On a fog drenched Monday night, in a nearly five hour meeting, the Fort Bragg City Council approved a forgivable loan agreement with the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center to use funds ($1,162,791) from a community development block grant (CDBG) to acquire and rehabilitate the Old Coast Hotel at 101 Franklin N. Street as a centralized mental health services facility and as the site for five to ten transitional housing beds. The vote was 3-1 in favor, the same tally as at the January 12, 2015 meeting when the matter was first brought before the council and the public. Much of the public outcry at the January council meeting centered around very short notice of the project to the public. Technically the January public hearing wasn't required because the Old Coast Hotel site was piggybacking on a similar CDBG project for 300 N. Harrison that fell apart in the spring of 2014. That explanation from Fort Bragg's new City Attorney Samantha Zutler didn't hold water with much of the populace who only gained knowledge of the project shifting to the historic Old Coast Hotel through local newspapers four days in advance of the Jan. 12th meeting.
The three to one vote on April 27th included the same players: Mayor Dave Turner and Councilmen Doug Hammerstrom and Scott Deitz voting “Aye” while Vice Mayor Lindy Peters voted a vociferous “No.”
More than four hours of the council meeting was taken up by the Old Coast Hotel issue this April evening. Nearly forty public comments occupied the bulk of the time, with almost every speaker taking up all of their allotted three minutes. Those opposed cited more than 300 letters written to the city council in opposition to the City adopting the CDBG grant. Jay Rosenquist and Judy Valadao also cited three separate petitions of business owners, Fort Bragg citizens, and Mendocino Coast residents outside the city limits who work and/or shop in the city. In all, these three petitions claim more than 1,400 signatories in opposition to the Old Coast Hotel as a mental health services center and transitional housing provider. Many of these opponents to the project spoke to the inappropriateness of locating such a facility within the central business district. Councilmen Peters based his “No” vote primarily on a similar theme, citing the General Plan and the 2012 Inland General Plan. Specifically Peters drew attention to the 2012 Inland General Plan Policy LU-3.1 which states in part, “Retain and enhance the small-scale, pedestrian-friendly, and historic character of the Central Business District.”
Peters also quoted Policy LU-3.2, which provides for mixed use development in the “Central Business District that does not conflict with the primary retail function of this area.” The Councilman's point being that this project is obviously not a retail venture in the historic sense of the area where the Old Coast Hotel is located.
In contrast to Peters' well reasoned opinions too many of the public speakers in opposition to the Old Coast Hotel project displayed fear mongering tactics that would have been tasteless beside the Tallahatchie Bridge in 1955 let alone on the Mendocino Coast sixty years on. Less-than-enlightened characters like Kevin Scanlon stated that he'd be afraid to let his daughters or granddaughters anywhere near the Old Coast Hotel if mental health services and transitional housing for the homeless is provided there. On a more enlightened note, Scanlon, who is a general contractor, stated that he worked on the painting of the Coast Hotel in the late 90s and claimed that much of said paint was lead-based.
Rod Jones, the attorney for the group Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg, like many in opposition to the Old Coast Hotel wants to have it both ways. Jones said that he couldn't find documentation that expressed the extent of homelessness in Fort Bragg. This came right after Jones himself pointed out the general problems of the homeless and the mentally ill. Presumably he garnered some of this observation right here on the Mendocino Coast. Members of the group Jones represents revel in pointing out how many police calls are the result of actions of the homeless or are in the vicinity of Hospitality House, the original branch of the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) that feeds the homeless. This circular demonizing doesn't add up. You can't insist that the homeless are a problem then turn around and say that there's insufficient evidence to show that there's a homeless problem!
Attorney Jones did bring up another more viable point: that the Coast Hotel facility allows far more space for offices than it does for transitional housing. Bingo! Even Mr. Scanlon, while keeping his females a safe distance from the new Coast Hotel, could figure that one: the first step solution for most homeless folks is a freakin' home. The proponents of the CDBG going to MCHC at the Old Coast Hotel have argued, and will continue to argue, that the Old Coast Hotel is just a first step in getting somewhere near enough housing for the homeless.
This ain't an easy issue. Councilman Peters is right that the project doesn't adhere to the General Plan policies regarding the Central Business District. Of course, a facility of this nature is far overdue, but the Hospitality Center with its ties, as a subcontractor, to the privatization of mental health services in this county is an iffy proposition. One speaker who supports the Old Coast Hotel project as a first step in helping the needy also said, “We have to work together to end the privatization for profit of mental health services.”
Therein lies the inherent dichotomy. There are multiple owners of businesses near 101 N. Franklin Street in Fort Bragg who are both working with Hospitality Center board members and are signatories of the Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg letters in opposition to the Old Coast Hotel as a mental health facility site and home to transitional housing units. If readers want evidence of which side these business owners are truly on, consider that not a single business owner located between the Purity store and Safeway spoke in favor of the CDBG project at the April 27th Fort Bragg City Council meeting.
Despite the cogent questions raised by Councilman Peters, Attorney Jones, and even contractor Scanlon, one can't escape the internet comments of some of the opponents to the Old Coast Hotel project and in particular their “barbs” directed at one of the councilmen who supported the project.
Not long after the city council meeting concluded one Reedy Apodaca started the online “conversation”: “Everyone knows that Hammerstrom is not playing with a full deck or maybe he is in the beginning stages of Alzheimers.”
Joe Wagner: “hahaha i mentioned outside i thought he was getting senial or whatever.....”
Jay Rosenquist: “I was just thinking the same thing.”
Reedy Apodaca: “something is not right with the guy. He is a weirdo!”
Reedy Apodaca: “Oh, did I forget to mention the guy is full of sh*t.” (The actual online comment didn't bother with any asterisks.)
Judy Valadao: “You didn't mention he was full of sh*t (no asterisk in the original), perhaps you should do that now... again.”
Some of these individuals fancy themselves spokespersons for the faithful opposition in Fort Bragg. What they sound like is ample proof that the need for mental health services in Fort Bragg is far greater than even the board members of the Hospitality Center might have imagined.