Hospitality House Eating Fort Bragg
by Malcolm Macdonald, March 29, 2017
Last week some non-law abiding person or persons drove a pickup truck into the northwest forty of the Macdonald Ranch and made off with a sizable amount of unsplit madrone and oak firewood. Perhaps the perpetrators are unaware of our family history. While the first Macdonald to venture to California in the 1800s made his way from Nova Scotia across the North American continent without use of a firearm, he eventually married into the Robertson family. The Robertsons were already well known for their prowess at hunting bear and mountain lion (my Robertson/Macdonald grandmother called the one she shot dead in McKay Gulch a catamount) as well as fatally dispatching double-dealing card sharps and armed highwaymen.
The Robertsons deftness in the matter of gunplay included fatally besting one of the members of the notorious Frost family (the victors in an 1867 shootout on the streets of Little Lake in which one Frost perished while the remaining Frost gunmen killed five members of the Coates family). The Robertsons' abilities with firearms was such an infectious trait throughout the family that one of their horses answered to a court of inquest for shooting dead a holdup artist near Observatory Hill, east of Mendocino. The horse was found not guilty for discharging the revolver in its saddle holster. Its rider, John Robertson, was dismounted and away from the equine at the time Ben Frost (who was attempting an armed robbery of John Robertson) was shot dead by a single round through the breast. Even a Robertson horse would have been embarrassed to needlessly waste extra ammunition when one shot did the trick
Since the marriage of the Macdonalds into the Robertson clan, each succeeding generation, though taught to shoot in something approaching Robertson skill levels, has had to wrestle with the internal struggle of dealing with wrongdoers in a manner approximating Macdonald pacifism or to let their inner Robertson mindset rule the day.
Here we turn not to gunplay in the woods of the wild west, but to law enforcement on the streets of Laredo, no, the streets of Fort Bragg.
According to a lifelong resident of that municipality who spoke during the “Public Comments on Non-Agenda Items” section of the March 22, 2017, Fort Bragg City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, the town's police department gave out about a hundred less vehicle code violations last year than there are days on the calendar. The citizen appeared particularly upset that the four sergeants on the Fort Bragg Police Department (FBPD) handed out less than twenty vehicle code tickets in total last year.
FBPD sergeants may well be on duty assignments that preclude much traffic patrol, but simple observation of traffic in Fort Bragg would lead most law abiding driver's to concur that far too many speeders, not to mention texters and hands on, prolonged, cell phone users go unnoticed by law enforcement. The speaker noted that statistics he had obtained showed that next to no vehicle code violation tickets had been written for Maple and Dana Streets, two of the more heavily traveled streets outside of Highway One itself. Dana Street is frequented by high school drivers five days a week during the school year. The speaker wondered aloud how it was possible for the entirety of high school drivers to go a year without violating traffic laws. The obvious point being that it is enforcement that is lacking in this neighborhood as well as others.
FBPD Chief Fabian Lizarraga seemed to be writing down a multitude of notes while the resident spoke, so hopefully the ten officers and four sergeants of FBPD will have time to take a tougher stance on vehicle code violaters. Time and manpower are the crucial elements for any small town police force. Right now FBPD spends what appears to be an inordinate amount of time attempting to manage problems related to mental health and homelessness. In many ways our law enforcement officers, be it county or city, have become the de facto social workers of the twenty-first century.
This takes us to the item that was on the Public Safety Committee agenda on March 22nd. The topic: Update from Staff Regarding Progress on Homeless Issues. Staff consisted of City Manager Linda Ruffing. The headline takeaway from Ruffing's comments was that Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center is going to have to file for an amendment to their 2003 use permit regarding the twice daily food program at Hospitality House on McPherson [sic] Street. The 2003 use permit contained the following statement regarding the number of rooms used for housing and the food program under a “Findings” heading: “The City is not authorizing an increase in the intensity of use at the site...”
In the thirteen years since the 2003 permit was granted the number of bed nights at Hospitality House has risen from about 6,000 per year to slightly over 7,000 annually. The meals served has nearly doubled from approximately 12,000 per year in 2003 to over 23,000 in 2016.
Ruffing cautioned the two city councilmen on the Public Safety Committee, Mayor Lindy Peters and first year councilmember Bernie Norvell, to not delve too deeply into this issue lest they prejudice themselves, forcing a recusal if the use permit amendment is passed on to the full city council by the Fort Bragg Planning Commission.
While addressing the myriad problems associated to the lack of planning and management of clients, especially at or near Hospitality House, Ms. Ruffing went through an array of facial contortions and finally a shoulder sag when she announced that the poor, downtrodden folk who run the Hospitality conglomerate (meaning its Board of Directors and specifically Board President Lynelle Johnson) might have to go through a use permit amendment process before serving up their next 10-12,000 meals without any noticeable supervision. If Ruffing's body language weren't enough to tell you whose bread she butters, at one point Ms. Johnson rushed behind the dais that houses the councilmembers and city staff in order to hand off papers to City Manager Ruffing. If John or Jane Doe, plain citizen, had rushed behind the council and city staff's sanctum sanctorum chances are they would have at least received an admonishment from Ruffing. At worst the police chief might have detained, if not arrested, said citizen. In short, the move simply accentuated what many observers already know: Ms. Johnson has special privileges with this City Manager.
Keep in mind, Ruffing held onto a series of emails sent by another lifelong Fort Bragg resident, who owns and runs a business in the vicinity of Hospitality House, for approximately twenty days before delivering them to the five councilmembers. Let's make that more detailed. On January 19th the aforementioned business owner, in an email to Ruffing, requested that more than two dozen emails, authored by the business owner, be forwarded to all five Fort Bragg City Councilmembers. The emails detailed a number of problems regarding Hospitality House clients, including drug use, drunkeness, and the failure of Hospitality staff as well as the Hospitality Board President, Ms. Johnson, to communicate with said business owner despite the fact that the business owners' attempts to contact Hospitality personnel often times contained plausible solutions to the ongoing problems. At the conclusion of the January 19th email, the business owner's precise words to Ruffing: “Please make sure this email, and the others I am sending to you, are sent to Fort Bragg City Council.”
Between January 19th and February 8th, City Manager Ruffing held onto the emails, failing to deliver them to the City Council. During this time, it has been reported, Ms. Ruffing communicated more than once with Ms. Johnson and/or the staff of Hospitality Center and/or House.
Ms. Ruffing's only possible excuse for withholding the emails from the City Councilmembers might have been an avoidance of a Brown Act violation. However, since the business owner was requesting that the emails go to all of the councilmembers there would seem to be no undue advantage for any one councilman. Furthermore, the business owner sent an even more explicit request in a January 31, 2017, email to City Manager Ruffing: “I am just checking in to see if you have had time to send the emails to City Council. If not, please let me know and I can send the emails to them. I want to make sure they have plenty of time to look things over before the meeting on the [February] 13th and I want to make sure they are getting the current emails of complaints, I have sent in — as well. I can just start adding them to the emails, I am not sure how all of this works but I know they will be crucial in helping with solving this problem and want them [City councilmembers] to have enough time to problem solve before the 13th.”
At the conclusion of this email the business owner re-states, “I believe City Council will have valuable input and I need to know everyone is working on this together, with everyone having all the information.”
Still, Ruffing withheld the emails from the city council until the agenda for the February 13th council meeting went public late in the day on February 8th. Most of the business owner's emails, dating from October, 2016 into February, 2017, were included in the agenda packets for the February 13th City Council and Feb. 15th Public Safety Committee meetings; however, the crucial January 31st explicit request regarding the emails was conveniently omitted.
At this point there is no indication whether or not the Fort Bragg City Council intends to call City Manager to task on the matter of withholding the emails.
As for lawbreaking here at the ranch, I'm heading up the hill to put in some new fencing around the northwest forty. Perhaps I should saddle and holster a horse to come along with me.
Saddle up and read at the author's website: malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com