In their first substantive meeting in three weeks, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors assembled via Zoom again Tuesday to address a range of topics, including the ever-present COVID pandemic, the boom in air traffic at the Humboldt County Airport, the thrills of redistricting and more.
Here’s a rundown of the major topic of discussion.
Small growers suffering
During the first public comment period of the day, four local cannabis farmers called in to address what two of them described as a “dire situation” in their line of work. As reported in a recent High Times story, the price of outdoor, light-dep weed from the Emerald Triangle has collapsed this year, largely due to overproduction in the legal marketplace.
John Wilhelm of McKinleyville said that this year’s smoke-damaged harvest is being returned by retailers as unsalable. Meanwhile, he said, mega-farms to our south are flooding the market with indoor cannabis, with the ensuing glut of commodity-scale buds forcing small farmers into bankruptcy.
“We need your help,” Wilhelm told the supervisors. He asked that local growers be given more time to meet the requirements of existing compliance agreements with the county and that they be allowed to enter into payment plans for taxes and permitting fees.
Tina Gordon lambasted “exploitive and irresponsible processors,” saying she got ripped off by out-of-town interests and asking that local growers be allowed to process their crops on their own farms.
James Bueller, a welder/fabricator who recently moved to Humboldt County, evidently to join the cannabis industry, said that while the region may have worldwide recognition for its quality bud, the county is “shooting itself in the foot” with overtaxation.
“Small, independent producers aren’t able to compete at a commodity scale,” said Lindsey Jones of Willow Creek-based Aloha Humboldt. She asked for more transparency on county spending of revenues from Measure S, the county’s cannabis cultivation tax, and more flexibility in methods of selling the crops, such as cannabis tastings and farmers markets.
As anyone who’s been tracking recent case counts, hospitalizations and deaths can attest, the state of the COVID pandemic in Humboldt has been bleak of late. But in an update to the board today, Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said things are finally trending in the right direction with declines in both case numbers and hospitalizations.
In his latest written report to the board, Hoffman outlined the burden being placed on local health care workers during the recent surge in cases. The average ICU stay for COVID patients is upwards of 19 days, and the amount of hands-on care they require is “incredible,” the report says. Paralyzed patients must be turned several times a day by nursing teams also charged with managing ventilators, intravenous lines and monitors while wearing protective equipment.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of hospital workers with traumatic experiences similar to those who work in war zones,” the report says.
An unprecedented number of healthcare workers have simply left the workforce due to the physical and emotional toll, leaving hospitals to fill the positions with traveling workers who are in high demand across the state.
Hoffman said that while there has been “a tremendous number of cases” among children, he doesn’t attribute it to schools reopening. Rather, he said kids make up a large proportion of those still unvaccinated, and enhanced testing is picking up the infections. Protective measures in the schools are working, Hoffman said, but vaccination will work even better. He said there are indications that vaccines will be approved for kids age 5 to 11 as soon as November.
Hoffman repeated the message that Public Health has been delivering for months now. “The vaccine is by far the best way to prevent this disease and address it as a social concern and a community concern,” he said.
After his presentation, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell asked Hoffman what advice he has for those who haven’t gotten their jab.
“Whatever people’s opinions, there are people who are not going to get vaccinated,” she said. “I wonder if you have some options or suggestions for that group of people. What should they do?”
Hoffman began by suggesting that people should consult with their doctors and “actually look at the research and the data” on vaccines, but Bushnell interrupted, saying she was asking options and guidance for people who simply aren’t going to get the vaccine.
Hoffman again suggested that people laboring under “misinformation or mistruths” should ask vaccinated people for their opinion or look to leaders in their community. But people who just aren’t willing to get the vaccine should mask and stay away from social gatherings, he suggested.
Bushnell said she’d heard some suggestions for keeping your immune system up, such as taking vitamins.
“There’s no recommended vitamin mixture that is proven to reduce your chances of getting COVID,” Hoffman replied, adding that prevention is the best medicine.
“I know what your thoughts as a doctor are,” Bushnell said. “I just want to have a conversation because not everybody is choosing that path.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said he understands that some people are choosing not to get vaccinated. “I would ask those folks, if you do get COVID, will you choose not to go to the hospital?” He said he didn’t mean to sound harsh, but COVID patients are putting a massive strain on local hospitals while other patients deal with life-threatening emergencies.
Madrone said he respects people’s right to make a choice about vaccination, “but maybe make a choice not to get hospitalized,” he suggested.
Bushnell pushed back. “If you’re sick and feel the need, you need to go to the hospital,” she said.
The public comment period offered ample evidence of the misinformation running rampant in the community. A man who gave his last name as Teter said the long-term side effects of the vaccine could eventually “take lots of people out of our community.” He also suggested that blood supplies for senior homes shouldn’t come from vaccinated people because the vaccine kills antibodies in the blood. (Totally false.)
A couple of callers said it’s unfair that only unvaccinated people will be required to undergo regular testing under President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan since vaccinated people are capable of spreading the virus, too.
Another caller advocated use of ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug frequently used to treat farm animals but roundly rejected by the scientific community for treating or preventing COVID.
Yet another caller said vaccine mandates are a clear sign of communism and warned, “Pretty soon, eating poop will be mandated.”
Hoffman took some time to debunk a few of these claims. The vaccines are safe and effective, he said, and data from the CDC, California Public Health and local Public Health show that while it’s possible for fully vaccinated people to contract and spread the virus, the chances are much lower and the effects of infection among the fully vaxxed are typically mild.
As for ivermectin, “this is a treatment that has no scientific basis to support its use” to treat COVID-19, Hoffman said. In fact, the doses people are taking on their own have led to hospitalizations due to toxicity.
Airport taking off
Things are going quite well at the Humboldt County Airport. That was the main message delivered in a report by Jack Penning, a managing partner at Volaire Aviation Consulting, a firm that has been working with Humboldt County to recruit new air service.
Those efforts have proven successful, according to Penning. “The next few minutes are going to be highly positive,” he said, adding that the boost in air traffic and passengers at the local airport has been “really one of the great success stories of the entire country in regional air service over the last two years.”
The pandemic has hit the airline industry hard, with nearly 400 routes canceled since March of 2020. But Humboldt County has seen increased service over that same period, including the addition of Avelo Airlines’ service to and from Burbank and American Airlines’ twice-daily service to and from Phoenix. Meanwhile, United Airlines continues its service to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver.
“So we’ve been able to convince airlines that they should add service in our market while removing it from others,” Penning said. He explained that the typical traveler has changed during the pandemic from a business person to a traveler, “the person who wants to be outdoors, who wants to be socially distant, who wants to go to new places [but] who can’t travel internationally because of travel restrictions. We fit that perfectly with the coast ,with the redwoods, with all there is to see and do in our part of the world.”
In June, the county hit an all-time high for numbers of passengers, 26 percent higher than the previous June high, and the numbers only increased during July and August, Penning said.
“We’re at the point where we have to really work with the carriers on where they can park at the terminal, because there’s not enough apron space,” he added, saying that problem would have been unimaginable five years ago.
Even with a record number of seats available, the planes in and out of Humboldt have been 68 percent full. That’s the third-highest figure among West Coast airports, well above the average of just 50 percent. Fares have also come down, Penning said, and he believes there’s even more capacity for growth and new airline service, potentially to San Diego, Las Vegas, Seattle and/or Dallas.
He credited the expansion largely to marketing efforts of Fly Humboldt along with revenue guarantees for new routes.
Madrone said he’s been getting complaints about airplane noise and suggested that we should try to attract quieter planes. Avelo’s 737s are particularly loud, he said.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson asked whether the increased air traffic could provide more carbon offset opportunities.
Regarding the noise, Penning said technology continues to advance, and quieter planes should become the norm over the next decade or so. And regarding energy usage he mentioned the solar farm and battery array planned at the Humboldt County Airport.
Back in June, the Board of Supervisors appointed members of the Redistricting Advisory Committee, a group charged with redrawing the county’s political boundaries to align with the latest Census data. At today’s meeting, Chris Chafee, chief analyst with the firm Redistricting Partners, provided an update on that process.
Based on the preliminary Census data, the population in each of the county’s five supervisorial districts have changed, with fewer people in the Fourth District and more people in the Third. But the numbers aren’t too lopsided.
While the goal is to draw the lines in such a way that the five districts have equal populations, courts allow cities, counties and local agencies such as water districts and school districts to have deviation of up to 10 percent between the most- and least-populous divisions. The county is already within those goalposts, so the new lines shouldn’t be too dramatically different, Chaffee said.
The one caveat, he added, is that the state has yet to reallocate incarcerated people at their home addresses, rather than counting them as residents where they happen to be locked up.
There will be two more public hearings in the coming weeks before the board is asked to adopt new boundaries suggested by the Redistricting Advisory Committee.