California Coastal Commission rejects Trinidad hotel plan

Tribe encouraged to reapply after water issues are addressed

While the Trinidad hotel project didn’t receive Coastal Commission approval, staff member Allison Dettmer said resubmitting an application wouldn’t take too much effort. (Screenshot)
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The controversial Trinidad hotel project failed to receive Coastal Commission approval at the commission’s meeting today in San Diego.

In a 3-6 vote, commissioners decided against signing off on the hotel’s consistency with state coastal policies. The Trinidad Rancheria tribe’s lack of a clear-cut plan for the hotel’s water supply remains a major issue, commissioners agreed.

Even with the rejection, multiple commissioners asked the tribe to reapply for approval as soon as it figures out the issues with water supply and the project’s visual details. Commissioner Donne Brownsey urged the tribe in the “strongest possible terms” to try again.

“You do live in one of the most beautiful places in California,” Brownsey said, addressing tribal leadership.

Currently, the tribe plans to use the Trinidad city government’s water supply for the hotel, but the city hasn’t yet committed to an arrangement. Trinidad officials are still conducting studies on how the hotel would affect the city’s overall water supply.

Commissioners who voted no said they support the project as a whole but believe the tribe still needs to work out some of its issues to fully be consistent with the state Coastal Act.

“I do believe there’s a project here… a way to overcome some of the visual impacts,” Brownsey said.

The controversy surrounding the project — which extended to public forums and an online petition receiving over 1,300 signatures — also prompted hesitation among commissioners about voting on the hotel’s future from as far south as San Diego.

In August, the commission will meet at the Wharfinger Building in Eureka, but the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has rejected attempts to postpone the hearing until that meeting.

At one point, Commissioner Mary Luévano asked a bureau representative in attendance if August is a possibility. It’s not, said the bureau’s Dan Hall, adding that he didn’t have the authority to clarify the bureau’s reasoning.

Without the bureau’s consent to reschedule, the commission found itself forced to either approve or reject the project, as delaying the decision would approve the hotel by default.

“Why aren’t we hearing this in Eureka?” asked Commissioner Steve Padilla. “Why isn’t there someone from the (bureau) here empowered to make that decision today?”

The hotel’s latest design is intended to be more compatible with the surrounding bay. (Contributed)

Rancheria officials put forth their best rebuttal to the commission’s outstanding concerns about the project’s water supply and visual appeal.

Rancheria CEO Jacque Hostler-Carmesin said members of the public have targeted the tribe, circulating misinformation about its proposal. Critics seized on a very early, outdated version of the building’s design, she said, misleading people into signing a Change.org petition that calls for more public input on the project.

Tribal members also took issue with a cartoon published in the North Coast Journal that depicts the hotel building as a live person, wrenching away a water hose from hands labeled “Trinidad.” The building is depicted as saying, through a gaping mouth and a speech balloon, “But, but… I gotta have it.”

“The cartoon was offensive,” Hostler-Carmesin said. “We have been the subject of a lot of harassment and untrue statements being made.”

As for water, Hostler-Carmesin said the tribe previously suggested an alternate method of bringing water in with trucks. The commission’s staff rejected it, she said.

Tribal chairman Garth Sundberg appealed to the commission about what the hotel would mean for tribal sovereignty and local economic development. It would address the “many issues” facing the tribe, he said.

“We deal with homelessness, drug addiction, unemployment, funding for education,” Sundberg said. “Law enforcement is one thing we really need, but it costs a lot of money. We need the revenue.”

Erik Howell, one of the three commissioners who voted to approve the proposal, suggested the commission approve the hotel under the condition that the tribe find a steady water source.

“They do it at their own risk,” Howell said of the tribe. “They’d be insane to open up a hotel without water.”

While the commission voted no, it wouldn’t take much effort or cost for the tribe to reapply, commission staff member Allison Dettmer noted. Resubmitting for consideration would be as simple as sending over a letter since the relevant information about the hotel is already in the commission’s record.

But the tribe can also move forward without state approval, since it answers not to California law but to federal environmental policies, along with the bureau.

In the meantime, commissioners said they want the project to be heard closer to Trinidad itself, so more residents could provide input.

“In my mind, because these local issues are so intense on all kinds of levels,” Brownsey said, “I really see a hearing in Eureka as an opportunity for the tribe to dispel the mythology and fear from other members of the community.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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