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Saturday Morning at the Sell-Out

Saturday morning, bright and early in sleepy Fort Bragg, while most people went to breakfast or cleaned up the beaches or had coffee with their families (unbeknownst to the innocent) downtown at Town Hall the new mill site property tycoons were appearing before the Planning Commission in joint session with the Fort Bragg City Council to make presentations on their various proposals for the development of the old GP Mill site.

It was a long meeting on a nice day and the high-pressure sales pitches on the wonderfulness of turning the greatest oceanfront open space in California into housing developments, high-density housing, supermarkets and hotels were so simultaneous, tedious and ludicrous that the low turnout of interested citizens could reasonably be chalked up to common sense.

Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde has been bicycling around town all week making himself visible, but he was not present. Neither was former mayor and current Fort Bragg councilman Lindy Peters, now a candidate for the Board of Supervisors. Apparently, neither of them saw any point in complicating their feel-good political campaigns with possible political dynamite.

That’s what the Saturday meeting was. But the public was not there to light the fuse. That will change.

The Saturday morning meeting was the last step in ex-Development Director Marie Jones long march around the public to slice and dice the 420-acre oceanfront property into a new industrial/high-density housing, etc. zone.

It was supposed to be a classic "Marie Jones bulldozes the public" event. Then Marie Jones got the ax. Minus the iron will of Marie Jones, the City Council and the Planning Commission had to do their best. The easiest thing to do was was to pretend it was all their own idea.

For the newly acquired property, jumping the gun on the glacial progress of mill site zoning is a major financial gamble. In theory, zoning the mill site is still a public process. The whole mill site could be zoned open space. Bye-bye supermarkets and hotels.

The low-attendance meeting was an opportunity for Harvest Market and the Skunk Train to make their pitches to the City Council (that matters) and slide it past the people of the city (that don't).

It was a wonderful chance to improve the odds of a profitable outcome. They jumped on it with both boots. It seemed to go well for them.

The City Council and the Planning Commission asked a few softball questions to prove they were paying attention and fulfilled their official responsibilities as good listeners. They listened politely as the Skunk pitched a restaurant that looked like a lighthouse overlooking the ancient Indian burial grounds and an extension of the railroad parallel to the northern part of the Coastal Trail.

Railroads are very good for wildlife they promised. Studies prove it. They promoted high-density housing and outlined their plans for a few hotels. The Skunk Train wants to give us Disneyland with housing projects. 

The prospective developers had Powerpoint maps describing their various plans and batteries of paid consultants to fill the folding chairs. I estimated that about half the seats at town hall were taken by consultants.

The elephant in the room was the Coastal Commission. Disneyland is not on their agenda. Any plans for mega-development have to go first to them.

When Marie Jones made her initial proposal for the great zoning super plan (“Local Coastal Plan”) to the Coastal Commission she proposed developing 70% of the property and leaving 30% open space.

The Commission staff took one short look and flipped those percentages — requiring 70% of the 420-acre site to be open space.

All that was unspoken context, but no one mentioned it and no one cared.

Harvest Market pitched their supermarket with employee housing for their workers upstairs. Innovative. The Skunk Train pitched their lighthouse-restaurant-hotel collection and all the while the Council and the Planning Commission tweaked and tugged at the various plans as it if were all a forgone conclusion.

Nobody asked what would happen to the great open spaces of the spectacular property that must be left open space by the Coastal Commission mandate and which GP will still own.

The formal plan that no one talks about is to leave them as rubble-strewn wastelands. Probably fenced off from the public — which has, of course, been GP’s practice for decades.

Post zoning, they will be unsaleable to any developer. Maybe out of the generosity of their big beating corporate heart GP will chip in a few tens of millions to clean up their own industrial wasteland and turn it over to the people of the city. Maybe they will make it a park. Maybe not. 

Developing the greatest open space on the California coast would provoke mass outrage and convulsions in any city government on the California coast.

It’s a different deal out here in the wilderness. The Fort Bragg City Council once more distinguished themselves as $300 a month amateurs with zero accountability to the people of the city, no vision and absolute confidence in Marie Jones’s fake public surveys. That’s the way we roll in Fort Bragg.

The Council and the Commission are the heirs of the Jones agenda. Now they are on their own.

They are out from under the iron boot of the ex-Development Director, but going along with her agenda was all they knew how to do.

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