Homelessness dominated much of the public comment period at the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Amid a slew of routine ordinances, including one updating the salary schedule for county supervisors, residents, led by Supervisor Roger Gitlin, called for a “staging area” that would provide safe shelter for the homeless while steering them away from “iconic areas” like Beachfront Park and Battery Point Lighthouse.
Gitlin, who represents Del Norte County District 1, said he wanted the board to discuss establishing “FEMA-type housing” on public property as a place for those who “claim to have no shelter” to rest and sleep. This, he said, could satisfy a September 2018 ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated imposing criminal sanctions on homeless people for sleeping on public property when no other shelter was available violated the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Gitlin also brought up deferring a $96,000 loan payment to the Stimson Fund on behalf of the terminal project at the Del Norte County Regional Airport to the city to help fund $18,000 to $20,000 in capital expenditures at the Fred Endert Municipal Pool.
The Stimson Fund comes from the sale of 25,000 acres of land in the Mill Creek Watershed that belonged to Stimson Lumber. According to County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina, previous boards of supervisors have opted to use those dollars to support investments, such as the airport terminal.
At the Board’s June 26 meeting, however, Gitlin questioned the county’s practice of paying itself back using general fund money. On Tuesday, he asked that the proposed deferment of Stimson Fund dollars and establishing housing for the homeless be placed on a future Board of Supervisors agenda or be the subject of a stand-alone meeting.
“Let the community weigh in on how it feels it can best address this changing dynamic,” Gitlin said Tuesday of the homelessness issue.
David Cooper, a local attorney, also requested the issue of a “staging area” or “rest area” for the homeless be placed on a future Board of Supervisors agenda. Such an area would allow a safe space for the homeless to sleep, give them access to medical health, mental health and addiction services, he said.
Cooper also mentioned grant dollars being available to build such a facility and several organizations that are committed to start-up, finance and operate a rest area. Cooper said he has been following efforts from True North Organizing Network and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars to address homelessness. He is also aware of local involvement in other charities such as the Warmshowers program, which provides shelter to travelers.
In response to Cooper’s request, Board Chair Lori Cowan said the county is addressing homelessness.
“Everything you’ve talked about is being done,” she said, offering to speak with Cooper after the meeting to give him an update on how the county has been addressing homelessness. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Gitlin is not comprehending that or understanding that. Everything that you’ve explained is what’s happening and has been happening.”
Gitlin challenged Cowan’s statement, saying that Del Norte County is “depending on Sacramento to solve our local problem.”
“It’s just unfortunate that we can’t have an honest discussion without getting personal on this thing,” Gitlin said after he called Cowan a “very rude chairwoman” and told her to stop interrupting him. “There are things we can do, including (establishing) temporary FEMA-type housing that satiates and satisfies the court requirement that we have alternative sites so they’re not lying around in the bushes creating messes.”
Gitlin said he would continue to bring his constituents’ concerns about people who are homeless camping in Beachfront Park and other areas popular with residents and visitors to the Board of Supervisors.
“It is not business as usual, everybody,” he said, “and we have to deal with this otherwise we will become Little San Francisco, we will become Little Sacramento. We will become a not-very-nice place to live and it’s happening right before our eyes and we need to do something about it.”
At a town hall meeting hosted by State Sen. Mike McGuire in May, Cowan brought up former Gov. Jerry Brown’s No Place Like Home Program, which will dedicate $2 billion in bond proceeds to create housing, mental health and counseling programs for the chronically homeless.
At that meeting, Cowan said the county would be eligible for a minimum of $500,000 and could apply for up to $20 million to support the development of a permanent supportive housing program in Del Norte County.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: For further clarification on the matter below, see here.
In other matters Tuesday, the board unanimously approved an ordinance to adjust their compensation according to cost of living increases dating back to 2007. Introduced by County Counsel Liz Cable, the ordinance alters a life insurance benefit for elected positions to reflect assistant and confidential employee resolutions. This life insurance benefit includes $100,000 plus a year of salary or two years’ salary, whichever is greater, according to the county’s staff report.
All benefits are the same as other county elected officials, according to the report.
Currently county supervisors’ bi-weekly compensation is as follows: $1,462.60 for their first elected or appointed term; $1,608.86 for their second; $1,769.75 for their third; $1,946.72 for their fourth; $2,044.06 for their fifth; and $2,146.26 for their sixth.
The Board’s decision requires a public hearing before the ordinance can be adopted.
Noting that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors recently gave itself a 5 percent pay increase, Gitlin asked Cable if a referendum would be necessary if he and his colleagues deemed a raise necessary.
According to Cable, under the California Constitution, county boards are able to set their own salary via an ordinance. However, that decision could be contested by a public referendum, she said.
“It can be brought back by the public, which can go to a vote,” Cable said. “It’s not automatic. (The referendum) would have to be initiated.”
The proposed ordinance prompted District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard to urge staff to develop a higher compensation package as a way to bring new blood to the county supervisor role.
The county supervisor position is now a full-time job, but previous boards had been reluctant to discuss increasing the salary and benefits package. People aren’t interested in running for the position on its current salary on a part-time basis, he said.
“You either have to be retired or independently wealthy,” Howard said. “(The current compensation) precludes a lot of people who might be younger, might have a full-time job.”
The Board of Supervisors also approved a letter of opposition to Assembly Bill 1544, the Community Paramedicine or Triage to Alternate Destination Act. Authored by Democratic assemblyman Mike Gipson, who represents Los Angeles County’s South Bay region, AB 1544 requires that if the local Emergency Medical Services Agency establishes a community paramedicine or triage to alternative destination program, it must allow a public agency, such as fire departments, first right of refusal to operate such a program.
Gitlin, who proposed sending a letter of opposition regarding AB 1544, said the bill is a “one-size fits all approach that’s not a good fit for the community.” He noted that the California State Association of Counties and the Rural Counties Representatives of California also opposed the bill.
CSAC and RCRC have adopted an “oppose unless amended” position on AB 1544. In a letter State Sen. Richard Pan, chair of the Senate Health Committee, CSAC, RCRC and the Urban Counties of California representatives argue that the bill weakens local control of emergency medical services and incorporates unnecessary constraints.
They noted a distinction between public agencies designated as basic life support and those that offer advance life support, which means the agency has paramedics that can practice within their scope of employment. CSAC, RCRC and UCC requested the bill state first right of refusal would be granted to public agencies that are designated as advanced life support.