Last week PBS re-broadcast Ken Burns' landmark documentary The Civil War. Monday, September 14th, Fort Bragg played out its version at the City Council meeting.
Why the Civil War comparison? Let's start with a quote from Robert E. Lee in January of 1861, three months before the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than a dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honour for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.… [A] Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind.”
Of course, Lee's personal sense of “honour” bound him to the most important part of the Confederate States of America's military, the Army of Northern Virginia. In short, he failed to heed his own words and better judgment.
Time will tell whether the group calling itself the Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg, which formulated a proposed ballot initiative to ban social services from Fort Bragg's Central Business District (CBD) will continue down the road of calamity or recognize a lost cause when they see it.
The lost cause became as evident and inevitable as the result of Sherman's March at the September 14th council meeting when Fort Bragg's City Attorney Samantha Zutler opened fire with her staff report on whether or not the City Council should vote to place the downtown social services ban on the ballot themselves. Her first legal conclusion: The City Council cannot vote to place the measure on the ballot without the City first complying with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).
Zutler's second opinion: Consistent with other provisions of the zoning code, if the initiative passes, the facility [Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center's new offices within the Old Coast Hotel] and other targeted social service organizations will become legal non-conforming uses, but the uses will not be prohibited.
The City Attorney went on: If Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center's right becomes vested before the measure takes effect, the retro-activity provision in the initiative would likely be subject to challenge as an improper interference with MCHC's vested right to operate the facility. The killer blow came in this Zutler legal opinion: Using a zoning ordinance to target a specific facility that exists to provide housing to low income persons, persons with disabilities, or persons receiving public benefits could be challenged as discriminatory and unlawful under state and federal laws.
In other words Fort Bragg City Council members, if you put such a measure on the ballot you (collectively) will be subject to state and/or federal litigation.
Boom! Message received by all five council members, including Vice Mayor Lindy Peters, the lone vote against the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center move to the Old Coast Hotel site on the northwest corner of Franklin and Oak Streets. Each of the five councilmen spoke against the proposed initiative on September 14th, citing two main reasons: 1) the potential high costs to the city in litigation, and 2) the measure could also deny central business district locations to other, unquestioned, social service organizations.
Nearly a full house of citizenry appeared at Fort Bragg's Town Hall for the mid-September meeting. Approximately 35-40 opponents of the social services ban strolled a block or two with banners high to Town Hall in the half hour preceding the City Council meeting. When the issue arose during the council gathering the measure's opponents outnumbered its proponents in terms of public speakers at the podium, though one proponent stated that hardcore members of the Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg (CCFB) were boycotting Fort Bragg's City Council meetings. Therein lies the core of the Civil War analogy. If the CCFB and like-minded proponents of the social service ban initiative continue on at this point certain obvious questions arise. If the measure's proponents gather enough petition signatures to qualify it for the ballot (not an unreasonable supposition considering numbers of signatures bandied about in public discourse), just when will that vote occur? In a special election or in conjunction with next June's California primary? Is CCFB willing to spend the money to defend this measure in state and federal court?
One might guess the answer to the latter question would be a simple no, but Fort Bragg's so-called “concerned citizens” have already marched into territory filled deep with pride and a collective sense of “honor,” even if they don't spell it the way Robert E. did. Folly is a remarkably nearsighted, clench-fisted fellow.
We are 150 years on from the American Civil War, but the divide of that conflict still seethes at the corroded roots of contemporary U.S. politics and society as a whole. These concerned citizens of Fort Bragg are a proud bunch. They don't seem to care one iota for the City's attorney on a personal or professional level. They may be perfectly willing to charge headlong into the high cost of litigation in much the same way as good old Robert E. sent General Pickett's regiments charging straight into the heavily fortified Union cannons at Gettysburg.