Editor’s note: Lori Cowan, chair of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, recently met with the Triplicate Editorial Board to discuss a variety of issue. The following is the result of that sessions, edited for clarity.
The Board of Supervisors is the legislative and executive branch of the county. What do you think should be its top priorities?
When we go into our budget we have certain things that are a priority there…There are things like making sure everybody gets paid and all services are funded.
Then there’s things, things on the other end, maybe, I don’t want to say pie in the sky, but they are things I have been working on for two years.
So, I would say Last Chance Grade...health care and I may think differently on that than most. Cleaning up the community and bringing in tourism.
When I say cleaning up I mean more revitalizing. Those are kinds of the things I even ran on, looking back when I ran.
When I say revitalizing it’s obviously important to have a clean community but it’s also important to have thriving businesses and people coming in here to spend money to make them thriving businesses.
So those would be my top priorities. I believe that there isn’t anybody on the board that would tell you differently.
You said some of your views on health care might be different.
I think sometimes people are pushing Sutter out and I’m not one of those.
My thought on it is they’re here, they’re willing to help and I (can) work with them. I think that’s more important. To be able to communicate and keep those lines of communication open.
They brought in the infusion center. They brought in the physical therapy center.
Dialysis was brought in...that’s not done by Sutter and some supervisors don’t realize that but that’s a third-party group. (State Sen. Mike) McGuire was an angel this summer when someone came to me and said our application’s just sitting on someone’s desk. He picked up that ball and I bugged him every week as we went through...and got it pushed through, and got that dialysis center and their licensing and got it going.
I think that is my key part. If someone comes to me and says we’re having an issue with this, I want to know who I call. I know I can pick up with our state senator — we also have a great assemblyman (Jim Wood) —- and say help us do this. Help walk us through the process in Sacramento. And, you know, that’s what I do.
So that’s happened at the hospital. They brought in different specialists that we haven’t had. There are still ones that need to be brought in but it’s a process. I have seen progress over the last couple of years.
I think communication is huge. And I don’t have any reason to push them out. Do I have a reason, a standard to hold them accountable to? Absolutely.
One of the other things we worked really hard on was getting a new ER.
What was happening is the ER doctors...the ER doctors and the other doctors aren’t Sutter employees. They’re contracted out. So the group at the time was Emcare and they were all out of network.
So that’s one of the things that we were working with and pushing on. I know Sutter personally because we were having meetings. They were working and trying to find a new group. A lot of people said, oh, he’s just giving you lip service. I said I don’t believe so. I believe he’s telling the truth. And wallah, it happened.
We have a new ER group. Are the prices in half? I don’t know. I know they’re in network and I know they’re a lot cheaper. That was our goal and we got there. Didn’t happen overnight but that was just another one of those things that I been working with the last year.
I personally meet regularly with (Sutter CEO) Mitch Hanna. I try to meet with him at least once a month or once every six weeks. I have a meeting with him tomorrow as matter fact. Get lunch have a meeting just to let him know our concerns. And to find out their update so that I can get out the positive. I’m not going to sit there and bitch about stuff. That’s just, again, not me. It doesn’t help. I’m going to look at the positive. Is it perfect? No. Nothing’s perfect. But I think you can find a positive in a lot of this stuff. I’ve been here 16 years and the services we have now are better than they were then.
What do you think the next thing you’re going to encourage and what is the feedback your getting from the community is to the next thing Sutter needs to do or bring here?
Well, what we’re working on is legislation. Back up to November 2017. I am in Sac a couple times a year. I have a habit of always making sure I see the assemblyman and our senator. I go and see Caltrans and federal highways. It’s just kind of my routine.
November ‘17 was with Assemblyman Wood and I said we had an issue with pricing and just some other stuff with Sutter. What can you do to help us? And he had us write a letter — some stuff was going on with Attorney General on a wider scale at that time. We met again in May in Sac and he was here in July of this past summer...but what’s happened is legislation is going forward with health care and I don’t, have not seen the reading on it so I really don’t want to get into it. But just kind of the same thing. Pricing. Price gouging.
Assemblyman Wood is going to help carry legislation to help us work on that.
Is the bill were a not-for-profit hospital has to disclose what they’re contributing back to the community in terms of dollars?
We have talked about that as well. What they give back. Look, you’re going to hear different stories on that. The hospital’s look on that is (they are giving back) when they’re discounting prices. They’re very good at contributing whenever you want donations or backing or money for the community.
I have no problem asking for things. Right? That’s one of my meetings tomorrow. But it’s to tie them into the community and give back in another area.
So yeah, there’s still some things to work on. But there’s a lot of positive things, too. When you look at...our patients were traveling two hours for dialysis. You all know how crappy you feel after that anyways...and now they can do it here. That’s an awesome thing for our community and the ER is a positive thing in our community but you just don’t hear about that do you. You hear the negative.
We recently editorialized that it was time to county gave more than lip service to helping eradicate homelessness. What specifically is the county doing to address this issue of homelessness?
First of all I don’t think it’s the county’s problem. I think it’s a community problem and I think that’s really important. I think we’re part of the community.
I have personally been working with Mike McGuire since July of 2016, and I laugh because in my first meeting with him he says “oh, I’m having a homeless meeting. Come to it.” I said it wasn’t my focus at the time. “No. No. No. Come on,” he says, and got me into it. And from that point I started going to different meetings around the area and stuff, other counties.
At the last meetings I was in, in San Diego...we have a lot of workshops we can go to and I kind of went towards homeless on a lot of things to see what everybody else is doing, especially LA and Orange County.
Every time I listen to somebody or talk to somebody one-on-one, it’s the nonprofit’s we’re coming in and doing it. The county doesn’t have the funding for it.
That said, it’s important so who’s the nonprofit here to help out. What I’m personally working on that’s just kind of my, the over thing of that. No Place Like Home (funding) is something I’ve been working on with McGuire. The funding’s finally started trickling in. W e got our $75,000 for a technical grant. We did an RFP in the fall and we got proposals back. I was just reviewing them this week actually with somebody.
The problem or the obstacles with No Place Like Home is , yes, we can get some money. But they’re bonds. That’s a 50-year loan to the county so the county’s taking on a debt. It’s for brick-and-mortar only. So who’s going to service them? And we have make sure that they’re all around...for about 20 years.
So there’s some obstacles. It’s not to say it won’t work. But first you say we’ll take on whatever that amount is of $2 million or whatever is allotted to us. We’re going to build something or find a place or rehab it whatever we choose to do, which is best, and then the money can only go to brick-and-mortar. Then we have to, the county isn’t...we’re not landlords and we’re not somebody to run a home.
And so those are the kind of different things we’ve been looking at, or I’ve been personally looking at. I’ve gone down to Ukiah, Santa Rosa, and some other places. There’s groups out there that come in and they manage it. They have someone there and they manage it. You get together with a builder you known and there’s tax breaks for that.
So it’s a matter of bringing everybody together and I think that’s probably the county’s job.
It also is for chronically mentally ill homeless this money. We can’t just take the average Joe off the street and put them in there. It has to be a specific person. In the Point-in-Time survey over the last two years we have identified I think 37 or 38 chronically homeless mentally ill.
You know when we’re looking at units...we’re thinking, you know, for that amount. But do we do know what works. Do we do a 12-unit? Do we do a 24-unit? Do we do a 36-unit?
We’re looking to hire a company to come in and tell us what’s going to work for our community. I can go down and look at Ukiah and Santa Rosa and Arcada but what’s going to work up here? It’s totally different.
I’ve been all through with Betty Chinn, I’ve met with her and I’ve gone through all her stuff and what she’s done is pretty amazing. But we have to remember what she’s done has been all completely with private funds. So she doesn’t have to deal with any regulations like we will have to.
We’re hoping this company that comes in will tell us what’s best for a community. When that happens it will all go out to everybody. They will take care of the community meetings and bring people together and work through it. Do we build fresh, do we remodel...what’s going to work? What’s financially going to work and then who’s going to run it?
We know No Place Like Home is not going to eradicate homelessness. It’s just not, by its own definition. We have heard some other money is coming down the pipe...that won’t have as many strings attached. So it will be interesting to see when that happens.
I don’t think you’ll ever see tax revenue. I think that’s a falsehood.
We approved so people can have some stores and set the tax rates. So you’ll see some tax. But I think the tax is just going to cover the cost of what it’s going to take to monitor it. I hope I’m wrong, you know, but I don’t think we’re going to be this extremely rich community through cannabis. I just don’t think so. I just don’t think it will.
I don’t think when you’re looking at a small community and you got 26,000-28,000 people, it can only hold...or it can only support so many retail stores. Right? If you only have two or three retail stores making some tax off of it.
Maybe the manufacturing starts. Maybe the cultivation starts. Maybe it does. But I certainly did not go into it thinking this was going to be our silver bullet.
Who authorizes the licenses?
Do you have a maximum?
No, there’s not a cap. But there is a map that says you can do it these areas. You have to be a thousand feet away from kids and schools. I would say it’s going to show a natural cap.
I certainly know what was voted in our community and I believe I’m in a position of bipartisanship. It’s not about what I like or what I care about. It’s about what my constituents want.
I don’t smoke weed. I don’t even drink for crying out loud. It’s not something that I was voting for myself or not voting for but it’s here, you know, so then I think I looked at it as, OK, well what’s going to be the best for Del Norte County. How are we going to handle this. We can’t just ignore it.
I remember in the beginning on like, OK we’re going to charge $10,000 for permits and 10 percent for taxes. That’s it. We’ll make some money off of it.
But reality was when we put the stakeholders group together, which I think was just a genius idea, I think it’s the best thing we did and everytime I talk to other counties, they’re like I wish we would have done that. We took it slow. And we looked up what was going on (elsewhere). So those 10 percent taxes, when we starting seeing what was happening in those other counties, it wasn’t real realistic. Things kind of changed from that point on.
I think taking it slow was good and only time will tell. But I hope it’s enough money that comes in to at least take care of code enforcement, the sheriff, whatever it needs to... and then anything after that is icing on the cake.
Let’s talk about little bit more about Last Chance Grade. Where are we at on a bypass?
I’m not kidding, when I go to Sac I literally, I am at the state directors door all the time, again Caltrans. I’ve gotten to be really good friends with the guys at...FHWA (Federal Highway Administration). They just know who we are. I call every time we’re headed to town.
Unfortunately (Caltrans Director) Malcolm (Dougherty) retired, or transitioned out...so Laurie Berman’s in there. But as soon as it changed I was on the phone going when is she going to get up here? And she was here. You know we got her up here last spring right away.
That’s my job, is just to completely pound and make sure I always know where they are. And that’s what I do and that’s what people don’t know is that I’m the pest. I can be a pest.
But since we started we were able to get $5 million dollars in ‘17 to start studies, the geotechnical (study). We got another $5 million last spring. We’re going back in for the big ask, which is probably...anywhere from $50-to-$70 million. That is just going for all these studies that we need to do.
But they’re important. I can’t stand them. I can’t stand that we put the money in it but we’re in the state of California and if we don’t do it, these things aren’t going to happen.
That’s huge. People don’t realize. We’ve been working on this for 30-40 years. We’ve been patching that road for 34 years. But never in the history of Last Chance Grade has money gone to an alternate route. Ever. Until two years ago that never happened and that was a huge win for us. That’s why I’m constantly on them. Constantly.
The Sister City Agreement. There’s been some criticism over county money being spent on the sister city agreement, cost of trips to and from Japan.
That’s the city not the county. The county has spent on a trip less than $3,000.
What kind of value do you place on this relationship with Rikuzentakata? Especially for the taxpayers. Does it pay off in money? Does it pay off in goodwill?
It’s going to pay off in learning, experience. Stuff with just with what they went through. What we’ll do to hopefully prevent that here as far as tsunamis goes. And emergency preparedness.
It’s hard. You have to see it to understand. I think in commerce it’s going to pay off. I think doing trade just with you know what they’re doing with the cheese and the beer that’s going to be huge. I think it has a lot of positives.
What are some things we’ve learned so far?
To me on a personal note...I mean things like, and this is going to sound silly to you, but the one thing that just wrenched my heart is I have kids here at school. The one thing I learned was...what they teach all their kids is every man for himself. You need to take care of yourself.
Well that’s not me as a mom. Me as a mom is you meet me at the corner of Washington and Northcrest. And I remember someone saying to me, Lori, no because if you’re in the county building, you went down. He’s waiting for you and he dies because he’s waiting for you. You just killed your son.
You know it’s that kind of mindset of how we think. That is important, to be able to get that across. I personally...what I brought back was education. Were you born and raised in Crescent City or California? Stop, drop and roll. Earthquake drills. We grew up with that.
I want our kids to know what they have to do when we have a tsunami. I want them to know that that’s part of their life. We’ve had more tsunamis in this city than anywhere. Our kids need to be educated.
Lori Dengler (HSU Geology) is a professor. You guys all know Lori. I’ve learned a lot from her since I came back. She’s the one who wrote the book (The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome: A Tsunami Boat Comes Home) with Amya (Miller). I put her together with some other teachers trying to say OK where’s the curriculum that we can do and what can we bring to the schools. And you know that was kind of what I brought back was let’s worry about the kids. I’ll always turn around because it’s kids. They need to understand. It needs to be drilled in their heads.
Because it’s not if, it’s when, unfortunately. I think that’s important and if we can teach that, if you can get people here like myself who saw the disaster to make those things happen that’s important.
There’s some good touchy-feely stuff with it, too. But for me it’s more about safety and being prepared. And making sure my family is prepared and making sure that my son knows where to go and what to do.
Hopefully also commerce. When I went on my trip, and mine was not paid by the county, and I paid for my husband to go as a business. Because my trip was all about business people going over and looking at more businesses. So that was a group I went over with.
You know the things they’re doing over there.
Their climate is just like ours. We were there in February. It was was freezing it was snowy and I was eating the...sweetest tomatoes and strawberries I’ve ever had my life. Things we could be doing here.
Lori Cowan is the District 2 supervisor and can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 707-464-7204.