If the Fort Bragg Advocate News' and City Council member Lindy Peters' inept attempts to assassinate the characters of Fort Bragg City Hall staff, and Council members Michele White and Vince Benedetti these last three weeks weren't so tragically pathetic, their bungling of the job would be kinda funny.
It was truly a hoot, however, when Mendocino Savings Bank manager, Tom Becker, called coast conservationist groups the “Mendocino Taliban” (in an email to City Council members) for using such “weapons” as “talking to their elected officials,” and “showing up at hearings and raising objections” to “any development.” (Besides the Friends of Fort Bragg, the local Sierra Club, Audubon Society and California Native Plant Society, in particular, are the conservation groups concerned about the golf course that Becker is referring to, by the way.)
The originator of all this news “spin doctoring” and attempts at character assassination going on in Fort Bragg is local motel owner Jim Hurst. Hurst is desperately trying to cover up the fact that there are some very serious, and most likely fatal flaws in his plans to use the Mendocino Coast Recreation District to tap the public for $9 million to build a golf course.
The worst of it started just after January 10th when the City of Fort Bragg, through its new but very capable and experienced administrator, Connie Jackson, submitted comments to the Mendocino Recreation District's final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on Hurst's proposed 18-hole golf course to be located somewhere on a 600-acre parcel off of Highway 20 just a few miles east of Fort Bragg.
The City's concerns surround the fact that the 200-acre golf course is to be sited on the entire watershed, and around the Newman Gulch stream which, at times, supplies one-half of the City's water supply for 7,000 residents and numerous businesses. The EIR states that 360,000 gallons of groundwater a day will be used to water the course. It also states that all golf course water runoff will be channeled into Newman Gulch.
In particular, the City asked the Rec District to delay certifying (approving) the golf course EIR until the full City Council had a chance to consider the matter, and until the details to the EIR's required Memorandum of Understanding between the City and Rec District had been mutually agreed to. (The details are to specify the exact protections for the quality and quality of the City's Newman Gulch drinking water supply.)
The Rec District Board objected to full City Council consideration and declined to specify the MOU details when it went ahead and certified the EIR, despite Jackson's well stated presentation and assurance that the City “stands ready to assist [the Rec District] in moving forward with its project.”
At the time, it was unknown what affect the EIR certification would have on the legality of an MOU negotiated afterwards. But more importantly, it was then, and is still unknown if the City and Rec District can actually come up with mutually agreed upon protections for the City's water. The purpose of all the character assassinations and spin doctoring is to apply public pressure to make sure at least three council members work for Hurst, not for the City water drinkers and ratepayers, should push come to shove in the MOU negotiations.
In reviewing the first full City Council meeting on the golf course EIR and MOU, the Advocate News started off on January 31st with, “Council member Peters noted that the EIR review had initially been diverted to the Public Works Committee, manned by White and Benedetti precluding a full Council review before the [Rec District] meeting.”
The Advocate also editorialized, “For starters, a copy of the project EIR was delivered to the city in November, giving the City Council more than 40 days to review it prior to the MCRPD [Rec & Parks] Board certification on Jan. 10. No full council review was attempted, rather it was squirreled away by the Public Works Committee of Vice Mayor Michele White and Councilman Vince Benedetti. Subsequently, City Manager Connie Jackson had the audacity to stroll into the MCRPD Board meeting and ask for a delay with just three hours prior notice. We'd call that a bad faith ambush…”
And again in the following week's editorial, “…it began with two council members tying up an important and timely discussion for more than a month…”
Not one word of what Peters said or Advocate reporter Neil Boyle wrote is true.
First of all, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that mandates how EIR's are to be handled, the deadline of Jan. 10th was the public's (and City's and other agency's) deadline to submit comments on the final EIR for consideration by the Rec District. It was not, and in no way can even remotely be construed under CEQA as the Rec District's deadline to certify the EIR.
(That the Rec District chose to treat it as its decision deadline and invite a lawsuit is Hurst's second big mistake. His first was to site the golf course on top of the City's water supply. But then we all know that's where water is, don't we?)
The “emergency” meeting of the City's Public Works Committee (held just previous to the Rec Board's EIR certification meeting) was open to the public. Its minutes are available to all. The Rec District Board and its representatives were specifically invited to this meeting, but did not attend.
If Boyle and Peters had bothered to check the facts, they would have found that while indeed City staff had an early draft copy of the final EIR, the first time anyone in City Hall (or the public) could have known of the impending (and absolute) deadline for turning in their comments was over the holidays via public notice printed in the Advocate News on December 20th.
It is important to note that the published notice with its Jan. 10th deadline for comment fell in between the regularly bi-monthly City Council meetings.
If Peters and Boyle had bothered to read the City comment letter to the final EIR itself, they would have found one of the primary concerns of City staff, and Committee Council members White and Benedetti, was that the full Council had not had a chance to review the EIR, or hear and discuss concerns together before the EIR was scheduled to be certified.
This fact was once again repeated in a City staff report to the Council last week. So with minutes, letter and staff report in his hand, all stating the concern about lack of time for full City Council review (before the Rec District's deviously contrived deadline), Peters again tried to keep the spin going, “My concern is that only two council members gave direction to staff…”
Yes, you blockhead, so you and the rest of the City Council could participate!
Despite the holidays, Council member White read one of the two City copies of the final EIR over a two-day period. (She stated to the public that she considers reviewing and acting to alleviate potential impacts to the City's water supply as part of her job.)
In order to ask City staff questions and discuss the EIR's implications in the public eye, and in the only manner available before the Rec meeting, she asked for an emergency Public Works Committee meeting. By the time the meeting occurred, Committee member Benedetti had read the EIR. He, too, considers this his job. Passionately so.
(A month later at a full Council meeting, Peters tried to take Benedetti to task by apologizing to the public for Benedetti's heartfelt speech about the EIR's deficiencies in protecting the City's water. Peters brazenly used the old “attack the messenger” ploy in order to hide the fact that he himself had not read the EIR. It's apparent that Council members Peters and Gjerde, and reporter Boyle still haven't bothered to read the EIR, two months after it was issued. )
Along with City staff, White and Benedetti had carefully examined the potential impacts to the City's water supply and mitigations to these impacts outlined in the final EIR and associated water studies. Concerns were outlined in detail by White in a written Memo to staff. However, the Rec District is trying to force the City into designing and negotiating the MOU's mitigations to potential impacts to the City's water supply before the only Newman Gulch water study that the Rec District's EIR has promised to do has been completed. This is a fact.
Just last week, at a subsequent full City Council meeting, Gjerde condescendingly tried to derail White's suggestion, that the City might want to have a say in how this promised study would be done with its own hydro-geologist groundwater expert, by calling it “paralysis through analysis.” Is that right, Mr. Gjerde? You mean the Rec District should not conduct any study whatsoever on the golf course's potential impact to the City's water supply? Well, well, what's this? Is the very same Council member Gjerde who campaigned and won his election by trumpeting a promise to end Fort Bragg's historic tax dollar subsidized City Hall-developer-favoritism?
Council member White actually came up with a brilliant solution for the City in lieu of having to file a lawsuit in order to halt Hurst's bum's rush of City water concerns. She suggested a “tolling agreement” whereby the Rec District would agree to suspend the impending CEQA lawsuit deadline (until April 8th) so the details to the MOU could be worked out.
If that isn't looking out for the concerns of all sides of the issue, I don't know what would be. But Boyle declines to give her any credit for obtaining a 5-0 vote from an otherwise divided Council for her resolution, instead trying to give the appearance that she is “against the golf course.”
Benedetti continues to remain very concerned that the City water ratepayers will bear the costs of all that the Rec District should have done, but didn't before it certified the EIR. He has also been rather earnest in expressing his desire that the City's water remain clean and available when all is said and done. And his Teddy Roosevelt conservative Republican blood has really boiled when he smells an attempt to corrupt these basic ideals (like not looking out for fundamental City water needs a la Peters and Gjerde.)
Peters and the Advocate News tried to use Benedetti's expressed outrage, in the course of doing his job, to inspire a tar-and-feather mob action. There were a few days last week that Hurst was asking City Mayor Jere Melo to publicly censure Benedetti at the upcoming Council meeting. Even Melo realized the absurdity of this.
Melo, a Georgia-Pacific honcho, has tried to distance himself and G-P from Hurst's and the Advocates' assertion that the golf course would be good for the City's drinking water because all of the “six-years worth” of potentially toxic trash thrown on the site and in the City's water stream while G-P owned it (up until last year) would finally be cleaned up. Imagine having a City Council member who self-admittedly was the only one in City Hall who knew about the car bodies and who-knows-what-else in the City's drinking water stream and did and said nothing about it during his six-year term on the council.
Local government and local media are the foundation upon which the state and federal government rests. I suspect that Peters, Melo and Gjerde, and the Advocate News' Neil Boyle are prime examples of how the rest of the small towns' governments and newspapers moral compasses have failed. Hence, the national corruption that breeds an Enron. If the moral compasses cannot be put right here, then how could we expect the nation to fly straight? Yet residents are more aware and outraged over Enron and other multi-national corporate behavior than they are about the corruption thriving in their own backyards.