City Planning Workshop Goes In A Circle

by Rex Gressett, October 11, 2017

Friday Morning bright and early at 8:30 am there were 13 people in attendance at the Annual City Planning Workshop at Town Hall. Nine of them worked for the city. The preponderance of chiefs in comparison to the paucity of Indians inspired the city administration to dispense with the formal arrangement of tables and put the chairs in a circle. It looked much better. They had donuts but no coffee. (The coffee famine continues.)

When I came upon the circle of sitters in Town Hall I feared for a moment that the arrangement was in deference to some kind of tripe about consensus. But there wasn’t any and none was suggested, so it was all right.

No matter how you arrange the chairs, having nine talkers and three listeners was a little Kafkaesque. Lame Duck City Manager Linda Ruffing herself launched the whirlwind discussion with an upbeat update on the mill site. It was hard to avoid the impression that this was the city administration talking to itself. The meeting was not on line. Questions were fired into the discussion but the discussion did not need them. Marie Jones was right in there backing Linda up. Somebody asked the big question and Marie plunged in.

Was the Georgia Pacific mill site going to be subdivided before our very eyes, with the northern 53 acres sold off to the Skunk train? How would that particular earthquake affect the decades long city planning process? Specifically was the city going to be left holding the bag on the dioxin saturated wet land system, while the developers did their big project right next to it? Was the final cleanup scheduled to begin this week really the last cleanup? — the final cleanup?

Rumor aggressively inspired last week by the remarks of Skunk train proprietor Mike Hart had gradually focused on the Interstate Commerce Termination Act of 1995. This broad resolution of railroad issues was reputed to give great latitude to railroad compliance with local zoning law. Mike Hart was running with what he had, including diagrams and maps and plans of magnitude including rail lines along the coast, housing developments and a big hotel. He did not seem to be at all worried about, or even aware of zoning. It was less clear that Georgia-Pacific/Koch Brothers was running alongside of him. Or maybe they were. Had GP just jilted its buddies at the Fort Bragg Development Department and gone rogue with the railroad? Hart was surefire. Our city development guru intoned that there were different legal opinions about the interpretation of the Act and that, anyway, the Skunk was not a railroad since it did not go anywhere except to their collapsed tunnel half way to Willits.

After the AVA broke the Skunk train story, the Development Director had been in contact with GP “officially,” and although it did appear that GP and the Skunk had been talking without her knowledge for a long time, she wasn’t worried; they “had not even come to terms,” she scoffed.

George Reinhardt inserted the observation that there could well be cross litigation settlements between the railroad and GP. The Development Department and the city administration don’t think or don’t want to think that the Skunk project on the mill site is a matter of concern to the people of the city, but the AVA will continue to dig.

After that bracing series of jolts, the circle of support rumbled merrily along as department after department sang happy songs we have all heard before. This was another public expression of the established city narrative. They were just recounting their adventures. Lt. Gilchrest of the Fort Bragg police (“Chuckles”) thought I was a little rough in my quest for clarity. He believes that allowing liars to lie is only courteous. He is probably right in the case of the workshop. This was a presentation, not a discussion. The top city directors use it as an opportunity to clarify and celebrate points already made.

Since we were kind of rounding out how great things were, Linda Ruffing took a moment to wildly enthuse that the toxic clean up process run by the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is both finished and immaculate. Most people in the city don’t agree. Ms. Ruffing took this little opportunity of the Community Planning Workshop platform to underline her assertion. We have done so many great things she beamed, but biggest of all the cleanup is almost finished.

People should be glad to hear that. We thought that the city had struggled through 15 years of bungling ineptitude, failed proposals, missed goals and expensive planning. I remember when they hauled tons of dirt off and then had to bring it all back and bury it on the site. When DTSC came to town they had to tell the truth to some carefully defined degree. The city administration is not similarly conscientious. The scientists of doom from DTSC were careful to say that the bad news is not limited to Pond 8. The premier state agency dedicated to cleaning up toxic pollution admitted fairly brazenly that whatever happens to Pond 8, for the rest of the wetlands, their preference would be to leave the ponds just a little bit toxic in perpetuity. They suggested we put up signs.

Listening to the City Council and the city administration, you would think that everything is pretty much taken care of — Pond 8 is the only hang-up. The city council is pushing back in behind the scenes negotiations with DTSC and Pond 8 figures in them prominently. The department has been prevented so far, from shutting down the whole game by the issuance of a “no further action letter.” The council is putting quiet pressure on them not to issue that letter and holding its own, but our councilmen will eventually compromise. Probably without advance notice to you.

DTSC wants the agreement of the Fort Bragg City Council but the letter that sends all the players home, is issued on the sole responsibility of our blue ribbon state department. They don’t really need the City Council to sign on. Public acceptance is just one of the criteria they look at when making a final decision on whether to proceed. So is cost. Screwing us is an option.

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