UKIAH 2/17/2017 — At the Board of Supervisors meeting on February 14, supervisors replaced a retirement board member, talked some more about Solid Waste of Willits and decided to take action about a “rogue employee” at the California Coastal Commission, whom they believe is holding up the Mendocino Town Plan. The employee’s boss at the Coastal Commission seemed surprised to learn of the supervisors’ dissatisfaction, but two supes said they had had several conversations about frustrations with the staffer and the plan.
Mendocino Town Plan
One item that comes up continually on the supervisors’ agenda is the update of the Mendocino Town Plan, which has been underway at the county level since October 27, 2011. Coastal zones must update their plans periodically. Mendocino County updated its plan in 1996, but the town of Mendocino has a separate plan, last updated in 1992. At the conclusion of community meetings that led to the current version of the town plan, supervisors added several requirements intended to protect the character of the town, including prohibiting “formula businesses,” like fast-food franchises; phasing out vacation rentals from residential neighborhoods; and minimizing off-street parking and driveways.
The Coastal Commission, which has the authority to approve the plan, began working with the county on the Mendocino Town Plan in December of 2014. The matter came before the commission at a hearing in October of last year. Another hearing is scheduled for June of this year. At this time, the north coast, which includes Mendocino County, is not represented on the 15-member commission. County boards of supervisors and city councils in the district have sent their nominations to the governor, who has the authority to appoint commissioners.
Steve Dunnicliff, the director of planning and building services, told the board that his staff had received 565 pages of correspondence about the county’s proposals for the Mendocino Town Plan from the California Coastal Commission’s office in Arcata, where commission staff reviews plans before they come before the commission. Dunnicliff said the correspondence, which is signed by one employee, later identified as Tamara Gedik, revolves around five relatively minor issues, including a parcel called “the yellow house,” that has two different zoning classifications.
Second District Supervisor John McCowen said that “Every other planning issue suffers for the allocation of resources to deal with these essentially misplaced concerns by this one employee who apparently has nothing else to do.” He characterized the revisions in the update of the plan as “very minor...it’s not a wholesale revision.”
Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg said he had spoken with the Coastal Commission’s north coast district manager Bob Merrill, two weeks before the meeting. “I think I expressed a lot of these frustrations that our county has, with the employee, with this seemingly never-ending process over minutiae, with the fact that these are relatively minor amendments that we’ve been seeking...I made all these points very strongly to Mr. Merrill.”
Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde opined that “We have a rogue employee that’s been assigned to us. It’s not fair to the people in Mendocino County to have this person unrestrained...I think we need to take this opportunity to confront the Coastal Commission over the rogue employee.” McCowen suggested that Gjerde work with county staff to draft a letter of complaint to the Coastal Commission about frustrations with the plan and with Tamara Gedik, the analyst who remained unnamed at the meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Bob Merrill, the north coast district manager at the Coastal Commission, was surprised to hear of the board’s concerns. He said he was “alarmed by the suggestion that they want the the employee removed,” and that “There hasn’t been a discussion with board members in our office.”
In an email received after the interview with Merrill, Gjerde also expressed surprise, saying that about a year ago, he spoke with a Coastal Commission staff administrator about Gedik. He wrote that Merrill followed up about a week later with a phone call, “and our conversation was about his employee, Tamara.”
When asked about this analyst, Merrill said, “I don’t think it’s fair to single out one person,” since “The employees aren’t acting on their own” when they sign correspondence. He said that letters signed by one employee represent the Coastal Commission staff as a whole. Asked if he supported Gedik’s actions, he said “Absolutely. We support our staff.” He also said it was “hard for me to comment” on the 565 pages of correspondence, but that “There were a lot of attachments included as exhibits. Possibly that’s what they’re referring to.” He said that during the hearing in October, “Lots of citizen concerns and issues” came up, and that “It took the county a while to get [the plan] to the commission.” He did not provide a usual time frame for coastal communities to come up with a plan, but remarked that “It’s a long process.”
Merrill concluded that he would be “happy to talk with board members” about their concerns. Gjerde wrote that he plans to speak with Merrill again before submitting a draft of the complaint letter to the board at the meeting on March 21.
Another issue that has long been a point of contention is the Mendocino County Employees Retirement Association (MCERA). Two seats were up for appointment or reappointment by the board on Tuesday: the sixth seat, held by private financial advisor Ted Stephens, and the fourth seat, which was occupied by John Sakowicz, who described himself as “a special limited partner in a firm that works with a Sharia-compliant Bitcoin.”
The board chose to retain Stephens and replace Sakowicz with Leland Parker, founder of Parker Mortgage and Investment Company in Santa Rosa. Parker said his company represents the 7th Day Adventist Church, which has “many pockets,” or a wide variety of financial arrangements. “I don’t think it’s the most complicated problem I’ve ever addressed,” he said of MCERA, which is deferring a $27.4 million loss, saw a negative 2.35% rate of return, and has been the subject of much debate in the past several years.
When Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg asked him if he was surprised that MCERA “made less than 3 percent, given that it’s a bull market,” Parker replied, “Yes. I mean, how do you make less than 3 percent?” He and Stephens agreed that 6.25 percent interest should be the goal, though Parker admitted that he is “not a stock-picker.”
Jerry Ward, owner of Solid Waste of Willits, and Louisa Morris, the general manager of Mendocino County Solid Waste Management Authority, came before the board with a variety of suggestions. The board agreed to continue to evaluate the situation, and to have an independent audit of Ward’s operation.
On January 24, the board offered SWOW $288,000 in cost-saving measures, which included closing three recycling buy-back centers. One, in Westport, triggered the closure of the transfer station as well, a contingency the board was not aware of. There was no contractual obligation to operate the transfer station, which Ward said he decided to open on a “whim,” a few years ago. However, he told the board the facility in Westport only serves 3 or 4 people a day, and asked if there was “some kind of compensation for keeping it open one day a week” for six hours on Saturday.
Morris said the Westport Water District Board, which owns the land where the facility is located, was willing to give Ward a 50% discount on his rent, which would bring the cost of operation up to $12,000 a year. SWOW also offers curbside pick-up to 18 residential and five commercial clients in Westport. She suggested detracting Ward’s rent from the original offer of cost-saving measures, or raising the rates in the Westport service area.
Gjerde added that he was considering using a Fort Bragg contractor, Empire Waste Management, to service customers in the Westport area, which is in his district.
Ward pointed out that he “cannot decline service” to county residents who ask for it. If he could, he said, “I would not go 26 miles up Spy Rock Road to get an account. That’s where we go in this county.”
McCowen ended the discussion on an inconclusive note, saying the board was in the process of evaluating the situation. “It’s been a long day,” he remarked.
Sarah Reith [email protected]