About 20 Del Norte High School students, local officials, law enforcement and members of the public spent well over two hours Thursday getting updated about local issues at a town hall meeting hosted by state Sen. Mike McGuire.
The senator noted during the meet at Joe Hamilton Elementary School that he is the only Democrat in the Senate representing a rural district.
“I will share with you that Democrats have not done a good job at representing rural California or rural America,”McGuire said, “and it is an incredible frustration of mine.”
Noting high childhood poverty, homelessness and near-record opioid addiction rates, McGuire said legislators and citizens need to focus on every corner of the state in order to deliver good jobs, schools, better health care and broadband to rural communities.
Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore started by discussing the two issues communicated to him; Last Chance Grade and Front Street. He explained the city will be leveraging $4 million in Community Development Block Grant money for a storm drain project that will relieve downtown winter flooding and result in half of Front Street being paved by 2018.
“That’s the result of creative thinking by your city staff,” Inscore said.
Inscore noted the Howe Drive project is underway and will put two safe beach access points, a ramp and a staircase, next to Beachfront Park. Inscore said the city’s new dog park is nearly complete. He spoke of the city’s recent purchase of the Bank Of America Building, which will be renovated into a new City Hall, providing better access and customer service to the community.
Inscore said all the projects are the result of collaboration between agencies and individuals.
“I’m a firm believer that we can always do more together than any of us can do alone,” he said.
Inscore stressed a need for quality affordable housing in the area, saying the Housing Authority serves 589 families in the county, administered by city staff.
“$3 million in housing assistance comes in to Del Norte County every year,” Inscore said. “That’s a great thing, 589 families are in affordable housing this month because of that housing authority.”
Inscore said the city is working with a developer to build 30 affordable housing units while ensuring there will be people to reside in them. He also noted the city holds 18 Housing and Urban Development vouchers targeted at finding homes for veterans.
“There is no reason that anyone who has served this country ought not to have an affordable home,” he said. “We’re making sure that’s happening.”
Inscore said city and state collaborations also led to the freeing up of of more than $200,000 in money that can be used for sewer capital improvement projects.
Asked later if affordable housing will be integrated into areas of the city so as not to create low income neighborhoods, Inscore said it depends. He said the city has been working with Danco Corporation for a couple years to get Senior Housing built in the old Patio Hotel location near downtown.
“A lot of it is going to be about engaging with the developers who want to come in and invest in our community,” Inscore said.
Mike Thornton, a True North organizer researching local homelessness, asked legislators in the room for their suggestions regarding such issues.
“It is going to have to be a combined effort,” Inscore said, noting meetings are ongoing to solve these problems. He said the city is working to be competitive in receiving money from the state’s No Place Like Home initiative.
A woman in the audience asked what the city is going to do regarding local recycling, noting many residents rely on a buyback center for all or part of their income.
Inscore, who chairs the Solid Waste Management Authority board of directors, called it “a tough situation.”
“It’s a statewide dilemma,” Inscore said. “We had over 900 buyback centers close. It’s not just Julindra (Recycling). The markets have crashed. Nobody wants plastics and we’re facing an epidemic of mounting recycling because we have been at the forefront thinking... we have to find everything that can possibly be recycled and it is a noble effort on the part of people who live in the state of California.”
Inscore suggested legislators continue to lobby for retailers to buy back recyclables, as it is currently impacting local residents.
“We know it’s not just here,” he said, “but it feels really hard here because we know how many people, not just homeless, maybe even some of you, supplement your income with those buyback dollars.”
Sandra Morrison, owner of the State-contracted DUI and alcohol/drug treatment programs, asked about transitional housing for those with nothing who may be coming directly from tents in the local underbrush. She said there has never been money to help people get into transitional housing.
“The county, with the Alcohol and Other Drugs Program, and Mental Health, have some funds to help people,” she said, “but we take in a lot of people who have no money, clothes, food, toiletries. Is there any money coming in at some point where everybody’s talking about the homeless that’s going to help the people who are at zero?”
Inscore noted a key component of No Place Like Home is not transitional but ongoing. He said once funds are released, the county will be able to use a minimum of $500,000 to build but the city still needs to find developers who are willing to work inside those parameters.
“We don’t need someone to find the houses,” Morrison said, noting that they can be rented locally. “We need somebody to help the people get in that house for whatever length of time to give them that step up.”
Inscore again suggested collaboration between agencies like Health and Human Services and others, could make that a reality.
Continuing the partnership theme, Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard noted the Office of Emergency Services recently secured a grant to send more than 50 city and county personnel to Washington D.C. to learn ways to deliver service during emergencies.
Howard said many fruitful partnerships have resulted in local emergency road repairs, the Humboldt/Sandmine roundabout, and $600,000 lift station in the Bertsch Tract area. Inscore said those efforts could not have been achieved otherwise. He noted the county is working with the Yurok Tribe on lands legislation and collaborative efforts to increase tourism in Klamath.
Howard acknowledged fellow Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen for his work in helping get a monitor station near Pacific Shores to discourage illegal dumping there.
Howard also acknowledged Mike Thornton for his part in creating the area’s first bilingual radio station through Humboldt State University.
“20 percent of our population are Latino,” Hoard said, noting the station will bring valuable emergency communication to that population for the first time in many years.
Howard said while marijuana is a tough topic to tackle, it’s one the county has been engaged in, having held six separate workshops over the last year.
“We’ll continue going forward with a working group over the next couple months and we’re going to dive into what an ordinance here in Del Norte County might look like,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge but it’s something we all need to address because it is now state law.”
Howard noted the excitement around the pending arrival of Contour Airlines bringing the first regional jet service to Crescent City.
Howard said the state has been working to come up with an elk management plan for Del Norte County, the first of its kind since 2003. A draft will soon be available for public review, he said.
As discussed at a supervisors meeting Tuesday, Howard spoke of a late-breaking notification the state wants to charge residents for use of public lands, including the Lake Earl Wildlife Area.
“I did not see this one coming,” Howard said. “I will be talking to the senator a little later but we know, as one of the forest communities, accessing public lands for recreational purposes is extremely important, but charging for those public lands... is not the right approach.”
Howard said the board is sending a letter to the state, recommending the issue be revisited.
Howard noted a revolving fund of lien money will be reallocated to Code Enforcement to continually clean up blighted areas of the county.
Howard closed by saying a battle has been won, partly through the efforts of Hemmingsen, to reopen commercial sport fishing at Blue Creek. Howard said the fight to reopen the area took two years of meetings around the region.
A man in the audience said he wanted to know if any agency had assessed the present and future need for local nursing home beds.
“I’m concerned that if President Trump has his way with health care bill, support for in-home health services will disappear and there will be a big deluge of people who are now in their own homes who will have to end up in a nursing home.”
“I don’t have an answer to your question, I honestly don’t,” Howard said, suggesting county staff might be able to help. “The discussion you are having is extremely important to this community as we continue to age. We all need to take care of our elderly. I know it’s a huge priority of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. We hope you continue pushing us on this issue.”
Former library board member John Mertes questioned the possibility of rehabilitating vacant or dilapidated local houses to supplement the affordable housing supply.
Howard said the city and county will have to be creative with limited state resources in order to get such projects going. He also noted some may take a lot of money to rehabilitate or may be better to just replace.
Reach Tony Reed at email@example.com