The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors returned to its windowless courthouse chambers on Tuesday for the first time since Election Day. The extended break came thanks to a couple of holiday-impacted weeks, and while Tuesday’s agenda was relatively light — at least compared to the all-day sessions typical of their recent proceedings — the supes wrangled with such hefty matters as offshore wind development, homelessness, cell tower regulations and more.
As per usual, the board began (following the obligatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance) by approving a slate of consent calendar items in one fell swoop. Among them was an item appointing American AgCredit Vice President Walt Geist and Eureka Broadcasting Company General Manager Brian Papstein to the Headwaters Fund board of directors and another item formally suspending Measure S cannabis cultivation taxes for next year. (See here for background.)
A resolution supporting sustainable offshore wind development had been listed on the consent calendar, but it was pulled for discussion.
Next Tuesday the federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) is set to auction off leases for development of offshore wind energy projects in five lease areas off the California coast, two of which are in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, 21 miles off our local shoreline.
“It is evident that there is a significant local need and desire to ensure that the offshore wind industry is developed in a sustainable and inclusive way,” Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey said in a presentation to the board.
County staff has been working with local stakeholders for years now, Quincey said, and in recent months they’ve ramped up engagement with community partners, local governments, tribes, state and federal agencies, potential project developers and local businesses in hopes of maximizing community benefits.
Broadly speaking, the resolution (which you can download by clicking here) aims to formalize a path forward while incorporating feedback the county has received from various stakeholders.
Quincey emphasized that there will be many more opportunities for the public to participate in the process, and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone underscored the importance of reaching out to local tribes early and often.
“And trades,” Madrone added, “you know, workforce development. I mean, I think we’re all hopeful that this might really put a big surge into some really good, high-paying, quality jobs for our community.”
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson described the resolution as a message to potential bidders looking to develop projects off our coast, one that says, “This community is firmly planted in our defense of this space” and our values while also “leaning into the potential” such development represents.
During the public comment period, fisherman Ken Bates, who represents both the Humboldt Fisheries Marketing Association and the nonprofit California Fishermen’s Resiliency Association, thanked staff for incorporating some of his industry’s recommendations in the ordinance, though he also said he could spend a couple of hours discussing the potential impacts of wind energy developments may have on local fisheries.
Jeff Hunerlach, district representative for Operating Engineers Local No. 3, said he would have liked to give input on behalf of the 20,000 union members in the county. He said there should be more concrete provisions in the resolution supporting local labor agreements and California-approved apprenticeships.
“It’s a partnership, guys, and we just want to be, you know, in the mix,” he said.
Bryna Lipper, CEO of the Humboldt Area Foundation, said offshore wind energy development represents a “once-in-a-multi-generation opportunity” for economic and infrastructure development, as well as “being a part of national and global climate resilience transformation.”
The county’s economic development director, Scott Adair, reiterated that “robust” stakeholder engagement is ongoing.
The board approved the resolution unanimously.
Next year’s board chair is …
Each year around this time the board decides who’s going to serve as chair and vice chair for the upcoming year. The chair is charged with running the meetings in an orderly fashion, calling on fellow supes when they’d like to speak, organizing the public comment sessions and serving as a conduit for board-staff communication.
Wilson began this year’s discussion by noting that, typically, the board takes turns, rotating the chairperson duties numerically by district rep.
Wilson himself was in line to serve in that role this year but begged off due to various responsibilities, including having a kid still living at home and the complications to daily life wrought by the COVID pandemic. Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass stepped in to serve in his stead.
Today Wilson suggested going back to the regular order of operations, which puts Madrone in line to be chair for 2023 and First District Supervisor Rex Bohn slated for vice-chair (a role that carries no formal responsibilities beyond stepping in when the chair is absent). A motion was made and passed unanimously.
Grand Jury responses
Later in the meeting, Public Information Specialist Cati Gallardo revisited three of the six reports produced this year by the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury. She presented draft board responses to the reports’ findings and recommendations, as required by law.
First, she addressed the report titled “Distrust, Disagreements, Dysfunction,” which offered a scathing analysis of the county’s fiscal management chaos, laying most of the blame at the feet of former Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez while also noting poor inter-department communication among county staff.
The proposed responses say the board agrees with most of the report’s findings while partially agreeing with two others. Of the report’s 18 recommendations, the draft responses say all but three either have been implemented or will be. The other three cannot, according to the responses, and Gallardo explained that the board’s authority is limited since the auditor-controller is elected independently. (Click the link above to read the detailed responses.)
The next report discussed, titled “Custody, Corrections and Other County Facilities,” outlined the Civil Grand Jury’s findings after inspecting the physical conditions and management of the county’s one state prison facility (the Eel River Conservation Camp) and various county correctional facilities, including the juvenile hall, the animal shelter, the Sempervirens Psychiatric Health Facility and the jail.
The report found significant concerns, including deferred maintenance, substandard facilities and the overwhelming impacts of mental health and substance use disorders.
The proposed responses (again, click to download) say the board agrees or partially agrees with all but one of the 30 findings — one which concluded that Sempervirens “does not provide enough space or services to reduce the strain on the Humboldt County Correctional Facility and ensure mental health patients receive appropriate placement and care.”
The proposed response says that while additional space is needed, “without Sempervirens, the correctional facility and other facilities would be more heavily impacted than their current situations.”
Lastly, Gallardo addressed the report titled “Collaborative Community Quest,” which followed up on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the county and the state following a judgement against the county’s Child Welfare Services Division and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office for violations of the California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA). The MOU requires collaboration with the area’s eight federally recognized tribes.
The proposed responses say the board agrees with the three relevant findings and will implement one of the two recommendations. The one they won’t implement called for the board’s authorization to create an independent Office of Tribal Affairs before January 1. The proposed response says that idea has merit but “would need to be evaluated at a broader level and include discussion with all department heads, the Board, and local Tribal representatives.”
During the public comment period, Civil Grand Jury member and Foreperson Jim Glover said he appreciates the hard work staff put into the responses, but he chastised the county for being five months late in submitting its responses to these three reports.
Glover said such a delay is “unacceptable by state statute” and “renders useless some of the work and deadlines that we proposed.”
Quincey stepped to the public lectern to take responsibility and apologize for the delay, noting the heavy workload staff has had due to COVID, the American Rescue Plan and offshore wind development. He said staff will make sure such a delay doesn’t occur in the future.
The board voted unanimously to approve the proposed responses.
Following a brief break, the board heard a report about the fourth and latest round of funding available through the state’s Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Program.
Robert Ward, the housing and assistance coordinator with the county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), told the board that the county expects to get around $4.3 million this round.
“We can use these funds for street outreach, interim housing [and/or] permanent housing,” Ward said, adding that applications were due at the end of the day.
Ward’s introduction of the item was brief, but the supervisors — particularly Madrone and Bohn — wanted to dive deeper and scrutinize the county’s approach to addressing the intractable, seemingly never-ending challenge of solving homelessness.
“How much housing have we created through the first three rounds [of funding]?” Bohn asked.
“You know,” Ward replied, “a lot of these funds have been used for programs that provide rental assistance and case management services to help people locate housing that already exists in the community and to be able to afford it. So it’s not necessarily being used to create new units [so much] as it is to make housing affordable to people who otherwise would remain on the streets.”
He added that some of the funds have gone toward the Providence Mother Bernard House, which will offer roughly 50 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless and chronically homeless people. Construction is scheduled to be completed in the spring.
Madrone asked about the county’s methodology for conducting its Point-In-Time county, an every-other-year tally of homeless people required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Madrone wanted to know if it’s possible to get a more accurate count, but Ward said HUD rules and on-the-ground realities make it challenging.
“There’s just no way that we’re going to be able to see everyone,” he said. “Many people are carefully hidden outdoors.”
Bohn said the county seems to be spending a lot of money to collect data but hasn’t seen the kinds of results the community needs.
“We’re going to have to do something,” he said. “I counted, I think, 19 people this morning, sleeping in businesses’ doorways … . And I know it’s a mental health issue. I know it’s a big issue. We’re throwing a lot of money at it and and the frustration part for me — it’s not for lack of effort on your part. We’re just getting a lot of people getting very frustrated that things aren’t getting any better. And and we need to put our heads together.”
Proposed ideas include everything from parking lots designated for camping to tiny homes, motel conversions and apartment developments. Bohn said he’d “almost like” to take money from a Point-in-Time grant and use it to build new housing instead.
DHHS Director Connie Beck appeared via Zoom to say that’s not feasible.
“Without that data, we would not get money,” she said. State and federal grants are based off the homeless counts in each regional Continuum of Care. Beck said money has been used to fund services because that’s what it was earmarked for.
“I just want to just make sure that we’re all understanding that this is one piece of a really big, awful puzzle that we’re working on,” she said.
Ward added that the point of outreach isn’t so much to collect data as it is to engage with people and connect them with case-management services.
Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell said there are few options for homeless people in the county’s unincorporated areas, including SoHum.
She said she appreciates all the hard work being done, “but it doesn’t seem to get anywhere, and the obstacles seem to be huge, such as, you know, trying to find housing down there or even a cold weather shelter in the Southern Humboldt area.
Ward noted that the county funds a shelter program in SoHum through the Redwoods Rural Health Center, but Bushnell said its few rooms have been occupied for quite some time.
“The whole community is wondering what we’re doing about this larger issue,” Madrone said, “because we’re all impacted by it, especially those that are without a house.”
Madrone suggested that while there’s money for services and lots of people stepping up to help, the biggest impediment to solving homelessness locally might be community attitudes.
“Nobody wants anything near them —the NIMByism and the rest of it,” he said, referring to sanctioned camping areas, safe parking lots and other potential measures. ” And when we as a society continue to do that, I would submit that this problem is not going to get solved anytime soon in any way.”
Madrone suggested that community leaders should engage with the local community through the media in an effort to change attitudes.
“[M]aybe we can try and have that discussion with our community about how we increase our tolerance for not perfect [solutions], because there is no perfect, but what might be the steps to get us to a better place.”
Ward said that, since the county now has three shelter crisis ordinances in place, the county government can bypass various state regulations, including building code compliance, to set up housing solutions on county-owned properties.
“The way to really move it forward is probably for the county to lease a property for that purpose,” he said.
The board unanimously approved a motion to have staff apply for the latest round of funding.
The conversation had been robust, but the award for lengthiest deliberations of the day goes to …
Wireless Telecommunications Facility Ordinances
And what’s more, this was a continuation of an item already discussed at the board’s November 1 meeting.
Planning and Building Director John Ford explained that the county needs to pass two separate ordinances pertaining to development of wireless telecommunications facilities, aka cell towers — one for the county’s unincorporated coastal areas and another for its inland areas.
“The design of these ordinances is intended to provide incentives for wireless carriers to … design low-visual-impact facilities,” Ford said. When they do, he explained, they get the benefit of a less-intensive permitting process. The uglier and more environmentally impactful the cell tower, the more scrutiny it will be subjected to, is the idea.
Staff had prepared a range of alternatives for the two ordinances, and the range of possible actions was fairly narrow, much to the frustration of several supervisors, particularly Madrone, who repeatedly voiced frustration about the federal government’s preemption of local regulations that might, say, limit the proliferation of 5G networks.
“There is a lot of concern in the community about the bandwidth, the microwave energy coming in from [5G towers],” he said. “… The [federal] government tries to say, ‘No, you don’t get to have a say in this, something that may very well be affecting people’s health.’ I frankly don’t know what to believe. There’s a tremendous amount of information out there and so I’m somewhat skeptical, I will say, about the safety of all of this.”
The board debated how restrictive to be with the two ordinances, taking straw votes as they worked through the various alternatives, which addressed such matters a tower height, blinking lights and proximity to neighboring residences.
One exchange got a bit testy. Wilson and Bushnell were debating whether to require a permit hearing for installation of new cell towers on existing telecom sites located on land zoned agricultural exclusive or timber production zones.
Wilson wanted the more restrictive option and quipped, “if you [Bushnell] want less protections for your constituents in your district, then then by all means.”
A minute or so later Bushnell said Wilson’s comment offended her. “My thoughts always go to my constituents and their concerns,” she said.
During the public comment period, a number of people voiced concerns about the safety of 5G technology, which is regulated by the federal government. The Food and Drug Administration has stated that, based on the totality of scientific evidence, 5G technology falls within the acceptable exposure range covered by existing radio frequency exposure limits, set by the Federal Communications Commission.
Former Arcata City Councilmember Paul Pitino expressed concern about “sensitive receptors” such as daycare facilities, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
A Eureka resident who identified herself only as Katie claimed that FCC limits were based on military tests conducted on hungry monkeys, and one test caused the monkeys’ faces to melt off. (The Outpost could not find evidence of such a result.)
Arcata resident Laurie Birdsall urged the board to protect the community from both the alleged health risks and and the visual blight of 5G cell towers.
“I would just like to advocate: Don’t make us fight for it,” she said. “It’s your job to fight for us. It’s your job to fight for us. We don’t want to be the sitting ducks. We don’t want to be the experiment.”
Ford responded shortly thereafter. “I do appreciate the concern that’s being expressed,” he said. “I do appreciate the desire. But from a regulatory standpoint, it’s really important to be clear about what we are regulating and where we’re preempted.”
Ford reiterated that local governments are precluded from regulating radio frequency, and he didn’t want to give local residents false hope by requiring hearings that might address such matters.
“Really, in my job, that’s one of the hardest things to deal with, is public expectation that can’t be satisfied,” he said. “And that’s just painful.”
Ultimately, the board wound up adopting the two ordinances, choosing options that require a zoning clearance certificate and design approval for all small wireless facilities within 300 feet of a residence.