Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell is set to appoint Rhonnda “Ronnie” Pellegrini to the Humboldt County Planning Commission tomorrow. 

A Marine Corps veteran and Carlotta resident, Pellegrini comes from a family with four generations in the commercial fishing industry, and she’s intimately familiar with that trade’s risks and tragedies. Her brother and brother-in-law were both killed in a 1987 commercial fishing boat accident at the turbulent mouth of Humboldt Bay.

In the 1990s, Pellegrini served as an aide to Republican Congressman Frank Riggs, working as his natural resources coordinator. She was present during the infamous 1997 incident when sheriff’s deputies swabbed pepper spray into the eyes of Earth First! protesters. (She appears at the 15-minute mark of this video.)

In 2001, Pellegrini was appointed to a seat on the Humboldt County Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District’s Board of Commissioners, replacing the late Jimmy Smith after he was elected to the Board of Supervisors. She served out the remainder of Smith’s term, won reelection in 2003 and ran unopposed in 2007. Pellegrini was the first woman to serve as president of the Harbor District.

During her tenure, Pellegrini advocated for improved harbor safety measures as well as large-scale port and rail development. In 2005, for example, she embarked on a three-city tour of China with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his staff, hoping to lure Chinese shipping interests to Humboldt Bay. 

By the time her final term expired in 2010, the Harbor District board had undergone a political sea change with the election of several people more skeptical of large-scale port and rail development, including current Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson.

Reached by phone this morning, Fennell said Pellegrini’s experience on the Harbor Commission and other bodies — including Head Start and the Pacific Marine Conservation Council — will allow her to “hit the ground running.”

“She’s also known as a coalition builder,” Fennell said. She called Pellegrini “a worker” and said her knowledge of the fishing industry will prove valuable on the Planning Commission.

Pellegrini is also known as a political conservative, which may earn Fennell some favor in Republican-leaning Fortuna as she faces a runoff challenge this November against SoHum business owner Michelle Bushnell

Fennell’s previous appointee on the Planning Commission, forester and property rights advocate Bob Morris, resigned in December, immediately following Fennell’s vote with the majority to reject Terra-Gen’s $300 million Humboldt Wind Energy Project.

Pellegrini’s appointment is on the consent agenda for Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.