The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. | Screenshot.


If you missed our earlier post, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors started today’s meeting by passing a Middle East peace resolution that calls for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” in the Middle East as well as “mutual exchange of all hostages” and “respect for international law.” 

Other matters on the agenda hewed closer to home. For example, the board unanimously passed some amendments to its Tobacco Retailer Licensing Ordinance, a set of rules it adopted last summer.

Sofia Pereira, the county’s public health director, said that the Division of Environmental Health has now processed nearly all of the 57 applications it has received from retailers looking to sell tobacco products under the ordinance, and 51 of those retailers have already passed inspection. 

When the ordinance was first being considered last year, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell voiced concerns about the economic impacts to local businesses. She said she’d heard from several small business owners in her district who objected to a provision that said tobacco products couldn’t be displayed within five feet of candy, snacks or nonalcoholic beverages.

Today, the board nixed that language and replaced it with a requirement that tobacco products be placed either behind a counter or in a locked case.

“This amendment still aims to address youth access to tobacco products and retail outlets and is really consistent with how almost all of the stores are already set up,” Pereira said. “Only six out of the 57 retailers would need to make minor adjustments.”

The ordinance passed last year also enacted restrictions on coupons and discounts on tobacco products, and with today’s vote the board passed an amendment exempting cigars, loose-leaf tobacco and flavored shisha (or hookah) tobacco products from those restrictions.

Bushnell again advocated on behalf of cutting costs for local small business owners, saying the $500 price tag to apply for and obtain a tobacco retail license from the county is “a really big hardship” for some in her district. 

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson later countered that, while he understands the concerns about retailer expenses, there’s also a community cost that comes with nicotine addiction. If distributing nicotine, alcohol and other unhealthy products is the only thing keeping retailers afloat, he said, “maybe we need to figure out a way to subsidize stores to have good products for our community.”

Water legislation letters

Earlier in the meeting, the board engaged a mildly contentious discussion about whether or not to send letters of support for two pieces of pending state legislation: Assembly Bill 460, which concerns enforcement of existing water rights law, and Assembly Bill 1337, which concerns the ways in which the State Water Resources Control Board regulates flows and enforces state water rights.

The letters of support were brought forward for consideration by Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone. 

The board discussed the two proposed letters separately, though First District Supervisor and Board Chair Rex Bohn wanted nothing to do with either of them and he made that apparent from the jump.

“I can’t support [the letters of support] in any way because, basically, the Farm Bureau opposes it; my dairymen … they’re pretty much opposed to it,” Bohn said. “We’re doing a pretty good job of driving agriculture out of California.”

Arroyo and Madrone defended AB 460 specifically, with Madrone saying it would raise fines for illegal water diversions, which harm endangered species and impact other water users, including fishermen. 

Leaders from several local and regional environmental organizations called or Zoomed in, urging the board to approve the letters. One local cannabis farmer, Craig Johnson, called in to voice opposition, saying the legislation could harm local ag producers.

After the public comment period, Bushnell joined Bohn in saying she won’t support the letters. But those two supervisors were outnumbered by the board’s progressive majority, with Arroyo, Wilson and Madrone all voting to approve sending the letter in support of AB 460.

The conversation about AB 1337 was similar, though it delved into the history of allocating water rights in the state. The bill would, among other things, clarify that the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to curtail pre-1914 water rights.

“I think this is a good bill,” Madrone said. “It tries to level the playing field, and it basically says that if there’s not enough water to go around, everybody ought to be treated equally.”

Arroyo said the bill is designed to address the over-allocation of water in California, and she noted that the letter addresses the matter of equity in water rights. 

“Prior to 1914, Black people couldn’t have water rights,” she said. “A lot of Asian people … who were, you know, part of the agricultural community, could not secure water rights prior to 1914. And many tribes could not, either.”

Regular public commenter Kent Sawatzky threw some shade toward Bushnell and Bohn for their reticence, saying, “I find it more than a coincidence that people connected with a certain business known as cannabis would be the main ones opposing this.” He also noted that the motions being considered merely “authorize” the board chair to sign the letters, rather than requiring it.

After another round of public comment — during which many of the same folks called in urging support — Arroyo said it had never even occurred to her to question whether the chair (Bohn) might decline to execute his authority, so she asked him directly: “If the board passes these letters, do you intend to sign and send them, Supervisor Bohn?”

Clearly offended, Bohn remarked that this is his third time around serving as chair, and if the majority of his colleagues ask him to sign a letter he would never refuse to do so. “It shouldn’t even be asked,” he said regarding Arroyo’s question. 

Again, the vote was 3-2 in support, with Bohn and Bushnell voting “no.”

Following a closed session period and a break for lunch, Sawatzky called in to comment yet again, ostensibly about a resolution proclaiming May “Older Americans Month,” though he quickly turned to the tense exchange between Arroyo and Bohn.

Sawatzky accused Bohn of being “arrogant, ignorant and rude,” and he apologized to Arroyo on behalf of “old people.” He was in the midst of saying something about how Madrone ensured better decorum during his turn as chair when Bohn interrupted, saying it didn’t sound like Sawatzky was addressing the matter under discussion.

“Rex,” Sawatzky replied, “will you please quit interrupting me?”

“Probably not,” Bohn said.

Sawatzky admonished him again to stop interrupting, and as he continued to speak, Bohn apparently cut him off, muting the line on which he’d called in. 

“I’ll catch hell for that,” Bohn remarked.

Someone else could be heard saying, “What — .”

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Bohn said.

After another moment or two, the clerk of the board un-muted the line and Sawatzky finished his comments, saying hopefully he won’t be interrupted the next time.

What else happened?

Glad you asked. 

  • The board had a prolonged discussion about whether or not to uphold a ruling from the Planning Commission requiring McKinleyville property owner Robert Sutter to construct a curb, gutter and sidewalk in order to complete a minor subdivision development. After discussing a variety of issues, including cost concerns, objections from neighbors and pedestrian safety, the board opted to require a separated asphalt walkway and cable fence as a condition for the Sutter Ranch Subdivision. Sutter deemed this a less onerous requirement than the sidewalk.
  • The board approved a request to convert the 2,800-acre Marshall Ranch, located just south of Briceland, into an agricultural reserve.
  • As alluded to above, the board proclaimed May as “Older Americans Month” and heard an update one the Area 1 Agency on Aging from its director, Maggie Kraft. She said the state is proposing cutting $111 million in funding for senior meal programs, which would amount to $850,000 in cuts for programs on the North Coast over the next three years. “That’s a lot of meals in our area,” Kraft said.
  • Jade Hoff, the county’s Childcare Sustainability Program manager, delivered an update on the Childcare Stabilization Fund, which was financed via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).