2nd District Candidates Debate Public Safety, Homeless Issues

A debate between incumbent Estelle Fennell and challenger Bud Rogers, candidates for the Humboldt County 2nd District supervisor’s seat, was well attended on Wednesday, May 4. The debate was put on by the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project (CLMP) and broadcast live on radio station KMUD for the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project talk show.

About 35 people attended the debate at the John Haynes Memorial Veterans Hall in Garberville. Questions, including those submitted by the audience, were asked by moderator Bonnie Blackberry of CLMP.

In opening statements Fennell said she enjoyed working with her community as county supervisor. She commented that the supervisors had made great strides and she wanted to continue her work. Fennell emphasized the value of local teamwork.

“I want to continue serving and working with my constituents to make Humboldt County an even greater place to be,” Fennell said.

Rogers gave a brief résumé of his work with veterans, and on boards of veterans groups and local nonprofit organizations.

“As time goes on, change accelerates exponentially,” Rogers said of his reasons for running for county supervisor. “I want to be an agent of pro-action on the board. We’re facing many problems that are getting worse, not better.”

Rogers listed lack of housing, environmental degradation, and loss of tourism as local challenges and noted the larger issues of globalization and national economic policies as factors in many local problems.

Fennell’s remarks on issues facing Southern Humboldt County emphasized local people and groups working together to alleviate problems. She indicated that the supervisors would often help when willingness was demonstrated by groups to address a need.

Asked the three biggest challenges or issues that would need attention by the supervisors in the next four years, Rogers cited lack of housing and homelessness as the most serious problems.

“People need a place to thrive,” he said.

Fennell stated that community safety was one of the biggest issues to address. “That has to do with both law enforcement coverage in the outlying areas … and fire protection throughout the whole county,” she said. Fennell agreed that homelessness was a priority issue. She pointed out that housing and homelessness were big problems not only for Humboldt County, but all over the nation. Fennell added that the county had adopted a resolution on housing strategies and was working with communities for big changes in the county. She praised the new director of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, Connie Beck.

Rogers recommended the establishment of a public bank, a bank of Humboldt County, that he said would keep money local and divest from Wall Street.

“We need to protect ourselves from the casino style economic system that the Wall Street banks represent,” he said. He cited the current banking system as a source of homelessness and lack of housing. “I’m telling you that if we had our own public bank then we could turn this economy here around in Humboldt County. We could do development,” Rogers said.

Fennell observed that as a county supervisor, one does not deal with international banking. “We have a sterling example of community involvement in our local bank,” Fennell said. “We have a bank that actually wants to provide affordable housing in our community.”

Rogers suggested Humboldt County should become a charter county. “What it is, in a charter system of government, is a way to become equal with the state in our legislative natures,” Rogers said. “A home rule charter could protect our local laws,” he commented later.

Fennell said she had researched the mechanism of a charter county and offered her observations. “A municipal charter means you can legislate on any matter that is a municipal affair. A county charter means the county government can legislate on county government internally, like who is elected, the number of electeds, and the function of county employees. That’s basically what a charter county would do,” Fennell said.

Richardson Grove Highway Widening Project

Fennell said that she supported widening Highway 101 through Richardson Grove. “I do support the realignment of Richardson Grove for the traffic impacts. I think if done well it’s something that is necessary and good,” she commented.

Rogers said he was against it. “I absolutely do not support blasting through Richardson Grove and realigning it,” he stated. He cited environmental issues as his reason for opposition to the project.

The Garbage Problem

The candidates were asked what measures they would support to decrease the vast amount of waste and garbage in the woods, in the streets, and on the river bars.

Rogers advocated for tiny home villages to house people without homes.

Fennell responded, “Okay, if you have people in a tiny home, where are they gonna put all that crap?” Fennell noted that plenty of people with homes in the woods just throw their garbage over the side of the road. “I think better general human behavior is the answer,” Fennell remarked.

Local County Infrastructure

Blackberry asked about the condition of the John Haynes Memorial Veterans Hall in Garberville. That led to discussion of the use of the hall for an extreme weather shelter in Southern Humboldt.

Fennell explained the steps in a memorandum of understanding that had been devised several years ago for using the Veterans Hall as an extreme weather shelter and acknowledged that it had not worked out very well this winter. She pointed out that other organizations and locations were “possibly looking at doing the same thing in rotation.”

Rogers said of the need for an extreme weather shelter, “We cannot let human beings freeze outside on those terrible raging nights.” He pointed out that this winter the veterans in charge of the Veterans Hall would not let it be used as an emergency shelter.

Both Fennell and Rogers noted the state of disrepair of the Veterans Hall, which is county property, and supported upgrading it. Fennell said that if local groups would step up and take the initiative, the county might help with fixing it up.

Cannabis

There was some discussion about the impacts of indoor cannabis cultivation on the environment and society. Indoor cannabis growing was cited by both candidates as having a negative effect on housing availability.

Fennell said that the county’s new commercial cannabis ordinance would only allow indoor growing in commercial, manufacturing, or commercial zones. When pressed by Blackberry, Fennell acknowledged that “mixed light cannabis cultivation” in the county ordinance allows diesel generators, but they cannot be “huge or running 24/7,” she said. Fennell said the county’s Medical Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee was working on clarifying the policy. “It’s going to be a challenge,” she added.

“Those days of people growing marijuana in their living rooms are going to be over once we even this whole thing out,” Fennell said.

Rogers agreed with Fennell on the negative impacts of indoor cannabis growing. “The idea of growing marijuana inside under lights using PG&E nuclear power plants and out in the forest using diesel generators is a bad, bad idea,” Rogers commented.