Mental Health Housing in Fort Bragg
by Malcolm Macdonald, April 2, 2014
On March 24th the Fort Bragg City Council held a public hearing to consider a resolution authorizing an application for a $2 million community development block grant (CDBG). The specific part of the Fort Bragg community that would be the recipient of the money: a two story building at 300 North Harrison Street. The structure at the northeast corner of Harrison and Redwood Streets is still in the process of renovation. The previous owner of the building had been in ill health for some time. During that period the renters, for the most part, were illegal drug dealers and/or users. Good work by the Fort Bragg Police Department with the assistance of local Neighborhood Watch volunteers helped clean up the situation.
A few months back a workman allowed me to walk through 300 N. Harrison. Much of the interior was still damaged, in need of repairs and a new paint job. By that time the owner had passed away and his out of state relatives, who had inherited the property, were fairly anxious to renovate and sell.
As of this writing, the Mendocino County Planning Department lists Land Bank Properties, of Mendocino, as owner of the 300 N. Harrison St. property. By the time you read this, escrow may have closed and Hilbers Inc., a Yuba City based construction company that has built or renovated everything from Tower Market gas and convenience stores to churches and on to the Empire Nut processing plant in Colusa, will be the owners. Speaking of Yuba City, that Sutter County example of God-awful sprawl is also the home base of Ortner Management Group. As of July, 2013, Ortner became the privatized purveyor of adult mental health services for Mendocino County. At this point there does not appear to be any sinister nexus between Hilbers and Ortner. They are simply two companies operating out of the same city.
Once escrow is complete on the 300 N. Harrison property, presumably in early April, the plan is to complete renovations as quickly as possible so that building permits can be acquired and the upstairs apartments (five or six units) can be made available for transitional housing. It would appear that even with fast track permitting those upper floor apartments would not be available for use until June or July. The downstairs portion of 300 Harrison must go through a use permit process with the Fort Bragg Planning Commission. That will take considerably more time (many more months). The final goal of the community developmnt block grant (CDBG) would be for the Hospitality Center, a coastal subcontractor of Ortner Management Group for adult mental health services, to eventually buy out Hilbers Inc. and become sole owner. In selling to the Hospitality Center, Ortner would be governed by terms of the CDBG to keep the price reasonable.
The transitional housing, upstairs at 300 N. Harrison, would be for mental health clients. The Access Center downstairs would also serve mental health care clients.
Back to the March 24th Fort Bragg City Council meeting, at which the council was merely considering a resolution to go forward with submitting the grant application for the funds that would help the transitional housing units and the Access Center to go forward. The resolution was needed at this time because the application is due in the hands of state government officials by April 11th.
The packed audience at the March 24th council meeting provided an hour's worth of public comment, three minutes at a time, more than 30 speakers. The pro-grant speakers easily outnumbered the cons, but those opposed did not lack vehemence. Almost all of those opposed reside within a block or two of 300 N. Harrison. Judy Valadao, from 234 N. Whipple St., who is also a Neighborhood Watch block captain, said, “We simply think there's a better place to do it.” She went on to say, “Neighborhood Watch has worked for two years, so we have learned when something threatens our neighborhood.” She also decried how many police calls are made in the area around the Hospitality House at 237 N. McPherson St. and the current mental health access center at the south end of a strip mall on Franklin Street.
Elaine Ball, a fellow Neighborhood Watch leader, wheeled herself to the microphone to state, “I oppose 300 Harrison.” She nearly left it at that before turning back to face the City Council, questioning whether Mayor Dave Turner would want his granddaughter or Councilmember Heidi Kraut would want her young daughter to continue to play at Wiggly Giggly Park less than a block from where mental health clients would reside in transitional housing.
Several people who have benefitted from the services of Hospitality House (for the homeless) and Hospitality Center (for mental health clients) gave detailed accounts of how those two programs had helped turn their lives around for the better. Tom Pinizzotto, Mendocino County's Mental Health Director, as well as multiple members of Hospitality House's Board of Directors spoke in favor of the project. Multiple speakers mentioned the need for communities to embrace the mentally ill not shun or segregate them. Others provided dollars and cents common sense about services for mental health clients, especially projects that provide for housing while mental health clients transition into “mainstream” society, subtracting from the tens of thousands of dollars that have to be spent to house the mentally ill in our jails and prisons each day.
Perhaps the most damning denunciation of those opposed to the 300 N. Harrison Street project came during the comments from City Councilmembers when Heidi Kraut said, “My daughter is not afraid of mental health clients.”
Within the pages of the AVA I have been extremely critical of the slow progress made by Ortner Management Group and some of its subcontractors, including Hospitality Center. However; to attempt to block the much needed (truth be told, Fort Bragg and the Mendocino Coast need two or three more venues like 300 N. Harrison) housing of mental health clients simply on a not-in-my-back-yard (nimby) basis is short-sighted if not downright blockheaded.
When I was a child and my mother was an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) at the state hospital in Talmage, she occasionally brought a client home to the Macdonald Ranch for a weekend. You might say that communing with my father, my sister, me, our sheep dogs, and our Hereford cattle was part of each client's test as they transitioned from mental health client to mainstream society. One or two of these clients hurled curse words at my mother, nothing I hadn't heard on a school playground already, but for the most part these experiences were so ho-hum that I scarcely remember the details, other than to state unequivocally that I never once felt any sensation remotely akin to fear in the presence of these individuals, almost all of whom were much older and larger than me. Perhaps some of this was due to the fact that I had just viewed the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. The teacherly part of me wants those neighbors of 300 N. Harrison Street who oppose the possibility of transitional housing for the mentally ill in their part of Fort Bragg to go back and re-read or watch To Kill a Mockingbird. If they do so thoroughly, they might just discover that it's not just athletes or cops or firemen who perform heroic deeds. Your local hero could turn out to be someone like Boo Radley.
To read the more than 45 letters submitted to the Fort Bragg City Council (about 3 to 1 in favor of the 300 Harrison Street block grant proposal) go to the city's website (city.fortbragg.com), click on City Council Agendas, which will bring you to a page where you will have to click on the phrase “Click Here for LegiStar InSite.” This will take you to another page that lists the March 24, 2014 City Council meeting. Moving to the right, click on Meeting Details. On this page scroll down the left hand side to the number 14-075. Click there and you will find a list of attachments for the March 24th meeting, which includes a blue line for the aforementioned letters. Click on Letters and wait for the Adobe Reader page to display.
On a jollier note, here are the answers to the March pop quiz: 1. C 2. B 3. C 4. B 5. A, B, C, or D 6. Lindy Peters 7. D 8. Diana Scarwid 9. lettuce 10. False 11. Chipmunk (Bobby Glover) 12. yellow rose (of Texas) 13. whirligig beetle 14. Spain (the mostly sober judges have ruled that Portugal is also an acceptable answer) 15. B 16. B 17. C 18. Darrell McClure 19. C 20. C Tiebreaker: The Biblical value of Pi, as every one of the lynch party who rode a hay wagon to the Maycomb County Jail knows, is 3. The physicist who proved it was Popeye. Not! It was Mark Boslough.