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Fort Bragg taps city funds to rent rooms for homeless. Eagles get reprieve

An eagle silhouetted against a cloudy sky.

The Fort Bragg City Council voted unanimously to use $25,000 to rent rooms for homeless people, after using up a county grant. And a permit to cut a tree with a bald eagles' nest in it is now invalid, according the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

At a special meeting over the holiday weekend, the Fort Bragg City Council agreed to use $25,000 from a city fund to continue the emergency winter shelter program at the Motel 6. Weeks of heavy rain have led to more than a ten-fold increase in room rentals for homeless people each month since November.

And a pair of bald eagles in Potter Valley have gotten another reprieve, with the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians calling for government-to-government consultations and Congressman Jared Huffman blasting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for granting a permit to remove the nest without engaging the tribe.

At Monday’s brief meeting of the Fort Bragg City Council, Police Chief Neil Cervenka reported that the city has spent all $36,000 the county has given the city to rent rooms for homeless people during inclement weather or on nights that extreme cold is expected. The city rented 11 rooms in November for 14 people. That number shot up to 130 rentals for 62 people in December, 12 of them children and nine of them elderly. The city has already paid for 101 rentals in January of this year for 65 people, 11 of them children and eight of them elderly. Cervenka reported that he’s negotiated $50 off the nightly price of the rooms and that the city has found other solutions for homeless people who are not from the Fort Bragg area. Eight people who used the voucher program for one night last month were not from the coast, and four people this month were from elsewhere.

Of those four out-of-towners, he said, three were reunited with family members in other parts of the state and other states. “And then the big win in November was, seven of the 62 unique individuals who were non-coastal were placed in Hospitality House,” Cervenka reported. “While we are getting some dry weather, the clear skies mean cold nights. So we are expecting more. Right now, we have used all $36,000 of the original grant amount, and we have no more funding in the extreme weather shelter. Long range forecasting, which is very imprecise, shows several more weeks of rain coming up, which is very good for our aquifers…but it’s not good for those folks who don’t have shelter. I re-negotiated the rate of the room last week to $99.99 plus tax per night,” which is the weekend rate.

In addition to voting unanimously to approve the use of the $25,000 from the city’s fund, the council expects an item on next week’s Board of Supervisors agenda discussing a match from the county. Fort Bragg City Manager Peggy Ducey said she expects to be reimbursed from the state Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, once disaster declarations for the current emergency have been determined. The City Council agreed to fold the reimbursement monies back into the fund for housing the homeless. The city’s emergency winter shelter program ends on April 30.

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And in Potter Valley, a Ponderosa pine tree containing a decades-old bald eagles’ nest has been spared for another year. Earlier this month, U.S Fish & Wildlife granted PG&E a permit to remove the nest, giving the utility until February first, two weeks after the official start of the breeding season.

But yesterday, U.S Fish & Wildlife wrote in an email that as of January 13, that permit is invalid, “and they are not presently authorized to remove the nest.” An agency spokesperson elaborated that, “The bald eagle pair is currently visiting and refurbishing the nest and the breeding season has begun. As such, the nest meets the definition of an ‘in-use’ and active nest, thus the permit is no longer valid.”

We documented one of the eagles landing on the tree near the nest on January 9. On January 11, after a brief confrontation between activists and a PG&E tree-cutting crew, Michael Hunter, the Chairman of the nearby Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, requesting government-to-government consultation with the agency. “We understand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already issued the permit prior to initiating consultation and that there was a brief opportunity for “public comment” under the National Environmental Policy Act,” he wrote. However, “The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians is a sovereign nation with a government-to government relationship with the United States and that relationship requires more substantial consultation than is awarded to “the public” under the National Environmental Policy Act. We also believe that agency duties and obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act are implicated and unfulfilled as well.”

Congressman Jared Huffman agreed, saying he finds it “unacceptable” if the agency granted the permit without tribal consultation, and that he “share(s) the concern that a federal agency would not know better.” He blasted the agency, revealing that he has “had deep concerns about Fish and Wildlife’s ability to fulfill its mission with integrity for a number of years…If this was a permit U.S. Fish and Wildlife had to grant; if the law, facts and science compelled them,” he insisted; “They should have included tribal consultation. But they dropped the ball.” He said he wrote a letter to USFWS on January 16, expressing his concerns.

Peter Galvin, with the Center for Biological Diversity, is hoping for a long-term solution. The bald eagle breeding season ends in August, at which time PG&E could apply for another permit to take down the tree, arguing that it is threatening the line again. Currently, PG&E is providing generators and diesel fuel to residents on the property, leading to damage on the steep, unpaved driveway. Galvin said he is working hard to convince PG&E to underground the few hundred feet of line from the road to the homes on the property, and has offered his organization’s help in fundraising to help pay for the effort.

Huffman said he would try to help too, though he can’t guarantee that there is a federal funding source for the project. But in his view, “PG&E ought to be able to solve this. It’s not an overwhelmingly complex challenge.”

Local News
Sarah Reith is the lead reporter for KZYX News. She joined the KZYX News team in 2017, and covers local politics, water, law enforcement and the arts in Mendocino County.