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Fort Bragg Planners Opt For…

The Fort Bragg Planning Commission found out who they really work for last week. (Spoiler Alert: It ain’t you.)

The Fort Bragg Planning Commission met Wednesday night to give the ax to the last remaining structure on the Mill site. Unless the matter is appealed in 10 days the last structure on the mill site, the 75,000 square foot dry-shed #4 is coming down.

Community participation was hot for the normally sparsely attended Planning Commission meeting. It included a surprise appearance by Mike Hart, CEO of the Skunk Train. Robert Pinole the operating officer of the railroad was there to provide emphasis. They begged and they pleaded with the dazed, disconnected Planning Commission. They brought checkable statements and reasoned arguments. No dice, The Commission already had their minds made up when they walked in the door. Marie Jones, Fort Bragg Development Director, was there as choir director to give the poor Planning Commission any information or instruction from the Koch Brothers that they might have missed. Her statements were crudely inaccurate and distorted, but her humble loyalty to the Koch Brothers and her unwavering contempt for the city that employs her, were expressed perfectly.

Mike Hart told the Planning Commission that the Skunk Train infrastructure was falling apart and that a good wind would blow down the principle building they use for rail car maintenance. One look confirmed his estimate. The dry-sheds were less an option than a necessity for the decomposing railroad. The Skunk infrastructure looks like a bad dream. Everything is rusting away, the CEO informed us. The Marine Environment is devastating to old industrial equipment. According to Hart, the railroad was already in and had been in contact with an all-cash offer for GP, but some profound mystery regarding the city, was mysteriously holding up the deal. He claimed to have no idea what that might be. Public comment illuminated the mystery, but the stolid, amateur, out-of-their-depth and deeply frightened Planning Commission was not paying enough attention to public comment to understand anything that was said to them.

Actually it is not that much of a mystery. As the AVA recently reported the Mayor has received a flat statement from the GP corporation that they had done as much cleanup of the mill site as they intended to do. The dioxins in the millpond are not their fault and they are definitely not going to do anything else. Desperate secret negotiations between the Fort Bragg city staff and the DTSC (California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control) has generated 68 formal questions from the council about the intentions of the department. DTSC is working on it. While the council talks to the state agency, pressure on the City Council from the $800 billion financial giant intensifies. Any concession to Fort Bragg public sentiment was nowhere on the GP map.

First things first. There could be no progress or even discussion of the mill site until the city sucks it up and accepts potentially deadly toxicity as reasonable under the circumstances.

Until the city caves, Mike Hart’s plans for the dry-shed are road kill.

Marie Jones walked the Planning Commission through the GP talking points and kept the ball rolling. The whole meeting was crudely brief. There wasn’t much new information presented but even simple questions were treated as incidental and irrelevant.

Wednesday night the unelected planning commission used their office to circumvent public interest, pander to the Koch Brothers and make it clear that they took their marching orders from the Development Director. Marie Jones thanked them for the difficulty of their high office like a girl scout leader commending her troupe.

Sixty-six thousand people ride the Skunk every year. On average the Skunk Train visitors to the city spend 2.5 nights and $600 bucks in our little town. The bumbling, ineffective enterprise to promote Fort Bragg taken to its most optimistic extreme, does not touch the importance of those numbers for our dying city.

The Planning Commission did not care, and was not very polite about it. They made the point that there had been plenty of discussion about the dry-sheds before this. Five meetings on the dry-shed were more than enough for any one issue. Most of those were red herrings, contrived by Jones to muddy the water with a spurious historical designation that really has no bearing on any aspect of the decision to tear the building down. That none of the Planning Commission contributed anything to that discussion, understood it, or cared was the substance of their brief, largely incoherent, remarks.

Marie Jones stood like a lighthouse of information beaming certainty over the dimly lit coastal shoals. The lost and inept Planning Commission did nothing, asked nothing, thought nothing, and said nothing she did not approve of. They must have gone home and hid their heads under the pillow.

As the audience watched, stunned at the grotesque abdication of responsibility, they shouted questions. Outrage. Mr. Hammon squared right off and declared that the hearing was completed, damn-it. Jacob Paterson remarked to them that they could quite properly take questions and ask them of the audience. This was a stunner and an unprecedented innovation if it is true. Commissioner Mark Hannon has pretended that he could shut down the discussion at will and loves to sneer at the audience out of the excess of his malignancy. Now we know he is and always has been full of beans on one crucial point of public process.

As I sat in the audience and watched the Planning Commission get railroaded, I wondered what we are thinking letting these rank uninformed, disengaged, amateurs decide the future of our city. And they are deciding it. Abandonment of the public interest Wednesday night was as casual for these folks as slurping an ice cream cone. The sneering anti-community arrogance of Mark Hannon is no surprise. Mr. Hannon delights in high handed arrogance. It is very much his trademark. No one has any reason to expect anything else. Mr. Hannon is a public embarrassment to the city and a direct contributor to the deep public disapproval of Dave Turner who for some incalculable reason appointed him. Nancy Swithenbank, Curtis Bruchler, and Stan Miklose were appointed by supposed City Council reformers. Alas, they were always way out of their depth. They find the job exceedingly confusing and were simply unable to parse the complexities of having a public dialogue, forget about making a real decision. In the void of incomprehension and irresponsibility the Development Director ran the ball for the Kochs. Business as usual.

The community has ten days to appeal the decision, I would be very surprised if that does not happen.

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