Low turnout at Sen. Mike McGuire’s Town Hall meeting Wednesday may have been due to the Earthquake and Tsunami workshop across town but state and local officials still gave updates on local issues and projects.
Panelist speakers were Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore, Del Norte County Supervisor Chair Chris Howard, Del Norte Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven, Caltrans District 1 Director Richard Mullen, Last Chance Grade Project Manager Jaime Matteoli and school Superintendent Jeff Harris.
Each speaker gave an update on local progress, projects and prospects, starting with Inscore and Howard.
Inscore spoke first, inciting applause in the room by saying that, if all goes as planned, half of Front Street will be repaved by this time next year. The city has been awarded a $5 million Community Development Block Grant.
Inscore broke the grant down, saying $250,000 will be allocated to the North Coast Rape Crisis Center, $250,000 will go to city code enforcement. The bulk of the money, $4 million, will go to a city storm drain project that will involve digging up and repaving half of Front Street.
“The best thing that’s happening is that we are building partnerships,” Inscore said, recalling lessons learned while conducting a seismic retrofit of the city firehouse. Since the cost was found to be prohibitive, the city partnered with Elk Valley Rancheria to share the cost of a new fire engine.
“Talking about Front Street, to get that all done, we need some more partnerships,” Inscore said, speaking of a new transportation program, which provides such resources. After some discussion, Elk Valley Rancheria came forward with funding to apply for a $12 million grant to rebuild all of Front Street, he said.
“Are we going to get it? I don’t know,” Inscore said, “but you don’t get anything if you don’t build partnerships and that’s what we’re learning and that’s what we’re doing.”
Inscore also noted the importance of the Sister City relationship with Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan.
“We have established partnerships that allow us to learn and grow, and we’re going to continue with that,” he said. “If people want to throw me out of office because I want to build relationships internationally that benefit this community, so be it. They’re short-sighted and someone else will pick up that mantle. I believe that.”
Inscore and Howard will be in San Francisco next weekend attending the inaugural Japan/California Sister City Network Conference. In three weeks, the two will be guests of Japan at the World Tsunami Awareness Day at the United Nations.
“Look it up and you tell me that having both representatives who are willing to engage, not only locally, statewide, nationally and globally doesn’t benefit our community,” Inscore said, “and, by the way, we’re paying for it. We’re doing it because we believe in it.”
Inscore stressed the importance of partnerships, saying “The stuff we do together is the stuff that lasts.”
When Kelly Schellong asked how the CDBG money would be used in code enforcement, Inscore said the job has traditionally been done on a cost-recovery basis. He said the money will allow the city to address multiple properties up front, rather than waiting to be repaid for one project before starting another. The city council recently heard a presentation from Community Development Director Eric Taylor about several such projects completed around the city in the past five years.
From the county
Howard continued on the partnership theme, saying local policymakers have a variety of personalities. Addressing the students in the room, Howard said the core purpose of local legislators is to leave a great county for them.
“Even though we have conflicting personalities we do agree on a lot of stuff,” Howard said, recalling the county’s HAS199B.com program, to address the harbor, airport, sewers, U.S. 199 and broadband. Howard said the broadband infrastructure leg of the initiative was completed while the harbor project has a long way to go.
“We’re almost there on the airport,” he said. “In January, we’re going to have a brand new terminal and right now a jet is flying at capacity almost every night, with 25 enplanements per jet and it’s cranking — so well, that they (Contour) are thinking about adding a new leg to that flight next year.”
He said the work by the city years ago allowed for a new sewer infrastructure that increased capacity for new businesses to come into the area.
“It was all done through partnerships,” he said.
Howard said U.S. 199 progress is being held up by lawsuits but Caltrans is working to get through the process.
Howard brought up Proposition 6, which asks for a repeal of SB1, known to most as the gas tax increase, which he said pays for critical infrastructure needs in the county and state highways.
Howard said in speaking with county roads officials he was told the current budget for county roads will dry up in two years without SB1. He said SB1 added $375,000 to local road funds and another $1 million is set to arrive next year. Howard said poor roads will continue to deteriorate in the county and none will get fixed if Proposition 6 passes.
As for the current gas tax, Howard said the county gets more back than it contributes.
Regarding Last Chance Grade, Howard said local business, including his employer, Alexandre Dairy, will be impacted by any closures there. He said the dairy moves $2.5 million in products over the grade every month.
“If it fails, I guarantee we’re not going to be looking too good,” Howard said. “That’s 115 employees I’m looking out for personally.”
Howard said the Last Chance Grade bypass project depends on SB1 funding to be completed.
Howard noted the long process that has been the consideration of marijuana ordinances through the county’s Cannabis Working Group. He said the county is working toward keeping the county free of unsightly fences and structures while providing a tool for county code enforcement to bring illegal growers into compliance. He said Measure B, the county’s cannabis taxation ordinance is that tool for the county tax collector, and will also provide revenue for local services.
Howard echoed the importance of the Sister City relationship, adding lessons learned in tsunami preparedness will only benefit the local community, and he and Inscore are funding their own trip to the United Nations because they believe the county needs to be as prepared as it can be.
McGuire later touched on issues around Proposition 6 and Last Chance Grade. Responding to an audience member who said many local residents go to Brookings for gas, McGuire gave an unexpected response.
“If you go buy your gas in Oregon, keep going,” he said. “The reason I say that is because we have to keep this gas tax in this state. If you continue to go buy your gas in Oregon, I get it, but what I’ll tell you is Oregon won’t fix Last Chance Grade.”
McGuire later said with SB1, the majority of the funding that will complete Last Chance Grade will come from south of Del Norte County.
McGuire said the state has not increased the gas tax since 1994 because people didn’t approve.
“What I am tired of is the generation before me and the generation before that kicking the can down the road and ignoring our tough issues,” he said.
McGuire closed the meeting with his state status report, underscoring the importance of partnerships between state and local legislators. Saying he’s the only Democrat in California representing a rural district, McGuire said legislation should never be about party, but about people.
In what he called “the lightning round,” McGuire rattled off statistics and status updates on schools, healthcare, housing and homeless issues.
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