Ryan Burns / @ 5:25 p.m. / Local Government

County Government Wins Awards; Supervisors Dole Out More Measure Z Funds


Humboldt County Supervisors (from left) Ryan Sundberg, Estelle Fennell, Virginia Bass, Rex Bohn and Mike Wilson.

Meetings of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors are often riddled with arguments and grievances, but this morning a good chunk of time was given over to accolades as six Humboldt County programs were recognized by the California State Association of Counties for being “among the most innovative, efficient and cost-effective in the state.”

With a record 288 entries for the annual CSAC honors, Humboldt landed more awards than any other county in the state, according to DeAnn Baker, CSAC’s Deputy Executive Director for Legislative Affairs.

Baker presented various county departments with three Merit Awards and three Challenge Awards, with the latter being more prestigious. The Merit Awards went to:

  • The North Coast Department of Child Support Services for its process for collecting child support payments for parents when the other parent is receiving worker’s compensation.
  • The County Administrative Office for its “All Hands Training Day,” a mandatory full day of training held on what was traditionally a county holiday.
  • The Humboldt County Department of Public Works for its tsunami zone app, which offers an online interface showing tsunami hazard zones for use in emergency planning efforts.

The Challenge Awards went to:

  • The County Administrative Office for the “Budget Roadshow,” for which staff and elected officials took to the road to talk to various communities about how to spend cannabis tax revenue.
  • The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office for “Reprogramming Corrections,” a collaboration with HSU sociology students to reduce recidivism and help former inmates reenter the community.
  • The Humboldt County Agricultural Department for the cannabis track-and-trace pilot project, which established a program to track the movement of marijuana products as they move through the distribution chain.

Each award came with a glass trophy and a brief photo shoot for the staff members involved. After they were all handed out Baker congratulated the county on a job well done, saying, “You have an amazing team, amazing staff and amazing leadership.”

After the brief love-fest it was back down to business. Before the lunch break the board passed a pair of weed-related items. The first extended an existing prohibition on commercial cultivation in the Coastal Zone for a total of two years — or at least until the California Coastal Commission gets around to approving the county’s weed ordinance, which should happen in that timeframe.

The second resolution made recreational (or “adult use”) weed subject to the county’s existing Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance. It will also allow interim permits to be issued to folks who applied for cultivation permits for their existing grow operations prior to July 14. This ordinance will also preserve local control, allowing only locals with county-issued permits to apply for permits from the state.

There was some discussion among staff and supervisors about whether the interim permits should be given to people whose applications are nearly complete, requiring something as simple as a signature. The board ultimately elected to give Planning Director John Ford discretion to reject an interim permit in such cases. 

About half a dozen members of the public got up to address the ordinance, with all but one (the perpetually weed-wary Kent Sawatsky) speaking in favor of the interim permits. 

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson expressed some reservations, noting that there is a lot of deference being given to people who’ve effectively been involved in an illegal activity, some of whom may have violated the California Environmental Quality Act by filling in wetlands, grading hillsides and more.

Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell countered that the issue is not black-and-white, and the larger goal is to bring existing growers into compliance with state and local regulations.

Wilson also expressed concern that the county might be approving more cultivation sites than the coming legal-weed economy can sustain, but Ford said “the health of the economy is at stake” and he and the rest of staff are “trying to enable Humboldt County to be competitive at the state level when it comes to licensing.” By allowing cultivators to get in on the ground floor of the state’s new industry, Ford suggested, they’ll be well positioned to compete against other players.

The item passed unanimously.

After the lunch break, the board reconvened to consider how to allocate nearly $700,000 in unspent first quarter revenue from Measure Z, the voter-approved half-a-percent sales tax to fund public safety and other essential county services. 

The Measure Z Citizens Advisory Committee had already made its recommendations, chief among them repairs to the county’s ailing roads. But that didn’t stop a host of department heads and the supervisors themselves from making their own pitches.

Wilson initially suggested simply holding the $700,000 until next year’s round of funding requests, but Fennell and First District Supervisor Rex Bohn advocated strongly for giving the lion’s share of the money to the Public Works department for road repairs. 

A few of the other requests:

Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck said that three local residential treatment programs need to become drug Medi-Cal certified in order to bill clients and get reimbursed.

Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal said local agencies have long needed a consolidated dispatch services system, allowing local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and other emergency responders to have more efficient and effective communication. He asked for $50,000 to conduct a feasibility study for this effort.

Honsal also asked for partial funds to fix the county’s outdated and failing radio tower system.

Public Works Director Tom Mattson argued for road funding, noting that heavy winter weather is on the way and conditions are only getting worse. “Our road fund is running on fumes right now,” Mattson said. While Senate Bill 1 is expected to deliver $54 billion in road funding over the next decade, Mattson said those funds will only provide about half the money needed just to keep Humboldt County roads in their current condition.

District Attorney Maggie Fleming requested $40,000 to fund a new position — someone to comb through the hours of video footage that’s part of criminal trials these days, footage from dash cameras, body cameras and more, all of which has to be turned over to defense attorneys in a timely manner. “Literally it’s a tsunami of discovery that we have to turn over,” Fleming said.

Warren Tamerius of Hoopa asked for funding to upgrade the radio system for the K’ima:w Medical Center, which was one of the only Measure Z grantees to have money left over from a prior award. 

And two people got up to speak on behalf of Humboldt County 2-1-1, a local chapter of a nationwide emergency response network.

The board spent some time debating the merits of each proposal before unanimously agreeing to give $500,000 to Public Works for roads; $22,000 to the K’ima:w Medical Center; $50,000 to the Sheriff’s Office for its dispatch feasibility study, plus another $50,000 for the radio tower project; $40,000 to the District Attorney’s office for the new position; and $35,000 to Humboldt County 2-1-1.

The vote was unanimous.


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