Monday, February 26, 2018

Contractor who Set Out to Rebuild First Post-Fire House—Rebuilds First Post-Fire House

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 12:25 PM

Mark Mitchell told us in November: I want to rebuild the first house. Now he's doing just that for his friend Dan Bradford, in Coffey Park. - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • Mark Mitchell told us in November: I want to rebuild the first house. Now he's doing just that for his friend Dan Bradford, in Coffey Park.

Back in November I wrote about Dan Bradford, a Coffey Park resident who lost his home to the Tubbs fire and who'd gotten caught up in some red tape over the cleanup of his property. Bradford had hired his friend Mark Mitchell—who, as he had done in Lake County, wanted to be the first contractor to swing the first hammer signaling the first house was being rebuilt after the October fires.
Well, wouldn't you know it but I just read in the local daily newspaper that Bradford's house is indeed the first one being rebuilt in Coffey Park. That's great news.
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Friday, February 23, 2018

ReCANstruction comes to the Coddingtown Mall

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 12:15 PM

Shark! Shark! There's a shark in the mall! The winning sculpture from a recent ReCANstruction contest in Texas.
  • Shark! Shark! There's a shark in the mall! The winning sculpture from a recent ReCANstruction contest in Texas.
The Redwood Empire Food Bank is hosting a great and timely charity art competition at the Coddingtown Mall that kicks off tomorrow (Saturday 2/24) from 10am to 3pm. ReCANstruction, says REFB in a release, brings together students, businesses and architects to design sculptures made from canned goods that will eventually go to feed hungry folks around the county. The judging begins at 1pm and the panel includes a trio of local heroes from the recent fires: Santa Rosa fire chief Tony Gossner; volunteer fire chief Mike Mikelson and, according to REFB, 13-year-old REFB Food Drive champion, Memphis Roetter. When the competition's over on March 2, the sculptures will be dismantled and all canned goods will be send to the food bank's warehouse, which provides meals for some 82,000 families and seniors throughout the county. Participants include the Sonoma Country Day School, ZFA Structural Engineer, Wright Contracting and others.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Sonoma Supers Push off Closed Session Conference in re: Andy Lopez Litigation

Posted By on Tue, Feb 6, 2018 at 1:20 PM


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is today engaged in a daylong housing workshop as part of its Tuesday meeting. The upshot: Lots of input from housing stakeholders around the county and the region about how to deal with a housing crisis that pre-dated the October fires and just got a lot more severe, given the loss of some 5,000 homes to the flames. There's lots of talk about resiliency and building 30,000 new homes, and pushing the wine and hospitality industry to provide more worker housing.

That's the open session part of the meeting. The closed session itinerary jumped out from the supers' agenda, as the board planned to huddle with lawyers in a conference this afternoon to discuss the ongoing federal civil lawsuit against the county and one of its sheriff's deputies that was brought about by the 2013 death of Andy Lopez. That didn't happen.

Despite appearing as an agenda item on the supers' schedule today, the closed session meeting was abruptly canceled, with apologies offered by Supervisor James Gore to people who'd shown up to provide public comments. In attendance Tuesday were numerous police accountability activists, including Frank Saiz. The speakers noted that the millions of dollars spent by the county could have been better spent dealing with a housing crisis that pre-dated both the October fires and Lopez' death.

The supers will meet with the lawyers to talk about the Lopez case next week, says Gore.

The news insofar as the lawsuit is concerned is that that the county has lost all of its legal battles to date in federal court. County-paid attorneys tried to argue that the shooting of Lopez was justified—and tried to get the case thrown out of the U.S. District Court in Oakland based on that assertion. They lost. The case then headed to Pasadena and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel ruled that there were disputed facts at issue in the shooting best left to a jury to sort out—which sent the case back to the District Court for trial.

Then, the county did not prevail in an attempt to appeal that 2-1 decision in late December when the Ninth shot down a request to have an "en banc" re-hearing of the case, before 11 judges instead of three. Now the county is faced with three choices: Appeal to the Supreme Court, take its chances before a jury, or settle the case and pay off the Lopez family for their loss. The clear and impassioned dictate from public speakers today was option three. It remains to be seen which option the supers prefer.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Sonoma DA: I Won't Follow SF DA's Lead in Expunging Local Pot Convictions

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 12:39 PM

  • Tom Gogola
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch says she won't move to proactively expunge cannabis convictions in the county. 

During a press conference Friday in Coffey Park, Ravitch was asked about the move undertaken by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon this week to clear nearly 40 years' worth of misdemeanor cannabis possession convictions in that city.

In a move celebrated by everyone from Tokey McPuffups to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gascon moved to erase nearly 3,000 misdemeanor convictions, and said his office would take a look at reclassifying about 5,000 felony convictions as misdemeanors.

Ravitch is meanwhile sticking with the expungement process as set out in the Proposition 64, she says. "You know, at this point I’m not planning to follow the lead of Mr. Gascon. I think that there’s a petition process in place and if the voters had wanted us to take the affirmative action of recalling and dismissing all of those cases, it would have been part of the initiative. So I plan to follow within the confines of what the initiative requires. And so I’m working with the public defender and I know that we’ll be reviewing those petitions and we will be taking appropriate action.”

Ravitch noted that the process for self-expungment allows people to do it themselves without a lawyer as she highlighted that there's a process already in place in Sonoma County. "It’s not an expensive endeavor and there’s not always a lawyer necessary," she says, "so if individuals do want to have their matters expunged, they can actually go on the Sonoma County court website, get the paperwork, file it themselves, come into court themselves and we’ll address them just as we'd address any attorney."

Proposition 64 grants judicial latitude to expunge pot cases if the underlying crime that gave rise to the original charge is no longer a crime. For example, a person arrested in possession of a ounce of cannabis in 2015 was no longer a criminal as of 2016, and could set out to have the conviction expunged from their record.

Ravitch was in Coffey Park on separate business—a joint press conference with the California Contractors State License Board, where they announced a big sting had been undertaken Saturday. The effort netted thirteen unlicensed contractors who were trying to get work in fire-ravaged areas, and most were charged with felonies.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Federal Communications Commission Votes on New Rules for Early-Warning Systems

Posted By on Tue, Jan 30, 2018 at 10:57 AM

The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules today to "improve the geographic targeting of Wireless Emergency Alerts," which deliver warnings and information to the public via their cellphones during an emergency. According to a release from the FCC (see below), wireless provides will be required to "deliver WEA alerts in a more geographically precise manner so that the alerts reach the communities impacted by an emergency without disturbing others."

The new rule goes into effect on Nov. 30, 2019—or, two fire seasons from now.

The move dovetails with state-level action on the WEA front that's being driven by the North Bay delegation to Sacramento, via Senate Bill 833. 

The bill sets out to "provide for a red alert system designed to issue and coordinate alerts following an evacuation order," according to the legislative legal counsel's memo on it.

It would require the state Office of Emergency Services  to set up a red alert system that would "incorporate a variety of notification resources and developing technologies that may be tailored to the circumstances and geography of the underlying evacuation, as appropriate."

The bill would require a local government agency or state agency that uses the federal system "to alert a specified area of an evacuation order to use the term 'red alert' in the alert and notify OES of the alert."

The legislative analysis notes that "the WEA system allows customers who own certain wireless telephones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. The WEA system was established in 2008 pursuant to the federal Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act and became operational in 2012. Since then, over 21,000 WEA alerts have been issued."

The WEA was not activated to send evacuation alerts during the North Bay fires. It did recently send out an errant notification that Hawaii was about to get nuked. Whoops.

SB 833 bill would require the OES to "both ensure that each emergency management office within a county or city is a registered WEA operator and has up-to-date WEA software and equipment," by July 2019. "The bill also would require OES to ensure that emergency management personnel trained on the WEA system receive yearly training in WEA software and equipment operation." The state would appropriate funds to implement the provisions of the bill in localities around California.

"If this is the new normal," says State Sen. Bill Dodd, a sponsor of SB 833, "then we'd better get it together."

Dodd says he's open to other low-tech systems to warn residents of imminent danger, such as air-raid sirens, but that given the lumpy topography in the North Bay, "I'm not sure that is good for every area. Brand new-technology doesn't have to be the answer in every case, and not every county is going to have the same standards. We have to think about air-raid sirens," he adds, noting that its up to localities to pick and choose between hi- and low-tech options "to create the most sustainable and dynamic emergency alert system."

A report in Monday's Press Democrat by Julie Johnson focused on a meeting yesterday between the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and county emergency services chief Christopher Helgren. As Johnson reported, Helgren reiterated to the BOS that his office didn't activate the federal WEA system out of a concern that it could create panic because the system, as currently deployed, sends out messages "too broadly."

The FCC vote today would require that wireless providers send targeted messages to areas under siege from various disasters, be they floods, fires, earthquakes or tsunamis. During the North Bay fires, SoCoAlert and Nixle did provide emergency information to people who had opted-in to those programs, which require a cellphone. Dodd says those systems "have been solid in the past," but the time's come for an opt-out system that's uniform across the state. "If you don't want to be notified of a major disaster," he says, "that's your business."

As for those air-raid sirens, Helgren's apparently not a fan. Johnson reported that "Supervisors pushed back when Helgren said he had already ruled out warning systems such as neighborhood sirens, sending a strong signal they and the public want the opportunity to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of warning systems such as neighborhood sirens."

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Unlicensed Contractor Nabbed in Santa Rosa, State Seeks Additional Victims

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 4:04 PM


The Contractor's State License Board arrested Tony Van Dang, 30, of Santa Rosa on Friday on charges that he has violated numerous state laws that regulate contractors' work.

In a release, the CSLB says the multiple charges (four felonies and seven misdemeanors) "are the result of three consumer cases in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol where Dang allegedly took more than $26,000 from the consumers and provided minimal landscaping work before abandoning the jobs."

Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Dang is innocent of all the charges unless and until he is found guilty of them. 

State law requires than any contractor job undertaken for more than $500 must use licensed labor. At the time of his arrest Friday, Dang was already in hot water with the CSLB over unlicensed-work charges stemming from a 2017 undercover sting in St. Helena. His Santa Rosa business is called the Perfect Yard, and he was arrested without incident on Friday by the Santa Rosa Police Department after a CSLB investigator responded to a Perfect Yard posting on craigslist.

In their release today, the CSLB notes that "likely there are many other consumers who've been victimized by Dang." The board asks anyone who's hired Perfect Yard to contact CSLB investigator Amanda Martinez,

The board maintains a portal for consumers to check the license status of contractors at

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Dodd: Turn off the Power Next Time

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 2:52 PM

Rincon Valley, Oct. 9, 2017 - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • Rincon Valley, Oct. 9, 2017

“There’s far more areas ready to burn in Sonoma County than that burned,” says Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore. “And there’s far more communities that are more in harm’s way than Coffey Park ever was.”

Egads, that’s scary talk coming from the Fourth District supervisor and freshly minted head of the five-member BOS. Gauging from fire-burn maps put out by Cal-Fire, it’s pretty clear that that Windsor, which Gore represents, dodged a flaming bullet in October.

But what of this year, or the next? In the “new normal,” what’s actually being done to prevent or mitigate against future North Bay fires?

Lots, says State Sen. Bill Dodd, who represents Napa and parts of Sonoma county that got scorched. Dodd was himself evacuated and numerous of his neighbors, he says, lost their homes to October’s fires.

The North Bay legislative team in Sacramento has been doing yeoman’s work since the fires to address numerous fire-fallout questions, issuing bills that grapple with an “ember alert” early-warning system, that enact various fire-insurance reforms, and that provide property-tax bridge relief from the state to municipalities now dealing with a cratered tax base to fund the local schools.

And last week Dodd was in Santa Rosa with others from the delegation—Rep. Jim Wood, Sen. Marc Levine—to talk up SB 894, the “downed power line bill,” says Dodd, which offers the most tangible antidote to any future wildfire that may burden the region.

The bill would require utilities such as PG&E to turn off the power when weather conditions reach a critical mass of high temperature, low humidity and high wind. Those factors were all in play on the dread night of October 8, 2017.

“We know,” says Dodd, “that perhaps every fire was started by downed electrical lines in our grid. What we don’t know until the investigations’ over is who is at fault.”

Shutting of the power because it’s hot and windy and dry, Dodd concedes, is a problematic process fraught with the specter of frustrated customers hollering about false alarms. But it’s also a protocol that’s regularly deployed in states that deal with a lot of tornado activity. And in California, too: After the San Diego fires of 2003, the city used a number of available grants, Dodd says, to deploy micro weather stations that provide real-time data on wind speed, humidity and air temperature. Since 2003, San Diego hasn’t faced the fire fury, but Dodd notes that they’ve shut down the power more than a few times because of fire-friendly weather conditions.

There are also complicating factors owing to the power needs of hospitals and the hospitality sector, he says. They’ll have to “be thinking about becoming more resilient.” Translated: Buy a backup generator or a few of them.

Still, since as Dodd notes most wildfires that impact high-population areas begin in the rural interface, that’s where utilities such as PG&E ought to be focusing their turnoff attention. Under SB 894, “the utilities are going to have to get smart about where those turnoff points are,” he says, “and that urban areas aren’t necessarily shut down.”

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Day of Prayer and Action for Condemned Author Jarvis Jay Masters

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2018 at 1:21 PM

Masters' cell is on the lower tier of the intensely intimidating East Block - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • Masters' cell is on the lower tier of the intensely intimidating East Block

Supporters of author and death-row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters today called for a statewide day of prayer and action for Masters as they implored Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to take up his cause.

Masters has been in San Quentin since the early 1980s and was implicated in the murder of prison guard Howell Burchfield in 1985. That earned him a capital charge and he spent two decades on San Quentin's notorious "Adjustment Center" before being transferred to the East Block in 2007, where most of the state's nearly 800  condemned men are held. He has maintained his innocence all along and has written a couple of books about his experiences in prison and his rough childhood. One of his big supporters is the American Buddhist Pema Chodron.

The website provides a portal to send a letter to Brown and/or Becerra asking that they tune in to Masters' plight. He did not prevail in his latest appeal to the California State Supreme Court in 2016. An email from the group of Jarvis supporters reports that he is in poor health as a result of his latest hunger strike, which he initiated in November.

I toured San Quentin's various death houses a couple of years ago and spent some time with Masters interviewing him outside his cell. I'd been a fan of his 2009 This Bird Has My Wings and really couldn't believe it when I walked by his cell on the ground floor of the East Block. I extended greetings from a fan of his in New Orleans who had first turned me on to Masters' books and he lit up in a huge, warm smile. He showed me his writing kit—a bucket for a chair, a pen, a writing cap he always wore. Buddhism had helped him to deal with the intensity of the isolation and stress of the experience.  "Spiritual grounding is a real, real enduring force if you ever find yourself in a situation like this," he told me.

The state's execution protocols remain in limbo owing to ongoing issues around the constitutionality of the practice.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Cali Growers Association Sues State Ag Dept over Acreage Flip-Floppery

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 8:57 AM

In what may be the first cannabis-related lawsuit of the legalization era, the California Growers Association yesterday sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture over the late-game decision by Ag to lift acreage limitations on growers for a few years, so as not to welcome the dreaded onslaught of Big Bud. The charge: "Defendant CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE has promulgated a regulatory loophole that eviscerates the statutory five-year prohibition overwhelmingly approved by California voters." Check out the court filing below: 
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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Zinke Stinks

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2018 at 12:42 PM

Flaming hypocrisy is the order of the day - WIKIPEDIA
  • wikipedia
  • Flaming hypocrisy is the order of the day

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was one of numerous state and national Democrats to tee off on U.S Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke this morning for his decision to exempt offshore drilling in the vacation state of Florida—while failing to extend the same exemption to blue states with big tourist economies of their own.

Florida is led by a Republican governor, Rick Scott, who supported Donald Trump for president in 2016. The president spends significant time in the state, playing golf at Mar-al-Lago, a resort that boasts views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Zinke cited the impact on Florida's tourism industry as the signal driver behind his decision to keep the drilling rigs from view of beachgoers and vacationers. The secretary did not, however, extend the same courtesy to other states with a robust tourist economy—Oregon, New York, Virginia, and of course, California.

Early on Wednesday, Newsom punched out a couple of tweets directed at Zinke that appeared to highlight that the Interior Secretary is a flaming partisan hypocrite hell-bent on fulfilling the Trump mandate to punish blue states, regardless of the appearance of flaming partisan hypocrisy.

Florida, noted Newsom, had 113 million visitors in 2016, while California had 269 million statewide visitor trips. Tourists in Florida spent $109 billion; in California, they spent $126.3 billion.

“Using this logic,” tweeted Newsom, “CA’s coast should be declared free of offshore drilling as well. Or do blue states not get exemptions?”

The Trump Administration has also been busily undoing regulations enacted under President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana in 2010.

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