Highway One north to Fort Bragg was maxed out Monday at 8:00am in one interminable line of hell-bent traffic while peaceful fog rolled over the city. The commuter stream, heavy pickups predominating, whipped past the turnaround without mercy. The combatants were charging the week.
Down at City Hall factions were in hurried realignment. Mayor Lindy Peters was back, resiliently limping into the limelight after his knee surgery. Over the weekend social media was gaping and wowing over Peters' rogue intervention with the Coastal Commission. The mayor had bucked a Council majority and thrown the Fort Bragg Development Director under the city bus, aggressively undercutting Jones in an ex parte (completely unofficial) mayoral intervention by backing Gabriel Quinn Maroney's last-ditch appeal to save Fort Bragg’s largest building, dry shed #4 on the old Georgia-Pacific mill site.
Out in the electorate factions of opposition to the Development Director’s one-girl agenda were popping like corn. The mill ponds, the Hare Creek big box, and the dry shed demolition project had burst like bombs lobbed by one powerful city official. The Mayor’s Monday morning meeting would be streaming into a city roiled with stunning revelations and fierce contention. The Council was meeting at 6:00 that evening. On a foggy Monday morning, the future of Fort Bragg was up for grabs.
All winter the political narrative has been sliding sidewise at an accelerating pace as alarming disclosure of behind the scenes Development Department manipulation followed alarming disclosures of Development Department manipulation. Marie Jones was conducting the orchestra, while the city council obediently played second fiddle. Of course, no one was rude enough to notice.
For public consumption, the Fort Bragg City Council has been concentrating fixedly on the new City Manager’s instant success story. It is a real story. Briefly told, it comes down to the new professional competence they were fortunate to have acquired in City Manager Tabatha Miller. She balanced the budget for the first time in a decade, put her shoulder to the gaping Calpers (California Personnel Pension Fund) hole in city finance. She is making the Council look good, but the good news was not as loud as the thin ice cracking under the GP mill site and Hare Creek Mall related public distress.
Last week the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had released their long-anticipated whitewash of the mill site toxicity, hard selling crudely flawed reassurances as they backed out the door, announcing formally the secret deal everybody (who reads the AVA anyway) already knew about. GP was out, the dam was in. The fences were going up and the Council had no expressed opinion.
In a succession of meetings Marie Jones characterized as private (“Do I interfere in what you do in your house?”) with the stakeholder agencies directly or peripherally concerned with the mill site, Marie had personally sanctified and signed on to the GP proposal to let the dioxins, PCBs, arsenic, and lead lay peacefully in the mud. For safety's sake, they were politely asking GP to rebuild the dam in order to “contain” the toxins. GP would limit their further efforts to erecting the fence that would keep the mill site wetlands safe for humans otherwise occupied with their enjoyment of the coastal trail.
Our Development Director had negotiated the walk-out on the cleanup in cold blood all by her lonesome, without consulting or even informing the City Council. It was or would have been all perfectly orderly, but leaks kept springing. “We have lots of meetings,” Ms. Jones breezily informed the Mayor when after being grilled uncomfortably by the public at his Monday meeting, he fetched her personally to inquire of her the truth of leaked hard evidence. You can’t blame the agencies.
Throughout the months of process, DTSC was transparent even accommodating to the press as they waltzed Marie through the process and gravely established a permanent toxic dump.
Ms. Jones, on the other hand, said nothing to nobody on principle. There were no reports to the Council because she didn’t think, and said she didn’t think, they deserved to know. The deal was not their business. Negotiating a toxic wasteland in the middle of town was well within her personal authority.
True the disconnect in information release had been an ongoing embarrassment (mainly for the Mayor) but now that it was over and the deal was settled, the shirts and the shills were practicing their poker face and bracing for controlled community wrath.
To hear DTSC tell it, the fences are just for good measure. The ponds are going to be off-limits but safe in their way. Any way you slice it, Development Director Marie Jones deserves sole responsibility for the new permanent toxic dump.
In round two, just last week the Coastal Commission had dumbfounded everybody by repudiating their own sold out staff and the Development Director in upholding, for the moment, Gabriel Maroney’s formal appeal to halt the demolition of the 70,000 square-foot dry shed #4. In the high and far-off time, Marie Jones had spent quite a bundle of city cash, planning, and designing, hiring architects and conducting elaborate public meetings complete with posty notes to create an industrial arts center in the city’s largest building. Either the ancient structure had undergone a precipitous deterioration or Ms. Jones had sharpened her scrutiny. But somehow in her expert Development Director’s opinion, the big dry shed was now subject to immediate collapse. She made the point to the City’s planning commission at excruciating length, and to the City Council somewhat more succinctly. Smiling happily in her trademark superior condescension, she ran the ball for GP’s demolition permit like OJ used to run a football.
For her next trick, Marie Jones has prepared an extensive EIR (Environmental Impact Report) on the acceptability of bringing us a big box supermarket and situating it at the entrance to our town on one of our most beloved and idyllic public meadows. The problem is acute and intractable. The Hare Creek meadows are zoned for commercial development. Hanging on to one of the city's most beloved and valuable open spaces would require leadership and initiative. It could be done, but Marie Jones doesn't do that. The City Council doesn't. Understanding that a big box is inevitable takes a little getting used to for most people and the process has dragged on for years as public protests and outrage have generated immense friction and sturdy resistance.
Good thing we have Marie Jones to explain the facts of life. She has mocked the city's preoccupation with irreplaceable open space and done everything she can to get those bulldozers moving. The wildly one-sided EIR is the coup de grace. When they tear up Hare Creek meadow you can lay that also to the account of a Development Department that doesn't care and doesn't have to.
When the City Council convened Monday night they spent a happy hour mulling over an improbable and weirdly conceived desalination plant. The plan is to take salt water not from the ocean but from a presently unusable well. It would not permit growth. It would only marginally affect our existing supply of water and it would cost $5 million bucks, adding substantially to your water bill. This charming lead balloon ducks every issue pertaining to rational desalination. Extensive Council deliberations determined that they would think about it some more. Then they got down to business.
Marie Jones took the stage and presented to the council the next little step in her grand strategy for the mill site. In her LCP (Local Coastal Plan) light industrial, tract housing and mixed-use zoning are described in her usual color maps and elaborate formulations. She was seeking direction on minutia. The City Council sat through it in a kind of stupor having long ago thrown in the towel on the most magnificent oceanfront space in the world.
The people of the city have been screaming for open space and creative application on the mill site for twenty years. The City Council doesn't recall that. Marie Jones is more practical. Her development plans are just what you would expect in any development scheme anywhere in California. In Marie Jones’ expert opinion the mill site is just one more vacant lot.
George Reinhardt the most involved person in the city on mill site issues walked out in disgust just ahead of her presentation. Where are you off to?, I asked, this is your issue. It doesn't matter, he told me, the council isn't listening; this has to be stopped at the grassroots.
Maybe that’s true of the Development Director.