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The Grand Patriarch & The Artgoddess In A Bloody Little Pond

Incorporated a little over 100 years ago to protect 14 local saloons in a county becoming dry, Point Arena over the last two years has shown signs of actually moving in the direction of operating as a more responsible corporation. At the beginning of 2009, the city council had a new Mayor and Vice Mayor with Mayor Leslie Dahloff retiring. She was respected, popular, and from 2006 on had begun addressing some of the matters now taking a lot of attention and energy in doing what's needed on several fronts (like upgrading the wastewater system). As the next two and a half years would play out, it became apparent that there was an atypical infusion of Nerd energy into the ways of governing in Point Arena. That energy has been primarily channeled through Mayor Lauren Sinnott and Vice Mayor David Ingham.

Also, at the beginning of 2009, a major shift in the center of gravity occurred in Point Arena when business owner Peter Loughran broke his ties with Greg Jirak, owner of the historic site of the old newspaper, The Record, and relocated his food retail and cafe business down to the south end of Main Street in the OddFellows building. A leader of that group, Brian Riehl (or, Hoolis C. Nation, as he prefers), paved the way for Loughran to set up business there (which required the current tenant, the General Store, to relocate next door to a small site, set back from Main Street). Loughran incorporated a public membership food co-op called Coastal Organics, Inc and after months of considerable work upgrading the OddFellows Hall, opened up the Arena Market and Cafe.

It was like this shift in the center of gravity created a new fault line in town. Given the fact that the OddFellows and the Co-op are really one in spirit and flesh, this slice of PA developed quite the gravitational pull and from here a psych-op war targeting Sinnott and Ingham would soon begin. Perhaps Grand Patriarch Brian Riehl, representing the OddFellows' Mendocino Encampment #420, dreamt of acquiring another title? I can't know a person's dream like that, unless they give voice to it, but long before 2009 some people thought so and speculated that the little pond by the ocean could not hold two such colorful and big fish like Lauren and Hoolis without there at least being some blood in the water.

All surviving leaders of past city administrations in fact support the recall effort now targeting Lauren Sinnott, David Ingham, and Joseph Riboli. Former Mayors Richey Wassermann and Leslie Dahloff have spoken up on issues, Dahloff in some very helpful detail regarding one in particular. These past leaders have not disguised their anger at the notion that things weren't being taken care of so competently in some ways during past administrations. They feel that current leaders impart that impression. But, there is a real life issue that sets them apart from the current council. Let's just say that the Mayor, channeling that nerd energy again while pondering that spread of flatland up on Eureka Hill just beyond B Bryan Preserve, seriously went off the reservation. So, the recallers assert she and the other council members are doing the bidding of the developers, i.e. Mr. Bill Hay (who apparently is plural).

In Point Arena, the top issues drawing everyone's attention now are largely related to “development” and upgrading the wastewater system (intense worries/anger over possibilities of sewer rate hikes). This report will largely focus on these issues, though bringing the TV drama side of things will be appropriate now and then. In fact, let's start with the tv show before going to CSPAN.

It was sunny for the 4th of July parade in Point Arena in 2004 and I was lining up alongside many people, hundreds, on Main Street or State Highway One. Across the street, the MC was dressed in an old pioneer style coat and was wearing a massive Indian headdress. He introduced himself as Hoolis C Nation and noted that he was a candidate for the city council. Being the 4th of July, Hoolis began sharing on our early history in a manner that borrowed heavily from Howard Zinn, Don Rickles, and Karl Marx. This standup presentation developed into an examination of south coast cultures, with Sea Ranch and Gualala dutifully trashed as models for Point Arena to forever steer away from. What I remember after that is him incarnating the spirit of Don Rickles and ridiculing a woman for liking a song being played at the moment over a sound system.

Needless to say, Hoolis would have a lot of repair work to do after that, which largely played out at The Record, the main coffeehouse hangout in those days. Since that day, I've been asking how Hoolis is doing and getting updates from mainly an older, reclusive resident who I've known for decades. (Someone who essentially lives part time in these coffee hangouts.) In a nutshell, it's “he's got his ears to the ground” and “he's stirring the pot” (or, as one person writing to me put it, “he's a shit stirrer").

By 2004, Hoolis had built the membership of the OddFellows' Garcia #240 up to 44 from a previous low of 8. Since the OddFellows are basically a mutual benefit operation, formed to help the members advance, etc., any community service activities are largely seen as potential ways to grow the membership and help advance the positions of members, or protect them when necessary. So, despite the impact of his MC-ing performance at the parade, Hoolis did have a loyal network of supporters and while failing to win his first election for the city council in 2004, he did get 47 votes.

The existence of this network of loyal brothers and sisters provided a perfect vehicle to nurture and spread memes throughout the community which over time would take root as solid perceptions of the way things are. While Hoolis vents his angry vision of things, suspicions and anger begin circulating around town, concerning a loan application Peter Loughran has made to the city's revolving loan fund. The Mayor is expressing reservations and slowing down a loan much wanted at this new center of gravity. One disastrous consequence of his success in entangling others in this harsh, petty world of self-righteous judgments occurred on July 28 2009 when Laura Smith abruptly resigned from the city council.

A member of the public shares her suspicion with Laura Smith, in the course of a long discussion over a motion by her and Riehl to rescind the council's selection of Sinnott as Mayor several months prior, that “it seems a little suspicious, however, that this recall comes after the debacle of last month, when Lauren slowed down a loan you were asking for, you were part of asking for, for $50,000. And it seemed also that she was the only one — -of the three of you — -that kept her cool and calm."

[From transcript of audio recording]

Smith: I'd like to respond. I'd like to say something, and I'm going to address you as well, as well. [Smith turns toward Riehl] I was really pushed by you, Brian, by-by you, a little bit, to get this on the agenda. I was uncomfortable in doing it directly. I wanted to wait a month. I'm not taking back what I said. I'm uncomfortable with the way things are being run. This is not a personal attack against you. [Turns toward Sinnott]. I have nothing personal against you. I am uncomfortable with my position, with the way the council is being run. And I was very aware that everyone was going to look at me and say, you didn't get the loan for Coastal Organics, so now you're trying to do this. All of this, has made me feel like I no longer want to sit on the council, I no longer want to sit on the council. I am uncomfortable with all of it!

The events of early 2009 are key to this story and will be described in more detail. But, as things stand now, it looks like Hoolis may have his prayer answered, expressed at an early point in the above council discussion: “God, can she leave the room?". The recall campaign managed to collect a little over 100 signatures on the remaining council members they have targeted. (Council member Eloisa Oropeza resigned after signatures were collected on her; fewer people had actually signed the petition for her.). And, with 244 registered voters, the math seems pretty clear.

Former Mayor Richey Wassermann, one of those doing the heavy lifting in the public debate taking place in the pages of the ICO's opinion pages (Hoolis was completely MIA for all of that), framed the rationale for the recall in an April 22 2011 letter. Expressing much outrage that the council is ignoring (he feels) the will of everyone in PA, he writes:

"[Eloisa Oropeza] repeats discredited and generalized accusations about so-called mistakes and wrong doings by previous council members who happen to be recall proponents....

The accusation by Oropeza and her fellow council members that recall proponents support no-growth policies for the city might be the most inaccurate of all her charges. [note: she had also written a heartfelt statement of support for Bill Hay.]

Sound planning law is the foundation for smart growth. The city of Point Arena has among the highest growth rates per capital in Mendocino County, computed by building permits issued, for the past decade — all since the present planning documents have been in place.

The attempt by the council to circumvent and rewrite these documents is at the heart of their accusations of 'no growth'. Prodded by would be developers, this council wishes to promote growth at any cost to it's people."

Richey is identifying something here which appears to really be a central source of anger: the junking of the subdivision ordinance passed by the Dahloff administration after hard work and the temporary use of an old, outdated ordinance (not meeting minimum state requirements). The current council discovered that a majority vote had not existed when the council had passed this ordinance, which the current council didn't automatically restore due to complaints by Bill Hay and others of the many obstacles present in that ordinance. At the moment, the current council is near completion of drafting a new subdivision ordinance with expert consulting help. For some time, a citizen committee has also been working on the new ordinance.

At the center of the debate, then, are two proposed projects now in the early phases of movement through the planning process. The south coast seniors want to build a new senior center on two acres of land donated to them by Bill Hay and Hay wants to build affordable housing for seniors on an adjacent 20 acres zoned suburban residential, density one unit per acre. When the Mayor opened up to this specific project, certainly a modest one given the potential for development envisioned in the Hay Annexation agreement back in 1990, she went off the “reservation” represented by ALL past city governments who have long been cool to Hay.

The widespread impression in town, reflected in all the talk, was that Mayor Sinnott and her fellow council members were in league with Bill Hay, so in one of the few times I've called her to get clarification on things I asked her about that. She said she likes him a lot and works well with him, something I have noticed subsequently as it is apparent at meetings, etc.

Now, throughout my 35 years of awareness of life in PA, Mr. Hay has been perceived, and presented in the context of many stories, as The Man. He rises out of the old rancher culture and is often represented as an antagonist to the other old guard (now), the so called back to landers escaping urban cultures from the 1960s and 1970s. But, nowadays Mr. Hay appears to be well liked by many in the old hippie culture. He is a regular attendee of community meetings, warm, and extremely open in expressing his emotions freely (which may not be so unusual in PA).

Lauren Sinnott, after sharing the nature of her friendly relations with Hay, observed that she's relatively late in arriving to this area and never really hooked up with any of the old social alliances/cultures.

She maintains an art business via online and works at various jobs in the community (independent work, like commercial signs). Many years before she adopted the online handle “Artgoddess” and uses that as her business handle nowadays:

The March 2009 edition of the monthly The Lighthouse Peddler did a story on Lauren's selection as Point Arena's new mayor on January 27, 2009, describing how she got involved and why:

“Ms. Sinnott became interested in politics out of her constant drive to know how things work. As politics influences and affects so much of our lives, she naturally felt the desire to find out how that works. She specifically got involved in Point Arena politics while renting a house from the former mayor, Leslie Dahlhoff. It was Leslie who convinced Lauren to run for a council seat.

During the eight years she has already served Lauren has been focusing her effort on planning issues, learning how government operates, and trying to figure out how to bring people together."

This past Feb. 20th the Santa Rosa Press Democrat provided some background on Lauren Sinnott as well as identifying key issues and factors.

One of the four members facing this recall effort, Joseph Riboli, was reported in the Press Democrat article as observing:

Sinnott has been accused of violating city rules and being self-promoting and too risque for office, Riboli said. Some of the community’s residents are offended by her art, he said. Her Artgoddess business includes “velvet vulva” purses.

Also, further observations related to Lauren Sinnott:

In 2009, former Councilwoman Laura Smith resigned, reportedly after frequent clashes with Sinnott and some other board members.

Sinnott’s defenders say she can be brutally honest and has a strong personality but she’s also smart, competent and committed.

“She’s done an excellent job,” Riboli said.

Sinnott recently wrote a grant application that brought $500,000 to the city for street improvements aimed at making it safer for children to get to school. That drew complaints.

“Apparently I bragged too much” about the grant, Sinnott quipped.

What has been basically identified in previous articles here matches threads mentioned by the Press Democrat:

Development issues, marijuana cultivation, conflicting personalities and moral standards have been named as factors in the battle for the control of the city, which was established in 1868 and incorporated in 1908.

“Development is an issues. It’s perhaps the major one,” said Peter Dobbins, a photographer, business owner and recall proponent.

He said the council has tried to make changes to a planning ordinance that he thinks would benefit developers. Dobbins said he’s not opposed to development, but the proposed changed appears to potentially stick the city with the costs of infrastructure improvements for subdivisions.

Not true, council members say.

The proposed change was aimed at making developers, rather than landowners who subdivide their property, responsible for infrastructure improvements, Sinnott said. The ordinance they proposed changing also never was legally adopted, making it invalid, officials said.

Riboli said some petitioners are misinformed while others are no growth advocates who are trying to block any infrastructure improvements, including an upgrade of the city sewer plant that is years overdue for removal of settlement pond sediment.

“They’re trying to control growth by making permitting difficult, “ Riboli said.

The article also quotes Richey Wasserman asserting that they (recall backers) are for “measured growth”.

As noted in the above article and earlier in this report, when the city council found out that the previous city council did not have the required majority of the council when voting 2 to 1 for the new Subdivision Ordinance (170), they decided to craft a new one rather than rubber stamp the one the Leslie Dahloff administration had worked hard on. Fortunately, it appears work is nearing an end on that, but some, like Eric Dahloff, clearly did not like Bill Hay being on the subdivision committee (along with David Hillmer, Joseph Riboli, and David Ingham). His remarks at a May 25, 2010 city council meeting were noted this way and illustrate how some regard him:

"….It is Dahloff’s understanding that Council created an ad hoc committee consisting of Hillmer, Hay and two council members. Dahloff said Mr. Hay owns the largest undeveloped tract in the city, and Dahloff said it looks like Halliburton and BP writing the regulations for offshore drilling. Dahloff would like to request Mr. Hay be replaced…."

It was not the subdivision ordnance and Hay development projects that opened the door for purging of the council but a sequence of events in 2010 culminating in the firing of Claudia Hillary, the City Clerk. The Grand Jury came to town (actually talking to only one or two people), no one filed for the 2010 election, an easily made Brown Act violation occurred, appointments were made to the council, a newspaper reporter got manipulated by Hoolis and led, for awhile, the charge against the “unscrupulous” Mayor, and then an angry contingent of an estimated 70 citizens seemed prepared to tar and feather the city council one night last fall when they fired their friend, the City Clerk.

By July 2009, things began heating up fast. One sunny Saturday morning, Point Arena residents were greeted at their doors by folks circulating a petition to boot the Mayor out of office. In the case of one person sharing this with me, the door knockers were Patricia Schwindt and her “best buddy". Schwindt has been a long time critic of the Mayor and is married to former councilman, former Treasurer (for all of four months in 2009) Lloyd Cross. Lloyd is one of four candidates now trying to replace current members. (The others are Hoolis, Trevor Sanders, and Doug Burkey.)

At the July 28th council meeting, Hoolis and fellow council member Laura Smith (who nowadays runs the Co Op) make a motion to rescind the January 27 council vote making Lauren the Mayor. The record of the discussion, which includes a transcript of an audio recording, is extremely helpful in identifying the issues and at the top appears to be a City Clerk expressing confusion about her duties after a May 12 public workshop on her duties.

Laura started off identifying the basis for the motion made by her and Hoolis by asserting that “during the past four months the city's gone through turmoil” and shared her perception that the “city council is disconnected from merchants and citizenry".

What I actually came to learn, partially by sources suggesting I look at the record related to permitting actions, was stunningly the opposite of The Myth spreading up and down Main Street. So shocking I had to ask the Mayor herself about it. She made a finding in these early 2009 days that in effect would enable The Arena Market and Cafe to open and exist. This finding could have gone either way, with the “right", logical, and by the book way being that Peter Loughran would have to file and obtain a new development permit for his new Arena Market and Cafe. And, thus, have to cough up permit fees, money for an EIR, and, having no off street parking, major bucks for in lieu parking. She wanted them to open because she wants healthy commerce in Point Arena and she doesn't feel it should be hard too hard to setup shop in town. Because this business is obviously beyond the dimensions of prior uses at this site, the Mayor acknowledged that her support may not have been “logical".

(My source suggests that the Mayor may have felt bullied by the degree of community pressure.)

But, what about her resistance to Peter's loan application? Apparently resentment continued non stop into 2010 as this is one focus in what I strongly suspect is a Hoolis inspired Grand Jury visit to Point Arena. (Reading Grand Jury finding # 9 alone gives me this suspicion! More later on that.)

First, let's note that Peter was asking for $50,000 with used restaurant equipment as collateral. Then, this paragraph from the City's response to Grand Jury finding 18:

“In 1988, the City of Point Arena, working with the Mendocino Development Corporation, set up a Revolving Loan Program for Small Business loans and for Housing Rehabilitation loans. The money ultimately originated from the state's Community Development Block Grant program. Over quite a few years, many loans were issued and the money was cycled and recycled many times. Most loans were good, but some were failures and were granted partly in the face of community pressure. This included the worst loan, to a local restaurateur using restaurant equipment for a $43,000 loan as his business was near collapse. (Reference: former Mayor and Councilmember Dahloff's Report “Review of the Newman Loan”).”

The basis for the Mayor's reservations are likely identified in the reference to the past loan.

The firing of Claudia Hillary in a closed session in October 2010 outraged a large contingent of Point Arena citizens, numbering 70, according to reporter D. Glenn O 'Hara for the ICO. From August 2010 through October 2010, a recall movement seemed increasingly possible through an amazing and rapid sequence of events tracing back to a Grand Jury report on Point Arena's government in May 2010.

(Returning now to that council meeting in July 2009 ) Hoolis, barely disguising his hostility, even failing to do so at times, outlined his beef with Lauren after being prodded again by Laura Smith, voicing for a second time her feeling pushed inappropriately by Hoolis in putting the Mayoral vote on the city council agenda. (July 28, 2009). He had already painted a picture of a lost for words City Clerk struggling to help a member of the community with a question for her. The then City Clerk confirmed that since a May 12 Public Workshop on her job duties, she was confused about her duties. David Ingham, referencing past unidentified problems between the City Clerk and the Mayor, asked Claudia Hillary if she could work with the Mayor and she said yes. Something the Mayor herself felt was so, despite a skeptical Hoolis expressing doubt he could believe anything Lauren said.

Hoolis noted that he started getting real irritated with the Mayor at the May 12th workshop. Claudia was getting some strong complaints her way, regarding stuff surrounding permits, by members of the public. [In her recently filed tort claim for $700,000 against the city, Claudia identifies Bill Hay and Tony Gausson as the ones doing this. Both men were also in attendance at this meeting.]. Lauren did not stand up and put a stop to that onslaught, someone else had to, said Hoolis. And, he then complained about Lauren changing the convenient to him Monday night scheduling of the Utilities Committee. He clearly took that personally.

In May 2010 the Grand Jury published a report on Point Arena's government, with likely input from only a couple of people. Their major recommendation was the city hiring a city manager with various other findings seemingly Hoolis related. Now, the City Clerk is basing part of her tort claim on a claim that the council fired her for what she may have told the Grand Jury, which surprisingly produced an error ridden report. Finding number #9 clearly is based on a gripe by Hoolis, who had been reassigned to public safety after serving as the utility commissioner. The Grand Jury, again only talking to one or two persons altogether, said that this looked “punitive", an impression rebutted in the city's detailed response.

Not long after, the City Clerk really messed up on the noticing for the upcoming election and with the City Clerk, Eloisa Oropeza, and Lauren Sinnott communicating in email about ideas from election officials on how to proceed, they learn that appointments in lieu of election is the way officials feel was best to proceed. Hoolis, informed by Eloisa via at the end of the discussion on the information they got on how to proceed, disagrees, stubbornly insisting that this was an illegal way to go (despite the legal advice) and they should hold an election with people running write in campaigns, which is exactly how he got on the council before with a handful of votes.

In the email exchange Eloisa mentions they have to be careful not to violate the Brown Act and thinks everything is okay, but keeps asking to make sure. Her informing Hoolis, and him responding back, caused a violation (serial communication) and Hoolis brings the emails right away to D. Glenn O'Hara, reporter for the ICO to show how he and his council mates were naughty.

In the end, the council acknowledged their booboo and everything seems to lighten up, but later the Brown Act violation is added to the October 2010 firing of Claudia Hillary as signs of an “unscrupulous” Mayor and city council, who on top of these indicators, is also in bed with Bill Hay and his dreams of some actual development happening on the 150 plus acres annexed by Point Arena back in 1990.

So, the recall effort is, in the end, simply a power grab by the old back-to-landers who have been shocked by nerds taking a detour from the path traveled by city leaders for 40 years.

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