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Golf Course vs Drinking Water

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.


  1. Betsy Cawn September 9, 2019

    What is it with the proponents of golf-course-based development? A few years ago, Ft. Bragg’s attorney Jim Burns (Affinito’s pal) supported a very crooked development agreement between the City of Lakeport and a “consortium” of City Council members, Burn’s/Affinito’s affiliated “Origin Construction” (Mark Mitchell), Mitchell’s former employee Dale Neiman — hired to conduct planning meetings among them and the City’s then-attorney Steve Brooks — for the sale of the City’s publicly-funded and irreplaceable sanitation system lands south of the city proper to the consortium, to construct a gated community, golf course, exclusive clubhouse, and (for Lake County) “upscale” amenities, on land that the city’s property owners were still paying for to reimburse USDA loans for that purpose, following state orders to cease and desist any “release” of treated (or untreated) wastewater into Clear Lake.

    Over the past couple of decades, the cost of maintaining golf course grounds and the exorbitant volumes of water, fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides, etc., necessary for production of fairways and greens has resulted in closures across the country. The nineteen fifties’ ideal of middle class retirement “lifestyles” based on golfing, boozing, and clubbing among like-minded white males and their bouffant boasting, breast-boosted babes was declasse to begin with, and in the 21st century anachronistic at best.

    The absurdity of a “recreation district” proposing such a wasteful and destructive model of “recreation” and the City of Ft. Bragg’s management failure to intervene immediately and properly for protection of the city’s water supplies boggles the mind. Attendant machinations of political poofters and paid “civil servants” in response bespeak the absence of intelligent and responsible agency function on which tax-paying, ordinary, responsible citizens depend.

    (The City of Lakeport’s insider self-dealing over the publicly-owned wastewater treatment property was quietly negated after a Grand Jury investigation that was never openly discussed or reported by that august body, and the “sewer golf course” development agreement just faded from view. It took another couple of years before the City fired its hometown attorney, and the former Community Development Department director — who formally objected to the City Council’s approval of tax-payer-funded, unwarranted “update” to its 20-year General Plan, to accommodate an illegal “Special Area Plan” for the project — retired with his integrity and dignity intact. Of course, it helped that the post-subprime-mortgage-based development “boom” of the early 2000s so propitiously “crashed” and all the fantasms of expansive housing developments proposed by Burns, et al (including a similar project on land adjacent to the County’s Northwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, Cristallago/Las Fuentes/Spider Mountain golf-course-based timeshare/condo/SFD/restaurant/shopping/olive oil enterprise evaporated. That land was owned collectively by four unfortunate property owners whose investments took a steep dive, and the cluster of aggressive proponents (Boeger Land Development, Mitchell, and Burns) stopped pitching the project that our Chamber of Commerce highly favored in spite of a shamelessly fraudulent Environmental Impact Report that was ridiculed in public hearings of the Board of Supervisors.)

    [Whatever happened to Ft. Bragg’s proposed project, those officials associated with its desired objectives are morally deficient and perhaps mentally challenged. We would love to know how the ensuing years resulted in its downfall, and how Mr. Gjerde rose to the lofty position of County Supervisor.]

    Thanks as always to the AVA for keeping the long-term view in the public eye, and to the fascinating report provided by Roeanne Withers.

  2. John Robert September 13, 2019

    What this conversation shows is there were folks living here on the coast twenty years back who had the foresight and motivation to try and bring forth quality structures and environs, knowing the mill and its economic engine was soon to be gone.

    There are many high schools in the United States, world wide for that matter, currently fielding Golf teams providing Scholarships. Collegiate level teams feeding into pro/am circuits etc..growing every year. Modern Golf is an excellent sport, affordable to all and for everyone.

    Travel almost anywhere in the world, some of the largest cities whether developed or third world countries, golf courses exist. These golf courses some of them surrounded by dirt and disparity, are refuges of peacefulness and beauty, creating jobs & opportunity for the locals.
    The hyperbole about pesticides and polluted water runoff is nonsense from another era.

    There was also a point twenty years back when the University of California system was courting the idea of using the mill site as a new campus. That idea also got barked down by people not willing to share their outhouse let alone move the toilet inside.

    This section of the California coast, this Fourth District of Mendocino County, deserves and needs new progressive representation.
    How did Gjerde get elected? He ran unopposed! How did Kendall Smith stay supervisor for so long she began to believe she was entitled our hard earned money to pay herself for frivolous junkets, no one here cared.

    We must all be hyperozonated here smiling at sunsets while our wallets and purses are being stolen. The do nothing but feather their own nests brand of city managers and representatives to the county need to be ousted. During the last election cycle for County Supervisors, several great new candidates appeared. Hopefully this last real estate run up brought into our district a new hat.

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