A Tale of Two Meetings

As reported bright and early Wednesday morning by Mark Scaramella, on Tuesday, September 22 (and in this week’s Supervisors report), the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved the expenditure of approximately $10.6 million of Project Homekey funds for the purchase of the Best Western Motel on Orchard Street in Ukiah. Homekey is the followup to Project Roomkey, both intended to assist Californians at risk of or experiencing homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scaramella's piece cited Health & Human Services' Megan Van Sant's statement that the Best Western would “not [serve as] a homeless shelter... It is not free housing. Residents are expected to pay 30% of their income for rent. It will not solve the homeless problem.” Van Sant's assessment was that the motel would become a residence for veterans, families with children, seniors, mentally ill, people fleeing domestic violence, people with difficult medical issues, and people under the care of adult protective services to be the primary residents.”

Scaramella noted the proximity between the Best Western and the offices of Redwood Community Services (RCS). Having been on site on Wednesday, I can tell you the two buildings are scarcely more than a safe social distance apart. 

Nevertheless, Camille Schraeder, the public face of RCS in most minds, responded to a communication on September 23 that implied that many people will assume RCS will profit from the Best Western location and the Homekey project. “Yes, people will think that… and it has ZERO [Schraeder's emphasis] to do with us [RCS] and in my opinion won't address the complicated issues for our sheltered homeless who have been chronically homeless… It is a great resource to keep families, veterans, and medically vulnerable homeless people from homelessness or to keep them from becoming chronically homeless… but it is absolutely NOT an RCS [again, Schraeder's emphasis] an RCS prime.”

Schraeder added, “[This project] had pretty much nothing to do with RCS… these people won't need the kind of help RCS is necessary for.”

Schraeder sent the following email to at least one of, if not all, the county's supervisors. “On behalf of the vulnerable populations in Mendocino County I want to thank this board for your vetting and approval for the County to purchase the Best Western Hotel for transitional and permanent housing for families, seniors and medically fragile people experiencing homelessness.

“While this resource won’t be appropriate for our most disorganized and recalcitrant homeless individuals it will be an amazing resource for those ready to manage and thrive in this housing complex.

“With the counties [sic] plan for vouchers and multiple agency sponsorship to sustain and vet those placed in this complex, it assures wide access and comprehensive support.”

As Scaramella's article pointed out, there have already been neighborhood complaints that the short-noticed project will bring an undesirable element to the locale. This Orchard Street area is an interesting mix. The west side of Orchard, between Perkins and Gobbi Streets, still has many traditional residences. The east side of Orchard is mostly a mix of businesses and offices along with a couple of motels and places to eat. The aforementioned Redwood Community Services has its office right next door. A short block away, the AAA has had an office for a number of years. At the east end of the same cul-de-sac, can be found the Ukiah VA Clinic. 

The potential for problems from vagrancy on down the negative civic line may have prompted this comment from Fort Bragg's Vice-Mayor, Bernie Norvell, “Regarding the hurried purchase and spending in Ukiah. This all played out in Fort Bragg the same way about five years ago. Hurrying to spend the money and limiting public input. 101 N. Franklin St. or Hospitality Center [HC]. Not one person that was involved or voted for this is still with the city, council or staff. HC is still there and most of the issues the public tried to warn us about are happening. I hope for Ukiah’s sake they do better than Fort Bragg.”

Just as Fort Bragg's city government is saddled with the Hospitality Center in its central business district, the city is also tied to the Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District (MCRPD) through the municipality's financial bailout of the C.V. Starr Center with a site specific sales tax. See AVA articles from August 12, 19, and 26 for major details about California State Parks cutting off all grant funding to MCRPD. 

At the center of the grant funding controversy were MCRPD Board member John Huff and his wife, Sarah Bradley Huff. Apparently no one on the Rec &Park Board recognized the potential for conflicts of interest with one spouse on the board and the other procuring grants for the district until this spring when State Parks designated the two newest members of the board, Barbara Burkey and Leslie Bates, as “untainted” by the board's past actions. At the same time State Parks called for the resignations of three board members (John Huff, Kirk Marshall, and Bob Bushansky), carry overs from the time of the alleged conflicts.

At MCRPD's September 16 board meeting, a staffer announced that Sarah Bradley Huff had come into the district office the previous Friday to announce that she was quitting. “Quitting” seems an odd choice of words since Mrs. Huff purportedly volunteered all of her time. Her husband resigned from the board in July then a few days later said he was running for one of the vacant seats in the November election. There are multiple other candidates vying for two open seats. An online MCRPD candidate forum will take place October 6 at 7pm. It will be intriguing to see how Mr. Huff responds to questioning or if he shows up at all.

The major entertainment at the September 16th MCRPD meeting was board member Bob Bushansky playing a recording he'd made as part of the most recent meeting of the Regional Park subcommittee, which he sits on with Kirk Marshall. Essentially the recording was Bushansky's way of saying 'I didn't know anything until it was too late.'

One wonders whether Bushansky is aware that such a maneuver comes across in Nixonian terms: Either you did know what was going on regarding the alleged conflicts of interest involving Mrs. Huff and should be held to account for it, or your inability to recognize fairly obvious red flags and failure to ask hard questions at the time demonstrates an individual not intellectually fit to sit on such a board.

Nevertheless, Bushansky's verbal narrative, much of which has already been covered in those August AVA articles, did include the information that Sarah Bradley Huff was deposed by the state regarding the issues at hand. Bushansky's recording revealed that MCRPD Board member Kirk Marshall drove with Mrs. Huff to Sacramento on the day of the deposition for reasons not nearly defined enough. Bushansky asserts he was kept in the dark about the state deposing Sarah Bradley Huff until former MCRPD executive director Dan Keyes finally came clean about the matter. Keyes supposedly added that he had been asked to keep quiet about the deposition. The dates and times of these events were conveniently avoided by Mr. Bushansky.

Preceding, during, or after Bushansky's narrative, Kirk Marshall uttered not a word. Apparently, he is content to sit out the last few months of his term of office in as much silence as is possible without lending any clarity to the matter for his fellow board members or the public. Bushansky's term runs for another two years and to date he has shown no inclination to follow State Parks expressed wish that he resign.

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