The Old Coast Hotel will not go gently into any Hospitality Center good night. Upwards of sixty people attended the Fort Bragg City Council meeting February 9th, on an evening when power was still out in the town.
The mistrust started right there. Notice about just where the meeting was to be held was not forthcoming until late in the afternoon. Those who question all things City Hall were in a conspiracy theory dither over the last minute change of venue from the John Diederich Center to the old and cold basketball court inside the Rec Center.
Further consternation occurred when Mayor Dave Turner attempted to follow the City Council agenda, which called for a forty minute presentation by Public Works Director Tom Varga. Much of the crowd was present to vent their displeasure about the Old Coast Hotel becoming the site of a mental health services center and home to five transitional housing units, though many still could not articulate their displeasure beyond the level of not wanting another homeless shelter in downtown Fort Bragg. Never mind that wherever this facility is situated, it is not a homeless shelter.
The crowd had already sat through a rather lengthy presentation by Sheila Semans regarding the Noyo Center for Marine Science, which could eventually take up twelve acres of the old mill site adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. The crowd even provided warm applause for Ms. Semans not once, but twice. However, enough was enough, for some of the more vociferous oafs in the crowd. They would not sit still for two more lengthy agenda items before waiting their turn under “Comments on Non-Agenda Items.” Here's where things got tricky. The angriest shouters seemed to have seated themselves in the first two rows of the audience. The audience had scooted up practically on top of the City Council and staff because there was no sound system in the Rec Center at that point (Later, Terry Vaughn of Mendocino TV supplied a microphone.). The shouters in the crowd (and most of the rest of the folks present) demanded that public comments be moved up in front of the pre-planned agenda items.
Mayor Turner gaveled a short recess, essentially to bring some calm to several in the crowd who have never outgrown childish tantrums that seem to have always gotten them their way. When the City Council returned, Councilman Lindy Peters made a motion to move public comments forward, but not before issuing a raised voice warning to the crowd to behave themselves. There were reports that police officers were waiting in the side hall if things got further out of hand. Councilman Cimilino seconded the motion to move public comments forward, but before the vote was taken Councilman Doug Hammerstrom announced that he wasn't feeling well and would like to hear the agendized public works report first. The motion passed 3-2 with Councilman Scott Deitz casting his vote with Peters and Cimilino. Hammerstrom, in something of a childish move of his own, then excused himself and left, never to return. You might say he announced right there and then that he was a lame duck (his term ends with the 2016 November election). He had made it through a closed session earlier in the day and indicated that he would stay if the agendized public works item had been heard before public comments. Thus, he not only contradicted himself, but made it clear that he didn't want to hear what this portion of the public had to say.
Approximately forty minutes of public comments followed, varying from a business owner distressed at homeless who trash downtown to those who probably don't know the difference between the words transient and transitional. Too many of these types have gained the gumption to comment publicly or on line, confusing much of the discussion surrounding the subject of a mental health services center at the Coast Hotel. To this set of uninformed the centralized mental health services and transitional housing units proposed for the Coast Hotel are sure to be a magnet for every transient, drug dealing father-raper ever mentioned in Alice's Restaurant, though many of the ill-informed couldn't tell you the difference between Arlo and Woody Guthrie.
When the public comments ended, almost everyone of those who spoke against the Coast Hotel project exited the building post haste. A woman who wanted the audience to be aware of the role that Ortner Management Group, the privatized provider of adult mental health services for Mendocino County, might play in the general homeless problem and another woman who spoke against the Trans Pacific Partnership both remained along with a half dozen of the usual die-hards for the presentation from Public Works Director Tom Varga and an ensuing report from City Manager Linda Ruffing about ongoing grant projects.
Here's where those who left early flunked their Civics lesson. If those folks were worried about the $1.2 million allocated in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to convert the Coast Hotel into a mental health services building and the home to transitional housing units, they should have stayed to take a gander at where tens of millions of dollars are going to be spent. Fort Bragg's Public Works Department will be spending $1.2 million on a twelve foot wide multi-use, pedestrian and bicyclist lane on the north side of Chestnut Street. Many Fort Bragg residents in the area should be notified of the project by the time this article hits the streets, perhaps mildly mollifying some residents who have felt the City and its grant partners have been woefully lacking in any notification for neighbors concerning the Coast Hotel project.
Publc Works Director Varga also highlighted the nearly million dollar cost to replace a tank at the city's water treatment plant. Just short of two million dollars is planned for the Summers Lane Reservoir construction. $250,000 and $430,000 will be expended on two lengthy sections of pipe coming from Waterfall Gulch. Varga also outlined the more than $650,000 needed to replace a failing water line out of Newman Gulch and $825,000 for a similar purpose on the Noyo River. Then there's more than $10 million for the waste water treatment plant upgrade... and maybe readers are starting to get the point that there are many more important dollars and cents issues in the offing than stopping a few dozen people from getting a consolidated mental health care building.
If those who demanded to have their childish way had merely let the agenda play out, and done a careful reading of that agenda (printed out for all to see on the City of Fort Bragg's website well in advance), they might have noticed that the CDBG grant used for the purchase of the Coast Hotel was right there in Agenda Item 5C.
5C was part of the list of ongoing grants that the City of Fort Bragg has obtained to fund thirty-three different projects to the tune of slightly more than $14.6 million. The grants range from the aforementioned Coast Hotel money to rebates that help offset the cost of bullet-proof vests for the city's police officers as well as $100,000 to fund the PD's community service officer positions.
Some citizens might want to see more grants for the police department as compared to programs for the homeless, but there it is. Check out the attachments to the City Council Agendas, citizens, then start attending meetings on a more regular basis, and please, stop the not-in-my back-yard whining.
Here are some bottom lines for readers in general and residents of Fort Bragg in particular. A Fort Bragg Police Department substation is planned for the Coast Hotel. The Coast Hotel is not going to be a homeless shelter. Instead, all of the mental health services that are now scattered around Fort Bragg will be offered in one place, along with five transitional housing units for folks (some will be families, some individuals) who are trying to improve their lot in life (some are already employed but still need help). These people are not transients. The vast majority of people who will come to the centralized mental health services for appointments (estimates run from 30-50 people per day; that's 30-50 for the whole day, not all at once) are also there to seek help to make their lives better. Yes, occasionally, a small number of these folks will backslide or mess up, maybe even in a public way, so let me repeat: the Fort Bragg PD will have a substation at this centralized mental health facility.
Another bottom line that can't be ignored: separate and apart from the folks mentioned in the previous paragraph, Fort Bragg has a troublesome group of homeless people, the kind of people who often refuse mental health services; the same kind who defecate on and otherwise trash the premises of businesses and residences in the downtown area. A separate and distinct set of plans needs to be coordinated to help them.
One thing that has already happened is that the District Attorney's office, in conjunction with local law enforcement, sent out letters to the licensed liquor sellers in the Fort Bragg area. These letters were to serve as a reminder to the alcohol vendors that part of their licensing forbids sales to people who have had frequent law enforcement encounters due to drinking problems.
While in the past shutting down the public restrooms in Fort Bragg's downtown might have seemed a way to deter homeless traffic, it hasn't. In reality it has only exacerbated the trashing and defecation problems listed above. Perhaps Fort Bragg needs a couple more port-a-potties on Franklin Street. Another perhaps might be that Hospitality Center and Ortner Management Group, who are ultimately responsible for the welfare of these troubled, mentally ill homeless folk, do more to monitor and assist these semi-lost souls as well as creating even more transitional housing units for the homeless who are in the process of bettering themselves. The editor of this publication has often proposed a county farm (and, yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the previous century Mendocino County did have an operational county farm) where the problematic drinkers and druggers could be sent to not only detox, but sometimes actually perform useful chores that once in awhile turned a few of them back into productive citizens. Such a facility should be paid for out of the same dollars that the county allocates to this privatized purveyor of mental health, the organization without a lick of experience in county wide mental health services: Ortner Management Group.