As earthquake recovery efforts continue throughout Humboldt County, local officials are having a difficult time finding federal funding opportunities to help displaced residents. In an effort to provide immediate relief to impacted communities, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $1 million funding request to help folks get back on their feet.
The funding allocation will come from the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (LATCF), which was established by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 to serve as a general revenue enhancement program in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As explained in the staff report, the fund provides “broad discretion on uses of the funds,” which can be used for programs, services and capital expenditures that would traditionally fulfill “a government purpose.”
Earlier this week, state Senator Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood, in partnership with the California Office of Emergency Services and California Department of Housing & Community Development, announced $3 million in available funding to help rehabilitate damaged homes and assist with basic needs.
However, earthquake-related damages are expected to “near or surpass $10 million,” according to County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes. “These funds, if approved for allocation by your board, have a great deal of flexibility, which is prudent right now,” she said.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn quickly made a motion to approve the funding request but asked how the funding would be dispersed. Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell offered a second.
The county has identified a recovery officer who will coordinate and distribute the funding resources. Staff is still working to “fully assess the data of who has been impacted,” Hayes said, to ensure the funds are used “in the most efficient and effective manner.”
“Some of the dollars coming down from the state are going to have some pretty specific parameters around them, in terms of household income and whether they are owner-occupies properties,” she said. “[Staff] will return to your board at a future date to lay out more specifics on what that looks like.”
Bohn expressed support for the funding allocation but said, “‘In the future’ or ‘down the road’ are things I hate to hear. I want to get things done tomorrow.”
“Timewise I would say 30 days maximum, is our hope,” Hayes said. “I completely recognize the board’s concern – specifically Supervisor Bohn and Supervisor Bushnell, whose districts were most impacted – on the urgency of these funds. [We] are fully committed to getting those funds out the door as soon as possible, while also setting realistic expectations of what we are able to do.”
The board passed the funding allocation in a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Earlier in the meeting, the board took a few minutes to recognize the “hardworking bunch” of building inspectors who responded to Rio Dell immediately following the earthquake.
“When I got to Rio Dell on the morning of December 20 … we had a lot of damage to structures and the only thing I could think of was, ‘I need building inspectors,’ and I called Director Ford and he didn’t hesitate, nor did his inspectors,” Bushnell said. “They [were] the first people to respond to people and inspect their homes and tell them, at times, that they needed to leave. … I could tell that it was emotional for them and it was hard, you know, to tell someone [they have] to leave [their] home. It meant so much to the City of Rio Dell and I just really want to thank you.”
Tuning in via Zoom, Rio Dell City Manager Kyle Knopp joined Bushnell in thanking the group of building inspectors, noting that they “don’t necessarily get enough credit for the work they do.”
“They save lives every day and often their work goes unnoticed,” Knopp said. “I think it’s really important to note that the … aftershocks tend to cause more damage than the initial event and that’s what we were afraid of, another aftershock coming in with people in structures that should be red-tagged. It was really through John Ford’s crew that we were able to get to those structures and make sure people were aware that their homes were unsafe and they were put into a safe position.”
While going door to door inspecting homes immediately following the Dec. 20 earthquake, one of the building inspectors, Rob Edwards, rescued a woman who was stuck in her home.
“I heard ‘help’ so I pushed the door in,” Edwards told the board. “I’m like, ‘I’m here, I’m a building inspector,’ and, you know, it’s pitch black. This was a lady who had MS [multiple sclerosis] and her electric wheelchair has died and it was jammed in her doorway. … She was okay. She’s like, ‘I’m just scared,’ so I held her hand, I called [the] fire [department] and they came right away. We moved the wheelchair and I don’t know if she [had been] there since the earthquake or the power outage but it was pretty sad, she was pretty scared. But thank god we were going door to door.”
The board gave the building inspectors a standing ovation and unanimously approved the request for recognition.
Legislative Platform for 2023
Almost every year, as a part of the usual beginning-of-the-year housekeeping duties, the board discusses the county’s positions and priorities for our state and federal representatives. The document, known as the legislative platform, details the county’s official stance on various legislative requests, ranging from public safety to more specific issues like offshore wind.
“Each platform in this document is a plea advocating for changes to issues that are affecting the county,” said Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey. “As you’re aware, the provisional winners of the two offshore wind lease areas off the Humboldt coast were announced in December. In November, your board adopted a resolution stating some of the principles that the county will adhere to as the project progresses. Therefore, this platform supports collaborative development of offshore wind with local stakeholders, mitigation of impacts related to development and compensation for unavoidable impacts.”
After consulting with state and federal advocacy firms – Shaw Yoder Antwih Schmelzer & Lange, Inc. and Paragon Government Relations – county staff included several other “new and noteworthy” items in the 2023 legislative platform.
“This includes platforms around cannabis cultivation and efforts to support small farms, climate resilience and infrastructure to support clean energy and zero emission goals, funding for abandoned vehicles and funding for indigenous legal defense,” Quincey continued. “It’s important for your board to provide input and direction into the legislative platform as it is an influential policy-directing statement.”
The board took issue with several items listed on the legislative platform, ranging from ongoing issues with PG&E’s electricity transmission limits to one of the community’s most contentious issues: the Richardson Grove Improvement Project.
Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chair Steve Madrone indicated he would vote against the entire legislative platform if the document included supportive language for the project. On the contrary, Bushnell said she would not vote for the document “unless we have a discussion of possibly keeping [it].”
After a bit of back and forth, Madrone eventually suggested the board return to the subject at a future board meeting to provide ample time for board members to share feedback with staff. Bushnell made a motion to return to the legislative platform in two weeks, during the board’s Jan. 24 meeting. Arroyo offered a second and the motion passed 5-0.
The board also embarked on its annual ritual of appointing members to various boards, committees and commissions for the calendar year. The board discussed around 40 appointments over the course of an hour or so and eventually came to a consensus.
Myrtle Avenue Mini-Storage Center
Toward the end of the meeting, the board considered a few zoning reclassification requests. The first two, for Hansen Family Agricultural Preserve and Hunter Ranch Agricultural Preserve, respectively, were unanimously approved after a brief discussion from the board. The final item – a zone reclassification, lot line adjustment and conditional use permit request for a proposed mini storage center at the intersection of Lucas Street and Myrtle Avenue – garnered much more attention.
The General Plan amendment and zone reclassification, brought forth by J&J Family, LLC, would allow a 9,000 square-foot portion of the 2.1-acre property currently designated Residential Medium Density to be designated Commercial General.
“The home and garage in the northeast corner would become its own separate parcel,” according to the staff report. “The remaining structures on the south end of the project site would be removed and replaced with an office/caretaker building. The office/caretaker building would be 1,800 square feet on the first floor and 1,800 square feet on the second floor. The remaining commercial area would be developed and used as a mini-storage center.”
The Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve the project. However, Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson immediately took issue with the project, emphasizing the critical need for housing in Humboldt County.
Bushnell asked the property owner, Jim Paye, whether he had encountered any pushback from his neighbors over the project proposal. He said the only substantial feedback he had received was for a request for no low-income housing to be built on the property.
Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo reiterated the need for housing, specifically high-income housing. She suggested the board compromise and allow for a multi-zone designation with an overlay to accommodate housing in the future.
The board went back and forth for about an hour before Arroyo eventually made a motion to direct staff to bring the item back at a future date and consider whether or not a zoning overlay would be feasible. The motion was seconded by Bushnell. After a few final comments, the board voted 3-2 with Bohn and Bushnell casting the dissenting votes.
You can find a recording of Tuesday’s meeting at this link.