The City of Fort Bragg held an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping session Monday, September 19th at Town Hall on the topic of yet another shopping center project near Hare Creek. The result was akin to a college football game between Alabama and Cal, about 48-3 against.
The EIR workshop was designed to gather public input concerning the slightly redesigned proposal put forth on behalf of the owners of the three (+) acre property immediately west of the intersection of Highways 1 and 20.
Two Fort Bragg City Council members, Lindy Peters and Mike Cimolino, were present throughout the two and a half hour meeting, though only Peters made public comment. He asked that the EIR place special emphasis on the following issues related to the project: 1. the potential aesthetic impact; 2. hydrology (water use); 3. the possibility for irreversible long term impacts; 4. and the related topic of overall cumulative impacts.
The proposed Hare Creek shopping center would be anchored by a Grocery Outlet store, approximately 15,000 square feet in size as well as two additional buildings sized at 10,000 and 4,500 square feet, for a total of 29,500 square feet of retail space. Associated developments would include an access road, a parking lot, loading zones, pedestrian improvements, rain water storage tanks, utility connections, drainage improvements, utilities, signage and landscaping. The project differs from a 2014 proposal, heard and denied in early 2015 by the Fort Bragg Planning Commission and City Council, in that the buildings are set twice as far back from the highway, grading of a grassy, man made hill would be minimized, and a road surrounding the project has been dropped.
The meeting was moderated both by Fort Bragg's Community Development Director Marie Jones and Florentina Craciun, an environmental planner employed by Michael Baker International, a firm (see their web site at mbakerintl.com) hired by the City of Fort Bragg to oversee the EIR process for this Hare Creek shopping center project. Craciun emphasized more than once that the fifty or more folks in attendance should refrain from either booing or clapping to avoid intimidation of others, and for the most part the audience complied, but she probably hadn't counted on Rex Gressett and Dave Gurney.
When Gressett stepped to the microphone for one of his three minutes of allotted comment (participants were allowed more or less unlimited turns at the microphone by the end of the evening's festivities), he promptly let out with a statement that the entire meeting was nothing more than illusory theater. Looking at the audience Mr. Gressett went on, “They (apparently city government) are not going to listen to any of you... If we want that property to be saved, we have to save it. Marie Jones ain't gonna do it. She works for the developers. She works for the people who want to desecrate our community.”
At this point Ms. Jones nearly shouted into her microphone, “Alright, Rex. That's enough. He cannot personally assassinate me... I'm done...”
Gressett asked, “What are you going to do, have me arrested?”
Though Ms. Jones appeared to beckon a young Fort Bragg Police Department officer from the back of the room the situation diffused, though not before Gressett asserted, “I say Marie Jones is behind this. I say, she is an absolute menace to the best interests of this community.”
Despite Mr. Gressett's claims about theater, it is too often he who puts on a show. On multiple occasions he has directly accused Jones and City Manager Linda Ruffing of being in cahoots with developers, yet he has to the best of this writer's knowledge never offered up any specific evidence to back up this claim beyond his raised voiced pontifications.
Rex Gressett is what one might call a colorful character, but his inherently contradictory stances on issues (on other, recent occasions he has stated his desire to allow local businesses to be free of all regulation) and passive aggressive public behavior (he wimpishly thanked the police officer for not arresting him then later came back to the public comment microphone with a promise, “To be nice this time.”) more often than not get in the way of civil discussion of the pros and cons of significant issues facing the city of Fort Bragg.
I enjoy Rex's personal brand of theater, but not to the point of accepting unfounded personal attacks as some sort of Gospel according to Saint Gressett. Though Ms. Jones's tone could have been gentler, how could any sane person blame her for finally saying, “Rex, that's enough.”
Mr. Gressett's antics and to a lesser degree the confrontational, not-able-to-take-yes-for-an-answer, style of David Gurney detracted from the tempered remarks of people like oceanographer Leslie Kashiwada. She spoke for a group called Citizens for Appropriate Coastal Land Use (CACLU), which includes educators, scientists, and small business owners. Interested readers can check out their Facebook site, where the group touts bullet points about the EIR process for the proposed Hare Creek shopping center, including: 1. The need to fully assess impacts on environmentally sensitive areas. 2. The project is not consistent with the City’s stated policies, plans, and goals in the Coastal General Plan.
3. It would bring about an increase in urban blight due to its impact on businesses in the central business district (CBD) and other shopping centers (already four vacancies each in the Boatyard Shopping Center and S. Franklin St strip mall, along with approx. fourteen vacancies in CBD). 4. It would bring more franchise businesses to Fort Bragg (already have twelve). The unincorporated areas of Mendocino County just renewed a moratorium on franchise businesses for one year – should Fort Bragg consider such a moratorium? 5. This area used to be a dairy farm. It was rezoned in 1995 to allow for this type of development, with the city hoping to increase its tax base. No consideration was given to the cumulative impact of development on Todd Point or on the gateway to the city. 6. The California Coastal Commission questions the legality of the proposed building site given the numerous requested Lot Line Adjustments over the years. Which LLAs have been approved (need a transparent trail of documentation) and is the current configuration approved?
Many other cogent questions/comments filled the nearly two hours of public input. Those interested in seeing and hearing them all should check out the invaluable Mendocino TV's website (mendocinotv.com) for an opportunity to view the meeting in its entirety. Despite the show put on at Town Hall, written comments by the public pull the greatest weight in this EIR process. Such comments can be directed to Marie Jones, the Community Development Director for the City of Fort Bragg. The comment period for the scoping session ends on September 30th. After the EIR is made public (most likely in January, 2017, a further forty-five day comment period will ensue. Most likely ending around March 1, 2017).