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Local News

Housing, senior center come before Board of Supervisors

September 23, 2020 — The Board of Supervisors announced the purchase price of a Ukiah inn that will be used for housing homeless people yesterday. The project is already generating some controversy, and moving fast on a timeline put forth by the state, which provided the bulk of the funds in a grant announced last week.

Another hotly debated topic is a proposal for an AT&T wireless communications system on Manzanita Drive, about five miles southwest of the Willits city center. The planning commission approved a use permit for the project on June fourth, but a neighborhood group appealed the decision, kicking it back to the board of supervisors. That item will be continued on October 20th.

The board also agreed to authorize the Ukiah Senior Center to seek a Community Development Block Grant to relocate, which will allow the organization to sell the property at its current location on Leslie Street, most likely to the charter school next door, which is seeking to expand.

And Supervisor Carre Brown  gave an update on her work with the Mendocino County Fire Council and other groups on a hazardous vegetation and rubbish abatement ordinance, modeled on the one in Sonoma County. 

Supervisor John Haschak reported out of closed session that the board had unanimously agreed to buy the property at 555 South Orchard Avenue in Ukiah, now a Best Western Inn, to house homeless people. The purchase price is $10,640,000 ten million, six hundred forty thousand dollars, including escrow costs. The state recently provided $9.6 million through Project Homekey, which is designed to buy hotels and apartment buildings for homeless housing. It evolved out of Project Roomkey, to rent hotel rooms for homeless people most at risk from covid-19. Over a year ago, the county also received a million dollars from the state for its Whole Person Care program, specifically to house homeless people with mental health challenges. Supervisor John McCowen said some CARES Act funding was also provided.

Earlier in the day, four members of the public called in to express their opposition to the project, saying they feared it would degrade the neighborhood and interfere with local businesses.

Megan van Sant, a senior program manager with the county Health and Human Services Agency who works on housing and homelessness, said the clientele would be people who already have case managers and some form of income, thirty percent of which would go toward their rent. She added that the project is in line with the Marbut report and the county’s strategic plan to address homelessness. 

In a brief interview, van Sant said the Rural Communities Housing Development Corporation, or RCHDC, would manage the property and its facilities, but that another contractor would provide life skills training and supportive services.

Haschak said that Senator Mike McGuire plans to hold a virtual town hall on the subject in the near future, and the board will also have a community meeting. Both dates are yet to be decided.

Virtual meetings were cited in the appeal submitted to the board by the Neighbors and Friends of Pine Mountain, the neighborhood group that contested the planning commission’s decision to approve the wireless facility on Manzanita Drive. The commission granted AT&T’s request to build a 143-foot-tall lattice tower with 12 antennae, a generator and a paved access route within an 1,800 square foot fenced compound on Manzanita Drive last June. But the Neighbors and Friends, care of Cathy Ortiz, based its appeal on the entire record of every issue raised in the written record and at the public hearings, findings of fact, CEQA and failure to provide an adequate venue for public participation at the public hearings. Many residents of rural Mendocino County lack the internet capacity to attend virtual meetings, work virtually from home, and send their kids to virtual school from home. The board will consider the appeal on October 20, to give rural Willits residents a breather from the disruption caused by the recent evacuation from the Oak Fire.

Rachel McDavid, the Executive Director of the Ukiah Senior Center, alluded to the disasters in the community as she appealed to the board to support the center’s plans to build a larger facility to accommodate more people at events near Orr Creek  Commons, another housing project that is currently under construction on the north end of town.

Diana Clarke, chair of the senior center’s capitol project committee and McDavid’s predecessor as Executive Director of the organization, made the pitch to the board to get some help from planning and building to apply for the CDB grants. She said that four years ago, the center started working with RCHDC to come to an agreement to  use a 2.5 acre parcel on the corner of Brush Street and Orchard Avenue, one of three parcels RCHDC is using to build 80 units of affordable housing, much of it for seniors. She said Bartlett Hall, the senior center’s current community building, is not big enough for the growing population of seniors. FUnding for the project, she said, includes revenue from the thrift store, the sale of the property, most likely to River Oak Charter School, which has expressed an interest in expanding, and support from benefactors and volunteers who are involved in the capital campaign.

Supporters Tuesday included the Board of Supervisors, who voted unanimously to approve the proposal, with Brown recusing herself because she is a member of the senior center.

Local News