From BARRY VOGEL
[Rebroadcast (audio here | KZYX here): Local attorney and host Barry Vogel asks them both the same questions, independently of one another so you can compare their answers. A fifteen minute interview with each candidate makes the differences between them exceedingly clear. Well worth the time.
Something could be said for members of a community listening together to this revealing classic of local politics at the same time during this rainy, stormy Sunday. A reader writes: "To sing along, see transcript" (below)... All together now, 1, 2, 3, 4... -DS]
Welcome to Radio Curious, I’m attorney Barry Vogel.
In anticipation of the election for 5th District Supervisor, we have two interviews: first with Wendy Roberts, and second, with Dan Hamburg… both candidates for 5th District Supervisor. I interviewed them both in the studios of Radio Curious in the last week of September 2010.
I asked them both the same questions in the same order, outside the presence of the other, so that you may compare their answers.
B: Wendy Roberts, welcome to Radio Curious.
W: Thank you.
B: I heard you give a talk at a picnic in Redwood Valley, and you referred to extremist ideologies, which you said have led to our decline. And I was curious what you meant by extremist ideologies.
W: I think it’s extreme when we pit the environment against the economy that allows us to live here. I think it’s extreme when we insist that we can only have one or the other and there is no middle ground… and when virtually anything that comes before the public eye that might create a job creates a knee-jerk “no”. And sometimes we work back from that position and we get around to allowing something. But the first off-the-block reaction tends to be “no”. And it’s extremely discouraging to small businesses who are trying to grow… to anybody who might want to come into the county to do anything… and I would just like to suggest that when an idea comes out our starting position should be ‘hmmm, that’s an idea.. maybe.
B: At your talk you said that these ideologies have led to our decline. How would you describe our decline?
W: Well, I think that our decline has been quite apparent. Some years ago we had an economy that was resource based… it was based on over-harvesting on an extreme in one direction that led to extreme over-harvesting and degradation, and then…
B: If I could clarify, when you say our decline, you’re focusing on Mendocino County?
W: I’m talking about the county and our economic decline, and also our environmental decline.
B: You talk about over-harvesting… is that primarily in the timber harvesting areas?
W: Well, I’m thinking primarily of timber harvesting. I’m not convinced that over-harvesting has been a major factor on the north coast in our fishing industry… but it definitely was in our timber industry.
B: Would you say that they are related? As I understand, one of the problems of clear-cutting, for example, is it allows silt to get into the streams which preclude the salmon from successfully spawning.
W: That is one issue. Warmer water is another one that prevents salmon from successfully spawning, and if I fully understood what has led to the decline of the salmon I would be off in Washington trying to legislate a solution, instead of here pondering it. But what I was referring to was a truly exploitive timber industry by people who didn’t realize it would end… that they could go too far. And then that led to an extreme reaction to the other side that didn’t want anything to happen. And now… I just left a meeting that I was speaking to Judith Harwood… and I’m beginning to see people coming to the table and talking about sustainable forestry.
B: When you say the other side, who or how would you describe the other side?
W: I would describe them as people who are looking at an environmental disaster and responded to it quite appropriately with extreme opposition to that over-logging and to that behavior. The only issue I have is that once the situation had come pretty much to a stop, then we have to start working to seek balance. We have to find a way to do something sustainable. And redefine our relationship with the environment. And it’s been very hard for many people in Mendocino County to let go of the “nothing goes here” mentality. I think that’s understandable, but I also think it’s dysfunctional, and we need to get to the point where we can work together.
B: Another comment you made was references to business-friendly practices. Can you define what business-friendly practices mean to you?
W: Yes, I can. I can give you some examples. The building department, when business comes in and they want to do something as simple as the small plant nursery at the south end of Ukiah… they came in wanting to put in a prefabbed greenhouse that would have allowed them to have tender species plants on display and it would have contributed to their overall profitability… and they were sent back to get local engineering of this prefabbed greenhouse that was going to come in and sit on the ground according to prefabbed instructions. But, no, it had to go through this extensive and very costly engineering process. They also wanted to use an existing one-car garage, and existing building with shed doors on the side as an office and a place to sell seeds. And they were told if they wanted to do that… I believe it involved somebody stepping inside a structure, although a very open structure, they would be needing to pick up the expense of putting a fire hydrant in… I have a strong feeling that a different person with a different attitude, looking at the same rules, could have worked with them and said “Well, we have rules about this and that, how might we be able to make this work?” rather than simply saying “You must do this, you must do that.”
In another example, someone wanted to open an art gallery in Mendocino, they were told by our local water district that they couldn’t have that change of use because the art gallery would cause more tourists to come to town, and they would need water to flush toilets. This is kind of, you know, stop it before it starts is what really troubles me.
B: So what is it that would be stopped before it starts?
W: Well, in that case, an art gallery in a historic building that is now sitting there not being used for any such purpose… I mean it’s a business…
B: So you’ve given us two examples: one, is the nursery at the south end of Ukiah, the other is the art gallery in the village of Mendocino. But I’m wondering about specific policy. Since the Board of Supervisors would determine what the planning policies would be, are there any specific ones that you could articulate that would address the concerns that you tell us?
W: Policies almost always have room for interpretation. And when they are interpreted in a way that allows a business to proceed, we are fostering profitability and the opportunity to have a job. When there is a mental set that we better not let something happen here, and the policies consistently get interpreted in ways that slow things down or prevent things, that’s anti-business. And it is a problem in Mendocino County.
B: So would it be fair to characterize what you’re saying as a respect for business compared to a respect for environment?
W: No. I would not characterize it that way. That is a false dichotomy that I do not accept.
B: I’m not trying to put words in your mouth… I’m trying to understand this.
W: No, I don’t think the environment would have suffered in either of the examples I gave you.
B: In other words, it is my understanding as being an observer of the Board of Supervisors in our county for the past 35 years, I’m aware that they set policies for management to implement. So it’s those policies that I’m probing for.
W: And what I’m saying is, a good policy can be interpreted in more than one way, and the general attitude here has been to interpret policies in a rigid and prohibitive way, rather than thinking clearly about each individual situation, how do the policies apply. And there usually is latitude.
B: I’d like to ask you about an email that you sent to the Board of Supervisors in July of 2009 in which you urged the Board to allow a development on the Albion headlands. And you wrote that the appeal was quote “an abuse of the appeal process and discredits thoughtful environmentalists.” And I’m curious about what you mean by “an abuse of the appeal process.”
W: Surely. I’m glad that you brought that up because it’s something that is being used to undermine my credibility. That project is property that has been owned by the same people for many years. They had gone through a three year process with the planning department, doing multiple studies and reports. The planning department had approved this plan. The planning commission had approved this plan. The property had been looked at at least twice for public acquisition. It was declined in favor of the Navarro headlands and Big River estuary, and both of those properties had, in the opinion of the people making the decisions, better features for public access.
B: Let me ask you the question, because we are coming to the end of our time, the question was the abuse of the appeals process.
W: Yes. I believe that when a property owner has complied with the local coastal plan, has satisfied the planning department, has satisfied the planning commission, and nearby properties have been set aside for open space, that there were individuals there who do not want anything built there, because it is in their backyard. And I believe that planning by lawsuit, and planning by nimbyism, will not protect our coast.
B: Nimbyism is: Not In My Back Yard.
W: It is. It was not enough that we saved the Navarro headlands and the Big River watershed, “I want this particular piece saved because it is in my back yard”. And I believe it is an abuse when the public process has been satisfied.
B: Well, I wish we had more time and I’d love to talk with you more, but I have three questions: One is, can you share with us a Eureka or Ah-Ha moment in your life that you follow, that changed your approach to something?
W: Yes, and actually it was last August, just a bit more than a year ago, and I’d come over knowing I was going to file to run for office. I’d come here and I’d spent three days sitting in the Supervisor’s chambers for the budget process. And I’d listened to them struggle mentally with what was obviously ahead of us. Nothing that has happened this year has come as a great surprise if you sat in that room. I was driving home and the Anderson Valley was so beautiful that it was breathtaking. And I was thinking about the people who are frequently vilified who had been working… the county officials, our Board of Supervisors, County Council, the current CEO… all of these people who were working so hard to try to make a plan that could keep this county alive. And I could see that it was not going to be a particularly successful plan… that the year had major pitfalls ahead. And I felt a tremendous sense of kindred spirits, that even in the face of these terrible challenges, there were people willing to take them on. And I feel that way today. And it’s a big reason why I’m perservering in this campaign.
B: Another question is: What would you like to do with the remainder of your one precious life?
W: Well I’d like to have the opportunity to serve this county. I’ve fallen in love with the towns and the people of the 5th District, and really the whole county, because I was interested in the whole county before I got interested in parts of our own district, so that’s a big part of it. I certainly want to spend time with my grandchildren, they’re very dear to me, and with my husband, who is also very dear to me.
B: You’re listening to Radio curious. I’m Barry Vogel. We’ve just heard a brief interview with Wendy Roberts, and now we’ll proceed to a brief interview with Dan Hamburg. I’ll be asking him the same questions I just asked Wendy Roberts… Dan Hamburg, welcome to Radio Curious.
D: Thank you, Barry. Nice to be here.
B: You were present at the Democratic Party Labor Day picnic at the Frey Ranch on Labor Day, and I saw you listening to a talk that Wendy Roberts gave. And in that talk she made reference to extremist ideologies which she said have led to our decline. Do you have an opinion about what extremist ideologies have led to the decline?
D: My idea of the problem of extremist ideologies in Mendocino County is of course diametrically opposed to what Wendy Robert’s idea is. Her idea of extremist ideology seems to be anybody to the left of her… which is a very large percentage of the county, and an even larger percentage of the people in the 5th District. Wendy often accuses environmental extremists of preventing things from happening such as the development of the Albion headlands… such as the completion of the grading ordinance for the county, such as the problems with the completion of the UVAP. I think Wendy considers herself to be the one true environmentalist, and anyone who is less property rights oriented than her is, in her estimation, an extremist.
To me, the extremists are the people who support Wendy Roberts, which is the Employer’s Council, oftentimes Mendocino County Farm Bureau, which has been instrumental in stopping the grading ordinance the last three decades in this county… many times the Board of Realtors, although I have plenty of friends who are realtors, but these lobbying organizations that have lined up behind Wendy… these so-called pro-business, pro-property rights, anti-government organizations are, to me, the real extremists that we have to be careful of.
B: She was referring to a decline. How would you characterize the decline that has occurred in the past several years.
D: Well, I don’t see a decline. I think this county has its share of problems, but I think most of those problems exist in counties throughout California, and really throughout the entire country. I think what she means by decline is that wealthy people are having a harder time making money here. To be fair, it’s a very bad time economically, and you would have to have blinders on to not see that it is affecting everyone in the county.
But I see good things happening in this county. I think the local food movement is a very auspicious thing in Mendocino County. I think the movement toward creating a sustainable energy opportunity, particularly with the failure of PG&E’s initiative in the June election… I think that is a very exciting possibility for the county. Although she is denying this now, there is good evidence that she was in favor of the development out at Masonite, and perhaps she saw that as something that would move Mendocino County forward. She did back off that, I think when she saw that the great majority of people, particularly in the 5th District, were very opposed to that. It’s interesting that most of the groups that are behind Wendy were big supporters of the DDR mall development of the Masonite site.
B: There was also a reference made to business-friendly policies. How would you characterize business-friendly policies?
D: Well I guess those are the policies that the Employers Council pushes, you know, privatization, cutting the salaries and the benefits and pensions of public employees. When you go into the board room, and you see John Mayfield, and Mark Johnson, and Lee Howard, you pretty much know what you’re going to hear. You’re going to hear the government is the enemy… these guys harken back to Ronald Reagan circa 1981. They have a mantra, and it’s the same mantra regardless of the issue: government get out of the way and let big business run things. And of course we’ve seen what happens in this country, and it’s unfortunately been both Republicans and Democrats, to open the floodgates of corruption and financial collapse that we’ve seen on a national level, but you can bring the same ideology, that same kind of libertarian, pro-privatization, anti-government attitude exists right here led by Ukiah-based organizations. One of the strange things about this election is that Wendy lives on the coast, but she’s also the one that is the most strongly supported by these conservative bastions based in Ukiah Valley. If you go through Wendy’s 460, which is the financial disclosure form that gets submitted to the FTPC, you’ll see those names. Many are the same people who were working on my recall in the early 80s. Now they’re trying to keep me from being back on the board because they found that I was somewhat effective at squelching some of their designs.
B: Last July of 2009, Wendy wrote a letter in [support of] a build-out of the Albion headlands. It was actually an email that she wrote to the Board of Supervisors, and I quote from that: “this abuse of the appeal process discredits thoughtful environmentalists.” My question to you, Dan, is what is the purpose of the appeal process from planning commission to the Board of Supervisors?
D: Let’s just clarify: Wendy was supporting the developer, Carol Smith and her husband, and they wanted to use these land patents, or so-called certificates of compliance, in order to develop residential uses on the Albion headlands. Going back to 1983 when the Coastal Plan was passed, I happened to be Chairman of the Board when we were doing those hearings along the coast, the Albion headlands were classified as remote, residential, 40-acre minimums, and also that area is designated as highly scenic… so possibility of development on the headlands going back 30 years have always been discouraged. Then along comes Carol Smith, who’s a friend of Wendy’s, saying she wanted to develop this kind of gated community for very wealthy people along those headlands, and initially she got an okay. I don’t know what the vote was, probably 4-3 on the planning commission. So then it was appealed by the Sierra Club, the Albion Residents Association, and the Mendocino Land Trust, who said “no” to Carol Smith and her husband. The board, going back to 1983 and the passage of the LCP has opposed this type of development on the headlands… and fortunately, on a narrow 3-2 vote, the board stood with the appeal.
And you asked me what is an appeal for. An appeal is for precisely this reason. The planning commission is not an elected body; it’s an appointed body. Decisions that are of great import to the local communities, such as the development of the headlands was to Albion residents, need to go to a body that has been democratically elected by the people. And that was the case in this instance, and of course Wendy Roberts didn’t like it because one of her friends was being denied the ability to develop these headlands.
B: In the email to the Board of Supervisors in July of 2009, Wendy Roberts says that the appeal process as used at that time discredits thoughtful environmentalists. How would you, Dan, describe a thoughtful environmentalist?
D: I always think back to the concept of the seventh generation, and that when you decide if something should go forward or not, you want to think not just about your generation and your children and your grandchildren, but as far ahead as you possibly can. I think this is a perfect case in point. Once you pave over an area that has been designated highly scenic, and with 40-acre minimums… once you pave that over, you’re not going to un-pave it.
A thoughtful environmentalist is someone who really is considering not only what is good for a single developer like Carol Smith in this instance, but is thinking what’s best for the site, for those headlands, for the coastal community, for the tens of thousands of people who come up to Mendocino County to see a pristine coastline… it just has to be a broader consideration than what Wendy keeps in mind. She has a very strong idea about property rights and the inviolability of property rights. And I really think that clashes with what most people who care about the Mendocino coast believe.
B: Well, Dan Hamburg, I want to thank you for being with us on Radio Curious, and a few questions before we leave. One is, can you tell us about your Eureka moment or Ah-Ha moment when you realized something that you continue to live by?
D: Well, I certainly had those when I was a young man. This was an Ah-Ha moment I had as a student when I was reading a book about Latin America, written by a guy named John Gerassi. I had been a history buff as a high school student. I had gone through all their honors programs, and I really loved American history, and I read this book called The Great Fear in Latin America, which kind of laid bare this whole lie that had been inculcated into my brain for my whole life, and I went “Ah-Ha! So this is the way the world treats me. They feed me lies.” Then I luckily got to a place, actually to an institution where I was given the materials to arm myself with the truth.
B: What would you like to do with the rest of your one special life?
D: Well, for a hunk of it I’d like to represent the 5th Supervisorial District. I went into this with my eyes wide open. I’ve been a Supervisor before, I’ve spent a lot of time around government, and I think this is the time to really focus our energies locally. I think we’re facing entropy on the national level, on the state level, and the best thing we can do is figure out how we can make our little 3500 square mile island a livable place for ourselves and our progeny.
B: Our guests have been Wendy Roberts and Dan Hamburg, both candidates for Supervisor in the 5th District in the November election. The book that Wendy Roberts recommends is Touching Wings, Touching Wild, by Ronnie James. The book that Dan Hamburg recommends is The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. I interviewed them both in the studios of Radio Curious in the last week of September 2010. I asked them both the same questions in the same order outside the presence of the other so that you may compare their answers.
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