I remember with nostalgia the days when the city council meetings were unattended. If you were the only person at a meeting, or there with a few other people, you had opportunity to objectively weigh the reason for being there against the inevitable boredom and discouragement . You can damn bet the city council shares my nostalgia, but for different reasons. Those were the days.
The present news in Fort Bragg is that there is pretty good reason to think that Scott Dietz and Doug Hammerstrom will just not be running for city council in 2016. I guess public ridicule has been pretty trying for them. I am basing my guess that they will not run on the odd fact that they have decided not to certify the ballot initiative that the people of the city submitted to the city council.
This is the initiative that would put on the ballot the future of the Old Coast Hotel. The struggle for the Hotel has become a symbol of resistance to the political power structure that sets the agenda in the city of Fort Bragg. The Initiative would have had the future of the Hotel decided by voters at the ballot box. The promoters of the Initiative got more than the required number of signatures by 25%. But like the little surprises that one gets at DMV, or with any government system really, that same number of signers thought themselves to be registered to vote and because of some technicality or issue were not. The Initiative had exactly enough votes to be certified. Minus one quarter of a point. Don't ask me.
But in such a case a ballot initiative can be accepted by the city council anyway. As this one clearly should be. By California law it is a judgment call, their call. Lindy and Mike, the new councilmen who were elected on the wave of popular dissent last year, are desperately trying to talk their colleagues into just accepting the Initiative and sending it to the voters, as morally they should and ethically they must. But no, Scott and Doug decline to be ethical. It is within their power to deny the people the election they are demanding and have petitioned the government for, and they are denying it. No sweat, the people can insist and call a special election, which obviously they are going to do.
This ballot initiative is very popular even as the gutting of the hotel is very unpopular. So Scott and Doug are going to advocate on the losing side against an initiative that wins at a special election, and then run themselves a few months later for city council having first fudged on the election, then lost the initiative. All this in the cause of a special interest agenda that the people hate.
I think that the decision to commit this kind of political suicide is the act of martyrs preparing to hand off the torch to their selected replacement, Heidi Kraut. Who, you have to hand it to her, although a public mute on every issue, is deeply and blindly obedient to her superiors in the incumbency. A wise move for city hall but tough on poor Scott Dietz.
This ballot initiative is the latest effort in what has become a battle by the people of Fort Bragg to stop the destruction of a historic landmark. Like other battles in other cities, people here have stood up to save a historic building with whom they feel an emotional connection. All admit on both sides of the debate that the Old Coast Hotel is the most beautiful building in the central business area. At one point in history, the then-city council lent the owners of the hotel $190,000 to doll it up in a kind of oh-heck gesture of genuine understanding for it as an architectural gem. Them days are gone. Now the new guys have decided to gut it.
For the people of the city, besides just being beautiful, the Old Coast is a symbol of a more prosperous and self-sustaining Fort Bragg. It has an excellent light and airy bar, and the structure for a fine restaurant. The old building itself is a superb example the fine artisanship of the Italian immigrants to Fort Bragg who wrought in western carpentry a 19th century elegance and transplanted into the great western woods. The formal gardens were very beautiful. The fineness of these things expressed our civic independence, success and pride.
The new owners were given about a million dollars by the city to buy it. They put not one penny of their own money into it. Hey, no surprise there, of course they could not actually buy it themselves because they don't actually make or have money; they use our money to do their important work.
But once they got the money they were very dogged. They like this nice building. The city exploded in protests, but the professional dispensers of human kindness remained persistently inscrutable. They did have a few meetings with their own ilk, decrying the insensitivity and boorishness of our provincial city that does not understand the pressing need for their humanitarian kindness. But other than meeting with their own industry, throughout the controversy, lo this half year, they have not responded to the controversy. Having got their free money they retain their dignity. It is the only way when somebody gives you a million.
The city is not so quiescent. Having been the one to dump the million in this last deal as the latest payment on about four million so far to their pet agency, they have been animated to the point of acute distress that the people of the city might interrupt their plans. The basic unpopularity of a plan to destroy a fine thing, to make way for a very bad one, has kept things boiling at city hall. If the people prevail in protecting their city and its landmarks then the city management would have to account for a million dollars floated into a legal limbo, and would be left with a building that they thought they were giving away and cannot use. This likely outcome resulted in a lot of distress on the part of city management and the city council and their consultants and lawyers and advisers, in recent days. Publicly, city management has been calm but crazily inconsistent, putting into the city minutes contradictions and misrepresentations so outrageous as to have occasioned a grand jury complaint.
Of course the people know none of this. Except for the excellent AVA Fort Bragg has no Media. But behind the scenes hysteria has been evident. In downtown Fort Bragg volatile emails and high pressure meetings have been occurring. Sufficient pressure has been brought on Scott Dietz and Doug Hammerstrom to induce them to effectively throw their political careers out the window. You can bet the heat is up. However, for the incumbency this human sacrifice of deadwood on the city council will work great, and Heidi Kraut has already been selected to be elected for her comparative political virginity and unwavering obedience to the machine.