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The Fort Bragg Mill Site: The ‘Big Fail’

I feel like one of those guys you used to see in a robe with a sandwich sign saying “The end is near.” I go from meeting to meeting, article to article, blowing my little horn and the busy world just moves around me.

I keep on asking the question and our elected representatives keep on not answering it. As GP sells off big chunks of the incomparable 420-acre oceanfront mill site, and the city labors over the decades to enact some kind of zoning, it was finally decided by the City Council and a GP-friendly city Development Department that GP deserved to sell off 70% of the site for anything that you can imagine, heavy industrial, high-density housing — you name it, they zoned it.

The hair-on-fire intervention of the Coastal Commission jumped in to require that “Oh no, 70% of the site MUST be retained as open space."

So guess what?

70% of the mill site cannot be sold except as Open Space. It's going to be pretty ugly open space. Don't expect to walk on it. GP is not required to do anything with it, GP can't sell it and they damn sure won't make it a park.

So it will remain rubble-strewn, empty, fenced-off wasteland as inaccessible as it has always been for another generation. Nice work City Council — it only took 20 years and millions of dollars to work out this wonderful plan. I would congratulate the Development Director but they already fired her.

When I raised the issue with our earnest Mayor, Will Lee, he blew a fuse. No more information for you dude. Lindy Peters also banned me in perpetuity for asking the same question, but he eventually came around and we actually had a vigorous discussion when he interviewed me on Channel 3. He even brought a mean letter from GP aimed right at him to prove he wasn’t in their pocket. I never said he was. Good old Lindy.

I recently made a necessarily compressed statement in my allotted three minutes at the City Council meeting that the mill site zoning plan was on track to effectively screw the city either by deliberate intention or simply because they don’t know what the hell to do. They sure ain't talking.

Here is what Mayor Will Lee had to say about it:

“The rezoning of the mill site is still a work in progress (as you know) and we will continue our public meetings. We hope to strike the right balance of open space, parks, medium and high-density housing, and industrial to serve the community and business needs for many years to come.

”Parcels have been purchased by local businesses and anyone can contact Georgia Pacific for information on land purchases. We support local acquisition first. Time will tell if the City of Fort Bragg acquires any land but certainly if we can afford to do that we would because that property is the future of our city.

All the best,

Will (Lee Mayor of Fort Bragg)” 

Well, that certainly makes me feel better.

I thought that the community meetings had been discontinued in favor of the (former Development Director] Marie Jones multiple-choice survey monkey. Public meetings at this point would certainly be a big help. None are scheduled. Maybe the Mayor has one up his sleeve.

I am a little confused that Mayor Will Lee thinks he is going to “strike the right balance.” Looks to me like the Coastal Commission is mandating open space and Mayor Will Lee just told a whopper. He still refuses to do an interview so the people of the city have to give him the benefit of the doubt (or not).

Hypothetically, there are actually possible buyers for public open space. The city could buy it (if they had the money) and develop and maintain it - which they don’t and won’t.

The Coastal Conservancy could "ante up." But the Conservancy is not likely to purchase the remnants of an open space that has been otherwise chopped up into supermarkets and high-density housing which is what the City Council is doing as quietly as possible with as much obfuscation through ambiguity as they can contrive in their theater of political deception known to a cynical and disposed electorate as city council meetings.

In other words, business as usual — 30% of the mill site can be sold. Indeed, something close to that may be sold already. But there is simply no plan for the mandated-by-law GP-owned open space.

In all the years (decades) of discussion and meticulous, very expensive planning, no one at any council meeting has ever addressed this little rub.

Perhaps the City Council hasn’t taken it in intellectually — legally-mandated public space is the elephant in the room. So, of course, no one mentions it.

It is a very sure thing that GP is not going to remediate the area. GP won't do anything they don’t have to. I don’t mean clean up the toxins. Perhaps those are gone. They say they are. I mean plant some grass, put in trash cans and walking lanes.

In short, give us access to two-thirds of the site. Ain’t happening now or ever apparently.

What we have now is what we will have — a wasteland of industrial rubble, broken concrete and ancient asphalt. The Local Coastal Plan (LCP) is a formula for a great open fenced-off probably still in toxic failure.

It’s the big fail. 

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