to pot growers too. He even thinks he’ll show up in court and testify against them, I guess! He’s gonna get these guys and make them pay! Oh yeah! His own drug of choice is Ketamine, aka “Special K,” an animal tranquilizer. So he’s got brain damage. Which may explain a lot. He’s a sort of a dead head, not just a pot smoker. If he’d just stuck to marijuana and stayed outta Oakland, he might be in the chips today. But now he’s gone clinically suicidal. If it were up to me I’d do a citizen’s arrest for 5150 on ol’ Jay-Kat. He’s obviously a danger to himself and the rest of us.”

IT'S STARTING to look like Health and Human Services will go to four day weeks (9 hours per day) for the duration. It's not clear what the other departments will do, but they are all expected to scale back to something more or less like 36 hours a week (or equivalent) well into next year. So far, management and the department heads are refusing to make any hour, day, payscale or perk sacrifices anywhere near the level of cutbacks imposed on line workers. In one department, the line staff was told previously that if they made salary, hour or overtime concessions, the savings would be used to retain their fellow employees. Then after line staff made the first round of concessions, the County simply took the money and made the cuts they had planned anyway. Workers are getting real, real restless about stuff like this. And management is getting real, real indignant in response. Tensions are going up.

SARAH PALIN says she'll stump for conservative Democrats now that she no longer has the rigors of public office to occupy her. Does that mean she'll be doing Ukiah for Wes Chesbro and Mike Thompson?

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