Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Two forums held Wednesday and on April 26 introduced voters to candidates in the upcoming Del NOrte County Board of Supervisors election and gave them the opportunity to ask questions about how they would govern, if elected.

The first forum, sponsored by True North Organizing Network, brought about 60 to 70 people to Crescent Elk Auditorium to hear from five candidates for Del Norte County supervisor.

In District 3, Supervisor Chris Howard is challenged by Jake Smith of Smith River.

In District 4, three challengers seek to unseat Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen. They are Dave Mason, Ron Phillips and Roger Daley.

Daley was unable to attend the forum as he is a trustee on the Del Norte County Unified School District, which had a board meeting at the same time.

Introductions

Howard is currently the chair of the board of supervisors and is seeking re-election. He said he has been in Del Norte County about 25 years and has had a variety of jobs. He said as a small community, people need to work together toward common goals.

“As an elected person in this county, sometimes, it’s difficult, sometimes, it’s easy,” he said. “We’re never going to see eye to eye, but a balanced approach is always very important to getting the job done as an elected person here. I’ll try to ensure that pace continues if I’m elected again in 2018.”

Mason moved to the county in 2005 to work as its code enforcement officer.

“I love Del Norte County,” he said. “It’s always been my aspiration to live here and I am living the dream.”

He said he’s running for supervisor because he feels changes need to be made and the best place to make them is at the top.

“Some policies and goals need to be changed, fine tuned to iron out the bumps that we’ve had,” he said, “and get things going in the right direction. I’ve got some new vision and new direction and a whole bunch of tools in my toolbox to make that happen.”

Hemmingsen said he was born and raised in Crescent City, and has five kids and two grandchildren.

“My kids work here, my grandchildren go to public schools here,” he said. “The way things operate in this county is very important to me. I’m trying to make this county a place where, if children or grandchildren choose to return to this county and go to work, that they have an opportunity to do so.”

Hemmingsen said as long as he is in office, he will continue to make sure the county has the ability to sustain everyone’s children and grandchildren.

Smith said he has the skills and experience to help the county move forward. He has lived in Del Norte County for six years, but has been heavily involved in the community. He is retired from Caltrans, where he worked for 31 years, partly in public outreach, managing transit, budgeting and served as an advisor to the Caltrans Director .

“I think these skills that I have will help the county, especially when it comes to transportation projects and especially trying to get Last Chance Grade funded,” he said.

Phillips said he has owned a home locally since 2002, and moved here in 2005. He said he was appointed to the Crescent City Harbor commission in 2007, and helped in rebuilding the harbor to its current condition.

“I think it’s a time for change,” Phillips said. “I think 12 years is enough for any one individual to sit on a board and I think you have three good, qualified people that are challenging Supervisor Hemmingsen.”

Questions, answers

Felice Pace’s question began with a claim that spraying of pesticide in the Smith River lily fields is being done when winds exceed 10 miles per hour, in violation of regulations. He noted a recent report by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board showed levels of pesticide ingredients in surface and groundwater that are toxic to endangered fish and a threat to residents. He asked, if elected, if each candidate would support no spray areas around streams to protect drinking water.

Mason said while he supports keeping pesticides out of the streams and other water, some spraying is necessary to keep invasive species out of outgoing commercial crops.

“Excessive overspray is a waste of money and a detriment to the environment,” Mason said. “The challenge is knowing where the line should be so that those crops are protected as well as protecting the waterways. In these types of issues, I rely heavily on the subject matter experts. As far as other actions, one of the biggest challenges in rural areas is making sure people are getting their potable water from an approved source, not an irrigation well.”

Mason said testing is the only way to know and community service districts in those areas need to take the lead in that regard, with assistance from the county Environmental Health Department.

Hemmingsen called the issue very complex, saying he and Howard sat in on a recent NCRWQCB meeting.

“I’m certainly not a scientist, so for me to tell you I will support a buffer of X number of feet or Y number of feet... there are a lot of variables here,” he said. “Maybe 50 feet isn’t enough, and in some cases, maybe 50 feet is not needed.”

Hemmingsen said the land’s features are different from one area to another and each has its own issue. He said the board does not want to see pesticides get into the river, but it has to be sure the process is working.

“The lily bulb growers are going to work very closely with NCRWQCB staff, and they are going to come up with best management practices,” he said. “Those best management practices are going to be utilized in order to decide if there is buffers needed.”

Hemmingsen said the board needs to be sure water is clean and safe in all of Del Norte County.

Smith said he has done a lot of research on the matter, and has read the entire NCRWQCB report. He said since the document is so long and complex, he refers to its executive summary for the encapsulated version.

“Testing showed compliance with water quality objectives and acceptable limits for a healthy aquatic ecosystem,” he said. “I would support doing further testing up the creeks, further than they did, because you’re probably aware that there were dumpsites up Rowdy Creek Road. There was mining there and some of the tests showed minerals that suggest mining or other elements in the ground.”

Smith said the issue needs a series of town hall meetings, to bring the community, farmers, NCRWQCB and board together to flush out issues.

Phillips recalled a study done in 1990 that found a particular chemical present that would never leave the groundwater and that the pesticides used in the area have changed.

“I’m with everybody else, I don’t want to see the Smith River water estuary have chemicals in it and not have safe drinking water,” he said.

Phillips said, if elected, he will work to stay informed of the environmental conditions of the area while working with the lily farmers and NCRWQCB to protect water quality.

Howard said the topic is very important to many in the county, and has had a lot of attention in the last four years as NCRWQCB began to release studies. He recalled when a water board member came to Del Norte County to release factual information to the community. He said they have been invited back and hopefully will do a presentation on the most recent report regarding 2013 to present test results before June.

“It’s extremely important to know that everyone, Department of Pesticides Control, regulates those pesticides and how and when they’re applied,” he said. “Even though that control is placed there, maybe a farmer doesn’t see what’s going on, maybe he does. What we do know is that there’s a regulatory process in place. How that can be improved is extremely important.”

Howard said growers are going through the Irrigated Lands Program with the NCRWQCB to develop best practices as to the application of pesticides and herbicides. He said the practice, if followed, will serve to protect human and ecological health.

The second forum forum, sponsored by the Del Norte Association of Realtors, took place Wednesday at the Washington Boulevard Fire Station. About 50 people attended. As before, candidate Daley was unable to attend.

Economic prosperity

Candidates were asked what action they would take to move Del Norte County toward economic stability and prosperity.

Howard said those actions started long ago and continue presently. He said in 1964, legislation was passed at the state level, allowing a Transient Occupancy Tax to be compiled in the county general fund, to be spent accordingly.

“Being as weak as we were, we knew we had to reinvest those dollars, which was a goal of the Chamber of Commerce ever since that tax was passed,” he said. “In 2006, the chamber of commerce decided to pursue, again, an allocation, or reinvestment of that TOT in attracting the next new visitor to our county. That’s what we set out to do and that’s exactly what happened. Through working through various constituent groups including the Council of Economic Advisors, the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority, in passing that to the county and the city, and various tribal governments, we were able to raise over $260,000 to invest in tourism marketing.”

Howard said since then, city and county TOT money has doubled and continues to grow.

“That was a wise investment of public dollars,” Howard said. “Those are the kind of things we need to continue to do float our general fund budget and do the reinvestment that’s necessary. We will have an opportunity as the board of supervisors continues, to look at tax opportunity and will have on the ballot, hopefully, with the passage of our measure on Tuesday, which is for the taxation of cannabis. That money needs to be reinvested, not only in the growth of our general fund budget, which we will allocate toward various important programs... but in addition, toward prevention and education. Those are the ways we are currently helping to grow the economic future of our area and look and look out for the future of our children.”

Hemmingsen said Howard made good points, and stressed support of the visitors bureau.

“As long as I am on the board I will continue to advocate doing that,” he said. “I think the tourism business and recreation go hand in hand, so making sure we have areas for people to visit, whether that’s in the forest, or amusement, or the activities we have within the community, we need to make sure they have access to those.”

Hemmingsen said local infrastructure needs to be continually upgraded and expanded to make way for growth.

A pilot himself, Hemmingsen noted the importance of the airport and access to the Bay Area with Contour Airlines.

“I think having that new terminal building is economic growth in itself,” he said. “We made an investment there. I think these are all good things. We need to think about our youth and early education. I’ve been on that bandwagon for a long time, making sure that our kids can read at third grade level when they get to the third grade. Extremely important to me, the 3 Read 23 program, our Children’s Bill of Rights, all of those things are an investment in the community and those are the types of things we need to make sure we get in on.”

Smith opened with what he called the elephant in the room.

I think it begins with making our town more attractive,” he said. “At some point we’re going to have to deal with it, and we’re taking small steps, but we need to go a little bit further to deal with the transient problem. I think it’s a big problem, I think it affects our town. People come through our town, they look around, they see what’s happening, and it doesn’t look as attractive as it could. I don’t have a total solution to that but I think we need to work with our law enforcement agencies.”

Smith suggested creating a task force to work on the issue, and mentioned a possibility of creating zones that would get transient activity out of the downtown area.

“That, plus maybe doing some beautification efforts,” he said. “It’s going to take a community spirit to try to rebuild our town. We’re going to have to work together, and communicate as much as we can with each other and take the serious steps first. That’s what we need to do, we have to clean things up.”

Smith said he supports chamber efforts, as well as those of the Downtown Divas.

“We also need to have the goal of getting businesses into our vacant storefronts,” he said, “and again, some of that comes along with trying to clean up the town — we need to make it more attractive.”

Smith said he would like to see an anchor store downtown, similar in scope to Big 5, saying it would attract more people and make downtown more attractive to others.

“That, to me are the keys to economic prosperity and stability,” he said.

Phillips said he has also sat on many local boards, representing the harbor district, that have worked to promote tourism, improve local internet access, make U.S. 199 safer and rebuilt the harbor following the 2011 tsunami.

“Now, we’re working with investment people to expand tourism in the harbor,” he said. “Last year, we took over the RV Park on the corner of Anchor Way, and we’re cleaning that place up. We’re also looking at, and have plans to build yurts and cabins for rent down there. We’re looking for a market to go in the old Englund Marine building. I keep talking to Port o’ Pints every day that I see them and try to to get them to open up and use some of the property we have behind the building to put in some form of entertainment like a small concert type of thing.”

Phillips noted his wife’s bed and breakfast, saying while most guests talk about wanting to see and visit the redwoods, they only stay a night or two.

“We need to be able to draw them in and keep them here for a little bit longer,” he said.

Phillips said he’s been considering the viability of a tax-free zone for new business developers who clean up and refurbish buildings and properties. He suggested the county tax break could be offered to those who meet the conditions, agree to stay for a specified minimum duration and pay employees at least $15 per hour.

“If the cannabis tax goes through, I’d like to see it earmarked for education, but also for mental illness,” he said.

Mason said the three main concepts of his platform relate to reducing and eliminating blight, reducing crime and improving the economy.

“Those three have to be done simultaneously, otherwise you’re just shoveling sand against the tide,” he said. “Most of you business owners understand people don’t want to visit a dump. People don’t want to build or invest in a property next to a dump. We gotta get some of these properties cleaned up. We have the tools, we don’t need a new ordinance, we don’t need additional funding. We need to use the tools that we have.”

Mason said that for 12 years as code enforcement officer, he fought with supervisors who, according to him, did not want to be heavy handed or cause the property owner to lose property.

“An irresponsible property owner who won’t step up to the plate after being given due notice and due process that digs in their heels and refuses to make the community better, really doesn’t deserve to keep turning the county into a dump,” he said.

Mason said he helped convince many such people to be a part of the process and clean up. While some refused to the point of going to court over the issue, the properties were cleaned up, to their neighbors’ relief, he said, adding that he bulldozed the first drug house in the county.

“I know how to clean the town up. I know what it takes to clean the town up,” he said. “There’s grant money available, I know how to get that. I’ve gotten hundreds of thousands in grant money to do that. I know how to recirculate that money back into the program so it keeps feeding on itself. I know how to make business loans attractive, I helped Santa Anna recover from its sanctuary city status in 1985.

“I’m going to do what I know how to do to make the county more prosperous and better,” he said, “and there are going to be some people who will disagree with that but it needs to be done. Otherwise, if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will get what we’ve always gotten.”

Several questions posed at the forums weren’t entirely within a county supervisor’s purview, including questions about police training, sexual harassment legislation, the use of Proposition 63 state funds, and some pointed questions about personal attacks and racism.

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