Fort Bragg Notes

by Rex Gressett, March 15, 2017

The Georgia Pacific mill site is once again in play. 320 acres of the most beautiful coastal acreage in California or actually in the world has once again merited the attention of City Hall.

In a new plan put forward by the city manager after secret consultations with the Coastal Commission and the State Department of Toxic Substances Control, the city of Fort Bragg is being led with gracious hands to accept the ruminations and planning of the city manager to take care of it for us, that she does not feel in her kind heart we have the wit to take for ourselves.

She is going to do this mill site thing for us. Indeed she has been busy doing it, talking and dealmaking with the Coastal Commission and the DTSC.

She has lined it all up. Her plan is a very simple one. After fifteen years of blundering inaction and false starts, City Hall has decided that it is easier and more beneficial to all to simply slice the mill site up piecemeal and sell it to her friends and political allies.

The whole vision thing was just way too much. If the city manager prevails in her new proposal visitors to the coastal trail will have a commercial brewery to savor along with the antiquated rusting and leaking sewage treatment plant as they walk the bluffs. Linda’s pals will be given a chance to move their operations on to incomparable ocean front acreage. Generations will shake their heads and wonder how they did it. Good work, Linda.

To make her buddies happy Linda must do violence to the spirit and letter of the planning process so far. This is exactly the kind of thing at which she excels.

Quoting from their own LCP (local coastal permit) application: the intent of this policy was to require a comprehensive planning process for the use of the GP mill site that “discouraged piecemeal development.” Well, that is out. Selling big chunks of the site to her associates is exactly her plan.

Existing planning goes on to require — that future development pays for itself in terms of city services — and results in a comprehensive infrastructure plan — well that’s out too. Nothing in the Ruffing proposal addresses sewer or water investment. Nothing in it looks to the needs of the city for infrastructure investment that the mill site development would be bringing to any other city in California if it were on the desks of their city managers instead of the desk of our city manager. Linda has a keen sense of who she works for and it is not you.

The depth and brashness of this new maneuver tells us a few things about the reality of political life in Fort Bragg. First lesson: we cannot depend on anyone else.

The Coastal Commission, the DTSC, the agencies that are tasked with protecting the interests of the community and ensuring that the voice of the people is heard in the planning process have been organized by Linda Ruffing and with each other behind the scenes to cooperate in upending the planning process as it exists and the intention of the law. When Linda Ruffing whistled they all came like trained dogs. The next lesson will be that if you walk into their open meetings, which will no doubt be complete with charts and graphs and explanatory rhetoric and think that they are going to listen to anything the public says you have clearly not been paying attention for the last 15 years. They will produce dog and pony show expositions. They will demonstrate the skill of attentive listening as citizens line up for three minutes each at a microphone. None of it will make any difference. The issues have already been settled. They will hold the meetings to make sure they have been held. Their meetings don’t mean anything unless you insist that they do.

What has been settled is significant. The ambitious specific plan of the 2012 period has been scuttled. The old application for a LCP (local coastal permit) which had passed into history at the time of Jery Melo is to be resurrected instead with the stated intention of making the road smooth for a few local businesses some with connections at city hall, to relocate out onto the mill site itself. Park Schmark. the investor in water and sewer infrastructure which the city desperately needs and which could very reasonably be expected to come with any development of the mill site, is cast aside without comment as unneeded. We will get by.

City Hall is accustomed to limping by with long term unfunded liabilities.

In Fort Bragg they are invisible because they are so enormous.

I am sorry to be so angry with DTSC. They are at least not lying to us. But that they should be orchestrated so seamlessly into an obvious campaign on the part of the city manager to effect a crude and publicly offensive policy is just painful. The Coastal Commission is equally guilty of conducting the substantive part of important negotiations behind the backs of the people of the city and then having the effrontery to present the whitewashing of private interest sucking up to public power as a matter of routine policy.

From the agenda —

City Council and Planning Commission agreed that the best course of action is to proceed with preparation of an LCP amendment —”

“…(Coastal) Commission staff has indicated that this LCP amendment would be processed as a minor amendment —.”

What is more concerning is that the City Council was lined up for it also.

Lindy Peters who has shown such energy as mayor and openness to input and ideas was utterly without scruple. His assurances at the Feb. 13 surprise meeting that no direction was to be given at this info only meeting, seemed to be sincere but he forgot them by the end of the meeting. Out of that surprise meeting came not only a boatload of direction but a specific well thought out final result all contrived without any messy public involvement at all. Everybody knew it and apparently they had all signed on as well before the meeting. They know what they want for you. Trust them. You really have no choice. Bernie Norvel was either remarkably open minded on very short notice or was already on board pulling for the local interest even if it means capitulation to failure and a free cookie to some friends of City Hall. The whole council seemed ok with the surprise LCP strategy, even I guess if it means they screw up the greatest public trust in California. At least someone is providing leadership. Too bad it’s the wrong person.

* * *

The mill site is the future of the city of Fort Bragg. The people of the city know it. Long landlocked Fort Bragg, possessed of the most beautiful coastal property in California, has restarted the laborate negotiations that aim (eventually) to bring the fences down. No local issue gets more attention. No public meetings are as packed as mill site meetings.

City hall has made crucial decisions about the future of the Mill site. You were not consulted. City Hall is breaking their plan to us gently, carefully obscured in complicated memorandums. You can figure it out if you know how to read between the lines. City hall is not considering options, they are not listening, they are not gathering information. They know what they want and they are moving fast. Chop it up, sell it off, and leave the toxins where they can rest peacefully.

Two public workshops are planned, at unspecified dates. Fifty thousand bucks has come to the city from a CDBG (community development block grant) that these meetings might be made possible. They better have coffee. Postie notes will be provided so that the city management has something specific to ignore. The fix is in. The plan is to sell off sections of the mill site to local interests. Mouths are watering. Will the city council stand up, or sit down?

The dam across Pudding Creek that eroded so spectacularly in the winter’s rains has been determined by the California Office of Emergency Services to qualify for disaster relief. City Hall management is waiting with trepidation to see if their insurance will chip in. The insurance guys are counting their pennies and talking with their lawyers. GP has the dam stabilized. The city council is perplexed and cagey. No one is making any connection between Pudding Creek, the Patton project and George Reinhardt’s ambitions for wetlands at the mill site. The connecting thread is water. Pudding Creek and Hare Creek are salmon runs or could be if we would work at it. A vision for the future of water is totally absent in the complicated discussions around water issues.

Water in the city of Fort Bragg has always been a strained compromise. Fish and Wildlife is institutionally concerned with the degrading of the environment that our lack of a coherent city water policy has wrought. They are acting. No reaction from the city council. They are thinking about it.

There are workshops planned by city hall insider George Reinhardt to address his long unrequited desire for creek daylighting. Workshops are planned for Thursday, March 23, at 6:oo pm at Town Hall. Without saying a word, George stole the show at the February presentation the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), by giving everyone his funky and charmingly simple little maps showing the place that the wetlands would be if we daylighted (opened to the sky) his two creeks. These little waterways feed into the pond system where in the good old days of mill operation they dumped dioxins. The ponds are the most polluted part of the mill site. George has made a powerful case that wetlands are good. He has not remotely addressed the stated intention of DTSC to leave the dioxins where they are. Knowing George he will have it figured out before the March 23 workshop. Perhaps the long love affair between NHUDG (i.e., George) and the city management is headed for rough waters. Probably not; they have never quarreled before, but I don't see how it can be avoided. A big part of the city sell off is to give DTSC the no further action letter that they crave. Is George’s plan for wetlands connected?

* * *

The Hospitality House (I am no longer calling it Hostility House, the case is too sad) is in massive disarray. Success killed them. There is (or was) a gas leak that prevented them cooking for the inmates. They turn it on anyway at dinner time. They are out of everything. They have abandoned as unworkable the long-standing policy of kicking out anyone caught drinking. Inmates tell me they drink now with impunity. The coffers are empty. Thanks to the million dollars that they got from the city they have a really groovy old hotel that no one can stay in or use, except for the after-hours parties given by staff. (Of course). Oh yeah, and coffee in the am. My bad.

The public safety committee — our mayor Lindy Peters and our newbie councilman Will Lee — put as much pressure as was polite on the chief of police to hassle the homeless into submission and eventual retreat from the city limits. Who says they don't have a policy? The chief did not really dig it. He was heard muttering something about due process and the First Amendment. But overall they seemed to understand each other.

In other homeless news, the city continues to remove any object from public access that anyone can sit on. The bench at the corner of Redwood and Main has come out. Bainbridge Park of course was ravaged for benches, our beloved community BBQ was extracted when it was observed being used by undesirables and for a time the whole park was left a happy and empty grassy expanse without accommodation of any kind should any homeless folk unwisely appear. The rascals continued to sit on the grass for a time but that has ended as well. Nowadays no homeless dare come to our central city park. Judy Valadeo must be ecstatic. I am told that McLaughlin of the Fort Bragg police unselfishly made it his habit to eat his lunch sitting in his cruiser at the park. The bus stops have been pasted with no loitering notices. I sit at bus stops routinely and smoke my wicked cigars. No one messes with me. The cops wave. Smart profiling is the key to their plan.

* * *

Electric charging stations are coming to Fort Bragg.

In major Fort Bragg news, the city hall staff will get four new bang-up electric charging stations at public expense. Their arrival will be announced at the March 13 City Council meeting. They should be available for use as soon as Memorial Day. As the memorandum reads: Upon the direction of the old city council...

But pause for a moment. Let us remember with solemnity and repentance when it was that the council had no more will or energy to resist the power of the city manager than a pig can fly.

Anyway, upon the direction of the old city council, four new electric charging stations will be built in Fort Bragg through what the city somewhat cryptically says is money from a grant acquired by the Mendocino Land Trust. They are however doing the work fast and clean. Done by Memorial Day. Wow.

The power of the City Manager in Fort Bragg is not a hidden power. It is power that is flaunted in your face. It is intended for you to see. Most people do not like her but they often don't know exactly why. I do like her in a circumspect sort of way, but I oppose her very explicitly. This is not the reason but consider that for a longtime Linda had the best alley in town.

In a town that had no alleys to a ludicrous extent for a laughably long time. Everybody had stopped laughing. The super nice Linda Alley runs the length of her block, right by her hedge which hedge (not to nitpick) exceeds in height any other hedge in town and explicitly by municipal law is not a legal hedge. Although as a rule, I don't care personally about the height of hedges, I note that it is a fact that if your hedge gets too tall the law will come and make you trim it. Look at the hedge next to hers. She flaunts it.

She dosen’t have the best alley anymore though because — and I will try and not exaggerate here or spin it — but the reason is that the mayor of the city got one of two $600,000 super duper alleys from the Water Control board. The mayor’s alley is now the best. The cost of paving an alley in our town is about $15,000 in the free market. So the mayor actually got 50 alleys worth of alley. I doubt if Linda had numbers like that when her alley was the best.

Now cometh electric cars. It is nice to charge them when one is at work. So city hall got with it. They understand the importance to the climate of electric cars and also to the general progress of enlightened technological excellence. Electric cars have many arguments. They are a bit elitist in my world but shit: You have to charge them.

So the city is putting in four stations. Two in the parking lot of city hall and two across the street from city hall where there is actually better parking. Everyone at city hall is thrilled. And the people of the city are gratified to know that our concerns about climate change and our interest in a responsive and fair and impartial city government have helped you to decide to get that money and put in stations where you can get at them easily. Thank you.

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