Jessica Cejnar / Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 @ 12:36 p.m. / Elections
Four of Six Candidates for Crescent City Council Introduce Themselves, Field Questions on Homelessness, Police, Equity and Job Opportunities
Four candidates seeking one of three open seats on the Crescent City Council introduced themselves to the community.
At True North Organizing Network candidates forum on Friday, the contenders took questions on homelessness, police response to domestic violence and mental health calls and career opportunities for young people.
The four candidates also answered a question from Yurok tribal member Georgiana Gensaw, who reminded them that the City Council last week declared Monday to be Indigenous People’s Day. Gensaw asked each candidate how the city could help promote prosperity and healing within the local indigenous community.
Six candidates are running for three seats on the Crescent City Council. Incumbent Jason Greenough and his challenger Eric Gill Port did not attend Friday’s candidate forum. The candidates present were Herman Rinkel, Alex Campbell, Beau Smith and Raymond Altman.
The forum began with moderator Patricia Black asking each participant to provide the community with three to four core values they carry and how they will inform their decision making process if elected.
Altman, who is currently serving on the planning commission and has been living in Crescent City for about 16 years, said honesty, dependability, trust, passion and having an open mind were values that were important to him. However, he noted, that as one of five members on the City Council, it’s the collective of values that make the final decisions.
“I have to trust that public comment, the research, the subject matter experts and a very talented city staff will all give me the information I need to make those decisions based on a collective values system,” he said.
Campbell, who moved to Crescent City about 10 years ago and was the store manager at Home Depot, said his values are economic development, fiscal responsibility, a safe and clean city and opportunity.
“I believe I have the skills necessary to help out with the City Council and give it good direction,” he said, adding that Home Depot is a $27 million business. “Some of the skills that have influenced me to make an important decision in my life include actually running for City Council.”
Rinkel moved to Del Norte County in 2011 and became a Crescent City resident about two years ago. Honesty, integrity, responsibility and accountability are his core public values. He said he has carried these values with him as a real estate broker as well as an employee for the State of California.
“To me, as a public servant, that means I provide a service to you, or for you,” he said. “I’m a representative of your voice. I believe these core values should be instilled in every public official.”
Unlike the other candidates who participated in True North’s candidate forum, Beau Smith is a Crescent City native who worked in Washington and Alaska before returning home and raising a family. Honesty, trustworthiness, dependability, his faith and courage are values he holds dear. He said it was courage that prompted him to join Crescent City Fire & Rescue as a volunteer about 15 years ago.
Smith also served on the Crescent Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
“I got to help with the merge of the two fire departments,” Smith said, referring to the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department and Crescent Fire Protection District’s 2015 merger to create Crescent Fire & Rescue. “As a firefighter looking in, being on the board, I had to make a lot of decisions and I had to vote fo rthe way I felt was right. I had to vote for my constituents. We needed the resources.”
Debbie Lewis, who is on True North’s Housing and Homeless Advisory Group, pointed out that many residents don’t realize how hard it is to be homeless. She noted that there are very few safe places for them to sleep, shower, store their belongings.
“I have a positive relationship with many who are homeless and they are very fine human beings, but they are in a situation which is like being at the bottom of the well,” she said. “Many people say, ‘Get out of the well. Get a job.’ The problem is they cannot get out of the well by themselves. They need a lifeline.”
Lewis said she joined True North to help create that lifeline. Over the past year, the Housing and Homeless Advisory Group has worked with Medford’s Rogue Retreat to determine if its tiny home transitional housing program could be replicated in Del Norte County, Lewis said.
The Housing and Homeless Advisory Group has also worked with Del Norte Mission Possible, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to opening a year-round rescue mission.
Lewis brought up a 2018 City Council resolution to end homelessness, but said since then they have done “little or nothing to end homelessness.” She asked each candidate how they would uphold the city’s promise.
Campbell acknowledged there was a “homeless problem” in Crescent City and said Councilors should find property and secure funding through grants to provide shelter for as many homeless as it can.
When he was young, Rinkel said, he made some bad decisions that landed him homeless and on the streets. For a few months, he said, he had to get food from dumpsters to survive. He said he knows how hard it is to get out of that situation.
“If it wasn’t for the help of others, I would not have been able to make it,” he said. “I didn’t actually plan on sharing that with you guys, but I felt it was poignant to the situation from what Debbie was saying. I’m committed to continuing the city’s stance on the proclamation.”
However, Rinkel said, the challenge is money. The Crescent City Council should communicate with county officials to address the homeless population outside its jurisdiction.
After explaining what a resolution is, Altman said the promise the city made in 2018 to end homelessness was a beautiful thing that reflected the community’s passion. The Crescent City Council has the resolve to try to solve homelessness, too, Altman said. He pointed to the Crescent City Housing Authority, which helps 584 families stay in their homes and has a program for displaced veterans through the HUD-VASH program.
Ending homelessness, however, isn’t easy, Altman said.
“There’s so many facets, you might as well ask someone to do something about the Milky Way galaxy,” he said. “There are so many variables, mental health, substance abuse, there’s — like Debbie was mentioning — good people that can’t be lifted up. There’s the funding problem. But I do believe, that with the resolve that we have to do something about it, we can chip away at this goal.”
Smith echoed Altman’s answer, saying that there’s more to solving the homelessness crisis than simply ending it. He said he hopes the solution to that problem comes either during his potential term as a Councilor or shortly after.
Measure S and Equity
Before she asked her question, True North leader Susan Andrews said it’s important that any decisions that impacts the community are being made equitably. She also brought up Measure S, the 1 percent sales tax measure that will generate revenue for Crescent City Fire & Rescue, the Crescent City Police Department, road repair, the Fred Endert Municipal Pool and other city services.
Andrews noted that the Council will be appointing a five-member oversight committee to monitor the proceeds Measure S generates if it’s successful. But, she said, after the Nov. 3 election, the City Council “will be entirely male led.”
“This is just one example of how the Council will not fully reflect the demographics of our city residents,” she said. “If Measure S passes, what will each of you do to ensure that this oversight committee represents the broader diversity of this community?”
Altman said he wishes there were more women on the Crescent City Council — Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime, currently the only women on the Council, is not seeking re-election. But, Altman said, he can’t “ensure anything.”
“It’s going to be a collective vote for (committee) appointments,” he said. “But I’m sure we’ll try to be as fair as possible.”
Since revenue generated from Measure S will benefit four city departments, a representative from each department should provide their voice on how that extra funding will be used, Smith said. He, too, noted that he is one decision out of five and said it would be great if women were on the oversight committee.
Smith also said he would welcome outside opinions, from Del Norte County’s tribes.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have a person from each on it as well,” Smith said, referring to the oversight committee.
Though he’s not sure how the selection process for the Measure S citizens oversight committee will work, Rinkel said he’s committed to working with those who are interested to have an “interactive cross-section of our community in the hopes of having it fully represented.”
Campbell also promised to do his best to ensure that the citizens oversight committee reflects different aspects of the Crescent City community.
Law enforcement and mental health and domestic violence
Emily Leonard Rhodes told candidates that as someone who works domestic violence victims, she has been in a situation where she had to put herself between a law enforcement officer and a victim. She said she has witnessed harassment and a difference in the response to victims who are white versus those from native families.
“(They) ask if alcohol had been an issue and if the victim were reliable,” Rhodes told candidates. “They did not ask those same questions when speaking with white victims.”
She asked candidates how they will make sure Crescent City police officers will receive the training needed to respond to domestic violence and mental health calls “in a way that preserves the dignity of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.”
Rinkel said he believes the Crescent City Police Department already preserves the dignity of everyone regardless of race. But, he said, police officers are often not adequately trained to handle those with mental health issues.
“They’re often required to navigate these difficult encounters without said training,” Rinkel said. “I feel it’s incumbent upon us to try to resolve these problems — police our police sometimes.”
Rinkel said if there are a “few bad actors” in the police department, those in charge should determine if they need a different calling besides law enforcement.
“If they’re being provided training and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then we need to deal with it,” he said.
Campbell told Rhodes that her story disturbed him. He said he’d encourage ongoing training for officers having to respond to those situations and would do his best to hold the police department accountable.
“I also want to encourage the departments to meet with advocates, organizations, to discuss concerns about their behavior,” Campbell said. “If an officer is performing badly and I hear about it, I’ll do my best to make sure they’re held accountable in whatever way I can as a City Council member.”
As a volunteer firefighter, Smith said he knows of resources available for additional law enforcement and emergency response training. One, he said, is Pelican Bay State Prison. He promised to do “everything in his power” to make sure that training is available to police officers, though he said the officers are approachable.
Altman argued that the Crescent City Police Department is short staffed, having to do more with less. If voters approve Measure S, he said, one of the city’s first priorities should be more boots on the ground.
“They need help,” Altman said of Crescent City police. “They’re there to help us when we need them.”
Career opportunities for youth
A first generation Mexican-American raised in Del Norte County, Jessica Ortiz said her family struggled with poverty, isolation and a lack of interest within the Crescent City community. Though she said growing up in Del Norte County was a positive experience, it wasn’t until she transitioned to college that she began to build a life for herself beyond high school.
However, after deciding to move back to Del Norte, Ortiz said she wants to challenge the stigma she hears from her peers — that Crescent City is too boring for young people.
“I used to believe that my Del Norte cannot help me with achieving my goals of becoming a successful college graduate or an important role model,” she said. “Now that I’ve taken on new challenges, I realize you don’t have to move away to start a career or be interactive with your community. How will you create hope and opportunities so young people can build a life here or develop a career or profession?”
Smith, a father to four daughters, said in addition to being a volunteer firefighter, he’s president of Del Norte Little League, which is currently 600 kids strong, and programs that give local youth a taste of emergency response careers. However, he noted, that Del NOrte’s isolation, it’s lack of industry can make it a difficult place.
“This beauty and this place comes with a price, but hopefully I can inspire the youth that I’m around to work hard in school, so they can come back to what industry we do have,” Smith said, adding that health care is a thriving sector.
Altman brought up an industry that was once illegal — the cultivation, processing and selling of cannabis. Noting that the Crescent City Council had recently passed a commercial cannabis ordinance, along with a sidewalk vending ordinance and food truck ordinance, he said there are plenty of opportunities for small businesses.
New businesses are opening in Crescent City every month, Altman said.
“We are creating jobs,” he said.
Altman, who is on the Crescent City Planning Commission, added that COVID-19 has created opportunity too — “a huge world of telework.”
“You might work or have a headquarters elsewhere, but you live in a rural area and are able to work from home or a home office,” he said. “I think the possibilities are there. That was just to give you a few examples.”
Campbell said the business he operated had 95 employees and, for many of them, they were working their first job. As a store manager, Campbell said he saw his young employees move up the ladder and created careers for themselves.
“I think we need more businesses that give young people an opportunity for that as well as to make sure they have access to services if they need help getting a job,” he said.
Rinkel, who has three adult daughters and two sons at home, said he’s watched his girls leave the area with his grandchildren due to a lack of professional opportunities. Though he noted that COVID-19 has been a terrible strain on the local economy, it has provided an opportunity for Del Norters to participate in the outside world while staying local.
“We need to be innovative and use technology to our utmost advantage,” Rinkel said. “We can leverage technology for our youth and become competitive in the world.”
Del Norte County voters received their ballots in the mail last week and could begin voting, along with the rest of California, on Oct. 5.
In addition to being able to vote by mail, voters can drop their ballot at a secure drop box outside the Del Norte County Elections Office at 981 H Street in Crescent City or at City Hall, 377 J Street.
Another option is to visit one of the 18 polling places in the county to surrender a mail-in ballot and vote in person. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. For more information about local elections, including precinct locations, click here.