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Coast Hotel: What’s the Plan?

I feel like Michael Corleone in The Godfather (Part III): “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

For me, it's not the mob, but the Coast Hotel issue. The setting isn't New York or Vegas, but the February meeting of Mendocino County's Mental Health Board. The subject of the Coast Hotel at 101 N. Franklin Street in Fort Bragg becoming a centralized location for mental health services was on the agenda. Anna Shaw, the director of the Hospitality Center, the subcontractor for adult mental health services on the Mendocino Coast, gave a brief presentation to the MH Board about the specific services that will be provided at the Coast Hotel site, a property obtained by the Hospitality Center with the assistance of a City of Fort Bragg million dollar (plus) Community Development Block Grant.

Ms. Shaw was asked if escrow had closed on the deal with Coast Hotel owners, Tom Carine and Nina Atraz, but Shaw dodged the question and didn't give an answer. A couple of minutes later a MH Board member from the Ukiah area asked, “Has escrow opened?”

Ms. Shaw declined to respond again. Queried as to when the Coast Hotel site would be fully operational as a one-stop shop for mental health services, Ms. Shaw hesitated to venture a guess. When pressed she responded, “In November.”

That answer seems a bit odd, considering that members of the Carine family were reportedly moving things out of the Coast Hotel during President's Day weekend. Perhaps Ms. Shaw was just being overly conservative.

The one member of the MH Board who is familiar with daily goings-on in Fort Bragg was absent from the February meeting (Feb. 18th), so remaining board members were left to offer platitude congratulations to Anna Shaw for a job well done in acquiring the 101 N. Franklin Street property. A couple of the MH Board members noted what they called NIMBY (Not-in-my-backyard) opposition to locating a mental health services operation in the Coast Hotel, but these Board members also expressed the belief that opposition had died down.

Wow! Talk about being as unaware as Fredo getting into a fishing boat on Lake Tahoe. Almost any casual observer of the internet can tell you that there is a group in Fort Bragg trying to get a recall petition going to oust the three city councilmen who voted for approval of the community development block grant (CDBG) that would fund purchase of the Coast Hotel.

Some of the lingering yet fervent opposition to the Coast Hotel becoming a site for mental health services is simply ignorance and fear based, but there are two other distinct groups who are still in opposition, some just grumbling, others contacting state officials about their dismay. One of these groups could be said to be fear based mixed with a simple desire to see the Coast Hotel remain either a restaurant/bar or hotel, keeping in mind it has been neither for seven to eight years (a bar — more than a decade since it was a full service restaurant) and has sat vacant for a significant number of years. The most legitimate opposition comes from downtown merchants and here's where things get a bit complicated. Neighboring business owners would like to see a vibrant business at the Coast Hotel site for the obvious reason that a thriving hotel/restaurant/or bar would encourage more tourist and local business traffic to all the neighborhood businesses (principally north and south on Franklin St.).

Back to Fredo and the fishing boat. When dozens of Fort Bragg residents turned up at recent City Council meetings to voice vehement disapproval of the Coast Hotel becoming a mental health services center, Anna Shaw and a smattering of Hospitality Center Board members appeared to be nearly in a state of shock at the litany of opposition.

In fairness, much of this verbal disapproval failed to rise above the ignorant, mean-spirited level, but here and there were the voices of some of those neighboring business owners. Merchants who had been given no prior notice about the Coast Hotel project beyond the slimmest of public notice, which amounted to the fact that a public hearing in March, 2014, for another site qualified as legal public notice, meaning no City authored written notice of the Coast Hotel/Hospitality Center deal appeared in Fort Bragg's newspaper, no one from Fort Bragg city government familiar with the process contacted any of the neighboring Franklin St. businesses or residents, no one from the Hospitality Center (employees or board members) bothered to inform their potential new neighbors.

The issue paramount in the minds of the neighboring business owners is essentially separate from turning the Coast Hotel into a centralized mental health services facility. That issue is the ever present literal trashing of the property of the businesses from Purity to the Floor Store to the Credit Union to Down Home Foods and southward on Franklin Street to Starbucks and Safeway. The trashing by and large is done by troublesome homeless people who are often fed at the Hospitality Center's Hospitality House of an evening then go on their merry way depositing everything from paper dinner plates to excrement on any given property up and down Franklin St. and elsewhere in the greater downtown Fort Bragg area.

Here's where the Hospitality Center remains as clueless as Fredo Corleone. As recently as a day after the County Mental Health Board meeting, members of Hospitality House's Board were professing ignorance about the trashing of downtown Fort Bragg. Some of these Board members (not all) have attended civic meetings where the trashing of Franklin and Main Sts. has been discussed. To feign ignorance of the issue at the end of February is disingenuous at best.

The programs and services that could be offered at a centralized mental health facility at the Coast Hotel are worthy ones aimed at improving the lives of the mentally ill and homeless, but there is a large caveat. Those seeking help for their mental illness issues or to get out of homelessness are not going to be a problem unless the employees of the Hospitality Center allow the centralized services locale to become a magnet for the problematic homeless who are not likely to seek or accept help. I would like to think this wouldn't happen, I am all in favor of ever expanding assistance to the homeless and mentally ill, but if those who are tasked with managing the dispensing of those services cannot even manage to be aware of the longstanding problems of the uglier side of homelessness, I am not sure this new mental health services center can be managed successfully. Seeing the names of Hospitality Center's Board members listed in print, I recognize them to be fine people, but frankly I'm concerned that they are “do-gooders” in over their heads. In print they have asked the public to take “a leap of faith” with them regarding the Coast Hotel project. If I owned a business on Franklin Street I'd take a “show me” attitude before accepting the offer to leap.

If I owned a business in downtown Fort Bragg, I'd want a demonstrable guarantee from Hospitality Center, or their privatized mental health care contract partner Ortner Management Group, that they the mental health care providers have a realistic plan for monitoring and/or treating the chronically mentally ill: A plan that goes beyond the Fort Bragg PD being the first responders for the problematic mentally ill because the current system of having these troublesome dual diagnosis (drug or alcohol abuse combined with mental illness) homeless being shipped off to the county jail for a couple of days then coming right back to the streets of Fort Bragg to get in trouble again, that plan ain't working. Hospitality Center and/or Ortner Management Group (OMG) has to commit to changing the current practice of denying mental health services to the chronically homeless on the grounds that if a person is on drugs or booze they lose their status as a mental health client.

Mark Montgomery
Mark Montgomery

Anyone denying that this is the current and accepted practice needs to go to the Mendocino TV website where you can watch and listen to the words of Ortner's main man in Mendocino County, Mark Montgomery (keep in mind that Ortner has never provided countywide adult mental health care services anywhere before it obtained the contract to do so in Mendocino County in the summer of 2013). At the January 26th City Council meeting Councilman Lindy Peters described the merry-go-round process of dual diagnosis mentally ill being shipped to the county jail periodically only to return forthwith to Fort Bragg. Ortner's top guy in our county, Montgomery, said that if a troublesome homeless person is taken by law enforcement, under a 5150 hold (involuntary psychiatric detention) to the ER, but hasn't been technically arrested and if that person (here's where Montgomery's quotable words start) "tests dirty for alcohol and drugs, then that no longer becomes, believe it or not, a mental health issue, it becomes a substance abuse issue."

As I wrote nearly a month ago, that sort of gobbledegook Catch-22 answer is unacceptable, especially in light of the current situation in Fort Bragg. OMG is paid $6.7 million in taxpayer money per year to provide mental health care to Mendocino County residents twenty-five and older. Until Ortner or their subcontractor (Hospitality Center) provide a tangible solution in respect to long term mental health care for the chronically homeless on the streets of Fort Bragg it is not truly reasonable to expect that subcontractor, one whose board is out of touch with reality on the streets, to succeed in establishing mental health services at the Coast Hotel site.

I realize that I have wavered on the Coast hotel issue nearly as much as Michael Corleone did before coming down hard. I don't won't to come down too hard on the Coast Hotel project, but I can't place my faith in an organization like Hospitality Center until they clearly demonstrate that they are in touch with the reality on the streets for a significant portion of Fort Bragg's homeless. Hospitality Center must demonstrate they have a workable plan for the least amongst the homeless and mentally ill, otherwise they can't expect their neighbors to take any sort of leap of faith let alone get fully on board.

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