On Tuesday, September 1, Mendocino County's Fifth District Supervisor, Ted Williams, made a motion to halt any further Measure B Committee spending until a business plan is approved by the Board of Supes. Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde more or less immediately seconded the motion. Supervisor John McCowen voiced his approval of the motion and three agenda items that would have added up to multiple millions in Measure B expenditures were stopped dead in their tracks.
There exists a direct line of recent cause and effect events that triggered Williams' motion. We'll get to that, first readers should be reminded that Supervisor Williams proposed the business plan model for Measure B nine months ago, so for him matters may not have appeared as swift.
The two most expensive of the three items put on hold involved an allocation of $350,000 per year over a four year period of Measure B service funds to a contracted agency to provide community education, awareness, and support services, and a one-time allocation of $1,300,000 of Measure B services funds to purchase and renovate or build permanent housing for individuals on the coast who are homeless, chronically homeless, or at risk of chronic homelessness who have a mental health condition, as recommended by the Mental Health Treatment Act Citizen's Oversight Committee (Measure B).
Long time mental health advocate Sonya Nesch alleges that these items were concocted by Dr. Jenine Miller, head of Mendocino County Behavioral Health, and Donna Moschetti, current chair of the Measure B Committee and chair of the Mendocino County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Nesch supplied a timeline of events dating back to early July of this year. That timeline supposedly found its way into the hands of the two coastal supervisors.
Nesch titled her document, “Timeline of Jenine Miller and Donna Moschetti for “Measure B Program Funding Suggestions.”
The document highlights the following dates and events Nesch was privy to as a then-member of NAMI Mendocino County's board of directors:
July 9 -- Take [suggestions] to NAMI Board of Directors-- I [Nesch] spoke against it and Donna didn't call for a vote. Instead, Donna sent us the following email and called her 3 shoo-in voters and declared it passed.
Nesch contends that on Jul 13 after 10:30 PM, Donna Moschetti sent an email to NAMI board members:
I neglected to call for a vote last Thursday, please respond with your vote of yes or no by Wednesday at noon.
I have attached the document again for your review.
July 15 -- Take to Behavioral Health Advisory Board-- At the meeting, Jenine asked that the money to NAMI for “Community Education, Awareness, and Support “be removed due to conflict of interest. Jenine presented the other 5 items, and they only voted to approve them “in concept.” Jenine said she and Donna would rewrite it to bring to the BHAB in August.
July 22 -- Take to Measure B Committee--Jenine presented it as approved by BHAB and NAMI Board and they voted on each of 5 items (not the 6th which was the PHF). When money for NAMI came up, County Lawyer Christian Curtis said to drop NAMI as it is a conflict of interest. An RFP is suggested and Jenine instead of that wants to be able to choose who gets the $1.4 million.
Go to BOS and say this is what they all want.
According to a correspondence with Nesch regarding this timeline of events, she claims Jenine Miller “suggested no RFP and she would decide who gets the money.”
In reaction to all this Nesch resigned from her seat on the NAMI Mendocino County board.
Let us go back to the July 22 Measure B Committee meeting. That's where the $1.3 million in Measure B money to purchase and renovate or build housing for the homeless on the coast came into play. It is also where an even heavier hitter took the field. Fort Bragg City Council member, and Vice Mayor, Bernie Norvell responded with a letter to all five supervisors worthy of a read here.
“I am reaching out to express my concern at the recent action taken by the Measure B Committee on July 22, 2020. The action I am referring to is a motion to recommend the Board of Supervisors allocate $1.3 million of Measure B funds to purchase, build or renovate, for the purpose of providing Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH)) on the coast. I was taken aback to be hearing about it for the first time. As a member of the Fort Bragg City Council and a member of our Mayor-appointed Homeless Ad Hoc Committee it was indeed surprising. One would think the City Council or the Homeless Ad Hoc Committee would have at least been included in the discussion of what is needed on the coast.
“It is no secret when the coast is mentioned in county business, it generally refers to Fort Bragg. I heard no mention or discussion from the Measure B Committee about the DANCO Project, which includes 20 units of [permanent supportive housing] PSH, on Fort Bragg's South Street. It received three million dollars’ worth of HEAP funds. I am concerned that many Measure B Committee members may not be aware of Fort Bragg's ongoing DANCO project and its emphasis on PSH. Without access to mental health facilities treating the true underlying conditions, PSH will be ineffective in the long term. PSH does not equate to treatment. It provides transitional housing, a place to house not treat, the mentally ill. This is not what the voters intended when they approved Measure B.
“I am guessing that any discussion around purchasing involves an existing hotel or motel. Both of which contribute directly to our already suffering General Fund. It sounds like this was the first time this topic was discussed and I found no direct mention in the agenda. This is reminiscent of the all too familiar situation in Willits, where the Measure B Committee made plans to utilize the old Howard Hospital without talking with the city first. The city then organized and rallied against the idea. I would hope that the committee would have learned from past mistakes and when considering moves that impact Fort Bragg, you would include our city in the discussion before taking action. Working together to understand the needs of all of our communities first is what will lead to positive solutions.
“I am also concerned with the continued distancing from Measure B's original plan and the primary reason the public voted in favor of the measure. As the Measure B pot of money grows, it also becomes attractive to fund otherwise worthy projects outside the original scope of Measure B's intentions. I urge you to stick with the plan we, the voters, put in place. If you continue taking these funds because the big picture has not come to fruition, there will be no big picture. The voters of the county are counting on you to get this right. Please keep your focus on mental health facilities and services and seek other sources for housing. If anyone would like to hear about or discuss the DANCO project, please reach out.”
It came as no surprise then that Council member Norvell would reach out to the supervisors yesterday morning once again. “I have some concern with how the Measure B Committee approved the recommendation of certain funds on two different occasions. The most important issue for me is the process. The Measure B committee meeting talked about putting out a RFP in hopes an organization would take on the project of mental health education. In the middle of the discussion NAMI was mentioned as the likely go-to for this and perhaps just handing it to them would be the easiest and most expedient course to take. County counsel stepped in and recommended not talking about who should get the money, for obvious reasons. This, after the B Chair who is chair of NAMI Mendocino County's Board of Directors spoke on the matter then pulled herself from the discussion.”
Clearly Vice Mayor Norvell had access to Sonya Nesch's notations. He refers to it in the final paragraph of his September 1 letter to the supervisors. “The attached timeline was sent to me and outlines what happened leading up to the July 22 Measure B meeting. Although this is a worthy cause, I feel the process of how it came to you should be noted. Please question the process and ask for accountability on this issue as we move forward.”