Tuesday, 31 January 2023

From the Editor’s Desk: Tom Jordan’s folly and the threat to a community

Merriam-Webster has declared that the word of 2022 is “gaslighting,” and that’s incredibly appropriate considering what Tom Jordan, tribal administrator of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, is trying to pull on the town of Lucerne and the county at large.

With one fell swoop, this self-appointed expert on everything — in partnership with a rogue Lake County Office of Education staffer, Ana Santana — managed to hornswaggle the state into giving the tribe millions of dollars for a project Jordan doesn’t have the least clue how to carry out — turning the Lucerne Hotel into a gigantic homeless shelter, the biggest in the county, in the midst of a town that has one of the county’s smallest, poorest populations.

Why the state gave him money is anyone’s guess, other than he was using the tribe’s name to convince them at a time when Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is throwing money at the homeless situation with little emphasis on accountability or positive outcomes.

There are many issues with Jordan’s scheme, but perhaps most disgusting is Jordan’s arrogant dismissal of community concerns or any community input on the idea, which will need vast cooperation and financing to get off the ground, much less to survive.

Hinting that some imaginary entitlements exist he has already suggested he will fight the zoning and planning processes that such a project would necessarily require. He has yet to entertain a pre-planning meeting with the county, though he’s already been told that there are zoning issues.

But is this about a homeless youth housing facility, or as some of Lake County News’ readers are already suggesting, something else entirely — such as a gambit to force a casino or some other undesirable use into our community?

“Oh, gosh, our shelter failed,” I can imagine Jordan saying, patting his forehead with a hanky. “Now, we’ll spend those millions to turn it into a secondary casino to the $700 million casino we want to build in Vallejo.”

Or is it a plan for this Lakeport-area tribe to move its government offices into the building, part of Jordan’s ultimate vanity project in controlling the last of Lake County’s great resorts?

It’s anyone’s guess. And I suspect we’ll be waiting a long time for Tom Jordan — who it must be stressed is not a tribal member — to tell us the truth.

The description of the project sounds like a 19th century workhouse, something Charles Dickens would have written about warming the stone-cold heart of Ebenezer Scrooge as he walked past it in a dreary, coal-clouded London winter.

People who I know and trust, who are housing advocates who have reviewed the plan, call it poorly thought out, with the potential to become an unmitigated disaster for Lucerne and its residents.

Until Lake County News contacted them, the Lake County Office of Education, the plan's “primary partner” who was supposed to run the shelter, knew nothing about it. Nor did dozens of other “secondary” partners also were named in that grant.

All of those who we have contacted so far didn’t know about the plan, and certainly didn’t give it any support, while others read their names in disbelief. Some reached out to tell us “no, not us” or in one case, “Holy Toledo!”

Some of the notable organizations and agencies in that group include Lake County Probation, Lake Family Resource Center, Woodland Community College, Lake County Tribal Health and the Lake County Gleaners.

On Thursday afternoon, the Red Cross, a national level organization, contacted us to say they also had nothing to do with it.

We expect to hear from more of these “partners” before we’re done checking.

You could wonder whether the grant application’s audacious claims of unicorn partnerships, and the fact that they are categorically false, is burning bridges, not building them.

And how could any plan succeed without substantial input from the Lucerne school superintendent, the Northshore Fire chief, the sheriff and a host of other officials, much less the community? As disrespectful as that is on a government to government basis, contemplate the real world consequences for the neighborhood.

This is a clear case of planning to ask for forgiveness, not permission, or simply using the tribe’s name, and the Sword of Damocles that is a threat of being called a racist, over the head of anyone who questions it.

Already, Jordan’s fawning, sycophantic supporters appear to be starting a campaign of character assassination of anyone challenging their plan. I’d love to back up a dump truck full of his nonsense into their neighborhood. Their stupidity won’t get far.

This, it must be emphasized, is not about a tribe. This is about two bureaucrats who rubbed their heads together and sparked a nightmare. It’s a bad idea, no matter who is suggesting it. And it's unconscionable for the state of California to throw money at it when it’s clearly based on fiction, upon fiction, upon fiction.

Does this have something to do with Jordan’s involvement with the local Democratic party? Is this why a Democratic governor’s administration doesn’t question it?

More troubling still, our county legislators — Mike McGuire and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry — have remained silent when we’ve asked them about this thorny situation. They’ve stepped up when the county was in peril before, why do they stay silent now when Lucerne needs them?

Perhaps most shocking, we’re now getting word that many of Scotts Valley’s 300-plus tribal members had no idea about this plan or what is being done in their name.

That tribe reportedly has just seven homeless youth that would even qualify for such housing as the grant would cover. Now, they’re supposed to be responsible for running a 75,000 square foot historic building for dozens of individuals who aren’t members of their tribe? Yet, it’s our understanding that tribes currently have the ability already to house homeless youth. So what gives?

Our attempt to get a comment from the tribal chair, listed online by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as Shawn Davis — the tribe’s own website doesn’t list council members, and mostly likely for this very reason — was unsuccessful, so that leaves Jordan to speak for the tribe. And that’s probably why the tribe at large isn’t getting the message. Or wasn’t, until the article came out.

Despite all of this, the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency indicated it intends to go through with giving Scotts Valley the $5.2 million, without so much as a lead agency to run this project.

There’s that old saying about the dog that catches the car. In this case, Tom Jordan and Ana Santana caught the car.

The entire situation is outrageous. But then, anyone who is familiar with Tom Jordan’s history of bluster and bamboozlement shouldn’t be surprised.

Case in point, the sudden and complete destruction of the Lake County Community Action Agency in 2011, an agency whose board he chaired.

That year, the agency board discovered an estimated $100,000 in unpaid payroll taxes, which precipitated a financial crisis that closed the agency’s many important services, caused layoffs and ultimately resulted in its equipment and furniture being auctioned off in October 2011.

No one, including Jordan and other board members — tasked with oversight of the agency — could give clear answers of just how it all happened, but in hindsight, it’s become clearer.

The Lake County Community Action Agency was like the victim on Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” — many people were responsible for its death. But unlike that victim, the agency didn’t deserve its fate.

Those two stories also have in common that no one took the fall for the final act.

Jordan went on to be the executive director of the Lake County First 5 Commission. When he left that job, his daughter, Sorhna Li Jordan — who ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for county assessor-recorder — took over his job at First 5. Within months, however, she was terminated by the county Health Services director.

She now works as Scotts Valley’s chief financial officer, according to the grant documents, and will have a role in oversight, despite her statement to me that it wasn’t her project.

And in November, Scotts Valley environmental director and chief operations officer, Terre Logsdon, was hired as the county’s new grant-funded climate resiliency officer. One wonders what behind-the-scenes lobbying for Scotts Valley is taking place by Logsdon, now ensconced in the County Administrative Office.

The Lucerne Area Town Hall asked Jordan for information, but he didn’t respond until after the town hall finally issued its agenda earlier this week, which included a discussion of the plan and a proposed resolution condemning it.

Andrew Beath of the Malibu-based Earthways Foundation, a pal of former Supervisor Denise Rushing’s, purchased the Lucerne Hotel from the county as part of its predetermined sale process — one that we have long had evidence didn’t follow proper county procedure — in order for Rushing and her other buddies to carry out some wackadoodle plan about a permaculture college.

I wouldn’t think a real permaculture college would rip out native plants and otherwise destroy the landscape, but what do I know? It’s not like Rushing stuck around to actually see the results of her goofy ideas. She was at least consistent in that aspect.

Beath is now refusing to let the Lucerne Area Town Hall at the building, which it has done for months, because he claims they don’t know the whole story of the sale. Uh huh.

Meanwhile, Jordan suddenly asked to be on the town hall’s agenda in January — expected to be well after the close of escrow, which we have been told closes at the end of this month. Community members attending that meeting should be sure to take with them a shovel to dig through the load of hogwash he’ll try to feed them.

District 3 Supervisor Eddie Crandell, who is becoming mostly known for his consistent failure districtwide to respond to community concerns — such as the potential for catastrophic levee failure in Upper Lake — has refused to respond to questions about the Lucerne Hotel plan for weeks.

Or, I should say, he was refusing until Wednesday night, when based on the town hall bylaws he appears to have overstepped himself and sent out a notice canceling the town hall’s Thursday meeting and saying the town hall won’t meet again until January. Again, after the reported close of escrow.

Nice of him to so willingly carry water for Jordan. So rarely does Crandell show initiative on any other matter.

Crandell is now letting County Counsel Anita Grant cover his behind for his actions. Grant claims he didn’t overstep himself, which is a classic case of an attorney saying the sky is black when it’s blue. The bylaws are very clear, that the town hall chair has the authority for setting meeting times, locations and dates, while the district supervisor has no official role in bylaws Crandell himself voted to approve on Oct. 18.

But we have to remember, Grant protects the supervisors and the county, not the community. She’s the one making sure the foxes can get in and out of the hen house without getting pecked by angry chickens.

The town hall attempted to meet on Thursday night. About 20 people, of all ages, showed up to stand on the steps in front of the building to discuss their concerns. However, only two board members showed up to the meeting, meaning no quorum was present and so business couldn’t be conducted.

It looked like Beath, Jordan and Crandell got their way.

But, not yet.

The town hall is now working to secure another meeting location going forward and plans to hold an emergency meeting to put its concerns on record before escrow closes.

Jordan’s plan fits nicely with what appears to be the county of Lake’s plan to turn the entire Northshore into a sacrifice zone.

The Board of Supervisors, led by the nose by then-County Administrative Officer Carol Huchingson, took the Lucerne Hotel away from the community in a way that hasn’t been seen in any other community, making it difficult for community groups to take possession of it without millions of dollars at their fingertips. It was based on greed, to make sure she got her big, fat retirement.

It’s scandalous. I cannot imagine such a thing happening in other communities, like Clearlake, Kelseyville, Lakeport or Middletown.

Yet it happened here. And unincorporated communities need to beware, because if it’s happening here, it can happen anywhere.

As I personally informed the Lake County Board of Education at its Wednesday meeting, Jordan and Santana’s grant looks like a badly mashed up eighth grade term paper, with plenty of aspirations but no understanding of real world consequences. They clearly needed to have a “partner” like LCOE to pick up the tab on the millions of dollars they don’t have to pull this off.

In addition, Santana, who committed LCOE to operating this shelter, needs to be thoroughly investigated with a view toward termination. We have many questions regarding her possible use of government time for personal ends, and have served the Board of Education with a public records act request to ascertain what was going on.

The Board of Education also needs to understand that if it doesn’t take action to condemn this matter soon, it will be too late, escrow will have closed, they will look complicit and liable through their own inaction.

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” said Elie Wiesel, who as a boy was held as a prisoner at Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated in April 1945 by men including my grandfather, who recounted for me in vivid detail that day and the price paid to keep our governments free and responsive to the people.

Lake County cannot afford any more of Tom Jordan’s wildly inappropriate, unstudied, damaging and egotistical projects.

He’s an embarrassment to the community and the tribe. He needs to go.

The community of Lucerne’s plea to the Scotts Valley tribe is this: Don’t do this. Don’t let Jordan do this in your name.

If you want to partner on a plan for economic development and use of the building for a hotel, conference center and restaurant — which the county of Lake itself has said is the highest and best use — there could be success on all sides.

What is being proposed on your behalf, in your name, will bring destruction to us and infamy to us all. There is no good ending to this story as Jordan and Santana have written it.

You have the power to write a different ending, to do the right thing, to build meaningful partnerships.

The question is: Will you?

Elizabeth Larson is the editor and publisher of Lake County News, and a proud resident of Lucerne, California.

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