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Local News

City of Ukiah grants Palace demo permit; county hires ag commissioner

A two-story brick building on a street corner, surrounded by chain link fence and scaffold.
The Palace Hotel is surrounded by chain link fence and scaffold, in an effort to keep passersby safe from the possibility of falling debris.

The City of Ukiah has issued a conditional permit for the demolition of the Palace Hotel, after unveiling the contents of an application submitted ten days ago.

And Mendocino County has an ag commissioner of its own, after almost two years of sharing one with Sonoma County. The search continues for a public health officer. The county has also formally hired a county librarian, after quietly retiring the position of Cultural Services Agency director.

The Palace Hotel has been the center of emotionally charged controversy for years. Residents cherish its long history in the center of town, but as it has fallen into disrepair, calls to demolish it have grown louder. A receiver, appointed in 2017, was unable to attract investors to restore it. The receivership was terminated last year, and Jitu Ishwar, the new owner, agreed to sell it to a party who had plans to revitalize it. Months after that deal fell through, the city gave Ishwar a deadline of May 14 to submit an application to either stabilize or demolish the structure, which he met. City Manager Sage Sangiacomo declined to provide information to the City Council at a meeting the next day, saying staff still had to analyze the application.

A developer from Lake County appeared before the Ukiah City Council on May 15 to advocate for restoration. But a city press release that went out yesterday afternoon says that, “while a seismic retrofit may indeed be possible, the cost of that work may be prohibitive and unable to attract investors seeking an economically viable return on their investment.” The schedule attached to the demolition plan cites tasks in a numerical order, rather than providing a timeline. The city press release says that there will be opportunity for public engagement during the pre-development process of whatever takes the place of the much-debated landmark.

In county agricultural news, the Board of Supervisors appointed Angela Godwin as the new Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures. She is currently a deputy in the ag commissioner’s office in Ventura County. Godwin is slated to start her four-year contract in Mendocino County on June 23, for an annual salary of $258,000. In March, the Board approved a $40,000 hiring bonus to fill the seat. The bonus will be paid out over three years. Only the ag commissioner can secure certain kinds of state funding for state-run programs, like pesticide use enforcement, nursery inspections and setting traps for invasive species. These programs are crucial to paying the staff at the ag department, which must be run by a director with an exhaustive list of certifications.

Devon Boer, Executive Director of the Farm Bureau, welcomed Godwin this week, saying she fills “a critical position.” She noted that the crop report from 2022 has still not been completed, and counted it among the projects she would like to start work on immediately. In brief remarks, Godwin sounded enthusiastic about tackling the crop report.

The Board also appointed Melissa Hannum, the Point Arena branch librarian, to take the County Librarian position, which she has occupied on an acting basis for about eight months. Her salary will be $112,000 a year. The library was formerly part of the Cultural Services Agency, which also included the museum and parks.

The Cultural Services Agency was widely opposed in 2018 when the three entities were combined into one department. Deb Fader Samson was hired in 2021 as the Agency director and County Librarian, but following her departure last year in the wake of a free speech dust-up, the director position was eliminated. Supervisor John Haschak, who was on the ad hoc committee redesigning the job, says the new position will save the library $120,000. He described Hannum as “very capable and passionate.” In addition to taking the system wide role, Hannum will continue as the branch librarian at Point Arena. She said she had visited all the branches, and was “very impressed with the locations, and my entire team.”

Deputy CEO Cherie Johnson said the county hasn’t had as much luck with finding a public health officer. She said the county’s recruiting contractor has sent out over 4,600 outreach emails, with a deadline of June 2 to apply for the position. She added that Dr. Jenine Miller, the head of the Health Services department, is also looking locally as well as in other counties. “So we are working hard to recruit,” she concluded.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.