The initiative to ban social service organizations, retroactive to January 1, 2015, in Fort Bragg's Central Business District will be entitled Measure U on the June, 2016 ballot. The Fort Bragg City Council has already stated, by a 5-0 vote, that it stands against the measure. The City Council (CC) meeting of November 9th ended with the CC deciding not to write their own argument against Measure U for use on the official June ballot, but leaving open the option that they, as a body, might sign on to such an argument if one was offered up before the November 23rd CC meeting. The deadline for any arguments, for or against, Measure U, was 5 pm Wednesday, November 25th.
So we move to the Nov. 23rd meeting itself. The first item under “Conduct of Business” was just that, whether or not the City Council would sign onto an argument against Measure U authored by a group calling itself Go Fort Bragg. Go Fort Bragg's argument against Measure U reads as follows:
“Vote NO on the Measure to Ban Social Services in the Central Business District. All five City Council members agree: This measure is a bad idea.
The City Attorney has said it could be challenged as discriminatory and unlawful under State and Federal laws and that the retro-activity provision would likely be subject to challenge.
This measure is discriminatory, unenforceable and unjust. It threatens the civil rights of everyone who uses social services, which includes veterans, seniors, and children.
It will expose the City to very costly litigation. It will waste your taxpayer dollars fighting lawsuits. It will be deemed illegal and unenforceable.
Fort Bragg has a proud history of helping those in need - let's keep it that way. Show your support for organizations like Project Sanctuary, Art Explorers, Parents and Friends, The Food Bank, Hospitality Center, Mendocino Coast Children's Fund, and Habitat for Humanity by rejecting this measure.
We ask you to join us in voting NO on the Measure to Ban Social Services in the Central Business District.”
After City Manager Linda Ruffing outlined what had previously transpired, Councilman Scott Deitz asked if any other arguments, pro or con, had been received. The City Clerk, off microphone, appeared to answer that the Go Fort Bragg argument had been the only one submitted to that date.
Councilman Mike Cimolino said he had received a large number of phone calls asking how the Go Fort Bragg argument got on the agenda so quickly. Ruffing replied that the Go Fort Bragg group submitted their letter before the agenda went out (in the prior week) and because the item needed to be voted on before the Nov. 25th deadline, the Go Fort Bragg argument was placed on the agenda. Readers should be apprised that one of Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner's adult daughters is a prominent member of the Go Fort Bragg group.
Councilman Cimolino pressed the matter further with at least two more questions directed toward Ruffing, one which indicated he did not know how something gets placed on the CC agenda and another query, “Did the whole staff recommend that they wanted us to take a look at this again?”
Ruffing answered in the negative. A few moments later, Vice Mayor Lindy Peters outlined what had happened at the November 9th meeting and concluded with, "I think the process was followed fairly clearly from Council direction." Looking at Ruffing, Peters continued, "I'm not trying to defend you, but I'm trying to answer Mike's (Cimolino) questions with what actually took place at that meeting."
Peters glanced at Cimolino then back toward Ruffing. "We (the City Council) gave you that direction rather than you giving us direction. That is what I wanted to make clear."
This was a direct refutation of one of the main claims of the die hard folks who opposed the use of the Old Coast Hotel as a mental health services center and a five room, ten bed transitional housing facility. Many of these people believe that City Manager Ruffing controls just about every aspect of city government including the City Council itself. Peters' statement flew in the face of this belief, doubly so because a goodly number of the Ruffing-haters lauded the election of Peters and Cimolino a year ago as two councilmen who would refuse to do Ruffing's bidding.
Public comment on the issue ensued with several people in favor of the Council writing their own statement against Measure U while others just asked the CC to sign on to the Go Fort Bragg argument against the measure. Some of these opinions came from people involved with other social service organizations within Fort Bragg's CBD that might be impacted. Some of the usual Mendo Libs expressed similar thoughts.
Perhaps the most interesting of the public speakers was Charles Brandenburg who has at times spoken out vehemently against the Old Coast Hotel project. On this night he chastised the City for not giving the general public more time to consider the prospect of mental health services in the Old Coast Hotel, but Brandenburg also stated that he could not vote for Measure U due to its impact on other organizations.
Then the cracker barrel jester of Fort Bragg public meetings, Rex Gressett, stepped to the podium. He sarcastically directed the Council to vote for signing on to the argument against Measure U, but added, "I know there are at least two councilmen who are not going to."
Gressett went on to declare that Fort Bragg City Attorney Samantha Zutler ought to be held accountable for her actions by the State Bar. As for Go Fort Bragg, Gressett stated that they only represent a small, yet vocal, minority of the populace in Fort Bragg. Gressett worked himself up to what he does best, rant. In his wound up state Rex's voice rose as he stated, "We don't have a democracy here[Fort Bragg], we have a political machine, and a political machine does not like elections, but we are going to have one anyway, and the people of the city are gonna tell you what to do with that hotel [Old Coast Hotel that is now run by the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center]. You can't take some outrageous organization like Hostility House that grinds the faces of the poor into the dirt, takes every single penny, four million dollars from CDBG [Community Development Block Grants]... and they got every penny of it... You used to be able to get a meal five days a week in Fort Bragg, but now if you don't go to Hostility House [Hospitality House, the flagship enterprise of Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center] you don't eat. They run a racket. And that racket has co-opted our City Council, has co-opted our city management. It has taken our process and made it into something they call shameful. An election is not a shameful thing to have."
The beauty and the problem with this and many of Mr. Gressett's sojourn's through his ample vocabulary is that there is always, at the very least, a modicum of truth therein. Yes, problems abound surrounding the general issue of feeding the homeless on the Mendocino Coast. Yes, those in charge at the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center are far from the best purveyors of mental health services as they are subcontracted to do within the county's two and a half year-old system of privatized mental health services. Yes, the public is entitled to gather signatures to get an initiative, and, yes, the same citizens are entitled to an election on that measure after enough valid signatures have been gathered.
Bet you guessed there was a "however" coming. If said iniative and Measure turns out to be overly broad, if it has unintended consequences that will adversely effect other, relatively innocent organizations, then the authors and backers of said initiative/Measure might want to suck it up, fold up shop, and find another methodology with which they can approach the problem. But no, the bombastic, like Rex Gressett, are loath to give up on a lost cause. They don't even recognize their foolhardiness. Such folks are thoroughly convinced of their righteousness because some part of their argument is correct. They don't see or don't care about the part of their argument that is utterly off the tracks.
Remember Coucilman Cimolino's statement that he'd "been pummeled with phone calls since the agenda came out," wanting to know how Go Fort Bragg's argument against Measure U got on the agenda so quickly?
If one wanted to make assumptions based on one's sneaking suspicions about Fort Bragg City Hall, one would assume that because Go Fort Bragg includes Mayor Turner's daughter among its members, Go Fort Bragg got special treatment. Since Measure U is an election matter and election matters are largely under the control of the City Clerk, one could inquire if Go Fort Bragg had actualkly submitted their argument against Measure U to Fort Bragg's City Clerk.
Once you heard that Go Fort Bragg had not submitted their argument to the City Clerk, one could walk into the November 23rd City Council filled with righteous indignation. Enter former Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry. Actually this is about his exit from Town Hall, but we must back up to get the full picture.
After public comments on the matter ended, discussion returned to the City Council. Vice Mayor Peters stated that when he first saw the initiative written out as Measure U, he thought it stood for unjust. When Councilmen Cimolino said, "It's like an atomic bomb, there can be no survivors," Rex Gressett could be heard at the back of the room groaning, "Oh man."
Apparently there weren't two council members who would vote his way. Gressett made his way out the door. About ten minutes later yours truly had occasion to leave the building as well, to check on a phone message. While I was outside former Chief Mayberry rushed out repeating, "They didn't even submit it, they didn't submit it."
Mayberry's exit had been immediately preceded by a council member asking if the Go Fort Bragg argument had been submitted to the City Clerk. City Clerk June Lemos responded that no arguments concerning Measure U had been submitted to her. That any arguments concerning the measure must be submitted to her, with signatures, by 5 pm on Wednesday, November 25, 2015.
By the time Mayberry was outside and his ramble slowed to a calmer tone, he seemed to be saying that since Go Fort Bragg's argument against Measure U had not been submitted to the City Clerk it should not even be on that night's agenda, and the press needed to tell people this was emblematic of greater wrongs within Fort Bragg city government.
When I went back inside, the Council was voting to sign on to the Go Fort Bragg argument against Measure U. That vote was 5-0, with Councilman Cimolino saying, "Reluctantly Yes."
At the ensuing break I asked City Clerk June Lemos if the Go Fort Bragg argument had been submitted to her. She stated it had not, but added that to get it on the agenda the argument against Measure U, or any other item, would go through the City Manager's office, that the city manager usually sets the agenda, not the city clerk.
We the reading public are left with another example of someone, like former Chief Mayberry, grabbing hold of a single factoid (that Go Fort Bragg's statement wasn't submitted to the town's election officer the city clerk) and running with it straight to the conclusion that the fix is in. After he left his Chief of Police position, Mayberry was hired by the Mendocino County District Attorney's office as an investigator. One has to wonder just how thoroughly Mayberry researches each investigation.
Within hours of the City Council meeting Councilman Peters was being accused of being a sell out. Perhaps it will be instructive for readers and voters to see Peters' reply.
"Happy Thanksgiving to all. May God bless you as he has blessed me. There are some people who are saying I "sold out" because I do not support Measure U, an initiative that purports to ban all Social Service organizations from locating in the Central Business District. After reading a post in my personal Facebook page by Jay McMartin Rosenquist [a Fort Bragg native] asking for a response to these charges, I thought you should all see what I wrote. She ended by saying she is going to run for City Council in 2016:
"Since this appeared on my personal Facebook page I guess I should respond. I am an independent thinker. As an elected official, I am not beholden to one group or another. I am going to vote for what I think is best for Fort Bragg. I also talk to people and keep an open mind before making a decision. I voted against the Main Street Merge project because I felt a majority of the community opposed it. I voted against the Hospitality Center moving in to the Old Coast Hotel because I believed a majority of our community opposed it and for other reasons I articulated at the time. I spoke to your group when you said you were going to craft an initiative that would prevent the Hospitality Center from taking over that location. Your group did not have the initiative written yet. So I encouraged you to go for it. The initiative that is now before us is flawed in my opinion. I said publicly that I would not sign the petition but would not discourage others from doing so. I met a second time with two members of the CCFB [Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg] group and advised them that unless they could find an example of retroactive re-zoning here in California than I believe this initiative will not accomplish what it is intended to do, which is to close down the Hospitality Center at its new location. No one to this date has ever produced an example. I refused to write a ballot argument against the initiative but agreed to support one if somebody else did. It is not my fault that the only one turned-in by the deadline was from a group that includes the Mayor's daughter. I have yet to see an argument written in favor of the Measure. The deadline for this is today. Did you write one Jay McMartin-Rosenquist ? I did not run for City Council for myself. I ran for the people of this community because I thought I could give them honest and fair representation. The pay is almost laughable. Yes, there are medical benefits as there are with other jobs that pay a lot more. I stand by my position to vote no on the Hospitality Center relocating to the Old Coast Hotel. If I thought this initiative might change the outcome of what transpired then I could support it. In my opinion it will not. Instead it will force the Mendocino Children's Fund ( who raised a lot of money and goods for Valley Fire victims) to move from their current location if it passes and is indeed enforceable. Do you think that is fair ? I don't. I encourage you to run for City Council Jay. I know you have run in the past. Maybe you will succeed this time and you will find out that tough decisions are not always black and white. Some legislation results in negative unintended consequences if it is not thought through completely. I haven't sold out to anybody. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts in your post and best of luck in your campaign."
Since Ms. Rosenquist-McMartin has professed a desire to run for public office it is fair game to recount my chance meeting with her outside Preston Hall in Mendocino on November 18th. Ms. Rosenquist-McMartin approached in a somewhat excited manner, asking if I was going to attend the November 20th court session in Ukiah, involving a filing made by the husband of Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center's (MCHC) executive director. In my opinion Ms. Rosenquist-McMartin appeared excited about the potential for something, anything, damaging that could be connected to MCHC.
In the very next breath Ms. Rosenquist-McMartin asked me to stop printing her name when she makes disparaging remarks on Facebook about public issues. She gave no indication that she grasped the irony or hypocrisy of gleefully asking if I would be covering the court hearing that might prove embarrassing to the MCHC director while requesting that her own potentially embarrassing remarks be excised.