Friday, February 23, 2007

02.15.07 RRROC Meeting: The Whole Enchilada

Warning: This really IS the "Whole Enchilada." It runs for almost 20 pages & includes all the juicy details. For a shorter re-cap of the recent RRROC meeting, read my Brief Summary.

I must confess that RRROC (Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee) meetings are NOT for wimps ... and I am definitely a wimp! The meeting -- held at the Koret Club in Monte Rio on February 15th, 2007 -- commenced at 7:00 pm, ramped up quickly, & was barely petering out (with several agenda items remaining for discussion), when I finally gave up the ghost & guiltily creeped out at 10:30 pm.

I did not arrive until 7:30 pm & knew that I was in for an awfully long -- albeit interesting & contentious -- slog from the minute I parked, opened my car door & set my foot down upon the pavement of the parking lot. Lloyd Guccione -- who happened to be catching a breath of fresh air outside at the time of my arrival -- immediately looked me straight in the eye & declared, "You're late." (NOTE: with 20-20 hindsight, I now realize that I must have JUST missed his request for the removal of Dan Fein as RRROC Chair).

Please note that I missed parts of the meeting & am grateful to the various folks who so kindly filled me in.
  1. Call to Order: The meeting officially begins
  2. Roll Call: Make sure all RRROC members, county representatives, presenters, etc. are present &/or accounted for.
  3. RRROC Member Business

    A. Election of Officers: Here's how it works. We vote for people to represent us on the RRROC, which was created to ensure that our communities have a say in how the Sonoma County Development Commission (CDC) allocates redevelopment funds for our li'l part of the Russian River. The elected RRROC members then elect a Chair & Vice-Chair amongst themselves each year at a public meeting.

    Now that I've given the required background information, I need to lament:

    Awww, MAN! I missed all the FUN! According to a couple of my suitably punctual acquaintances, Lloyd Guccione is still gunning for Dan Fein's removal from the RRROC as chairman! And he's not the only one. Last fall, Mr. Guccione circulated a petition, got 28 people to sign it, and requested that the RRROC add the removal of Mr. Fein as an item on the meeting agenda. Naturally, this motion didn't get very far, since Mr. Fein's role as chairman gives him control of the meeting agenda, & of course he will not endorse something that could involve his removal from power. Mr. Fein immediately quashed Mr. Guccione's request & refused to even discuss the petition.

    John Uniack (elected RRROC member) argued that the election of officers (which is to be voted on this evening) should be postponed until the petition is added to the agenda & discussed, because 28 constituents had signed the petition & these people have the right to have their views duly considered.

    A discussion followed about who legally has the right to add items to the meeting agenda, with Mr. Uniack stating that any RRROC member can approve items for the meeting agenda, & CDC Executive Director Kathleen Kane backing Mr. Fein's point of view, insisting that only the chair (& maybe the vice-chair) can add items.

    The election then proceeded, despite Mr. Uniack's objections. Mr. Fein was re-elected as chair by 7-1 (Mr. Uniack voted against him & Mr. Fein abstained from voting for himself) & the affable RRROC Vice Chair, Ken Wikle, was unanimously re-elected as vice chair.

    So why does Mr. Guccione hover menacingly over Mr. Fein's chairmanship like the proverbial Sword of Damocles ("Uneasy is he who sits upon the throne.") It all goes back to two years ago when Mr. Guccione filed a complaint against Mr. Fein for violations of the Brown Act -- a State law which requires requires elected officials to allow the public to speak at meetings. At that time, Mr. Guccione was arguing that the RRROC committees had been established illegally, because citizens had not been given the opportunity to air their views during the process of creating these committees.

    Personally, I like Mr. Fein, believe that he works effectively towards what he sincerely believes is best for our community, & feel that his communication skills, ability to work smoothly with County folks, & general savvy serve us well in many ways as RRROC Chair. But I also feel that Mr. Fein could greatly improve his reputation & what former alterno-hipster-city-slickers like me refer to as "street cred" (credibility) in this community by magnanimously allowing this item to appear on the agenda. Does he really think Mr. Guccione -- who embodies the ferocity & tenacity of a highly articulate pit bull -- will slink away with his tail between his legs & bark no more?

    Civics 101 exercise: What do YOU think about all of this? Should we leave the addition & deletion of RRROC agenda items to the discretion of the Chairperson in hopes that he or she is capable of weighing all proposals fairly, objectively & on their own merits in order to allow greater efficiency & faster response over the course of the redevelopment process? Or should we empower wider numbers of citizens to add or remove topics from the meeting agendas, thereby adding more potential hurdles to our already glacial pace of accomplishments? If we choose to empower more individuals, where do we draw the line? Can a single RRROC member add or remove an item from the meeting agenda, or do we require a majority (51%-49%) or a super-majority (75%-25%) from RRROC members? Can non-RRROC member citizens have items added to or removed from the agenda? If so, how many signatures would be required?

    Perhaps Chairman Fein keeps stonewalling because he assumes his relative youth will enable him to simply outlive Mr. Guccione. That would be highly unwise. Mr. Guccione strikes me as exactly the sort of determined fellow who will REFUSE TO DIE until Mr. Fein ... or his successors ... add his petition to the meeting agenda.

    Unfortunately for my readers, I couldn't resist exploring the possibility of Mr. Guccione refusing to give up -- even after death -- in my cheesy & recently posted science fiction short story, Head of Lloyd, which takes place at an RRROC meeting 200 years from now.

  4. Minutes: Approval/validation of the minutes taken from the last meeting on January 18, 2007 at the Guerneville Veteran's Hall. During each meeting, they review the minutes from the previous meeting & then vote to approve them. The Meeting Minutes then become "official."

    Dang, they didn't record my litany of complaints about the vile & loathsome porta-potty in Drake Park verbatim. Actually, the CDC doesn't even bother to summarize what people say during the Public Comments periods at all, They just list our names so Santa Claus over at the Permit & Resources Department (PRMD) will know who's been naughty when we need to obtain permits for home repairs. Otherwise, it's like nobody said anything at all.

    I feel that the CDC really should include public comments in the Meeting Minutes. It's important for citizens who can't attend meetings to know what people are saying. Yeah, yeah, I know we can go to the library & listen to "recordings" of all of the RRROC meetings (recorded on what? An old, rusty, reel-to-reel-tape sequestered in a dark, dank, dripping, cobweb-filled cell in the basement?) .... but, really, who's going to do that?

  5. Public Comment on Non-Agenda Matters:

    A. 95.1 KGGV FM update from Larry Lane: Mr. Lane, from Rio Nido, provided an update on the status of KGGV, our community radio station. This strikes me as peculiar, because although Mr. Lane played an instrumental role in launching KGGV, his name does not appear on the list of radio station staff. The upshot is that Mr. Fein will be giving radio interviews on Milo's current events call-in show, Touch (5-6pm weeknights), every other Thursday evening. Oooh, such exciting news!

    Our intrepid & formidable Zelda Michaels from Monte Rio (I absolutely adore her, & if you find RRROC meetings boring, then you need to sit within hearing distance of her ascerbically witty commentary, which she mutters utter her breath in a perpetual stream of consciousness style which hearks back to Ancient Greece when commoners flocked to decipher the inutterable pearls of wisdom uttered by the Oracle of Delphi) inquired as to whether Mr. Fein would be representing himself as Dan Fein, the individual, or as Dan Fein the chair of the RRROC, to which Mr. Fein replied that he would be representing the RRROC in the capacity of chairman. Ms. Michaels then demanded to know when the discussion & vote required to authorize Mr. Fein to represent RRROC on the radio had occurred. A chastened Mr. Fein then backed down & said he was representing himself as Dan Fein, the individual.

    B. Rich Carmichael inquires about the Guild's management of funds for the Niche Marketing campaign: Mr. Carmichael, from Rio Nido, stated that he strongly feels that the Guild is mismanaging the funds allocated for the Niche Marketing Campaign (targeted to the gay/lesbian/bi/transexual -- or GLBT -- community) & that the Guild has not been doing what they're supposed to do. As some of you may recall, the RRROC awarded the Guild funds for promoting tourism amongst the GLBT community, including a $125,000 grant for advertising in publications that target these markets.

    Armed to the teeth with Guild-sponsored brochures as examples, Mr. Carmichael made the following points: (1) Several major gay venues have received no marketing from the Guild; (2) The Guild promised to develop events during the off-season to promote year-round tourism, but has not done so; and (3) The Guild was supposed to partner with EcoRing (an organization created to develop & promote eco-tourism) & has not done so.

    This is the third occasion on which Mr. Carmichael has requested that the RRROC to look into how the Guild money is being spent. Mr. Carmichael has a long history of community activism & ran for an RRROC seat in a recent election, but lost to Sheila Peterson ... this time.

    Whether or not we support the original decision to allocate funds for promoting "niche" (i.e. GLBT) tourism, we should do our best to ensure that these funds are being used appropriately.

    I also want to know what on earth it IS about Rio Nido that turns folks like Mr. Carmichael, Mr. Uniack & me into such a passel of danged, trouble-making malcontents? Must have something to do with those looming redwood trees. I'm convinced that J.R.R. Tolkein had them in mind when he created the Lord of the Ring trilogy's Fangorn Forest, which was densely populated by immenselly tall & mighty trees of ancient provenance who proved slow to arouse from their long slumber, but devastatingly powerful (& annoyingly loquacious) once they awoke to find their sanctuary threatened.

    C. Deborah Waller comments on the jam-packed meeting agenda: Ms. Waller, from Guerneville, brought up the (very apt) point that the agenda for this meeting has so many items that if the RRROC discusses all of them, everyone would have to stay until 1:00 AM. She suggested that the RRROC develop a procedure that enables subcommittees to review items prior to RRROC meetings so decisions can be arrived at more quickly, and/or that they limit the number of items on the agenda.

    Mr. Fein said he had "forgotten" to announce that he had already decided to remove some items from the agenda. Ms. Waller replied that she feels that it's important for meeting agendas to reflect what is actually going to be discussed since some of us only have limited time to attend & want to plan accordingly.

    Mr. Fein did wind up striking a few items from the agenda, since he -- along with just about everyone else -- agreed with Ms. Waller's assessment of the situation & nobody wanted to stay at the Koret Club until 1:00 AM (unless someone delivers wine, beer & a late buffet dinner -- alas, this sumptuous feast was not forthcoming).

    Alas, he has not addressed the fact that these items ... & a multitude of other topics ... will clamor for attention on the list of RRROC meeting agenda items & there simply is not enough time to address them all adequately in a once-per-month meeting that's supposed to run from 7pm-9:30pm.

    In my unqualified & ill-informed opinion, I believe that we either need to (1) have TWO meetings per month; or (2) create a mechanism for more ongoing public discussion & input (naturally, I favor a Web site for this) & then shunt many of these matters over to the appropriate subcommittees. The Community Visioning events worked really well for letting people have their say, because they were held at various locations & times of day. Many of us cannot attend weekday evening meetings because of work and/or care giving responsibilities.

    C. Mr. Guccione revisits his petition: ... And most people ignore him. I have not lived here for very long & hence am unqualified to take sides in this debate. But I do feel that the Brown Act clearly requires the RRROC to add Mr. Guccione's petition to the meeting agenda so it can be publicly & officially discussed. Many folks dismiss Mr. Guccione as a "crank". He is, indeed, quite "cranky". But, in my opinion, he is NOT a "crank". Mr. Guccione comes across to me as intelligent, articulate, knowledgable about the history of our area, well-informed in matters concerning redevelopment legalities, & -- most of all -- extremely PERSISTENT. Mr. Guccione is also quite the orator.

    I use the word "orator" in the old-fashioned sense. Although public speaking skills (the ability to persuasively & extemporaneously express one's point of view in rolling, booming cadences from a crudely constructed podium without the benefits of a modern microphone) have rarely been held in esteem these days (outside of small-to-middle-sized Baptist congregations) since the bygone days of the Roman Republic & the Lincoln-Douglass debates, these abilities still do have their effects. Mr. Guccione is an awfully powerful speaker. Enemies who dismiss Mr. Guccione lightly do so at their peril.

    D. Mr. Fein agrees with Ms. Waller & removes items from the evening's agenda, as follows: Role of Infrastructure Subcommittee; forming a new Youth Outreach Subcommittee; and Web site enhancements (adding more information & features to the Russian River Development Project Area Web site).

  6. Information sharing: Alas, I missed this part & nobody seems to remember what -- if anything -- was discussed. I think this must be the part of the meeting where everyone succumbs to the gleaming pendulum swinging slowly back & forth while a soothing voice intones:

    "You are getting sleepy ... very sleepy ... the proposed sewer plant will be a wonderful thing for the town of Monte Rio ... you strongly support the new sewer ... the river-front portion of Sheridan Ranch is just a crappy stretch of blackberry bushes & weeds any way ... and who needs all those slimy, wiggly steel head fish thingies? ... the RRROC should fund a grant ..."

    But seriously, If you remember anything, please leave a comment via the link at the bottom of this post.

  7. Correspondence:

    A. 01.29.07 letter to Boris Sztorch (Redevelopment Manager) from Margaret Kennett (President of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce): The Chamber withdraws from their application for RRROC funds towards sidewalk repair (including obstructive tree roots which buckle the concrete) in the town of Guerneville for legal reasons (their legal counsel has advised them against taking on this project) & hopes that the County can find another organization to request RRROC funding for these projects. The RRROC & others in the community have been looking for an organization that is willing to apply for a grant to make these repairs. Alas, the logistics & potential legal issues are complex & difficult to overcome.

    So, how WILL we get these sidewalks & tree-root upheavals repaired? As an unincorporated bunch of communities, we HAVE no organization with the resources (including legal liability insurance) required for this task. Thank you, Ms. Kennett & the Chamber of Commerce for taking this project into consideration.

    B. 01.23.07 email from Mr. Sztorch to RRROC: The email provided the names of people who support the Niche (GLBT) Marketing proposal. The members of the Guild Steering Committee are: Lynette McLean (Highlands Resort); Scott Mitchell (Clark Wolf Media/Russian River Food & Wine Festival); Jerry Hammond (Herth Real Estate); & Verna Preaseau (The Woods Resort). The people who presented the proposal at the 04.20.2006 RRROC meeting were: Bob Young (Coffee Bazaar); Mr. Hammond; Ms. McLean; & Scott Mandell (Russian River Resort). People who spoke up in favor of the Niche Marketing program during Public Comments part of the meeting included: Dave Griffith (former Chamber board member & treasurer); Toni Tacoma (former Chamber president); Dawn Bell (Chamber executive director); Wayne Skala (Wayne Skala Antiques & Gifts); Karen O' Brien (West Sonoma Inn); & Nancy Norstad (Flaunt Magazine). As I mentioned before, the Niche Marketing project obtained grants from RRROC to buy ads in publications that target the gay, lesbian, bisexual & transexual communities (oops, I hope my spelling out the GLBT acronym doesn't make your net-nanny software banish my blog from your Web browser).

    B. 02.15.07 email from Jim Fox to the RRROC: Mr. Fox, recently relocated resident of Guerneville, writes to enthusiastically support funding for the River Keeper Park (more on that later).

    C. 02/15/07 email from Johanna Lynch to the RRROC: Ms. Lynch, Editor of the Russian River Times writes to support Don McEnhill & the River Keeper Park project.

  8. Monthly Reports: Review of the Monthly Funds Available Report & Project Status Report with Boris Sztorch, CDC Redevelopment Manager. These reports itemize the redevelopment funds that are still available & provide a list of projects which are in process, scheduled to move forward in the near future, & up for discussion. Mr. Sztorch provided a brief synopsis of RRROC recommended projects that have been approved by the Community Development Commission (CDC), including:

    * Monte Rio Recreation & Park District's Koret Club Rehabilitation: Their request for funds will be voted upon this evening. The folks from Monte Rio Parks & Recreation (MRRPD) will deliver a presentation & answer questions.
    * Vehicle Abatement Program: Removal of abandoned vehicles throughout redevelopment area -- invoices for 2006 have been paid, 2007 program is in planning stages;
    * Norgaard/Kelso Building Removal: Permits & Resources Management Department -- PRMD -- wants input. Property owner needs to provide RRROC with additional information before receiving $37K redevelopment loan;
    * Design Guidelines Subcommittee: Will complete draft document in March 2007, and then the RRM Design Group (consultants for community planning, engineering, architecture, etc.) will create the final draft document for review by CDC & RRROC;
    * EcoRing: Funding for activities -- including "Eco-Adventures, EcoEducator, Marketing & Program support" will continue as agreed upon. EcoRing was created in August, 2006 to develop & promote eco-tourism.
    * Woodstove Program: They are considering a recommendation to use remaining $14,660 to continue program in 2007.
    * Guerneville River Park: They are still considering Regional Parks' request for $110,000) to finish Phase I.
    * Riverkeeper Property Rehabilitation: Don McEnhill will make a presentation to provide update on Phase 1 & to request funding for Phase 2 of new park.
    * Niche Marketing Grant: Continuing as planned.
    * Strategic Plan: The Strategic Planning Committee has met with PSA, Inc. (some consulting firm whose Web site does not appear on Google) to work on the first draft Plan Framework & Project Evaluation Criteria. The next public sessions for developing the strategic plan are scheduled for late March.
    * Russian River Recreation & Park District (RRRPD) Tennis Courts: The grant agreement is signed & this project is scheduled to proceed.
    * De Monchy Building Removal: The contractor will submit requested information to comply with payment procedures;
    * Monte Rio Fire District Feasibility Study: The grant agreement is signed & the project can move forward.

    Zelda Michaels from Monte Rio asked if they've given Frederick Norgaard a deadline for the information he promised to provide two weeks ago? The RRROC approved redevelopment loan of $37,000 to Mr. Norgard so he can remove the eyesore on 9885 Main Street in Monte Rio on 06.13.2006. During the last meeting, there was a discussion about demolishing the De Monchy & Norgaard buildings -- hazardous waste disposal (asbestos floor tile) & prevailing wages in particular.

    Ms. Kane replied that they haven't set a deadline for the information, but they will not release the $37K until the information is received. Ms. Michaels sharply retorted that "I don't trust him [Mr. Norgaard]." She pointed out that he could simply submit a $37K bill & write it off on his taxes if the county doesn't pay.

    Mr. Uniack went over the financial part of the reports (ooooowwwww, my head hurts!), asked how the reports are added up & proceeded to pick everything apart, line-item by line-item. An example: "Legal issues? For WHAT?"

    He also pointed out the expenses paid for meetings with organizations bidding for projects & should be paid for by the organization that requests the meeting. Things finally got ironed out & I'm glad we have Mr. Uniack to go over all the numbers & details with a fine-toothed comb on our behalf, since most of us don't have the talent or stamina for this sort of thing. Alas, it does get rather tedious.

  9. Subcommittee Reports

    B. Housing Subcommittee with Ken Wikle: The mission of Mr. Wikle's subcommittee is to explore options for the creation of affordable housing & to make recommendations for RRROC funding accordingly. Representatives of Burbank Housing & the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity (highly-regarded nonprofit organizations which have built successful affordable housing developments in Santa Rosa, Forestville & other parts of Sonoma County) addressed their last subcommittee meeting. They're definitely interested in working with us & things are slowly moving forward -- they're beginning to inquire about land acquisition. Although things are only in the early stages, Mr. Wikle feels positive about this meeting. Let's Keep our fingers crossed!

    C. Election Subcommittee with John Uniack: Mr. Uniack requested the following as an agenda item for the next meeting: RRROC needs to approve all peripheral information (fliers, etc) before they are distributed.

    "What do I have to do to get Committee Meeting Minutes included in an RRROC meeting packet?" Mr. Uniack exclaimed impatiently. (um ... leave a Bob-n-Boy cheeseburger, chocolate milkshake & curly fries in a discreet paper bag hidden beneath a designated bit of shrubbery in front of the Koret Club precisely 30 minutes beforethe meeting, perhaps?) Ms. Kane pointed out that the committees should make procedures for this, & that she would like to post them on the Web site. Mr. Fein recommended that the committees submit proposals for establishing procedures for adding items to the agenda. Urghphlth. My tang got toungled from the mere act of repeating this.

    D. Strategic Planning Subcommittee with Dan Fein: The Strategic Planning Subcommittee has been charged with developing a document that states the visions, goals & values of our community & makes redevelopment recommendations accordingly. A series of well-attended "Public Visioning Events" were held throughout the month of October, 2006 at various times & locations along the Russian River with facilitators who led the discussions & gathered input from a broad range of people who live, work & do business along the shores of the Russian River Redevelopment Zone.

    For more information, please visit the Russian River: Our Vision, Our Future Web page. They provide a well-written document on what people said during these events, titled "Visioning Event Summary Report." But first you need to make sure that you have the Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free & easily-installed Web browser plug-in available from .

    As mentioned in Mr. Sztorch's report,
    the Strategic Planning Committee has met with PSA, Inc. (a consulting firm -- Alas, I cannot provide you with a link to their Web site because my Web searches have proven unsuccessful) to work on the first draft Plan Framework & Project Evaluation Criteria. The next public sessions for developing the strategic plan are scheduled for late March.

    For those of you who missed last season's fun, there will be a new series of visioning events to be kicked off by a public meeting on March 22nd at Vice President Cheney's undisclosed location (just kidding ... RRROC is still in the process of determining a location & will send all of us postcards with more specific information via snail mail soon. )

    Can't Receive or Haven't Received Community Information, Updates & Announcements?:
    Do you live here? If so, you are an important part of our community & we need to hear from you, regardless of whether you live here "officially" or not. If you're camping, couch-surfing, or find yourself in between homes, but want to stay in this area, you may be able to get a post-office box, voice mail box & other help & information towards settling in & finding work & community resources through West County Community Services in downtown Guerneville at 707.869.0654. If you're here & plan to remain here, please stand up & be counted so we can help & set up services for you & your children.

    E. Restrooms Subcommittee with John De Salvio: Mr. De Salvio's subcommittee is responsible for finding a location for constructing a public restroom on the Western part of downtown Guerneville. This is proving to be surprisingly difficult. (Public restrooms ... the last frontier ... McCoy! The tourists need a bathroom! ... I'm a doctor, dammit! Not a magician!) Alas, the parking lot at Safeway is a no-go. Apparently, the folks in the Corporate Office feel that giving up part of their property would set an undesirable precedent. Cal Trans (the State Transportation agency) owns the property on the other two potential sites, & Mr. De Salvio's committee is still waiting for an answer from them.

    G. Communications Ad-hoc Subcommittee with Dan Fein: This committee has been created for a short-term duration to determine the needs for communications, community outreach & the creation of an independent RRROC Web site to provide all information about redevelopment activities in a single, well-organized & accessible location. The County currently makes various documents (the strategic plan, meeting minutes, etc.) available through its Web site, but some people (including me) feel that everything's scattered & hard to access.

    Towards this end, Mr. Fein's committee met with the County representatives to discuss the Web site. Mr. Fein recommends that we consider how can we improve the information on the existing CDC & RRROC Web pages & have discussions on what what we would want from a community site. Some people feel that the County-sponsored sites (CDC, RRROC, etc.) are perfectly adequate, but need to be better organized. Others feel that RRROC needs its own Web site.

    I -- River Rattina -- need to disqualify myself from this discussion because I definitely have a vested interest. I used to manage the design & development of Web sites as an information architect for various evil & not-so-evil high-tech companies & corporations. I strongly believe that we should have an RRROC Web site with complete written transcripts of RRROC, committee, subcommittee & ad-hoc subcommittee meetings; along with audio & video segments organized by topic; archives of documents from previous meetings; moderated online community discussion forums which facilitate the exchange of information; video Web-casts of meetings with incoming telephone lines & text messaging centers which would enable folks who cannot physically attend meetings to do so virtually, etc. Many people (some of whom are involved with the RRROC, some of whom are not) have suggested that I submit a proposal to the RRROC to obtain funding for creating a Web site that would do all of these wonderful things. And I DO plan to do so just for the heck of it. But I would rather find a group of committed, like-minded individuals who are willing to volunteer to take this thing on by the boot-straps & forgo RRROC funding so we can get the site up-and-running without having to bow & snivel & wait & wait & wait before the CDC & RRROC everytime we need more money.

  10. Old Business: Discussion of ongoing topics & projects which have already been introduced and/or approved.

    A. Monte Rio Community Center (Koret Club) Renovation: The Monte Rio Recreation & Parks District (MRRPD) & the Sonoma County Community Development Commission (CDC) received partial redevelopment grant funding ($240K) for renovating the Koret Club in downtown Monte Rio. The Koret Club currently functions as a local community center for Monte Rio. MRRPD & CDC want to take things up a notch & transform the Koret Club into a first-class (or at least second-class?) facility which can better serve the community, while attracting conferences & other functions which would produce revenue & subsidize community functions.

    The MRRPD worked awfully danged hard to create a vivid, thorough, well-researched & beautiful presentation, which showed what the new Community Center will look like; how it will continue to serve the community while attracting revenue from groups, tourists, etc.; how they intend to attract & profit from their potential market (they plan to increase usage by 2/3rds); where their funding is coming from (State Parks); & how the additional sought-after RRROC funding ($546,114) will be used to fill in the gaps.

    Representatives from MRRPD set up a table on the lower stage (between the audience & the RRROC & CDC people) in order to make their presentation & answer questions from RRROC & the public. Alas, I do not recall the names of all the MRRPD folks who assembled themselves before us. The presenters who have stuck in my memory as the most responsive, dynamic & articulate included Suzanne Schaffert, MRRPD Board Chair; & Brian Grant -- one of the architects working on the project.

    During the Public Comments session, Mr. Guccione totally ripped into them. He pointed to the Bingo Board on one wall of the meeting room & the architectural drawings of the new community center on the opposite wall; contrasted the values, aesthetics & views represented by each (presumably low-brow vs. high-brow) ; & demanded, "What community does this represent?!" He went on to say how this project will only benefit a few resort owners.

    To me, this seemed a bit unfair & over the top. Mr. Guccione clearly cares about this community & "keeping it real" (as my erstwhile homies back in my former 'hood would say). But I believe that the proposed plans are well-designed & that a nice conference center & gathering place would help revitalize the lovely little town of Monte Rio. The architects & folks from the MRRPD seem to have worked really hard to gather community input for designing a facility that will serve the community while also paying for itself & creating a center of gravity for tourism. Also, we must not forget that providing services & facilities for tourists creates more income & hence more public services (via a higher tax base) for us river rats & rattinas.

    At first glance, it seems awfully hard to strike a balance between what's good for us local yokels & what attracts tourists. But really, it shouldn't be so terrbly hard. We all want beautiful, gorgeous natural spaces to look at; clean places to swim; good food; good wine &/or beer; & good wholesom fun.

    Mr. Grant was fuming, but managed to calmly & collectedly state, as he breathed deeply through his flared nostrils:

    "I take significant exception to Lloyd Guccione's comments about community & outreach."

    Mr. Grant went on to describe the uniformly positive feedback they have received from various segments of the population in Monte Rio, & concluded that:

    "... quite frankly, it [the tone of Mr. Guccione's comments] is a slap in the face ... & I don't appreciate it."

    I expected Mr. Grant to ceremoniously peel off a white glove from his hand, slap Mr. Guccione across both cheeks with it, & challenge him to a duel, but ... oops, wait, wrong century ... never mind.

    RRROC representative, Mr. Uniack, raised some questions about the numbers & projected revenues from events & conferences, which the folks from
    MRRPD responded to in a reasonably satisfactory fashion (i.e., we've done our homework & have researched comparable facilities, but we're not fortune tellers).

    Mr. Uniack also -- after praising MRRPD for the work they've put into their presentation -- very sensibly asked why RRROC should provide funding for remodeling a facility that is in the flood zone. The people from MRRPD explained that:

    (a) A tear-down & rebuild would be far more expensive & would also trigger a myriad of red-tape & potential delays from the Permits & Resources Department;

    (b) The building, surfacing & floor materials will enable the building to withstand floods. The Koret Club could be fully operational within a matter of days following the receding of flood waters; and

    (c) They will have some sort of efficient pumping device to quickly remove water from the building.

    Moving or raising the building would cost massive amounts of funds & permits. They're trying to "work within the parameters." By simply remodeling the facility, they can avoid many complications, issues & costs. For example, a new building would require a fire-safety water sprinkler system that alone would cost over $100K. They pointed out that they don't need a sprinkler system because there are plenty of fire exits.

    Someone at the meeting broke the tension by calling out, "So if there's a fire, everyone could get out safely, but the building would burn to the ground?" & just about everyone laughed uproariously.

    MRRPD responded that this scenario would be unlikely due to the building's concrete & heavy timber construction, along with the presence of the Monte Rio Fire Station next door.


    Ms. Kane asked about something called "contingency funds" & wants it as a "line item" in the proposal. Huh? Um, it does sound awfully official & hence like something we should probably have.

    Larry Weinstein asked ... if we have a "100-year-flood" (a flood that reaches the highest level on record) could this facility handle an emergency? Could it be used as a command post or emergency shelter? (um, yeah ... if you happen to be a fish ... didn't he hear the previous discussion about flooding? Guess not, oh well, neither did I).

    Mr. Wikle responded that the County Action Plan designates the fire station for these purposes & that since the facility IS in the flood zone, this discussion is a non-starter.

    Mr. Carmichael said he was glad to see the RRROC "supporting innovative projects" but he would like to see "greener" (environmentally sound &/or recycled) building materials & architecture. He would also like to see a heated indoor pool for year-round use by residents.

    Oooh! I would LOVE to have green construction & a heated indoor pool! Get in touch with me! It's too late for the Koret Club, but maybe we can find some organization to buy the Rio Nido Pool, Bar & Restaurant facility from Dee & Midge (they're trying to sell it for $350K) & develop it with these goals in mind.

    Elisabeth Parker from Rio Nido asked why none of the proposed projects (Koret Club, River Park stage, affordable housing, etc.) ever consider the possibility of "floating houses" like they have in the Netherlands (aka Holland) -- which is notoriously located below sea level. Floating buildings look like conventional structures but are constructed & chained to their foundations in a manner that allows them to float on the surface of flood waters instead of taking on water.

    Mr. Wikle responded that his committee had considered similar possibilities for creating affordable housing, but that the Permits & Resources Management Department (PRMD) will never allow anything like this. Sigh. The PRMD people are such party-poopers.

    Chairman Fein put the funding request up for a vote & the RRROC unanimously voted to fund the Koret Club Rehabilitation Project. The RRROC meeting adjourned for a break. Congratulations & hugs were shared amongst those who weren't busy sucking down cigarrettes in the parking lot outside.

    CONGRATULATIONS are in order for MRRPD
    & the various other folks involved in this proposal. They've worked awfully hard for this, including gathering public input & doing their planning accordingly. They TOTALLY ROCK!

    B. Guerneville River Park: The intrepid & long-suffering Mark Cleveland (Park Planner for Sonoma County Regional Parks) yet again stands before RRROC to request the additional $110K funding to complete Phase I of construction to the new Guerneville River Park (located across the river via Guerneville Footbridge on Neeley Road).

    RRROC Representative, Tom Lynch, states that RRROC wants a redesign of the stage area. They want something larger, more innovative (in terms of materials & aesthetics) & a possible relocation for the building site. He adds that RRROC can provide additional funding to ensure that the stage is "done right" (i.e. with further community input, more bids, etc.)

    Mr. Cleveland replies that he likes the currently-planned location for the stage area, but that he could make it larger if they find a new location.

    Mr. Lynch also points out that the newly-planted trees could ruin the sight-lines towards the current location of the stage in the future (i.e., the trees may eventually block people's views).

    Mr. DeSalvio suggests moving the stage to the other side of the field by the river. Mr. Cleveland says that the stage area could work well under the Guerneville Foot Bridge.

    Mr. Lynch says that he "googled" (performed a Web search) for the key words "band shells" & saw lots of cool & inspiring stuff. He then suggested pulling the stage out of the budget for now so we can move on with construction for the rest of the park while doing more research & gathering community input on what we want for the stage. Personally, I think this is a great idea because the stage has great potential for community involvement & community use, as well as potential revenue. We need to take care that the location, acoustics, visual aesthetics all work together to create a magical experience for performers & audiences alike. It would also be nice if the stage could serve multiple functions (i.e. smaller performances & events, as well as a dry -- though possibly cold -- meeting place in the off-season).

    RRROC member Catherine Young said that she doesn't want to be locked into the stage designs. She wants to explore design modifications & wants more aesthetic improvements, including different surface materials. She wants more "showcase projects" that will get higher levels of funding from other sources. Although I appreciate her vigilance on behalf of the new park's aesthetics, I am ticked off at her because -- at the time of this meeting -- she had not ONCE visited the new park.

    Yes, the construction & fixtures do look institutional & I do feel we need to do something about that. On the other hand, the park is beautiful & useable. The bathroom, picnic tables, pedestrian path, parking lot, etc. are fully functional & look lovely in this setting because just about anything would look lovely in this setting. We can work with this, & we need to work with this, because this is what we have.

    Mr. Cleveland said that he is willing to work with RRROC on the stage, but that he wants to stick to the rest of the park design for Stage 1 as originally planned. The work is already done, according to the original plans & budget for yearly maintenance, etc. & he doesn't want to reinvent the wheel.

    Mr. DeSalvio says he wants to see more imagination put into the project so it doesn't look like a generic/institutional park. Mr. Uniack says that he wants to see something that is "people-friendly" & that he does not see cinderblocks & drop-off hazards as being people-friendly.

    Mr. Cleveland throws his proverbial hands up in the air and demands, "What DO you want?" He adds that he is willing to work with RRROC on redesigning the stage, but as for the rest of the project, "We should just build the damned thing."

    Ms. Young responds that perhaps they have a vast difference in philosophies, but she doesn't want to "just build the danged thing."

    Ms. Kane suggests that the reason so many cities & towns are choosing to build these institutional-looking parks is because they are so easy to maintain. She cautions RRROC to strike a balance.

    The majority Ms. Young's points resonate with me because I do value aesthetics & also want our park to reflect the creativity & uniqueness of our community. Alas, it has come out over the course of the past two RRROC meetings that Ms. Young has never even once bothered to visit the site of the River Park (hopefully she has done so by now). This annoys me to NO END, because she is supposed to represent our community & so many folks in our community have worked awfully danged hard to get this park built. The least Ms. Young can do is take a walk over the Guerneville Footbridge & see things for herself before making critical comments. Shame on her.

    Mr. Cleveland & others vociferously suggested that Ms. Young actually go & visit the park.

    Mr. Lynch said that it would be nice to have the park up & running for summer.

    Mr. Fein wisely suggested putting the stage/performance area outside of the scope of the project & to create a short-term (ad-hoc) committee to do a quick study & make reccommendations in time for the next meeting.


    During the public comments period for this topic, much was said.

    Mr. Guccione said that he "Likes what people are saying" and points out that there's a "lesson here." According to him, the project & funding request should have gone to the Infrastructure Committee & we should have appointed a liaison officer to follow the project from start to finish.

    Ms. Parker suggested sticking with the current design for the park, but creating grants for local artists, craftsmen & landscapers to enliven the park with public arts & crafts spaces which could make the park our own.

    Don McEnnis from RiverKeepers suggested that "what makes the park unique is the setting & the river." He envisions a striking & symbiotic contrast between the County park on one side of the river & his park on the other side of the river. Public art can work, he's seen it done successfully in public spaces in Healdsburg (alas, even the thought of Healdsburg makes me break out into hives & vomit copiously, but if mentioning Healdsburg inspires us to create nicer public spaces for ourselves, then I guess I'm on-board with that).

    Mr. Carmichael called attention to the awfully bizarre & ill-defined signage that occurs throughout the park (mostly arrows pointing to undeveloped areas & saying that you shouldn't go there). He succinctly pointed out that the Guerneville Bridge is our pride & joy & most beautiful landmark. It functions as a backdrop for our entire scene. He said that public art on the bridge (starting with paintings &/or murals on the pillars & underside of the bridge) would be an excellent move in this direction & also suggested removing the dense tangle of thorny blackberry vines for better accessibility.

    A motion was advanced for creating a short-term, Ad-Hoc Parks Committee which will visit & explore the Guerneville River Park site; have a discussion; & make recommendations for the future design vis-a-vis the current proposal. The motion passed unanimously & the Ad-Hoc Parks Committee (with Mr. De Salvio, Mr. Uniack, Ms. Young, & Mr. Lynch) met the following Saturday & will make recommendations at the next RROC meeting.

  11. New Business

    A. Preliminary RRROC Annual Budget:

    Ms. Kane
    presents the RRROC annual budget for the upcoming year. She states that the available funds are based on "what we project for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007-2008", & further descrived "flatlining revenues this year, with the real estate market sagging." Ms. Kane provided hand-outs & listed projected activities for the upcoming year, & then explained that there are some "holes" (un-projected estimates) because she is still waiting for more numbers & has not completed the "draft" document.

    Mr. Uniack inquires about the flat 15% administration fee, which the County charges for managing the Russian River Redevelopment project. He points out that the administrative costs increase as the available revenues increase, & requests an explanation for these cost increases.

    Ms. Kane
    explains that providing "structure" is expensive & that the amount of work has expanded. "You're active out here." [referring to the forceful amounts of input from us River folks] "It's a lot of work. We are experiencing higher levels of costs." Ms. Kane adds that the County "might not necessarily spend" all of the allocated funds. "We are not charging for any services that you are not getting."

    Ms. Kane then resentfully & pointedly adds, "We need a trusting, working relationship."

    Mr. Uniack inquires, "If we pay more money, can we receive more services?" He then asks if a 15% administration fee is within the realm of standard practice, & is duly informed by counsel that 15% is, indeed, the going rate & that the 15% was established in due process by the board of supervisors.

    Ms. Kane attempts to explain that there are ways to get more services, but she wants & needs to keep the 15% administration fee as a line-item in her department's budget. She can't create a "kitty within the administration budget" for the RRROC. The 14% is merely a ceiling. They can't go OVER that amount.

    Mr. Guccione protests about how the estimate & actual costs "don't jibe." He then goes on to say that "you have a right to expect more services" if you are paying more dollars. "If you give a bureaucracy money, they're gonna spend it." He then proposes a workshop.

    Despite the bitterness between Mr. Uniack & Ms. Kane, & the acrimony between Mr. Guccione & just about everyone else, the motion to approve the RRROC annual budget passed.

    B. Russian Riverkeeper Update & Funding Request:

    Don McEnnhill provides an update for Phase I of his project (to create an eco-park on the West Bank of the Russian River) & requests an additional $87, 665 towards completing Phase II.

    Mr. McEnhill explains that his organization wants to hire Ron Letzgo -- the "best landscape architect we can find" -- because he has done high-profile projects like Golden Gate Park & can provide the aesthetics/green/eco-elements along with the ability to design the park to withstand floods.

    A discussion ensues about some property that Riverkeeper wants to buy. The County "won't touch it" because there's a gas-leak on part of the property. Talks are also going on -- Riverkeepers needs an easement through this property to get to the river. The county owns some of the land & Cal Trans owns some of the land they need. They've totally lost me here. HUH?

    Mr. Fein tries to sort things out by suggesting, "So, the bulk of the proposal is [blah blah blah] a precursor to construction? Or for planning?"

    Mr. McEnnis reiterates: "We can get grants for construction if we can get funding for planning." [um ... what comes first, the chicken or the egg]. He goes on to say that Riverkeepers is "... competing with County Parks. Riverkeepers looks good to some organizations because of the native plants..." (i.e., they're eco-friendly), but they don't have the county resources.

    Ms. Young asks who owns the property.

    Mr. McEnnis explains that Riverkeepers owns the property & wants to set up an endowment for maintaining it in perpetuity. He enthuses about the place as a "great educational facility" & about how people can learn about beneficial plants vs. poisonous plants, etc.

    C. Woodstove Replacement Program:

    The program has been reinstated, but only as a housing-funded project (meaning that it falls under the allocations for community housing). So those who stillwant to replace their woodburning stoves will have to fill out more forms, jump through more hoops & meet income qualifications.

    D. Role of Infrastructure Subcommittee: (tabled until next time)

    E. Youth Outreach Subcommittee: (tabled until next time)

    F. Website Enhancements: (tabled until next time)

  12. Public Comment: Not much was discussed.
  13. Agenda for Next Meeting: Not much was discussed.
  14. Adjournment: At this point, it was 11pm & the meeting adjourned. The following topics have been moved to the next meeting: (1) the Role of the Infrastructure Committee; (2) The formation of a Youth Outreach Subcommittee (umm, while you guys are at it, howzabout another Outreach Subcommittee for people who can't come to meetings in the evenings, like parents with young chidren & folks who work evening shifts?); & Website enhancements.
NEXT MEETING: MARCH 15th, 2007 at the Guerneville Veteran's Hall at First & Church Streets in Guerneville (by the entrance to Johnson's Beach).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Head of Lloyd: An RRROC Sci-Fi Short Story

Here's the beginning of a science fiction story, based on what I imagine will happen 200 years from now if RRROC Chairman Dan Fein keeps refusing to put Lloyd Guccione's petition (to remove Mr. Fein as chair) on the meeting agenda. As I mentioned in my previous post, Mr. Fein's stonewalling tactics may be based on the assumption that his relative youth will enable him to outlive Mr. Guccione. But I believe that Mr. Guccione is exactly the sort of stubborn person who would refuse to ever die until his petition is officially discussed.

Mr. Guccione is a persistent, aggressive & highly articulate adversary who -- regardless of whether or not one agrees with him (& many people don't, including me) -- should not be dismissed lightly. Especially since Mr. Guccione seems to sincerely believe that the RRROC, under Mr. Fein's leadership, is in violation of the Brown Act (State legislation that guarantees the right of citizens to be heard in public meetings). C'mon, Dan, do the honorable & politically smart thing & put Lloyd's petition on the agenda. You already know that John Uniak is the only one amongst your RRROC colleagues who might vote against you.

WARNING: The following content is very silly & should not be read by anyone who has anything better to do.

The Head of Lloyd
Chapter 1.

A phalanx of amphibious, biohazard-resistant vehicles in various states of maintenance & repair (it's so hard to find a good mechanic these days, now that all the auto shops have sunk below sea level) bump up against the dock. Their drivers swiftly lunge forward to secure their crafts & then stand on the dock to help passengers out & direct them towards the March 16, 2207 RRROC meeting at Pad 13 (formerly the Koret Club).

Chairman Thhhp-Ribbit -- representative of the new super-intelligent Master Race of mutant frog-steelhead people who have swiftly & mysteriously evolved from the site of the Monte Rio Sewer Treatment Plant (formerly Sheridan Ranch) -- calls the meeting to order & swiftly progresses through the first few items of the agenda because no mere-humans dare oppose him.

The Public Comments period proceeds in the usual orderly fashion as citizens line up before the microphone to lavish praise upon Dear Chairman Thhhp-Ribbit's wise leadership of the Russian River Redevelopment Project.

Suddenly, the room fills with gasps of astonishment as a determined figure strides swiftly & purposefully towards the microphone. It's a mere-human wearing an impeccably-tailored, navy blue Brooks Brothers suit punctuated with the exclamation point of a bright red power-tie. He is carrying a briefcase in one hand & balancing a rather incongruous-looking enormous silver cake stand, domed with a matching silver cover with the other.

Before Chairman Thhhp-Ribbit can respond, the mere-human stands before the microphone. He introduces himself as a representative of Lloyd Guccione's estate, & then triumphantly lifts the lid from the silver cake stand & declares in a ringing voice:


And there sits Mr. Guccione's disembodied head preserved in a jar full of chemicals, tubes & wires like the head of Alcasan in This Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. Next to the jar lies the cobweb-covered petition with the clearly legible signatures of 28 citizens who are long-dead, but who chose their writing implements wisely. The fierce eyes of Mr. Guccione sweep malevolently over the crowd as he intones in a slightly creaking, but still sonorous & commanding voice:

"I demand that you add my petition to remove the whoever is now the RRROC Chair to the agenda!"

Chairman Thhhp-Ribbit's golden eyes bulge with astonishment as the fly he had just nabbed from the chandelier two seconds ago dangles forgotten from his long, sticky pink tongue. His scales, dorsal fin & webbed feet twitch in agitation as the chairman croaks, "You dare challenge ME?"

[Continued until next time ... um, actually, it's probably better if I discontinue this story entirely]

Friday, February 16, 2007

02.15.07 RRROC Meeting: Brief summary to tide folks over whilst I digest everything

Whew! The 02.15.2007 Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee meeting proved to be a long & contentious affair. I'm still digesting everything ... an arduous but self-inflicted ordeal which can only be compared to that of a boa constrictor swallowing a watermelon & hoping it will soon ... um ... pass.

For now, please accept my VERY brief summary. I promise to post the WHOLE ENCHILADA (complete with exciting dialogue, blow-by-blow action sequences, names, relevant URLs, & the spelling out & more systematic definitions of my current alphabet soup of acronyms) by the end of the week.

Brief Summary of topics discussed at the RRROC meeting for 02.15.2007:

  • Election of Officers: Dan Fein & Ken Wikle are re-elected as RRROC Chair & Vice Chair (respectively) despite protests from Lloyd Guccione (who organized a petition to remove Dan Fein as Chair) & John Uniak (who wanted to discuss the petition prior to the Election of Officers because 28 constituents had signed Guccione's petition).
  • Public Comment: Citoyen Larry Lane announces that Milo from 95.1 KGGV FM (our local radio station) is interviewing Mr. Fein every other Thursday evening on Milo's radio show (The Touch, 5-6pm, weekday evenings). Zelda Michaels pointed out that Mr. Fein is not officially authorized to represent the RRROC on the radio station. River Rattina fails to see why Ms. Michaels has a problem with this, since Mr. Lane is not officially authorized to represent the radio station to the RRROC either.
  • Public Comment: Citoyen Rich Carmichael asks the RRROC to look into possible mismanagement of funds for the Niche Marketing (GLBT) project
  • Public Comment: Citoyenne Deborah Waller states that there are too many items on the RRROC meeting agenda & that discussing them all would require our staying until one in the morning. Mr. Fein strikes most of the "New Business" items from the agenda. It is also suggested that the RRROC hand items off to subcommittees before-hand to shorten the discussions.
  • Correspondence: Chamber of Commerce writes letter withdrawing application for fixing the sidewalks & tree-root problem in Guerneville for legal reasons (their legal counsel advises against it); 2 people write in support of the new Riverkeeper Park (which will be adjacent to the new Guerneville River Park).
  • Monthly Reports: Boris Sztorch, Redevelopment Manager, goes over the status of & funding for current & future projects, including: Koret Club Rehabilitation, Vehicle Abatement Program, Building Removal (Norgaard/Kelso & De Monchy sites -- still need information from contractors before demolition can proceed), Design Guidelines (draft document due in March, 2007 for review by consultants & then CDC & RRROC); EcoRing (eco-tourism efforts) to proceed as planned; Woodstove Program (may be renewed for 2007); Guerneville River Park (funding requested); Riverkeeper Park (update on Phase I, request for funding for Phase II); Niche Marketing Grant (for GLBT tourism -- marketing activities continue), Strategic Plan (next public input sessions scheduled for late March, 2007); RRRPD Tennis Courts (agreement signed & will proceed), Monte Rio Fire District Feasibility Study (grant agreement signed & project can proceed). Other projects are still in the early stages of review &/or obtaining approval.
  • Restrooms Subcommittee: Safeway says "no" to allowing RRROC to install public restrooms on their parking lot & they're still waiting to hear from CalTrans about the other two potential locations.
  • Housing Subcommittee: Burbank Housing & Habitat for Humanity addressed their recent meeting. They're interested in working with us & have begun inquiring about land acquisition.
  • Communications Ad-hoc Subcommittee: They've met with County representatives & pan to gather input for how we can improve the CDC & RRROC sites & what we would want from a community site.
  • Koret Club Rehabilitation (Monte Rio Recreation & Parks District): After much hashing out of details with representatives of MRRPD, the motion to approve the project was passed & the rehabilitation of the community center will move forward. Yay! Presenters, including Suzi Schaffert (Facilities Committee Chair) & Brian Grant (member), were heartily congratulated by almost everyone.
  • Guerneville River Park (additional funding to complete Phase I): The performance space/stage part of the proposal is deferred for further review & discussion; A short-term ad-hoc subcommittee is formed to visit the park, gather input & make recommendations for the next meeting so the project can continue moving forward.
  • RRROC Annual Budget from County: After much contention & heated words between Kathleen Kane (CDC Executive Director) & John Uniak (RRROC member), the budget document is approved with the understanding that the numbers have been entered as estimated projections, not actual costs, & that there may be some flexibility.
  • Riverkeeper Park: Don McEnhill from Russian Riverkeepers delivers an update on Phase I of the project & submits a revised proposal for RRROC funding towards completing Phase II. RRROC told Mr. McEnnis that he still needs to obtain the actual bids from contractors before they can vote on his proposal.
  • Woodstove Replacement Program: The program has been reinstated, but only as a housing-funded project. This means you now have to fill out more forms, jump through more hoops & meet income qualifications.
  • Adjournment: At this point, it was 11pm & the meeting adjourned. The following topics have been moved to the next meeting: (1) the Role of the Infrastructure Committee; (2) The formation of a Youth Outreach Subcommittee (umm, while you guys are at it, howzabout another Outreach Subcommittee for people who can't come to meetings in the evenings, like parents with young chidren & folks who work evening shifts?); & Website enhancements.
I promise to post all of the juicy details (along with the more dessicated ones) within the next few days! Thank you for your patience.

NEXT MEETING: MARCH 15th, 2007 at the Guerneville Veteran's Hall at First & Church Streets in Guerneville (by the entrance to Johnson's Beach).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Next RRROC Meeting , February 15th

Hi folks, the next RRROC meeting is:

Thursday, February 15th, 2007
7:00-9:00 pm
20488 Highway 116
Monte Rio, CA
(near the Rio Theater, Bloomers Nursery, etc.)

Now, if only the danged county could get the agenda for the upcoming meeting AND the minutes from the last meeting up on their Web site as a PDF file BEFORE Thursday's meeting. There's plenty of time since it's only Tuesday the 13th. Wow -- what an innovative idea! I must be almost as cool & cutting-edge as those jaded SoCo hipsters. Fat chance, but I can dream, can't I?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Whines about wines: Local wineries go upscale

I cast the proverbial pox upon your house, Robert Parker. Gone are the days when we could casually stop by at renowned local wineries like Hopkiln, Davis Bynum or Martinelli & pick up a nice, reasonably-priced table wine for $8-$12. Nowadays, the same wines cost $15-$20 & most of their bottles are priced at $25 & up. Oh well, it was fun, but now we're back to Two-Buck-Chuck.

I'm truly glad that the local wineries are doing well. I do understand the fact that the owners made enormous investments in building, architecture, equipment, agricultural innovations, etc. & need to raise their prices in order to recoup their losses. But ... um ... howzabout a nice little discount for us early loyalists & local yokel river rats & rattinas who slurped up your fruit-bomb Zinfandels & peppery Pinot Noirs back when they were affordable & all the high-revenue tourists were still converging upon the wineries in Napa Valley? Especially for the local craftsmen, artisans, & contractors who built your wine cellars & tasting rooms.

Oh, wouldn't that be loverly?

On the other hand ... Perhaps wine -- & wine-tasting -- SHOULD be more expensive so that tourists & others cannot just go about meandering on the roads & winding about like drunken sailors. We drove down River Road this morning towards Route 101. Several of the construction pylons had been knocked down or crushed. Perhaps the hotels & wineries should arrange for limos & other transportation so people aren't driving around drunk.

It's also sad that so many of the local farms -- which used to grow stuff people could actually eat -- have become vineyards. I especially miss the place on Westside Road which used to do a wonderful Halloween pumpkin patch thing every fall. If some emergency cut us off from the rest of the world (like floods or wine-tasting terrorists), we wouldn't have much in terms of fruit, vegetables, dairy & livestock. Then again, we'd be so drunk on wine that we wouldn't care.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Monte Rio sewer cont'd: Santa Rosa's sh** DOES stink

Sonoma County attempts to strong-arm the community of Monte Rio into funding a sewer plant that many folks do not want by imposing a de-facto building moratorium which prevents local residents & businesses from adding onto their existing residences or business facilities, or building upon land they own & which was previously certified as buildable -- until the sewer system that they so strongly desire is built.

The County will not even consider -- or provide permits for -- proven, eco-friendly, economical, & perfectly viable technologies like gray-water systems & composting toilets as potential solutions to the unique dynamics of population growth in our ecologically-delicate region.

Apparently, it's okay for the City of Santa Rosa to flagrantly dump their waste downstream into our river during the winter months, but it's not okay for any of our septic systems to have even the slightest hints of potential environmental contamination. Santa Rosa's sh** does not stink, but our sh** does. Environmental standards apply to us, but not them.

Where the heck do our astronomical property taxes here in Western Sonoma County go to ANYway? I've already proposed my theory of low-level functionaries running hundred-dollar bills through the paper shredder as confetti for holiday parties, but this is getting old.

Our playgrounds are littered with garbage & drug paraphernalia & have no public bathrooms; Our roads have mini-van-sized pot-holes, but no sidewalks; Our schools are good, but only due to the vigilance, caring & support of local teachers, parents & businesses. As for maintenance, we barely even keep things clean for the tourists during the summer, let alone for we residents during the winter.

WHERE is the money going? Where are the solutions? Where's the community input? Can we sue the county for our money back & incorporate for ourselves? What do we need them for, any way?

Monte Rio sewer: money down the toilet?

According to intrepid (& highly knowledgeable, pleasant & witty in person) reporter Elise Roberts' February 1, 2007 article in the Russian River Monthly ("State grant moves MR sewer closer"), the California Department of Water Resources has approved a $3.5 million grant towards construction of the sewer plant, but the county has repeatedly refused Monte Rio resident Doreen Atkinson's requests for a public meeting (the usual lame excuses ... they're sending out a letter, they need to review bids first, blah blah blah). I probably don't need to go on & on about the content of this article, since you'll all be able to read it for yourselves when the Russian River Monthly arrives in our mail boxes sometime this week.

Now, I probably am not as well-informed as I should be, since I live in Rio Nido (where we already pay a whopping $800 assessment per year for the Guerneville sewer -- more than we were paying in the Bay Area) & have only been here for two years.

But I harbor strong doubts about whether the Monte Rio Sewer will ever get built & am not entirely convinced that it should get built, for the following reasons:

  1. It's hideously expensive: The tax assessment for the sewer will be over $1000 per month per parcel (unit of real estate -- property taxes are either payed directly by property owners or passed on to tenants via rent) because the town only has something like 400 households & a handful of well-run & viable -- but not immensely wealthy & mostly family-run -- businesses amongst which to divvy up the costs (the Monte Rio Chamber of Commerce describes it as a "small community ... snuggled between the river and the redwood crested mountains."). Yegads ... unless the majority of Monte Rio denizens of my acquaintance merely act as though they work hard to make ends meet because their modesty & sense of noblesse-oblige prohibits them from flaunting their immense personal wealth, I know of very few -- if any -- people who can comfortably afford the extra $1K+ per year.
  2. There doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm in Monte Rio: I hear that the measure for approving the sewer project only passed by 25 votes (out of 1,104 residents, 549 households, 233 households & 807 housing units, according to the Monte Rio entry in Wikipedia). Most of the people I know or have spoken with on this subject either respond by spewing coruscating torrents of vitriol at worst or express tepid approval or resignation at best. For example, a friend confessed to me that "we do spend close to that on our septic system anyway." That's the most positive thing I've heard any one say about the prospective sewer project. This makes me wonder ... who, exactly, is for the Monte Rio sewer project? Somebody has to be.
  3. Problems with the proposed site: The county wants to locate the sewer treatment plant on the river-front portion of what is now Sheridan Ranch -- a beautiful, historic, ecologically-sensitive, & valuable (by the standards of environmentalists, real estate developers, businesses, & community activists alike), 20-acre property that extends from a long stretch of the river-front in the southern part of Monte Rio across River Road/116 & towards the East. Not only do significant segments of the community object, but the owners (who have listed the property for sale at $4 million) refuse to sell the river-front portion of their property to the County. I can only imagine that the eminent-domain-sale price did not appeal to them, plus, they surely must have anticipated that the presence of a sewer treatment plant along the river front would significantly devalue the remainder of their property. So far, the courts have sided with the owners of Sheridan Ranch. Even if the county succeeds in purchasing the proposed site, potential adverse environmental consequences & related studies could hold back development of the sewer for years & years.
  4. Proposed costs keep escalating: While a myriad of disputes rage through the community of Monte Rio, the projected costs of building the proposed sewer system continue to increase exponentially. It doesn't seem to matter how much the sewer proponents manage to raise from state agencies & others ... the costs continue to escalate beyond reach.
Meanwhile, the entire community of Monte Rio struggles under the burdens imposed by what amounts to a building & remodeling moratorium, because septic systems cannot be constructed or upgraded. Financially strapped families cannot build a desperately-needed new bedroom or bathroom for their new children or aging in-laws. Businesses cannot set up or expand. Land, in effect, cannot be built upon & hence cannot be bought & sold. Monte Rio's formerly prosperous downtown (part of which was destroyed in a fire) remains blighted & buildings must be razed to the ground because their proximity to the river do not allow them to rebuild septic & plumbing systems that would conform to today's standards.

Do the County representatives hope to starve the residents & business people of Monte Rio into submission & subsequently hold them up as an example to the rest of us in Western Sonoma County? I suspect so, although I would prefer to think not. If they wished us well, they would encourage us to find & implement more creative solutions for our community's slow-growth needs.