This is a mighty week for politics in Fort Bragg. Bright and early Monday morning the conference room in City Hall was packed with officials. The City Attorney and Councilmen were leaning forward to wrestle with Jacob Patterson about the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) lawsuit he's holding over Fort Bragg's head. Patterson looked like a goldfish in a shark tank, but he's a gold fish with big teeth.
With attorney Patterson conducting the legal assault, a major electoral reform of our local electoral process (districting) is headed like a meteor at our peaceable and sleepy little metropolis. Patterson and his still-anonymous Committee For Responsive Representation are persisting, a little more weakly now, but still definitely in their state-mandated demands for electoral reform.
More than anything else, dismay and disavowal of any political experience of racial injustice by the mystified Hispanic community have taken the local wind out of the CVRA sails. The anonymous committee can still sue Fort Bragg, and “they” say they will. Oddly, actual representation of the Hispanic minority vote is not required under the provisions of the CVRA.
It is counterintuitive but indisputable that if the Committee for Responsive Representation sues Fort Bragg they will almost certainly win. But the City Council is staring them down.
Tuesday night at Town Hall, the City Council planned to rescind the Safe Harbor Provision of the CVRA that puts a lid on litigation costs. Dumping the Safe Harbor opens the city up to the risk of millions of dollars in attorney fees and expert testimony costs if the committee does sue. It's all somewhat surrealistic.
The Committee for Responsive Representation with all their righteous enthusiasm for curbing racial injustice can't find any in Fort Bragg. Mayor Peters has canceled his morning meetings until after the election lest it be suggested he is using city resources to support his incumbency. There is a Council meeting Monday night. Tuesday is blessedly vacant and The California Coastal Commission is coming to Town Hall Wednesday Thursday and Friday to do their thing, including probably allowing the destruction of the lovely old historic Albion bridge for a replacement bridge.
Over three days of meetings, the Coastal Commission will have the future of Fort Bragg in their hands. Development Director Marie Jones will be selling the Commission the fiction that the people of the city support developing 70% of the mill site and that apartment houses and factories will look good on the coastal trail. Her plan leaves 30% of the mill site in open space including, of course, the toxic zone, although you won't actually be able to walk around on it.
Ms. Jones badly needs a win. She has a record of almost twenty years of almost complete failure to conduct a project on the mill site, except the one project that in the end cost us everything. The failed Specific Plan cost $2.5 million and took years to achieve nothing. The proposal for an industrial arts center at the mill site’s dry shed was a well-funded civic exercise in futility. Her one achievement, the much-lauded coastal trail, is now emerging as a de facto capitulation to GP-backed development.
Everybody, of course, is delighted to walk on the as yet unspoiled Coastal Trail. The toxic zone is strange but ignorable. But when GP and their developers have put up tract homes, high-density housing, light industrial heavy industrial and apartment houses, GP’s much-lauded generosity in selling us the coastal trail will make more sense. On that distant day When Jones spent a decade or so pushing for the specific plan, she ended up with somebody owing $2.5 million bucks for the person-hours, consultants, and lawyers. GP was not on the hook and Fort Bragg certainly did not expect to pay it. GP did eventually pay the $2.5 million, bailing out Jones in her darkest hour. No doubt GP acted out of that unfailing sense of altruism and community spirit for which the Koch brothers are so well known.
What some of us view as overdevelopment of the 350-acre Georgia Pacific mill site is on track and headed for the finish line. The California Coastal Commission will be in Fort Bragg August 12, 13 and 14 to decide important things, review the progress of the LCP (Local Coastal Plan), listen to weeping and wailing of the people and probably argue with Ms. Jones about her exaggerated ambitions for GP. In this extremity Mayor Peters has Jones’s back. Last week he established precedent for a gag order that in a brave new world insulates Ms. Jones from the trauma of unsympathetic remarks at Town Hall meetings.
Having the cart a little before the horse the Mayor is aggressively pushing a new city ordinance — “Crimes Against the Public” — which will make any comment about any city employee illegal in a Council meeting. As I reflected on this ordinance I recalled that only one person does that enough to bother them: Me.
The mayor has elevated the term "Personal attack" to a specific legal meaning which in practice will be interpreted as saying anything about anybody in city government except the elected martyrs on the Council. Attorney Jacob Patterson thinks it’s sort of aimed at him as well, but I think it is understood by all parties that the ordinance has been contrived mostly for me. In its widest conceivable application, it can only be aimed at one or two people. I am humbled to be preeminent.
Earlier in the day, Will Lee in a comment on my last article, revealed that the Code of Civility itself had also been invented just to restrain my rough and jolly exuberance. Peters and Lee are in it together. I must say it takes one back. When I discovered Councilman Lee’s derogatory and damning post, I did what I rarely do and smoked a joint. I could have been flattered. Not everyone has two laws passed against them. Well, one rule and one law. The argument for this is that my behavior at council meetings is so unruly, wild, incoherent, violent, and disruptive and well.... crazy.... that the public must be protected against me.
I have a bee in my bonnet about Marie Jones who in my opinion is railroading the city and the council into a GP friendly development policy that gives us a toxic dump in the middle of town and a massive unrealistic overdevelopment of the mill site. Everybody says I don’t like Marie Jones but I actually do or would try to if she would speak to me, but I do think she needs to be restrained from the fulfillment of her ambitions by public protest. I am trying to incite that protest. A rude and messy business. Mea culpa. Peters calls it hate speech and has declared (by God) that he intends to protect Ms. Jones from barbarism.
In the evening of the first day of the big political week, the regular City Council meeting rolled around. I spoke twice in carefully muted tones about things I don’t care that much about. And I have to admit I was a little petulant. I was mostly just desirous of taking a few shots to demonstrate that even as a condemned man I still could. I spoke with concern for the homeless when they announced the shopping cart confiscation campaign. Earlier, the brilliant Sarah McCormick had, as her duty requires, reported in her elegant way that the sequel to The Grapes of Wrath is being enacted across Fort Bragg even as we repose in our homes. The camps at Pudding creek and beyond the yellow gate have gone down and a police invasion of the railroad tracks is pending.
City Manager Tabatha Miller, apparently noting my tangential references to the campaign of calumny being pushed by Peters and Lee, mildly rebuked me a little, publicly declining to believe that anyone could actually get kicked out of a Council meeting. She said that at the Public Safety Committee meeting also. Noting my melancholy reflections on the rottenness of the Code of Civility she also stood up for that. I have worked at a lot of thankless commissions boards and councils, said Ms. Miller, but when I got to Fort Bragg and hanging from the ceiling was that gratifying code declaring a workers’ paradise for harassed bureaucrats I said in my soul Hallelujah this is what we have been talking about. (I am paraphrasing Ms. Miller's remarks.)
In other Council business, the administration got a rubber stamp for their own salary packages tucked away in the consent calendar. Not surprisingly they waived a reading since this is very possibly the very last thing on the face of planet earth that they would care to have discussed, or even known although it is easy to find out. It’s a well-heeled bunch we have punching the clock at city hall. They think they richly deserve it. Maybe they do.
Considering that they had passed one rule against me and were now making an actual law I think I was pretty restrained.
Skunk Train Buys Mill Site
At the joint session of the Planning Commission and the City Council last week an elephant entered the room. The Skunk Train, our funky and grand little railroad, proudly announced their successful negotiation with GP to purchase Dry Shed #4 and the whole 75 acres of the mill site that is north of Redwood Ave. They were able to say at last, that they are in escrow. However, under close questioning by the City Council, it turned out that the terms of escrow were unusual, even strange. Robert Pinoli, managing director of the Skunk confessed that there was no exact term for the escrow. So the deal is not quite final? Indefinite escrow is an oxymoron, is it not?
The Council, in the throes of their enthusiasm, did not persist in their inquiry. Instead, everybody at the meeting cheered. After 20 years of frustrated ineptitude, it was impossible not to cheer. At least and at last an important local business of reasonable competence proposes to do something. The Harts (Skunk Train owners) were thrilled with the Marie Jones/GP negotiated high-density housing, light industrial etc. and asked the city administration politely if they could increase high-density housing to 53 instead of 20 acres.
But I must say that the takeaway from the Skunk Train is a sense that they are willing to cooperate, be creative and ready, in short to address the great opportunity and apply common sense. Unprecedented. The dry shed that Marie Jones has systemically denounced as structurally degraded will be a retained as the central feature of their plans. The little railroad has taken to heart Gabrial Maroni’s advocacy for a historic district. Mr. Maroni saved the dry sheds from Ms. Jones campaign for demolition and city council stupidity. The Skunk is creatively interested and apparently in contract. Our little railroad has so far captured the hearts and minds of the city.