Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, July 23 @ 6:15 p.m. / Homelessness, Local Government

Gitlin Requests Vacant County Property List for Homeless 'Staging Area'; Supes Approve Lactation Policy, Coastal Conservancy Grant Application


District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin brings up his concerns about homelessness, requests a list of vacant property for a accommodations that's "off the beaten track." Photo: Andrew Goff.

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Though they took action one of his proposals Tuesday, Roger Gitlin’s colleagues on the county Board of Supervisors contradicted his assertion that despite arguing, elected officials “end up doing nothing” to address homelessness.

Supervisors Lori Cowan, Gerry Hemmingsen and Bob Berkowitz went along with the District 1 representative’s request for a list of vacant county property. District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard is in Japan with a Sister City delegation.

Gitlin, whose constituents are primarily city residents, asked for the list of vacant county properties hoping that one would provide a suitable site to satisfy a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and offer “staging area” for the homeless that’s “off the beaten track.” His other requests — to discuss establishing “FEMA-type housing” to satisfy the Appeals Court’s decision and to suspend payment to the Stimson Fund and use $18,000 to $20,000 to help the city fund capital improvements at the Fred Endert Municipal Pool — were not on Tuesday’s agenda.

Though he and his colleagues directed staff to draw up the vacant county property list, Gitlin said that request was a moot point unless he could discuss “the whole picture.”

“We cannot discuss this one item separate without including the entire conversation of how to fund it and what have you,” he said, claiming that the issue regarding vacant county properties wouldn’t have context otherwise. “This is a rapidly changing subject every day and every time there’s an incident like this, we cannot have an open discussion about something, circumstances change.”

In September 2018, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Martin v. the City of Boise that prosecuting homeless persons for sleeping in public areas violates their constitutional rights.

On Tuesday, Gitlin said he has received complaints from residents about the “deterioration and quality of life issues” in the county. One woman, who has lived in Crescent City for about 60 years, is disturbed by public urination from people living in RVs parked on city streets, Gitlin said. He said he and other volunteers have also seen used needles during the community cleanups he spearheads.

“I am looking for vacant land to satisfy the court order of the 9th District Appeals Court so we can supplant people currently in public areas, putting their tents down, creating all kinds of collateral issues and putting them in an area what I can only refer to as staging areas,” Gitlin said.

Cowan, who represents District 2, said she, County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina and Administrative Analyst Toni Self met with Housing Tools, a consulting firm specializing in financing and implementing affordable housing projects.

Cowan said the county hired the firm with a $75,000 technical grant from the state’s No Place Like Home program. Housing Tools is tasked with identifying all properties and working with the community to determine what kind of permanent supportive housing program would be suitable. She said she wanted to discuss Gitlin’s request for a list of vacant county properties because “we are looking at those properties and it’s good for the community to know which properties we’re looking at.”

Meanwhile, Cowan said she has also been working with Our Daily Bread Ministries, a locally-operated rescue mission that is working to expand from an emergency shelter during inclement weather to offering a safe place to sleep seven days a week. The organization offers five meals a day and food at any time, Cowan said.

Meanwhile staff from the Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services is providing services twice a week to the clients that frequent Our Daily Bread, Cowan said.

A new development Cowan said she, DHHS Director Heather Snow and Charlaine Mazzei, director of the Del Norte Senior center, have discussed is getting local faith-based nonprofit organizations to collaborate in establishing mobile showers.

“We’re doing a lot of collaboration and it’s good for the community to know that,” she said.

As for Gitlin’s request to allocate $18,000 to $20,000 to the city for swimming pool improvements instead of making a payment to the Stimson Fund, Cowan said the Board of Supervisors had already discussed the matter.

At the Board of Supervisors July 11 meeting, Gitlin proposed deferring a $96,000 loan payment to the Stimson Fund on behalf of the terminal project at the Del Norte County Regional Airport. On Tuesday, though Cowan said supervisors had taken action on the issue three times, she’d be willing to bring the matter back for discussion a fourth time before a full Board of Supervisors.

When discussing listing the vacant county-owned properties, though he said “sure” in favor of the direction, Hemmingsen, who represents District 4, said the request was ambiguous and didn’t give staff any kind of direction as to what to look for.

“Are they supposed to come up with some idea that’s in Roger’s head or something on what vacant properties they need to come up with?” Hemmingsen asked. “There’s nothing here. I don’t see any requirements that they have to be 10 by 20 or 2 acres or 1 acre or what it is that we’re supposed to be looking for.”

Hemmingsen noted that there are numerous county-owned properties and right of ways.

“I can’t see putting staff time into something that’s not going to come up with something suitable,” he said.

At a comment from Berkowitz, who said county officials should know what kinds of properties it has, Cowan said she agreed.

“I don’t think this is going to be as hard as we think,” she said. “Already we are going through it, what he’s asking for.”

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In other matters, though the county has been accommodating employees who are nursing and need to take breaks from work to express breast milk, the Board of Supervisors approved a written policy that establishes clear guidelines.

County Counsel Elizabeth Cable said the policy was drafted in collaboration with the Del Norte County Employees Association.

County risk manager Cathy Hafterson said currently employers are required to provide women the accommodation to express breast milk if they’re nursing. The amount of time an employee would need can be worked out with her and a supervisor, she said.

The Board of Supervisors also gave Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal the authority to pursue a California Coastal Conservancy grant to improve beach access for those who are disabled on Wavecrest Drive in Smith River, nearby Clifford Kamph Memorial Park and at an existing pull-out on North Pebble Beach Drive closer to Crescent City.

Staff proposes to request $250,000 for planning the grant and $150,000 for implementing the improvements, according to a county staff report.

“We would be looking for planning money for all three sites, in particular the Wavecrest site,” Kunstal said. “We will need to do engineered drawings for that and to do environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act and receive permits before we’ll be eligible to apply for implementation funds.”

Kunstal said there is a July deadline for submitting the grant application, though if the county’s request is “sub-par” she would like to hold off until October to submit the application to the Coastal Conservancy.

Full video of the meeting can be found below.


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