Hospitality House’s Last Chance?

by Malcolm Macdonald, October 11, 2017

After a four hour public hearing on October 3rd, the Fort Bragg City Council voted to deny an appeal of a Planning Commission decision regarding Hospitality House, the controversial non-profit that provides housing to two dozen people a night as well as meals to more. The Planning Commission had voted, by a 3-2 margin, in August, to implement eighteen special conditions for Hospitality House after that part of the overall organization known as Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) was found to be in violation of its use permit. Readers can look back at the August 30th edition of the AVA for a complete list of the special conditions.

At the October 3rd meeting City Councilmen Bernie Norvell and Mike Cimolino initially balked at upholding the Planning Commission decision, presumably because they, along with the appellants to that decision, did not feel the eighteen special conditions went far enough. Though Hospitality Center Board of Directors President Lynelle Johnson and the MCHC Board's attorney, Pamela Cohen, both made remarks to the effect that Hospitality House had been pushed into a corner, the Hospitalitty Board seemingly doesn't get it. They don't see the corner that residents and business owners in the vicinity of Hospitality House have been shoved into: either tolerate the nearly endless misconduct of Hospitality House clients or be called something akin to prejudiced know-nothings by the entrenched, yet highly vocal, cadre of Mendo-libbers who often show up in droves (or in the case of October 3rd, a small head-bobbing herd) to voice support for organizations like “Hospitality.”

To be extremely clear about the misconduct issue, MCHC's attorney has stated that the City of Fort Bragg has “not established any connection between Hospitality House's services and conduct in the vicinity that might be considered a nuisance.” Those nuisances were enumerated in Planning Commission documents as including fighting, aggressive panhandling, loitering, shouting, arguing, cursing, littering, drunkenness, drug use, obstruction of sidewalks, defecating on private property, and urinating in public. The list goes on and has been witnessed by numerous business owners, residents, City Council members, police officers and this writer. The fact that Hospitality House leadership continues to deny these simple truths in front of the City Council and its Planning Commission, has to make anyone who lives, works, shops, or visits the alleys and streets near Hospitality House skeptical about its future compliance with the special conditions placed upon it.

Councilmembers Norvell and Cimolino only went along with upholding the Planning Commission's decision after Mayor Lindy Peters and Vice-Mayor Will Lee agreed to set up an ad hoc committee to address the Hospitality House situation. A committee which, hopefully, will give citizens an ongoing voice in the matter. Norvell also pressed for and got the council, as a whole, to refund the $1,000 fee required from the Fort Bragg citizens (twenty-nine of them) who filed the appeal.

To be sure the passage of Sheriff Tom Allman's Measure B this November will help alleviate a bit of the street level homeless/mental health problems that have swirled from a nuisance to a Category 3 storm in Fort Bragg. However, the members of MCHC's Board of Directors are almost all folks who, while well-intentioned, reside in fine houses in Mendocino or well-heeled locales like Frog Pond Road, south of Little River. On an hour to hour, day to day, night after night basis these people are not in tune with what actually goes on in Hospitality House and on the alleys and streets adjacent to it. The Board of Directors of Hospitality House sees the litany of loitering, littering, drunkenness, drug use, verbal abuse, and overall exotic behaviors that oozes out onto the surrounding neighborhoods around Hospitality House as a community problem, to be dealt with and solved by everyone else — but them.

The solace that can be taken by the business owners and residents in the vicinity of Hospitality House lies in the addition of the eighteen special conditions to HH's use permit. If Hospitality continues to fail to live up to those conditions, which are really nothing more than common sense guidelines, the operation can be held to further, and more serious, account.

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