Last Thursday wasn’t the first time Dominic Affinito had physically attacked Dan Gjerde, the just-elected Fort Bragg City councilman. The blustery Fort Bragg developer laid a big lick on the slightly-built Gjerde last September at a meeting of the Fort Bragg City Council where Affinito's one-story-too-tall North Cliff motel was the council’s primary agenda item. Affinito may have been exercising his sucker punch for the next time he encountered his young adversary. Last Thursday, right in the foyer of Fort Bragg City Hall, Affinito rained a flurry of unanswered blows down on Gjerde’s back
In the September incident, Gjerde recalls, Affinito “pulled his chair up next to mine and then he hit me in the back as hard as he could. He couldn’t have hit me any harder.” The 27-year-old Gjerde said the September encounter with the 63-year-old Affinito consisted of the single blow from “his open hand; not his fist. I think he wanted to provoke me in some way. He didn’t say anything at first, but a few minutes later he tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Oh Dan, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard.’”
The blow to Gjerde’s back and the witless, brazen sarcasm which accompanied it were witnessed by several members of the audience. They urged Gjerde to file assault charges against Affinito.
He didn’t in September, but he did last Thursday as the second attack on him was underway. Gjerde could hardly do otherwise considering Affinito assaulted him in the middle of City Hall in the middle of the work day, singing out arias of ultimate mayhem as he pounded Gjerde’s retreating form.
Gjerde and other outspoken critics of the present Fort Bragg City Council and its favored cadre of developers have frequently been accosted and threatened by City Hall insiders. Affinito is the first of the coast bully boys to physically assault a critic.
Last Thursday’s dramatic assault occurred about 1:30pm. Six city employees told responding officers that not only had Affinito, screaming obscenities, shoved and delivered punches to Gjerde’s back and several blows to the youthful politician’s neck and head, Affinito had also threatened to kill the Fort Bragg native.
Fort Bragg’s police chief, Richard Wiseman, said that a full report on the episode was forwarded to the Mendocino County District Attorney by Fort Bragg police last Friday afternoon. The charges include battery and terrorist threats. Depending on the DA’s interpretation of the law, Affinito's attack on the councilman-elect could be brought as felonies. Assaulting and/or threatening an elected official can bring as much as three years and eight months in state prison. Although Gjerde won election to the Fort Bragg City Council by a wide margin in the elections two weeks ago, the election has not been officially certified by the County Clerk and, consequently, neither Gjerde nor the two other victorious reform candidates, Michelle White and Vince Benedetti, have been sworn in as councilmen.
Affinito was present in the Fort Bragg City Hall last Thursday waiting for another pivotal city council decision on Affinito’s controversial North Cliff motel. Affinito was accompanied by Heather Drum who manages Affinito’s failing downtown retail center adjacent to the Skunk Train depot, and his hulking son, Robert. The city council was meeting in closed session to hear a report on Affinito’s project from a Sacramento attorney who specializes in achieving compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Affinito apparently anticipated that the council — suspiciously indulgent of him over the years — would approve his motel as is, even though it flagrantly violates both state and local building height laws. But the council, suddenly more sensitive to noisy public opinion appalled at its coziness with a handful of local builders and contractors, emerged from closed session to announce that they’d prefer to hand-off the whole Affinito mess to the newly-elected, reform majority Fort Bragg City Council.
When Affinito and the grimly angry Drum got the bad news that they would be required to bring their dubious schemes before a new and less pliable council than they’d grown accustomed to, Dan Gjerde happened by. Affinito spotted Mendocino County’s youngest elected official and flipped out.
“I didn’t notice him,” Gjerde said of his November 12 encounter with Affinito, “until I was pretty close to him. I turned around and made real brief eye contact and started heading up the stairs. I wasn’t trying to engage him in conversation or anything. I had my back to him heading up the stairs to the landing. He pushed me from behind and I fell on the stairs. Then he started cursing at me and grabbing me by my lapels.”
Gjerde says he tried to get away, but Affinito pursued the councilman-elect, pummeling Gjerde as he retreated and screaming at him, “It’s all your fault. You started this.”
A woman shouted, “Dominic! Stop it! Dominic! Stop it!”
Dominic didn’t stop it.
Affinito followed Gjerde into an office where Gjerde had grabbed a phone to call the police. Affinito was physically restrained by Dave Goebel, shouting at Gjerde, now on the 9-1-1 line, “You better not use my name. Use my name and you’ll get it.”
Affinito then left the building, got in his pick-up truck and drove off just before three Fort Bragg police officers appeared to take statements from Gjerde and shocked City Hall employees.
It appears Affinito, assuming the usual thumbs-up from the old city council, had planned to open the North Cliff for business last Saturday although the new structure has not received final approval from the Fort Bragg building inspector and may face much more formidable opposition when the Coastal Commission hones in on the numerous complaints it has received about the over-sized inn from outraged residents of the Mendocino coast.
Although his campaign focused on the uncanny access Affinito and his friends enjoy to the present city council, Dan Gjerde is hardly Affinito’s only critic.
In the fifteen years since he first appeared in Fort Bragg, Affinito has accumulated a number of parcels of local real estate, many of them obtained in murky public-private transactions which have invariably worked to Affinito’s private advantage. Affinito owns some 40 parcels in Fort Bragg, 20 or so of which are lots in the mostly unsold Glass Beach neighborhood. Affinito obtained heavily-tax-subsidized development rights to the Glass Beach tract from the City of Fort Bragg, but the valuable acreage between downtown Fort Bragg and the ocean hasn’t returned a dime to Fort Bragg. Quite the opposite; Glass Beach’s various guarantees costs Fort Bragg tax money. Affinito seems also to have taken a financial beating on the mostly unsold Glass beach lots. The frenetic entrepreneur also owns the county’s coastal social services complex located within the Fort Bragg city limits. The lot this lucrative facility sits on was another virtual gift from the ever-accommodating City of Fort Bragg.
Persons who pay close attention to Fort Bragg affairs have complained for years about Affinito’s close relationship to both members of the Fort Bragg City Council and key employees who clearly have either bent or ignored the law to accommodate certain developers, contractors and building materials suppliers, Affinito primary among them.
Thursday’s unhinged attack on councilman-elect Gjerde, seems to confirm rumors that Affinito’s little coast real estate empire has major cash flow problems. There is widespread speculation that Affinito has wracked up a huge debt for materials and labor at North Cliff, that the shops at the downtown Depot have either failed or are about to go under, and the developer’s Glass Beach lots are costing him and Fort Bragg lots of money.
And now an assault on a public official.