The MGH Report

Michael G. Haran, Proprietor

Something Gained and Something Lost

Posted by on Dec 13, 2014

Commentary 

Healdsburg Tribune

12/11/2014

Along with the dedication of a new park atop of Fitch Mountain a community treasure has quietly slipped into the past. On a sunny Sunday in September, Fitch mountaineers gathered for a potluck at Del Rio beach to share memories of a lake that is no more. Al Pucci, director of the Del Rio Woods Recreation and Park District, Fitch Mountain Association trustee, addressed the group and thanked everyone for their involvement and support. About 30 people came to pay their respects and share stories of their time spent on the Del Rio Woods summer lake.

Del Rio Dam

Del Rio Woods Lake

 The following account of Del Rio Woods was collected by Sylvia Seventy, a longtime resident of Fitch Mountain, and Jane Bonham of the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society. In 1965 the Healdsburg Tribune reported that “Del Rio Beach is a privately owned beach that the local homeowners’ association makes available to outsiders.” The Del Rio Woods Park and Recreation District was established in 1961 by the Home Owners Association.

 In 1927, two men, (R. Cook and J. Pohley) opened a subdivision named “Del Rio Woods” and several acres near the top of Fitch Mountain were reserved as a public park. Thomas Scoble of San Francisco subsequently bought the project and built a road to the top of the mountain. He then sold off most of the lots that had been reserved for the park. In order to attract summer vacationer he built a dance and band platform, a sales office, a store and a balcony with a “fine view of the river.” In 1937, a dance hall named “Palomar” was built by a new owner (E. Frampton) to replace the open platform.

 In the 1930s Scoble installed a gravel dam. In August of 1933 a lawsuit was filed against Scoble’s Del Rio Properties complaining that the dam was unsafe after it failed three times in several weeks the County asked for a preliminary injunction against maintaining, operating or using a dam across the Russian River at Del Rio Woods.

Del Rio Dam Farewell 9-7-14

 In September 1934, a semi-permanent dam with a permanent spillway was built. It’s kind of curious, but I guess not all that surprising, that the dam, which had passed inspection by the state’s Department of Public Works, was declared unsafe in February of 1935. Work was done in the following summer to strengthen the dam’s wing walls but in 1941 the west wing was washed away by high water.

 In order to avoid the need for annual fund raising from property owners and merchants a permanent recreation district was created and in the 1950s a new permanent spillway was built. The east and west wings of the dam, which consisted of large wooden boards packed in gravel, were built up in the spring and removed in the fall.Del Rio Dam Farewell 9-7-14 022

 The last summer that saw the dam built was in 2002. Concerns about turbidity and mud endangering fish survival and reproduction during the build-up and removal of the wings cause the state and local wildlife authorities to ban the annual dam installation. The permanent spillway was removed this past August.

 The three Daneri sisters, Claire (Harris), Carol (Gerhardt) and Jean (McShane – who came all the way from Florida) told of their summers spent swimming in the lake. They had a summer home on Redwood drive that was built by their father in 1946.

Martha Brooks of Windsor, who was there with her son James, told of meeting her husband Wes in 1963 at a freshman girl’s “all night” party at the lake. For years Wes was in charge of building the dam each summer and, as a helper, it was a summer job for James. She said she was on the crew that would dive down to sandbag the slow erosion around the spillway. Martha told of the “pecking order” on the dam. It seems that the high school boys would perch near the spillway; the middle school boys would sit next to them with the elementary boys being closest to shore. She also said that countless number of kids would consider themselves a “certified swimmer” if they could make it to the lake’s anchored platform and back.

Del Rio Dam Farewell 9-7-14 003

Del Rio Woods Beach Today

Don McEnhill, the Riverkeeper and Executive Director of the Russian Riverkeeper organization was there along with his son Jack. As a young boy Don would play on the lake with his sisters. He said that although the removal of the dam from an historic and sociological standpoint was sad, not having the dam’s annual disturbance is an ecological benefit for the health of the river.

Penelope La Montagne, a long time Fitch Mountain resident who lives on the river and is a poet laureate, used to compose poetry while wading along the lake’s shore. She said that losing the lake was sad and when I asked her for something from one of her “lake” poems she gave me a line from her poem A Five Turtle Day, “With heart-shaped strokes, fingers together, I propel myself the bent cottonwood that signals the shoreline of home.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Next Leader

Posted by on Nov 22, 2014

Healdsburg Tribune 10/20/2014

The election is over, the signs are being picked up and James Gore is on the job. I met with James on Veteran’s Day at the Center Street Café. Knowing Mike McGuire pretty well and now getting to know James I was curious to find out how the heir apparent to Sonoma’s north county supervisorial district will match up to McGuire’s stellar tenure. Although they are both quality people in their own right I couldn’t help but compare them. A few of their similar traits include – they are both extremely intelligent and excellent multi-taskers; they are both tireless campaigners; they both have charismatic personalities; they both will take the time to talk to anyone; they both suffer fools graciously; they both put their constituents above special interest groups; and they both absolutely love the flora, fauna and people of northern Sonoma County.

James Gore #2

James Gore 4th District Supervisor

So what’s on James’ mind? Well for one thing he’s not waiting for January to get to work. He recently had a meeting with Mike McGuire to discuss how they can make the transfer as seamless as possible and to continue the economic gains the current Board has made. James supports many, if not all, of McGuire’s priorities such as the big three “E”s: the environment; employment; and education. Gore also supports the Sonoma County clean power initiative, community outreach programs, and solutions to the critical issue of affordable housing.

One of the things that strikes me about Gore is how pragmatic he is. It is this pragmatism that his election opponent mistook for being non-committal. As he explained to me the County has many fiscal priorities with a limited amount of revenue to fund them. For example, although he totally believes in it he wouldn’t commit to a $15.00 “living wage,” until the board figures out how that will impact the county’s $12 million social services budget which includes elderly care workers. The same can be said for road improvements. Gore is in favor of using general fund money but the amount has to be within budget constraints. If a majority of taxpayers are okay with it a road tax measure may be put on the spring ballot.

As important as road maintenance is to business and residential quality of life a more important issue is our water situation or more precisely our growing lack of it. This is where I think Gore’s time spent at the federal government level can initially benefit us. Working with Mike Thompson and Jarred Huffman, Gore knows how a federal bureaucracy like the Army Corps of Engineers operates. Changing the antiquated methods of releasing water from Lake Mendocino and getting Coyote Dam raised are high priorities. He sees the key to change in water release policy is with NOAA’s new satellite smart weather monitoring system.

James Gore #5

Northern Sonoma County

James said that his primary concern regarding water supply is with the towns of Cloverdale, Geyserville and Healdsburg. He doesn’t like the rumblings coming from some Eel River conservation groups about cutting off the diversion to Lake Mendocino which is its prime water source. Although flow has been stopped for repairs to PG&E’s hydroelectric facility, the giant utility isn’t likely agree to cut such a valuable source of electricity. But at the same time the issue bears watching. Gore supports studies on creating opportunities to inject water into local aquifers during the high water events that happen even in drought years; and user and student education and conservation programs.

Regarding county pensions Gore felt that the Board has done a good job of, as he called it, taking care of the “low hanging fruit.” Spiking has been eliminated but issues of equity still remain. Gore wants to protect the county retirees that receive modest benefits while continuing to rein in the abuses of six-figure incomes. The problem for the lower income retirees is that in exchange for allowing an increase in their pensions they agreed to freeze their healthcare compensation which, as it turned out, didn’t work to well as healthcare costs have soared well above any COLA adjustments.

James Gore #3

Gore for Supervisor

Because of his ability to speak fluent Spanish, which he learned in his Peace Corp days in Bolivia, I think Gore will have a positive impact on not only County agriculture employment but also education where almost fifty present of K-12 students are bilingual.

And what about all those orange and blue campaign signs? Well, they’re being recycled to keep as many as possible out of the landfill. In fact, Willie Lamberson, Gore’s sign guy, is developing a program that could be used nationally to reuse campaign signage. Some will become theater signs; some will become planter boxes; and some will become beehives. If you have any other suggestions contact James and let him know. This is so cool and environment friendly.

The last thing James wanted me to mention is that in the post-election Tribune article it quoted him as saying “I deserve this position” which sounds terrible. What he actually said was “I WANT to deserve this position.” As I wrote after Mike McGuire was elected I think the same holds true for James Gore, “I think we have a good one.”

 

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Managing the Public Sector

Posted by on Oct 26, 2014

Healdsburg Tribune

10/23/2014

With this year’s elections fast approaching both candidates for the 4th Supervisorial District, James Gore and Deb Fudge, have represented that they possess the knowledge and skills necessary to manage Sonoma County’s public sector and its problems, one of which is the gorilla in the room – unfunded pension liabilities.

With annual pension costs having increased from $25 million in 2002 to $117 million and are expected to grow to $200 million by 2020 with the county’s unfunded liability at about $300 million (PD 10/11/14) even considering water related issues, this is the most pressing issue facing the county’s elected officials.

Now I have no squawk about how much public employees are paid. Even the issues I have about too many county managers isn’t about pay. It is critical that public employees get paid a middle class wage as all the support we can give the middle class is important to stave off the ravages of the growing aristocracy in this country. Without a strong middle class we could go the way of the Middle East – yikes!

It’s the retirement system that’s broke and needs to be fixed. This problem got rooted when public pension became guaranteed and tied to a wage and benefit plan that was intended to compete with the private sector. Back then everyone had a pension and it was felt that in order for the public sector to attract talented professionals they had to offer benefits that were as good, or better, then what was being paid in the private sector. The problem is the public sector pensions are guaranteed while the private sector pensions were/are not and those that didn’t get eliminated have gotten decimated as many corporations switched their employee pensions to 401ks.

Now the situation has reversed with the public sector jobs paying more than most private sector jobs and with benefits including retirement at age 50 to 55 with up to 90% salary and the immoral practice of perk “spiking” (Jerry Brown and the legislature has tried to put a stop to this but several unions have sued to restore the practice).

So what can be done to bring the system back into balance? The only way that retirement benefits can be “unguaranteed” so that they will fluctuate with the market like everyone else’s 401k, is for legislators to amend the state’s retirement system. This, however, is problematic since most elected state officials are “in the pockets” of the powerful public employee unions. Even if a ballot initiative were to pass it would be ruled unconstitutional by California’s Supreme Court and then it would have to go to the U.S. Supreme Court – which may very well happen. This is why Mike McGuire was against the initiative and saw that in order to get any reform the unions would have to agree to change. Many have but it hasn’t been enough to impact the long-term liabilities and more concessions have to be made.  As stated in a contemporary economic theory:

“This means that the political, legal, religious and educational systems must be understood dynamically in terms of whether they serve to enhance or to hinder human development. Thus, a system that, at one point in time, may have served a progressive role in society may, because of changes in the possibilities created by new modes of production, come to serve a negative function. Accordingly, it might be quite appropriate and functional for a certain perspective or ideology to dominate the thinking at a given historical moment, while at a later time those same ideas may become unproductive expressions of false consciousness and hegemony.”

The situation is not hopeless if all stakeholders work together and in good faith. This is the problem with politicians signing pledges. They work against good faith and erode the ability to compromise. I do not see how any candidate for elected public office who has pledged allegiance to one party or another could possible take an oath of office without perjuring themselves even before they’ve taken their seat at the dais.

 

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Teacher Equality

Posted by on Oct 5, 2014

Since the June 10th ruling in the education-equity case, Vergara v. California by Judge Rolf M. Treu, where he essentially agreed with the plaintiffs—nine California students—that the state’s laws governing teacher tenure and dismissal unfairly saddle disadvantaged and minority students with weaker teachers, tenure reform has become a hot-button item.

Teacher Equality #2

Teacher Equality

Ironically, this lawsuit isn’t about teacher tenure per say. It is about teacher equity, or rather teacher quality distribution, a subject that has been a focal point of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. NCLB has received a lot of flak regarding its common standards and high-states testing mandate but its greatest achievement, or attempted achievement, has been the program’s Equality of Educational Opportunity of which Teacher Equity Planning is a part.

This lawsuit comes as California is working on its own “Plan for Highly Qualified Teachers” which was written and approved by the State Board of Education in September 2010. It reflects the steps the state is currently taking to ensure that students from low-income families and minority students are not taught at higher rates than other students by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers.

This month the U.S. Department of Education detailed its long-delayed “50-state strategy” for ensuring that poor and minority students get access to as many great teachers as their more advantaged peers. But fewer than half of states have separate teacher-equity plans on file with the department.

A national survey of teachers found that core classes in high-poverty schools are twice as likely to be taught by out-of-field teachers as similar classes at schools serving more advantaged students. The difficulty in compliance is reflected in the fact that states have a limited authority and capacity to ensure that districts distribute teachers fairly, since decisions like hiring and transfers tend to be made at the local level. In addition, states are also focused on developing new teacher-evaluation systems that take into consideration student outcomes.

Teacher Equity #1

Teacher Equality for Minority Students

The idea of teacher tenure started as part of the labor movement in the late 19th century when teachers demanded protection from parents, administrators and politicians who would try to dictate lesson plans or exclude controversial materials. New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation when, in 1910, it granted fair-dismissal rights to college professors and during the 1920s it was extended to elementary and high school teachers as well. Today about 2.3 million public school teachers in the U.S. have tenure.

Though tenure doesn’t guarantee lifetime employment it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. As a result of union contracts and state-labor laws in most states, a tenured teacher can’t be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must pay out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute instructors. The system is deliberately slow and can take anywhere from ten months to ten years.

Some school districts have resorted to separation or “buy-out” agreements to avoid extensive hearings and costs and in 1997, Oregon abolished tenure and replaced it with 2-year renewable contracts and a rehabilitation program for underachieving instructors. Other states like Connecticut, New York and Michigan have simply eliminated the word “tenure” from teacher contracts while retaining the due-process rights.

Judge Treu stayed his ruling pending appeals and knowing how long that could take, California’s Teacher Equity Plan may be in place way before teacher tenure is reformed.

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Notes from Fitch Mountain ’14

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014

Fitch Mountain #1

Fitch Mountain

It hardly seems like a year ago but we recently had our annual Fitch Mountain Association pot-luck and state of affairs at the villa picnic grounds. Donita Proctor opened the get-together by welcoming everyone and promptly introducing 4th District Supervisor Mike McGuire who spoke to us about several issues. This will be Mike’s last FMA attendance as district supervisor as it looks like he is headed to Sacramento as our next state senator.

He started by stating that the county has thus far made over $120m in budget cuts which included the elimination of 520 county employees. The county will have increased its property taxes assessment by over $12m, which will lead to a $21m budget surplus this year. He also said that the county has put approximately $8m into county road repair and construction and that they are looking to put another $100m into road rehabilitation. Funding for the new stripping and road reflectors on South and North Fitch Mountain Road came from a federal grant which included several county roads.

Of local interest McGuire said the county will be putting about $250m into the county park system which will include raising the Memorial Beach dam eight feet and the remodeling of the bathrooms. The project won’t start until after the Memorial Beach bridge repairs are completed sometime next year. We also now have funding in perpetuity a full-time sheriff deputy to patrol holiday activities at Camp Rose and Del Rio. The deal to buy Fitch Mountain for a Sonoma County Open Space Park now 99.8% done said McGuire but, then again, we have been waiting for this since 1992.

Fitch Mountain #2McGuire was then happy to report on the success of one of his long-time projects. He and the FMWS Advisory committee have work extremely hard to straighten out what was a very inefficient water situation on Fitch Mountain. Three years ago the lack of maintenance reserves prompted a rate increase of 36% over three years. Prior to the rate increase, the system was nearly bankrupt and now there’s a $198,000 reserve, built up in the last 3 years and we won’t see any rate increases over the next two years. In addition, Fitch Mountain will be purchasing water at a wholesale rate from City of Healdsburg which will save users $300-400k over the next several years.                                 The savings are a result of the City removing the operations and maintenance charges that we had been paying for, but for which the City didn’t provide.

McGuire then got into drought related issues when he said that our U.S. Congressional Reprehensive Jarred Huffman is working to get changes through congress that would separate the Lake Mendocino water reserves from the storage levels of the much smaller Lake Pillsbury. As we all know Lake Mendocino was drained by over 30% at the start of the drought in January of 2013 due to outdated Army Corp of Engineer regulations. He also said that one the engineering designs are complete they will be looking to raise Lake Mendocino’s Coyote dam by 30 feet which would double the lakes 100 acre feet capacity. Unfortunately, it looks like this project is still a good six years out. Lake Mendocino currently has a 10 month reserve with Lake Sonoma at 2.5 years.

Mike finished his talk with an announced change in the flight patterns at the Santa Rosa Airport will now be moved away from Healdsburg and Windsor and that as of August of this year we will all be entitled to two free low-flush toilets (1.6 gal to .8 gal) and free installation.Fitch Mountain #3

Donita commented on the fact that Fitch Mountain residences were not saving water. There were 1.240 m gallon used in April and 1.511m gallons used in May. She said this increase is probably due to the seasonal vacation rentals but more needs to be done to conserve water usage. The June figures were not available. There also appears to be an 11.77% water loss somewhere on the mountain. This loss figure is within the EPA guidelines but she suggested that everyone should watch their water bill for over usage and to check their meters. Even though we can’t vote for it an anti-fluoride spokesperson encouraged us to attend a workshop on the matter later in the summer.

Next up were the fire guys. Healdsburg Fire Chief Steve Adams said that by the time you get called on your land-line about a fire on the mountain the situation has probably already gone from containment to evacuation. So he suggest people be vigilant about fire awareness. He also suggested that we sign up with an internet service called NIXEL which automatically notifies subscribers of police and fire announcement in any particular zip code anywhere in the country. The Cal Fire guys said that they have two airplane tankers, a helicopter, five trucks and hand crews available for any fire in their district, which includes Fitch Mountain.

Fitch Mountain #6

Don and Marilyn McEnhill at Del Rio 1970

The last item on the agenda was from Al Pucci who said that the seasonal dam structure at Del Rio beach was being removed in August at the cost of $282k. The funds came from Del Rio tax assessments and grants. Since the Del Rio summer lake has such an historic connection to our community it will be sad to see it go.

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