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A Moment of Bravery

In 1974 I was trying to get my house plans through the Mendocino County Building Department for a building permit. I had presented my drawing of a two-story house to be constructed of redwood logs from our forest. The Building Department said no, but if I wanted to buy a log cabin kit that could be approved, but not using my own trees.

So I was in the Comptche Store one afternoon and, it being election time, our 5th District Supervisor, Ted Galletti, was chatting up Edith Enochs, the owner. I introduced myself and told Supervisor Galletti that I needed his help. I was trying to build a home for myself and wife and three kids and the Building Department was making that impossible. He replied that he had no interest in helping me, that would only encourage more of “you people” to move here. I said, “Mr. Galletti enjoy your next four years as Supervisor. They will be your last.”

l immediately began looking for some group that would be interested in running against Galletti and defeating him. I found a group in Boonville that morphed into “The Circle.” For more than two years a group of about 20 people committed to changing Mendocino County politics met weekly to decide who and how to capture the Fifth District seat.

Some understood precinct-level organization. Voter lists. Canvassing. Others knew media, most had respect in their villages. But all of us were committed to one outcome: “We are in it to win it.” No more lefty activist educational campaigns. We needed our political power to be demonstrated by capturing the most likely seat on the Board, which was the Fifth District, because we had the numbers if we could mobilize them.

“The Circle” was an outgrowth of the Albion Nation's commune meeting style. Whomever had the “power” could speak, often at some length, and was not to be interrupted until done which was signified by passing the “power” to one of the people who wished to speak next. An agonizing way to get consensus. The time spent listening to tales of woe, opinions buttressed by nothing but emotion, flagrant egoism in front of a tolerant audience. But eventually, after two years of endless talk, the group decided on a candidate “we could all support” to run for the seat. Only the Chosen One was a happy hippy earth mother, beloved by all and impossible to elect. Three of us left the coronation. Paul Katzeff, the mastermind of the voting organization; Norman de Vall, the straight-looking-because-he-was, obvious candidate, and me. We went outside to avoid having to ratify that choice and to commiserate about all the work and time to arrive at the exact wrong choice.

Our analysis showed us that we needed some of the “old residents” to vote for our candidate. That meant someone who wouldn't turn them off. No hippies, however wonderful. Norman — ruddy, blue-eyed and sharp jawed — would be ideal.

Then fate intervened. The good woman was diagnosed with a problem that would prevent her for running for Supervisor. The “Circle” chose their next favorite, Norman de Vall. Norman won and we changed the County political calculations forever.

I had been chairman of the Comptche Citizens Advisory Committee doing land use planning. I was prominent in trying to legalize the hundreds of illegal homes, including my own, built by new and old residents. I had spoken to the Board repeatedly, in a carefully presented woodsman costume. Red Wing boots, forest green wool shirt, major black hair and beard. I was in the newspapers from Ukiah to San Francisco; sometimes reviled, sometimes photo featured, and was known as one of the prime movers of the de Vall victory over the conservative elders. 

I had really annoyed the land developer/real estate people, the farmers wanting to convert their ag land to residential subdivisions, the County Building and Planning bureaucracy and many other citizens who just didn't like someone getting away with it when they had to follow the rules.

In Mendocino County the Planning Commission has considerable power over land use decisions. Virtually all zoning changes, lot sizing, land divisions and other land use projects come before the Planning Commission. The land developers and real estate people, as well as ordinary people, have to satisfy the Commissioners before having their project or plan approved. Each of the five Supervisorial Districts has a Planning Commissioner. The Supervisor gets to appoint the Planning Commissioner.

So Norman appointed me. Outrage! How dare he! Some hippy who built and is living in a non-code outlaw home in open violation of County and State law is now in charge of passing judgment on law-abiding citizens?

It all came to a head in a public Board of Supervisors hearing about my appointment. The crowded room was tense. Shouting and angry resentment from everybody new or old. Bobby Kennedy was the leader of the land developer/real estate faction. He was all red-faced and aggressive. Anne had come to support me and was standing quietly behind me in her classic long dress. I pulled her forward and said to Bobby, “This is Anne Nolan. She knows nothing about land use or Mendocino County politics and you have made her afraid in her own home. I think you owe the lady an apology.” The room went crazy.

Bobby, Anne and I wound up sitting on the stairs outside the Supes chambers. Bobby apologized to Anne and told us that his daughter and her man were barricaded behind locked gates up in the Sierras for the same reason as us: their non-code home. We parted friends. I was confirmed without any more dissent. And, if I may say so, I was a conscientious and effective Commissioner. I was able to approve a Kennedy Homes project some months later.

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