Saturday, December 02, 2017

Man about Willits: End of the year edition

Batman used to be perched on top of my computer in the Willits News office since I started working there last fall. He was soon joined by his other pals in the Justice League. No matter how things were going, it was always nice to be able to come in and sit at my desk and get lost in the world of journalism and in the microcosm that was the Willits News office on Commercial Street.

After it was announced that the office would permanently close and all business operations would move to the offices of our sister pub, the Ukiah Daily Journal, I didn't know quite how to feel. I had mixed reactions, though I understood it to be a financial decision, I didn't think our readers would react favorably to the news.

One of our long time returning costumers who picks up her paper every Saturday (used to be Fridays before that) came in last week and sorrowfully surveyed the mostly empty space, with all kids of boxes stuffed and a ton of equipment, files and other items ready to be shipped to Ukiah and Lakeport.

"It's the end of an era," she said and it was a frequent refrain I heard constantly.

A few weeks earlier, because I knew she could keep a confidence, she was the first person I told about the company's plan to shutter down the space for good. She lamented the fact she would have to put quarters into the newspaper machines instead of having to come in and talk to our office manager on a regular basis, and we further discussed how these kinds of decisions are made by companies all the time. It wasn't really a surprise she said. One recent example was Bank of America pulling out of Ukiah by shutting down their local branch in that city. 

I got a little tired of explaining to folks that the paper was not folding that it would continue to publish, so I wrote this column which I hope assuages people's fears and answers some of the questions.

Around last November when I was new to the area, I would frequently go to the office for a few hours on a Saturday afternoons to use my computer, plan some of the coverage for the week ahead, or to quickly dash off my latest movie review. There has been little time for reviews this fall season starting with the Mendocino Lake Complex Fire in early October which crippled communications for a few days straight in Willits leading straight into end of the  year reports and the start of a busy holiday season.

Things haven't slowed down one bit, at least in the sense we are wrapping up our holiday coverage for the year. Today's annual event at the Roots of Motive Powers kicks off the holiday season in Willits, with holiday rides on the Skunk Train and the tree lighting ceremony to follow the Roots event which this year was a collaboration between several entities including the Willits Chamber of Commerce.

I hope to write in this blog more often in 2018 and I wish everyone has a Merry Christmas and a wonderful safe start to their new year.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why I can't support the L.A. Chargers

Stan  Humphries, still the only Chargers QB to play in a Super Bowl

The rumors persisted all of last football season that the San Diego Chargers were getting ready to join the Rams in the Los Angeles market but I guess I still held out hope and was skeptical of the reports even though the Chargers had registered an L.A. based web domain and had been the only team on the TV landscape in Southern Cal, even prior to my moving to Texas three years ago.

From a journalism and specifically sports writing and sports coverage perspective, the Chargers moving to L.A. was an interesting story and presented the dilemma of how the San Diego fans would react to the announcement that their team was abandoning them this season. Also, would the media outlets in the San Diego market continue to cover the team?

So after it finally happened and team owner Dean Spanos took the cowardly way out and announced the team's move via the web, fans were upset and understandably bitter about the decision. A number of them gathered outside the team's practice facility in San Diego to burn their jerseys and gear and to say "good riddance" to a team and an owner who had turned their back on them after 55 years.

I have been a football fan all my life and I remember as a 10 year old choosing the San Diego team as my favorite even though I lived in the L.A. area and this caused conflicts. Nobody liked the Chargers in LA. while I was growing up, most were fans of our bitter rivals the Oakland-then L.A. Raiders then back to Oakland in the 90s. Others favored the Rams until they decided to move to St. Louis in 1995.

As long as I can remember I looked forward with great anticipation to another NFL season and especially to watching my favorite team. There were many frustrations over the years watching the Chargers because they were rarely contenders and often times they seemed cursed. There was a contest in the early 80s where they lined up to kick a game winning field goal in the waning moments of a game against the Denver Broncos, only to have the kick blocked and ran back for a winning score. There was also a Monday night game against Chicago when a player seemed on his way to a sure touchdown, only to fumble the ball away before crossing the goal line. Such misfortunes seemed par for the course if you were a Chargers fan.

There were some good moments though. I remember vividly listening to a San Diego radio station, Extra Sports 690 in 1992 in disbelief as the Chargers won the AFC West after posting an 11-5 record. They had started the season 0-4 and turned it around to make the post season. Two years later they had an even  better season guided by coach Bobby Ross and quarterback Stan (the man) Humphries, still the only quarterback to have led the team to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately the 49ers were better than SD that season and they trounced my beloved team in the big game. What I remember most about that championship year was the game against Pittsburgh which the chargers won to get into the Super Bowl. I remember watching and screaming in joy at the TV as running back Natrone Means ripped through the Steelers' run defense like a runaway train on several long runs.

The Steelers had proclaimed and boasted that the Chargers would not score that day but sweet revenge, the Bolts posted 17 points on their way to the Super Bowl.

Finally, there was L.T. the magic back, the guy who shattered the NFL single season TD record in 2006 with 28 scores. That's a record that still stands today and L.T. was a complete back. He could run, he could even pass for touchdowns! Unfortunately, following a season with a 14-2 record in 2006, the team fell in the playoffs to New England and would do so again two years later with an injured L.T. watching the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl instead. It felt like someone punched you in the gut to experience that bitter loss.

Fast forward to 2017 and the punch in the gut was even worse. I had been a SD Chargers fan for 28 of my adult years prior to this season! I was sitting at a pizza joint watching last Monday night's opening Monday Night Football game between the Chargers and the Broncos and I experienced a flurry of emotions. I felt angry that my former favorite team was now referred to by the play by play guys in ESPN as "L.A." and I cursed Dean Spanos for taking the joy of another season opener away from the San Diego fans. But the sports media in San Diego has not completely abandoned the team and neither have some fans. According to a poll conducted by the SD Union Tribune, most fans still consider the Chargers their favorite team in SD.  The media has also not abandoned the team.

I may yet rejoin the Charger fandom, at the moment I don't like the L.A. Chargers brand, but I won't "hate watch" or root against them to perform badly in L.A. Mostly I will go through this season like the last, mostly in blissful ignorance of the team's performance.
Management has always made terrible moves and always sell away the best players, this time they ripped the heart out of a loyal fan base the greedy bastards. The Chargers still have a  hall of fame caliber quarterback in Phillip Rivers. However, they don't feel like my team anymore and all the fake fans who could not have cared less about the team have jumped on the bandwagon egged on by the L.A. sports hacks who are forced to cover the team along with the hapless Rams.

Most can't even remember Lionel "Train" James, Natrone Means, Air Coryell or all the other great players who have donned the powder blues or the lighting bolts on their helmet. That's a real shame.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Non profit analysis states education proposal has problems

source: The Willits News 8/30/2017

A national nonpartisan nonprofit commended the development of the state’s plan for student success designed to comply with the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but criticized its lack of a clear implementation process according to a report released last week.

“California’s plan includes several weaknesses that will limit its ability to effectively communicate with educators, parents, and other stakeholders,” the report hstates.
According to the report by the Boston-based nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners in collaboration with the Collaborative for Student Success, while the state appears to have solicited and utilized stakeholder feedback in the development of the plan and has also adopted high-quality standards and assessments, it is unclear how the state’s proposal for a “dashboard” accountability system will be gauged and incorporated into a comprehensive measure of school quality.

The U.S. Department of Education made public specific provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act after then president Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 10, 2015.
The law, among other provisions, advanced equity by upholding critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students, ensured that vital information was provided to educators, families, students and communities through annual statewide assessments and maintained an expectation that there would be accountability to effect positive change in low performing schools.

One specific concern outlined by the report is the state’s inability to completely spell out its approach to identify low-performing schools, which it says it will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in January 2018.
“The current method of measuring growth does not actually capture individual students’ improvement over time,” the report states. “Instead, it only tracks year-over-year changes at the school level, which is susceptible to differences in the student population enrolled in a given year.”

The report ranks the plan on a five point scale in nine categories. California earned low ratings in several of the plan’s component including a score of 2 for its overall vision articulated in the state’s academic goal for all student subgroups to achieve and sustain high performance.
“The state may find it somewhat difficult to quantify and track district, school and student progress towards realizing it,” the report states, adding the goal of all students achieving and maintaining high academic performance is tied to scoring high on state exams, which corresponds with meeting standards.


“The state has not yet determined the time frame over which schools must achieve this goal, or the time frame for schools identified for improvement to make sufficient progress. As such, it’s impossible to know if this goal is ambitious or achievable,” the report states.
The Bellwether Report also questioned the state’s plan to identify schools for comprehensive support and its methodology for identifying student groups most in need of targeted support.
The plan scored a 1 on this specific category because according to the analysis, “California has not clearly articulated how it will combine a school’s various scores across multiple indicators.”

The state’s proposal is based on multiple tiers of matrices designed to track performance levels using the School Dashboard. The average status score is a school that achieves around level three on an the state assessment, these schools are colored yellow. The average change score is also colored yellow and corresponds with little or no change from last year. For both these measures, the highest scores are colored green and blue, while the lowest are red.
The report said the current approach could potentially ignore some very low performing schools, for example, a high school could score red in both achievement and graduation rates but not be identified if it scored yellow on suspension rates.

Additionally, the state ranked poorly on the academic progress category, with a score of 1. The report points out there is little incentive for schools already performing above the state’s goals to reach toward higher levels, particularly because schools can score slightly worse performance from the first year to the next and still qualify as achieving its growth goals.
The state did however score high on the standards and assessments category with a score of 4 for its use of the Common Core state standards for mathematics and English language arts.


Although the implementation of the Common Core standards was controversial initially, local educators said there are advantages to using them and teachers have warmed up to them over time.
“It seems to me over the last few years the opposition from families has gone down,” said Jennifer Lockwood, director of Willits Charter School who added people were in an uproar at first over the fact students were not being taught skills in the same manner they learned, especially in mathematics.

“I like how the standards tie together to create a clear plan across grade levels,” she said. “It’s the same standard, but it expands over time. I think there was a lot of thought behind the creation of the common core standards to come up with a cohesive plan, before that was not the case. In math, for example, students have to know how to use skills and apply them to real life situations. I think California was pretty progressive when it came to implementing and training of Common Core.”
Willits Unified School District Superintendent Mark Westerburg said the issue is not with the standards, the real issue lies with state assessments.

“The problem is measuring the standards’ success,” he said. “We are implementing them and using them at every grade level but they aren’t very consistent. The state has created a test that is not widely acceptable so a lot of districts have gone to using third party assessments.”
Westerburg said California is one of the few states that does not require a national standardized test to measure student success compared to national standards.
According to Janet Weeks, communications director for the state board of education, the state has been working on a plan for how state funding will be implemented since 2013.

Weeks said the federal government provides funding for low income students, English language learners and foster youth, approximately $1.8 billion a year or about 2 percent of California’s overall education budget and added the nonprofit’s report did not look at the entire educational funding picture. She said instead of looking at all the federal requirements, they came up with their own rubric based on what the group felt the state should be doing.
“Our response is that it’s kind of unfair to rate us without looking at everything the state is doing,” she said. “We are really proud of what we are doing in California. We have increased the amount of money school districts have been getting and we have given local school boards more power on how they spend those funds based on demographics and other factors.”

Children Now, a policy and advocacy group based out of Oakland analyzed the state’s ESSA plan and stated the final opportunity for public comment will be available during the Sept. 13-14 State Board of Education meeting.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Higher Education report card alarming

source: The Willits News, Friday Aug.25, 2017

According to a new report from the California Campaign for College opportunity, the state is falling short in meeting both the needs of an economy in need of a well educated workforce and students in regard to college preparation, access, affordability and completion.
The report, issued earlier this summer grades the state on those four criteria and the results are not encouraging. The Golden State fails in providing college access to students and in college completion and also scores a “C” in affordability. College preparation ranked the highest with a “B-” grade for a less than stellar overall grade point average of 1.17.

The college preparation grade measures whether the state’s high school graduates are academically ready to successfully engage in college work. According to the non-profit’s analysis, to produce 1.7 million additional adults with college credentials by 2025, California would need 100 percent of students to finish high school, but only 69 percent actually do, according to the cohort graduation rate for the class of 2014.
Additionally, the data shows only 47 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, while only 6.3 percent of 25 to 49-year-olds with no college credentials enrolled. To produce the required number of adults with college credentials over the next eight years, the report’s authors estimate the state would need to increase production of undergraduate degrees annually by 23,000 from a baseline of 420,000. Only 12,584 additional degrees were given over the baseline in the 2014-15 academic year for completed university work.

It is alarming that today, just under half of adults in our state have a college degree or credential, as is pointed out by the report’s metrics. If a growing demand for a more educated workforce requires that 60 percent of adults have a college degree or credential by 2025, as Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity asserted, that means the state must produce close to 2 million more degrees over the next decade, a daunting task but one which can be achieved with some dedication and with a commitment from elected officials to provide much needed resources and funding.

Locally, educators are taking some steps to ensure that students have the tools to succeed and to meet the workforce demands of the future. Sanhedrin High School, once a credit recovery school has been transformed this year by the Willits Unified School District as a career Technical Education (CTE) site.
WUSD Superintendent Mark Westerburg said last year his first year on the job would be to focus on repairing the district’s aging facilities and added he would direct his efforts, along with district staff, during his second year to curriculum. So far he seems to be on track with his stated goals.

According to Westerburg, high school students who don’t attend WHS can instead choose to go the vocational education route by participating and choosing vocational programs at Sanhedrin, in order to graduate with marketable skills in multiple focus areas, or develop a personalized program that best fits their needs.
Willits students in grades 6 through 12 also have the option of attending Willits Charter School where this year staff are updating technology, including use of Google classroom and giving upper class students access to Chromebooks, as well as other platforms to ensure academic success and engagement.

Director Jennifer Lockwood said more Advanced Placement classes have also been added to address college accessibility at the school including the addition of AP courses in US history, environmental science, Spanish and calculus.
Educational success of course starts at the lower grades and Willits families have access to Willits Charter School, a free K-5 school for local students. According to Director Kara McClellan, this year teachers plan to emphasize history and social science, along with core academic subjects. There is also a push to strengthen the school’s art programs, music and other academic programs.

Westerburg said the district offers a smaller sized school like Sherwood Elementary where multi-grade classrooms allow for more one-on-one instruction with teachers. Middle School students can also select independent study options managed through Sherwood.
There is a lot state elected leaders can do to achieve the goal of ensuring students have the degrees and credentials needed to succeed and meet the state’s workforce demands including expanding financial aid funding in state and community colleges for low income families and students, reducing the time it takes for students to get through college programs and making sure completion of the college ready (referred to as A-G requirements) for students becomes a reality to open up doors for more of them to gain admission into the UC and CSU systems.

Only by maximizing our local efforts in these areas with the support and accountability from elected officials can the gaps in college preparation access, completion and affordability be bridged.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sunday rumination: Federal probes of leaks threaten our Constitutional rights

According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the government was stepping up its efforts to crack down on unauthorized sources of sensitive information.

Presumably the announcement that the Justice Department has more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared to the number under the Obama administration was made to appease President Donald Trump who has attacked the attorney general for not doing more to clamp down on leaks and, according to the report, to scare government officials away from talking about sensitive matters.

As the Post article points out, Trump "has complained vociferously" about unauthorized disclosures of information, especially when the leaks result in stories that are unflattering to the administration. (And there have been a lot of those since he took office as we all know.)

The most disturbing part of the report in my estimation is when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to rule out the possibility that journalists would be prosecuted saying, "I'm not going to comment on any hypotheticals."

The Post article goes on to state that it has long been Justice Department practice in leak probes to try to avoid investigating journalists directly to find their sources.

It's hard to imagine that in the Trump era, where the commander in chief has branded legitimate news outlets like CNN and The  New York Times as "Fake News," an appellation which is as unfair as it is inaccurate, that previous policies such as those which were in place when then Attorney General Eric Holder Jr said that as long as he was  heading the Justice Department no reporter would be jailed for doing his or her job, will remain unaltered.

Admittedly, and to be fair, attacks on the fourth estate have never been exclusive to any partisan agenda. As the Post also pointed out in their report, prosecutors in the Obama era brought nine leak cases, exceeding the total of all previous administrations combined, and in the process called a reporter a criminal "conspirator." and surreptitiously went after a journalists' phone records in an attempt to identify the reporters' sources.

When the leader of the free world embraces the phrase "Enemy of the People" to describe the American news media, there are real negative consequences and he makes it okay for the public to view journalists with more distrust than they already do and recklessly puts journalists doing important work in danger.

Don't believe me? Think this is mere hyperbole on my part? Well considered what happened to  Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs earlier this year.

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter. In other instances, Trump supporters have been photographed at rallies wearing t-shirts emblazoned with such dictatorial rhetoric like "The best journalist is a dead journalist."

Americans who support the First Amendment and its guaranteed freedom of the press and who are also supportive of journalists' role in a democracy should shudder in fear when Sessions states that the government is reviewing the entire process of how media leak investigations are conducted, adding that they don't know yet what changes are coming down the pike, because they are taking a "fresh look."

The cornerstone of a free and democratic society is a free press. In America we don't jail members of the press for doing their jobs and part of that job entails speaking to sources and not compelling reporters to reveal their sources. Doing so would undermine a process that has been in place for years and which works to the benefit of society, not the converse, which the Trump administration would have us believe.

Without insiders providing information, journalists would be hampered in conducting probes and investigating government, an essential part of the checks and balances in our democratic process. Can you imagine Woodward and Bernstein being able to break a huge story like Watergate in the Vietnam era without the protections politicians have been trying to erode ever since?

Of course, Trump has shown himself to be either ignorant of these fundamental Constitutional processes freedoms and guarantees, or worse yet, he flaunts them openly in an attempt to conduct government in a fashion that dangerously borders authoritarian practices.

 So when Rosenstein, Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, among others in the White House elite announce they will be looking at reviewing policy in regards to leaks, it makes me very nervous and concerned. You should be as well. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Mental Health tax ballot measure is a step in the right direction

Source: The Willits News,  July 28, 2017

It doesn’t take a whole lot of detailed research to see that mental health facilities are still badly needed in Mendocino County. According to the county’s Behavioral Health Advisory annual report for 2015-16, the committee recognized the inadequacy of both substance abuse and disorder treatment services and urged the Board of Supervisors to prioritize financial resources.
Board members in their report supported maximizing the use of all available funding resources, locating and staffing substance abuse treatment disorder options county-wide and providing transportation support for those remote locations, among some suggestions.

On the law enforcement end, earlier in the year the MCSO announced they planned to stop responding to crisis calls and non-violent 5150s. Section 5150 of the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code authorizes a qualified law enforcement officer or clinician to section a person suspected of having a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others.
As reported by the Mendocino Beacon earlier this year, the costs are staggering with emergency room visits by people placed on 5150 holds.

Since the county has had no emergency facilities for mentally ill patients since the shuttering of the psychiatric health facility, known as the PHF unit in 1999, law enforcement and regional medical facilities have been burdened with a lack of resources to deal with the growing demand for services.
To address some of the issues, an ordinance was developed by Sheriff Tom Allman and a 12-member planning team which he assembled and placed on the November 2016 ballot.
The ordinance proposed to levy a half cent county sales tax limited to five years and was projected to raise $22 million towards the creation of a locked psychiatric facility in the county. The initiative also included development of a training facility for mental health and public safety professionals and citizens.

Dubbed Measure AG, the measure was defeated by voters when it failed to reach the two-thirds super majority vote required during the November election. As reported last week, county social service employees and Allman are taking a second stab at passing a mental health tax bill.
Members of the Board of Supervisors said they hoped the new measure has enough for approval from voters. It is clear that whatever shape the proposed retooled initiative takes that services in Mendocino and Willits are still desperately needed and this has been the case for quite some time.

While doing research for an article regarding drug prevention and health, I discovered last year there are few resources available locally in the Willits area and the services that are available for mentally ill patients are scattered throughout the county. For example, Redwood Community Services offers mental health crisis support in both Ukiah and Fort Bragg.
These centers are designed to deal with treatment options such as psychiatric consultations, referrals to follow-up services and assessment and crisis intervention.

This type of facility is non-existent in Willits and Frank R. Howard Hospital does not have the capacity to deal with the mentally ill.
Although drug abuse and mental illness are often linked, qualified therapists and specialized services can best be managed at a localized facility equipped to deal with the staggering demands in psychiatric care. Currently, there are not enough services offered and there is a lack of constant outreach and support on the local level.
The Frank R. Howard Hospital Foundation has been exploring the possibility of utilizing the old Willits hospital as a locked facility for in patient psychiatric care, but according to its board of directors President Margie Handley, it will still take two to three months even after (if) the new tax measure is approved by voters, to determine what it would cost to rehab the facility. She said it could be up to an advisory committee if the ballot measure passes to decide if the envisioned facility would become reality.

If more resources and funds become available as a result of voter approval of the retooled health tax measure, that is a step in the right direction.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bravo to Rodriguez for speaking up in favor of immigrant resolution

source: The Willits News, June 22, 2017

Earlier this month the Eureka Times Standard reported the Arcata City Council adopted an ordinance making Arcata a sanctuary city.
According to the news report, a round of applause rang out in the council chambers after the council voted 3-1, with one councilman dissenting, to pass the sanctuary ordinance.
Contrast this with Willits City Council which recently passed a resolution by a 3-2 vote championed by Councilwoman Saprina Rodriguez affirming a commitment to non-discrimination and supporting immigrants in the community. The resolution was passed by City Council late last month, but not without controversy.

Although Rodriguez said she had to fight to get the item on the council’s agenda, on the night of the May 24 meeting, Mayor Gerry Gonzalez had announced that he was pulling the item from the agenda on advice from City Attorney Jim Lance.
Gonzalez took issue with the original resolution’s wording which he felt could potentially result in the city losing federal grant funding. Although the mayor had pulled the item from the agenda, fellow council members and members of the public in attendance urged him to proceed with the discussion of the resolution. By all accounts, by the time the item was brought back for discussion, a crowd of residents seeking to give input on the matter had thinned out. Some went home in disappointment upon hearing the item had been originally pulled.

Rodriguez said she let her fellow council members know she felt pulling the item was not OK and it was also an abuse of Gonzalez’ authority.
A controversial paragraph in the resolution which in part stated the Willits Police Department would continue its long-standing practice of not participating or aiding in the enforcement of federal immigration laws was revised, taking out the phrase “long standing practice.”
Rodriguez is to be commended for her staunch determination to bring the Willits City Council in alignment with many cities in the state and the nation with regards to supporting their immigrant populations.

The councilwoman said she felt it was her obligation to bring the resolution forward, despite being shut down initially by Gonzalez. She said she gave a draft copy of the resolution to Lance and City Manager Adrienne Moore on May 10, but the item had to make its way through a process before it could make its way to the council’s agenda for the May 24 meeting.
Even though Hispanics and other minorities comprise a lower percentage of Willit’s population and demographics, as Rodriguez correctly points out, there was clearly enough interest in the issue as an immigration town hall held in late March turned out to be one of the highest attended events in recent years, despite a low attendance by the population it was intended to serve.

We can hardly blame Hispanics and immigrants for staying away from this and other forums held throughout Mendocino County, despite reassurances from Sheriff Tom Allman and other law enforcement and county officials that they will have no direct involvement in carrying out federal immigration law in the wake of a federal executive order signed by President Donald Trump this January, there has been great confusion spreading over social media regarding possible ICE raids in Lake County.
I believe Rodriguez is also correct in her assertion that the loss of federal funds is an overplayed argument in opposition to these types of resolutions.

As public sentiment throughout the nation evolves and changes, support for local resolutions has increased from cities across the nation and they continue to be approved at a rapid race.
Gonzalez and other local leaders in Willits have advocated for restraint, fearing the loss of federal funds and citing direction from organizations like the League of California Cities in regards to adopting a sanctuary city ordinance, but as Rodriguez said, the threat of federal funding should not be a critical factor in adopting a resolution when it comes to safeguarding residents and allaying mass fear or confusion.

Leaders don’t always make a decision based on funding, and Willits is not out on an island, nor would it be alone in supporting its immigrant population - joining cities like Santa Rosa and Windsor which have passed similar resolutions or declared themselves as sanctuary cities, despite threats from the federal government.
I add myself to the list of those whom Rodriguez said have overwhelmingly thanked her for her moral leadership.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I spent part of Saturday visiting the Brooktrails Township and covered the Brooktrails Fire Department Open House for TWN.

In partnership with CAL FIRE, the department put together an open house/preparedness event this weekend for residents. With hot summer temperatures and fire season right around the corner, the Fire Department wants residents to be ready for any contingency or emergency.

There were tables full of pamphlets, information about preventing and dealing with emergency situations, as well as T-shirts and raffle items and baseballs with "Smokey The Bear" logos emblazoned on them.

I actually felt badly for the volunteer firefighters that were assembled there. There was only one thing missing: the Brooktrails Township residents.

Where were the residents?
Except for one lone straggler toward the end of the allocated time for the event, most of the Brooktrails residents were no shows. Now you can argue that there were a lot of events going on this weekend and that the forecast called for rain, but it still seemed like a shame to me that the FD would go to the trouble of advertising the event and it ended up being sparsely attended.

The same story was true for a tour of the Brooktrails Community Garden in which resident Anthony Ward was scheduled to read excerpts from his book on gardening and spirituality. 
The pending threat of rain and cold weather in June seemed to deter residents from stopping by.

But for the other events, is it a lack of marketing to blame? I can't be sure.
This isn't the first event in North Mendocino County I have covered which suffered from a lack of participation from the very people it is intending to serve.

A couple of months back I attended a workshop of the Mendocino County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Committee aimed at educating community members, particularly cultural groups such as native Americans and Hispanics, about the services available to them in terms of counseling, mental health and other areas.

Once again that workshop was missing members of the community, despite the fact I was told that there is a staff member employed by the county whose job description includes driving around the county promoting such events. Sadly, the counselors and presenters may as well have been talking to themselves because there was zero community input.

I have not attended other workshops, though I am told others have been better attended. Later this month on June 29 in Redwood Valley, another event, this time a cross cultural training, the byproduct of a collaboration between the Consolidated Tribal Health Project and the County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services will feature a couple of speakers and discuss topics such as sharing of local practices.

I hope this workshop will see better community attendance and participation. The event is scheduled from 9 to 4 p.m. and lunch will be provided. Those interested in attending should contact Dustin Thompson at

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cue in the Rocky theme song

Through no fault of my own, I am mostly left to complete this latest edition of TWN virtually without any extra help.

When I was in college at Mt. San Antonio in Walnut CA, I will never forget how my good friend at the time, page and layout designer extraordinaire James Choy would psyche himself when he felt tired or every time we were up against the tight deadlines by playing "Eye of the Tiger" or the Rocky theme song for that 11th hour stretch of work or for that extra burst of needed inspiration.

You know what? I never thought that would stick in my mind, but it's those types of moments that really stick out from person's background  and you remember them when it's least expected, or when you most need to reflect on them I suppose.

Just today I have completed two news stories, including a 35 inch budget piece, prepared a brief history retrospective, an opinion piece and I am getting ready to complete a movie review for my entertainment page. Oh and then there's the police log.

It would not be appropriate to discuss in a public thread on my blog the circumstances why I am a reporter short this week, suffice it to say I won't talk about any H.R. issues or specifics, but at least some relief is on the way.

The freelancer budget has been increased and I can assign my freelancers (I really only have two, one main one doing some soft pieces and profiles and one specializing in sports) a few more assignments to get me through. Although it is still me doing the bulk of the work, including updating our website.

I am getting ready to plan out the rest of the content and to look for some region and state stories to round out Friday's edition. Was it Billy Ocean that sang that old tune, "When the going gets tough...?" You know the rest. I am not going to lie, the going's been VERY rough of late, and although I wish I had a lot more help, at least I remember back on the old days.

I swear I can still see good 'ole James Choy gearing up and psyching himself up for another round.

Cue up "Eye of the Tiger"

P.S. I just looked at this image carefully, WTH? Why is this boxer dude wearing a suit with his gloves? Or am I just that tired. LOL

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Net neutrality under seige in wake of Trump's internet bill

source: The Willits News
 April 7, 2017

Have you ever logged on to a website and been surprised that the ads were targeted to suit your needs? Perhaps the first time you experienced the phenomenon of targeted advertising you wondered how it was the web programmers knew of your predilection for Nike sneakers or your secret love of Grease the musical? You were either horrified at the prospect of your web privacy being invaded or marveled at the technical wizardry behind the technology. Whatever your reaction, get ready for the next phase.

In a recent 50-48 vote, the U.S. Senate approved to do away with Federal Communications Commission rules established last fall blocking internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from selling private communications to advertisers eager to get their hands on consumers’ Google search history without their authorization.

The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets reported earlier this week President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track and sell users’ data.

According to The New York Times, GOP lawmakers and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said privacy rules hampered telecommunications carriers, opening the door for further deregulation and allowing the federal government to strike against net neutrality rules. Net neutrality refers to requirements that broadband providers should enable access to all content and internet applications without playing favorites to specific websites.

As pointed out by Forbes, Wired and other technology and business publications, the future of net neutrality could be jeopardized as regulatory rollbacks that would allow the sale of users’ private data to corporate tech interests become the order of the day. What’s worse, the potential abuse of internet ownership by means of censoring or biasing content for financial gain could be predicted by Trump’s selection of Pai to take over as chairman of the FCC in January. People could read the writing on the smart board.

It’s no secret that Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, has been a vocal critic of net neutrality rules and his views seem to align with an administration which berates the media and has sworn to break up what Trump called “media conglomerate oligopolies” while on the stump last fall.

That’s not to say net neutrality is not an important concept for business, or that business should not play any part in people’s internet usage. As pointed out by the non-partisan Free Press, an organization fighting to save the free internet, the ability of small businesses and startups depends on an open internet to foster economic growth and encourages more diversity and creativity. The internet has always been a marketplace of ideas, although lobbyists have been attempting to impose government regulations to for several years in attempts to maximize the profits of a select few.

Free internet protection advocates argue that the open internet is also important for racial and social justice campaigns. The loss of a free internet could have the damaging effect of demarginalizing people of color by potentially taking away platforms for free expression on the web. We are not there yet and there are those who undoubtedly would categorize these ideas as hyperbole, but the potential is a real concern.

Regardless of their ideological stance, at the very least people should be leery of ISPs having the ability to exploit their browser history, thereby acquiring access to their consumer choices and internet searches. Currently there are malware and malicious programs designed to hijack search engine queries and by now the majority of web users have experienced the frustration of being rerouted to a website or advertising page without their consent. Advertisers will not have to rely solely on these surreptitious tactics and harmful software programs if the federal government moves toward ending what an L.A. Times editorial called “The equal opportunity internet.”

Once we go down the slippery slope of rolling back rules established during the previous administration espousing internet consumer protections in favor of increased profits, we face the real danger of going back to square one when it comes to user privacy and the establishment of a fair and equal internet for everybody.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

six months ago...

I closed the deal with K.C. Meadows, the managing editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal to come to Willits and take over as the city editor for the Willits News.

So I recall giving my landlord notice, packing my 2013 Kia Forte and driving from Espanola New Mexico to Arizona and then to Southern California where I stayed one weekend with my parents before heading out into the unknown: Mendocino County.

I still recall that fall weekend full of promise and hope, after a brief stop in San Francisco, the 100 mile plus drive north on the 101 to Ukiah where I stayed in temporary housing for three weeks while I commuted to Willits on a daily basis.

I remember that first fall weekend with the orange leaves on the sidewalks and downtown Ukiah so picturesque and lovely full of color, charm, almost like that fictional town the Gilmore Girls inhabited on TV.

Basically I took a leap of faith and it paid off.

So much happened since!

The first big story about Board of Supervisor Tom Woodhouse getting arrested the weekend before Halloween. I still remember he came to my office and said hello and gave me his business card, told me to call him. He had been AWOL at Board of Supervisors meetings and resurfaced on the streets on Willits, often disheveled or talking nonsense according to the locals.
Little did I know he was bipolar and his subsequent brush with the law and eventual resignation from the board was the first big story.

Just before the holidays the Bypass project opened, and shortly after that the aftermath of its construction. It appears the local businesses are still feeling its effects.

This morning I was at the local coffee shop for the first of what I hope will be many "meetings with the editor" where I sit and meet readers and discuss whatever is on their mind. This will happen at Rolands Bakery at the Evergreen Shopping Center every Wednesday AM.

This Friday I am taking a well deserved day off.

I will post my opinion on the Net Neutrality issue from Friday's paper late tomorrow once it goes live on our site.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Man About Willits: It's Your Move

source: The Willits News March 2, 2017

I have been a gamer all my life. From board games to card games to video games to role playing, I love all kinds, every kind of game, and I probably have tried most at one point or another from “Risk” to “Dungeons and Dragons” to “Magic The Gathering,” but there is one game that has had a hold on me for years and has been a constant throughout my life: the venerable game of chess. I often drive the rain soaked streets in Mendocino County looking for a game.

Ever since my dad taught me how the pieces move when I was 10, I have been enthralled by the complexities of the royal game, although I didn’t always play it. I took a long break from the game, not because I wanted to but because life got in the way, but I rediscovered it in college and have played it on and off ever since.

The beauty of chess, apart from the fact it offers many intellectual rewards, is also that you can play it anywhere and everywhere. In Russia and most European countries, the game is almost like a religion, I have read people play it on trains, in the park, and kids partake of it at school as part of their curriculum. Nowadays you can play over the board face to face against your opponent or on the internet and even on a smartphone through an app.

Most people who do not partake of the hobby don’t realize that chess has its own language. Actually, it has many languages, although there are two types of notation, the descriptive and the algebraic. The former was replaced by the latter for ease of use. This notation works by naming the squares where the pieces move on the 64 square board.

It is chess notation that allowed people to play “postal” chess for years prior to the advent of the internet. In postal or correspondence chess, a person will mail their move to another player and wait to receive the other player’s response. A game could take months or even years this way, but the advantage is you did not have to be next to the other player. It also allowed players to enjoy centuries old games and to play over historic matches by replaying the moves of their favorite recorded games printed in books and in newspapers and magazines.

The rise of the world wide web in the 1990s changed a lot in the global society and chess was no different. All of a sudden more people could instantly face each other in fierce battles over the web, internet clubs sprang up as did forums and websites dedicated to strategy and preserving the history of the game. Software which helped with instruction became popular and tournaments, which had once been exclusive to over-the-board play suddenly were also happening online.
I play chess occasionally with my college buddy Michael Chen, even though he resides 536 miles away in Southern California. We play using correspondence through Facebook and he routinely beats me.

Throughout history many famous people have played chess and the chess world has produced its share of celebrated characters and players. Benjamin Franklin was said to have loved the game. He famously said once, “We learn from chess the greatest maxim in life - that even when everything seems to be going badly, we should not lose heart, but always hope for a change for the better.”Another temperamental player, after losing an intense match is said to have grabbed his opponent’s king, hurled it across the room and shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

When I was growing up I was fascinated and read about the great chess champions of all time. There was Jose Raul Capablanca, the great Cuban master who was also ambassador for Cuba during his lifetime and a world champion in 1920. There was the U.S. champion Bobby Fischer who took on the Russian monopoly of the game and won the world title in 1972 in Reykjavic Iceland in dramatic fashion against the best Russian master Boris Spassky. The celebrated match was like a heavy weight boxing fight to chess lovers, and a microcosm of the Cold War.

In 1996 in Philadelphia, another historical chess match enthralled the world. This one featured chess champion Gary Kasparov playing against a super IBM computer dubbed “Deep Blue.” It marked the first time a chess playing computer defeated a world champion in a classical game under tournament regulations. The match captured the attention of millions and brought a renewed interest in the ancient game.

No one knows who invented it, but the game has been played for centuries by aristocrats, by diplomats and by scholars. I personally travelled by bus for several hours once to Santa Monica beach where there is a section of benches and old Russian masters who play on a daily basis. On another occasion, I was in New York City in the famous Washington Square Park, killing time while waiting on a flight back home. I thought it was a good idea to play one of the old guys in the park, perhaps I could give them a good game?

I don’t recommend it. Fastest $5 I ever lost.
Chess players are sometimes stereotyped as uber geeks, but in my experience this is a misconception as I have met chess players of every age, creed and walk of life during my lifetime. Chess players have a sense of humor. One player told me this joke: A man and a dog were seen playing chess together in a park. One person remarked, “Wow, that’s a clever dog.” The man retorted, “He’s not so clever, I beat him three out of four games.”
I try to find a chess club or gaming store everywhere I go. Ukiah has one and so does Willits. The Willits gaming store has almost every role playing, card and board game available and there are games happening on week nights and on the weekend. I have not seen chess players there.

I am still searching for over-the-board opponents to play during my free time. Come on Willits, it’s your move.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The facebook Journalism project: Do we really need it?

Approximately two weeks ago, Facebook kicked off their first Facebook event with local media in Dallas. According to their site page, the Facebook team hosted nearly 70 attendees, representing newspapers, TV and radio stations from across Texas and surrounding areas.

The social media giant called it "an opportunity for newsroom leaders, social media editors and journalists to learn more about using Facebook and Instagram for news" and for them to learn more about local news organizations on these platforms. Additionally, Facebook said local news is important to people and that they admire their local news partners that bring communities together around issues that are closest to home.

 Facebook invited users to take a look at some of the standout moments local publishers shared over the past few weeks. They say they are launching a new monthly feature on their Media Blog called "Spotlight on Local," where they will showcase storytelling from local news publishers on Facebook and Instagram. The Facebook team said over the coming months their news partnerships team will also be hosting more regional news on Facebook events for local publishers across the country.

The problem with "fake news" found on social media has also been addressed of late. I think the problem is exacerbated by a president and an administration that labels news report they find critical or they disagree with as fake. Just because a politician does not like the way he or she is portrayed in an article, that does not necessarily invalidate the information anymore than President Trump hearing somewhere that he garnered the greatest number of electoral votes in history (not true) make that fact a true statement.

Personally I don't think there really is a need for a Facebook journalism project. The latest version of the Associated Press stylebook has an entire chapter dedicated on how to deal with many of the issues journalists face with the emergence of social media. Mostly I use Facebook and Twitter to post links to my work, and so do a lot of other media organizations that I am aware of.

Certainly there needs to be more education about social media and how it benefits the industry, but other than that, it does not seem this type of elaborate project is needed because media professionals have already incorporated the web and social media to supplement and enhance their reporting and have been doing it successfully for quite some time now.

 I also dare to say that social media, Facebook in particular, has not always been good for journalism and has had the opposite effect in many cases. One unwanted byproduct of social media integration has been the notable rise in the fake news trends. Because anyone can post on the web and links containing information that isn't vetted, often the spread of misinformation via links to sites of questionable legitimacy with questionable facts and content was a byproduct of the rise of social media, memes and the internet culture.

Another detrimental result is that people have become accustomed to getting their news from social media and have become lazy and less critical. A large demographic and segment of the population does not even read newspapers or magazines and the lack of in-depth reporting in other media outlets has eroded people's ability to exercise critical thinking and judgement. That may not all be attributed directly to social media, but it sure has not helped.

Another problem has been news outlets, particularly on the broadcasting spectrum, becoming less impartial and espousing ideology such as Fox News for conservatives and MSNBC on the liberal spectrum.

I think it is laudable for Facebook to try to mitigate the problem with fakes news now, but it seems more like a reactionary end result to the criticism it faced over the controversy, more than anything else. I hope that the collaboration between Facebook and news professionals turns out to be good for the industry. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Man about Willits: Why I love books

Man about Willits: Source: The Willits News 1/19/2017

 I love books. I especially love older volumes and the musty, used variety. Back in 1981, Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and famous media mogul, was quoted saying newspapers would be gone in 10 years. I am guessing his assessment was probably based on the emergence of new technologies at the time, and on the rising popularity of cable television. Now, cable TV is all but dead, replaced by streaming services and other technologies.

 I am a newspaper print guy and I realize that compared to the younger generation, I could be equated with a dying breed, the traditionalist who prefers the printed page to the shiny new gadget, tablet or e-reader.

The last few months have been pretty busy professionally for me, I am still getting acclimated to Mendocino County and to Willits specifically. There has been no shortage of significant events to cover since my arrival in the fall, but in the wake of last week’s storms and before this week’s ongoing precipitation, there was a lull in the weather. I stepped out of my office to stroll down Main Street, take in the sliver of sunlight and to walk to a favorite new destination: The used bookstore. After a filling lunch at the Mexican restaurant near my bank, I popped into the bookstore to briefly disappear into the stacks for the balance of my lunch break. It was the perfect respite from the deadlines, interviews, emails and the other responsibilities of the typical work day.

Whenever I find a new bookstore I always make it a point to scope out the section on games looking for tomes on chess. Willits is pretty well stocked when it comes to the books I enjoy reading.

I have heard it said that there are more books printed on chess strategy, history, tactics and tournaments than any other topic, except perhaps religion and the Bible. I probably read that bit of trivia somewhere.

 When I visit a library, I always head to the section labeled .794 under the Dewey Decimal system first, because I know that is where all the chess books are hidden, like rare gems in a buccaneer’s treasure chest. I also love biographies and screen writing books. Maybe my movie script will be completed in 2017. Sadly, bookstores have been going the way of the dinosaurs, brick and mortar stores and mom and pop businesses replaced by Amazon, Google gadgets and technology. According to the illiteracy statistics compiled by the Static Brain Research Institute, based on research undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy last year, there are still 32,000 adults in our country who cannot read; 14 percent can’t read above a basic level.

A staggering 44 percent of U.S. adults can only read at an intermediate level of proficiency and studies have shown close to 20 percent of high school graduates are illiterate. I remember sitting in my high school French class reading “The Little Prince” in its original French and in my A.P. English class pouring through the works of Shakespeare, Orwell and other classics. I cannot fathom being in a classroom without the ability to understand the printed page.

 I have always believed there is something irrefutably sad about a society where anyone can tell you the latest exploits of the Kardashians, but are at a loss when asked who wrote “Moby Dick” or to recite a line from Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet without pulling out their iPhone or asking the all-mighty Google.

Then again, I am “old school.” I sat in a freshman high school class learning to type the “home row” keys and just yesterday was having a conversation with a co-worker about the days when we needed a landline to be able to use the Internet.

 I love books, the tactile nature of their texture and feel, and I even love the way an old book smells. The fictional librarian in the old Buffy show Rupert Giles said “books smell like knowledge.” He said the problem with computers is they don’t smell. I think he was absolutely right. Conversely, I think my college journalism teacher was wrong when she adopted the mantra “print is dead.” Print and newspapers are alive and well in Willits, California and in Lake Jackson, Texas where I worked as a reporter two years ago and they are also still viable in Northern New Mexico where they are sold on street corners, much like they were a century ago. It looks like books and newspapers have some life in them yet. Ted Turner was dead wrong as a prognosticator, fortunately for us old souls who still love curling in a corner with a favorite book.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Man about Willits

Here is a link to my first column for TWN: Man about Willits

source: The Willits News, January 6, 2017

It must have come as a surprise to some of their members when I walked into the North County Women in Business Network’s latest meeting at the Willits Center for the Arts upstairs gallery Wednesday morning.

As I clutched my trusty battered briefcase and Canon digital camera and signed the attendance sheet, I overheard one of the ladies say in a concurrently bemused and astonished tone, “It’s a man.”

As a reporter and city editor working in the community of Willits, I have gotten to know a few of those in attendance, like former Mayor and City Council Member Holly Madrigal and Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Epstein, but the bulk were still new faces. Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to accomplish other than networking and listening in to the group’s plans for the new year. It was perhaps just a good opportunity to attach faces to some of the names making their way into my inbox on a periodic basis.

On the agenda was a discussion of best practices and goals for businesses in 2017. The network’s Co-Chairwoman Jenny Senter, owner of Celtic Heritage Destinations travel agency, and Patricia Baumann, former network chairwoman, acted as facilitators. Senter asked the members what they were looking to leave behind from the previous year in 2017 by way of an introductory ice breaker, and each took turns around a circle providing various responses.

One member told me in jest that I should come back to a subsequent meeting wearing a dress. Others half-jokingly pointed out they were wearing pants or business attire. If my camera and notepad had not given away my profession, if not my intentions, a brief introduction took care of any uncertainty or potential awkwardness. There was little I could do about my gender.

Denise Rose, Brooktrails Township general manager, said she hoped to leave behind a playground, a project she has been working on for some time. Baumann, design principal at Design Cafe, said she was looking forward to having more time for herself in the new year and volunteering less.

Introductions were followed by break out sessions consisting of three or more members sharing ideas about best practices and how to improve themselves personally and professionally. These women in business forced me to think about what I wanted to leave behind in 2017, and after a brief period of reflection, I came up with this: I want people to shed their misconceptions, prejudices or preconceived notions about those in our community.

In addition to being more visible by stepping away from my desk and from behind the computer, whenever deadlines allow, it is one of my goals to shed any ignorance of the various groups operating in our coverage area, to better inform and serve the members of the community, while walking the line between informing and ferreting out corruption or waste.

Others in the group said 2016 taught them huge lessons, such as not worrying about disappointing people in business or as a volunteers. Saprina Rodriguez, newly-elected city council member and president of Willits Youth Soccer, said she underwent major surgery for a spinal injury recently, which slowed her down a bit. Rodriguez said she used her recovery time to gain perspective, and she feels excited about the tasks she is taking on in 2017.

Some of the best practices shared by members include taking time to plan, doing things one enjoys, networking, learning to be better listeners, learning more about online marketing, continuing with education, and not being afraid to ask for help.

These are challenging times for the local business community and property owners. In addition to the untimely death of former Chamber of Commerce Director Lynn Kennelly, city officials are in the midst of making the transition to new city council members, while coping with the reality of the post-bypass era. Most of the members embraced the notion that, as a collective, they were up to the task of dealing with their individual concerns.

A number of members have ambitious goals for the new year. Madrigal for example, has expressed desire in taking over the post recently vacated by former Third District Supervisor Tom Woodhouse, in order to advocate for Willits and Mendocino County. Others set more modest personal goals such as swimming and getting fit or meditating regularly.

I was invited to come to another meeting to visit with the group in the near future, with one caveat: I don’t anticipate wearing a dress.