From JANIE SHEPPARD
July 7, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California
In its campaign to make the idea of a mega mall on the old Masonite site attractive to county voters, DDR (Developers Diversified Realty) didn’t count on Ron Lippert. Turning up at a focus group, Wednesday, July 1, in Ukiah at the Hampton Inn, Lippert and 11 other gentlemen were paid $50 each to let Nichols Research, Inc., a Fresno-based research outfit, pick their brains and shape their opinions.
In a phone conversation with Lippert, he told me how it unfolded. For starters, 9 participants initially favored DDR’s plan for the mega mall, 2 were neutral, and 1 (Lippert) was opposed.
The process began with the participants registering their awareness of local institutions and personalities by using a hand held device akin to a game boy toy. The results are revealing. A third did not recognize the names of the members of the Board of Supervisors. A majority knew of the Ukiah Daily Journal’s existence, but only half ever read it. Only 10% (Lippert?) ever listened to public radio station KZYX. All, however, recognized Tom Allman, Sheriff. As a whole, the participants were not well-informed; Lippert stated their views on the mega mall were informed by “hearsay.”
Lippert, 60, whom I have never met, described himself as sporting dreadlocks, a taxi driver for Hey Taxi in Willits and as a caretaker of exotic animals. Some Googling turned up his name as a frequent participant at public meetings and as leading a Hobbit-like existence as land steward on the Eel River. In short, an iconoclast, unique Mendo variety.
To the consternation of DDR, Lippert, bringing all his experience and skills to bear, changed 11 minds. Recounting the history of the dioxin-contaminated Remco site in Willits and the air and chemical pollution from the old Masonite plant, he noted that the resulting pollution occurred before enactment of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The public didn’t know about the pollution until it was too late.
Recall that by using the initiative process, DDR avoids analysis under CEQA. Once again, we wouldn’t know the consequences before it was too late. Lippert pointed out the comparison.
In the same vein, he pointed out the true destination of any profits from the mega mall would be Ohio or Germany, not California. And what about DDR’s dire financial straits in the nationwide recession? Summing up, he pointed out that the mega mall would mean money for DDR and problems for Mendocino County.
Turning to Mendocino County, he painted a portrait. Imagine, he said local products, organic GMO-free foods, farmers’ stores, locally manufactured goods and high-quality medical marijuana. All supporting a life-giving, healing lifestyle, he said.
Contrast that to a DDR mall: generic junk stuff, liquor, cigarettes, a lifestyle that saps life out of a body, the land and institutions, he said.
How would Lippert advise county voters to become informed? “Pay attention,” he said, “Spend the same amount of time listening to the radio or reading the newspaper as brushing your teeth.”
Watch out DDR. Lippert’s message changed 11 minds and could change thousands more as voters consider how to vote on Measure A in November.