Screenshot of Tuesday’s Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting.


Whelp, it looks like it’s going to be another few years at least before the City of McKinleyville is a thing. 

During today’s regular meeting, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors reviewed the findings of a recent Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury Report – “Incorporating the City of McKinleyville: To Be, or Not to Be?” – and whether the county should commission a formal study to evaluate the pros and cons of incorporating. Despite unanimous support for the proposal, the board asked staff to hold off for the time being, citing budget constraints. 

The request to incorporate comes up from time to time but “at no point has a comprehensive independent study been completed that evaluated the pros and cons of incorporating,” according to the report. 

Last September, a group of McKinleyville residents asked the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (MMAC or “McKMAC”), formed by the Board of Supervisors in 2012, about the possibility of incorporating. Shortly thereafter, the committee created the Incorporation Exploration Sub-Committee to look into the feasibility of McKinleyville becoming the county’s eighth city.

The Grand Jury’s report doesn’t advocate for or against incorporation but asks the County of Humboldt to commission a comprehensive, independent “Initial Feasibility Analysis” to assess the practicality of incorporating McKinleyville. The Grand Jury recommends the board direct staff to seek funding and complete the feasibility study by Nov. 1, 2024.

While staff largely agreed with the findings of the report, Catarina Gallardo, a public information specialist with the County Administrative Office (CAO), said the money just isn’t in the budget.

“Regarding the funding element of this recommendation, as you know, the county is facing a budget shortfall of more than $17 million in Fiscal Year 2023-24 and it is not necessarily a central position to allocate additional [funds from the] General Fund, and therefore staff time, for this purpose,” she said. “While the [CAO] does not recommend that an in-depth Initial Feasibility Analysis be funded by the county at this time, due to the county’s current budget constraints, it should be noted that any member of your board could bring a discussion item forward in the future.”

Gallardo asked the Board of Supervisors to approve the findings of the report but not the Grand Jury’s recommendations.

Following staff’s presentation, MMAC Chair Lisa Dugan acknowledged the county’s budgetary constraints, noting that the Grand Jury’s report “came well after the [annual] budget process began,” but urged the board to return to the item in the near future.

Lisa Dugan

“It seems that it is probably in the best interest of not just McKinleyville but of the county to understand the feasibility of incorporation and … whether it would help or hinder here,” Dugan said. The northern portion of the county is poised for significant growth in the coming years, with increased enrollment at Cal Poly Humboldt and several big projects slated for the Humboldt Bay region, she added. “It feels like the time is right for us all to be considering this matter.”

MMAC Vice-Chair Kevin Jenkins said he’s been involved in incorporation conversations since he moved to McKinleyville in the 1990s but time and time again the conversation “gets tabled.”

“One of the things that’s been clear to me as this question gets brought up in our community is that there’s a considerable amount of emotion but also a critical lack of information regarding whether or not incorporation is a viable option,” Jenkins said. “And while I have a keen understanding of the financial challenges that the county of Humboldt is currently facing, I do believe that the citizens of the McKinleyville community [are] not going to allow this question of incorporation to go unanswered for much longer.”

Jenkins urged the Board of Supervisors to “develop financial resources needed to provide the members of our community an answer to this important question” in the near future. 

Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Jesse Miles, executive director of the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the importance of completing a comprehensive study to address housing concerns in the county’s “fastest growing population.”

“[McKinleyville is] really a community that is thriving in a lot of ways and businesses want to be an active part of their community,” she said. “I just want to express the importance of having this complete Initial Feasibility [Analysis] done and any way that funding can be made available in the future … .”

A McKinleyville resident, who chose not to identify himself, felt a feasibility study for incorporation “is long overdue.”

“I don’t know how much longer incorporation can be avoided,” he said. “I think finding the money is an important thing … but decades should not pass before this issue [is] addressed.”

Turning to comment from the board, Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chair Steve Madrone put out a “shameless pitch” for benefactors interested in funding the feasibility study. 

“I’ll just say, you know, if you got a quarter million dollars sitting around and you’d like to do something really great, this would be that thing to do,” he said. “[We’re looking] at 60 grand or up to 100 grand for the feasibility analysis, and possibly a couple hundred grand for the [Environmental Impact Report].”

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson expressed support for moving forward with a feasibility study “in whatever way we can.”

“I do know that there have been discussions … [regarding] impacts to counties from a financial perspective but that, for me, that’s just not the highest priority,” he said. “Honestly, if it can be better it will probably be an economic benefit to the entire county. I would put it under a ‘floats all boats’ situation.”

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn noted that there is “no reason we don’t do what the people want” but said there will “[have] to be a hell of a lot more information” on the feasibility of incorporation.

“We don’t just flip a switch,” he said. “Humboldt has a lot of, I guess you could say, assets. It says in [the study] that we could contract with the Sheriff’s [Office] but we’re having problems with that with Trinidad and Blue Lake and, actually, with some of our tribes. … It’s a big hill, but I think it’s a hill worth climbing.”

Bohn also suggested that, if McKinleyville were to incorporate, its residents would rename the community. “I can just imagine what you guys are going to name the town ‘cause it’ll obviously have to — I mean, you had the chance to get a statue a while ago and you passed on it,” he said, referring to the statue of President McKinley which once stood at the center of the Arcata Plaza.

Second District Michelle Bushnell asked whether the MMAC and county staff had been in contact with other municipalities, like the City of Rio Dell, to ask about some of the struggles of incorporating. She also asked if staff had considered the formation of a Business Improvement District, or other cheaper alternatives to incorporation.

“[A Business Improvement District] is not incorporating, so you wouldn’t need like a Sheriff’s Department, a town hall or those types of things,” she said. “Sometimes it can be a little bit cheaper than incorporating but still can lead to a base of money, which is what you would probably be looking for. … I’m just thinking kind of outside the box of incorporation that doesn’t require so much government oversight and [will] still get you some financial base to help run your town.”

Before closing out the discussion, Madrone made a point of thanking former Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg for his “strong efforts” to create the MMAC and for contributing a “vision to help this community move forward.”

Bushnell made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation, which was seconded by Wilson. The motion passed in a unanimous 4-0 vote, with Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo absent.