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Fort Bragg ballot-box fights fail to materialize

A recall effort against the city's mayor has fizzled, while opponents of a new social services center fell one signature short in their push to put the issue on the ballot.|

Opponents of converting a 123-year-old hotel in downtown Fort Bragg into a homeless outreach center failed by one signature to qualify a November ballot initiative that would ban such facilities in the town’s central business district, according to city and elections officials.

A related effort to recall the city’s mayor earlier failed before reaching the signature-gathering stage.

The hotel-related initiative, which would have retroactively altered city zoning rules to prohibit social services-related operations in the downtown core, needed 312.4 valid signatures - 10 percent of the city’s 3,124 voters.

Of the 395 signatures gathered by a group called Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg, only 312 belonged to verifiable voters, said Sue Ranochak, Mendocino County’s clerk-recorder. When the number of required signatures ends in a fraction, the required number normally is rounded up, which is what Fort Bragg officials decided to do, she said.

“You cannot have four-tenths of a voter,” she said, explaining why the required number of signatures had to be either 312 or 313.

Fort Bragg City Manager Linda Ruffing and Mayor Dave Turner declined to comment on the ballot initiative’s apparent failure following the release of the signature count Friday. The initiative’s proponents could not be reached for comment.

Turner did say he was pleased that a related effort to recall him in November either failed or was abandoned.

Recall proponents had alleged Turner does not listen to his constituents, aligns himself with special interest groups and lacks the leadership skills needed to bring new jobs and tourism to Fort Bragg.

The recall measure died several weeks ago when proponents failed to meet a filing deadline, election officials said.

“They never got to the stage of asking for signatures,” said Turner, who made a preemptive attack against the recall by launching a campaign of his own. Scores of his supporters went door to door, urging registered voters not to sign the petition, he said.

“I’m grateful to the people who came out and helped me get the word out,” Turner said.

The recall effort was due in large part to Turner’s support for the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center’s plan to convert the Old Coast Hotel on Franklin Street to offices for its programs and turn at least five rooms into transitional housing units. The center provides mental health, drug rehabilitation and homeless services.

Opponents say the location is inappropriate for a number of reasons. The hotel is in the center of the business district, so it lacks privacy for the clients, they claim. It also lacks adequate parking and disabled access to the upstairs, critics say.

Opponents would like to see the vacant building preserved as a hotel or other use that would be attractive to tourists and commerce, rather than a possible deterrent, they said.

Some opponents fear it will attract crime. Last week, a woman being evicted from another Hospitality House facility assaulted the manager and tried to cut herself with a knife, according to the Fort Bragg Police Department.

Some opponents of the hotel conversion have sued the city, contending that the project is not in compliance with the city’s zoning ordinance, that an environmental impact assessment needs to be conducted and that the nonprofit is spending more money than necessary on the project.

A hearing on the city’s motion to dismiss the case is scheduled to be heard in Mendocino County Superior Court next month.

The Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg have just under three weeks to challenge and ask to examine the results of the signature count for hotel initiative, county officials said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. ?On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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