Board Notes 12/1/09

Sturm und Drang as our little community seeks peace with itself, and the 21st Century



The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Tuesday, 1 December, 2009. Supervisors Whitley, Adams, Goicoechea, Huebner, and Chair Nunes were present. Chairperson Nunes dropped the gavel at 9:00.

Many of the seats in the gallery were occupied; unusual particularly for a gavel drop in Downieville.

The meeting began with the mundane business of approving agendas, minutes, and changes.

At this point, Robert Eschleman presented Chair Nunes a three-minute hourglass.

Supervisor Goicoechea made a report to the board on the progress of an attempt by a multi-agency consortium to cause the California Public Utilities District to provide a new hearing on a move by NV Energy’s California service provider to sell 46,000 California units to a Canadian based power corporation. See stories too numerous to mention on our SITEMAP. The sale directly effects our community’s electrical power, particularly Loyalton, and indirectly effects the fate of the SPI cogen plant (though nobody knows just how). It is opposed by local counties, cities, public utility districts and cooperative electrical providers. There is an increased likelihood of a hearing if citizens such as yourself contact the CPUC HERE. Goicoechea noted that in the words of a power transmission expert, Loyalton’s electrical service is "at best precarious."

Director of Planning and Building Tim Beals reported that the County is taking part in regional water meetings; Andrew Winberry will be attending. He also remarked that it is "amazing" how inter-related groups are working on biomass and supporting the local cogen plant. He thanked the Board, particularly Supervisors Huebner and Goicoechea for their hard work. The Prospect reporter noticed that one of those working the hardest was left out, specifically Tim Beals, Director of Planning.

The Board heard for the last time from North Yuba District Ranger Jean Masquelier.

Supervisor Adams presented D.R. Masquelier with a resolution of appreciation. She goes to Washington D.C.

Van Maddox, County Auditor, spoke dispassionately about the dire state the county is situated in, known as "California." The County spending is, he said, "on track". However, not surprisingly, there are several sources of revenue that are down. Local sales tax is down $40,000. The County’s share of the state sales tax is also down. The State is "shifting" funds away from the counties; Maddox gave the opinion that the only way for the state to make up the shortfall is to take the money from the counties.

The budget had $300,000 "contingency" but Maddox reminded the Board, these were not dollars in the bank. They were dollars which they squeezed out of what they’d hoped would be the budget for 2009-2010. With this recent news $213,000 of those imaginary dollars are replaced with real shortfall. He reported the County is doing better than "a number of (Central) Valley counties."

Brandon Pangman, the "duly elected mouth" of the West side employees stated that though they suffer only a 5% cut through furlough, compared to 14% for State employees, they are no longer in favor of it.

Paul Guffin, county employee, sent a letter to the board which Lee Adams read. It was lengthy and poetic and contained appropriate quotes from works of literature. The long and short was that, no, not all the employees were unhappy with the furlough. Some understood you have to be selfless in the face of adversity for the benefit of the whole community.

Supervisor Lee Adams spoke to the issue, explaining that he didn’t "take any of this lightly" and apologizing to the employees for the hit, but stating "first order" was the continuity of government. It was clear, he pointed out, that next year would be worse than this year.

However, he encouraged Pangman and his electors to keep on top of the Board. "Keep us honest," he said.

The Board declined to take a position on Department manager longevity pay. It will have to be a case by case basis, as the economic circumstances allow.




The Appeals

At this point, Nunes declared a short break. When the Board continued, the room had filled even more. The 10:00 timed item was an appeal by HSRA of an action by the County to allow an area to be taken out of Timber Production Zone status.

Chair Nunes read the county code pertaining to such hearings, including a time limit on how long each person could speak. The meaning of the egg timer became clear.

County Council Jim Curtis described the role of the Board and the significance of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Tim Beals, Director of Planning, described the Timber Production Zone program. It’s a voluntary program a land owner enters into which shelters the property from taxes. It normally requires ten years to remove the property from the zoning. It is voluntary to get in, voluntary to get out on the long roll out, and though Mr. Beals didn’t mention it, critics point out that TPZ does not carry county reimbursement for loss of taxes as Williamson land once did. See Here.

Director Beals pointed out that the appellate wanted the Board to require the land owner to guess what purpose the land would have in the future. He stated that there were strong general plan guidelines indicating the property should be taken out of TPZ.

He introduced Brandon Pangman, who made the County’s presentation.

It emerged from the discussion that the parcel was 107 acres, part of two parcels which total 217 acres in TPZ. This appeal was not unlike one HSRA had moved against in court, with the landowner being Sierra Pacific Industries. HSRA essentially won that when SPI settled out of court and dropped the rezone.

The portion in this question is in the community core zone of Indian Valley. Normally the General Plan dictates against forest production land zoning in a community core zone. There was also a lot line adjustment to make the boundary of the property fit the boundary of the community core zone. By removing the property from TPZ and zoning it Forest Recreation, the property owner was essentially helping the county with some land use housekeeping duties.

Mr. Pangman made reference to letters from several different agencies, most had no comment on the planned change of zone. He also referred to CEQA law, insisting that removing the property and changing zoning to Forest Recreation did not constitute a "project" under the law.

Irv Christianson, property owner, took the stand, and noted that, among others in the room, he might not even be here in ten years, when the property actually leaves the TPZ designation. He stated the logs are gone, it’s been logged over and over, and will be many, many years before it can be logged again.

High Sierra Rural Alliance then took to the podium in the person of Ms. Stevee Duber. Speaking dispassionately, she stated that removing the parcel did constitute a "project". She denied Mr. Beal’s comment that there are "strong guidelines" in the general plan to remove TPZ from community core zone. She said there were problems between zoning and the general plan.

She stated that all HSRA was asking was that the rezone be remanded back to staff to determine if an EIR has to be done.

The public then took the stand.

Milt Holstrom stated TPZ wasn’t intended to punish landowners.

Tom Dotta urged the Board to allow the landowner to use their land. Zealous supporters clapped.

The County was again provided an opportunity to address the Board. Mr. Beals replied to Ms. Duber’s remarks about guidelines in the general plan with a quote from page 175 saying TPZ must be outside of a community core zone.

He said there was no showing of physical impact from the rezone. He indicated that staff had followed the law.

County Council Jim Curtis spoke to the issue. He stated that CEQA did require some kind of "analysis" on rezone, but not an EIR. He said that if a project was planned, it would require an EIR on its own merit, but the rezone itself did not because the property owner can’t be required to speculate on what project they might do.

Peter Huebner had clearly heard enough; he made the motion to rezone.

Lee Adams stated that if the Board granted the appeal, they’d have to require the landowner to do the review twice, once when it came out of TPZ and again when there was an actual project.

Ms. Duber said there are phases to a project, and each might require a different review.

Lee Adams asked if it wouldn’t discourage landowners from putting land into a TPZ if they knew they’d lose some measure of control over it. There was loud approval from the gallery.

Ms. Duber mentioned other rezones where an EIR was required. She said an initial study is done, typically in house, and it isn’t expensive. If that finds nothing, then a negative declaration is filed.

She asked why the Board would want a project to go forward without an appropriate review.

Lee Adams stated that the Board did not intend to discourage land from entering TPZ. The Board voted five to nothing to approve the rezone.





The Board returned to hear a second appeal by HSRA. The room was packed to overflowing with people jammed in the door and sitting outside trying to hear. The air in the room was heavy, several people attempted to control air flow by adjusting the windows. A sign high on the wall reminded everyone that the capacity of the room was 49.

The first issue had been an appeal of a rezone; the second was more complex. It involved a Planning Commission approval of variances which would allow an old, nonconforming legal residence to be replaced with a new building.

Tim Beals took the floor for the County’s case. He stated that he was stumped at the content of what he characterized as a "routine" variance to allow the property owner to use their property. He said the appeal documents "verged on hysterics." He said he was concerned about this approach. The galley murmured support.

Mr. Beals went on to say that staff had combined experience of over 50 years, and they had worked hard on this project. He introduced Mr. Pangman.

HSRA, still the appellate in this appeal, had first complained of a Class 5 categorical exemption from CEQA. However, very quickly they shifted their focus to the septic system on the property. They also claimed the project was too close to the river.

Mr. Pangman made it clear that the septic system was not part of the appeal. It emerged that the septic system has long been in place with no evidence of failure. The landowner recently, of their own accord, added a septic tank prior to the existing tank, with a filter between. During this project the system had been inspected and passed. Even had this not been the case, the septic is not part of the appealed variance.

Staff described the property, which many people are familiar with. It sits on a bedrock bench above the Downie River.

Part of the issue is the slope. Staff maintains that the exemption is supported by the slope which is less than 20%. However, the entire property is quite steep. Staff considered only the portion of the property since that is the portion in the variance. As Tim Beals would later ask, "in considering the slope of a house site would we have to consider the slope of the 320 acre parcel?" Clearly, not.

A discussion of the "high water mark" ensued. Brandon showed several means of determining high water mark, necessary to determine the "100 foot from high water mark" location. No evidence exists to suggest the parcel is in a "flood plain". Various maps including U. S. Army Corps of Engineers maps demonstrated the property was not in a flood zone.

A second map indicated that if HSRA’s definition were used, most of the houses in Downieville would be in the flood plain.

Stevee Duber again took the podium for High Sierra Rural Alliance. Again she dispassionately described their concerns.

She insisted that being in a flood plain didn’t preclude building, it just required a special use permit. She stated that the project was an expansion of a non-conforming structure.

She encouraged the supervisors to send the variance back to staff.

Mrs. Hudson, property owner, took the stand to speak on her behalf. She said the issue was "bigger than the Hudsons."

A local man and a neighbor to the property took the stand and spoke on behalf of the project, denying the site was near the flood plain. He said the change was good for the economy and the neighborhood and not a negative thing.

Robert Eschleman took the floor. He commended staff on the technical quality of their work. He suggested that, if it could, HSRA would turn the county into a wilderness. He encouraged them that if that’s their plan, they should come out with it. He commented on the negative effects HSRA has had on the community.

Brendan McCormick, local contractor and president of High Sierra Rural Alliance, took the podium. He stated that the organization simply wanted the county to take every caution on the way to ensure the project.

Tom Dotta spoke. He commended staff. He stated that if HSRA wanted a study done, they should pay for it. He spoke on behalf of the landowner.

Bill Bate spoke, commended staff on the project, and encouraged members of HSRA to leave the county. Applause followed.

Then Greg Bulanti, long time property owner and local realtor took the stand.

He spoke of selling the property to the owners. He described how they had discussed their plans with the county prior to purchase, and how they had followed "due diligence" in seeking all the hazards the land might pose for the purchaser.

But, he said, there was no way to anticipate that an environmental group might derail those good intentions. He pointed out that the housing values were down 50% in Loyalton and 30% in the canyon. He asked if a law suit was going to become part of the cost of building a house in Sierra County.

He asked the question many in the room had: why are these people coming here?

In a real community, he said, you don’t cause your neighbors hardship. He encouraged the Board to consider what this appeal, and all the extra costs it would involve would mean for future projects in Downieville, and asked what effect HSRA would have on investment in the area.

Then, he encouraged them to have courage, and deny the appeal.

The crowd applauded his piece, and even to a dispassionate observer, it was clear that the sentiment in the room largely lay against High Sierra’s appeal.

Tim Beals took the floor to reiterate that this project is routine, the septic is not part of it, the river comes no where near the house.

Brandon again stated that it is not an expansion of a non-conforming legal structure. It is replacing a non conforming structure with a conforming structure.

Mr. Curtis took the floor to explain how the site not only qualifies for a class 5 categorical exemption from CEQA but also a class 2 and class 3.

The Board closed the hearing, Pat Whitley made the motion and the Board voted 4 to 0 against the appeal. Lee Adams abstained because he owns land near the site. The Board will return January 5th with an actual determination.


The Board took a recess; the room emptied. When the Board returned, only one person, besides staff and media, was present.

The tension had left the room with the crowd, and though everyone was hungry, the hour being past 1:30, the Board resumed with a more normal feel.

After a lengthy discussion, prudence prevailed over poverty and the Board voted to allow Van Maddox, County Auditor, to hire an appropriate second-in-command.

The Meeting was adjourned, and peace returned to the courthouse.

Sierra County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday, November 17, 2009, in continued regular session. The board packet is HERE. Supervisors Adams, Goicoechea, Whitley, Huebner and Chair Nunes were present to hear pleadings from the common folk.

The august and very, very dignified and respectable supervisors carried out the following extremely important business:

The Honorable Peter Huebner reports that Wednesday last he sat on a panel with other worthy dignitaries including Logue and McClintock in Nevada City. The group discussed the problems businesses have in California. One problem the panel identified is over-regulation, which is odd since the panel was filled with people whose only job is to create regulation. One might hope they’ll soon pass regulations regulating the number of regulations that can be created. The group also heard of the growing complaints about High Sierra Rural Alliance, who some claim is out of touch with the community. The Honorable Huebner also reported on small successes in getting biomass for the local electrical generation machine.

The Honorable Farmer Goicoechea made the remark that everyone in Sierra County should be contacting the California Public Utilities Commission and complain that NV Energy is endangering our electrical wire network by selling local provision to Calpeco. See the story HERE.

Sierra County Director of Lands and Water, Sir Timothy Beals made report before the Board. His words, noble and heavy with portend, regarded these subjects:

  1. There is a coordinated effort to bring grievance to the California Public Utilities Commission, and that grievance regards the degradation of service to the electrical wire network.
  2. Paving will take place in Sierra City; weather may intrude and so it is in the hands God (or someone, but not Sir Timothy, who is not quite Director of Impossible Cases yet.)
  3. Thomas McClintock, has sent forth a message in which he calls everyone to a discussion about the forest which is full of growing things. His purpose is to speed the removal of trees from the woods under an edict of King George the Spoiler. He has not said how he will speed this effort, for he can not change the seasons, nor will his soft hands well grapple with a chainsaw, but it is in the manner of politicians to promise help and provide encouragement but nothing else. This Estate recommends if the McClintock would help us, let him dig in his purse and purchase for us a chipper that will take a bullock in one swallow.
  4. Some babble about insurance and rivers; the gallery grew restive.
  5. The Economic Development sages will gather. We think a great vapor will arise of it.
  6. The County Laws are being updated. The County Planning Elders have heard it, and it would go forward to fruition, but complaints have been raised from a quarter. It was not called by name, but many in the crowd murmured; we will not speak the name, but we know it.

Stood forth then Forestman Quentin Youngblood, representative of the King and local ruler of the King’s lands. He reports great news. The King has opened his coffers and will give money to our folk to cut down the King’s trees and bushes. The trees and bushes will then either be fed to the electrical generating machine, or will be burned so the smoke will rise to the heavens and carry the name our great King skywards.

The County Law sage brought forth a contract whereby the County would provide armed men to Loyalton City in exchange for coin. The Honorable Lee Adams remarked so all could hear that it was good that the County and City had worked out an agreement for the armed people. He reminded that in some places disagreement and even battles have arisen over such agreements. We join him in his gratitude, but feel the County would certainly conquer the City if only by virtue that they could seal the roads and starve the masses, and drive a large stake into the septic outflow and fill the town with human filth. Disease and want would befall the city, and parents would smuggle their children out and the little town would feed the crows and ravens long before the State noticed. Let’s rejoice that won't be necessary.

One Mike Fillipini then appeared to report on 1st Five. He had news both joyous and grave for the Board. The good news is that much good has been done for the children of our community. The care of children has been made safer. The bad news is that the government cries poverty and will soon stop sending gold. The Honorable Lee Adams spoke to everyone, thanking Don Russell, of the Forth Estate, whose tobacco addiction and the unbelievable taxes he pays because of it have funded the wellbeing of our community’s children. Editor Russell was gracious, true to his selfless nature.

Complaints were heard from employees: nothing can be done, it won’t happen again.

Diane Simar appeared from Work Connection. All is well there and the common people are ready to work, should a job ever appear.

Tobacco Free Learners

Two youths came from the local School for Learning. They spoke about the evils of tobacco use. Don Russell was taken aback! It was his tobacco money that allowed these youths to skip school and make a presentation to the Board. The youth of today, and every day, clearly have no gratitude.

The selfless Don Russell, shocked at ingratitude.

Nerves jangled by the encounter with tobacco free kids, Editor Russell enjoys a smoke. 

The Worthies adjourned for lunch.

To return to find A TRAIN!

So it happened that strangers, royalty, came from across the border bearing gifts. The Honorable Board Members entertained the idea of a TRAIN brought forth by John Tyson, who is a big wind in Nevada, and who plays with trains, big trains.

Mr. Tyson spoke sweet words before the board, making a gift of the old Clover-Boca steam locomotive Number 8. He said it was a fully working locomotive, and not a static or stationary piece. He said it never ran in Nevada and belonged in the valley. He said we could form a short line railroad locally and bring people here, which would bring prosperity and growth.

He said it cost $2 million and a year to do a mile of track. Mr. Tyson himself owns a luxury railroad car which you can rent for a hogshead of silver. Some sources suggest it costs about $90,000 a year to store and maintain a railroad car; the locomotive might well be more.

Mr. Tyson did not explain how a busted cow county with 3000 people are going to support the train, or arrange for track or take care of the details necessary to get the locomotive on Union Pacific line.

But, his smile was bright, his voice was sure, he gestured grandly around the room and misted a bit when describing the wonderful old locomotive.

People around the room were beginning to dream, to hear the chu-chu-chu of the engine, to imagine fine ladies and gentlemen at their leisure, chatting, enjoying dinner, talking of putting mansions in the hills, riding smoothly through the night until they come to the edge of the Valley.

Then the Honorable Lee Adams made a point. No one loves trains more than he, but they are a toy for kings, not commoners. "If anyone thinks Sierra County will operate a railroad they’re mistaken," he said cheerily. It would have to be all volunteers.

The Honorable Seniorita Whitley maintained "the community has to be behind this." Certainly truer words were never spoken, though it begs to wonder if all 3000 of us behind it could push it over the county line.

The Worthy John Sheehan attended from Portola, where he knows much about the railroad museum there. He spoke of a business plan, of tying in with the railroad in Portola, of having a plan. He was enthusiastic as one sometimes is for a lost cause.

The TRAIN left the forth estate cool. Being men of words, the editors are familiar with the term "white elephant".

Indeed, the keeper of the Fourth Estate at the Prospect has this advice: playing with train is for barons and counts. If we had the millions this locomotive could consume we could provide ourselves infrastructure to usher in the future of biocarbon.

In the end, the meeting adjourned, the Honorable Supervisors went home, and peace returned to the county.


"Monorail" from The Simpsons
Copyright Fox Television


Lyle Lanley: Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine,
Bona fide,
What'd I say?
Ned Flanders: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
Patty+Selma: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: That's right! Monorail!
[crowd chants `Monorail' softly and rhythmically]
Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?
Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.
Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?
Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.
I swear it's Springfield's only choice...
Throw up your hands and raise your voice!
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: Once again...
All: Monorail!
Marge: But Main Street's still all cracked and broken...
Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!
All: Monorail!





 The Sierra County Board of Supervisors Make a Mockery of Our Attempts to Make a Mockery of Them.

The Sierra County Mutual Admiration Society met in continued regular session Tuesday, 3 November, in the County Sofa of Downieville. Supersmoothers Adams, Whitley, Huebner, Goicoechea and Sofaperson Nunes were all pleased as punch to be present.

Here are the highlights:

There is money coming to pay for old driveway upgrades.

The Cal Trans Highway 49 bridge in Downieville is finished, and Lee Adams complimented Tim Beals, Director of Complicated Projects for helping the process run so smoothly.

There is a grant of $250,000 to help local families; Dr. Roberts is administering it.

Jeanie Masquelier is going to Washington DC to work for the FS.

Shasta County is suing the Forest Service for screwing up all the Off Highway Vehicle roads. Should Sierra County Join? Lee Adams weighs saying on the one hand the FS was making it hard to ride OHV in the county, but on the other hand there is a danger that some kid on a quad will get punked by a Hummer H3 which would not be good. However, he is optimistic and provides the quote of the day: "a balance will be struck."

The pay phone by the courthouse is a goner. Something will be done that’s cheaper.

The highlight of the meeting was a recognition to Michelle "Mickey" Foster, much appreciated county stalwart. Ms. Foster has been working for the county for over two-thirds of her life, since she was 17. During that time she worked for a number of county departments including 29 years for the road department.

Director of Big Cuddly Teddy Bears, Tim Beals, told a story from three decades ago, of coming into town, high on something no doubt, and the first person he sees is Mickey. She was so friendly and open he decided to stay in Sierra County.

In spite of that one instance, Mickey Foster has worked hard to benefit the county for 38 years, and it is clear she’ll be missed.


Board Notes 10/20/09

Sierra County Board of Supervisor Notes

The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met in continued regular session Tuesday, October 20, 2009.

Supervisors Whitley, Huebner and Goicoechea and Chair Nunes were present; Supervisor Adams was absent.

ABSENT: Peter Huebner’s backside isn’t a sufficient substitute for Lee Adams. That coffee mug once stopped a bullet.

Tim Hollibird, representative of Congressman Tom McClintock was present, offering what help he could for the cogen plant.

The Board heard a cogen plant update, read more HERE (link to Cogen Update story).

Service Area Funds: The board heard information on the 1A securitization program. It works like this: the state owes the counties money from property taxes. They can’t pay, but what can happen is the counties can get their money now by essentially "selling" the debt for money now, or they can wait until 2013 when the state can pay them back, with interest.

The counties have to pay attorney fees, which is sometimes more than they had coming. The official story is in the Board packet, HERE

Tim Beals, Director of Decaying Infrastructure, reported to the Board that, thanks to the efforts of tireless Sierra County benefactor Bill Copren, CalTrout  is giving the county matching funds to get a new bridge over the Little Truckee. Mr. Beals said (not his words) that it was extremely nice of Cal Trout to help keep our travelers out of the drink, and particularly nice of Mr. Copren, to set it up.

The Board entertained the genial CHP Captain Paul Davis, whose Quincy office now serves Sierra Valley. He spoke of his commitment to the safety of roads in eastern Sierra County.

The Board also: talked about getting a game warden on the east side; heard from Carol Roberts about funds from FEMA and elsewhere going to food banks and commodity distribution.

That’s about it.

Board Notes 10/6/09

















Board Notes 10/20/09Board Notes 10/6/09


Board Notes 10/6/09


The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met in regular continued session Tuesday, October 6. Adams, Whitley, Huebner, Goicoechea and Chair Nunes were present.

It was a deceptively short agenda for a meeting that went into extra innings and provided a chance for the Board to wrestle with its philosophy.

The cogen closure dominated the opening minutes of the meeting as the Board registered the shock and frustration that swept the county. Supervisors Goicoechea and Huebner reiterated how hard they’d worked to secure biomass for the plant, and vowed that the effort isn’t over. They called on politicos including Cox and Logue in case there was something their offices could do.

Dr. Carol Roberts, Director of Human Services, discussed the support being organized for the laid off workers.

From that dismal start the Board moved on to dismal water news from Director of Dismal News Tim Beals. Beals warned of SB 68, a mutant composed of five other water bills; but that attempt has gone down in defeat. The battle is far from over, with the legislature meeting even as you read this (Sunday Oct 11) to try to hammer out a deal on water to protect the Delta. The Governator has threatened to veto many of the 700 bills on his desk if a water agreement isn’t worked out. Settling the Sacramento Delta problem is seen as part of Schwarzenegger’s legacy as governor.

There is virtually no way this can work out to Sierra County’s favor, and a great likelihood exists that our county of origin water rights will be stolen.

The Forest Service sent an emissary to the Board to discuss closing most of the dirt roads in Sierra County. Supervisor Pat Whitley asked a question which reveals a strange philosophy at the FS. She asked: Why are you closing these roads? They are public lands, you know, why can’t the public use it?

The answer, fresh from Bizzaro world, goes like this: The public can’t use their roads to escape the artificial BS of the modern world because the Forest Service can’t afford to maintain them. See?

Here’s a cultural heads up for the Forest Service and their urbanized masters in Washington DC: the point of dirt roads is to follow them until the maintenance stops, to get away from the constant oversight and regulation that has overtaken the land of the free and the home of the brave. We don’t want you to maintain our dirt roads, the wilds aren’t a theme park.

Supervisor Adams brought up the importance of the roads to motorized tourism in the county.

The FS emissary had one good point: different types of traffic on the same road, meaning quads and four wheel drives, often lead to accident, injury and death. That’s true, but might not be the government’s responsibility; people might be responsible for their own lives, that’s what "liberty" is. The Prospect suggests this new sign instead of closing all our roads:

Warning, Forest Service Not Responsible for Your Butt Beyond This Point. Smashing into a Humvee on a motorized Radio Flyer may result in dismemberment.

County offices will be closed due to furlough between Christmas and New Years. No reduction in service is expected, since no one comes in then, anyway.

Dr. Carol Roberts took the stand to tell about the hardship visited on many of her employees by the furlough. Social services employees across the state often make wages that leave them only a little better off than the poor people they serve. Sierra County is not an exception.

But the real meat of Dr. Robert’s appeal to the Board centered on the fact that there was no real reason for most of her employees to be furloughed.

The purpose of the furlough was to save funds, and perhaps jobs, down the road. That savings (5%) is imagined and hoped to have some impact down the road. Any poor family can tell you that the nickels and dimes you scrimp together will usually be stolen in one motion by unforeseen but inevitable misfortune, usually involving the government. Employees have openly doubted the benefit of the furloughs, but it remains the only tool the Board has to reduce costs and create a "contingency fund" (the disappearing nickels and dimes).

Brandon Pangman stood representing 40 West side employees. He queried them and found there were three things they needed to be assured of in order for them to accept the furloughs:

  1. They must be necessary. They might not be since the highway tax was returned to the county.
  2. The savings will be used to protect jobs.
  3. Cuts to employee wages shouldn’t be the only cuts.

There are few other cuts the board can make without curtailing services severely, leading to lawsuit and further misery (welcome to the world of the poor family). Miriam Dines took the stand to remind the Board that, while the office might be closed, the business keeps going, meaning that workers return from furlough to find that they still have the same amount of work to do, they just won’t be paid for doing it.

In any case, Dr. Roberts, supported by the union representative and other county employees, made the compelling argument that there is no reason to furlough a certain class of worker.

Most Prospect readers understand that government funding is complicated. The County doesn’t function from one big bank account, paid for by taxes and fees generated locally. That big bank account, known as the "general fund" does exist, and it does pay for some jobs, but many of the services performed in the county aren’t paid for from that "pot" of money.

Many, particularly social service employees, work for programs that are grant funded, or funded by particular state programs. Those checks arrive with a list of things they can be used for, and anything not on that list isn’t paid for, and the general fund is not on that list.

In other words, many county employees and most social services employees are paid for by funds which don’t benefit the county "contingency" fund. Often, they can’t be rolled over, meaning they must be spent in the funded year. Failing to provide the services to the level required can mean the funds have to be returned.

The long and short: there is only suffering, and no benefit, to furloughing those employees.

The Board struggled with this. Their intention was to make it "fair". That’s usually how government goes wrong, since there are many kinds of "fairness". Supervisor Adams was rightfully worried about creating "haves and have-nots" within the ranks of the employees.

In this instance, it was not fair in any meaningful sense to continue to furlough employees paid for with dedicated funds, mostly victim/witness employees and social services. Brandon Pangman stated it most clearly: "it’s idiotic for people to be furloughed if they don’t have to be."

In the end, the Board decided to apply furloughs only when there is a real benefit to the County. They sent Dr. Roberts and Auditor Van Maddox to assemble what classes of jobs those would be.

The Board then tackled the problem of merit increases, a subject from which the Board has pirouetted away several times. Already sweaty from the furlough question, they weighed in.

Pat Whitley used good old-fashioned logic: no merit increases while people are being furloughed. Good old-fashioned logic is taking down a lot of people these days.

Lee Adams pointed out that there is a covenant with the workers to provide merit increases. The increases reflect the increased value more experienced workers have to the county; they are also intended as an appropriate reward for loyal service, something which is disappearing in the private sector. Adams also pointed out that most merit increases go to the newest and lowest paid employees. He noted that $16,000 out of a $20,000,000 budget was "a drop in the bucket" (it’s 0.08%), but indicated it was a lot of money to the employees to whom it was due.

In the end, the board voted to pay the merit increases from the contingency fund. The vote: Adams, Huebner and Goicoechea, yes; Nunes and Whitley, no.

Next, the Board heard a reading of an ordinance which would structure the pay scale so that employees who are paid salary increases for longevity will lose that longevity pay when they become department heads.

A local loudmouth took the stand to ask if "a tech I loses their longevity pay when they become a tech II." No, they don’t. Then why would they lose it when going from the most experienced employee in a department to becoming the head of that department?

The explanation was that the wage increase to department head was so huge it took that longevity pay into account.

Not a great explanation, but pretty much all there was. The current Chief of Probation, Jeffrey D. Bosworth, remarked that he had more experience than everyone in the department, adding to the not very good explanation. He said there was no reason to reward people who were born here over people who wanted to come here, completing the nebulous argument for taking longevity pay away from employees.

This is a Prospect Editorial comment, so we’ll shift to italics: The Prospect generally supports County employees, and the last three issues reflect how we in the county feel about our workers. We at the Prospect don’t think employees should be furloughed unless there is a benefit; it needs to be particular to the position and its funding, and not to a kind of simple minded fairness. Further, we believe it is unconscionable not to give employees merit increases, and support the decision of those on the Board to live up to their obligation. Finally, we disagree with the perspective that believes current employees have to lose longevity when they become department heads. It isn’t a comparison between someone from here and someone from somewhere else. The someone from somewhere else likely had longevity pay there; if they chose to leave it that is their decision. Longevity pay is about more than experience in a position, it’s about experience in the county, and it’s about our willingness to pay our employees well. The Prospect doesn’t consider WalMart to be a model of county government; county jobs should be coveted, well rewarded, and our employees should be encouraged to stay and to take increasing responsibility. We think the Board is simply sensitive to creating positions that make above a hundred grand when the average person in the county makes thirty-three if they’re lucky. That’s not a good comparison. Instead, we should pay county workers well and strive to provide everyone in the county with a living wage, benefits, and retirement.

We now leave the special "italics" mode.












The Board broke for lunch, and returned to hear what they already knew about which employees wouldn’t be furloughed, and spent some money on the fire safe plan, and then Chair Nunes dropped the hammer on the meeting and everyone scattered as though someone had thrown an angry skunk into the room.

Sierra County Board of Supervisors

Download the board packet HERE

The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday, 7 April, 2009 in continued regular session. All Supervisors were present: Adams, Heubner, Nunes, Goicoechea, and Whitley.

An Offer to Sue
One of the big news moments of the day happened during "public comment" when local most-unforgettable-character Mike Meister Miller told the supervisors that they were breaking the law by allowing hazardous waste from a County site to leak onto property owned or controlled by The Original 16:1 mine. Mr. Miller put forth local credentials many on the Board could admire: he’s lived in the county 30 years, had children here, and plans to be buried here (eventually). He is also among the few people who have, over the years, actually coaxed gold from the ground in Sierra County.
Mr. Miller described how the county site was leaking oil and gas into Happy Jack mine and then into Kanaka Creek, which is irresponsible. He indicated that he didn’t care much for the state water board, but that nonetheless they could begin fining his employer for the hazardous flow, and his company would, in turn, sue the Board of Supervisors. The Water Resources Control Board, the agency referred to, has refused to fund or permit County efforts at cleanup of the mess. It has also made life miserable for the 16:1 in the past.
Mr. Miller was clear: Director of Public Works Tim Beals had worked hard on the issue, and had tried to find a solution. He stated that Morning Glory mine had done work on the site, and presented a bill to Sierra County, which responded with rudeness.
Mr. Miller advised the Board to do the following:
    1.  Treat the matter more seriously
     2. Take him up on a great deal. Since the 16:1 owes Sierra County significant taxes, perhaps they could strike a deal.

This promises to generate some news!
Editor’s note: It seems almost inconceivable that a State agency would fail its responsibilities but insist citizens follow theirs. Oh, wait, no it is not only conceivable but expected, particularly from the less than useless WRCB. Sierra County is trying to meet its responsibility, the 16:1 is threatened and has tried to mitigate the problem, only the WRCB can’t see past the regulations to the reality of protecting Kanaca Creek.

The UnCommittee
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee (see story here) resolved that saying anything in committee was a bad idea, and they would simply meet with the whole Board. The Finance Committee would meet not as the finance committee, but as the whole Board. And, they will put it on the agenda for the May 19th meeting but actually hold it on the 20th, thanks to some crafty phrases provided by County Council Jim Curtis. So, to clarify, the unfinance committee will not meet as the whole board for the agenda of the 19th until the 20th.
Editor’s note: The Finance Committee probably wouldn’t be so skittish if there were a functional state government and an economy that generated enough revenue to actually finance something.

More Judicial
Judge Pangeman (linkhttp://www.sierracourt.org/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx) stood at the podium and introduced Jeffrey D. Bosworth, Chief Probation Officer. He also encouraged the Board to meet with the Plumas County Board and various others to discuss impending changes to the location of some courts and to services Sierra County might contract to provide Plumas County.

Tim Beals, Director of the physical world in Sierra County noted there were three central issues Plumas and Sierra Boards could meet on:

  1. Courts, per Judge Pangeman
  2. Solid waste (Sierra County is under attack from the State for our old-school dump; Mr. Beals seems to be seeking a solution that will satisfy California but keep us from dumping in the canyons)
  3. The Brian Morris plan for Joint Powers integrated water management agency for the Feather River watershed.

Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn visited the Board. There was not much real information, but Supervisor Whitley worked to get him on Board to say "damn those environmentalists for closing the Quincy Small Log Mill" but he allowed as since "nobody will buy a 2X4" the environmentalists weren’t the biggest problem, but that there were meetings planned.
The Forest Service road system came up again, though the extended public comment period is over. Readers should wade through the Board packet to find information there. Read about the proposed changes HERE






Board Appointments:
Scott Schlefstein was appointed to the Economic Development Committee. Scott is from Sierra Brooks and is known to readers of the Sierra County Prospect and the Sierra Booster.
Tracy Struder was appointed to the Sierra County Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board as a representative of the Sierra Plumas Joint Unified School District.
Travis Keahey, Samuel Cheney and John Martinetti were reappointed to the Sierra County Waterworks District #1.

Jim Curtis, County Council
Mr. Curtis gave the first reading of the ordinance voiding the ordinance allowing the rezone of SPI property. There was no public hearing since the Board was following order from the court in an undiscussed action (HSRA settlement, see HERE). It was waived and passed.
The Board approved a resolution allowing an alternate to the Fish and Game Commission. This was necessitated by the availability of two very qualified applicants for one commission seat. The Board grabbed one and got the option on the second.

Promotions in the Face of Layoffs
There was a briefly heated argument about promotions for County workers. On the pro side were Adams, Huebner and Goiceochea, and their argument was 1. It is illegal and unethical to work people out of class, and that is what is happening; and 2. Eventually, people get angry and leave.
Nunes was concerned about budget shortfalls and the necessity of promoting and then laying off workers; Whitley stated that the private sector is going into free fall so the County can’t be giving promotions. The Pros prevailed, three to two.
Editor’s note: Sierra County is lucky to have the people we have; for the most part they are worth more than they are paid. It really is illegal and unethical to make people do the work of one class but get paid at a lower class. Our County workers are worth investing in. If they have to be laid off, then they’ll be laid off, but when they work they should get paid.

Kentucky Mine Museum
Bill Copren representing the Sierra County Historical Society spoke to the Board about the Kentucky Mine Museum. The popular cultural event, Music at the Mine, is held at the Museum. Mr. Copren explained that, like a lot of endeavors these days, the KMM isn’t paying for itself. It would be great if the County would help. Mr. Copren chided that if the Board didn’t help and the Kentucky Mine buildings fell into decay, they would have to change the seal of the County of Sierra, which bears a likeness of the building. The Board promised to remain concerned about the KMM.


Want to help the SCHS?Sierra County Historical Society
Lynn McKechnie
Membership Chair
P O Box 294
Sierraville, CA 96126

Lynn McKechnie Membership Chair P O Box 294 Sierraville, CA 96126

The Beast That Would Not Die
The Board heard public response regarding the developer fee for Fire District One. Background HERE and also HERE and HERE.

At this point, the discussion was like a dysfunctional family meeting: everyone knew what everyone else was going to say, and nobody was very happy. The same old Bill Copren took the podium to say for the hundredth time that it was the same people at every meeting who spoke against the fee. He called the four hearings "hellish". No one disagreed.
Riz Martinetti told the Board that it was nice they’d reduced the fee, but it wasn’t enough. He made the point that the fee isn’t going to do any good, just discourage some builders.
Bill Bate stood to say that the Board had put the cart before the horse by having hearings before the Fire Commission held public hearings. He said Mr. Abbot hadn’t been heard from, indeed, none of the issues about the developer fee had ever really been addressed.
John Martinetti told the Board they needed something else, fundraisers, renting tankers, things like that.
Liz Fisher told the Board that the fee was a great idea- for subdivisions that actually make significant changes, but it made no sense for single houses or small projects under 10 houses.
DeVita told the Board the fee was bad policy. He encouraged the Board to be more involved with fire suppression in the county, reminding them that the District One Commission is a "dependent" commission. He said indicators from insurance companies were strong that in ten years there might not be anymore volunteer fire departments in California, the Board should take a leadership role now to increase funding for fire suppression and begin to slowly build a reserve. He asked them not to pass the current ordinance. At last, he stopped talking and sat down.
When the public was done speaking, the Board took two minutes to discuss the issue.

Pat Whitley spoke against the fee, saying they should start all over, the public needed more input. This caused several in the audience to wonder if she was actually going to run for her seat again after all.
The other Supervisors grumbled and Bill Nunes said something that sounded to this reporter like "to hell with that" and in a nonce the Supervisors had voted 4 to 1 (Whitley) to pass the ordinance, killing the beast once and for all. They think, but it will be back.

Money Matters: rock and hard place economics
After the noon break there was a discussion of the kind which discourages any thinking person from holding public office.

First was a discussion of how to spread Title III money. The Supervisors and department heads traded ideas for spreading the available cash as fairly as possible; it was like sharing five grapes among six people.

If you do: Damned; if you don’t: Damned
The Board and Public Works Director Tim Beals held a discussion about proposed road work.
The meat of the discussion is this: The preliminary engineering for the work has been done; if the work doesn’t go forward some of the money for that might have to be repaid. However, if the County goes ahead and completes the work, the necessary funds from the State might not be coming, and then the County would have a shortfall (be broke). The money belongs to the County, it comes from the Feds, but the State of California has become about as trustworthy as a meth freak, and the County would be nuts to rely on them. If they don’t do the roadwork, they’ll be damned. If they do the roadwork, they might be damned. It all depends on the State. The Supes, Auditor Van Maddox, Tim Beals and Jim Curtis struggled to divine the future: what was the likelihood the State would fail them? Do you feel lucky?

In other news, the Board voted to support mental health and the health of kids, and to disapprove, through the month of April, of child abuse and neglect. Cash for a grant writer increases a little tiny bit the money available for social services to kids and families.

Regardless the punishment afforded by this meeting, the stalwarts of the Board of Supervisors vowed to do it all again in two weeks.


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Lynn McKechnie Membership Chair P O Box 294 Sierraville, CA 96126



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