by Marianne McGee
It was refreshing to watch the Fort Bragg City Council ( Dave Turner had an excused absence) unanimously address the big elephant sitting in the room since the decision to purchase The Old Coast Hotel for the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
In spring of 2014 previous City Council members approved the CDBG grant application to purchase a building for MCHC, although at an entirely different location. As he cast his vote Mayor Turner swore the final purchase would not proceed without going through the Planning Commission and conducting public hearings. And yet, after a contentious city council election, the final purchase was rammed down the throats of the two new council members without their being adequately informed while ignoring community input.
The coastal community has been divided by the ensuing occupation of the Old Coast Hotel by MCHC and the perceived disruptions and degeneration of the business district. Tonight was the first time these issues have been openly and honestly brought into the public eye. The Council received the report and listened to feedback from MCHC President Lynelle Johnson and Assistant Director Paul Davis. Executive Director Anna Shaw chose not to attend because she was afraid of more cyber-bullying attacks as she has suffered in the past, so her husband asked her not to go.
Although emotions ran high on both sides, people did a first-rate job of addressing issues without rancor and with decorum. Compassion was evident on all sides of the divide as was a clear desire to problem solve. With over 4 months of emails sent to the City by a business near the Hospitality House without resolution and some very unsatisfied former clients, there were plenty of concerns finally vocalized and listened to. These problems are multifaceted and not readily resolved, so more work will be done at the Public Safety Committee.
The Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center (MCHC) needs to be more proactive, transparent and provide relevant information on its website and to our citizens. Its rapid growth from a hundred thousand dollar budget to over a million dollar organization is an enormous administrative leap. There are concerns about the aging and limited capacity of the Board of Directors. While a few new members have been added, it is disturbing this board is not transparent and will not allow people to attend their meetings. It is disconcerting that the mission statement is religious and not being adhered to. I was thrilled when Anna Shaw was hired after experiencing previous disreputable staff there. However, if she is too traumatized to be an effective Executive Director, it may be time for the organization to find someone new to take the helm of MCHC. To be successful skilled staff and volunteers must provide leadership and services to accommodate the needs of homeless people and the community. Under the current circumstances I find it hard to have faith in this faith based organization.
In my opinion, there is both truth and misconceptions in relationship to these problems. Mayor Peters is correct in that we all need to work together to produce positive outcomes. He pointed out that you cannot just lump all homeless people into one category with simple solutions. If MCHC is unprepared to deal with these complex client issues or the struggles local business owners have trying to be neighborly, profitable and safe then Fort Bragg must build a system that can accommodate and respond to the needs of our diverse community and population.
It is reassuring that the City Council is committed to resurrecting this painful predicament with the desire to address the consequences, without a conclusion already being determined. This may be an opportunity to have the community involved with the City Council and staff to problem solve using healthy processes that unite people rather than divide. This significant subject drastically impacts our future as a viable tourist destination as well as a desirable place to live.