Lake County’s Sister County

Many cites have “sister cities.” So I suppose counties can have sister counties. Political entity siblings are usually not located near each other. Its as if their drunken political bedfellow parents had a nasty separation and never wanted to see each other again. Each took one of the local mutant twins and made tracks.

So rather than speculate on who’s Lake County’s daddy, I searched for the perfect ugly sister for mutual admiration. That pit stop is Rowan County, Kentucky, population 23,655. Rowan’s newest claim to fame is that its the home of Kim Davis, the County Clerk who believed that she was an agent of God, charged with overturning that Obergefell v. Hodges heresy in accordance with some Divine plan.

Now she also took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. No one has figured out a better last word on the Constitution than the Supreme Court. The God’s word angle doesn’t always work as evidenced by centuries of religious wars by every side, all tuned into God’s word. Maybe they’re listening to different channels. Maybe the one true God isn’t broadcasting but is in the business of making radios. Davis didn’t have to take her oath of office and its only in effect from the time she plops down at her desk to the moment her car’s seat belt clicks. She is completely free to not issue marriage licenses to gays in her prayer meetings.

Why is Rowan County the right choice to partner with Lake? Lake County has also made national news for taking absurdly ridiculous positions that fly in face of legal issues that have already been decided.

Remember the Dinius case? A sail boat bumping along at 3 to 5 knots at night was run over by a speed boat plowing through the Lake at 35 to 50 miles per hour driven by the assistant sheriff. One of the sail boat’s passengers was killed. The District Attorney decided that the person at the rudder of the sail boat, who wasn’t the captain of the boat, was criminally responsible. The case drug on for months while the public and the sailing community were outraged. According to boating law the wrong person was being charged, resulting in a not guilty verdict for Dinius. In the glare of bad publicity, the DA and sheriff weren’t reelected but the speed boat assassin won election to Clearlake City Council by a landslide.

Lake County’s development in the 20th Century was fueled by selling thousands of  “paper subdivision” lots in rugged terrain with no paved roads or services. Buyers were told the services would just come someday. Someday never came and crashing land values attracted thousands of desperate people longing to own something, no matter how mean. A clique of small minded goobers got the order of events reversed and blamed the poor residents for falling property values and erosion. Their buddies in real estate were the victims not the cause of Clear Lake’s problems. This denial did not stop Lake County from becoming a poster child for California’s State Map Act which limited paper lot subdivisions without minimum improvements.

And don’t forget my pet peeve about Lake County. Lake County has the most censored public access channel in the Country. Ever since TV8 was taken over by local government and the volunteers expelled, all political programming has been put on a very short leash. The government dominated PEG Board has never sought legal advice and insisted they had the right to create new categories of speech control over looked by the Supreme Court. The attacks on volunteers who resisted have been particularly vicious.

But what about my charge that TV8 is the MOST censored public access channel? Surely I’m exaggerating even if the censorship policies were true. What about the Deep South or the Rocky Mountain states? Censorship must be worse there. Maybe it is, but not at public access channels. Why is that? Because courts have ruled that localities are not required to have public access channels. However, if they ask for them in their cable franchise contracts they have to follow free speech and public forum law. The places that would be inclined to illegally censor our free speech rights simply do not ask for public access channels, which is not a violation of our rights.

According to a survey by the Alliance For Community Media, only 18% of cable systems have public access channels. Public access censorship can only take place in this 18% of cable systems. The other 82% are off the hook even if many of them would have violated our rights. Lake County is in the 18% of cable TV who said they would follow the law but  did not. I have not found another station in that 18% that has systematically trashed our liberties over so many years.

Why would Lake County ask for an outlet for the people’s voice if they wanted the people to just shut up? Maybe they thought free speech was a locally defined thing or something only the better sort of people were entitled to. Maybe they thought they could squeeze more free equipment from the cable company if they asked for a PEG channel, discouraging anyone outside their insider club from using it. Who knows. No one who was around at that time is talking. Rowan County doesn’t even have a PEG channel anywhere within its Jesus blessed borders.

Its this complete contempt for the legal process, substituting their views of how things ought to be, that has put Rowan and Lake Counties in the same State of Denial. Think of what they could learn from each other about applying faith based vetoes to every advance since the Dark Ages. The two counties could exchange local newspapers to read about people across the Continent who were just like them. Or maybe they could ban each other’s newspapers. It would be more fun and less work than reading.

Polishing Up Censorship

On August 12th County Counsel Anita Grant made a report to TV8’s PEG Board on their free speech policies. She briefly outlined the legal rights of PEG station users that our citizens have demanded since this government dominated board was formed 8 years ago. The PEG Board members responded to the Counsel’s report as if this information was all news to them.
The County Counsel emphasized that programming decisions must be “content neutral” except for several categories narrowly defined by the Supreme Court. Her source was an issue of Community Media Review. It sounded like the one I had passed around several years back. However, the County’s PEG representative, Ed Robey, has indicated in past PEG meetings his intention to bypass this restriction by using the “time place manner” legal concept to schedule offending political programs late at night when few people will see them.
The Counsel appeared to be giving the green light to this strategy when she assured the PEG Board that they could use the “time place manner” provision in scheduling. She did not indicate that there were legal criteria to prevent this concept from being used as censorship by another name.
The current crystallization of elements that must exist for time place manner to be employed is listed and explained in “”Ward v. Rock Against Racism” 1989. In this binding decision, employing time place manner must not be content specific. But also the time restriction must be narrowly tailored and serve a “significant government interest.” Once employed, the restriction must leave ample alternative means to convey the message.
The Counsel’s remarks did not show awareness of this requirement. When the PEG Board programmer asked, “I am allowed to accept 10 videos on 1 candidate?” Grant responded, “That’s an administrative function that’s a time place manner restriction.” She did not give an example of an administrative action that would not be a content restriction in this case.

Counsel added, “You don’t want to set up a circumstance where 1 candidate CoOps the station.” This statement was curious. How can TV8 “set up a circumstance” when the station is open to all residents on an equal basis? If by CoOp the station she meant only supporters of 1 candidate chose to use the station then she is ignoring the fact that different campaigns will choose to use different strategies. You can be sure that a campaign that draws significant contributions to run mass mailings and media ads will not be encouraging their supporters to produce campaign videos for TV8. That’s for poor people.
I cannot think of a single way that an administrative action designed to curtail residents from submitting candidate videos that would not fail one or more Supreme Court tests under Ward v. Rock. Historically, these tests are derived from time place manner concepts developed in “Grayned v. City of Rockford” 1972, citing examples from numerous other cases for context. These contexts almost exclusively deal with noise, blocking traffic, and denying other people the use of parks.

These are clear government interests. Providing cover for government subterfuges would be an abuse of time place and manner. One cited example is two parades cannot use the same street at the same time. This does not mean that government has the right to schedule all non Chamber of Commerce parades at 3 a.m. in the morning.

The message was that the PEG Board needed to display the right motives when impeding residents’ political activity. Setting aside “X blocks of time” was not to ghettoize the people’s voice but rather to “make sure everyone has access.” This ignores the fact that TV8 has so much dead time that they haven’t even bothered asking for the two extra channels they are entitled to. Although the Counsel gave mundane examples of normal time place manner such as “production standards” and “allocating time among competing users” she seemed to be implying that anything that the PEG Board wanted to add to the list was legitimate. It is not.

The irony of Grant quoting from the Community Media Review article was that it was written by the attorney for the Sue Buske Group. This was the firm that advised the County and Clearlake in the late 1990’s on franchise and PEG issues. Probably these consultants recommended sending out a “Request for Proposals” (RFP) to interested non profits that would get government out of the free speech business. This is how functioning PEG stations operate. Ask Ukiah. Ask Willits. Ask Fort Bragg. Ask Humboldt County. Ask Weaverville (Weaverville!!!!!).

A local government attorney’s job is to reduce the city or county’s legal exposure as much as possible. Transferring public access functions to non profits clearly does this. But trying to convince politicians on boards to defer to citizens’ civil liberties is always a waste of time in the long run.

And We Will All Be Rich

In my adult life several game changing shifts have taken place in the American economy. At first glance they would appear to signal a clear step backwards in our comfortable lifestyles. In each case we were told by select think tanks, business leaders, and their employees in Congress that economic changes are always difficult but change is what made America great. We were confidently assured that after a period of adjustment this or that restructuring would make us all rich.

When the “rust bucket” industries went belly up we were told “Don’t worry about “reindustrialzation.” Heavy manufacturing will be replaced by clean, well paid “knowledge work” – computers, software, and the work-at-home jobs they make possible. We will all be rich.

The computer age came, followed by the internet sequel. However, they seemed to make only a few people rich or better off. The goodies must have gotten stuck in those boxy computer things we now all use. We just have to figure out how to get our riches out of the boxes. And all those work at home jobs? They appeared as promised…. but the homes were in India.

Another “make us rich” scheme was the replacement of “employees” by contractors, usually outsourced contractors who often made job offers to former employees at a fraction of the pay and benefits they were receiving. Apparently we have to wait until we are all replaced by contractors before we can all be rich.

NAFTA had to be a sure winner to make us all rich, right? After all, a larger free market area would be a larger area to create wealth. No one suggested that it might make a difference whether this mega free trade zone should adopt Mexico’s standards or the United States’ standards. I guess they flipped a coin and decided on Mexico’s.

Speaking of contracting, someone decided that outsourcing shouldn’t arbitrarily end at America’s border. Allowing our corporations to contract with China’s corporations to make America’s products had to be an amped up path to contracting riches. In fact, our corporations would only be too happy to share the piles of new found wealth with the rest of America.

Backtracking to the original brainstorm to make us all rich by giving a few talented visionaries political privileges, there was the 1913 decision to give a few private bankers, humorously named the Federal Reserve System, exclusive control over the money supply. This was necessary to eliminate wealth destroying boom and bust cycles. Now you know the inspiration that gave America a century of financial stability.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and dumping those opportunity crushing wall street regulations had to be a no-brainer in making us all rich in a stable, risk free environment.

One tactic that also allowed working people to also participate in getting rich without tangible production was land speculation. This was charmingly referred to as “flipping real estate.” It works better if you put a minimum amount down on several properties and flip them before some party pooper forecloses on you. The beauty here is that those who didn’t do their part in making us all rich were penalized with higher house prices or higher property taxes.

The latest proposed installment in making-us-all-rich inventions is the Trans Pacific Partnership. This will magically bring to us all the good things to us that international corporations have by silencing those barriers to riches called American Laws and Regulations. Think of the TPP as NAFTA on steroids or maybe crank.

OK, so most people don’t feel rich after all that has been done for them by our leaders. That’s because they haven’t learned that being rich for us is more of a state of mind than a physical reality. We are all rich by definition.

No More Bus Strikes

Lake County will not have another bus strike. Say it. Now everyone in a leadership position say it. “We will not have another bus strike. We will not allow take-it-or-leave-it scorched earth positions. We will address relevant issues and not put out a management contract that is tailored for the Lake Transit Authority to hide behind.”

During the last strike the the Transit Board held up their management contract and said “See we have a contract. Our hands are tied.” Of course, they are the ones who tied their own hands when they rubber stamped Mark Wall’s provisions. These provisions gave a mere management contractor the power to force a strike. Encouraging a contentious labor environment is not in the public interest. The elected members of the Lake Transit Authority should know this.

We have a short period of time to act before this dereliction of duty is repeated in the next management contract. Tell those Supervisors and Council people on the Board that we will not tolerate an attitude that says “Gee, too bad our vulnerable citizens are caught in a labor crossfire. It’s a good thing that, even though we are in charge, we can’t do a thing about it because of a contract that we never even looked at before it went out to bid.”

I’m sure the Transit Board is not using the contract as a cover for anti union bias or general contempt for Lake County’s poor and disabled. They just got a little lazy and now that they have seen the damage their lack of oversight has caused they will diligently fix the next management contract before it goes out to bid this Summer. Otherwise we will have to suck it up for another three years or longer.

Here is what must go into the next transit management contract to avoid future disasters.

First, and this should be obvious, we need a binding arbitration clause. This involves a competent third party that examines the facts without personal agendas. People with personal agendas will not like this. But this is Lake County residents’ bus system, in case anyone needs to be reminded.

Second, we need a wage and benefits structure that encourages bus driver longevity. Note that this does not mean a higher starting wage. A structure will create an incentive to develop as drivers and mentors here in Lake County. A wage structure says, we want drivers who will stay to develop the skills and acquire the experience to serve our most challenged citizens. A low, flat wage results in Lake County training drivers for other counties. Obviously, this is a waste of our taxpayer money as well.

Having a transit team saturated with new drivers is a public safety issue. Even Paratransit’s operation manager Wanda Gray admits that Lake County Transit has more bus damage than any other Paratransit unit. Unless this is an admission that she is hiring anyone with a pulse, we have to assume that this is the result of fewer than normal experienced drivers.

Finally, we need provisions in the management contract that prohibit management contractors from pursuing personal agendas. To ensure this, we need performance clauses with teeth. The performance clause in place during the strike was completely meaningless according to the transit tzar Mark Wall himself. Then why was it even in the contract? Was it a dumbed down version of an earlier contract’s performance clause?

Insist now, that the next transit management contract have binding arbitration, a wage structure, and a meaningful performance clause to serve the public interest and not personal philosophies. Lake County residents deserve it.

Rebel Without a Drivers License

One of the newest trends in the sustainable transportation field is the bicycle moped conversion kits sold on the internet. These aren’t the electric assist versions that have been around awhile. These are 4-cycle engines, 49cc or less for California. They aren’t supposed to be able to go more than 25 mph. Originally they were marketed to skater boys without a drivers license. No insurance or registration requirement was also a plus for people in the under 25 years old bracket.

However, markets have a way of defining themselves. These kits have turned into must have items for people who have lost their licenses due to DUIs or permanent impairment. Most of these geezers buzzing down the street look like they’re making a sortie between Social Services and a meeting with their parole officer. This isn’t me. I have a Class B with Passenger and Motorcycle endorsements. As a long time motorcycle and bicycle rider I became interested in this cheap thrill because its a loop hole that pisses off authority types. The Highway Patrol will pull mopeds over then realize they can’t do anything above what they can hassle a bicyclist over. No license, registration, or insurance? No problem.

Obviously I had to add a noisy moped to my repertoire of things that I own or do that are just barely legal. I bought a bicycle with the the kit already installed. After a terrorizing the residents of Kelseyville on a round trip to the hardware store I was ready for my first double digit trip. I decided to go around the North Shore.

I left around Noon, taking Big Valley to Soda Bay to Lakeport. As I roared down Main Street at 20 miles per hour pedestrians stared warily. After all, this person must be more dangerous than a Harley rider. He has no license. He has nothing to lose. I took the Lakeshore tour all the way to the Nice Lucerne cut-off. Truly scenic views thru the Rodham Slough can be enjoyed more at slower speeds.

Unlike traveling high speed roads on a bicycle I did not have to worry about cranked out SUV drivers or red necks in pick-ups blowing their horns at me. This boorish behavior startles bicyclists but my rig was making so much noise I could barely hear them. It was like flashing a blind person. No effect whatsoever. I continued on thru Nice and Lucerne still working on my half gallon tank of gas.

Then I discovered the weak link in the conversion system. Power is transferred from a belt drive by several shafts and bushings to a chain and sprocket. Apparently this arrangement got a little loose and the belt and fittings went flying thru their cover at Bruner Road. Oh well, that’s why you still have bicycle peddles on a moped. Being a bicyclist in good condition helps. The problem is that the engine and conversion hardware tripled the weight of this one speed bicycle. Peddling was like running a 50 yard dash with a fat lady on your back. Any grade at all required me to get off and push. I stopped and had a smoothie at the Catfish in Clearlake Oaks then began the long push over Sulfer Banks Road but it was fun going down.

I road into the Clearlake Catfish at 4:45. The usual freaks there dug the whole idea even though the moped beast was injured. It was great to have a plan B when the motorized power train system failed. Part of that Plan B is to not live a sedentary life. Of course it would have been better to know what needed regular adjustment and having the right tool on me to make the adjustment on the spot. But now I am wiser.

A future area to explore of rebel sustainable transport, that’s just outside the long arm of the law, is taking short, single hull boats to the middle of the lake at night. “Single hull” means no registration or mussel inspection sticker is necessary. A deputy confirmed that there is one deputy on call at night for the whole lake. So no one will be cruising on the water looking for suspicious people. No neighbors will be complaining about an after 10 pm party on their street because there is no street and no neighbors. Lash your small boats together and have a party. Or stick a trolling motor on a piece of floating dock and push out far enough from shore to do the Cleopatra barge thing. Just one more precious gap in the closing net of big brother.

The Homeless Count – Shimmering Shades of Grey

The official number of homeless in Lake County is 180. What does this number mean? It means that North Coast Opportunities can apply for various grants related to serving the homeless based on the existence of 180 homeless. Is this one day “point-in-time” count anywhere near the number of homeless in this County? No. But because it used an established method and brought in other agencies as part of the count, the number can be considered “official” and used as grant bait. No problem. This is how the grant game is played.

Those who want to wrap their mind around the whole homeless problem are going to have to do more thinking and less counting. This is because the homeless are not some sub category of human with their own language, culture, and distinctly altered DNA that can be tagged on sight. They can’t be pin pointed. Homelessness is a continuum, blending from one category to another and even in and out of the general condition of homelessness. Some of our other housing problems could be considered borderline homelessness.

Assuming that the extreme forms of “living outside” should be the easiest to count, could 180 at least be a rough estimate of those in the most dire straits? No, not if you know the condition of the seriously desperate. Many of these people have had numerous bad experiences with people in authority. Some avoid institutional types altogether because they are paranoid. If you seek them out on their turf they will feel vulnerable. Probably most of these numbers are people coming in to get some kind of no-strings, no-names help. The one day count is more of a cross section with some categories filtered out entirely.

A dividing line can be drawn anywhere on the spectrum of homelessness between outside homeless and having some kind of a housing problem. It largely depends on society’s comfort zones. The middle classes can accept a homeless concept that includes substance abusers, the mentally ill, or even people having a temporary problem getting on disability but the assumption is that most homeless problems are either temporary, the homeless’s own fault, or a fabrication by social workers or political opportunists.

What our society cannot accept are conditions created by an economic system that prevents people who have had a setback from putting together some type of housing situation. We justify our callousness with the belief they must deserve it because they’re drunks, they take drugs, or they have a prison record. But it wasn’t always like this. Even in my lifetime, people could hit bottom and start putting their life back together. There were always minimal housing options that did not require an immaculate paper trail. And families breaking up was rarely a fast track to living out of a shopping cart. There was a plan B with fewer legal barriers.

As safety nets continue to unravel, the middle class is starting to get nervous. One big medical expense combined with fraying family support (I’d like to help but my kids with worthless college degrees and tons of debt can’t get a job.) and anyone could become homeless. The lower middle class has realized with horror that not only are they unlikely to move up but they could easily end up in the despised homeless class. Rather than searching for causes of long term chronic homeless they react against the homeless by supporting more and increasingly punitive anti homeless ordinances – almost as if homelessness was a disease that they could catch. Eliminate the homeless people from sight and I won’t catch the disease myself.

Years ago the attack was on the private sector’s last chance options for otherwise homeless. There used to be drop-in dormitories – YMCA and “flop houses” in skid rows. More respectable, were boarding houses where someone could rent a room or a shared room by the week. Finally we had trailer parks, not mobile home parks, trailer parks. These were perfect for seasonal and construction workers. As property became more valuable, combined with Redevelopment Agency plans that did not include mobile living, trailer parks became scarce where needed most. A few churches trying to make a last ditch effort with below the radar “warming centers” are shut down by the police.

Without legal places to exist most homeless shimmer in and out of view in even more improvised situations, depending on age and personal functioning. The chronic homeless are the stereotype homeless that we see and make up most of the numbers in official counts. At the other end of the spectrum are people who rise out of homelessness but never very far, dropping back into being homeless after the next setback. People who try hardest to not be tagged as homeless are people with jobs or families, living in vehicles, storage sheds, and garages – all illegal as hell. The people in government would just love to turn their class war machine on another target. Then we have the young people, hopping from couch to couch, crash pad to crash pad. There’s still some official drop zones for them but always with deadlines that fall far short of their problems, or are they society’s problems?

The liberal dream of replacing dumpy and marginal types of housing with sprawling government financed ghettos have always fallen short of the need and still excluded many. In my own city of Clearlake there is never any money or expertise to help anyone who can’t write a check to pay building fees. But there is always enough for police, code enforcement, and community development to pursue people trying to survive. No one asks, “How many slices will be cut from the middle class cheese block before its my turn?”

The Clearlake Disease

Any healthy organism exudes characteristics of vigor. A city is a type of organism. Like any organism, it can become diseased. It may show symptoms that never get better. In which case it has a chronic disease.

The city of Clearlake goes beyond even chronic disease. What few resources it has goes into attacking its own cells (citizens), mostly for the benefit of short term thinkers and people living in a past that never was. The nature of the malady has elements of autoimmune and parasitic diseases.

But where is the healthy body that this disease is attacking? There was never a town here before there was a city. A strip of resorts and support businesses called Clearlake Highlands served a declining tourist trade rolling off highway 53. There never was a center, heart, or soul to this largely seasonal population.

This promise of something that was never quite here was the basis of Clearlake’s only ongoing industry – selling trash lots in the hills with no services, roads, or clear idea when and how to get them. The Clear Lake area became a poster child for the California State Map Act, which put some limits on creating paper developments. We are still stuck with the old real estate schemes.

On closer inspection, Clearlake seems to not “have” a disease at all. It appears to actually be the disease – like a cancer growth, incorporating as a city to ward off outside defense mechanisms.

The perfect example of the Clearlake Disease is the challenged “no grow” ordinance for pot. Never mind that Clearlake has one of the poorest and sickest populations in the State. All attempts at a compromise were rejected by the goobertocracy. This is class war and those with power have the high ground. High IQ not necessary.

Since this issue is about naked power and not reason, the Council’s arguments do not have to make sense. The police said that every complaint they investigated had a grow in non compliance, implying that all medical growers were in non compliance.

It appears that because City resources are too thin to investigate all complaints, they would just abolish an activity necessary for some people. Of course this is an ad hoc reaction and not a reasoned response. I’m certain that if I pointed out that some roads in Clearlake are not drivable and unfixable, therefore we should ban driving on all roads, I would be thought mad. But the logic is identical.

A target class must toe the line on different and higher standards than their political betters. Our part time City Council members get paid $300 per month yet suck up a $2,000 per month medical plan for themselves. Critics who say some Council Members are just warming seats for a cadillac medical plan are accused of being cynical. But that same Council is indifferent to those who have to fall back on alternative therapies. They imply all of those kind of people are just growing pot to get high.

Shameless hypocrisy knows no limits in the ruling class.