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A ‘Greek Tragedy’?

The Monday night Fort Bragg City Council meeting had the mysterious inevitability of a Greek tragedy. All the players were trapped in their political identities. All of them did their expected thing and strangely, by a kind of gravitational pull, the obvious became significant.

Behold Tabatha Miller, the Fort Bragg City manager, a heroine brought from afar to replace a corrupt City Manager. The less said the better. Misgovernment has left $3 million in misallocated cash to be repaid. Even now, that labor continues behind the curtain of Finance Department in-transparency.

On the horizon, the storm of impending pension fund payments. CalPers is another existential threat. Alone Tabatha Miller is left to grapple with the fundamental issue. Solvency and bankruptcy. For the city, Life and death. It is upon her that the city and the City Council depends.

Posturing and positioning, pandering and promising — the Council handles that.

February 24th, 2020. Tabatha Miller strips all other businesses from the Council agenda. One issue is before them. Formula stores. The unaesthetic scourge of pampered dog walkers. The Chinese poison that has killed a civilization with cheap plastic.

On the projector screen above the City Council, Tabatha Miller displays the chart. The Council turns in their overstuffed chairs, crane their necks and look up. Sales tax. The top payers. 30 companies (I think it was 30). Tax that the city converts to roads and parks, water and cops and trash removal. All but two “Formula” stores.

Chorus: Improbable city, built by hardy loggers for a mill past remembering. Alone in your wilderness paradise hard by the wild ocean. While other City Councils far over the hill draw on the wealth of multitudes. You alone, Fort Bragg, scorn the confusion of the masses and indulge yourselves in gardens. Crime free, (mostly) and drink lattes at headlands. 

Two choices Tabatha Miller puts before the Council: use permits (UP) and minor use permits (MUP). A “UP” presenting just slightly more difficulty to entirely hypothetical formula stores, A MUP is slightly less.

The very question made possible because the City Attorney (Tabatha Miller's hidden ally) has pulled a fast one. Perfidious council.

Formula stores can not be banned as such. Every member of the City Council has done its Google search and knows that information is flatly false. But they all take refuge in convenient subterfuge. Tabatha Miller leads them past it. UP or MUP the only question.

Up to the microphone comes the public. We have our paradise. We like the ocean views. We decry the plastic signs and minimum wage slavery of the big box culture. Down, down, down with the formula store.

One-by-one the Council plays their roles. Out comes the city map. They allocate variously a UP or a MUP to each of four areas all along the commercial highway.

Councilman Lindy Peters waffling wildly in his accustomed manner. Thinks first one thing, and then another. South of town, the gateway to the city gets a UP. The harder to get permit. But up the highway to the north where CVS, Rite Aid and Safeway already sit in ponderous promiscuity, a MUP. NO, a sudden explosive innovation let the formula stores come there “by right.” No permit process at all! The Council caves one by one in gracious acquiescence. A triumph for Tabatha Miller.

Will Lee, Mayor of the City, boldly declares he's for business (by God) and wants as little of this MUP, UP interference in commerce as he can obtain.

Will Lee understands what sales tax is — and claims his constituency knows it too. He stands for that, within the constraints of inter-council civility of course. But he goes along with the various majorities as they form and mutate.

Councilmember Brave Jessica Morsell Haye, she who slapped the Mayor around so amusingly in the last meeting, holds fast for maximum “public transparency.” All MUP’S EVERYWHERE. But she also acquiesces in majorities. Graceful Councilwoman, fast learning and principled.

Councilmember Judicious Bernie Norvel. Stops the MUP in the heavily industrialized north of town. Swinging the council like a ball on a string. Only UP’s for hard-laboring industry — should any such occur.

Only councilmember Tess Albin Smith, unconsulted and scorned in all the mutating alliances and quick formed majorities, sits alone. Too confused by the complexities of negotiation and fact to even know (one really wonders) where the hell she is.

The curtain is falling, “Let's form an ad hoc committee” bawls Tess. Even folly must have its moment. The players roll their eyes and the curtain falls. Tabatha Miller has her avenue for formula stores — stony in some places, but easy where it might count. 

Outside town hall Tabatha Miller raises her collar to the gentle wind and walks through the darkened city. Alone.

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