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California North Coast--

It was a mild Summer when it finally came, but the Winter storms, stretching clear into June, left their mark on the season that is now ending.

"The Summer along the coast," said Jack Messick of the National Weather Service, "was just slightly above normal temperatures." Less than one degree above normal, according to Messick, who called it a typical Summer with the exception of the June storm. There was fog along the coast, and now and then wind out of the east.

The Winter storms were hard on the merchants of the North Coast, but said Tom Yates, president of the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce, "There's been real good recovery since the Winter storms. The real damage was in the 1st quarter, and the damage was because of, more than anything, Bay Area media perception that we were in the same situation as the Russian River and Lake County."

Some merchants reported sales figures off as much as 30%, however, and the Summer did not bring them much cheer. Yates blames some of that on poor marketing, but admits part of it's due to "what's endemic to America right now--the shrinking of the true middle class."

Low-end purchases are up, according to Yates, as well as high-end purchases. It is purchases of goods in the $40 to $200 price range that are down, he said.

Fires and emergencies are a whole other matter, but their numbers were up in the Summer, as they always are. But unlike business, the numbers were also up from what they were a year ago. Said Jim Trubia, Anderson Valley's Fire Chief, "Since January we have had 163 alarms." Last year the number was 123. There have been 43 fires in the Anderson Valley area, 65 medical aid calls, and 55 traffic accidents.

"We've had a lot of use of the 'jaws of life' during the Summer," said Trubia, "because of the traffic we have up here." The "jaws of life" are used to extract accident victims trapped in their cars. Highway 128 is the main route to the Mendocino coast, and it runs right through Anderson Valley.

The Anderson Valley Fire Department has also suffered from break-ins and vandalism this Summer. During one break-in the water was drained out of the tank of a fire engine. Two engines have been put out of service by the vandalism. And the chief has been receiving weekly threats over the phone. The treats are related to a proposed new tax to raise money for the fire department. The vandalism may be related to the tax also. New taxes are never popular but most citizens "bite the bullet" when it comes to emergency services.

Said the chief: "We're trying to fix the equipment with the money we have. When that goes, I don't know what we are going to do."

A brush fire in downtown Philo--the assumption is that it was set by an arson--made the Summer a little unusual too.

Money seems to be on everyone's mind this Summer, and the Mendocino County Supervisors are just beginning to look at two new sources of income for the cash-strapped county: a business license tax and a utilities user tax.

Three sups are for the taxes, two are against.

"I am totally against the utilities user tax," said conservative supervisor John Pinches. "I think we can make cuts elsewhere in the system."

His opinion is counterbalanced by liberal supervisor Charles Peterson. "I know what we have done," said Peterson, "and it will be horrifying if we make further cuts."

The debate that is beginning in Summer will be carried over into Fall.

There is always more crime during the Summer months on the North Coast. "It's been a real warm Summer," said Fort Bragg police chief Tom Bickel, "both weather-wise and activity-wise for us." The wet Winter kept people away, he said, but by Summer they were ready to come to the coast.

This is the first Summer that the coast has been without a jail, which means that prisoners have to be transported inland to the county jail in Ukiah. "It put a strain on us," said Bickel.

Not having a local jail influences decisions about whether to arrest someone or not. In theory, it should not influence such a decision; but for practical purposes it does, admitted Bickel. Round trip, it is a 120-mile drive to the county jail. Many of those transported are simply drunk or on drugs and need a place to be detoxified.

But so far politicians have decided that a jail, or even a detox unit, is too expensive. Said Bickel, "They count dollars, and they count beans. But you can't put a price on the quality of life. You can't look at that like you do the sewer treatment plant or the Casper dump where you have a balance book and you process X amount of garbage."

The old police department building in Fort Bragg dates back to 1908. Being made of unreenforced concrete, it is not earthquake-safe; and a new building is under construction. But there are no plans for a new jail-- only debate-- and the debate is likely to go on into next Summer.


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