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Life in Ukiah

Suddenly there are so many big projects imminent locally that will forever affect life in Ukiah, and not for the better.

After languishing on the state’s back burner for years, the powers that be are suddenly hot to trot with this disastrous new courthouse project (more on that later). At the same time the long-past-its-expiration-date ruin of the old Palace Hotel has found a new impossible dreamer who, like the present ‘owners’, the Ishtars, and before them the much ballyhooed ‘public receiver’ from San Diego or somewhere, who took over the doomed ruins from decades of neglect by its previous owner, Marin realtor, Eladia Laines, is eyeing a role as the latest Deus ex machina, who is going to drop out of the heavens to solve all its problems.

Minal Shankar may now join the many-decades-long procession of wasting even more years keeping this chunk of downtown Ukiah off limits to her citizens and unable to provide any sort of public utility to anyone.

Many years ago, as a young newbie to Ukiah, I was one of those who enjoyed the Palace in its heyday; the cozy bar with its giant fireplace, the happening Back Door music venue, and of course the Palace’s haute cuisine restaurant, where I was introduced to the gastronomic delight of garlic and goat cheese roasted in olive oil.

Even then it was living on borrowed time; it owed its entire existence to federal funds which in those days Washington used to disburse on things like the CETA make-work program when the economy experienced a downturn and people were having a hard time finding jobs. It was a good use of public monies which gave a start to many successful local tradespeople, but the work was mainly cosmetic; rather than digging deep into the structural, plumbing, wiring etc., the building was prettied up for a few more years of service before its deeper issues became impossible to ignore.

Soon enough, the high-end hotel became a flophouse for the needy, until the leaks and the deferred maintenance made it uninhabitable. Finally, several decades after it closed, someone in Ukiah’s bureaucracy noticed this huge malignancy in the heart of town and thought about addressing it. If it was uninhabitable all those years ago, do you even need any inspection to conclude that with many more years of leaky roof and open windows, there isn’t a stick of lumber in the whole compost heap that’s worth saving?!

I remember, all those years ago, the incredible lost opportunity when someone speaking for the city said that they were not interested in dealing with it because it would cost 350,000 to tear down, after which it would only be worth 250,000… OMG!, You mean that the city of Ukiah would lose a whole hundred thousand dollars, and only have almost a whole city block in the heart of town to show for it? I mean, city and county governments regularly write checks for more than that to, say, outside counsel lawyers for their dubious services without thinking twice about it! 100 K is barely a rounding error when you compile all the money foolishly spent on The Palace money pit since then.

John McCowen, a prominent Ukiah property owner, as well as one of the county’s most hard-working supervisors in recent memory, once told me that, “without a demolition permit in hand, the Palace is not an asset but rather, a liability”. Nothing in the intervening years has made this fact any less true; quite the contrary, it has only become more rotten and worthless.

Ms. Shankar is no doubt a pretty bright lady who has done well for herself in the world of high finance, but the fact that you may be skilled in arbitrage doesn’t necessarily mean that you know anything about plain old bricks and mortar. I’m glad to see that she has given herself a generous escrow period in which to do due diligence. I will bet dollars for doughnuts that unless she receives extraordinarily bad advice on the kind of costs that she is looking at to bring the old Palace into California seismic compliance, that once she sees the expected costs, alongside reasonable expectations of potential revenues, she will drop the escrow like a hot potato.

I’ve seen seismic retrofits of old brick buildings, down in San Francisco, and anyone who knows anything about construction will tell you that the costs involved are an order of magnitude greater than what it would cost to simply clear the lot and build a new, modern, steel frame structure from scratch.

If one were so enamored of the crumbling façade of the present building, one could even recycle the brick and do a single brick veneer exterior on the new structure; make it look exactly the way it looks today! Of course, any discussion of demolishing the old dump would bring preservationists out of its the woodwork to fight the idea tooth and nail, no matter how impossible it may be to economically remodel the old ruin.

Though it may be baying in the wilderness at this point, the most reasonable thing would be to locate the new courthouse on the present Palace property; excavate the entire lot and create underground parking in its entire footprint, then build whatever palatial court structure the incredibly expensive process of state-funded construction requires. They could even build a secure third floor bridge over to the old courthouse to continue with the convenience of having all of the other offices in the present courthouse having access directly to the new one.

Am I the only one who sees the absurdity of the present plan, which will destroy what is left of downtown Ukiah, instead of this obvious logical solution that would preserve and enhance it? It can’t really be too late to rethink this terrible idea!

5 Comments

  1. John Sakowicz May 22, 2022

    Brilliant idea, John Arteaga! Build the new courthouse in the footprint of a demolished Palace Hotel! I love it!

    • George Dorner May 23, 2022

      So now there are three of us suggesting a logical location for the new courthouse.

  2. Eric Sunswheat May 22, 2022

    Well, if the black robes are not put off by the notion of a Eureka bound mile long coal train, and return load Island Mountain rock aggregate, rumbling by their Train Depot courthouse, Tesla’s boring company could be commissioned to construct a tunnel from the old courthouse to the new, with a solar powered electric cart trolley traversing back and forth, to accommodate the needs of the District Attorney, in order to keep a cool head while transporting stacks of court documents.

  3. Marcia Kennedy May 22, 2022

    My advice has been over the last few years to get rid of completely every supervisor that we have in Mendocino County. They are our major stumbling-stone for everything here X5 nothing that could cost Mendocino County residents money and to finish lining their pockets. You might notice hundreds of signs in Mendocino County wanting to be elected our illustrious supervisor over again. My advice is to replace every single one of them of course in Mendocino County that might be hard to do since there is so much corruption here already

  4. Eric Sunswheat May 22, 2022

    “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
    ― John Dewey
    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/learning-from-mistakes

    -> February 1, 2022
    Prussian governments had more job categories and those jobs were more specialized.

    This suggests that the tasks that bureaucrats were asked to perform in service of a repugnant larger goal were likely small tasks—and they fell squarely within a bureaucrat’s familiar work mandate.

    Heldring suspects that this not only improved efficiency, but was also particularly effective in masking the horrors of the government’s larger goals to the individual actors carrying them out.

    The finding calls back to the “banality of evil” thesis introduced by political philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt.

    “A lot of tiny little actions that added up to something so terrible were split up between people,” who may have felt that they were simply being asked to carry out tasks that fell into their specific roles, Heldring says.

    “That management of repugnant directives is something I point to, in the paper, as being an important aspect of making this terrible outcome in Germany work, because it makes every little step innocuous.”

    Testing Checks and Balances
    The findings present a challenge, then, for governments. They want to be efficient—and the outside agencies that work with them want them to be efficient.
    https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/is-an-efficient-government-always-a-good-thing

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