The Fort Bragg City Council held a follow-up to their February 21, 2015 goal setting retreat on the last Monday afternoon in March. In February only three members of the public showed up to watch even a part of this process. This time a dozen citizens filled the first half hour or more with public comment. Anyone who bothered to read as far as Page Six in the minutes of that February get-together could see that allowing for more public input at the beginning of meetings was one of the goals set forth in February.
Many of the local citizens who commented left before the first hour was up, but a handful stuck it out for hour after hour of City Council and department head interchange with facilitator Sue Hahn. The notes for the February 21st meeting show that Fort Bragg's city government is starting to get it. One of the holdover councilmen even said that the City Council and its citizenry had fallen into a pattern. Until about a year ago less than a handful of citizens regularly attended city council meetings in Fort Bragg, far fewer were ever at committee meetings, thus there was virtually no citizen input to generate agenda items at the committee level. Staff reports were usually confined to city-generated projects like grant proposals. Those items were rarely noticed by the public until they were at the full council meetings, if then.
In March of 2014 the City of Fort Bragg and its staffers had the temerity to approve a Community Development Block Grant to locate a mental health access and care treatment center, along with five transitional housing units, at 300 North Harrison Street. Many neighbors organized themselves to oppose such an effrontery — some seemingly unaware that a transitional housing facility for the previously homeless already existed on the same block.
Take that reactionary issue and throw in the resignation of Police Chief Scott Mayberry at an early August City Council meeting where the Chief's wife purposefully turned her back on the City Council and staff department heads while egging on something just shy of a mob and you've got trouble my friends; trouble right here in River City. Only it ain't some Indiana town in the early 1900s. It's a small town on the Mendocino Coast that isn't as quaint or artsy as its neighbor to the south, therefore economic times are hard, perhaps getting harder before they ever get better. Add in the new locale for those transitional housing units and centralized mental health services at the apparently venerated Old Coast Hotel site on the corner of Oak and Franklin Sts. and it would seem you've added manure to the trouble.
Let's pause for a reality check. First, two new members, Lindy Peters and Mike Cimolino, were elected to the city council, taking office in early December, just after the old council acquiesced to public opinion (primarily Main St. business owners) and refused grant funding for a reconfiguration of Main Street's traffic lanes. At the same meeting in which the new councilmen took office, former chief Mayberry addressed the City Council. His very closest admirers may think that Mayberry's December talk somehow added to the woes of the holdover council members, but the truth of the matter about Mayberry is this: To protect his own image and ego the former chief conducted bogus investigations, falsely accused at least one long time FBPD officer of leaking an official report, and withheld facts from the public about an officer in question. In the classic American way, a month after resigning from the FBPD Chief's position, Mayberry was hired as an investigator by Mendocino County's District Attorney's office. The good citizens of Fort Bragg ought to be expending a little more energy requesting an inquiry about this episode of good old boy insider tricks and less obsessing over snippets of conversation from their council members, city manager, planning commissioners, or staff.
Another reality check: Fort Bragg recently selected a new police chief. Lt. John Naulty, who grew up in Fort Bragg, was among those interviewed for the job by a panel of local citizens and another panel of city management and law enforcement folk. According to fairly reliable information regarding the interview panels, Lt. Naulty received the lowest scores of those interviewed. Keep in mind panels can be configured so as to reflect a particular mindset going into the process. This writer is not implying that the process was rigged, simply that results can be skewed by the questions and/or by the people asking them, thus potentially favoring one type of candidate over another.
Another reality check: The new city council has had only one split vote in its first four months on the job. That one split, 3-1 in favor of the CDBG proposal for locating mental health services and five transitional housing units at the Old Coast Hotel has fanned the flames of discontent among those who enjoy fanning flames. In other words, some people get a kick out of champagne, others love to see local government and its citizenry acting like soap opera, or sleazy reality show, figures (full disclosure: newspapers sell more when folks get up in arms). It's wise to have one's skeptical antennae on the alert for small factions in and around Fort Bragg, who think they have something to gain by fanning the flames of issues that they otherwise would have little or no interest in.
The last issue that came to a vote before the Fort Bragg City Council was the Hare Creek shopping center. That unanimous vote should tell the public more about where the current configuration of councilmen is headed. For the most part it is clear that they are not dwelling on the past, but looking and moving forward.
It's now clear that Councilman, and Vice-Mayor, Lindy Peter's request/plea for citizens to reconsider recall efforts and wait for the next city council election in 2016 came as a result of the February goal setting retreat. Besides Councilman Peters saying more or less as much at the March 30th meeting in the police department conference room, the Feb. 21st minutes reflect several council member points of agreement: 1. Mutual respect — collectively celebrate successes, 2. Work for consensus — use all input to make a motion that takes into account all council member perspectives, 3. Respect / support majority vote by not criticizing the decision in public and by not serving as a barrier to implementation, 4. Privately clear the air and express negative feelings to support working relationships, 5. Don’t speak for others and reference other people’s testimony or input in the public expression.
The biggest chunk of time during the March 30th meeting was consumed with council members and staff working together on possible strategies aimed at the eventual development of the former G.P. Mill site. The key word in that sentence was “together.” Not that everyone has consumed the same Kool-Aid, but this witness saw and heard similar and divergent views expressed in breakout sessions that never approached rancor of any kind. Linda Ruffing and new Councilman Mike Cimolino spent 10-15 minutes exchanging ideas concerning the future of the mill site with nary a cross word.
The next apparent step regarding the mill site is to gain a permanent easement for public access at Cypress Street. Dealing with Georgia-Pacific is a touchy issue; therefore, don't look for public access from downtown at Redwood, Oak or Alder Streets until the Cypress St. negotiation is completed.
For citizens who cry out in wonder something akin to, "Why hasn't there been any development that equals jobs on the mill site? It's been a dozen years now." The answer to that is multifaceted. First, toxic clean-up has to be certifiably complete before anything more can be developed, including offshoots from the Coastal Trail. Secondly, and a huge secondary balloon, is water. Readers may remember that using up even 1% of the local water supply was an issue of some contention regarding the proposed Hare Creek shopping center. Taking into account Governor Brown's recent call for a 25% reduction in water usage, the City of Fort Bragg is going to have to wait until the Summers Lane Reservoir is constructed in a couple of years and hopefully negotiate Georgia-Pacific out of the rights to the Pudding Creek Dam water. Look for the first water reliant development on the mill site to be on the eastern side of the G-P property where infrastructure services, including water, can most easily be hooked up to already existing systems.
In the meantime, even though the Old Coast Hotel issue is still pending (it has been pushed back beyond the April 13th City Council agenda) don't expect these Fort Bragg council members to go at it hammer and tongs. Also in the meantime, for those who weren't at the March 30th City Council six hour marathon, check out the minutes of that meeting to make yourself a more informed citizen.
One further side note: Fort Bragg's Assistant City Manager, Ginny Feth-Michel, will be leaving her post in June. The position is now being advertised as "Administrative Services Director" at a monthly salary ranging between $7,221 and $8,777 ($86k-$105k per year) plus benefits.