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Mill Site Blues

At 6 o'clock last Thursday evening, the worried and the merely confused converged on Fort Bragg Town Hall to hear the “Noyo Consortium” explain their long prepared alternative vision for the Georgia Pacific mill site.

The evening was a long-prepared direct attack on the City Council's proposed zoning mega-plan and the bargain basement sell-off of the mill site to hot-to-trot developers led by wannabe clear-cutter Harvest Market. The meeting was in Town Hall - but officially unofficial.

The city refused to allow the open space advocates and various earth-friendly activists, most of whom are middle-aged prosperous stalwarts of the community, to use the city video system.

The meeting will not appear on the city site. Flipping the switch was for some reason impossible. The patient organizers fell back on Mendocino TV Terry Vaughn's cut-rate internet alternative and trusted unto God for intelligible sound.

By strange chance, the community meeting came only two days after the shock firing of Marie Jones — the mastermind and architect of the decades-long project to zone the Georgia Pacific mill site.

Every member of the Fort Bragg City Council was in grim attendance. None of them spoke in the lengthy public discussion. Town Hall was full, but not packed, with a respectful crowd anxious to hear the Consortium float a wide-ranging assemblage of hopes and wistful aspiration for the 420-acre oceanfront jewel.

The speakers had no identifiable program, but each in their own way suggested a polite sensibility of opposition to the city's proposed zoning smorgasbord; heavy industrial, light industrial, high and low-density housing, a couple of hotels and a supermarket are all on the drawing board and rolling toward finalization.

The Consortium advocated for open space — bees, trees and animals. Amazing. In shot after tragic shot, the Consortium powerpoint showed the great empty oceanfront property sprawling the length of the city along the rugged California coastline. It was like showing family photos of a man doomed for execution.

George Reinhardt, Bill Lemos, and Karen Kawamoto went through somewhat weirdly unrelated presentations and talked about the loss of wildlife, the loss of grandeur and the loss of possibility. When they showed the map of zoning overbuild that Marie had designed for the city councils rubberstamp, it was to illustrate what NONE of them wanted and what the city will almost surely receive from the hands of the Development Department-compliant City Council.

Not so compliant is the California Coastal Commission.

When the now-fired Marie Jones tossed the first 10 years of well-funded zoning planning in the circular file and went on to the next 10 years of well-funded zoning, she sent to the Coastal Commission a plan that allocated 70% of the mill site to development.

As a kind of an afterthought, her plan suggested hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs nobody could pay for and made zero provision for maintenance of, access to or responsibility for the 30% of space that would be left “open." However they tweak the map, the LCP is quite openly an elaborate plan for a vast unreconstructed vacant lot, dotted with steel buildings and random low-income housing.

When the ex-Development Director sent the council-approved LCP to the Coastal Commission staff offices in Eureka, the Commission flipped her proposed ratio of development to open space and required 70% of the space to be open space with a mere 30% zoned for Marie Jones's crazed diversity of development projects.

Jones never mentioned that massive rebuke in any of her remarks to the Council, or the Planning Commission. She confessed to me privately that the reversal was “not-trivial.” Maybe the Council knew all about it and did not want to talk about it publicly. Maybe they did not know, but the inversion undercut arguments for development kept in place the hodgepodge multipurpose zoning and left still unresolved the maintenance and restoration of the rubble-strewn industrial wasteland of what was post-commission intervention, 70% of the mill site.

The City Council officially didn't care. I was told privately by a member of the City Council that since GP owned all that empty space, the city did not have to worry. The post battlefield condition of the open space and public access to it was “not our problem.”

Every cloud has its silver lining. The corporate suits at GP are cool. GP sells off 30%.

The Fort Bragg City Council is also on board since Marie Jones parade of heavily-funded zoning studies have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of the city for 20 years, as a succession of city councils trailed along in her money-earning wake.

Thursday night, the self-appointed Noyo Consortium advocated for vision, imagination and common sense but they walked around the political confrontation that would be necessary to make that happen like it was a stick of dynamite.

As I looked around the meeting, the crowd itself was as interesting as the meeting.

About half the crowd was there to gauge the depth of public opposition for and resent of plans past and present. Old-guard insiders from ancient Fort Bragg politics that rarely attend a public meeting these days were present in numbers. Meg Courtney and Doug Hamerstrom were in attendance. Supporters of the present LCP were paying close attention. The nameless lobbyist for the Harvest Market tree clear-cutting and bulldozing program was present along with at least two of the town’s Planning Commissioners.

Of course, all of the Fort Bragg City Council showed up. None of them uttered a word. None of them defended their mega-development LCP, none of them expressed opposition to, or support for, the earth-friendly alternative Councilman Bernie Norvell was typically quiet in a back seat and left very early. Norvell is the council’s political realist. One suspects he discerned at a glance the self-appointed consortium was in practical terms merely inspirational and electorally insignificant. No worries for Norvell.

Councilperson Jessica Morsell-Haye was in a front seat looking like she had discovered an unexpected and not entirely welcome continent. Councilperson Tess Albin-Smith looked both intentive and clueless which is her unique specialty and Mayor Will Lee stayed conscientiously buried in his notebook, Councilperson Lindy Peters, alone among Councilpeople, kind of lost his cool. Even as he crossed Highway 1 headed like a wrathful rocket at Town Hall, he was visibly furious and damn sure not taking questions.

He charged across the street like a locomotive, blasted past the small crowd outside and slammed into his seat when I ventured a meek little "Hello," I thought for a second he was going to throw a punch. One has sympathy for their collective discomfiture.

The meeting was an explicit challenge to the plans of the Council for the power of economically empowering ugliness. Suddenly it seemed to be falling apart.

The author of the Council-endorsed LCP zoning, on whom they leaned so heavily, had been suddenly and bewilderingly fired and if they hire someone honest for Development Director, the Coastal Commission hostile urban development plan will very likely go up in smoke.

Then, damn it all, they had to contend with a well attended public meeting of fiercely polite citizens honestly wondering why the zoning plan the Council has spent decades refining, redefining and redesigning is so strangely irrational and obviously impractical.

The Consortium made the case with eloquence — but politely declined to wonder how the hell we got here.

The answer, as it is to so many things, is money — specifically long-term, high dollar funding for the Fort Bragg development department's never-ending planning projects.

Twenty years of high volume cash doesn’t grow on trees. Lindy Peters assumes you don’t know that. He is counting on you not figuring it out. But money aside, the mild and gentle intrusion of the earth people consortium is at fundamental odds with Lindy Peters’ happy place.

Both ex-Mayor Peters and current Mayor Will Lee were recent applicants for the Coastal Commission. Both of them expressed publicly they could be really useful with that mean old Coastal Commission that keeps saying with such annoying consistency that a 420-acre utterly unique coastal jewel should not be covered with the industrial sprawl.

Somehow, both Peters and Lee were summarily rejected for their Coastal Commission candidacy. So unfair.

The meeting was an unpleasant reminder of wide public opposition to their mill site "Super Plan," and dare we think a hint of perhaps unseen opposition to their candidacies for the Commission.

They had to be wondering if the unflattering Coastal Commission rebuke of the development director’s LCP and implied snub to her city council enablers had its roots in exactly this kind of earth first advocacy.

I can personally assure the ex-Mayor and the present Mayor that the Governor was made aware.

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