Judge refuses to halt homeless center in Fort Bragg

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A Mendocino County Superior Court judge dealt a blow Monday to opponents of converting a 123-year-old hotel in downtown Fort Bragg into office space for a homeless service provider and short-term housing for the needy.

Judge Richard Henderson on Monday denied a request by Concerned Citizens of Fort Bragg for a preliminary injunction to halt the controversial project while a lawsuit filed against the conversion makes its way to trial.

In doing so, he indicated the lawsuit against the city of Fort Bragg and the project’s nonprofit operator, Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center, is weak.

“Petitioner has failed to establish the likelihood of prevailing on the merits as to any of the stated causes of action,” Henderson wrote in the ruling. He also said that putting a halt to the project now would cause more harm to the hospitality center than to its critics.

The lawsuit is just one of several assaults on the controversial project. Others include a recall effort against the city’s mayor — who supports the project — and a proposed ballot initiative that would retroactively prohibit social services-related facilities in Fort Bragg’s historic business district.

The hospitality center, which provides homeless, mental health and drug rehabilitation services, plans to convert the vacant Old Coast Hotel on Franklin Street into offices for its programs and turn at least five of the hotel’s rooms into transitional housing units. Its officials contend it is a good location with a yard that provides a pleasant and private waiting area for clients.

But opponents, who include more than 1,200 people who signed a petition against the plan, say the location is inappropriate. The hotel is in the center of the business district, so people seeking services will have no privacy, they say. The hotel also lacks adequate parking and disabled access to the upstairs, critics say. They also would like to see the hotel, shuttered since 2010, preserved as a hotel, restaurant and bar or another facility that would be attractive to tourists and commerce.

The lawsuit contends 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.

The plaintiffs said they’re disappointed in Henderson’s ruling but are not giving up.

“Sadly, this whole dispute reflects a fundamental failure of democracy at the local level,” Jeanne Stubenrauch said in a written response to a request for comment. “We’re considering an appeal and our citizen initiative process is already underway.”

City Manager Linda Ruffing said Monday’s ruling clears the way for the city to disperse a $1.2 million grant it obtained for the hospitality center to buy and renovate the hotel.

Henderson set a trial for Oct. 5.

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

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