Hospitality Center Permit Violations

Covid-19 is scary, but have you ever dealt with Lynelle Johnson, Carole White, and Hospitality Center?

That was the opening line of an April 25th piece in the AVA. As Bob Dylan sang, “things have changed.” Readers may look up the lyric that precedes that and determine if it applies to the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC).

First among recent changes is the leave of absence for “personal health reasons” taken by MCHC Board President Lynelle Johnson. This leaves MCHC Board Vice President Carole White in charge. Let's refresh our memory about Carole White and her willingness to work with others.

The coast hospital district's planning committee, which Ms. White is one member of, had an agenda item on its late December, 2019, agenda about the possibility of the hospital participating in some fashion in the future operation of a winter shelter for the homeless. The issue could involve changes to MCHC's role in the winter shelter. But rather than recuse herself from the matter, Ms. White plowed verbally ahead, sharing her opinions on the matter. 

Supervisor Ted Williams and Fort Bragg City Council member Bernie Norvell participated in the discussion. Fort Bragg City Manager Tabatha Miller sat in the audience, but offered at least one comment when asked.

Keep in mind this planning session was intended to merely consider the possibility of the hospital, or hospital district, taking on some partial role in the winter homeless shelter in the future. Nevertheless, Carole White felt so threatened by the potential concept that before most people had returned home. After the Planning Committee adjourned she was raging, according to a reliable source. Reportedly, White told staff at Hospitality Center not to speak to Supervisor Williams, Councilman Norvell, nor City Manager Tabatha Miller under any circumstance.

Readers may want to also keep in mind that this Ms. White is now the leader of an organization that is contractually obligated to the city of Fort Bragg for the existence of its center of operations at 101 North Franklin Street. One of the contractual obligations MCHC has with the city is to provide a “pedestrian-oriented use as part of the mixed use development” at 101 N. Franklin.

That pedestrian-oriented use relates back to a 2015 zoning determination at the time MCHC first moved into the former Old Coast Hotel site on Franklin St. That zoning determination in part stated, “A small cafe is proposed for the southeast portion of the building… The proposed cafe is consistent with… the requirement that a permitted pedestrian-oriented use be located on the ground floor of mixed use buildings within the CBD [Central Business District].”

In 2016, a building permit provided this requirement: “Within twelve months of final inspection of the building permit, the proposed pedestrian-oriented use (cafe) shall be in operation satisfying the mixed-use requirements of the Central Business District.”

In 2019, the City received a code enforcement complaint about 101 N. Franklin Street. One might guess that it related to the cafe not being fully operational. The City sent MCHC a letter re-stating the requirement for a pedestrian-oriented use (the cafe). 

MCHC sent a a response letter essentially saying they were trying to comply. The City extended the deadline, but requested monthly updates beginning on December 21, 2019. The City of Fort Bragg received a phone update on December 21, 2019 and an email update on January 9, 2020, but no further updates.

There were two or three First Friday cafe events of about two hours duration each this past winter. One that I attended appeared to be heavily populated by MCHC Board members, family and close friends rather than the general public. 

In the meantime, financial reports at MCHC Board meetings detailed the financial losses associated with merely attempting to operate the cafe and the culinary classes associated with it.

During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the MCHC cafe has ceased operating. Late in June, rumors circulated that MCHC had lost the funding to continue with a re-opened cafe as well as pay the instructor of the culinary classes. 

On June 30th, I bumped into Jerry Thomas, MCHC Board Treasurer, on the streets of Mendocino. He said he was unaware of any lost grants or lost funding. I had sent an email to Carole White some hours earlier asking about the rumors regarding a loss of funding. Lo and behold, right in front of the same building where I bumped into Mr. Thomas, there was Carole White. 

With our masks fully engaged, I inquired if she had received the email. She nodded. I further asked if she had any response. Her reply was to the effect that she was looking into it. 

Later, I asked the MCHC executive director if funding for the cafe and culinary classes had fallen by the wayside. The executive director evaded a bit, but eventually responded that the instructor of the culinary classes and chief organizer of the cafe was now participating in a volunteer role, not as a paid employee. 

It doesn't take Woodward or Bernstein to figure out that this meant the funding had fallen through. I pressed the MCHC executive director further and she insisted she would be finding funding for the cafe in the future.

Returning to housing of the homeless, MCHC did help facilitate keeping the winter weather shelter open through April, though the funding came from elsewhere and local faith based organizations provided the actual quarters. The April 25th AVA article details the real life problems that occurred during the extended winter shelter when MCHC Board leaders Johnson and White countermanded the instructions of the executive director and their own organization's protocols about housing of the homeless in Fort Bragg motels. 

By the end of June, MCHC, in a report from the executive director to city officials, had completed transition plans for the folks remaining at Motel 6 throughout May and June. According to the report, eighteen left by car, nine were moving on to MCHC's Hospitality House on McPherson Street, three were going into transitional housing, nine more qualified for permanent supportive housing.

That left a half dozen or more potentially homeless individuals. The report also stated, “We will transport those folks so they won't be leaving on foot.” However, a reliable source spoke with one of those individuals on July 3rd on the streets of Fort Bragg. The homeless man stated that MCHC told him to get out of the motel (on July 1st). He cleaned his room and left with no assistance provided.

As for the cafe, MCHC needs to provide evidence that it is capable of re-opening a sustainable pedestrian-oriented business at 101 N. Franklin St. Otherwise, the City of Fort Bragg has every reason to revoke the permit and call out MCHC as having failed to uphold their end of the original bargain in obtaining the Old Coast Hotel site.

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