Hard times and politics

I’m not sure the candidates would agree there’s any connection, but it seems that more people have been running for local office up in my area since the real estate bubble burst back in 2007. Times are harder. People who probably would not have been willing to take the relatively small salaries offered by local government jobs may be more willing now to consider that option. I say “relatively small” when compared to the salaries that many retirees and vacationers here receive or received in the Bay Area. For locals, who have lived for decades in the bombed out shell of a former timber economy, the $45,000 a year that a county supervisor makes probably looks pretty good.

And of course there are exception to the paltry salary rule. Judges here make $181,000 a year.  And, though it may also be because of some recent turnover making the seats more open than they have been, it is true that we have seven candidates for the two seats. And it’s been 18 years since any judicial seat here in Calaveras was contested.

So I guess we should be hopeful that the harder times will inspire leaders to come forth, run for office, and help us confront our problems.

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San Andreas water supply OK for 2014

Drought watchers may recall a story last week about the water supply for various Calaveras County communities. At the time I called, Donna Leatherman, the manager for Calaveras Public Utility District, did not know exactly how much water was in the reservoir that serves San Andreas, Mokelumne Hill and a few other communities. She called me back, however, to say that Jeff Davis Reservoir had 1,765 acre feet of water in storage, or far more than the 900 to 1,100 acre feet a year required to serve district customers. And that was BEFORE the rain storms of the last five days … so San Andreas is fine for 2014.

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Westwind bounced checks

Westwind Development, the builder of the Gold Strike  Heights subdivision in San Andreas, holds a record, of sorts. The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will vote on giving up efforts to collect on more than 40 bad checks written to county government over the last six years. Most of those checks are less than $100. The reasons the county gives up, eventually, are either that it costs more in staff time to try to collect than the amount of money involved, or the person or entity that owes the money is dead or impossible to find.

Westwind is the champ on this particular list, with both the top two bounced checks by dollar value (No. 1 was for $8,040.03 and No. 2 was for $5,024.04) and the top total in bounced checks and penalties owed ($13,414.07).

San Andreas residents will recall that Westwind is the same firm that was sued unsuccessfully by people in the subdivision who wanted the company to build a clubhouse.

The checks were written in 2006 and 2007. A note from the Roads Department, which received the Westwind the checks, said that staff exhausted all “reasonable resources” in their efforts to collect from Westwind.

You can look at the documents here:


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CSERC files suit over mine in Tuolumne County

Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center Thursday announced it had filed suit against Tuolumne County’s government because the county had given the green light to having 27 acres of oak woodland buried under waste generated by Blue Mountain Minerals, a limestone products producer near Columbia.

In a nutshell, county analysts determined that the proposed new waste disposal plan for the mine did not have a significant impact on the environment in part because the company would have new oaks planted. CSERC says future plans to plant new oaks don’t make up for eliminating existing woodlands.

Such conflicts may grow. A similar legal battle is raging in Amador County, where the proposed Newman Ridge quarry is the subject of a lawsuit by ranchers who don’t want the noise and other environmental impacts.  Yet throughout the Lode, officials eager to approve anything that might bring jobs and tax revenue are reluctant to kill projects.  And extraction of minerals or gravel is one of the few things that seems to be drawing some outside investment here.

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Calaveras Planning Coalition meeting comment

Ward La Valley of San Andreas emailed me some comments on Monday’s meeting at which the Calaveras Planning Coalition explained its origins, goals and methods to a standing-room-only crowd at the Calaveras County Public Library main branch in San Andreas. Here’s a link to my story on the meeting: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140204/A_NEWS/402040317/-1/A_COMM02


Here’s what Ward wrote:

It is both gratifying and hopeful that this meeting attracted people who represent a wide range of viewpoints. 

It is also possible that the “Coalition types” and the “Tea Party Crowd” may have more in common than they think.

I believe both are essentially populist movements. I know from personal experience that the Coalition is an outgrowth of citizens’ frustration at seeing their County government fail to “accommodate the growth” (to quote Supervisor Callaway) during the housing bubble(s). This failure resulted in the huge deficit in our County’s infrastructure development. We found that this process was driven by special interests having too much influence, and so we organized to stop it. 

Is not the Tea Party to a large extent an outgrowth of citizens’ frustration over wasteful and excessive government spending? I would submit to my Tea Party friends that this process, too, is driven by special interests with too much influence, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t work together to stop that, too.

The only immediate antidote to excessive influence by special interests is positive citizen involvement at all levels of government.

There may be, perhaps, irreconcilable differences in economics and philosophy between us. But working together, I submit, we can assure that the processes of updating the General Plan, indeed all of County Government, are driven by the honest citizens who live, love, and pay taxes in Calaveras County. 

Ward La Valley
San Andreas

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Harrington won’t stop working

Former Calaveras County Administrative Officer Brent Harrington has not been very successful at retiring.

He first retired from a long career with Calaveras County in 2001 after having served as both CAO and, earlier, as planning director. That time he went directly from the Calaveras job to be the president and chief executive officer
of the Regional Council of Rural Counties, a lobbying group that represents the interests of 28 rural counties.

Then, he actually did retire, briefly, but has now, by my count, served one stint as interim CAO for Calaveras and two stints as interim planning director for Calaveras over the last eight years.

This time, when his stint as interim planning director ends in early March, Harrington swears he really has retired. But that won’t mean he stops taking a very public role in promoting the welfare of Calaveras County. Instead, Harrington said he will focus his attention on leading the board of the Calaveras Community Foundation, which raises money for various charitable causes.



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North slope

So the weird weather caught me off guard. It was so dry in the fall, I never took down my drip irrigation system. The hard freeze in early December cracked the controller cases, sending water all over my yard. Oh well.

Then, I didn’t water for almost two months. Wondering if my fruit trees would still be alive, I checked the soil early this week and found it was still moist. There were tufts of green grass. My kale and onions were still alive too. Credit the north slope of my back yard and the shade cast by my neighbor’s trees.

That same shade and slope make it hard to get productivity out of a winter garden. But they may also mean a very water-efficient place to grow the summer garden if the drought continues.

So I guess I’m grateful despite the cracked cases on my drip controllers.


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Hiking the high places in a drought

I try not to worry about the weather.

Like gravity, cranky people, taxes, death, it’s just something that happens, just part of the context in which we live.

But I couldn’t help feel a pang of anxiety when I saw this side-by-side photographic comparison of  the California/Nevada snowpack on Jan. 13 2013 and Jan. 13. 2014: http://www.nnvl.noaa.gov/MediaDetail2.php?MediaID=1483&MediaTypeID=1#.UuLAJlZ4Xj4.facebook

My wife and I backpack, and made extensive visits to locations along the Sierra crest in 2012, as well as one trip up there last summer. It was already unusually dry in the summer of 2012. There were places where creeks normally run that were dry by July that year. Last summer was also very dry, although the particular place I walked (Grouse Lake) still had plenty of water and springs were still running on the volcanic ridge above the lake in early July.

But the lack of snowpack has me wondering whether I will want to walk in the high places in July 2014, and whether eternal plumes of smoke will stain the skies and make breathing painful.



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Calaveras getting more animal friendly

This morning I received an email from Henning Schreiber, who runs Calaveras County Animal Services. He told me Animal Services made great strides in 2013 in increasing “good outcomes” for dogs and cats. “Good outcomes” are defined as cases where the pet either gets returned to an owner or is adopted by someone new, or transfer to rescue groups. In other words “good” means those particular animals were not euthanized. He said the Calaveras shelter in 2013 euthanized only 57 percent of cats and 19 percent of dogs, far less than the national average of 70 percent of cats and 50 percent of dogs.

Also, he said that in a recent week, the shelter appears to have set an all-time record for pet adoptions. I am posting what Schreiber wrote below, but I want to warn sensitive readers that they may want to stop here. Schreiber’s note is the first time the term “love muffin” has appeared in this blog:

After just finishing an exciting and successful 2013, volunteers and staff at Animal Services established another record last week! With the help of many loving people, we were able to find new homes for 6 cats and 17 dogs within seven days! According to our electronic records system, and supported by anecdotal evidence, last week was the best week for adoptions ever! Granted, having nine adorable puppies available certainly helped, but we also found new forever homes for several of our sweet adult dogs.

One of our older dogs who found her forever home this past week is Mia, an English Mastiff made of solid love. Sadly her owner passed away and she had been mourning his loss here at the shelter. She is a huge love muffin who was ready to bring warmth, love and devotion into a new home; she really just needed someone to come in, give her a chance, and want to fill the sad place in her heart. Luckily for Mia, a fantastic family came in and it was love at first sight! She seemed to be wagging all of her 140pounds when she got to leave the shelter with her new family. It warms our hearts to get to see such a ‘happy ending’ for such a sweet and loving dog.

The shelter is continuously getting sweet dogs and cats who need homes. Please think about how you can make a difference for the critters of Calaveras County; whether it’s becoming a loving forever home for one of our homeless pets, volunteering, opening your home as a foster parent, or making a donation (however large or small). Every little bit helps and our wonderful homeless animals depend on people like you. 


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When you’re strange

Maybe the Doors will provide the theme song to this year’s Calaveras County Fair.

Hemispheres Magazine has named the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee (May 15-18 in Angels Camp) as one of its top strangest things to do in 2014.    tinyurl.com/kmku6wa 

The magazine is the in-flight publication that United Airlines passengers are given to distract them from the fact they are 30,000 feet in the air.

So I’m looking forward to walking up the fairway as Jim Morrison’s haunting voice sings about alienation … It will be nicely ironic, giving a happy, roller-coaster vibe to the song. It will even turn the lyrics upside down.

The song, in part,  says:

When you’re strange faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange no one remembers your name

Well, as everyone knows, there’s not much rain happening here this year, and we’d all be smiling at everybody, strangers included, if it did, even during Frog Jump. And Frog Jump General Manager Laurie Giannini says being strange will, in fact, help people to remember the fair’s name.

“This is an unexpected promotional boost for our fair,” Giannini said. “We are listed along with events in ten countries and across the U.S.”



Posted in Calaveras County, Frog Jump | Leave a comment
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