Fort Bragg Notes
by Rex Gressett, July 26, 2017
The elected government of the City of Fort Bragg is loaded for bear and going after Hostility House. The flagship operation of Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, a 29 bed shelter and soup kitchen on McPherson street, is the only legitimate claim for the larger organization's claim to provide any actual social service. The shelter is in the crosshairs of a City Council frankly intent upon the closure of the facility. On Wednesday,
June July 26th, the Fort Bragg Planning Commission is going to consider the revocation of the use permit for the shelter. This would be the development code equivalent of the guillotine. Lynell Johnson, hereditary ruler of the MCHC board, is named as the recipient of the complaint.
Hospitality House, widely and interchangeably known as Hostility House, and its governing organization under the direction and management of the notorious and sultry Anna Shaw, has been the object of intense community controversy, mayor recall enterprises, ballot initiatives, innumerable Public Safety Committee meetings and wide and lengthy public debate.
It was the questionable and scandalous money and power grab by MCHC in the Old Coast Hotel scandal which was the watershed event in current Fort Bragg city politics. It provided a cold million in the form of a forgivable loan derived from CBDG, but coming from the city to lubricate the dramatic expansion of MCHC. By clever connivance that allowed our homelessness monopoly to buy a historic property in the heart of the city. The tax dodge for the original owners took up the slack and gave the only Fort Bragg institution of direct aid to the homeless an instant $3 million dollar asset. This behind the scenes real estate transaction was orchestrated by city hall without public notice until the last legal minute and then slammed past the council only four days after the people of the city found out about it. Famously, the affair skirted by a technically invisible fine hair direct violation of the Brown act. It was a fast, ruthless expression of the inordinate and inexcusable domination of the public process by the whim of the City Manager. But unlike her standard carefully-sanitized agenda, it stank solidly and unmistakably.
The Old Coast Hotel controversy resulted in so much public outrage and opposition that the voters turned the whole compromised City Council out of office as fast as they came up for election. Only Dave Turner survived, by 40 votes, since those dark days, deeply chastened. In two elections the city survived but the council did not. A contentious ballot initiative, Measure U, although laughably flawed in its legal premise, aimed an intentionally fatal missile at what had instantly become a uniquely glorious, elegantly gardened architectural gem of a homeless center.
When the smoke from the Measure U cleared, MCHC got to keep their free hotel. It seemed that Anna Shaw, the MCHC shadowy director and chief strategist, had prevailed. She politicked past the ballot initiative with skill and considerable guile. She went right on to pull down another $186k off the city’s money tree to buy herself and her social service minions a little garden and did that brash theft in the very shadow of the mass electoral execution of the city council that had so generously handed her all that cash.
Long ago, 17 years now, professional managers at Fort Bragg city hall noticed with the calculating insight of a small town Machiavelli that when the city’s largest employer, Georgia Pacific, closed the mill, the resulting impoverishment of the city created a neat opportunity for the city to tap into big healthy federal money pots. The Community Block Development Grant program (CBDG) had actually been created to throw money at the slow eruption of vast urban ghettos. In a clever extrapolation the new City Manager brought in grant writers to drag down free floating federal cash for little Fort Bragg. Taking full credit and following in the constituent padding tradition of urban disasters such as Newark, Detroit and South Central Los Angeles, our smart city management found that they could use all that federal money to buy themselves a constituency. This they did, and the social services industry in Fort Bragg sprouted like mushrooms. The city management built a voting block out of voters affiliated with or dependent on the extensive network of social services agencies that had grown out of the lavish distribution of CBDG (community block development grants) money. Everyone was happy. City management found they could forget the rest of the city. They were unemployed or figuring it out and in disgust not voting.
The ex-loggers and ex-fishermen and the broad wide and deep public that has lived in the city for generations who built their lives on diligent hard work had observed dispassionately the decades-long evolution of their city into a regional social services Disneyland. Many of them did not vote, then they did. It turned out they held the power. They still hold it.
Long before there was ever any such thing as Donald Trump in the political sense, there was bone-deep socially conservative reaction in Fort Bragg.
MCHC and their crude manhandling of the city money machine set in motion a quiet revolution in our local political landscape. Let me give the City Council a little advice even while I observe you finally getting it in gear. The people of Fort Bragg are not here for the money. We are here because we want a safe place for our kids. We live decently and we expect everyone who lives here to live decently as well. It is not asking too much.
They have busted Hostility House for using 34 beds when they are supposed to have 24. They have them on illegal expansion of hours, of having been the object of 187 complaints resulting in charges of disturbance, assault, battery, fighting, verbal threats, trespass and drunk in public
The Planning Commission has expressed concerns about public urination, feces, vomit, dog poop on public and private property, aggressive panhandling loitering, shouting, arguing, littering and public drinking and use of drugs.
The Commission has noted in their use permit violation complaint direct remonstrations from local merchants of shoplifting, vandalism, fighting, and sadly obstruction of sidewalks and sleeping on sidewalks and vehicles.
Next Wednesday night at the Planning Commission meeting all of those things will finally be up for community discussion.
* * *
I dropped by the Fort Bragg mayor’s office Monday morning meeting earlier this week about 45 minutes late for his one hour meeting. I was just in time to learn that the Paul Bunyon Day festivities had arranged for insurance, so the event is on. You read it first in the AVA.
In the few minutes that I had with the mayor I asked him the question I had come by to ask. What is up, saith me, with the highly touted, abstractly optimistic Homeless Action Plan put forward by our innovative and proactive Mayor Lindy Peters? We have the homeless, what of the action? The mayor sputtered out his innocence of any specific planning. No meetings are scheduled.
The mayor however has not only been doing nothing. Lindy likes being mayor. He likes it a lot. His ear is constantly to the ground and from that posture he cannot mistake the temper of the city. The Fort Bragg planning commission has been fed the facts and asked to drop a terminal bomb Wednesday next week at 6:00 on Hostility House. Action by the Planning Committee seems unavoidable in light of the number, nature and magnitude of the complaints that have accumulated in heaping drifts around Fort Bragg’s only homeless shelter. The form of the action contemplated would be fatal to the operations of the house.
None of the 15 county agencies, local faith groups, and interested parties who swore allegiance to the Homeless Action Plan has been contacted or informed of the next step in the proposed seminal study and public discussion of homelessness. There isn’t one. But one interested group has been quietly (actually secretly) mobilizing, organizing and muttering together in the bushes of a field near you. The homeless themselves, who have been utterly absent from the several years of continuing public dialogue and political controversy are undertaking to form a group of themselves to represent their own interests. They are calling it a union. The Fort Bragg homeless services monopoly, aka Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, which has been so lavishly funded to look blankly at them and make irrelevant and improbable suggestions if pressed is their target.
Homeless people in Fort Bragg are infinitely diverse but to the degree they have interacted with MCHC they are quite universally, as far as my diligent first hand inquiry has been able to ascertain, pissed.
Here are the facts. One million dollars in cold federal cash was used by MCHC to buy a landmark historic property in the center of the business district of a financially failing city. Buying a hotel to house homeless people seems logical but it was never their intention stated or otherwise to actually house homeless people in the hotel. Eight rooms were supposed to be used for transitional housing for MCHC clients who had demonstrated to their satisfaction a sufficient willingness to subordinate their best interests and their future to the regime of drug and financial dependency offered as an antidote to despair by MCHC.
Even on paper only those obedient few who were already scheduled for “transition” to subsidized housing were to be given temporary rooms. In other words, those eight clients out of the 34 that they deal with at any given moment, who did not have an emergency need for housing were to be allowed to pause at the hotel as they went through the system and down the drain. So far not one of the eight rooms has been used for this purpose. At the multimillion dollar Hospitality Center homeless people are allowed to sit in the lobby for a maximum thirty minutes. The smiling social workers do provide a substance alleged to be coffee. Desperate clients are also introduced to a progressive housing first policy. The prospect of a housing voucher is fair cause for initial optimism. Everybody gets a voucher. No one, however, gets an apartment. No landlord in the city will accept them. You can console yourself by getting on a waiting list for subsidized federal housing but you can do that faster and more directly without MCHC assistance.
You can wash your clothes at the hospitality house if you are inclined to brave the chaos and danger that involves. To make that function more effective a brand new washer and a brand new dryer were donated to Hospitality House. The new appliances were installed in the private residence of the director of the house, Anna Shaw. Kindly she gave her old ones for the use of the homeless.
Ms Shaw also drives a new car. I understand that it is a PT Cruiser also donated to Hospitality House. It is easy to understand that they cannot have homeless people riding around in it, the seats would get so dirty. So Ms. Shaw, scrupulous manager that she is, kept that as well.
Ms. Shaw receives a salary but they won’t tell me what it is. (I will find out.) I can say that she works in what are without dispute the most gracious offices in the city. They should be. They cost the city a cold million in city grant money. The loyal workers who assist her are clients selected on the basis of demonstrated capacity for stolid obedience. They are a tight little community of helpers doing good work for themselves. They smile woodenly and emanate palpable resentment for the ragged clientele that they get paid to do nothing for. They don’t call it Hostility House for nothing.
The profound anger of the homeless themselves was the untold story that lurked in the background of the public discussion of the MCHC money scandal. One selected shill of a homeless woman was paraded by Anna Shaw before the City Council meetings that gave them their million. That individual cried on the platform in abject gratitude but has in my hearing subsequently and abjectly repented.
When the city had their dialogue about MCHC, we heard from all factions. The grand waterfall of pious pretension that cascaded from the social services loyalists and put the cat in the bag for their willingly credulous co-conspirators on the City Council bore all in its flood. In the raptures of their sanctimony no one thought it relevant to inquire into the opinions of the people who were at issue.
I don’t know what the outcome will be of the Homeless Action Plan. I don’t know what they are going to do with Hostility House. I do know that this time around in whatever discussion occurs the homeless themselves will be participants.
Follows the flyer now being distributed to the homeless:
Join the Union for the Homeless. Get Involved.
The city of Fort Bragg at the urging of our mayor Lindy Peters , and every county agency in Mendocino have undertaken to develop a Homeless Action Plan to be conducted over the next six months. Everyone knows what they are doing now is not working. Fifteen agencies have committed themselves to participate the study. They are going to be discussing you, your situation, your future.
Every agency participant in the study is funded. They are going to be paid to talk about you. They are going to be making decisions about how millions of dollars will be spent supposedly to help homeless people.
Actually the money has already been spent. At the end of every week every participant in the study, every social worker, advisor, councilor and all of their functionaries and secretaries and bean counters and the lawyers that they hire, are all going to get fat paychecks to compensate them for their concern. They get paid, didn’t you know? First things first.
As the Homeless Action Plan study period progresses you can be sure that no one who is actually homeless is going to be involved in he discussion. You are not invited. Just as you will not get the money that they are spending you will not be asked to participate in the discussion. You will get their expensive advice and their not very courteous consideration. They expect you to be polite and humble. Don’t ask too many questions.
If that works for you relax. Go down to the Hospitality Center and have a cup of coffee. Sit on their expensive benches, enjoy the flowers. You will have 30 minutes to hang out in the lobby. Good luck.
The County of Mendocino has more homeless people per capita than any other county in the nation. We are a small nomadic nation of desperate people. One might think that it is possible that homeless people themselves know a little about the violence the despair, the anguish of living in the bushes and the woods and in our cars. But not one of the fifteen agencies that are entrusted with county and federal bucks thinks it is necessary to have actual homeless folks participate in the study. Keeping us isolated, desperate and afraid is essential to their continuing money grab.
They are going to be conducting their study and figuring out how to spend millions of county, city and federal dollars without consulting us. They are smugly certain that homeless people themselves have no contribution to make. Some of us have been speculating that perhaps people that are actually homeless understand our own situation better than the overfed, overpaid, underachieving social workers who hold our future in their hands.
If you want to get involved in your own future. If you think that the millions of dollars that they are passing out to each other might possibly be better spent, you are not alone. If you want to fight for your own survival join a union of people who are homeless. That by deliberate intention does not include any social workers, bureaucrats, officials or sleazy drug peddling doctors. The Union for the Homeless is — of us, by us, for us.
I don’t know what we can do, but I am very sure they are not going to do anything for us without a fight. Join us and at least you will be included in their discussion. You will be heard.
If you have the idea that sitting passively and waiting for someone else to decide what to do with you might not be the most effective course of action, if you are pissed, optimistic, idealistic or sufficiently disgusted, Stop being polite. Force our participation in the Homeless Action Plan. Create the future that they intend to steal from us. Join the Union for the Homeless.
Your name will be kept confidential.