Supervisor Estelle Fennell: Teamwork Gets Things Done

Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell will speak at the Shelter Cove Community Clubhouse from 5-7 p.m. April 16.

Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell will speak at the Shelter Cove Community Clubhouse from 5-7 p.m. April 16.

Noting that there’s been “a significant amount of progress” in Southern Humboldt and other outlying areas, Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell is seeking a second term to continue her work.

But she doesn’t view her job as a single-handed effort. Describing a recent assistance action with Southern Humboldt’s Locals on Patrol group, Fennell said a homeless man from Oregon was able to return there thanks to a group effort to help him.

“It’s all about teamwork and that’s my core message — we can work together on dealing with community issues,” Fennell said.

She believes bringing residents, county staff and other agencies in contact to work on community concerns is one of the most important aspects of being a supervisor.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to do that — to make those connections,” said Fennell. “And I really like the collaborative model, where the county works with the community to pool resources.”

Supporting fire departments is one of Fennell’s signature pieces of work. Local fire departments have gotten funding backup through Measure Z, the county’s public safety sales tax, which went into effect last year and generates millions of dollars annually for public safety services.

“I appreciate people stepping up and making it clear that we need help to get this extra coverage,” she said.

Measure Z funding has paid for essential firefighting equipment and is also supporting an effort to cover gaps in fire protection. Fennell said that a new requirement of the state’s Subdivision Map Act requires that firefighting services be in place even for basic property divisions such as lot line adjustments.

A member of the Board of Supervisors’ Fire Services Subcommittee, Fennell is working with fire protection districts on consolidations, annexations and forming new districts to enhance and support firefighting and emergency response services.

“We have more fire companies than in any other area of the county, so we’ve got a lot to work with but there are some areas that are not covered,” she said.

Fennell is also a member of the board’s Medical Marijuana Subcommittee and she believes the recently-implemented commercial medical marijuana ordinance is addressing “one of the key issues” in the county and in Southern Humboldt.

The ordinance is the first of its kind approved by a county and is based on the concept of locating and relocating medical marijuana grows in areas that are well-suited for agricultural production.

Though the ordinance process succeeded in responding to the concerns of environmental groups, it has drawn a lawsuit from the Humboldt Mendocino Marijuana Advocacy Project. The group’s lawsuit focuses on the ordinance’s cultivation allowances under ministerial permits, which don’t require public hearings or noticing neighbors.

Speaking generally about the public debate over marijuana regulations, Fennell said the county’s ordinance is comparatively conservative. “The fact of the matter is, we actually have created a document that is more restrictive than what the state will allow,” she continued.

Adding that ministerial permits will involve signoffs from state environmental agencies, Fennell said ministerial permits won’t be “a rubber-stamp kind of permit for anybody, big or small.”

The ordinance does allow larger grows on expansive parcels but Fennell said it also includes provisions that support smaller-scale cultivation. “We made sure that the small farmer would be included and also worked very hard to make sure we’d be on a better footing with regard to the environment,” she continued.

The county’s General Plan Update is another complex land-use document that juggles property uses and environmental concerns. Fennell is part of a board majority that’s worked to change the plan from the version approved by the Planning Commission in 2012.

Formerly the executive director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, Fennell is viewed by some as being part of an effort to steer the update toward an approach that favors property values over environmental values.

But Fennell sees the changes to the update as reflecting “the reality on the ground,” which she said was missing in the commission’s deliberations.

“We brought in the interested public and tried to make it more of a ground-truthing effort,” she continued, adding that the update includes many policies that safeguard the environment.

“If one sees the bigger picture, there’s a tremendous amount of protection for the environment in there and it’s a way, way bigger document than is required by the state,” Fennell said.

Another effort that Fennell has supported is establishment of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which allows municipalities to use PG&E infrastructure to deliver locally-produced power.

Under the CCA model, power sources such as solar, wind and cogeneration could be produced and used locally. Fennell believes areas such as Southern Humboldt — where energy independence through “living off the grid” is common — are well-positioned to offer innovations under a CCA arrangement.

Homelessness is another issue that supervisors and communities throughout the county are dealing with. The county’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has a new director, Connie Beck, and Fennell described Beck as a “boots on the ground” department leader who has met with Southern Humboldt residents.

An effort to expand the Eureka-based Mobile Intervention Services Team (MIST) into SoHum is underway, Fennell said.

She described other efforts, such as coordinating the clearing of fire-prone brush from the Bear River Canyon near Garberville and establishment of Access Humboldt TV in SoHum, as other examples of how teamwork can deliver community improvements.

“The county can’t do it all but the county can do a lot when it works with the community,” she said.