Walk the Plank, Mr. Juntz!
by Debra Keipp, March 26, 2015
The City of Point Arena is currently trying, through their new City attorney and Council, to wrest ownership of the old Coast Guard Boat House from the current owner of 28 years, Blake Juntz, former partner in Ocean Fresh Fish Company. Blake and his brother, Bob, began buying fish at Arena Pier in 1987. Blake Juntz retired from Ocean Fresh Fish several years ago and brother Bob continues to send a truck down to Arena Cove to buy fish from the handful of remaining fishermen bringing fish in at Arena Cove Pier. Ocean Fresh Fish (OFF) operates out of Fort Bragg and serves much of Coastal Mendocino, sending fresh sea urchin by air, all the way to their biggest buyer - Japan.
Ocean Fresh Fish Company has been keeping the City of Point Arena afloat since the big waves took out the old Pier back in 1984. Arena Cove Pier was rebuilt and reopened for use in '86. You could say Ocean Fresh Fish Company was Point Arena's saving grace at the time, and has been pulling the City out of tough scrapes and financial limbo ever since. Ocean Fresh, for many years, has been the biggest money maker for the City of Point Arena of all the businesses within the City's domain.
The historic Coast Guard Boat House is one of the only remnants of Arena Cove to have survived the Big Wave of '84. The rest of the adjacent structures and buildings at the Pier were destroyed.
Geographically, Arena Cove (the Pier), and Point Arena (the City), are two very separate places with two different names. There used to be a community of about 100 people living in the old trailer court at Arena Cove. The trailer court was eliminated altogether from Arena Cove after the storm of 1984 displaced one-fifth of the Cove's population. And, it was the storm of 1984 - the “Big Waves,” which blew the planks off the old Arena Cove Pier and sloshed off its foundation the old Cove Restaurant where Dori Fox worked and grew up. Locals will remember eating their clam chowder in clear broth; not red; not white. Old Sophie Harper had about a dozen Greek tunes on 45's in her juke box, including songs for birthdays and anniversaries, all of which were rescued from the flooded restaurant and are currently in the ownership and safe keeping of Steve Oliff, one of Point Arena's historians and a well known comic book artist.
Around the time of the Big Waves, Richie Wasserman was mayor a time or two in Point Arena. Richie owned the Coast Guard Boat House, which sat on the waterfront a few hundred yards and a bobsled ride downhill from the just as historic, Coast Guard House, also owned by Wasserman and his wife, who ultimately renovated the House building into “The Coast Guard House Bed and Breakfast Inn.” The Boat House, also on the historic register, sat on an odd corner of the Cove parking lot, just a hop, skip and a jump north from, and parallel to, Arena Cove Pier itself. Wasserman decided to part with the Boat House, but kept the Coast Guard House Bed & Breakfast Inn. Around 1986, Wasserman sold the Coast Guard Boat House to the Juntz Brothers of Ocean Fresh Fish, who renamed it and used it as “The Fish House.” Some locals will remember buying fish from there.
The Juntz Brothers needed a staging area for urchin; the vacant Boat House with its slanted concrete floors suited their needs perfectly for hosing out the work areas after processing fish. They set to work, making renovations for processing urchin and fish and installed a few conveniences needed for fish processors such as updated toilets, showers, a snack/rest area, and a fireplace for warmth for the nearly 40 employees, some of them trucked down to Point Arena from Fort Bragg.
The old Coast Guard Boat House originally had radiators under the building to heat water and provide warmth, which were dismantled and removed by the former owner, Wasserman, who made many changes to the building, removing most of its original accoutrement features prior to selling the Boat House to the Juntz brothers.
Back in the day, the original Coast Guard Boat House held the rescue boats for the servicemen living in the Coast Guard House. The remaining Boat House wharf, extending approximately 60 yards from the Coast Guard Boat House, and which sat parallel to the Pier itself, was destroyed in tandem with the main Pier, by the Big Wave of '84. In the old days, the Coast Guard sailors would make haste down the hill from the Coast Guard House, dash into the Boat House, ready their oar-driven double-ended rescue dory and shove the boat out to the water from the grooved, slanted decks, which used to extend out several more yards than they do presently. But after the Big Wave, all that remained were several stranded pylons, which the City of Point Arena later reduced in underwater height in the late '90's to make way for boats mooring off Arena Cove Pier. The Juntz Brothers worked in full cooperation with the City of Point Arena to provide decent mooring for the fleet's commercial fishing boats, and got permission to hack off the protruding pylons, property of Ocean Fresh Fish.
Ocean Fresh has been responsible for paying the City of Point Arena a few cents per pound on all fish brought in over the Point Arena Pier for sale since 1987 when Ocean Fresh Fish entered into a contract with the City of Point Arena for one quarter of a cent per pound. When I worked on City Council back in the '90's, it was at 1.5 cents per pound. City Hall and the Pier Office won't answer their phones so I can't ask them what rate is paid to Ocean Fresh Fish presently.
Essentially, the Juntz Brothers have helped support the City of Point Arena since 1987. Fishermen, and those privy to the City's budget at any time since the urchin boom of the late '80's, can see that Ocean Fresh Fish and Arena Cove Pier are the reasons the City of Point Arena has stayed afloat. In 1990, nine million pounds of urchin was harvested out of Arena Cove, and Arena Cove was rated number one in the country for urchin quality and quantity.
In the heyday of the Point Arena urchin boom from '87 through '91 or so, 66 boats made up the original fleet of urchin diving boats out of Arena Cove. In 1992, however, China and Russia began exporting urchin, although the primary consumers of urchin in Japan continued to prefer Point Arena urchin for its gourmet quality. Chile also stepped up to the plate with their urchin, but Arena Cove's historically coveted urchin had them all beat. If you've never tasted urchin, it's best to eat it while it's still squirming in its spiny shell. The taste entirely changes by the time urchin hits the little wooden pallets at your local sushi bar.
Since the '90's, we watched the City Council take money from the Pier Account to augment hemorrhages in the town's General Fund. Instead of focusing on economic development within the City to develop more tax-paying businesses, the City lived off the Pier. If the City collected money for permits alone, they'd make out like Christmas Club. But no, those in City Hall remain essentially no growth in Point Arena even though two council persons, Koogle and Heatherstone, presently live in squalid, uninhabitable buildings which remain unpermitted and are replete with health hazards. The City of Point Arena waives enforcement for these politicians.
We could never figure out why the City remained “no growth” until Leslie Dahlhoff sold out Point Arena, making it a “monument” without an economic development plan for Point Arena. Leslie worked hard for sanctions against fishing in preparation for monumental status without initially uttering the acronym MLPA. After twelve years in office, Dahlhoff finally antagonized and whittled the Arena Cove fishing fleet down from the 66 commercial fishing boats of 1990 to the handful of fishermen still working today. And even though the fleet is small, the Pier is still the money-maker for the City of Point Arena as is, now, Outback Nursery, Feed & Seed. Fishing and marijuana still support the City of Point Arena. Where do some of the guys from “Deadliest Catch” come to fish for fun? Arena Cove!
Blake Juntz used the Coast Guard Boat House as his “Fish House” for several uses related to working fish at the Pier: Abalone farming and fish processing chief among them. Former Mayor Richard Wasserman sold the Coast Guard Boat House to the Juntz brothers in 1986 or '87 when the need arose to process all the urchin and fish locally before trucking it out to OFF in Fort Bragg in the afternoon.
During this time Richie Wasserman looked longingly at the old Boat House he once owned, mentioning that he wished he'd never sold it. In fact, when he sold it, the Feds investigated him under the RICO act (for organized racketeering). He sold the Boat House while he was Mayor as the old house sat on land adjacent to City property at Arena Cove. Odd that RICO (the Feds) would investigate Wasserman instead of the Mendocino County Grand Jury or some other local entity.
Decades passed before the Stornetta Public Lands were dedicated as a National Monument. Wasserman's wife worked on the process for dedication. Now Wasserman states that he wants to regain ownership of Blake Juntz's old Fish House so that he can renovate it as a museum reflecting the glory of the Coast Guard Boat House days, the monument dedication; the glory of Richie Wasserman; whatever.
The problem is, Wasserman wants what he doesn't own — Blake Juntz's building. So how's he gonna get the building from Blake Juntz? Devalue the building's use per vote of City Council so that Blake Juntz can no longer use the building he owns? Even though Wasserman is no longer a City Commissioner, nor on LAFCO or MCOG, it is believed, through the actions demonstrated thus far on the part of the City and Wasserman, that Wasserman evidently has the new City Attorney working with him. After threatening Juntz with “the taking” of his building if he did not cooperate with a building inspection (performed last month) and requiring unnecessary California Coastal Development Permits for what the City maintains is a “change of use,” will the City then propose making a low-ball offer to buy Juntz's building, which sits adjacent to City property?
Richie Wasserman was the guy who sat on Council off and on these last forty years and was Mayor more than once. He owned real estate in and out of town and in Hawaii. Locals complain about that illegal timber harvest on his place that's turned into the big fire hazard slash pile he's shoved off over the cliff from the (now) flat spot where the timber used to be. All without permits.
But what does this all have to do with the old Coast Guard Boat House? Well, remember the Mayor of the City of Point Arena, Wasserman, underwent a RICO investigation for his involvement with the Coast Guard Boat House, having owned it, then having sold it, while also acting simultaneously as the adjacent neighbor and the Mayor of the City of Point Arena. The City's property at Arena Cove abuts the parcel on which the old Coast Guard Boat House sits. That's a given conflict of interest for the City of Point Arena and anyone who owns the old Coast Guard Boat House because they share a common parcel boundary. In Point Arena, this scenario has played itself out once already with that particular building and City Council in the form of Mr. Wasserman.
Can the City of Point Arena dictate the use of historic buildings within the City limits? What if you owned an historic building, like Mayor Koogle, whose gutted “home” was once a one room school 100 years ago, and still sits in a school/residential zoned area? Could the City require that the owner renovate the historic stick and stucco building into it's former use 100 years earlier as a one-room school house and turn it into a museum, or could you renovate it as a useful business or home? That's the metaphor for the argument Blake Juntz hears from City Council in regards to his Fish House vs. the City's hypocritical stance regarding governance of its own council members, grievously acting in violation of several laws and codes, but not providing enforcement for themselves. Wasserman via Council wants his boat house returned to him.
And, it looks like the City of Point Arena will harass and deny use of the building to Mr. Juntz after all these years and money he made over the Pier in an attempt to pry the building from his ownership and sell it to... themselves? How much money will the old Coast Guard Boat House be worth after the City of Point Arena denies Blake Juntz use of his own building via their hostile takeover? And how can the City act within the limits of the law, to devalue a building adjacent to City property manipulating its market value for their own eventual future purchase? Didn't the City of Novato do that, and get the pants sued off them for quite a few million?