In the second and final forum for Crescent City Harbor Commission candidates, the three incumbents once again demonstrated a shared sense of achievements and future goals for the harbor while the only challenger who showed up said it’s time to bring in a fresh perspective.
“Our county’s health has been tied to our harbor,” said Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson, serving as moderator for Tuesday’s forum hosted by the Del Norte Tea Party Patriots. Wilson cited the harbor’s local role as an “economic driver” and pressed the candidates on how they would ensure its future vitality.
The incumbents, Scott Feller, James Ramsey and Wes White, consider the current commission a good team, highlighting the tsunami-resistant inner boat basin currently under construction and future projects intended to boost tourism and recreation as proof of the team’s ability.
With strong political ties, including position as previous district representative for former state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, Feller postured himself as the team’s Republican operative with political connections to make things happen. He said these connections streamlined the grant and permitting process to get the harbor rebuilt after its docks were wiped out by the March 2011 tsunami. Feller said he’s willing to think “outside of the box” to increase revenue for the harbor.
On an otherwise Republican commission, Ramsey, a retired teacher and avid local volunteer, serves as the team’s token Democrat — and he’s proud of it. Just like Feller, Ramsey said his political connections have been an asset for the team with ties to Assemblyman Wes Chesbro and Jared Huffman, the favorite in the upcoming election for the U.S. congressional seat representing Del Norte. Ramsey also cited his ability to find grants for future projects.
White, CEO of Hambro Group, painted himself as the team’s businessman with 42 years of business experience, a master’s degree in business management and a knack for turning businesses around, which the harbor needs, he said. With an eye on the money, especially the harbor’s new multi-million-dollar debt obligation, White emphasized his business sense.
Ken Cowan was the only challenger who attended Tuesday’s forum, although two others are on the ballot.
Cowan acknowledged the stiff competition presented by the incumbents.
“I really picked a tough year to run for this office, because I got these three guys to run against,” Cowan said, adding a rhetorical question: So why would voters change the commission now?
“I will bring a new point of view to the commission, I’m not a polished, suit-and-tie guy. I’m a practical, common sense guy,” Cowan said. His qualification comes from decades of experience as a general contractor, growing up in and around harbors on the West Coast and operating aquatic recreation businesses on the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
Since the harbor district recently took on a $5.4 million loan to complete the harbor reconstruction, increasing revenue in order to stay on time for debt payments is a high priority.
All candidates shared the idea that boosting non-industrial harbor use with tourism and recreation will be a necessary component for the district’s future. But each candidate also shared different specifics about the best way to rake in more revenue.
Challenger Cowan believes that the district should attract a small-scale boat yard to service the smaller pleasure boats that the harbor hopes to have. He also would like to attract an aquatic center that would rent kayaks, sailboats and row boats, encouraging more interest in the harbor.
“Get ’em on the water and get ’em excited. Get ’em on a boat and keep them coming back,” he said.
Feller said the district needs to think “outside of the box” and maybe attract a developer to the harbor’s RV Park, where a motel with the capacity for 200-plus-person conferences could be built.
“Where else do you have a beach, power, cable, the view, a harbor — all within 400 feet of a major highway?” he said.
Feller also said the harbor should attract more restaurants, highlighting that Crescent City’s is the only harbor in California without a restaurant overlooking the harbor. A developer should be found for the task, he said.
Feller and Ramsey both cited a cut to electrical costs for the new harbor since fishing vessels will use metered electricity and pay for what they use.
Ramsey also highlighted the lower costs that the harbor will be paying in dock maintenance with the new harbor. Repairs will be less frequent with brand-new state-of-the-art docks, and the manufacturer of the docks will cover maintenance for the first five years.
Ramsey cited his emphasis on maintaining good relationships with current harbor tenants, which is what attracted him to the commission in the first place. He also pointed to his commitment to finding grants for future projects and his close involvement with the proposed interagency visitor center that might be built in the harbor.
White wants to push for more restaurants and shops in the harbor, to give tourists “something to do” after drawing them off the highway. He also proposed that a tsunami museum or a Brother Jonathan museum might be part of the harbor’s future.
White also thinks that the harbor should index its current leases — re-evaluating them to make sure they reflect current market conditions.
“We’re not out to gouge anyone, but we are out to make sure we’re getting fair market price,” White said. “Some of the tenants are holding rents at prices that are ridiculously low because they were never indexed. We need to index those so our revenues keep up with inflation.”
Two challengers, David Alvarez and Dylan Clawson, are on the Nov. 6 ballot, but they did not attend either of the two local forums for Harbor Commission candidates.
The top three vote-getters will win the three open seats on the commission.