Authors Posts by Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola


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San Rafael resident caught up in immigration sweep

On Wednesday, May 3, deportation officials placed two Mexican nationals, Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nuñez, in expedited deportation proceedings.

By Tom Gogola

Monday, May 15 was Immigrant Day in California, but somebody forgot to tell U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as the federal administration continues with its deportation frenzy, despite the consequences for families and individuals caught up in the rolling sweep of the undocumented.

The latest and most recent outrage involves two Mexican nationals—Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nuñez—who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, worked at a government defense job in Fairfield and got caught up in the undocumented sweep sanctioned by Sessions and carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and snitch-crazed American citizens on the ground.

Mejia is a San Rafael resident with a spotless criminal record and long-standing community ties. One of his children is celebrating their confirmation this weekend, but Mejia likely won’t be attending. He, along with Nuñez, is locked up in an ICE facility, awaiting expedited deportation after getting sent there on May 3.

Marin County residents gathered at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael on Monday to celebrate Immigrant Day and to show public support behind a petition drive to demand that Mejia get a hearing and not be subjected to expedited deportation. His wife addressed the crowd, as did his former employer.

“We’re trying to get him some due process,” says San Rafael Congressman Jared Huffman, who attended the Monday protest.

In an interview in advance of the event, Huffman described Mejia, a father of three, as a “perfectly honorable upstanding citizen” who was arrested at his workplace after an identity check revealed that he was a non-citizen. “That’s what is so scary about this one,” Huffman says, given “all these reassurances that this would be focused on criminals—this puts the lie to that.”

An in-depth story on Mejia and Nuñez (from Hayward) appeared last week in the Mercury News, where the comment sections were running largely in favor of a cruel outcome for the “illegal alien” Mejia. The Mercury News reported that the 37-year-old, who worked for an area contractor, had reported to a construction job at Travis Air Force Base on May 3, but never came home. Reporter Tatiana Sanchez was able to interview Mejia from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, where he said, “I’ve been here for 17 years and my record is excellent. I’ve never done anything to anyone. My bills are paid on time, I have a clean record, we’ve never asked the government for help.”

Despite the reams of anonymous anti-immigrant comments, Huffman says that public support is running very high for Mejia in his district. Huffman says that he’s been sharing notes with other congressmen as lawmakers try to sort through an opaque administration that keeps moving the goalposts on the immigration crackdown.

Mejia, who was still locked up as this paper went to press on Tuesday afternoon, is hoping that public pressure and a petition for his release will persuade ICE to release him and not tear a family apart for no good reason. A grassroots petition has generated thousands of signatures in Mejia’s favor, and in a statement, Huffman’s office notes that “the letters show Mr. Mejia has been an exemplary father, neighbor, employee, member of the community, and also include countless stories demonstrating his commitment to family, education, and friends.”

“The real significance of this case beyond the compelling drama that is creating so much support in my district is that if this gentleman can be caught in a sting, summarily arrested and deported without any due process, it’s hard to imagine any undocumented immigrant—that’s 12 million people—being safe,” Huffman says. “That is sort of a nightmare scenario. I’m hopeful that somewhere in this administration someone has a brain and a heart, and is willing to take a look at this and reconsider.”

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Marin General under fire and pot monopoly

On Saturday, May 6, a public forum in Terra Linda addressed concerns about staffing and management culture affecting patient safety at Marin General Hospital.

By Tom Gogola

Union workers and officials associated with Marin General Hospital gathered for a public forum on Saturday, May 6 to highlight deficiencies in care for both patients and employees at the nonprofit hospital, which enjoyed a $22 million profit in 2016.

Tim Jenkins, a labor representative and researcher with the Teamsters, says the profits are the good news. “The bad news is that while finances are up, indicators of quality patient care have gone down.”

In a statement, Jenkins cites an increase in recent years in so-called “service deficiencies” identified by state inspectors with the California Department of Public Health. The hospital was run by Sutter from 1996 through 2010 under a lease promulgated by the Marin Healthcare District, which owns the hospital and the land that it’s on, says Jenkins.

The District leased the operations to the Marin General Hospital Corporation (MGH) in 1985; as Jenkins notes, MGH then signed a lease with the healthcare giant Sutter. The hospital, he writes in his testimony, “has been doing well financially” since Sutter opted out of its lease in 2010.

Jenkins cites state reports as he notes in his statement that, “under Sutter, from 2004-2010 there were eight state administrative penalties assessed against MGH. From 2011-2016, that has increased to 12 state administrative penalties. In 2014, more than three years after taking over from Sutter, the hospital was cited and issued a $100,000 penalty for failing to develop, maintain, and implement written policies for the surgical department.”

A series of hospital workers gave testimony at the May 6 public hearing, hosted by North Bay Jobs with Justice. Panel members included Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, North Bay Jobs with Justice chairperson Matt Myres, and two Marin County faith leaders.

The workers and union representatives provided testimony that claimed the spike in service deficiencies was the fault of a management team that has failed, as Jenkins says, “to take action to stop intimidating and disruptive behaviors” directed at lower-tier union workers at the hospital. Short-staffing issues and “a punitive environment where people feel their mistakes are held against them” have also contributed to the deficiencies.

Hospital spokesman Jamie Maites says that MGH can’t respond to concerns raised by the workers “because we have not received any information from the forum.” She added that there “is no ‘increase in service deficiencies’ or ‘short-staffing’ at MGH.”

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A Sacramento Senate budget sub-committee met on Thursday, May 4 to discuss numerous cannabis-related issues as the regulatory framework under Proposition 64 is implemented and tweaked. A rider bill to last year’s voter-approved legalization is making its way through the legislature to address taxation and organic certification and licensing, among other sticky-bud wickets yet to be resolved.

The real sticking point to the bill, says California Growers Alliance Executive Director Hezekiah Allen, is a proposed repeal of Section 26051, which gives state officials latitude to deny cannabis applications if they are concerned the applicant might “create or maintain monopoly powers.”

Prop 64 explicitly protected legacy growers from the disaster that has befallen, for example, border-state Oregon, now under siege from an industry formerly known as Big Tobacco. California’s law, by contrast, gave a five-year window of protection for growers, to protect their non-patented flowers’ corporate takeover.

Section 26051 also covers a range of deniable factors or concerns, which have broad support among the various interest groups that pushed for them (law enforcement, environmental groups), and as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out the framework for legalization in his Blue Ribbon Commission study.

Under the current law, applications for cannabis-related businesses can also be denied if authorities believe they would encourage underage use or adult abuse, violate environmental protection laws or contribute to the black market. And, if an applicant would “allow unreasonable restraints on competition.”

By every indication, the repeal-26051 effort is not being pushed by children, criminals, addicts or illicit stream-side growers. And so who does that leave?

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News—from cannabis to watersheds

The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation has proposed rules on distribution, testing and retail sales of cannabis.

The Hot Pot

The wheels of government turn slowly, but three state agencies completed proposed regulations for medical cannabis well before the January 1 deadline. Marin County has meanwhile told dispensaries to keep out, regardless of the state deadline.

Last week, California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, Department of Food and Agriculture and Department of Public Health released their much-anticipated rules for the industry under the Medical Cannabis Regulatory and Safety Act (MCRSA).

The proposed regulations follow a series of public meetings the agencies held across the state to meet with industry stakeholders about the kind of rules they’d like to see. The speedy state action comes as the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted to ban brick-and-mortar dispensaries across the county and only allow for delivery services of cannabis. The county has already banned non-medical sales outright.

On the other hand, the state is meeting life on life’s terms. The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation has proposed rules on distribution, testing and retail sales. CalCannabis Cultivation, a branch of the Department of Food and Agriculture that oversees the regulations for cannabis cultivation, released proposed rules for cultivation, nurseries and processing and the Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety, a division of the Department of Public Health, released its proposed regulations on manufacturing cannabis products which includes extraction, processing and infusion.

The regulations now go to the public for a 45-day comment period. Comments are due June 12 and can be made at the agencies’ websites. The regulations do not address the recreational use and sales of cannabis approved by voters in November under Proposition 64.

“This is a major step in an expedited and historic process to regulate the globe’s leading cannabis marketplace,” says Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association. “The state agency staff have done an impressive job meeting the aggressive timelines in the MCRSA. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty as the legislature and the governor seek to unify the medical cannabis laws and the adult use laws.”

Meanwhile, at the local level, the regulators have spoken and the dispensaries are a no-go, regardless of state sanction (see ‘No Go,’ April 19). As the state dutifully pushes forth on a sane and humane pot policy in the “Era of Sessions”—the same Marin County that gave birth to ‘420’ now features high school administrators lecturing Marin students on the evils of the killer weed on the unofficial regional holiday, thereby ensuring another generation of Marin stoners motivated only by high tides and green grass forever.

Stett Holbrook and Tom Gogola

Swamp and Circumstance

Trump’s swamp monster just sucked up all of the water in the service of Big Ag as a compliant Congressional committee pushed through a Central Valley water deal brutally opposed by Rep. Jared Huffman, and which could have implications in watersheds and at water districts across the state.

A Monday release from the North Coast congressman blasted Trump’s cronies-only administration, lately met with news that former Westlands Water District lobbyist David Bernhardt is on the short list for interior secretary, as Huffman blasted the House Committee on Natural Resources for voting down a set of amendments he offered to House Resolution 1769, the San Luis Unit Drainage Resolution Act. His amendments would have “safeguarded taxpayers from potential self-dealing by lobbyists associated with the Trump Interior Department, protected tribal interests, required the cleanup of toxic drain-water, ensured that all legal liability be extinguished, and blocked water district officials under criminal investigation from handling federal funds.”

The bill is a payoff to the Westlands Water District, the downstate authority in the Central Valley, located in Trumpian Kevin McCarthy’s Fresno home-base. It requires the Department of the Interior (DOI) to implement a 2015 agreement between the DOI and Westlands “to settle litigation concerning the U.S. duty to provide drainage service, entered September 15, 2015,” according to the online legislative record.

The DOI built the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project in 1960 and the bill sets out to deregulate the operation and “eliminate requirements for [the] Interior to meet drainage requirements for such a unit. Each contractor within the unit that receives water for irrigation shall be responsible for the management of drainage water within its boundaries. The Westlands Water District shall assume all legal responsibility for the management of drainage water within, and shall not discharge drain water outside of, its boundaries.”

The deal, widely reported to have been negotiated in secret between the DOI and Westlands, gave a permanent water contract to Westlands that, as Rep. Mike Thompson said in a 2015 statement, “precludes any further environmental review or contract renewals. In return, Westlands will retire 100,000 acres of farmland, but that still leaves nearly 300,000 acres of impaired lands open to irrigation, opening the door to further pollution of our rivers and streams.”

One of Huffman’s failed amendments targeted the fisheries of the Trinity and Klamath rivers as it directed the DOI to “conduct a government-to-government consultation with the Hoopa Valley Tribe and any other federally recognized Indian tribes in the Klamath-Trinity Watershed that seeks consultation regarding the impact of H.R. 1769.”

C’mon, congressman! You really thought the swamp-keepers would let that one through the gate?—Tom Gogola

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North Coast noncitizen pot grower in crosshairs of Trump deportation junta  

Immigration groups are currently counseling noncitizens to keep a low profile, especially around cannabis.

By Tom Gogola

The rolling cruelty of Trump’s deportation junta has put the double screws to noncitizen cannabis users and growers in the North Bay.

A case now making its way through a North Coast court is illustrative of the dilemma. Sebastopol cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa is defending an undocumented man faced with deportation for growing cannabis in Northern California.

To defend his client, Figueroa enlisted an immigration lawyer in late February, just as Trump was laying down the deportation gauntlet, to write a letter to the prosecutor “explaining why a misdemeanor marijuana conviction, which may not have been a big deal in the Obama years, would be a nightmare these days,” Figueroa says via email.

Over the past decade, noncitizens were encouraged out of the shadows under President Obama’s so-called Dreamers’ initiative, while a societal shift toward cannabis acceptance coaxed legacy growers out of the shadows in California and elsewhere.

Now anyone who happens to be a noncitizen and a cannabis user or grower can face permanent expulsion under new directives pushed out by Trump and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that call on prosecutors to throw the book at them.

Where Obama pushed for prosecutorial discretion in deference to a humane view of the immigrant experience in America—and not tearing apart families for no good reason in the process—Trump has flipped the call for discretion to a bullhorn urging maximum punishment for the undocumented.

Figueroa’s client was brought to the United States by his parents as a youth. The man is married to an American citizen, has two children with her and was in the process of “applying for his lawful permanent residency,” according to a redacted version of the immigration attorney’s letter provided to our sister paper, the Bohemian, when he was arrested.

The client was arrested on cultivation, possession for sale of cannabis and was offered a plea deal where he’d cop to a single possession charge of over 28.5 grams (one ounce) of pot.

The letter implores the unidentified district attorney(s) assigned to the case to drop the pot charges altogether, since any conviction could lead to his permanent removal from the United States. (All identifying information has been redacted from the letter, including the name of the immigration attorney who wrote it and the client.)

The letter acknowledges that ICE officials would make the call on any removal proceedings: “The exercise of prosecutorial discretion by the immigration authorities who have to decide whether or not to actually initiate a removal case against someone with only a simple possession conviction is a separate matter.”

The danger lies in the new regime’s outlook on immigrants from Mexico, which is somewhat less than welcoming. “However, the danger to [him] is high given the new publically stated priorities of the Department of Homeland Security on this matter.”

The letter implores prosecutors to not give ICE anything more to work with as it details the harsh dictates coming from the Trump administration that go beyond established immigration law as it intersects with drug policy.

Under federal drug-scheduling rules, cannabis remains listed as a controlled substance with no medical value—and under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rules, any possession of any “controlled substance” by a noncitizen is itself enough to prompt a deportation proceeding.

And if Figueroa’s client is convicted on drug charges and deported by ICE, his application for permanent residency becomes a moot issue since, “in order to be granted residency he must be admissible to enter the United States,” reads the immigration lawyer letter.

“There are three possible grounds of inadmissibility that could be implicated as the result of the disposition of his criminal matter,” it continues, and if any apply, he would never be able to be granted residency: Under existing immigration law, any conviction for an offense related to a federally defined “controlled substance” would cause him to be permanently exiled from the United States. “For that reason, it is imperative that [he] not be convicted of any of these offenses,” the letter reads. “If he were so convicted, even the existence of his citizen spouse would not be sufficient to qualify him for residency. He would be permanently inadmissible.”

Furthermore, under current law, the client could be deported if he made “any admissions, either in the form of a guilty plea or any other statements that could be taken by the immigration authorities as evidence of having committed such offenses.”

Even in the absence of a conviction, he could still be deported if ICE has “evidence amounting to a reason to believe that the individual has been an illicit trafficker in a controlled substance.”

That’s the existing law. Throw in a couple of mean-season executive orders from Trump, and the immigration consequences of even a single count of simple possession “would be extremely dire,” the letter continues as it lays out the new Trump push to get prosecutors to participate more forcefully when there’s an opportunity to deport someone.

On January 25, Trump issued an executive order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which directs executive federal agencies to execute the immigration laws and to make use of all available systems and resources to do so. (This is not the infamous executive order that bans Muslims.)

The order also identifies enforcement priorities for immigration authorities and directs the DHS, according to the immigration lawyer, to “prioritize for removal those [non-citizens] who have been convicted of any criminal offense, who have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charges have not been resolved, [or] have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense … ”

The letter notes that in late February, the DHS issued directions to immigration authorities to prioritize removal and deportation efforts according to the above-quoted categories.

Trump also issued an order in February that targets “those involved in drug trafficking by implicating them in transnational criminal organizations and violent crime.”

As Figueroa and the immigration lawyer both note, these federal moves are a stark shift away from policies that Obama pursued as president.

Bottom line, says the unnamed immigration lawyer: “It is extremely likely that significant numbers of noncitizens, who previously would not necessarily have been priorities for immigration enforcement, now will be targeted by immigration officials for deportation, or for denial of immigration benefits.”

In the meantime, immigration groups are counseling noncitizens to keep a low profile, especially around cannabis. The Cannifornian, an online source of all things pot-related in the state, recently posted a story about the cannabis noncitizen conundrum and reported that the San Francisco–based Immigrant Legal Resource Center “advises non-U.S. citizens not to use marijuana until they are citizens, and not to work in marijuana shops. On top of that, it cautions undocumented immigrants not to leave the house carrying marijuana, a medical marijuana card, paraphernalia, or other accessories such as marijuana T-shirts or stickers.

Additionally, they should never have photos, text messages or anything else connecting them to marijuana on their phone or social media accounts. Most importantly, it advises noncitizen immigrants to never admit to any immigration or border official that they have ever used or possessed marijuana.”

Does the federal push for a harsh deportation punishment fit the low-grade state crime in the view of California prosecutors? And how are California prosecutors managing this new world of deportation edicts in a state with the highest noncitizen population in the country, a state with a robust medical cannabis industry that also voted last year to legalize recreational pot?

The California District Attorneys Association is the state’s lead lobbying group for elected district attorneys across California. The Sacramento-based organization took a pass on addressing a set of general questions about the new lay of the land for prosecutors and said the question of prosecutorial discretion is an issue for local elected district attorneys to speak to.

Reached Tuesday morning for comment, Joseph Langenbahn, spokesman for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office, said District Attorney Jill Ravitch was out of the office and unable to respond to a request for comment by our afternoon deadline. “Our management team feels that this question would be most appropriately answered by the DA herself,” he says via email.

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Caltrans says winter damage to state to eclipse $1 billion  

The latest figures from Caltrans find Marin County easily at the top of the state list of storm-related 2016–17 damage.

By Tom Gogola

This year’s winter storms will cost California $866 million in road repairs, according to the latest estimates from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). That figure is a significant uptick from the $617 million in damages assessed at the end of February, and doesn’t include damage estimates from last weekend’s wind-blown deluge which knocked out electricity throughout Marin County, along with the usual array of rockslides, washouts and local road flooding.

The latest figures from Caltrans find Marin County easily at the top of the state list of storm-related 2016–17 damage with $91 million total spread over 17 different projects. The latest damage spreadsheets are a chorus of slip-outs and rockslides, road washouts and sinkholes, failed culverts and accelerated pavement failures. To date, Caltrans has identified 402 damage sites spread throughout the state’s 58 counties. Napa County has 14 damage sites and Sonoma County has 17, according to Caltrans spreadsheets that detail the statewide damage. The respective price tags for repair are significantly lower than Marin’s: Caltrans says it will cost $16.5 million to repair Napa’s storm-damaged roads and $44 million to fix Sonoma’s.

That Marin County figure of $91 million translates into an eyebrow-raising fact: Roughly one in 10 dollars spent by Caltrans this spring and summer will be spent on one coastal county. And of the $91 million in damages to Marin roads, $78 million is accounted for in 13 damage sites spread along Highway 1.

Several of the Sonoma County damage sites are also on Highway 1, and comprise about $10 million of the total $44 million damage estimate.

Marin County also fields the third highest single-job estimate of the 402 damage sites identified by Caltrans in its latest damage report, a $17.4 million job to fix a slip-out on Highway 1 with a tie-back wall. Only Santa Clara and Monterey counties have single-ticket items that eclipse Marin’s $17.4 million project. Caltrans pegged $30 million for a wall repair in Santa Clara County, and Monterey’s got a pricey $28 million line item on the spreadsheet to replace the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, representing about half of that county’s $60 million in damages.

Clearly the Bay Area and North Coast took the biggest hits in the winter-spring storms of 2016 and 2017. The top counties after Marin are Santa Clara, on the hook for $72 million; San Mateo, $63 million; Humboldt, $60 million; and Mendocino, $65 million.

Caltrans estimates that when local costs are factored into their estimate, the total damage price tag is $1.27 billion. Recent reports estimated Marin County’s road damage obligations at $10 million, out of the estimated $400 million that localities will pick up this year. The agency reports that it will spend $700 million on emergency projects this year, “leaving $170 million for permanent restoration projects.”

“This total will likely rise as we continue to assess damage and estimate repair and restoration costs,” says Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger via email.

Help is on the way—generally speaking. Last week, the California Legislature passed SB 1, which will raise California’s gasoline excise tax by 12 cents a gallon and enacts other auto-related fees in the state to fund a long-awaited, $55 billion road repair plan over 10 years.

At the federal level, on April 4, Trump signed off on an unspecified commitment of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dollars after Governor Jerry Brown petitioned the administration for disaster relief earlier this year when the storm damage had eclipsed $500 million. Last week, the administration freed up additional but unspecified funds for Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties. The declaration of disaster will presumably allow counties to pay for a range of repairs brought on by the wicked winter of 2016–17.

FEMA’s eventual contribution to California’s storm-damage repair remains an open question, especially given the erratic and contradictory messages coming from the White House. Trump has threatened to withhold FEMA funds to so-called sanctuary cities—there’s a bill in Sacramento that would make the entire state a sanctuary state. Even as Trump pledges disaster relief to California, the administration’s 2017 budget proposal calls for a $667 million cut in FEMA pre-disaster mitigation programs, according to North Bay U.S. representative Mike Thompson. Trump has also made lots of noise about a big infrastructure build-out, tantalizing talk for Democratic fence-sitters looking for a way to work with the president, even as his proposed budget eliminates the federal Department of Transportation, which Thompson recently noted in his critique of Trump’s budget proposal, “provides almost $500 million in road projects.”

So what does all this mean for Sonoma County’s notorious pothole problems? Probably not much. Voters in Sonoma turned back a proposed road-fix tax in 2015, a quarter-cent sales tax under Measure A. County officials have argued they need up to $1 billion to upgrade county roads—but the Sonoma County Supervisors could only scratch together $30 million in local road-fix dollars in 2015. The county website goes to pains to explain why there are so many potholes: “At about 2,700 lane miles, the road system of unincorporated Sonoma County is one of the most expansive in the greater Bay Area. Sonoma County also happens to be one of the more sparsely-populated municipalities in the region. This means that the amount of revenue generated for road repair in Sonoma County is below average for the amount of roadway. And for this reason, potholes are a common occurrence.”

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A left-winger meets the far-right

At a recent Oath Keepers meeting in Dublin, California, a left-wing Libertarian hoped to break bread with the far-right.

By Tom Gogola

The Oath Keepers meeting is about to get going at the Round Table Pizza in Dublin, California, as a handful of members of the far-right, “sovereign-citizen” organization pledge allegiance to the flag, pray to their almighty Christ, declare their oath to the U.S. Constitution—and eat pizza.

There are pocket-size copies of the U.S. Constitution for the taking, as attendees sign in and take their seats at the suburban East Bay strip mall where the chain pizza joint is located. The Oath Keepers’ oath is to the Constitution, and their pledge is to uphold it whenever it is under attack. You can never have too many copies of the Constitution, so I grabbed one and took a table in the back after I identified myself and offered greetings to the organizers.

Dublin is a small city just over the Oakland hills whose population feeds the tech industries in San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and Livermore. Wikipedia reports that Dublin is one of the fastest growing cities in California, fielding a mostly white demographic, but with a smattering of Asians and Latinos. There’s a Korean barbecue joint in the strip mall and an Irish bar behind the restaurant where the Budweiser is kept at 31 degrees. This is not your hipster-ale-quaffing rampart of the squishy North Bay, even if the city council here is a “United Nations” of multiculturalism compared to Marin County’s all-white Board of Supervisors. There are two Indian-Americans and a female Latino on the Dublin City Council.

I’m over the divide and into the breach in the service of the great old maxim from ’60s, right-wing paragon Barry Goldwater—that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. I decided to drive across the divide from my adopted hometown in West Marin, the bubble-within-a-bubble-within-a-bubble hippie stronghold of Bolinas. I wanted to bridge the divide and announce myself as the far-left savior who had come to redeem the far-right Oath Keepers from charges of kooky racist conspiracy weirdness, of the heavily armed variety. I introduced myself as a left-wing Libertarian and told the organizers—promised them, that I wouldn’t throw them under the bus in my report.

The Oath Keepers organization was founded in 2009 by Yale graduate Stewart Rhodes, and set out to put itself between the (supposed) raging unconstitutionality of Barack Obama and the right to bear arms in defense of anything that isn’t Barack Obama or a gun law. Their website is heavy on the military and police badges—including member badges from the California Highway Patrol—as the organization has historically drawn from those ranks.

I was curious how the Oath Keepers would be grappling with the onset of Trumpism and its various rolling abridgements of constitutional norms and obscure emolument clauses. Trump, who when he is the recipient of a court ruling against him for a flatly unconstitutional executive order banning Muslims from emigrating to the states, declares the judge to be a “so-called judge.” Trump, who declared the fourth estate to be the enemy of the people. Trump, who believes in a national right-to-conceal-carry gun law.

Pizza and Politics

In pizza lingo, an “EBA” pizza contains everything but anchovies. For the Oath Keepers, “EBA” translates into everything but anarchism—but with an allowance, it seems, for the authoritarian regime that has just Russia-hacked its way into power.

It turns out that the Constitution is what you make of it.

It’s long been preached in political science discourse that there’s an ideological vertex where the far-right meets the far-left. As a self-identified left-wing Libertarian with a serious streak of social Democrat and a raging anarcho-syndicalist spirit, I wanted to perch in that 30 percent or so of agreement that I feel with the Oath Keepers.

I ordered some chicken wings and grabbed a pitcher of Modelo and took a seat in the back. And let me repeat: I told the organizers exactly who I was, exactly where I was coming from and exactly why I was there. I was not some James O’Keefe–inspired, Project Veritas-of-the-left gotcha journalist bent on shaming them. I was transparent and enthusiastically so. I wanted to break garlic knots with these folks, badly.

I introduced myself, along with another first-time Oath Keeper attendee and told the group that I was drawn to it because of its actions during the Ferguson civil unrest from two years ago. Law enforcement wasn’t so psyched about the heavily armed Oath Keepers who showed up to protect property—but African-American liquor store owners appreciated that they would put themselves between looters and businesses. That they would also put themselves between Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis and a gay-marriage Supreme Court decision—we’ll just have to agree to disagree about that one.

But what can be said of an organization that hands out pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution and then tries to confiscate a reporter’s notebook and demand that the reporter turn off his tape recorder? Hang on for more on that.

Everyone’s a Hero

We live in a time where many people, left-to-right, are geared up to put themselves between vulnerable groups and their oppressors. It seems to be the order of the day. In the waning days of the Obama administration, unarmed veterans headed to Standing Rock and stood between native people and South Dakota law enforcement acting on behalf of Big Oil (the Oath Keepers say they were encouraged to stay away). Liberals and progressives wear safety pins to signify trans-support, or go to Facebook and pledge to stand between angry xenophobes and fearful Muslims. I wanted to stand between the Oath Keepers and the Constitution and see which one won out.

I had three agendas going into this meeting, and I told the guy at the door what they were as I gave him my business card. As a citizen in Trump’s America, I was curious. As a reporter, I wanted to get a better understanding of the people and their ideas about the Constitution. And as a human being with a strong survival instinct, I wanted some tips on how to properly prepare for the End Times.

The Oath Keepers spend a lot of time preparing for natural and manmade disasters—one of the agenda items at the Dublin meeting was to make sure that everyone had a ham radio. The organization seems to crave the arrival of a post-SHHTF (Shit Has Hit the Fan) world, where moral clarity is achieved through the barrel of a gun and where the dominant fantasy is to live a simple life on the order of a Mad Max, eating dog food out of the can and staring into the post-apocalyptic landscape, where might makes right. Or, they’re living in a world where an ersatz shit has hit the fan—it’s just that nobody knows it yet. The website spends a lot of time worrying about social disorder.

Call to Order

The meeting started and the lead organizer played a snippet of a recent video of Trump—the snippet where he had just declared the media to be the enemy of the people. The Oath Keepers offered congratulations to Trump, and in a characteristically Trumpish moment, misspelled it as “congradulations” on a flyer they handed out at the door, but nobody’s perfect. Least of all me, the lefty hothead on a mission. The Oath Keepers worried about what Obama was up to now in his post-presidency, and pledged to track his every move—bad things, no doubt, are on the horizon from Obama.

It became pretty obvious, pretty quickly, that there is not a whole lot of worry among these Oath Keepers about Trump’s interactions with the Constitution. In fact …

In the back there’s a man with an Iraq-Afghanistan veteran’s hat, and he starts talking with another man about the origins of the Nazi Brownshirts. I have no idea why—and really didn’t want to ask. I just listened to him and silently thanked Jesus for the calming power of Zoloft. I’ve always had a fascination with right-wing fringe types, but less so now that they are in power. Maybe that’s sort of a “condescending” liberal attitude to have, but these people were a lot more fun to hang out with when they were on the fringe—and, like me, that is exactly where they belong.

Free Speech

The headliner for the event was Dublin Mayor David Haubert. He gave a talk. That’s when things started to get interesting because, as if on cue, that’s when one of the Oath Keepers tried to confiscate my reporter’s notebook and demanded that I erase the digital recording of the talk. In his presentation, Haubert declared that Dublin would never be a sanctuary city, but a safety city, and after I asked him a couple of questions, one of the organizers rushed to the back of the room and started grabbing at my papers, grabbing at the machine and telling me that it was a private meeting and I had no right to record anything.

That was an interesting assertion, and I took issue with it and with the person laying his hands on me. Silly me, I thought we were in a public place, at a meeting that was announced on a public forum, Facebook—and there is a public official standing right there pointing at Oakland and making dark comments about how Dublin isn’t now, nor ever will be, a sanctuary city, unlike those people over the hill, over the divide.

The pocket Constitution practically opened itself to the page that features the First Amendment. I tried to hold my tongue, but Haubert had said that Dreamers should be deported. I stood up and said, nicely, politely—gee, that seems kind of unfair, to deport a person for something their parents did.

Haubert said, maybe they’d have to pay a fine. I said, why would you fine those whose parents brought them here when they were three years old, and Haubert shrugged and smiled in the way that Paul Ryan shrugs and smiles when he’s about to throw 24 million people off health insurance, but swears there’s a deeply held principle behind the cruelty.

I turned off the machine—the guy wouldn’t stop grabbing and demanding that I erase the tape—and then a few minutes later said to myself, ya know what, screw this. And turned it on again.


After the second attempt to get me to stop reporting and recording the talk, I grabbed my gear and got ready to leave. But first I addressed the group, and the mayor, and chided them for the clarification on the true meaning of my First Amendment rights, through their eyes. The mayor denied he had anything to do with any of that.

I took a bathroom break and was leaving and noticed that the Oath Keepers were all staring at me. So what was I supposed to do? I gave them an admittedly unnecessary Sieg Heil! and wondered aloud if they were going to follow me out to the parking lot. I can be a bit obnoxious when people start grabbing at my shit.

The main organizer followed me out to the parking and we exchanged regrets and pleasantries. He was genuinely concerned that I’d had such a negative experience. I was frustrated and flummoxed by the attempt to censor a reporter who had announced that he was a reporter. He said, what did you think would happen, you told us you were coming here from West Marin. I said, hey, I just wanted to bridge the divide, or try to. He said, give me a call sometime. I said, maybe I will.

I got back into the car and headed back into the bubble, back over the divide.

They say there’s a place on the political spectrum where the far-left meets the far-right, and it’s a wild place filled with kooky souls with strident and freedom-loving ideals. But after this adventure to Dublin, I wasn’t so convinced of Goldwater’s dictum anymore. As I headed west back to the North Bay, I realized that boring, hand-wringing liberalism in defense of my spiritual well-being is more the ticket these days.

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Locals freak out as strange and unwelcome obelisk appears in downtown Bolinas

The shed that recently popped up in downtown Bolinas has been accused of blocking the sun, among other things.

By Tom Gogola

A shed went up two weeks ago in downtown Bolinas, and many people are not happy about it.

The shed was commissioned by the Bolinas resident who owns and lives at 12 Wharf Road, Matt Yerington—whose property includes a strip of driveway and dirt that bisects an open, paved space between the Bolinas Community Center (BCC) and BoGas. The latter is run by the Bolinas Community Land Trust, which also owns property near the shed. The shed was planted in a strip of dirt that runs up against the property line of the Community Center. It’s a wooden affair, 56 square feet, totally legal by county code, and was designed to stash sports equipment.

I talked to the owner of the shed early this week, and to a bunch of locals, and I interviewed the shed—the real victim in this tale, as far as I’m concerned. Asked about the controversial shed during a brief interview over his fence-where a large great dane growled in the direction of this reporter, the elder child of Yerington declared, “What controversy? We own the land.”

Indeed they do. But the controversy, as numerous locals have attested, is that the owner just up and built the shed without any consultation or discussion with the people who now have to look at it every day, and negotiate its somewhat awkward positioning.

It’s worth noting that some five years ago, Yerington installed planters in the lot after a two-year process that included a non-mandatory vote of approval from the BCC.

This time around, he didn’t go to the BCC for their blessing, Yerington says. He just wanted to build the shed for his eldest son’s surfboards, and for his youngest son’s bicycles and says time was of the essence. And one shed-opposing resident described the shed in terms usually reserved for a tight array of wallflowers at a dance—a socially awkward shed trying to shim its way into a tight space, with everyone staring and pointing. The poor shed.

One shed opponent freely admitted that the issue was something of a tempest in a teapot, but it’s nevertheless a tempest, a bombogenetic cyclone of characteristic small-town activity, a local issue of such excruciatingly small-town concern that it’s all anyone can do but beat every contour of the shed discussion to death, in the hopes that the shed will get the message and go away. “Did anyone break the windows yet?” asked a local in an emporium of natural health.

The shed doesn’t appear to have gotten the memo that it is not wanted. Like any newcomer to town, there are local rituals and mores that must be abided by in order to gain acceptance and learn the secret handshake. You don’t just show up and plant yourself in the center of community activity and expect the welcoming committee. Yerington says that he supports the idea of Bolinas as the “Land of No”—and that any change is going to be met with extreme suspicion. But it’s just a shed, he said. A resident called Marin County on Yerington, and he says the county inspector came and said, “What’s the problem?” It’s a private shed on private land that’s not being used for commercial purposes—though during an interview on the town dock on Monday afternoon, Yerington wouldn’t dismiss the possibility down the road.

Another long-time local noted that such was the militant spirit of the town, back in the day, that if the shed had been built 10 years ago, locals would have torn it down by now, ripped it out by its roots and sent it running. That local clearly hates the shed. Whatever land rights the owner might rightfully claim, the consensus among numerous interviews with locals is that the shed represents a giant “Eff You” to the town of Bolinas.

When the shed appeared, the immediate concern was that it blocked the sun from entering the Bolinas Community Center, where sunshine is desired for yoga classes and the various events that transpire at the town center. At first, the raw wood edifice inspired grousing that it would violate Marin code that requires beautification of new edifices via a paint job. The shed was soon painted in white-and-blue hues that are complementary to the paint job on the BCC, and there’s a neat architectural symmetry to the respective edifices’ peaked roofs.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were related. Not so.

The shed popped up like a randomly appearing obelisk from the Led Zeppelin album Presence, or like the first scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a bunch of proto-humans encounter the outer space obelisk and then figure out how to beat the crap out of other proto-humans, with bones. The obelisk was an evolution enhancer, but the Bolinas shed has residents reaching for their own bone weapons. Even still, the shed provided jobs to local builders and painters over the past couple of weeks. And cue the de rigueur jokes about the shed as an example of just the sort of affordable housing we need in Bolinas.

As of Monday morning, the shed rumors were flying faster than a 3am Trump tweet-storm. He’s going to build three of them! (Not so, says Yerington, who adds that he heard a rumor that he was going to build five sheds.) He’s going to totally block the sun. He’s going to start another surf shop in town! He’s going to add to an already nightmarish weekend parking scene! A local was busy finishing the paint job on a beautiful spring morning, as other locals leapt at the chance to throw their hate on the shed, even if anonymously.

Yerington says he didn’t go to the BCC or anyone else for approval that he didn’t need, owing to the time-sensitive nature of the shed build-out and its intended uses. His eldest son is a big surfer and is headed off to college in September. Yerington figures he’ll be stashing his boards at the homestead for at least the next four summers, and that if he’d waited for the BCC weigh-in on his plans, it would have taken five years and the entire purpose of the shed would have been rendered null and void by then. He needs the shed now, Yerington says, and adds that he figures on letting locals stash their stuff in it, too. Earlier in the day, the younger Yerington met this reporter at the gate to the family spread and said he didn’t see what the big deal was, and thought it was kind of silly that anyone would write about the shed. It’s just a shed; who cares. People care.

The shed, on the other hand, says it is glad for the attention to its plight, though it is suffering from some identity issues and could use a friend right now. During a recent interview with the Pacific Sun, the shed was empty and bereft, and wondered why everyone hated it so much. “I’m just a shed,” it said. “I mean no harm to the locals. It’s not like I’m the CEO of Pinterest or something.”

Locals interviewed for this story were uniform in their concern for the shed and its feelings. They’re not holding the shed personally responsible for its rolling outrage against town rituals, and during the interview at the town dock, Yerington was greeted by a few friendly locals who did not appear to be wielding pitchforks. He’s been living in his downtown Bolinas home for seven years and has a 12-year history in town. His wife is an artist who teaches at the local school. On Monday morning outside of the People’s Store—where the legendary “Free Box” abuts the Yerington property—the shed was all anyone was talking about, along with the lovely spring weather.

“I hope they will come to accept me,” said the shed.



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