UKIAH, 4/19/2017 — At a busy meeting on Tuesday, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved the sheriff’s request to purchase a sound cannon, heard a lengthy report on the status of the county’s social workers, and awarded a $28,000 contract to a cannabis track and trace vendor.
The sheriff’s request for a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD100x, was pulled from the consent calendar at the request of members of the public. However, the supervisors approved the purchase unanimously, after Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg amended the staff-recommended motion to include a requirement that the sheriff’s office craft a protocol promising not to use the LRAD for crowd control. This item was followed by a detailed report from Health and Human Services Agency personnel and researchers from U.C. Davis, who informed the board that family and children’s services, which has a 20% vacancy rate, needs “right-sized staffing,” more well-trained staff, and a proper compensation plan for employees who take on the stressful job of working with children in crisis. The board also granted a contract for complying with cannabis track and trace requirements to SICPA, a vendor which they hope will win the contract with the state of California.
The county also joined a joint powers authority that will govern a groundwater sustainability agency for the Ukiah Valley basin. This is in keeping with California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires that medium-priority basins, such as the one beneath the Ukiah Valley, be governed sustainably by June 20, 2017.
The board approved the sheriff’s request to purchase a $9,769 Long-Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD100x, as well as a wireless adapter for the device, under a State Homeland Security grant program. The item was removed from the consent calendar upon the request of members of the public, who emailed the board before the meeting. Long-time activists Anna Marie Stenberg and David Gonzalez warned the board that this item has historically been used as a psychological weapon, and that it is capable of causing permanent hearing loss.
At the end of the discussion, Hamburg moved approval of the purchase. He amended the recommended motion on the agenda by adding the provision that the sheriff’s office write a protocol that the device not be used for crowd control. He also insisted that the county executive office make sure the protocol is in place prior to the sheriff’s office taking possession of the LRAD. Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde seconded the motion, after Undersheriff Randy Johnson assured the supervisors that, while it would never be used for crowd control, it could be used “to educate or inform the crowd.”
Lieutenant Shannon Barney, of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, stated that this particular model is too small to be effective as a means of crowd dispersal. In an interview after the item was approved, Gonzalez suggested that Ted Nugent’s hit, “Cat Scratch Fever,” played at top volume all night, would be an effective way to torment a tree sitter. Barney also said the LRAD could be used to warn coastal residents of an impending tsunami or for search and rescue purposes. “I don’t how people could tell where a loud sound is coming from,” Stenberg said, pointing out that much of the terrain where people get lost is so rugged that sound would bounce around. “And what about the birds?” she added. Barney also said the LRAD could be used in crisis negotiations, where negotiators would be reluctant to come within firing range of hostile parties, which Steberg said she “could understand a little bit.”
According to an organizational assessment by UC Davis, children’s social workers in Mendocino County are stressed out, overworked, underpaid, and not always properly trained. The report reiterated the findings of a 2015 Mendocino County Grand Jury report, which found that the county’s child protective services are among the worst-performing in the state, with understaffing as the main culprit. Tuesday’s presentation was an explanation of the hurdles faced by the county’s social workers, as well as some suggested solutions.
Family and children’s services employees work four days a week, though one supervising social worker who spoke during the public comment period said workers often come in before 7am and leave late at night, after being swamped with upwards of 300 referrals a month and extensive paperwork. Molgaard added that some of the workers in the department have a second job. The Fort Bragg office, she stated, is “pretty much decimated,” with social workers staying in hotels during the workweek. She suggested higher pay for workers on the coast, where the cost of housing is higher than it is inland. “We really need staff who live on the coast,” she told the board. The Davis study recommends a total of four social workers and one manager for the Fort Bragg office, plus hired extra help. Higher pay for social workers who specialize in children’s services was also a frequently emphasized suggestion.
Molgaard said HHSA plans to start working with a home visiting service called Healthy Families America, in which para-professionals, supervised by public health nurses, visit at-risk families and try to help them figure out healthy child rearing strategies. This month, HHSA is scheduled to finalize a contract with UC Davis to come up with a quality improvement plan. Trainings and assessments will continue into October.
Track and trace
The board tentatively awarded a $28,000 grant to SICPA, a cannabis track and trace program. Gjerde told Alex Spelman, the company’s director of business development, that county staff believes there is a good chance his firm will win the track and trace contract with the state of California, and that the board could “revisit the issue if someone else gets picked.” SICPA currently has track and trace contracts with Humboldt and Yolo Counties, and the city of Eureka.
The county’s agreement with the company is subject to negotiations about prices, which were still undecided as of Wednesday afternoon. The initial estimate of the cost to cannabis cultivators to enroll in the program, which is mandated under the county’s medical cannabis cultivation ordinances, is $1,125 for a one-year enrollment, plus 1,200 tags. Because the state’s cannabis track and trace program is scheduled to “go live” on January 1, 2018, several cultivators asked the board to hold off on this particular expense until state law requires it. Paul Hansberry, a co-proprietor of a cannabis brand called Lovingly and Legally Grown, expressed his approval of SICPA, but said he hopes that Mendo cultivators won’t be expected to “double dip” by paying additional track and trace fees to a state vendor providing a redundant service.
Second District Supervisor John McCowen suggested a reduced price of $45 a month for cottage sized grows, the smallest ones in the county’s permit structure. FIrst District Supervisor Carre Brown supported the motion reluctantly, saying she didn’t think it was entirely fair to the vendor, whose reputation she praised.
Sarah Reith [email protected]