Measure A backers and opponents make case to city
Information, and the lack thereof, was the theme of the evening when the Crescent City Council chose not to take action on the Jefferson state advisory measure - also known as Measure A - at its meeting on Monday.
Even after both the Del Norte-Jefferson Committee for Measure A and the Keep it California campaign, represented by Aaron Funk and Kevin Hendrick, respectively, delivered passionate 10-minute presentations and comments for and against the measure, most Council members remained unconvinced either way.
"I'm a more cautious person by nature," Mayor Rick Holley said.
"And I'm concerned by the lack of tangible information we have to determine whether or not something will be good for the city or not."
Other Council members, with the exception of Councilwoman Kathryn Murray, who made a motion to pass a resolution declaring opposition to the measure, echoed Holley's hesitation at taking a stance on the issue.
"Until we know the numbers we won't know how it's going to affect the city," Councilman Ron Gastineau said. "I say get more information and let's see what the people decide in June."
Murray's resolution died after it went unseconded by other Council members.
Measure A, which will be on election ballots June 3, is an advisory measure that lets the Board of Supervisors know where their constituents stand in regard to Jefferson state. Even if voters approved Measure A, supervisors would still have to vote on a declaration to withdraw from California for Del Norte to be counted among the other counties that support Jefferson. A City Council vote for or against the measure would be largely superficial, although it would serve to show voters where the Council stands on the issue.
At the root of the Council's concerns was a lack of hard numbers and concrete information on the financial risks the city would have to endure if a new state were created. The state money the city receives - and stands to lose - for education and various social services were at the forefront of the Council's inaction.
Other issues, like what exactly the process of creating a new state involves, how much information and resources California would be willing to share with the new state and the how much a study that determines the financial risks would cost were also brought up.
"Nobody has been able to answer my question about funding, and how the funding will actually funnel through to the new state of Jefferson," Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said.
For his part, Funk, the coordinator of the Del Norte-Jefferson committee, was able to fill in some of the blanks regarding the legislative process and the cooperation Jefferson would need from California should the movement succeed.
According to Funk, once the counties that wanted to move forward with the Jefferson plan had voted to do so, each county's board of supervisors would elect a representative. These representatives would then sit down together and put each county's financial information and statistics together to "sort it all out" and eventually bring their findings to the state.
Funk, who referred to a legislative analysis that reported the state would cooperate, said California would then "open their books" and hand over the information that the new state would require. "They're mandated to do so. It's a nonpartisan thing," he said.
But answers to the Council's financial concerns remained elusive. Funk said that these questions would remain unanswerable until the Jefferson movement knew how many counties would be on board with its plan. Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn, and Yuba counties have all come out in support of Jefferson.
"Until the rest of the counties interested in exploring the possibility of Jefferson opt into the process we won't have the answers upon which to base intelligent decisions." Funk said. "We won't know anything of value in determining whether to proceed in creating a new state until all the involved counties have the opportunity to figure it out."
The unknowns that concerned Council members were the Keep it California campaign's ammunition, as were sobering reminders of how much money Del Norte receives from California.
Hendrick said the county administration office reported that if a new state were created, the county budget would lose $34 million in annual funding from California, including $18 million lost in funding for services like Medi-Cal, CalWORKS and food stamps.
"If the state of Jefferson was a startup business no smart investor would ever risk money on such a speculative venture," Hendrick said. "Yet we're being asked to invest our future in this shaky proposition without a business plan or any kind of fiscal analysis."
Although he acknowledged that the idea of starting over as a new state was indeed "alluring," Hendrick went on to state that as it stands now, the state of Jefferson would be a conglomeration of California's poorest rural counties facing the same problems they face now but without the millions of dollars that California subsidizes them with now.
When the potential money lost is considered with the unknown financial details of the Jefferson plan, Hendrick said that creating a new state would have a "profound effect" on Crescent City and that the Council should speak up against it.
"The decision for the Council members today is to remain passive and let the county decide or to speak up and have a position," Hendrick said.
However, Schellong rejected the idea that Council inaction on Measure A was "being passive," suggesting instead that the Council had provided a forum for both sides of the issue to present their arguments and keep the public informed.
"I personally feel that we have done our duty by bringing both sides of the issue to the public," she said. "Taking public input, providing our concerns, thoughts and ideas - I think we don't have to take a side tonight."
Reach Aaron West at firstname.lastname@example.org .