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Flushing The ‘Community Input’ Myth

We’re getting a good hard lesson in state politics as a new county courthouse is rammed down our throats by forces no one can name.

Forget the happy talk about “community action” and “working together to build a better tomorrow” and “transparency” and “local input” and “citizen involvement.”

This is California taking tax dollars and demanding they be spent on a project that will destroy our downtown. It will make the present courthouse an obsolete white elephant joining the herd of other abandoned elephants haunting Ukiah, all within a few blocks of one another in a city that cannot afford more decay.

Do you think the best way to spend $118 million is on an ugly new courthouse that will look and smell like a San Jose office building but with better parking? Know anyone who thinks this is a good idea?

I have gone weeks trudging Ukiah’s dusty back roads searching for someone who is both A) an enthusiastic supporter of the new courthouse and B) not a certified moron. My quest has gone unrewarded. 

And lo, the hours I have spent on astrological charts and spiritual devotions seeking answers in the stars and from minor deities: How has our land, and why have our people, been beset by so vexing a problem? 

Ukiah needs a new courthouse? Says who? I think what Ukiah needs is leadership, vision, and a few good bars. 

And when, if ever, was a project of such size, consequence and expense undertaken with no community involvement? The Rail Trail? Ha. The State Street reconfiguration? Any and every proposed new housing development in the last 40 years?

All these issues were hashed out endlessly via meetings, campaigns, letters to editors, elections, recall elections and fistfights. This one is getting muscled through with none of those messy niceties, nor even a phony dog-and-pony show where representatives from PG&E or L-P come to town, listen attentively to citizen input, then go back to headquarters and do whatever the hell they planned to do in the first place.

For more than 100 years Ukiah has struggled with itself over these matters, and has always made the wrong choice. Ukiah wants the new, the cheap, the gaudy and fashionable, and is willing to bulldoze her beautiful old buildings. One example: The old Carnegie Library at South State and Clay Streets, abandoned in favor of a snazzy replacement at North Main and Perkins.

Today, which one looks timeless? Which one looks out of fashion? Right: The new one, built from leftovers from the old, torn down Rite Aid building. 

Meanwhile, City Council busies itself destroying old tin buildings while Sage Sangiacomo picks out new colors to paint his office. County supervisors are decoding budgets and playing musical chairs with department heads, 

Judges? They conceivably benefit from a new facility, but I doubt their acquiring luxe amenities (stained glass windows, Tiffany chandeliers, wall-to-wall genuine leopardskin carpeting, half-acre desktops) blind them to the damage this boondoggle will cause Ukiah. They live here too.

Shall we hold a citizen forum at City Hall to discuss all this? Or shut up and let a committee in LA determine what’s best for a small town 500 miles north that none have visited and would need 10 minutes to find on a map?

Yes, there are deficiencies in the present courthouse. Security isn’t up to 21st century standards, elevator upgrades overdue, juvenile matters demand more privacy, commuting to and from Low Gap jail facilities is burdensome. All these flaws could be remedied at a fraction of $118 million

There might even be money left over (say $100 million) to restore the old courthouse to its pre-1950s remodel, allowing it to harmonize with the original grand (west side) building.

And that’s what this is mostly about: Retaining, conserving, honoring the old, beautiful buildings in downtown Ukiah, and shunning the cheap mall-style landscape horrors that cover California from top to bottom.

Our courthouse doesn’t have to look like a Florida prison or a Fresno shopping mall. The USA has been on a century-long campaign to replace classic, inspiring architecture with unappealing beige and glass copycat designs spit out by the hundreds from architect office xerox machines.

The country is already paved in cheesy landscape blights that cover the land from coast to coast. 

Let Ukiah be the change: Older, different, better.

* * *


Never take dining advice from one who eats PopTarts for breakfast, Old Milwaukee for lunch and canned ravioli for dinner. 

Yet there are two new eateries in town:

1) Ukiah Thai Cuisine, next to the Forest Club (no wonder I stumbled upon it) has a menu of wonderful, authentic-o dishes that arrive spicy as you like and tasty as can be. Beer & wine served, plus friendly staff. Tell ‘em Tommy sent you and get a free napkin!

2) Farola is attached to the Pub Bar (stumbled on this one too) on North State. It’s topnotch Argentinian fare served to-go only, by a personable young lady named Bailee who grew up in Ukiah. Over there is Peter, her Argentine husband and primary cook. And what a cook! Farola is about empanadas (meat/veggie or both) in half-moon pastries, plus canasitas, pie-like babies with wonderful fillings. Great side sauces. Tell ‘em Tommy sent you and leave a big tip!

One Comment

  1. izzy October 30, 2023

    Judges? Maybe justice is blind.

    Presiding Judge Jeanine Nadel…said, “I know the court will be in good hands with our new leadership. Judges Faulder and Dolan…will also lead our efforts to design and build a new, modern courthouse in Ukiah, with an eye toward ensuring a safe and welcoming environment for all Mendocino residents.”

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