Since Democracy is not a spectator sport it was inspirational to attend the recent meeting sponsored by the Anderson Valley Community Action Coalition and moderated by the Anderson Valley Community Services District around community concerns about Blackbird Farm.
Blackbird is located on the remote property formerly known as Highland Ranch. Close neighbors and other who share the roads leading into and out of Blackbird Farm have joined together to voice their concerns over a request to the Mendocino County Planning Department that would allow occupancy of up to 292 people on the property for special events. The permit as written would legally allow this number of people to be on the site 365 days a year although the four Blackbird representatives who attended the meeting stated that the plan would be for around four special events per year. All four representatives are employees of John Hall the owner of the property. None of the attending representatives are key decision makers which seriously limited the value of the conversation the community was seeking to have.
Nevertheless questions were submitted to the panel of four and they answered them as best they could. It is important for the larger Anderson Valley community to know what some of these questions were for many reasons. The primary concern is for the safety of those visiting the Farm (mainly non-local) and the safety of those who could become responsible for the safety of those non-local people in an emergency namely our volunteer Fire and Ambulance crews (all local). Difficult and limited access in the case of an emergency would not only put the visitors at risk but also our local rescue workers. Put bluntly Blackbird has so far shown little interest in participating with or contributing to the local community or economy and yet many in the local community could find themselves called upon to put themselves at substantial risk to help out Blackbird Farm in the case of a fire or a health emergency. There is a fundamental disconnect here and the questions that the community is raising becomes of interest to all of us in the light of that disconnect.
Questions submitted by the community included the following...
Why the figure of 292 as non-academic guests? Would they be spending the night on your property? How many times a month?
What information do you have on available water and sewage on your property?
Under what auspices does Pathways in Education (the non-profit arm of Blackbird Farm) provide high school credits?
How do you account for the fact that we often hear complaints from Internet recruited and imported “intern” staff members as to pay, stress, poor training and supervision?
What makes you think this road and traffic situation is workable? It’s obviously unsafe for your guests as well as the neighbors. Please describe how you envision this project operating by season in terms of occupancy and traffic.
We’re not aware of any locals who support this plan. Do you really want to develop a project that is unanimously opposed by all the neighbors and most of the Valley? Wouldn’t it be a constant source of difficulty?
Why should the community believe your promises?
There were a lot of questions about John Hall. He seems to be greedy, arrogant, easy to lie and lawyer dependent. How might it be possible for us as a community to build a layer of trust with the man and his enterprise? How might we find transparency within the billowing cloud of mixed for profit and non-profit enterprise the Hall family undertakes? Relative to transparency, how do you explain the language in a letter addressed “Dear Philo Resident”. Handed not to neighbors, but to winery tasting rooms, that goes on to state, “Blackbird Farm has been unable to recover its expenses to date. After significant consideration, we concluded that the farm must find an additional revenue stream to continue….”? This in the face of the fact that immediately upon purchasing the property Pathways applied for the current in question use permit for major, mostly for profit expansion?
In a recent documented statement to Planning you show no increase in staffing from what is “existing” now to when you are at full capacity. With all of the fears and remedial protective actions taken to protect our children from themselves and predators within our current school systems how will you guaranty a safe environment when commingling up to 292 general public paying “guests” within the remote school environment?
If you have questions you would like to have answered relating to the proposed Blackbird Farm expansion I urge you to follow up in one of or all three of the following ways; contact Blackbird Farm directly, contact the Mendocino County Planning Department, the Fifth District Planning Commissioner Steve Hall, Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, or write a public letter to the Anderson Valley Advertiser.
A meeting is scheduled at the Planning Department to consider the permit for Blackbird Farm for mid December and your attendance as a member of the concerned public is encouraged. Contact the Planning Department for date, time and place.