The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors (from left): Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone, Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn and Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell | Screenshot


After months of marathon meetings, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors convened for a relatively brief but eventful discussion on Tuesday morning.

The board was all set to discuss a second vote of “no confidence” against Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez, but the item was pulled from the board’s agenda.

County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes informed the board that Paz Dominguez had spoken with Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell, who had initiated the agenda item with Board Chair and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass, and said she would not be able to attend this morning’s meeting. 

The board narrowly approved a vote of “no confidence” in Paz Dominguez in November 2021 in an attempt to signal increasing alarm over fiscal management problems and unfulfilled tasks tied to her office, some of which date back two years or more. 

The call for a second vote of “no confidence” in the elected official came in response to a letter signed by 13 of the county’s 19 department heads who asserted that “the auditor-controller has failed to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of her position.”

“Interdepartmental integration of duties and responsibilities exists across all county operations, but there is only one department through which ALL county financial transactions are recorded and that is the Auditor-Controller’s department, which we all tried to support because our individual departments depend on accurate and factual financial reporting for our operations,” the letter stated. “…We are reaching out to you to pledge that we have been, and will continue to do, the best jobs we can within our positions of authority in your county government and for all Humboldt County Citizens…”

The staff report acknowledged that the board has received “similar letters from outside agencies in education, local municipal government, workforce development, public safety and the private sector.” The report also lists upwards of 40 existing deficiencies associated with the auditor-controller’s office.

Hayes said the agenda item would return “at a date when the auditor-controller can interact with your board in that discussion.”

COVID-19 Local Emergency Proclamation

As local cases of COVID-19 continue on a downward trend, the board unanimously voted to terminate the Local Emergency proclamation that was initiated by the Humboldt County Sheriff on March 31, 2020.

“We are at a stage right now where we’re continuing to see a downward trend across the state,” Humboldt County Public Health Director Sofia Pereira told the board. “…In terms of hospitalizations, [they’ve been] very low. We had one death that was reported last week. Our case rate as of last week was 1.2 [per 100,000 residents]. The last time our case rate was this low was in October 2020.”

BA.2, a subvariant of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, has fueled an uptick of new cases across the country. The new variant accounts for the vast majority of new cases globally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Every country, every state, every community has a different immunity history with this virus, so it’s going to probably play out differently in different places in terms of the risk of hospitalizations and such,” Pereira said. “…Our hope is that the next surge that we have, especially with BA.2, would be more of an outpatient surge, meaning we’re not relying on the hospital system to get through the surge.”

Pereira acknowledged that the county will have to continually adapt to new variants of the virus but, at this point, said the community “is at a point where we can terminate the Local Emergency proclamation.” To ensure continued access to state and federal resources, the local health emergency will remain in place for the time being, she said.

“This decision was made jointly with the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services and in consultation with the [Emergency Operations Center] policy group,” Pereira said. “I think it’s important to note that we’re not out of the woods yet but given where we are at, [keeping the] local Health Emergency in place will give us the tools to be able to scale up the response as needed. I think we’re at a place where we can terminate the Local Emergency proclamation.”

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation to terminate the Local Emergency proclamation which was seconded by Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson. The motion passed 5-0.

Great Redwood Trail Authority

The board also appointed Jeff Hunerlach, District Representative for Operating Engineers Local #3, to serve as a Humboldt County representative on the Great Redwood Trail Authority, formerly the North Coast Railroad Authority, for a two-year appointment.

“I think I bring a lot to the table for Great Redwood Trail Authority because labor often doesn’t have a seat [at the table],” Hunerlach told the board. “I’ve been involved in construction for over 27 years, I am an advocate for hiking and biking. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to ride my bicycle on the trail if it comes to pass. …Too often people think labor is the problem and it’s really the solution.”

The board also considered applications from McKinleyville resident Julie Neander, Kneeland resident Bruce Silvey and Arcata resident Uri Driscoll.

After a brief discussion, Supervisor Wilson made a motion to appoint Hunerlach to the Authority which was seconded by Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone. The motion passed 5-0.

Humboldt Ranch, Inc. Rezoning Request

The longest discussion of the day centered around a zone reclassification request from Humboldt Ranch, Inc. to change the General Plan designation of an illegally subdivided parcel in Southern Humboldt County to allow the applicant to pursue a cannabis cultivation permit.

Steven Santos, a senior planner for the county, explained that the 29-acre parcel near the community of Briceland was divided by deed in 2001 without going through the required subdivision process. Had the subdivision been submitted to the county for approval it would have been denied as the zoning district requires a minimum parcel size of 40 acres. 

“To approve the petition, one of the findings the board needs to make is whether the petition is in the public interest,” Santos said. “…Staff’s analysis concluded that the finding of public interest cannot be made. This may actually be in contrary to the public interest in that it’s an unusual pathway to resolve a subdivision violation. It would likely encourage more petitions…and also present equity issues for other landowners who have gone through the subdivision process to correct their subdivision violations.”

Supervisor Bushnell asked whether there were any additional options for the applicant. Santos explained that the only options available to the landowner under the General Plan would be to merge the two parcels that were created in 2001 back into a single parcel. “Or, the parcel that is subject to the petition could join with other surrounding parcels to meet that 40-acre minimum,” he said.

“Do you know if the applicant has asked the surrounding landowners if they are willing?” Bushnell asked. “Because if they’re not willing, what would be the alternative?”

Santos couldn’t say for sure and told Bushnell that there were “no other alternatives to suggest at this time.”

Planning and Building Director John Ford called the situation “extremely unfortunate.”

“I think that this is a really difficult circumstance where this [parcel] was created in such a manner that is now substandard and then the board is being asked to consider a petition for a rezone and a General Plan amendment that is clearly inconsistent with what the General Plan and zoning call for in the area,” he said. “…The fact of the matter is at some point in the past – not [the current landowner’s] doing – the parcel was illegally subdivided.”

Bushnell asked why the property wasn’t flagged as a part of the sale process when it was sold in 2014. Ford said that is the responsibility of the real estate agent or title company.

Local attorney Nate Madsen maintained that his client “did all of the due diligence that would be expected of a purchaser and still ended up with a clouded title.”

“Our client loves their home, the adjacent landowners love their homes [but] people aren’t willing to sell,” he said. “People are also not interested in getting married to their neighbor, merging the parcel and then somehow negotiating some kind of management agreement. We’ve broached that subject with each and every adjoining parcel. There just isn’t a deal.”

Madsen added that there are many landowners throughout the county that are in the same boat.

“How do we fix this long-term?” Bushnell asked. “Where do we start? If we don’t start here where do we start?”

The General Plan would have to be updated, Santos said. “If the board were to decide that this was an appropriate policy pathway to address this kind of situation, probably the better way to do it would be to do it on an area basis rather than an individual parcel one at a time,” he said.

Supervisor Wilson said he “has sympathy and empathy for folks that are in this situation” but emphasized that “what is being asked of [the board] is to deviate [from the standard]” and made a motion to deny the petition. Madrone offered a second “for discussion.”

“While I have great sympathy, I am also very concerned about the precedent that doing this might set,” Madrone said. “I think getting a merger ordinance done is critical so that we don’t continue to have so many of these things happen.”

Before voting on the item, Bushnell said she would support the board’s denial of the petition but said, “it just hurts my heart.”

The board ultimately voted 5-0 to deny the petition.

Remembering Donna Wright

Before adjourning to closed session, the board acknowledged the recent passing of Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Donna Wright

Bohn credited Wright for her commitment to Eureka and Humboldt County. “When we lose somebody like that in our community it tends to make us all sit back, and I’ve seen an outpouring of support that you don’t, you see it, but very rarely at this level,” he said. “I think it’s more than appropriate that we close in Donna’s memory and on behalf of her family from Humboldt County. [We’re] wishing them the best through this tough time.”

Bass added that Wright was “someone that had so much passion, energy, laughter and was always smiling.”

Bushnell extended her sympathies to the families and communities impacted by Wright’s passing and praised her commitment to the Chamber.

Wilson called Wright “an apex doer” and highlighted the “expression” that she put out into the community. “You really [felt] it,” he said. “She’s going to be missed for a lot of reasons, but for me, she was one of those doers who did it with a smile and with grace.”

Madrone expressed his condolences as well.