State Senator Mike McGuire was characteristically bright-eyed and energetic when he met with a couple of your Lost Coast Outpost correspondents at his local district office earlier this week. He seemed particularly jazzed about the Humboldt Holiday Food Drive that had just wrapped up, yielding more than eight tons of donated food thanks largely to the efforts of students from six local high schools — Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, St. Bernard’s, Ferndale and Fortuna.
“They blew it out of the water.” he said. “We’re so pleased and grateful.”
But he quickly transitioned into his frustration over the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s surprise omission of any size limits for weed grows in their recently released regulations (which we’ve addressed here and here).
Prop. 64 had promised that grows of more than one acre wouldn’t be allowed until 2023, giving small-scale cultivators a chance to get a foothold in the new legal marijuana market. So what happened?
“Someone’s been whispering in the ears of California Department of Food and Ag.,” McGuire said. “It’s a last-minute change to the draft rules, and no one knows where it came from. It came out of left field. And it’s appalling.”
He repeated that word — appalling — three times while discussing this issue. And while McGuire never seems to lose his composure or his air of cheerful determination, he appeared to find this particular development genuinely outrageous.
“We have upended every promise that was made,” he said. “This is the worst part of politics. This reeks of a smoke-filled backroom deal, and it’s appalling. My belief is this is why Americans are frustrated with our governmental system — because these last-minute backroom deals are consummated.”
The idea of removing the cap had never been discussed in the Senate, and McGuire vowed not to let it stand. “If the administration is not going to reinstate that five-year grace period, then we’ll start working to do it for them,” he said. The alternative — having no upper limit on the size of commercial weed grows in the state — would open “the floodgates to the Walmart of weed,” he said, calling that prospect “everyone’s worst fear when it comes to the issue of legalized recreational cannabis.”
Here are some highlights from the rest of our interview, divided by topic:
The AT&T Problem
We had a bill — SB 566 — that did not make it through the legislature — that would have given residents and local law enforcement the information they need to keep communities up-to-date when it comes to these catastrophic outages.
It would have mandated that a telecom disclose where the outage is at, an estimated time of a fix, [that they] be in constant communication with local emergency managers and law enforcement, and [that they] need to be able to inform the [Office of Emergency Services]. It faced stiff opposition; [we] could not get it passed. And the legislature should be ashamed of themselves.
McGuire said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the new year.
We’ve had six catastrophic outages in the last nearly four years. If this were to happen in L.A. or San Francisco or San Jose, the public would become unglued, yet it’s acceptable because we’re rural.
And i will be honest: One of the reasons why Donald Trump is our president here today is because the Democrats have forgotten about rural communities, rural America, and we have forgotten about rural California.
We’re in the 21st Century, and it’s time that the Democrats grow a spine, stand strong against telecom, and get common sense legislation passed that will save lives.
There are limits to what the state legislature can do on telecom issues since those companies are largely regulated by the federal government, but McGuire said the Public Utilities Commission has an open case focused on the lack of redundancy and resiliency, particularly in rural communities.
We have no standardized emergency alert system in place, and what we’ve seen from the wild-land fires in Southern California and the wild-land fires on the North Coast and North Bay, different counties deploy the technology in many different ways.
And we need a standardized emergency alert system that’s technology neutral, that residents can rely on, that can be deployed to phone lines, cell phones, radio, television and social media all at the same time. And that’s another piece of legislation that we’ll be advancing this year.
Despite the lack of understanding and belief of our president, climate change exists, right? And if we take a look a the last 10 years, the wild-land fire events in this state have grown — size and scope — significantly.
We don’t have a standardized emergency alert system, and we have not invested nearly enough in our mutual aid system for local fire and CalFire. So those are going to be two major focus areas of ours, because our district, the North Coast, has been adversely impacted when it comes to these wild-land fire events.
This is a new reality. We have to play catch-up. And the more information we can give residents in their time of need, the more lives we’re gonna save. Residents deserve timely information that’s accurate.
The Opioid/Heroin Epidemic
McGuire said there will be a follow-up to last month’s well-attended and well-received town hall sometime in the new year — probably in the spring.
[There’s] five times the overdose rate compared to the statewide average here in Humboldt County. Twice the death rate from opioid addictions here in Humboldt County compared to the rest of the state. And you take a look at the number of opioid prescriptions — off the charts compared to statewide average.
Regarding needle-exchange specifically, McGuire said:
I’m a believer that a needle exchange [program] saves lives and helps create a safer community, particularly when it comes to hepatitis, for example, and other transmitted diseases.
At the same time, though, I also believe there needs to be a balance. What I’ve heard is [the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction] went from a one-to-one [exchange, meaning people have to turn in a used needle to receive a new one] to a needs-based [system] that very well may have contributed to needles being deposited in some public areas and parks. …
The last thing that we should be doing is going to our corners and yelling at each other. … Candidly, we have the worst drug-addiction crisis in our nation’s history, and the less time we spend talking with each other the larger this crisis is gonna grow. And I am deeply concerned about, in particular, rural California and the lack of resources we’ve had flow in.
Opioids absolutely serve a purpose when it comes to healing a body. The prescription numbers [in Humboldt County] have gone down, but they’re still way out of whack compared to the rest of the state, and that’s why I think we need to have some greater oversight.
I understand it can be controversial, but the gas tax is going to start moving — six million [dollars] into the county of Humboldt next year. That’s just for unincorporated roads. It’s the largest investment in state funds in our history. And an additional $600,000 for Eureka.
With this, Humboldt will receive more state funds than it gives to Sacramento on an annual basis.
We got this bond passed in 2015. Republicans and Democrats worked together as they should. This “No Place Like Home” initiative.
My goal: making sure that we always have a set-aside for small cities in rural counties. We were able to get language embedded so that every county, no matter your population, gets a minimum of a half-million dollars a year. …
So Humboldt County is going to get $1.8 million in permanent homeless housing dollars in 2018. And then they’re going to be able to go compete in competitive pots for like-sized counties.
So for the first time in the state’s history, rather than Humboldt having to go fight against L.A. or Riverside or San Francisco or even Sonoma County, they’ll be able to go in against counties that have similar-sized populations.
McGuire noted that much of this money will be based on local point-in-time counts, and we noted that there was a great deal of skepticism about the accuracy of the most recent count here in Humboldt, since there were far fewer volunteers than in previous years and the numbers came out much lower than the year prior.
There are no dollars available from the state to fund point-in-time counts. My thoughts, being candid: There are tens of millions of dollars at stake, and investing the resources to ensure an accurate point-in-time count is absolutely necessary. I think locals need to make it a high priority.
The dollars [from the recent bond] are gonna go for chronic homeless residents. I know some say that if we invest in homeless services then more will move into the county. Data doesn’t show that, but I understand that there’s concern about that. We’re basing this model off of Utah. [See here.] It has an incredible success rate.
I’ll fast-forward and say, the only way we’re gonna solve the homeless crisis in California is being able to provide permanent housing wrapped with mental health and and drug- and alcohol-addiction services. And it’s about damn time.
If you are a taxpayer that’s concerned about the bottom line, this investment makes sense too because the taxpayers spend $100,000 per year in unreimbursed emergency room visits, stays in county jail and run-ins with the law [for each homeless person].
We have some of the highest homeless numbers per capita in the state. The more we’re spending upstream the less we’ll spend long-term.
I think we need to invest in evidence-based services, and all the data shows that when we provide individuals who are chronically homeless a permanent home they’re able to kick their drug addiction, finally access mental health services, and they’re able to secure — within 36 months — a job and get their life back.
Single-Payer Health Care
I hope that [Senate Bill] 562 [The Healthy California Act, a single-payer measure that stalled this year in the legislature] moves this [upcoming] year. California has led on all issues of climate; we lead America in job growth; we lead America with our economy; we have 25 percent of America’s GDP.’ and we need to lead on health care.
What we have found is, while I’m an acute supporter of the Affordable Care Act, it’s extremely vulnerable to the political winds of change in Washington, D.C.
This issue is too important to hold. My own editorial is, I think the Senate and the Assembly need to come together as grown-ups, work through the challenges with this bill and get it passed.
The North Coast has some of the highest rates of insured through the ACA. And there are much smaller economies in the world that have been able to pass a form of universal health care, and it’s time that California does the same. Our health depends on it. … Our current health care system does not work. California can do better.
One little post-script:
Before parting ways and heading to points south in his district, McGuire told the Outpost that he has endorsed California Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles in the race for U.S. Senate, snubbing the 25-year incumbent, octogenarian Dianne Feinstein, who has recently run afoul of the progressive’s left flank.