After Measure U
by Malcolm Macdonald, May 25, 2016
When I entered this world the Macdonald family had already been engaged in the dual activities of cattle ranching and sheep herding for decades. On the Great Plains, at the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th, such contradiction could get a man shot or a family run off their land. One branch of my ancestors lived for a time on the Nebraska sandhills in the 1900s and 1910s when the only sheep man in the vicinity was a fellow respected far and wide since his youth when he stood up to a notorious outlaw. Readers can find a fictionalized version of this figure in my novel Outlaw Ford. When the Macdonalds of the Albion River began to run sheep as well as cattle, they did so as well established members of the local community, folk who were capable of seeing both sides of an argument, potential peacemakers in a disagreement or feud. Of course, it didn't hurt those peacemakers to have in-laws like the Robertsons, several of whom, though not hotheads, were considered by their contemporaries to be skilled marksmen.
Which brings us to Fort Bragg's Measure U, an initiative aimed at prohibiting social service organizations within the town's central business district (CBD), unless the organization happened to be in place before New Year's, 2015. From far and wide to actual citizens of Fort Bragg there are pretty much only cattlemen and sheepherders on this issue. Darn few individuals want to acknowledge let alone tackle the cluttered complexities surrounding the move of the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) into what was once (more than a decade ago) the Old Coast Hotel on Franklin Street. The passage or failure of Measure U will not bring an end to the verbal sniping, frustration, and mistrust on any side of this issue. It's that last phrase that most don't see. There aren't simply two sides. There are folks who won't vote for Measure U, but still have concerns about the ability of MCHC to provide adequate mental health services. There are downtown business owners who may vote either way, but passage or defeat on Measure U will not clean up their business premises from messes that can be linked to those fed at MCHC's flagship location, Hospitality house; however, the homeless who cause the messes are not always Hospitality House or MCHC clients, just transients here for the good weather season or “trimmigrants” waiting for marijuana season or... The transient and local homeless problems go on and on.
So vote for Measure U, right? If it passes, the measure may not provide wording adequate to move MCHC out of the Old Coast Hotel. Despite protestations to the contrary from far and near the passage of Measure U could lead to a miasma of lawsuits. Even if Measure U passes and no lawsuits result, its mere passage will create some kind of blowback from Mendo-lib forces. The far flung problems of homelessness, mental health, and social services cannot be solved by a range war at the ballot box. There will be too many sheepherders and cattle drovers left over after the last shot, I mean ballot, is counted.
The city manager, the mayor and Fort Bragg's city government as a whole is going to have to provide ample notice for all future projects and the so-called Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg are going to have to come out into the open and take a much fuller role in civic affairs, a role that extends beyond snide whispers and catcalling criticism on isolated side issues, too often uttered after the fact.
One of the ugly little half truths about the Hospitality Center getting a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to obtain the Old Coast Hotel concerns the issue/image of the concerned citizens (and everyone else) having only have 4-5 days notice on the matter in January of 2015. Lost in that canard (a fine word that literally means a cackling duck) is the fact that the City of Fort Bragg held a rather widely attended public hearing eight and a half months earlier (in March, 2014) concerning the approval of said same Community Development Block Grant to be used for the purpose of moving MCHC into a mental health services location at 300 N. Harrison Street. At that hearing and around town at the time, some of the same people opposed to MCHC's move into the Old Coast Hotel suggested that the 300 N. Harrison St. locale was too close to a park frequented by children and some also suggested that a more appropriate location would be within the central business district (CBD) of Fort Bragg. Opponents of MCHC have been mythologized in certain quarters as some sort of salt of the earth protectors of what is best for Fort Bragg. Readers might want to go back to my Jan. 21, 2015 piece: “One of the more vocal opponents to the 300 N. Harrison Street project also wrote a letter to the city last March , which stated, in part, 'We also feel it would [be] much easier to police a facility of this sort if it were located in the business area instead of a residential area…'”
And this, from the same article: “So at the January 12, 2015 Fort Bragg City Council meeting to consider authorizing essentially the same CDBG as last March, but for the Old Coast Hotel site, the person who wrote the letter asking that a mental health services center be located in the business area expanded her thinking to ask, 'Why is Fort Bragg the chosen spot for this? Why isn't it some place more centrally located?' When push comes to renewed CDBG shove, for some 'not in my backyard' becomes not in my whole town. Thus was the thinking of some of the people who packed the City Council meeting to object to the Hospitality Center acquiring the Old Coast Hotel. The same mindset and worse pops up on websites supposedly dedicated to happenings in Fort Bragg: 'I dont think Fort Bragg is big enough for housing for the homeless,' or 'All the handouts need to stop!!! Every church needs to shut down and not cater to them. They need to get into a program or get out of fort bragg.'”
That mindset has softened, publicly, in the last year or so, but the proponents of Measure U might as well own up to the cold truth that a portion of their support still comes from such a mentality.
Regardless of the CBD question, when the deal for the 300 N. Harrison St. building fell through it was clearly stated by the mayor and other city officials at a well attended city council meeting that MCHC, with the city's help, would look for another location within Fort Bragg for MCHC to move centralized mental health services to. For more than six months anyone paying the remotest amount of attention to this issue was aware that MCHC was actively looking for another location. Anyone who paid attention to the well attended civic meetings regarding the 300 N. Harrison location would also have been aware that MCHC had been given approval for the community development block grant. Any concerned citizen of Fort Bragg or any passer through could have taken a more active role in following MCHC's search for an alternative to 300 N. Harrison.
As previously stated, the CDBG project was already approved at a publicly attended city council meeting in March of 2014. The grant was not subject to change based on a secondary location at the former Old Coast Hotel. In short, the city council meeting of January, 2015, didn't even need to include the Old Coast Hotel move. Of course, MCHC's board of directors should have much more fully taken public input into account during their search for a secondary location after the 300 N. Harrison Street deal fell through. In addition, individuals within Fort Bragg's city government (the city managers and some members of the city council) should not have thrown up a defensive wall around themselves when it became obviously apparent that a significant number of Fort Bragg residents had serious reservations about both the 300 N. Harrison and Old Coast Hotel sites. Instead they marched straight ahead under the banner of certainty that they were doing the right thing.
Well, sometimes, as anyone who has watched Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing can tell ya, just doing what you are damn sure is the right thing can end you up in something akin to a literal or figurative riot. It seems apparent to the point of cliché that more openness is at the root of solving the problems in Fort Bragg, openness on the part of city government, the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, and the so-called “Concerned Citizens who seem to do all their strategizing in secret conclaves. Up or down on Measure U gets us no further than Mookie picking up that trash can, again. Though race is the primary subject of Spike Lee's film, those concerned with the problems in Fort Bragg would do well to watch or re-watch Do the Right Thing.
This was advertised in last week's piece as part of my sojourn through four public meetings in three days, with a bull calf castration thrown in for time consumption if not good measure. The first of those meetings was the Fort Bragg City Council, at which these days there is always some sort of reference to the Mendocino Hospitality Center. Hence the previous, multi-paragraph discussion. Fort Bragg residents or anyone on the Mendocino Coast who thinks that Fort Bragg's city government or its city council meetings are not pretty darn open to public scrutiny needs to attend some of the other board and committee meetings that go on around the Mendocino Coast. The less said about the way the Mendocino Art Center (MAC) board conducts a public meeting might be the best choice for the time being. The insatiably curious can take a look at Mendocino TV's coverage of the May meeting. Though the organization does seem to be making some progress this year on the economic front, the mere presence of a camera, microphone, and a writer from the AVA converted at least two MAC board members into rants that those media sources were in some sort of conspiratorial cahoots with four local blacksmiths also present at the gathering. I'm fairly sure the Mendocino TV camera operator didn't have any prior dealings with said blacksmiths and yours truly had never laid eyes on or conversed with any blacksmiths before.
After the bellows of media conspiracy and an abrupt adjournment I did have a thoughtful conversation with a couple of the non-ranting MAC board members which gave me hope for coming days and months. That evening I attended a lengthy, relatively meticulous meeting of the Albion Little River Fire Protection District's board of directors.
With so much attention on Fort Bragg's city government and the issues surrounding homelessness and mental health, matters at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) are potentially of even broader importance. The most eye opening matters concern the bottom line. While MCDH has been slightly improving its month to month numbers, there are huge financial questions to be answered. Start with about $17 million in capital budget projects that need attending to.
You hear talk about crumbling infrastructure in the good old U.S.A., try a $2.5 million roof repair at the coast hospital, an equal amount for Emergency Room renovations, $2 million for electrical upgrades, almost a half mill for the not yet completed repair of the nurse call system. I can go on and on. One long time MCDH board member said at the Finance Committee meeting I attended (pre-castration and conspiracy accusations) that things get fixed at MCDH after said thing breaks, that goes for dishwashers all the way to air ventilation systems in the operating room.
Throw in the cost of constructing a new hospital before 2030 and you've got mega money needs in the near and long term. The latest proposal from administration at MCDH is a possible end to all obstetrics (OB) services at Mendocino Coast Hospital. It is about a million dollar money loser annually, with those losses mounting each year recently while the number of births at MCDH have declined to approx. 85 for this fiscal year. The elimination of all OB services at MCDH will likely prove an emotional issue as well as, if not more so, than a financial one. Those who desire input on this or any of the myriad financial issues surrounding MCDH had better start attending the hospital's board meetings and/or its Finance and Planning Committee get-togethers.
* Neither sheep nor cattle were injured in the construction of the author's website: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com