At the outset of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting — following the obligatory Salute to the Flag, that is — Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone asked for some time to address the community. He proceeded to offer an unqualified apology for employing the term “Oriental” at last week’s meeting when referring to social rituals in some Asian cultures.
Reading from a prepared statement, Madrone said he now understands that using the word “Oriental” as a blanket term for people from Asia “contributes to an ignorant homogenization that is both offensive and dehumanizing.” He promised to continue learning.
As it turned out, this wasn’t Madrone’s only apology on the day.
“We’re entering a new era” in the COVID-19 pandemic, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said during his latest biweekly address to the board — “not quite the end of the pandemic, but the closest we’ve been yet.”
The CDC’s recently updated mask guidance for fully vaccinated people is cause for optimism, as is the growing body of evidence for vaccine efficacy, in the doctor’s view.
“The science supports that if [you’re] fully vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, you will likely have no symptoms or, at worst, very mild cold-like symptoms [while] avoiding hospitalization, ICU and death,” Hoffman said.
That message has been echoed in recent weeks by four of the five supervisors, all of whom have spoken openly about getting their own COVID jabs while encouraging the public to follow suit. Madrone and First District Supervisor Rex Bohn even recorded public service announcements
at the Ferndale headquarters of the Outpost‘s parent company, Lost Coast Communications. [Correction: Bohn recorded his in Ferndale while Madrone’s was recorded outside, on McKinleyville’s Hammond Trail.] You can listen to them below:
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell, meanwhile, has been the exception. While she has frequently asked clarifying questions of Hoffman during his regular COVID updates, she has remained circumspect about her own views on vaccination, even as the board deliberates about how and when to return to in-person meetings.
Given her position as a public representative, not to mention the public health implications of vaccine hesitancy in rural American counties in particular, the Outpost tried several times over the past week to get Bushnell on the record about her own vaccination status.
She didn’t respond to three emails sent last week, but after a follow-up text sent Tuesday morning, Bushnell called the Outpost during the lunch break of Tuesday’s meeting. She was polite yet firm in her stance.
“I decline to discuss it because I prefer to keep my medical doings private,” Bushnell said. “But I encourage people to seek the vaccine if they choose — but research it. Consider the data.”
So there’s that.
During Hoffman’s presentation earlier in the day, Bushnell had asked him exactly how many of the 63 new cases reported on Monday were people who’d been fully vaccinated.
Hoffman said he didn’t know the number from that specific group but that, broadly speaking, Humboldt’s so-called “breakthrough” cases are in line with national statistics. “The data supports that among the fully vaccinated, even mildly symptomatic COVID-19 is extremely rare, occurring in less than 0.026 percent of fully vaccinated [people],” he said. “This means that out of the 60,000-plus Humboldt residents who have been fully vaccinated, only a little over a dozen would have had a positive COVID test, with most of them having no symptoms or very mild symptoms. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing so far in reality.”
Public health officials plan to spend the coming weeks vaccinating as many people as possible and considering new masking guidelines to implement come June 15, when the state will fully reopen and drop its mask mandate. In the meantime, face masks will continue to protect the vulnerable and unvaccinated while buying time for the lates eligible age group — 12- to 15-year-olds — to get their shots, Hoffman said.
While Humboldt may be close to the end of the pandemic, we’re clearly not there yet.
“What we are currently seeing in our community are pockets of unvaccinated people who are getting exposed and infected by a more contagious UK variant that is continuing to drive our case rate and positivity rate higher than the rest of the state,” Hoffman said. The county’s case rate and testing positivity rate are likely to remain near their current levels into July, in part due to the arrival of new mutations, such as the P1 variant from Brazil, which has made its way behind the redwood curtain.
People who still need their vaccines can visit vaccines.gov or the state-operated MyTurn site or contact CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens, Barnes Arcata Family Drug, Costco, Safeway or Greens Pharmacy in Fortuna, Hoffman said. Anyone having trouble booking an appointment cal call the county at (707) 441-5000 for help.
For people who have yet to be vaccinated, Hoffman said county health officials “strongly urge you to wait no longer. Please get vaccinated now. Let us know what barriers you have, be they physical, financial [or] medical knowledge barriers. We want to remove those barriers before we remove the public health restrictions that are currently protecting the unvaccinated from COVID-19 that is circulating widely in our community.”
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson reiterated that last point, noting that with the mask mandate set to be lifted in less than a month, the risks for the unvaccinated will only increase, especially with more virulent variants now causing serious illness and hospitalizations among younger patients.
“It’s just part of our personal responsibility,” he said, referring to vaccinations.
Bohn held up a stack of papers and said they’re filled with false conspiracy theories about the COVID vaccines, including one that claims a boy who received his shots started displaying “monkey tendencies.” His constituents send such material to him daily. “There’s a wide swath of young people that believe all this stuff,” he said. “Maybe our campaign going forward should be tackling the B.S.”
Climate Action Plan
In preparation for the inevitable future catastrophes wrought by a warming planet, county staff has been working with employees from Humboldt’s seven incorporated cities on a draft Regional Climate Action Plan, and today the Board of Supervisors got an update on the status of that plan.
In a PowerPoint presentation, County Planner Connor McGuigan said the goal of this process is for the county and all seven cities to wind up with their own plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A first draft for an overall plan should be completed in the next couple of months, after which each jurisdiction can start developing their individual plans, McGuigan said.
According to a countywide greenhouse gas inventory conducted by the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, transportation is the No. 1 source of emissions in Humboldt. Other major sources include combustion of fuels such as natural gas and propane, electricity consumption and livestock. (Cow burps, in other words.)
The emissions breakdown by county jurisdiction, as seen in the pie chart above, track pretty closely to population, though the unincorporated region has more livestock and more driving, so its emissions are a bit elevated, comparatively speaking. But the county’s overall emissions have dropped since 1990, as you may or may not be able to see in the bar chart below. (The blue bar on the left represents 1990 emissions; the orange is 2015.)
The state has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030 and another target of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045. The county’s draft Climate Action Plan mirrors those goals.
How will we get there? McGuigan said smarter land use planning can reduce emissions along with more electric vehicles and a greater focus on public transportation, walking and bicycling. Renewable energy generation, such as solar farms and wind energy, can also make a major difference, so the county is looking at ways to streamline the permitting process for such projects.
Jurisdictions in California will have an easier time streamlining development if they have adopted a Climate Action Plan that meets the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), “and we’re designing our Climate Action Plan to meet these requirements,” McGuigan said.
Once the public draft is made available, county staff plans to hold a series of public workshops while gathering input from stakeholder groups.
After the presentation, Bohn asked how involved the board-appointed citizens advisory committee for this project has been in these planning efforts. Planning and Building Director John Ford conceded that the committee has yet to be consulted. He apologized and promised to do so forthwith.
Several community members called in to urge the board to adopt a qualified Climate Action Plan. Wilson made a motion to do just that, and Madrone seconded it. Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Virginia Bass brought up the issue of NIMBYism, noting the public opposition to the Terra-Gen wind farm project, which the board voted down, and recent solar farm proposals.
When it comes to green energy infrastructure, Bass said, “While people may want to see this, they don’t want it where they can see it. … We can’t keep saying ‘no.’”
The board wound up voting unanimously to accept the report and direct staff to continue moving toward a qualified Climate Action Plan, with amendments to facilitate permitting of solar facilities.
Code of Conduct and Ethics
For the last item of the day’s agenda, taken up after the lunch break, the board embarked on a study session for adopting a code of conduct and ethics. Human Resources Director Linda Le explained that it’s important to outline expected behaviors and identify ways of addressing to violations of that code.
Shelline Bennett, an attorney with the firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, led the study session, walking the board through a draft version of the Code of Conduct and Ethics, which you can read by clicking here. The laws around ethics are “vast and complex,” Bennett said, and violations are handled in a number of ways, including through the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Immediately after Bennett’s presentation it looked as if the draft document might get adopted without much discussion, but the board soon embarked on a rather veiled airing of generalized grievances, not unlike a group therapy session.
Madrone said the draft was excellent, but adopting a code of ethics is the easy part. What’s hard is navigating a civil conversation when someone violates that code. He returned to his use of the term “Oriental” last week, saying he initially reacted defensively to being called out in the media before realizing, after a series of conversations, that, “I literally made racist comments and broad generalizations.” How should the board address such transgressions in the moment? he asked.
Bass said she and her colleagues sometimes have a tendency to talk down to each other and use sarcasm.
Bushnell said she’d like all the board members to be kinder to each other.
Madrone said he appreciated those comments and issued another apology. He said that at Bushnell’s first meeting, he brought up the issue of perceived conflicts of interest and “ended up being very preachy” and condescending. For that he apologized to both Bushnell and Bohn.
Bass asked how the board should handle it when a public commenter is making unfounded accusations about county staff. Is it okay to break in with a reminder to be polite?
County Counsel Jefferson Billingsley said there’s no harm in asking people to maintain “a certain level of decorum,” just as long as it doesn’t cross the line into chilling public participation.
These feelings having been expressed, the board proceeded to adopt the draft document unanimously. A final draft will be brought back to the board for adoption at a future date.