Hal Zina Bennett — Author, Creative Writing Coach



[Hal lives in Lake County with his wife, Susan Sparrow, and is the author of more than 20 successful books, including Write From The Heart — Unleashing The Power of Your Creativity (2011), The Lens of Perception — A User’s Guide to Higher Consciousness (2012), and a book of four short novels titled Backland Graces (2012). Hal has taught creative writing workshops throughout the US, and is a personal writing coach who has helped over 200 writers develop successful books.

The Writers Read monthly poetry readings at the Art Center in downtown Ukiah, started by Susan, has been going now for over eighteen years. Susan also started the Poet Laureate program and helped start the Ukiah Haiku Festival for Mendocino County. I asked Hal what he is currently working on…]

I’m writing a mystery story, kind of a classic murder mystery which I haven’t done before. I’ve written fiction before, but this is the first time I’ve stuck to a formal structure. A lot of Shakespeare is in mystery form, and some of the great theater, like Sophocles, is classic mystery. I’d say that in the last four years I’ve tried to do things to recapture the excitement that writing had for me at the beginning. I really enjoy what I’m doing now, in retirement,  because I don’t really care if it gets finished or is ever published.

As a kid, I started writing on my own, but could never figure out how to connect it into my school. I flunked all my English classes, but meantime I’d be excited about writing all the time, and reading adult fiction. Then I spent most of my life making a living as a writer. It got to the point, of course, where it was just work. When it is something that you have mastered where part of the craft is writing for a broad audience, and working under a deadline for a publisher, it is no longer fully satisfying. It doesn’t have the zing in it that you felt in the beginning.

A musician who plays for an audience, or a journalist who has a column, gets feedback. And there’s some real energy in that. Whatever we do, we want to communicate… we want a connection to the other person. Story telling started with people talking to each other, telling each other stories around the campfire. They didn’t study language, but they did study the interaction… “when I’m hooting sounds, when I jump up into the air, everybody’s eyes get wide”… there’s something fulfilling about that communication with another human being.

When you write a book, you may never meet anybody who has read it. In all I probably have a million books in print, and I get maybe 10 letters a year from people who love my books and tell me that.

The average book in the United States by all kinds of publishers sells less than 500 copies in its lifetime. If you include self-published books, it’s under 100 copies. Only 1% of the books sold support the industry.

I grew up in Michigan, born in Detroit. My dad was an engineer of a bank building. When he was in his late fifties, he got fired by new owners of the building and he said that he was not going to go back to that life anymore. He loved wood work and that’s what he ended up doing… making Shaker type furniture that sold pretty well.

The first years of my life we lived in Birmingham, an upper class suburb of Detroit. Everyone in our neighborhood were executives. I never could relate to it. My friend’s dad was a Vice-President of General Motors and they lived a couple of doors down from us. They had servants who were pissed off and his mom was always drunk and un-present. It was a terrible environment. So he spent a lot of time at our house which was more laid back.

I was about 12 when my dad lost his job, and we moved to the country and became really poor, although we had nice real estate. It was difficult, but at the same time, I hunted and fished, and that was part of our food source. There was never any pressure, I just liked to do it. We gardened. That quality of life was a vast improvement to me than what we had in Birmingham. So with what’s happening in the country today, for me, that life is a piece of the puzzle for our future.

My first book was No More Public School (1972) when back-to-the-land was popular. I helped set up a few small cooperative schools in the Bay Area, and people were moving up north and home schooling their kids. It sold pretty well. When I moved here, I met former Supervisor David Colfax — who famously home schooled his kids that were accepted at Ivy League colleges — and he told me that book was really important to him.

The Well Body Book (1973) which I co-authored was my first best seller, ultimately selling about half a million copies.

When I was giving creative writing seminars, the first thing I did was say to the participants that I wanted them to sit, close their eyes if they wanted, and then write in the present… whatever that meant to them. People always have something on their minds, or are hearing something, or some part of their body hurts, or birds singing… whatever that is to them. What ever they feel, whatever they hear, whatever is going on in their mind, write about that. I would then ask them to write about their “essential wound”… that time in their life when they discovered that the world does not think or feel the way they do. Then people would share their writing. There was always a lot of interaction between them. There would be lifetime bonds formed.

I did one here in Lake County where we published a little book of the collective writings. One of the writers did some interviews with people and then produced a theater production in a nice little theater in Lower Lake. She packed the house of about 150 people for three performances each. Things like that would grow out of the workshops.

Writers are nothing if not good observers of life. Crafting the words is no doubt important but without our observer self we are only typists with an attitude. From the observer self we quiet our minds and let our senses take in what’s there, without projecting meaning.

For the first time we may notice patterns of light instead of the shadows of the apple tree’s branches. Or we may hear the rhythm of the old dog’s claws clicking slowly across the kitchen floor instead of that sound only being a signal to feed him. We notice how we are lifted by the scent of our friend’s perfume as she enters the room. When recorded in a poem or story, these observations transport our readers out of their everyday worlds into a world unlike their own, where they become open to new possibilities.

The observer self slows the constant motion of the mind, when instead of simply observing we label, interpret, or are moved to action, obliterating what our senses might otherwise take in. The busy mind fails to hear the quality of the sound made by the dog’s claws on the floor. In conversations with a friend our busy mind looks for ways to insert our own ideas, to say our piece, to argue — never hearing the quality of that person’s voice, the cadence, the musical traces of inflection.

We tend to see the world only through a lens that is familiar and safe to us. When our observer self comes alive, we see through a different lens. Our brains create new connections. We draw closer to our own souls and connect with a deeper part of others. The shortest path to the present, to the now, is beyond the busy mind and through the more open senses of the observer self.

I once wrote this advice to writers:

Writing and the Fine Art of Observation

1. Be Silent. Are you intimidated by silence? Instead of looking for ways to fill the void with music, talking or your own thoughts, become silence. Minimize your personal impact on the moment.

2. Be Curious. Do you feel a need to explain, interpret, tell or exclaim? Let all your thoughts begin and end with question marks. Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

3. Be Accepting. Do you judge, sort, and exclude? Be discerning — don’t stand in harm’s way — but for now suspend judgments. See neither good nor evil, wisdom nor naïveté, beauty nor ugliness, skillfulness nor awkwardness, innocence nor proficiency. Instead, let it be as it is.

4. Be Open. Are you attached to knowing? Learn to be comfortable with not knowing. Warm yourself in shadows instead of sunlight. Be awed by the beauty of the thorn, not just the rose. Bask in the mystery of your friend’s being rather than limiting yourself to whom you believe they are.

Michael Laybourn — Mr. Red Tail Ale



Michael Laybourn is an artist and businessman living in Hopland. He grew up in Hanford, Washington where his dad was involved in Atomic Energy. He graduated from Arizona State University with BFA in Painting & Sculpture, then attended graduate school at Claremont Colleges. He worked as a laborer at Little Goose Dam in Dayton, Washington, and eventually trained as a steel detailer there, and then moved to Berkeley. Michael takes it from there…

In 1969 I was working drawing up plans for BART. One day the President came through the drafting room, pointed me out, and said, “We won’t have any beards here.” That was a little bit before the long hair era. My immediate boss gave me a drafting kit and said you can do your job at home. That job didn’t last very long after that.

I had developed pretty good skills in construction and photography and I crashed a class with Sim Van der Ryn, an architect professor at UC Berkeley. He was friends with Stewart Brand. We created an offshoot of the class called Farallon Design that gave us a chance to go to Death Valley and help design the Last Whole Earth catalog.

We went there with the Ant Farm architect artists who were the ones that buried the Cadillacs in Texas (google Cadillac Ranch). When we arrived, Stewart Brand said: “See this place? It will be cleaner when we leave than it is now.” He was a real hero of mine at that point. We put together these incredibly cheap inflatable buildings for offices. Inflateables are large bubbles of plastic supported by air (google Inflatocookbook).

After that we met some students from Stanford who had a place up in Mendocino County for a free school. I told them that I could draw up the plans, and could design and build. So I ended up here in a Ukiah commune of 12 or so people to help build and start Mariposa School out on Low Gap Road. Billy Jamison and Dan (Buzzy) Hamburg were involved. I taught there for four years. Some of those involved went on to become Doctors and Lawyers and Judges. Dan Hamburg became a US Congressman and is now a County Supervisor.

I got into the construction business for awhile and for fun Norman Franks and I started the Redwood Valley Grange dances which lasted around 4 years and helped to fund the Ukiah Players Theater. We built a small home brewery as a hobby and our bootlegged “Thunder Beer” was a hit. We would occasionally have performers like Kate Wolf, David Raitt, Holly Near, Sarah Baker, Mark Hanson, the Ford family, and Tommy Tutone. Everybody had great fun. And I met a Choctaw woman, Nancy, who became my wife.

At the same time we built a small home brewery with a walk-in refrigerator. I designed labels for our Thunder Beer and we had a small home business for awhile.

In 1976, Jack McAuliffe opened the first US Micro Brewery, New Albion Brewing Company, in Sonoma. My beer making partner, Norman Franks and I immediately drove down and befriended Jack. But he couldn’t make a go of it competing with the large, established Breweries.

Then a new law was passed to allow small Pubs to make and sell their own beer. We (founders Norman Franks, John Scahill, and myself) built and then opened the Hopland Brewery and Brewpub on August 14, 1983. I remember climbing up in the Milone Hop Kiln, drawing the structure accurately, then rebuilding it across the street. I had to do some serious study of old time, traditional San Francisco Bars which became the basis of the Hopland design.

We hired Jack McAuliffe to brew for us, went down to Sonoma and cut up his closed Brewery, brought it up to Hopland, and welded it back together. It was the first California Brewpub since prohibition, second in the U.S., licensed to sell both our own beer and food at the same location. We also brought in nationally known Blues bands on the weekend. Nancy and I figured out the other day that for 22 years we went out every Saturday night. We’re too old for that now.

While we were still brewing at home, driving through Wyoming, we heard Kate Wolf on a juke box singing “the Redtail Hawk writes songs across the sky, in the rolling, golden hills of California.” I said to my buddies, “That’s it! Red Tail Ale!” I designed the labels and that became our signature brew.

We sold the Brewery, now named Mendocino Brewing Company, in 1999 and I retired from brewing. I still have stock in it and sit on the Board of Directors.

I joined the Rotary soon after we started the Brewpub. In 1985 they announced that they were going to rid the world of polio. There are only about 10 cases left now in the world… 2 of them are in Pakistan. They did that by raising money and with Doctor’s teaching people in other countries how to give shots, and they now have new inoculations that you can take orally. Bill Gates gave a lot of money to the effort. That’s one thing I’ve been pretty proud of.

For six years I’ve been bringing small business men and women speakers in to the Rotary weekly… because I’m pretty convinced that the Rotarians of this world need to talk to the rest of us and vice versa before much can happen progressively in our country.

I went solar on our house and am very happy about that. I built a rain catcher on the side of the garage for garden water. Then I got hooked into Community Choice Aggregation, which is about replacing PG&E with sustainable sources of energy like solar and wind. This started in Marin county by a guy named Paul Fenn. In 2002, California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 117, enabling Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). Not only did the Bill allow CCAs, but it mandated that customers be automatically enrolled in their local CCA, with an option to opt out. PG&E, of course, hates it.

I went down to Marin County and got to know some of the people in making that happen. They scared me because they were so smart. I got Dan Hamburg involved. I invited Shawn Marshall, one of the Marin Clean Energy founders and a former Mill Valley Mayor up to talk to Rotary and the Board of Supervisors. Sonoma County then also adopted the CCA plan. You have a choice between clean energy or pay more for dirty energy. What a choice. It is crashing the PG&E business model which is dependent on these huge projects without much payback that are funded by our taxes.

Sonoma Clean Energy provides residents with the option of using cleaner power at a competitive price from sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. On October 13, 2016, Sonoma Clean Power Joint Powers Authority (SCPA) authorized the expansion of Sonoma Clean Power’s services to the unincorporated areas of Mendocino County and the cities of Fort Bragg, Willits and Point Arena, with the start of service in June 2017.

I read a quote the other day from that Whole Earth guy, Kevin Kelly, on the back cover of the Utne Reader: “There is more God in a cell phone than there is in a tree frog.” That’s about as wrong as you can get. I’ve got a cell phone and I know there’s nothing God-like about that son of a bitch. The publisher, Eric Utne, was going on about how he did not like how technologists say they’re going to fix any problem there is, and that nuclear power is going to be okay. I agreed with Utne and think that some technology people are whacko. They believe in it like a religion. They’re nearly as bad as Christians. Colonize Mars? Who would want to go there? Why send a bunch of people up there who can’t get THIS one right? My own religion is the mountains.

Penny Marchand — Bookseller


[Penny is a fixture at the corner of Perkins and School streets in Ukiah where she has worked over 15 years for Mendocino Book Company. She is surrounded by books and has sold thousands of stories to many of us. And she has been living one of the best stories of them all. Here’s Penny…]


When you’re a mom with two great sons that are both successful, it’s strange to hear people refer to one of them as a rock star. I think both of my sons rock. So, if anyone had told me that my first born son, David, would actually become a rock star, I would have thought they were crazy.

At the time David was born, there really were no rock stars. There were rock bands, in the sense of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones… with their great lead singers… but Rock Star wasn’t a term that was used back then. Well, little did I know that my sweet, innocent, baby boy, who eventually took the stage name “Davey Havok” would actually one day be referred to as a rock star. It’s still hard for me to believe, and there are many times that I keep it to myself. It can be a lot to carry and a lot to take in.

Raising Havok is not what I anticipated. I assumed that David would be the average young man, smarter than most (that’s what all parents hope for) and that he would become a professor, or an attorney, and of course marry and raise a family. You know, the “normal” thing. Well, the “normal” thing turned upside down on both of us early in David’s life when his dad, my husband Ernie, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ernie went in and out of remission and died when David was five years old. While I was caring for Ernie, before his death, my parents were helping me care for David, and they had a huge impact on his life, especially my dad. We all called him Dick, and Dick was the first person to put song into David’s heart. Dick was either singing or whistling around the house constantly. He was a tenor, and sang in a Barber Shop Quartet in Rochester New York where we lived. David grew up listening to Cole Porter tunes, Broadway musicals and crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

My Dad planted the seed for David’s singing career, and I nurtured it along. I introduced him to many songs. One of his favorites was a song I learned at camp, called Mr. Moon: “Oh Mr. Moon, Moon… bright and silvery moon, won’t you please shine down on me?” I would hand David a wooden spoon that my mother used to stir the pasta sauce with and he would use it as a microphone and belt out that song. This started when he was about three. My parents, and my extended family always encouraged him, and the wooden spoon came out of the sauce and into David’s hands a lot. My uncles would often slip him a fifty cent piece or a dollar bill after a rendition of Mr Moon.

So, how David went from singing that sweet tune to writing and singing tunes like “Hey Miss Murder can I… Hey Miss Murder… can I… make beauty stay if I… take my life?”

I really don’t know. I can tell you what I do know though… He started in on rock and roll early. He was five years old when he asked for the AC/DC album Back in Black. At the time I was pretty naive about hard rock or punk rock and when I heard the record I was shocked. Why would my sweet child want to listen to this kind of music… the lyrics clearly suggested killing your mother. Of course they didn’t suggest that… but that’s what it sounded like to me. What happened to those days of Mr. Moon? I didn’t get it… and that was pretty much the beginning of not getting it for quite a long time.

After Ernie died, David and I moved to Sacramento where my sister lives and we started a new life together. It wasn’t too long before I remarried, and David had a new dad who adored him. A few years later on his eighth birthday, we gave him a baby brother, and no… he was not thrilled about getting a brother for his birthday. All he wanted at the time was a pet rabbit.

Well, life goes on… And it did. Our family ended up moving to Ukiah in 1986. David attended St Mary’s Of The Angels school when there were still nuns there, and when he reached the eighth grade, during a parent teacher conference, Sr. Elizabeth told me that David was doing very well academically, was kind and respectful, and got along well with his piers. There was just one problem. Sr. Elizabeth was concerned that David was a devil worshiper… a Satanist. During free dress days he wore T-shirts with punk bands on them. He also drew upside down crosses on his notebooks. How she knew who these bands were… or what the upside down crosses meant, was puzzling to me because I didn’t know. But hey… maybe nuns take a course in Satanism.

I did know, however, that it was not a good thing for your child to be considered a devil worshiper at a Catholic School.

As it turned out it was much ado about nothing. David was no devil worshiper, and he graduated at the top of his eighth grade class. He also sang Silent Night like an angel at the annual Christmas Programs. This was the first real indication to me that David was a dichotomy— appearing one way, and in reality being totally different than he appeared. I think the nuns would be surprised to know today that not only is David not a devil worshiper, he is an outspoken advocate of the vegan and straight edge life style— a lifestyle which is drug and alcohol free.

David went on to attend Ukiah High, where he pretty much stood out in the crowd of jocks and goat ropers and all the other various groups. His hairstyle and color varied from week to week. His style of dress was uniquely his own— a lot of it coming from second hand stores. With his love of singing, he signed up for the choir class directed by Rick Allen, and David learned a lot about singing.

In the meantime, he forged friendships with other guys who shared his love of hardcore punk rock and the alternative music scene. One day he and his friends, Mark and Victor, talked about starting a band even though not one of them owned or played an instrument. Mark suggested that his friend Adam join the band because Adam did own a set of drums and could actually play them. David would be the singer, of course, because he had experience singing in front of people. Remember the wooden spoon? So, for fun and for the heck of it a band was formed and they called themselves AFI, code for “asking for it” — later to become AFI, A Fire Inside. The boys wrote all of their own songs most of which were social commentaries like “Mini Trucks Suck.” They’d play their tunes after school at Low Gap Park, and for the High School Talent Shows.

As parents, we all thought it was great for the boys to have a band. We didn’t understand the style of music, but hey, they were all good guys, and they were being creative and soon all of them would be off to college and that would be the end of that. No harm done. When David graduated from Ukiah High, he showed up at graduation with purple hair to match his purple graduation gown. Today this may sound quite tame, but in those days David stood out like a sore thumb, and sometimes it was really hard on me. I should have followed David’s great example of not caring what other people thought or said, but as a parent, we usually want our kids to fit in with the crowd.

After graduation, all of the boys did go off to college. David went to UC Berkeley. I remember the day we drove him down and dropped him off at his dorm. I was so proud of him, but also sad, that his life was taking off without me. Now, Berkeley is pretty radical, but he didn’t quite fit the profile there either, with his skateboard instead of a bicycle, and his multicolored Mohawk. Oh well, surely he would give all that up, blend in, and become the professor I had hoped for. We would often drive down to see him on weekends and take him out to dinner, and let me tell you, the experience wasn’t always great.

One time, in particular, we picked him up and he was dressed in black, had a huge blue Mohawk, a lip ring, a dog collar around his neck, studs in his ears, black nail polish, and chains hanging from his belt — not at all looking like the Deans’ List Student he was. We walked into the restaurant, and all heads turned. I got a lump in my throat as everyone in there was staring at him. Next, the chef actually came out of the kitchen to see David. He stared at him and laughed. My heart ached. I could barely eat. David, on the other hand, went on enjoying his meal and didn’t give it a thought. I cried all the way back to Ukiah, worrying that he would never fit in and wondering what in the name of God he would become.

What his dad and I didn’t know was that while David was keeping up his classwork, he was also constantly writing music and lyrics to songs that would eventually be recorded and lead AFI to fame. The band had been getting together and practicing in the basement of the Delta Chi fraternity house and they were gaining popularity. It was clear at this point that performing was in David’s blood. He announced to us at the end of his sophomore year that he was not going back to Berkeley and that AFI was going on the road. Yep, dropping out of school to pursue his own dream. What the heck? I was crushed and beside myself. Once again, tears flowed. He was clearly screwing up his life.

So, the guys took off across the state in a van that we rented for them because they were too young. They had T-Shirts and baseball caps to sell, but it was rough being on the road. They lived on $5 a day and slept in the van in parking lots for the first two years but they didn’t care. They loved what they were doing. It wasn’t too many tours later that their popularity spread and their hard work began to pay off. They were starting to draw packed houses and selling their merchandise like crazy. At one point I got a call from David asking me to meet them North of Santa Rosa to pick up the money they had made because they were uncomfortable transporting it. When I did I was stunned to see paper bag after paper bag stuffed with cash. The guys were stoked, and we were happy for them too. But we still had our doubts. After all, how many bands go out there and make it? Very few. And who out there doesn’t want to be a rock star? I think I can speak for all of the parents at the time — we were shaking our heads and wringing our hands. I even had my mother lighting candles for AFI when she attended daily mass.


Well, the band continued on the road becoming more and more popular with record sales increasing. They received their first commercial success with their fifth album “The Art of Drowning.” That’s when they got the attention of several Record Labels and they signed a contract with DreamWorks. In 2003 they released “Sing the Sorrow” which earned them a Platinum Record and it landed David on the June cover of Rolling Stone. He was officially launched as “Davey Havok” and the band had rock star status.

When their next album “Decemberunderground” went platinum, wringing hands turned to applause. The boys had made it. They were no longer just the garage band out of Ukiah. They were now known Nationally and Internationally. They appeared on MTV, SNL, at Universal Studios, and brought in the New Year on Times Square. I attend many of their shows and at each performance David does this thing where he walks off the stage across the top of the crowd and the fans literally hold him, and raise him up, stopping my breath— and we dance, we all dance and dance — as we all join in “Raising Havok.”

Will Siegel — Leader of the Band


Will Siegel photo

[Will has been making and teaching music around Mendocino and Lake counties for many years.   He and his various band ensembles can play blues and rock one night out in Upper Lake; then bluegrass and folk music the next night in Potter Valley; and then jazz and swing the next weekend in Ukiah. You’ll see them in various combinations at bars, wineries, weddings, and memorials featuring Will on guitar…]

I was born in Southern California, my family based in East Los Angeles. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley where the living was more serene. My dad had a wholesale egg business. My parents allowed me to take private guitar lessons, but there was a constant start and stop as I was distracted a lot by baseball and beach time… but they always supported me starting again. Guitar was always a lot of fun, but it was always hard to stay with it in the traditional ways it was taught… I would get bored reading the notes of songs I didn’t want to play.

It wasn’t until I started sharing music with my peers that it seemed to get exciting. When surf guitar became popular I had a lot of buddies trying to play Pipeline and Wipeout, typical surf songs in that era. We had a little band in high school and we would cover Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds. I still find myself playing some of those songs at gigs. People gravitate to the music of their youth. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that the guitar seemed to welcome me back. Within a year after high school, I sold my electric guitar, traded my amp in for a nylon string guitar and traveled cross-country. It was the summer after Woodstock and young people were playing music everywhere. Campfire sing-a-longs especially were a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until I came up to Sonoma State College, taking classes in the open program Expressive Arts, and meeting other people doing music, that I wanted to learn more about finger-picking blues and ragtime guitar. I got myself a dobro and that became my gateway into the folk music realm.

A year after graduating from Sonoma State, I met Kate Wolf. I asked to sit in with her at a local restaurant and after a few sessions she asked me to join her ensemble, the Wildwood Flower. We played all kinds of gigs and concerts mostly around Sonoma County. I was a featured member of the band on her first album, Back Roads. Shortly after the recording was released I left the band and partnered up with a couple of friends and my companion and wonder woman, Ellie Colville. We bought a piece of property and moved to Lake County to begin a new life. I was living and playing, but I wasn’t making a living playing. We got by because it was pretty cheap to live in those days.

When we moved up to Mendocino/Lake County in 1976, we were fixing up and living in our cabin near Lake Pillsbury. By 1979, we rented a room in Ukiah a couple of days a week to practice and look for gigs. I realized that to make a living I had to do something else, so I walked into the old Band Box music store on Main Street with my little card offering guitar lessons and I was just about to put the pin through the card on the bulletin board when I overheard the two owners talking about their need for a guitar instructor. The store was run by Russ Johnson and Dolores Carrick. At the time they had private lessons going at the store as well as teaching band at a couple of schools in the area. When I heard them needing a guitar instructor, I took a breath, turned around and said “I teach guitar.” Russ was very opinionated, a very tall man… kind of intimidating. He said to me, “What makes you think YOU can teach guitar.” I said I had been playing a long time, and had just finished taking lessons with Tony Napoli, a guitar instructor in Santa Rosa. Tony had a good reputation and by dropping Tony’s name, I got the job. Russ and Dolores told me that they had gone “undercover” the year before to take lessons from him to learn how he taught guitar. So they figured that I had learned something and had something to teach. So they took me on but said that they were going to teach me about teaching before I started.

Russ coached me on how to prepare material, what to look for, and how to organize beginning lessons. He taught me about arranging music: voicing, how the harmony should support the melody… that the melody on guitar had to be played an octave above where it is written. I was in my late 20s and had already had lessons from at least a half dozen people… but no one had taught me about these aspects of making music. He created a whole path for me. That was nearly 40 years ago and teaching has been my livelihood. Playing guitar is what I do for fun. We like it when we get paid, but it is really hard to get enough gigs around here to make much money. Living in a small town, you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.

When we first moved here, Ellie and I got to hang out with Buffalo Bob and the Country Butter Band in Redwood Valley playing bluegrass and folk music. Bob and his wife Carmen were an institution. That’s where I first met my long time friend and music companion Les Boek. At the time Gus Garelick was their fiddler and they had a disagreement. Ellie was taking violin lessons with Gus and asked him to join our band, Late Night Radio. We played bluegrass, folk, and western swing music at all the little bars and benefits in and around Mendocino and Lake counties. We also traveled and competed in fiddle contests throughout the region. The band broke up around 1980 and I became more curious about playing jazz. I joined the Mendocino College Big Band and learned more about playing jazz chord progressions. I sat in that chair at least 4 years, maybe 5. I also played popular rock n’ roll with piano player Paul Kemp in the Lake County band Full Moon in the early 80’s. This was a period of transition from acoustic back to electric guitar styles.

In 1982 I met Barbara Curtis, a jazz pianist who had a jazz quartet at the time. I approached her to take a lesson in jazz and gradually became a part of her group that became a quintet. I learned a fantastic amount being in a working jazz group. I played with that group for 20 years. We recorded a record album entitled Long Overdue and I developed a strong musical bond and friendship with bass player and vocalist Steve Baird.

Then came rock n’ roll and some rhythm and blues with Willy and the Nighthawks. We played constantly through the 1990’s and recorded an album of original tunes. The Hopland Brewery was a favorite spot for us to play. Now we usually go by Will Siegel and Friends. We play an extremely wide range of styles, kind of a Tango-Motown fusion band. Our new CD “Panamerica” has ensemble arrangements of milongas, choros, boleros and waltz’s with some nice vocals from Steve. Tom Aiken plays piano and keyboards with us now and loves the variety of styles. Woodwind wizard Paul McCandless adds an incomparable depth to our project as does special guest pianist Elena Casanova.

I’ve always gravitated to being in a band and I haven’t always been the leader. Being the leader is sometimes by default because, for some reason, you want the gig more than anybody else in the group. The mutual enjoyment of the experience of playing with other musicians is the main motivation. Music is more than the sum of its parts. It’s not always easy to find musical partners. Generally speaking, musicians want to play with someone better than they are because they want to get better… they want to be inspired by what that person puts out. They want to be around it and absorb it. I’ve had many, many fortunate instances where people wanted to join a group I was playing with or asked me to be part of their ensemble… and sometimes they are very long-lasting relationships. We have had some wonderful musicians come and go in our community.

To teach for a living you have to have a steady stream of students coming from somewhere. An association with a music school or music store is to your advantage because people are calling there. The students that I have had for the longest period of time generally start very young and stay with you all the way through high school. I haven’t had many of those in the last decade or so because I’m out of that loop. It’s the youth that grow musically fast and furious. Sometimes you’ll have them on track and they’ll get distracted by soccer or little league. If they have a good foundation they will not lose what they’ve learned. They can always come back to their instrument.

I enjoy teaching my guitar class at Mendocino College. It is a real challenge to get 20 students at different skill levels to stay engaged. It’s a lot of work for the beginner so I try to make it fun. When I teach, students learn chords and note reading. The mechanics of playing involves developing a knowledge of musical patterns. Everybody learns differently. I’ve taught a lot of people and each one has a different reaction time. For some, it’s just a few seconds to get information off the page through their visual senses and have that filter all the way down their arms to their left hand and then have their right hand fire. Some people are gifted and go right at it. There’s a lag time for most people, especially adults. Kids are more tactile and grow faster. We adults have all these filters in place… and we want to be good right away. We don’t want to make mistakes.

With music becoming less important in our school system, and the resulting lack of feeder music programs to the college, there seems to be less interest in music at Mendocino College. Hopefully there will be a renewed interest at the lower levels where they are beginning to hire music teachers again. The private sector has to pick up the slack when this happens. It’s a bit of a struggle.

Then there is the fewer gigs to musician ratio…. less gigs and more musicians wanting that gig. As you get older, the people hiring are getting younger, and they want to hire in their age group, younger people who play newer music. We used to do a lot of weddings… now we do more memorials.

Sharing music with a large group of people gives me the most joy in life. We try to practice as a band once a week, but getting a group of people to show up at the same time and place is always a challenge. It’s the set up of equipment and the shlepping that kills you.

I am so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to make music around here. We are lucky to be here.

Herb Ruhs — Pediatrician


Herb Ruhs photo

[Herb and his wife Vicky, practicing Pediatricians, have lived in Boonville for about 4 years…]

My parents were both active duty World War II. My mom was a Marine when she conceived me. My dad was a Navy Corpsman. When I was little, my really nasty paternal grandmother told me that my mom had me in order to get out of the military. When my parents divorced, I went to live with my mother and her family in Chicago, which didn’t go well. My grandfather, Eddie Carr, had run a speakeasy and was a straight up mobster. I was told that “your grandpa, Eddie, is sleeping at the bottom of the Calumet canal with his friends.” That turned out not to be true… he had escaped to Pennsylvania and had lived and died under an assumed name.

When I was a second grader I was sent to a home for disturbed boys run by the Catholic church. I was a lot younger than the mostly high school age incorrigible boys and was the official “chase, catch and torture” boy. It was horrendous. I learned to hold my breath because one of their favorite things was to stick my head in the toilet. So I learned to hold my breath for 3 minutes and to go limp. That’s how I survived. I got really good at evasion, which came in handy later when I lived in Vietnam.

My dad, who lived in Louisville, was never really together. He came from a horrible family and came by his emotional imbalances honestly. I was able to get out after a year and refused to go back, so he found a foster home for me which began a series of informal foster homes I lived in. Being a foster kid, I was a target of all the bad kids and right through high school I was known as a trouble-maker although I got very good grades, was a merit scholar, and received a full scholarship to Goddard College where I studied Drama.

In 1966 while I was about to start my senior year, they started drafting college kids. I was looking at the bus schedule to head for Canada and somebody asked me if I was interested in getting a deferment by going to Vietnam to work as a community developer for International Voluntary Services. I lived in a refugee village in South Vietnam with a 2,000 population. They were a village in North Vietnamese Catholics that had moved together to South Vietnam. I learned the language and was there for five years.

Then I was briefly with ABC News before being hired as a Field Director by The Committee of Responsibility bringing war-wounded kids back to the United States and Canada then returning them to Vietnam when they were rehabilitated. I left Vietnam in the late 70s.

When I got back to the states, I decided to become a Medical Doctor and took my pre-med studies at UC Berkeley. I had to wait for a year to get into a medical school so I attended the Seminary there, Starr King School (Unitarian Universalist) for the Ministry at Graduate Theological Union.

After completing medical school in Pediatrics, I did my Internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco. There I met wife Vicky and we moved to Davis where they had a shared job program at the Medical Center so we could complete our residency programs.

Meanwhile, I had acquired a huge debt with the National Health Service Corps for my medical school expenses. The program required me to pay them back, year for year, by working in designated low-pay, hard to fill service jobs for 4 years. I only ever wanted to practice service anyway. It’s a spiritual thing for me. So I was working in juvenile halls and Vicky was working in county health clinics in San Bernardino, both making next to nothing.

In 1983, Reagan was really cutting into things and they cut back on our service positions from 3500 to 1500… so 2000 of us were left high and dry. I was invited to this lawyer’s office in L.A. who asked us to come up with $50,000. It was a shakedown. We had actually done our service time, but they refused to honor that agreement. We told them that we weren’t that kind of doctor… that we didn’t have money. So I now have the worst credit than anyone else you could meet…$40,000 from 1974 with added compound interest. They have pursued us ever since.

Since then I have worked for Kaiser, then did private practice, then the Feds said that if I would go to work in a health clinic in South Carolina for 2 years they would call it even. It was a scam. The doctor in charge made us sign over all our billings to him. It was a horrible, horrible place. When I tried to raise issues, he reached in his drawer and brought out this huge chrome plated revolver and shoved it into my chest.

We left there and went back to San Bernardino, then on to Northern Maine, and then to Missoula, Montana, practicing Pediatrics. Four years ago we moved here in Boonville and Vicky is working in Ft. Bragg.

Jim Houle — Chemical Engineer, Developer


Houle Photo

[Jim and friends were the local stalwarts of Iraq War protests, demonstrating every Friday from 5-6 pm in front of the courthouse on State Street in Ukiah. He was there the longest, from Fall of 2002 until 2012. In the last year it was often only Jim waving his sign acknowledging the honks and bearing the abuse from cars passing by. He always felt the war had only been justified by America’s wish to dominate the Middle East and control its oil exports. There were no WMDs and there was no threat to our homeland. But after the destruction of water supplies sewage treatment plants, and the embargo on chlorine essential for clean water, the death toll had reached one million from cholera, spent uranium shells, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. 

He has always involved himself in city and county affairs and you can often read his educated and well-thought-out opinions in letters to the editor in the AVA and Ukiah Daily Journal. He and his beloved Joan travel frequently to the Middle East and Asia, and recently visited Cuba. He chose Ukiah as a retirement home because of the beauty of its hills, the availability of land, and the opportunity to escape suburbia. He found the incredible variety and talents of people he has met, from professional musicians to Buddhist scholars, to be an added surprise.] 

I was born in White Plains, a city of 40 to 50,000, 23 miles north of New York City, a suburban town. My father was blue collar, a railroad conductor, and my mother was an insurance broker. I majored in math and music at White Plains High School. I wanted to be a concert pianist, but never had the requisite talent, even after some nine years of lessons. Instead I went to Purdue University on a scholarship and studied Chemical Engineering. I didn’t particularly like engineering and consequently took all the liberal arts and social sciences I could find. I was accepted at the University of Michigan graduate school of Political Science, but neither I nor my family, who had been impoverished putting three sons through college, had the money to pay for even more education and I couldn’t get a loan.

I drifted around, driving a taxi and trying to find my way. I had a number of Arab students in college as friends and had taken on the cause of the Palestinians. I became a member of the American Friends of the Middle East in New York. I ran into an executive from Mobil Oil one night who asked what I was going to do with myself now that I was a Chemical Engineer. He suggested I take a job in Saudi Arabia with the oil company and after two years take my savings and go back to grad school. He arranged a job with the Arabian-American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia where I spent 6 years learning more than I wanted to know about the oil business, touring every country in the Middle East and learning basic Arabic.

I came back to New York in the Fall of 1962 wondering what I was going to do next. I was already married and having children, so I worked a number of engineering jobs. In 1970 I moved to California and got a job with Bechtel Corporation and spent 16 years there doing all sorts of economic and planning projects in petrochemicals, oil and gas, and infrastructure development, all of it at foreign locations. I became Manager of International Planning for Bechtel and managed projects in Algeria, Senegal, Morocco, Indonesia and Sudan. These were generally feasibility studies intended to prepare sufficient economic and technical designs to obtain international finance for construction. We would go into a country and figure out what they wanted to do, prepare a market forecast, decide what size of fertilizer plant, oil refinery or water supply system they needed to meet demands, decide where to put it, estimate what they would have to pay for the raw materials, whether they had the trained people to operate the facility. You just keep putting the pieces together, but the economics were always the core. I found myself doing more economic planning and dealing with local political officials than engineering design. We would produce a big, fat book demonstrating the project’s feasibility and submit this to the government, the World Bank and other financial agencies to raise the funds for construction.

Bechtel was good to me by leaving me alone. I worked for a couple of Vice Presidents who weren’t your typical corporate hacks: as long as I didn’t screw up too badly on my projects they would protect me from most corporate tyranny. I was in good shape until they retired, and some of the more common executive hacks started demanding that I justify my work in third world countries. I had brought in many projects to Bechtel and didn’t feel I had to justify myself to people who had never been east of Long Island, so I just up and quit and started an engineering consulting company in San Francisco with a Chinese-American friend from Stanford. We did over 20 projects in China alone.

With offices in San Francisco and later in Oakland, our consulting firm kept us busy from 1987 through 2003. The US State Department, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and various foreign governments were our clients. In China, many of us could deal in Chinese languages which made us particularly useful. We prepared programs for environmental cleanup of chemical works, planned for the expansion of their petrochemicals sector, and designed their first export processing zone in Tianjin. By 2003 the Chinese were quite capable of doing a lot of the planning themselves and we decided to close up shop. I moved full time to Mendocino County, where I had been weekending since 1993 with 20 acres of land on Black Bart Trail in Redwood Valley and lots of privacy. We have toured many countries since that time including Uzbekistan and Kygyristan in Central Asia, Iran, Burma, Cambodia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Botswana.

During our recent visit to Cuba this May, we were shocked at the dire poverty. In the large town of Santa Clara, their buses are horse-drawn wagons with 8 places to sit. While at least they have motorized transport in Havana, their buildings are rapidly deteriorating without maintenance and the lack of local building materials. I blame the Castro brothers Raul and Fidel as much as I blame the US for this poverty. They have just beggared the country cutting everyone’s salary so that the average person lives on 40 pesos a month — less than $35. While they get a free house or apartment, these are very shabby because nothing has been built in 50 years. They get a basic food allowance that is not enough for a family. Transportation, education, health care are all free. They have almost nothing with a large portion of the 40 pesos going for food. The US cut them off from trade with Europe except for Russia. The bulk of the county’s income had come from sugar cane which the US bought at a price higher than world markets. When they lost that, they lost most of their revenue and could not even afford to buy oil. They also lost their income from the casinos. Cuba had never fully developed their agriculture and relied to a large extent upon foreign imports. The Castros have done little to improve agriculture, insisting that farmers sell all their produce to the State and get all their seed and fertilizers from the government as well. The Russians started buying their sugar and giving them discounted oil in return which worked until glasnost and perestroika in 1991, when Cuba lost even that. They had absolutely nothing.

I had worked in Russia and saw how poverty stricken they were after the collapse of the USSR. From 1993 to 1996 I made four trips over there for the World Bank. I had also worked three years in Marxist Algeria, and in China from 1985 on and saw how impoverished they were. While I had no bias against Marxist ideology, it suddenly dawned upon me after the Cuban experience that this system was really fucked. Their roads are in disrepair, the power system always near collapse, and infrastructure in general very weak. When the USSR was abandoned in 1991, Russia could no longer subsidize Cuba and buy their sugar. Venezuela has helped since that time but if anything economic conditions have gotten worse since the year 2000.

In local affairs, from what I can see at this moment, and I might be wrong, I don’t think the Costco project is going to fly. The City of Ukiah needs to come up with $6.2 million to build the road infrastructure. They haven’t got the money and their high level of indebtedness, which City Hall is not willing to publicly acknowledge, make it almost impossible to borrow the money for Costco’s new driveway. They have $9 million to pay off on thirty year bonds for the old RDA — redevelopment program. That program was shut down in 2011 by Governor Brown. They can start paying back the principle in 2021 on these bonds , and in the meantime are paying an exorbitant 6.5% interest to the foreign bankers they stupidly contracted with back in 2011. Their pay back plan was based upon unrealistic expectations of economic growth that would increase tax revenues well above 2% per year: anything over that 2% growth rate could be used to pay back the bonds. The problem is, the City of Ukiah hasn’t grown economically. Population hasn’t grown, per capita income hasn’t grown. There is no new industry. They don’t have any money to pay back new loans. If you ask them where the cash flow is for this program they say they are going to make lots of money from the Costco sales tax. Walmart says they will suffer a 20% loss in sales when Costco opens. Well, what about Walmart coming back to build out their superstore, as our planning director predicts? As soon as you get the highway interchange fixed up, Walmart will be back demanding they be allowed to expand their Big Box. If this happens, the traffic plan will not be big enough for both stores.

Where are the new customers for Costco going to come from? They’re going to come from all the smaller and local stores that currently exist around here that sell food, clothing, gasoline, etc. So how much are the sales revenue and taxes going to be? The City Planners will never stick their neck out and say and they get away with that, on, and on, and on. I’ve stood up there at City Council meetings countless times but they pay no attention to me any more. I’ve had three members of this local government tell me privately that City Hall staffers purposely keep the City Council in the dark. If you puff up the City Council egos, you put them on a high dais and treat them with a certain amount of respect, they eventually become enamored with their position and don’t cause trouble.

I was on the Grand Jury three years ago and finally resigned towards the end because the report our subcommittee had drafted was going to be edited by the Foreman and her deputy who would chop out anything that might cause trouble. We were not allowed to even comment on their edits. I couldn’t do anything, so I resigned. My friends who stayed with it to the end said they whittled down all the sharp edges of every report, so they were bland and toothless. They have a recycle system for grand jury members. Two years on, take a year off, come back again, around and around. The Grand Jury is a wonderful institution, but is totally neutered. I wrote a letter of resignation to Judge Henderson and told him a few of my reasons and that I would like to sit down with him and explain. He never bothered to answer my letter. He had told me when I interviewed for the Grand Jury that I was most qualified and would be a welcome addition. Merely words.

The other day Editor K.C. Meadows wrote an editorial in the Ukiah Daily Journal wringing her hands over the City Council not being able to decide about hiring the new City Manager because they need it to be a unanimous choice: they don’t want the new manager to feel he or she doesn’t have 100% support. It’s time to get a fresh breeze into City Hall. I suspect they want to promote Sage Sangiacomo, the Assistant City Manager, but he’s part of the problem. He’s a master at withholding information from the elected officials and confusing them. We need somebody from outside because they may at least get something done during the year before he or she succumbs to the staff bureaucracy.

For the first four years of Obama’s presidency I wrote a monthly blog called Obama Watch. I knew a year before he got elected that he was an Uncle Tom as Ralph Nader had warned us. He had already started putting old Bushies back into treasury positions, and reassuring Wall Street that he wasn’t going to do anything to mess up their game. I had a little bit of hope at first, but I knew he was going to take a lot of watching. Today we can see that he’s not even running the place. A mixture of the CIA, JSOP — a part of the Defense Department, and the State Department have kept him informed of only what they feel he needs to know. He is not well informed and doesn’t want to be. He makes nicely crafted speeches, sheds his crocodile tears for the people he just blasted to eternity with his drones. There isn’t an ounce of feeling left in the man. He is also aware of how little he can do and probably remembers what happened to our last president who seriously tried to buck the system a bit.

In economics, I’m an avid reader of David Harvey, Professor at City College in New York. A very fine economist whose explanation of Capital and how it works is amazing. I can understand at least some of what he describes: We have a surplus of capital. Our big corporations have more money than they know what to do with. Every time this happens, it’s a troublemaker. They are running around trying to find investments that will give them a good return. They inflate the stock market but don’t want to invest in infrastructure — not profitable enough and too much red tape. They don’t want to invest in light manufacturing that would compete with the Mexicans and Chinese suppliers they are already invested in. So they look around and discover that the best return is war. They invest in Lockheed Martin, Boeing and all the others. Where is the market? Why its the Defense Department — that’s who gets us into one war after another because we need to feed the corporate war materiel machine. When we run out of tax revenues for this, we just print a bit more and fall further and further into debt. Wars support the destruction of capital since the weapons and munitions have no use once the war is over. You can’t have war inventory sitting around. You have to blow it up or mothball it in the desert. You take your capital and blow it up. We are approaching the point where something has to happen. My estimate is that the US dollar will collapse because we are making money out of nothing.

We each require a myth of meaning. People say they don’t have one, but I find that to be a dodge. Even an atheist has a myth of meaning — it’s that there is no meaning. I am particularly enamored by the Buddhist notion which has no supreme being, no Buddha in heaven. My own notion is what I call “The Great Mind”: That there is, as Carl Jung said, a mind that we all tap into that gives us information and points of view and to the degree we can tap into that, we are much smarter than we would appear to be. Carl Jung took that a little further than Emerson. I do believe there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. An eschatology as they call it. I find that notion particularly fascinating. In the past I sat on cushions at the SF Zen Center for twenty years and always enjoy reading Buddhist texts. I’ve been reading The Sixth Patriarch by Hsuan Hua, who started the Ten Thousand Buddhas school here in Talmage. His translation of the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch is wonderful once you get in the mood for it and realize the author has a great sense of humor. Sometimes I just howl.

Lee Howard — General Contractor

Lee Howard photo

[Lee grew up here in the Ukiah Valley, attending grade school and high school, graduating in 1964 — then he went off to Napa Junior College for awhile. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Alma, and they celebrated their 50 years together this past November. Lee is a general engineering contractor who does public jobs and private jobs, and also farms hay crops and a few cows.]

I always had cows when my kids were at home because it would teach them responsibility. Now that they are gone they only teach ME a lot of work. I also dig wells and monitor them for Hazmat things — hazardous materials and identifying hazardous materials in the ground. I do site work. I remove old gas tanks, and ship away contaminated soils. I have done roads and streets when I had a lot of people working for me. I did a lot of work for Masonite when they were here. I did two bridges out in Potter Valley and several others. I also do underground pipe lines. I’ve done water tanks and water lines for Water Districts. I used to do a lot of public works jobs for the City of Ukiah — streets, roads, under-grounding. At one time, in the 70s and 80s, I had 30 people on my payroll. Now, I just keep a two- or three-man crew.

Recently I had people who like to grow weed come onto my place here because there’s a creek down there. They grew 60 plants. I told my guys to just let it grow. The plants were 7 to 8 feet tall and they were getting ready to harvest and I went down there with the dozer and leveled it. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to grow, but don’t bring it on my property and get me in trouble for it. They were mad as hell. They grow elsewhere around here and we put up with it — as long as they don’t do it on my property we leave them alone.

I’ve sat on Boards of Directors since 1977. I sit on the Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District Board. I also sit on the Redevelopment Oversight Board for the City of Ukiah that I was appointed to by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors. Over the years I’ve sat on Fire District Boards, Water Districts, and on other boards. I also participate in the North Coast Builders Exchange, which is a private entity, and I’ve been on that Board.

So I went over to Public Works the other day and asked for a record. They wouldn’t give it to me. It was a simple contract that had been awarded. I wanted to see the contract because one of the contractors called me and said there were some shenanigans going on. They told me it had to go through the County Counsel. I said, “Excuse me, this is a public record.” I got into my car and drove over to see Mr. Losak, our County Counsel. I told him what was going on. He said he had to view every one of these public record requests as they come in. I asked what for? He said there may be litigation issues there. I asked how many records was he going through? He took me over to this tote in a dolly and it was filled with papers to see if they were appropriate to let them go to the public. Every department was shipping their requests to his office for review. One of the office assistants spends more than one day a week approving them and stamping them for release.

If you get into your car and you’re in Covelo, Point Arena, Gualala, Westport, Shelter Cove, and you drive into town here and you want to see something in the public record and you go to the office and ask for it, they ask you to fill out a form and you get to drive back home. And the next week they call you and tell you that you can come in and see it. That’s unacceptable to me. When you want to see something important, but have to wait a week, the fire’s gone out of you.

So I went back to Mr. Losak and told him what my problem was. I pulled out my “Bible,” The CalAware Guide to Open Meetings in California” and said, “Mr. Losak, it says right here that you have to make it available immediately. He checked the book and asked where I had gotten it. He said that they were still going to do it the way they were doing it. I said, Ok, fine, and went to two Supervisors offices before I left and said, “This is bullshit.” I got in my car and was headed back home and the phone rang and they said I could come by Public Works and see the file.

I’m a firm believer in the Brown Act and in the Public Records Act. It does not make you popular when you challenge them on that. A lot of people today don’t like having any controversy. We’re all supposed to get along. All it takes is for one person to ask the question. Why should I have to wait for a public record I’ve requested? It’s the people’s business. Why can’t I walk into a public entity and ask for a record and get to see it? Why should it go through a county attorney to tell me whether I can see it or not see it? That’s what they were doing. The Board has now seen that maybe that isn’t right. So we are going to have a discussion coming up shortly about a new policy.

This is where I come from. It’s my love for the community that keep’s me going on this. I’ve been told, at a public meeting, that I’m not welcome. I will see something on an agenda, I will show up at the meeting, and they won’t talk about the item I came to hear about.

Yesterday I went and visited Carmel [Carmel Angelo, CEO of Mendocino County]. Was I there for her to tell me? No. She works for us. And I went in to tell her about some of the things I think are wrong with our county government. They say they want to be transparent. They’re not transparent when they won’t give you records. They’re not transparent when they blow you off at the counter and tell you that you don’t need to know that. If I come in and ask for it I want to see it. It makes no difference why I want to see it.

Anyway, I think Ms. Angelo is doing a very good job.

A few years ago the County had a fleet of about 400 cars. Our building trades people said that they see these cars everywhere, but there is no insignia on them to identify them as county cars. So we asked the county to put County seals on every public car that they had with the exception of Sheriffs and deputy District Attorney investigating cars. Then we asked them to develop a list of people who were taking cars home and why. We got it through the Board of Supervisors and put a policy in place. The departments, of course, hated it. We got insignias on all the vehicles. Then the list came out and there were 70 people taking cars home from the county at night and we citizens were paying for their gas — Public Works, Assistant Public Works, Assistant to the Assistant of Public Works, the Bridge guy. Why? On this last round there were only 14 people who are now authorized to take a car home at night. We’re down from 400 to a hundred and something cars in the fleet now. There was even a Supervisor who liked to get a car out of the garage and drive it to Fort Bragg. With our network we were able to track where she was going and what she was doing. She was getting paid for a private car plus she was driving a county car. We requested that she pay back the mileage and the District Attorney forced her to do it. It was a couple of citizens who made this huge change happen. We put an end to it.

All the City of Ukiah cars are also now labeled. The only one we haven’t had any success with at all is the damn Ukiah Unified School District. They’ve got a fleet that’s growing every day. You go to the School Board meetings and you can’t even speak under public expression without filling out a card. Wait, the law doesn’t say you have to fill out a card in order to express your opinion. I’ll get to that one eventually.

On the Flood Control Board that I’m on I got into trouble recently for shaking my finger at somebody — it was in the news. Mr. Shoemaker, the Flood Control Board President didn’t like me calling them on something, so they decided to censure me on it. Richard Shoemaker runs a very heavy-handed board and he does what he wants to do, but I have a different opinion. There is often a 3 to 2 vote on issues, and I’m one of the who dissents. Richard doesn’t like that; he wants everybody to vote with him. He says that he is facilitating the meeting, and I say, No, you are manipulating the meeting. He gets all pissed off, but that’s okay. I don’t believe my free speech should be impaired because I sit on a Board.

So on a 3 to 2 vote last night they hired a consultant for $3,000 to come in and tell us how we should be getting along with one another. Richard Shoemaker looked at me and said, “You will participate, won’t you?” I said, “I voted no, didn’t I? Don’t you understand no?” Why do we need to spend $3,000 of our ratepayers money to tell us how to get along? Either we get along, or the voters kick us off the board. I don’t care. I despise facilitators who come in and try to manipulate everybody into being warm and fuzzy. Hey, wait just a minute. I’m here to do a job. We have 8,000 acre feet of water. I’m here to protect it for the citizens of the district. That’s what our job is. Period. You mean we have to pay somebody $3,000 and when we’re done with it he won’t even have talked about that 8,000 acre feet of water and how to protect it? He’ll talk about all this peripheral bullshit. Richard Shoemaker wants a unanimous vote on everything his way. Why? He has three votes. He won. Isn’t that good enough for him? I think dissent is a good thing in lots of cases.

You know we are dumping good water out of Lake Mendocino and letting it run to the ocean. We have been dumping over a thousand acre feet of water in the last couple of weeks for no reason at all. It’s an old policy called D-1610 which is a water right from the State Water Resources Control Board that issued a permit to Sonoma County that operates Lake Mendocino. It says they will release certain amounts of water in Lake Mendocino. They were releasing only 50 cubic feet per second up until March of this year. The National Marine Services, Fish & Game, Fish & Wildlife all said that amount of flow was not hurting the fish at all. But the rules from the 1970s say that you have to have 150 cubic feet per second in Healdsburg. They’re just dumping water for what? We may need that water here. Why dump it just to be dumping it? I’ve been asking about this for weeks.

The Governor’s proclamation recently was that we are in dire need of water and we need to save. Let’s see: the Governor says to save and do whatever it takes to do it and they’re still dumping. So we’re going to be sending a letter from the flood control district to various people saying we need to shut it down. Who’s to say that this drought continues and we have another dry year? Waste not, want not.

There are many other problems that people don’t recognize. Redwood Valley decided not to be in the Russian River Flood District and did not want to help pay for the dam because they said they would never need the water in the future. Rather than own 14,000 feet of water in Lake Mendocino, Russian River District only has 8,000 feet. But now, Redwood Valley and Mr. Shoemaker, and Mr. Zellman, and Mr. White think we should bring Redwood Valley into the Russian River Flood Control District and share the water with them. Redwood Valley has been in a water-hookup moratorium since 1987 because they don’t have adequate water. But, wait a minute. Redwood Valley is already using some of the 8,000 feet. The ag customers and the domestic customers in the flood control district paid for building the dam paying $633,000 for it and retired the bond. They’re entitled to their water. What’s fair here? Two of us said no, but the other three said yes and it’s going to the next step [LAFCO].

Redwood Valley does not have a building moratorium. You can build a house there, but you can’t get a water hookup. So you drill a well. In a half-mile radius, you have 15 wells pulling from the same area, so you go from 3-gallons a minute to a half-gallon a minute and you figure you have to deepen your well. How long can we continue to do that and keep up our quality of life? How many houses can have wells out there before it starts affecting the guy next door? The County does not want to address that. I bring it up now and then, but it’s not a popular topic. This is stupidity. We are designing Redwood Valley for disaster, and now it is here in the form of a drought. 180 truck loads a month, 4000 gallons each, are being trucked in to residents right now to fill tanks. How long can we sustain that? Where is that water coming from?

I think the biggest problem is that no one wants to take the time to come to meetings anymore. They would rather stay home and watch “reality” shows. It’s sad. A lot of people don’t care for me. I know that I’m not a real popular guy because I’m blunt and outspoken. I told the Board that I was going to the State and talk to the water people. I’m going to represent myself, not representing this Board. They don’t want me talking to governmental entities. I try to do my homework. The hell with them.

With our water problems, Supervisor Pinches suggested building a pipeline from Scout Lake up near Willits to Redwood Valley. The scouts were okay with it and the estimate was about a million dollars. The Redwood Valley Water Board said it was too expensive so they let it go. Why? They thought there was alluvial water under Redwood Valley and they got the state to pay big dollars for a well they said would pump 500 gallons a minute. They drilled down, around 600 feet deep. Maybe you might get 100 gallons a minute but it’s not good water. Big wells in Redwood Valley don’t work because the geologic formations out there are not water bearing. So now they’re thinking of drilling in another area and now we’re getting over a million dollars, aren’t we?

Redwood Valley is indebted to the Bureau of Reclamation for their water system to the tune of almost $7 million. There has been a surcharge on their water bills to pay the debt off that has built up to $3 million, and even though they owe it, they started spending the money looking for new water. They paid a guy $30,000 to go back to Washington DC and lobby to get that debt forgiven. He stayed a week at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They think that’s okay? I have problems with that. It’s our money and that goes on all the time.

Who’s willing to go out of their way to come to the various Board meetings we have around this County? I don’t sit on the Fire Board in my district, but I am the only public citizen who comes to their meetings. They went through their agenda and didn’t ask for public comment on any of it. The public has a right to have input on each agenda item. How do we know what is going on? They said that they had set up an ad hoc group. The Brown Act says you can set up ad hocs and be in closed session, but it has to be of short duration or it has to be a standing committee that is open to the public. This ad hoc had been going on for two years and was continuing. And they were going to have a closed meeting with only invitees allowed. Unfortunately, the only way to get this stuff dealt with now is to get your own attorney.

There are 51 special districts in Mendocino County, governmental entities with elected boards: fire districts, sewer districts, water districts, cemetery districts, community service districts, etc. I don’t get all the agendas mailed to me, but I get most of them. So I get this agenda and it says “Bonus for Employees.” Wait just a minute. I ask them what this is all about and they say that they give Christmas bonuses to their employees. I said, “Really?” I ask how much are they? Well, it varies. I asked what the highest was. $5,000 was the answer. “You gave an employee of yours a $5,000 bonus? Do you know there is a strict prohibition against that in the State constitution?” “Oh, Really? Well, thank you Mr. Howard.” Am I being a hardass? The law says you can’t do it. They can be held personally liable for the total of $12,000 they paid out. So I notified the Grand Jury, but I doubt there will be anything about it in their report. People don’t like you bringing things like this up. What am I doing wrong?

People will say that Ukiah has a five-member City Council. It’s not a five-member Board, but it’s a six-member Board. I’ve watched city managers change, and Council members change many times, department heads change, yet things don’t change at the city. There is one thing that hasn’t changed in 24 years. Since Randy Hayes left as the employed City Attorney, David Rapport came on board, and he sits there, not only as the City Attorney, but the sixth member of the City Council. He sits up on the dais just like the Council does, and he interjects himself not only in legal, but also in policy. You can see it happen. The only thing he doesn’t get to do is vote, but he’s already voted, lots of times. He knows where all the skeletons are. New Council members drink the Koolaid. I told the City Council that they not only need to get rid of the City Manager, they need to get rid of the City Attorney. He knows just enough to always keep the status quo.

It’s too bad there isn’t a group around here that could do some of this stuff. Pretty soon we’ll get to total anarchy where the law doesn’t mean a thing because no one is interested in making our democracy work by paying attention.