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Mendocino Tower

Grail Dawson, the designated male on the committee, spread his open hands inclusively, soothing, “None of us is interested in power,” giving Troy an opening.

In 1979 a group of five activists, spoken for by Grail Dawson and Beth Bosk, were proposing the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors appoint a committee of locals who would meet with the Board at appropriate times to educate the Board on the needs and wishes of the town of Mendocino, an unincorporated town of less than a thousand citizens. It had no government except the Historical Review Board and the Community Services (sewer) Board.

It was obvious to any thinking person the proponents of appointing a committee figured they would be the committee. It was a long meeting. It was explained if the committee needed, they could call a town meeting to determine the town consensus.

True, the committee acknowledged, the town was already represented on the Board of Supervisors by the Supervisor from that area, but he could not be in town constantly and the committee would floss and publicize various local issues. These meetings would be ad hoc, and not regularly scheduled. Finally, someone made the observation the committee would have a lot of power, like a city council, and not be elected. Grail, answering in his soothing voice, “Well, none of us are interested in using power.”

Troy spoke for the first time in the long meeting, “Brothers and Sisters, I came out of the Labor Movement, and I can tell you one thing about power: it doesn't lay around unused very long.” From that truth quiet tumult ensued. Also the end of the meeting. Also the end of the proposal.

One of the organizers of the committee proposal, editor of The New Settler, Beth Bosk, rushed up to Troy. She was furious, really pissed, seeming to levitate to get in his face, “I am going to appeal your permit to the Board of Supervisors.”

Troy knew what she meant, locked in civil battle for almost a year trying to get permission from the Historical Review Board (lovingly called the Hysterical Review Board) to rebuild his falling down garage on the alley behind his house. He designed the rebuild to have a water tank on the roof with a deck around it. She already opposed his plans, saying part of the “charm” of Mendocino was its decaying out buildings. (Somebody else's decaying building.) His plans were finally approved by the Historical Board and they were in the Building Inspector's office.

She appealed to the next level, the Supervisors. At the hearing she pointed out the studio plan was less than a block from the High School, and Troy would have naked women lounging about the tank, the tank being a hot tub.

Neither he nor Beth were strangers to the Board. Not wanting to get into a political gumbo over a garage rebuild, the Board asked him to redo the plans to mitigate Beth's objection, and he agreed. Mitigation could be as simple as a taller deck rail blocking any view from the alley, but....

The war was not over. He fumed and ridiculed the basis of her appeal. Naked women, really! The community was generally supportive, tolerant, of naked people; in the early 70's the Navarro River was taken over by several thousand naked hippies. Most of the locals knew someone camped there, regularly joining in the relaxation, or themselves camping there for the summer. Law Enforcement and lumber company Security was reduced to harassment raids, and the partying was only ended by the rains and infections.

Troy still fumed. To redo the plans and go again through small town bureaucracy stimulated his competitive psyche.

One of the few empty lots in town was a piece called “the jail lot.” It was where drunks were once chained to a pillory (an iron ring set in a concrete base) in the lumber days. The lot was too small for a standard house, and that was presumably why it was still empty.

It had two allures for Troy: it was for sale, and it was directly across the street from one of the proponents of the proposed committee, and a building on it would interfere with her view.

He put a small down payment on the lot and started planning a structure: a pre-school, appealing, since she did not like children, but finally settling on a three-story water tower (Mendocino was proud of its water towers) with a hot tub on top. The total height was 37 feet with a 22-by-22-foot base. It would really get her view.

She had it coming: About five years earlier, she used her position on the Community Services (sewer) Board to keep a water distribution system from being included when the district dug up the town streets to install a sewer system. Her public position was having inadequate water would ensure “no growth.” When the town switched from home septic tanks to the community sewer a severe water shortage ensued. Many new, deeper, wells were dug. Citizens no longer had the pee from septic tanks to drink, leading to a worsening of the perennial water shortage every summer and fall.

Shepherding the tower plans through the various bureaucracies, he hit a snag before the Community Services Board. She used her position as Chairman of the Board to deny his sewer permit. He sued, the news taking the entire front page of the Mendocino Beacon (newspaper).

It was 1979, and interest rates were climbing by the week. His banker supplied a statement that the delay in granting the permit was costing him interest increases daily and would presently cost about $40,000 extra over the life of the loan. The Board relented and issued the sewer permit.

The last hurdle was the Coast Commission. He was known to the Commission, having sued PGE for installing power poles on the cliff in Albion the first day Proposition 20 took effect (Sanders v PGE). After two years the Commission finally required PGE to remove the poles.

The night before the Coast Commission hearing on the tower he got word the staff member assigned to the permit wanted to talk to him. Meeting at the Seagull bar he told Troy the tower was too high...he would need a way to get it lower.

Troy suggested taking the tank off the top, that would make the building 7 feet shorter. They were both slightly amused by the suggestion, the tank being the jewel of the design, but finally agreeing on the removal and recommending it to the Commission and they adopted it with no discussion.

Sitting there with no tank it did not appear to be a water tower. It was a monument to ill-bred community design. Troy built a large trapdoor in the roof so a tank could possibly be added later in a less tedious time.

Troy sold the tower a few months after finishing it. The next owner turned the attached garage into a second (un-permitted) rental. Beth Bosk was the first tenant, possibly her first address in the defined town boundaries.


  1. Ronald Parker September 8, 2023

    Thank you for this story. Mendocino has not changed a bit in 45 years.

  2. Barbra Reed September 8, 2023

    Thank you for the story! I remember the times very well and know who the Chairwomen of MCCD was. We also had our difficulties with same people.
    Very stressful but you had to be tenacious. Maybe we should write a book. Again thanks for sharing sorry you had so much trouble!

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