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Feb 28th
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Murphy: Plan B – what comes after Measure E

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With the defeat of Measure E the county of Lake returns to square one on its anti-quagga, aquatic weeds and algae efforts, the situation being complicated by the fact that the funding for all of their lake protection programs is now gone on top of the basic problems of how to deal with the quagga and algae threats are still far from being resolved.

The big picture looks like this: job No. 1 needs to be protecting the lake from the threat of the quagga mussel, what is needed is a plan that can be quickly implemented and is something that can be funded for the foreseeable future with a stable and adequate source, luckily we have a doable plan already and the all the money is right here in Lake County today.

Job No. 2 is a lot tougher than job No. 1 but is just as important economically, and it is to get Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa reopened. This task is so formidable that it may not be possible but is so critical to the economic health of the county that making a serious effort is an absolute necessity.

Job No. 3 isn’t going to be easy either, but neglecting and ignoring it as has been the habit in recent years isn’t acceptable and its time to take a whole different approach to the issue, which is the restoration of Robinson Lake/Middle Creek.

Job No. 4 is to completely revamp the way the lake is marketed, starting with a name change. Most of the needed changes will be of little cost and most of that will be born by those first in line to benefit from any recovery of the tourism trade here so money should not be a significant hurdle.

Job No. 5 is to do whatever is within reason to stop nutrients from entering the lake, refilling Robinson Lake will help but the other sources of food for the algae and weeds around the lake need to be addressed as well, so far a lot of studies have been done but little action has been taken to deal with localized sources of erosion and other types of nutrient loading, it is time to address this issue in a tangible and meaningful way.

Job No. 1

There have been two different plans floated to stop the quagga, one is to have checkpoints on the highways and the other is to close a lot of boat ramps and do controls at the remaining ones.

Public Works and Water Resources Director Scott De Leon has been an advocate of the ramp-based method mainly due to his concern that with all the red tape involved in dealing with Caltrans; it could be over a decade before the several needed checkpoints would be in operation.

An added problem with the highway checkpoint plan is the cost; the total would certainly be in the several million dollar range and they would likely be more expensive to operate than ramp controls. On top of the time and cost there is the problem of how many checkpoints to have as there are far more than four ways into the county.

The only real upside to highway checkpoints is that they would cover boats using private ramps and could if properly located be an enticement to Yolo Flood and Conservation district to share some of the funding burden by protecting their other Lake County water source, Indian Valley Reservoir.

The bottom line here is that the time frame for the highway checkpoints is unacceptable, even five years would be far too long to put off having a credible system in place, therefore the focus MUST be on coming up with a ramp control system that is as good as we can make it. This is the opinion of the best informed and most experienced person in this field working for the county, and it’s time to let him get to work implementing the ramp control system.

The funding part is easy as the money is literally already in the bank, as Lake County Vector Control has around $2 million stashed away that will certainly be wasted if they have enough time and continued complete lack of any sort of credible oversight.

Lake County Vector Control is like 41 of the 50 vector control agencies in California in that it is overfunded, the state average is by 18 percent annually and LCVC is doing more than its share to raise that level.

In spite of the misstatements made during the Measure E campaign about vector control money not being available for dealing with the quagga, in the California Health and Safety code section 116108 “Vector Control definitions” it states: “vector” means any animal capable of transmitting the causative agent of human disease or capable of producing human discomfort or injury, including but not limited to mosquitoes, flies, other insects, ticks, mites and rats.”

The razor sharp shells of the quagga covering beaches and docks can and do clearly cause not only discomfort but injury as well, so the money is unquestionably legally available for this use.

LCVC could easily save nearly $1 million a year by turning over the mosquito spraying to private contractors, that savings would be the ongoing funding source for the quagga program. The money could be in the county’s hands as soon as the three new vector control board members are sworn in next month, one each from the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport and one from the county.

The other option is to just disband the LCVC operation and run the mosquito spraying program out of the county health department by going to LAFCO along with the two cities, that would take more time and some paper work but probably should be done as the changes are so big its better just to start over from scratch rather than to have to redirect the extremely bloated and off-course LCVC.

Obviously staffing such a program is the biggest expense so new ideas to cut costs there are needed, like a generous stipend for volunteers or redirecting the many convicts who are currently paying our DA a fee to avoiding doing their court ordered community service hours.

Job No. 2

The tourism business in Lake County has taken a  serious hit in recent years as high gas prices, a weak economy and algae have all taken their toll, but even more than all of these other factors combined the closure of Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa has kept tens of thousands of visitors from coming to Lake County every year, as the concerts not just filled Konocti Harbor but many of the other lodging and dining places around the lake as well.

As time passes the resort continues to deteriorate and the task of renovating it becomes more difficult and expensive, making it’s sale even more challenging.

There are basically two options here from a buyer’s perspective, either spending a lot of money to fix the resort or to abandon the former setup and try to get the place rezoned to allow it to develop its open land as a residential community and convert the existing facilities to time shares or some other form of residential use.

The latter scenario would do little to reinvigorate the local economy and would face stiff opposition from the neighbors so the focus must be on the former option, which only has one chance of success. That chance would come in the form of a package deal the county could shop around to investors that would have many of the question marks and hurdles removed from the process in advance, thus making the sale much more likely.

The only way to lure the multimillion dollar investment needed to rehab the resort is to include a casino in the package, and therein lies the biggest challenge as it would involve a tribal trust land transfer which has been deemed impossible by local government officials.

The other problem is that the only tribe that could even attempt this is Elem, which currently is very politically and organizationally divided, so before anything else could be done the tribe would have to reach a consensus on the plan and have its ducks in a row in order to obtain a gaming compact with the state – no small feat and likely to take at least a couple of years to complete even in the best case.

Assuming Elem could be put on the path towards getting the blessings of the state the second step would be to get EVERY state and federal rep on board, and that would mean putting whatever pressure is required on people like Mike Thompson, John Garamendi, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to get behind it in Washington and state Sen. Noreen Evans and Assemblymember Mariko Yamada behind it in Sacramento.

One of the big concerns our two senators have is to protect their contributors in the Bay Area gaming industry which is worried about Indian gaming getting closer to their customer base with tribal land transfers, though in this case that should not be an issue and the fact that at one time Elem had a casino are both points in our favor.

It is quite possible that even a heroic effort on the part of every entity involved would still result in a failure but the benefit to the local economy justifies the gamble, and it is also worth mentioning that until Konocti Harbor went under it paid the vast majority of the county TOT tax that in turn funded the entire aquatic weed and algae programs, one more big reason to make the effort to revive the resort beyond the tourist bucks and the hundreds of local jobs on the line.

Job No. 3

We need the Middle Creek/Robinson Lake restoration project finished, not in some far-off distant year but SOON. There is really only one way to do this, to lower the cost of the project and to have matching funds available to prompt the feds to getting going on it.

The matching funds would have to come from a bond measure, as several million dollars at a minimum would be needed. The second part of the plan would involve spending some money to find out how to simplify the engineering of the project enough to shave the cost down to an acceptable size, as the $35-$40 million current price tag is certain to give sticker shock to those holding the purse strings in Washington.

Surely breaching the levees can be done for less than that and the Army Corps of Engineers will not take it upon themselves to take a serious look at cost reduction measures so it is on us to show them how to do it and to make sure Congress is aware of the extra effort we are making to ensure this project gets the funding it needs ASAP.

We also need to get moving on the process of obtaining the land; now is the time to tell people they need to take the offer on the table or lawyer up because one way or another they are leaving and those trying to hold out for unreasonable sums will be treated accordingly.

Job No. 4

Nearly a decade ago the county spent a fair amount of money on a new marketing plan which strongly recommended changing the name of Clear Lake, a suggestion that was widely ridiculed and never really taken seriously – a stupid and almost tragic mistake.

This lake is unique and significant and deserves a name that sets it apart from the countless “Clear Lakes” around the country. It also needs a name change because for as long as it’s burdened with the current moniker the tourists will come, feel misled and gypped, leave in disgust and never return – not good advertising for Lake County!

This might have to go before the voters to decide but it’s a no-brainer and it would be something we would only need to do once so the costs involved should be small and short term.

The names Katabin and Konocti are the obvious choices as the people who lived here for 10,000 years-plus have so few landmarks that are named to reflect that fact and, face it, they sound exotic and are easy to remember – excellent characteristics in the world of marketing. And it would make the Indians happy, too.

The other part of retooling the marketing approach relates to info offered to tourists regarding water quality – or, more to the point, the frequent lack of it.

It needs to be impressed upon visitors that if you intend to have direct contact with the water it’s best done early in the summer or late spring, instead of letting people find out the hard way that the lake is sometimes a stinking mess in late August. It’s called “being honest” and it’s what you do if you want satisfied visitors who return and spread good words about their times here, even if it means losing some business in the latter part of the summer.

When Clear Lake is bad the tourists need to be redirected to other activities or to other lakes, like the very underutilized Blue Lakes and Lake Pillsbury; both are excellent places to swim and boat in the hot days of summer and information from the chamber of commerce and resorts needs to remind people of that.

We also have to look hard at making those two alternate aquatic venues more user friendly, as Pillsbury needs better road maintenance and Blue Lakes needs a public park and beach besides the cliff next to the highway.

Job No. 5

This is one of those rocks that the county has put off turning over for too long, figuring out EXACTLY where the nutrient load for the lake is coming from and curtailing it as much as possible.

We have to look hard at every possible source – ag, old septic systems, OHVs, residential gardening, EVERYTHING. Then we have to do what it takes to correct the problems, even if it rankles the Farm Bureau or property owners or if it means tackling another major project like putting Soda Bay homes on a sewer line.

We have been kicking this can down the road for too long and have done lots of talking about it but far too little to reduce the nutrient load in the watersheds. This problem is manmade and is solvable if we make a genuine effort; it’s not enough to do some studies and then walk away as has been done in the past.

If funding is needed a possible source is again vector control as cyanobacteria are animals and capable of sickening humans so they also qualify as “vectors” under state guidelines.

Once we have done everything to stop excessive nutrients from going into the lake we should see a noticeable improvement in water quality. It still won’t be Tahoe-like but it will likely be enough of an upgrade to extend the time the lake is swimable by a few weeks in the summer.

What are the odds of any of these ideas being adopted? Slim, due to the fact that not only the government but the public and business community as well are not in the habit of making major changes or working together as one single-minded unit intent on making steady progress on major multi-year undertakings.

However, this is precisely what needs to be done in order for this county to get back on its feet.

Right now the clocking is ticking, no realistic quagga program exists, Konocti Harbor continues to rot and with the new year on the horizon there is no money or a plan to deal with the weeds and algae problems of next summer. Now is the time to take action and stop the hemorrhaging of our assets.

Phil Murphy lives in Finley, Calif.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
Good job
written by a guest, December 11, 2012
I appreciate the effort that went into this commentary. I believe, however, that the priorities are out of order:
1. Should be the tackling the algae problem. Nothing wonderful can affect the lake resorts until this problem is addressed. Name change- who cares.
2- Quagga issue: I can't see how any county ordinance could stop someone from unloading their boat in the 100's (1,000's?) of private ramps around the lake. The highway's are the only answer, much like the old state to state checkpoints, and even those would have to be numerous and continuously manned.
3. Konocti Harbor inn- It was running before as a profit making operation, why not again. It would be wonderful to have a casino as a revenue source, however one is not needed for success. It could also happen afterwords as an added bonus. What's needed is a price reduction to reflect the years of deferred maintenance and a willingness to upgrade the facilities on the part of the new owners. Eminent domain?
It was great to read these thought-provoking alternatives to the status quo
written by a guest, December 10, 2012
It would be interesting to see more details on what it would take to carry out these suggestions, especially reopening the resort, where odds against it seem pretty overwhelming. Without a doubt the quagga issue needs vigilance and immediate additional measures should be taken to protect the lake. A name-change for the lake is a good idea, really, it should be seriously addressed, because it's obvious that Clear Lake is a really ridiculously inappropriate name for a highly eutrophic lake.
Murphy for Supervisor?
written by a guest, December 10, 2012
That is almost as funny as his collection of pet peeves and illogical/incorrect information that he is selling as a plan to save the county.
Phil Murphy For County Supervisor!
written by futhark, December 10, 2012
Phil Murphy doesn't live in my district, but I would happily contribute to his campaign should he decide to run. It's obvious that he has put considerable thought into addressing major economic and ecological problems here in Lake County and we could certainly use insightful and committed leadership on our Board of Supervisors. I have long favored reassessment of many place names in Lake County. The names given by the indigenous people are always the best. Names given by the European-descended settlers subtract from the unique qualities of our county. Did you know that Mt. Konocti was once referred to as "Uncle Sam Mountain"? Fortunately, someone had the good sense to revert it to the name given by the natives. Can't we do the same thing for Clear Lake?

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