Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, May 12 @ 4:54 p.m.
District 5 Supervisor Candidates Opine on Local Need for Employees, Working Within a Disparate District, Opportunities for Youth
Though they acknowledged that the constituents they seek to represent are members of disparate communities, candidates for the Del Norte County District 5 seat argued they have more similarities than differences.
KFUG Community Radio and local youth media organization, Redwood Voice, hosted the forum, which featured candidates Susan Masten, Dean Wilson, Terri Colton, David Jones and David Markel.
They fielded questions from panelists Dan Schmidt, of the Del Norte Triplicate, KFUG Community News’s Mike Thornton, Redwood Voice reporter Monique Camarena and the Wild Rivers Outpost on everything from Del Norte’s reliance on state and federal grant dollars to each candidates’ willingness to work with local tribes and ensure tribal members’ needs are being met.
Candidates also opined on how county supervisors could try to foster opportunities for youth who are trying to build a future in Del Norte.
“Too much money floating around free”
Schmidt’s questions focused on the county budget and money that’s filtered into its coffers from the state. In his second query, Schmidt noted there may be “millions and millions of dollars available to counties and cities” and asked if Del Norte County needs to accept that money.
“Can we say no, because like you pointed out, Sheriff Wilson, Klamath people know how to take care of themselves?” Schmidt asked. “Well, maybe the whole county knows how to take care of itself too and we don’t need to be told what to do from Sacramento. We can do it our own way. What do all of you say?”
Wilson, who was Del Norte County sheriff from 2003-2014, said throwing government money at an issue often creates more of a problem. Many grants are one-time sources of funding and when their 3-year or 5-year contracts are up, the county often has to absorb the expenses of operating that once-grant-funded program, he argued.
As sheriff, Wilson said he turned down many programs because the priority was for his deputies to patrol Del Norte County streets.
“When you take that money, you have to assign somebody to that program,” Wilson said. “That assignment takes them away from other duties. It takes them out of the patrol process.”
Wilson also mentioned the Department of Health and Human Services, saying that because of state and federal grant dollars, there’s been an increase in personnel to support those programs.
“Franklin said, the best thing to deal with poverty is to make them uncomfortable with it so they go out and get those jobs,” Wilson said, riffing on a Benjamin Franklin quote. “Look up and down our streets, there are help wanted signs in every store. Those should not be that way in our community.”
Colton, who worked for the Yurok Economic Development Authority and is taking her second stab at running for District 5 supervisor, said getting people to want to go back to work means getting rid of the abundance of money.
Colton noted that state and federal grants often come with strings attached or are to be used for specific projects.
“It’s concerning to me that when the government starts handing all this money out, there’s no infrastructure money, no operational money — you’re just kind of stuck with this building and you’ve got to provide the services in it and you’v got to fund the employment-people in it,” she said. “I think we look at this and we see this free money coming down and we’re just taking it in. We don’t realize the consequences on the other side of it.”
Jones, who has been with the Klamath Chamber of Commerce for four years and is currently on the Measure R Oversight Committee, agreed with Colton that there are a lot of strings attached to accepting state and federal money.
“Those things need to be looked at before we even try to get some of that money,” he said.
As a county supervisor, Jones said he would try to determine if those temporary grants could be used to foster permanent jobs and generate permanent funding. He noted there are job openings already in the community.
“We need to have those filled,” he said. “We need to bring more people here to have better housing to have more businesses large and small here so we get a better tax base when those grants end and we have the infrastructure to support those (programs) after that grant is gone.”
Earlier in the evening Markel, who is currently a director on the Bertsch-Oceanview Community Services District Board, called Measure R — the county’s 1 percent sales tax — a job killer. When answering Schmidt’s question whether Del Norte needs state money, Markel said county government should invest in “something that’s going to last forever — businesses.”
“We can’t keep living on grants,” Markel said. “Government’s getting too big — our county government is.”
Del Norte should focus on living within its means, Markel said. Because most grants are temporary, they’re “not going to help.”
Masten, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill the vacant District 5 seat following Bob Berkowitz’s death in March, said the county needs state funding to address the mental health and homelessness crises in the community.
Earlier in the evening, she mentioned a request she made to her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to create a committee focusing on staffing issues at the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and the need to renovate or rebuild the jail.
In response to Schmidt’s question about state dollars, Masten said those who are homeless and have mental illness need help or they’re going to wind up in jail. She mentioned the Hope Village transitional housing program in Medford that couples tiny homes with wraparound services, saying the county needs to look at alternative models to “find a solution.”
“I’m talking about the whole person, the whole family, and bringing resources,” Masten said. “Partner with unions and see about apprenticeships to have them build homes for people instead of putting them in jail. Have restorative justice where they cleanup blight that’s in the area.
There are creative ways we can address things, but I think we need the money to get the proper assessment so we can get the proper help and combine it with job opportunities.”
‘Effectively Represent All the Residents’
Thornton pointed out that Del Norte County’s 5th district is made up of “very disparate communities,” including the sovereign Yurok Tribe and Resighini and Elk Valley rancherias, whose citizens are also Del Norte County residents.
“Being able to effectively represent all the residents of the 5th District means being able to balance the needs and goals of the people living in the Bertsch Tract with those of the people living in Klamath,” Thornton said. “How will you, as a county supervisor, accomplish this, and this is more about how you would go about doing this incredibly challenging job, I would think, as compared to, ‘Well, we need more police?’”
Markel answered Thornton’s questions by referring to the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office’s cross deputization agreement with the Yurok Tribe. However, he said, roads, Last Chance Grade and law enforcement are challenges districtwide.
Markel and his opponents, called for partnerships with local tribes, saying they could probably help obtain grant funding to “help the areas out.”
“As far as us and the county supervisors, we need to try to help with money and stuff they need,” he said. “We need better services down there, period.”
Masten agreed that Klamath and the Bertsch Tract both have a need for reliable internet and cell phone service.
Masten said she has already begun attending state meetings on broadband connectivity, including the Affordable Connectivity Program that provides funding to help with internet access as well as the State Broadband for All, which aims to “close the digital divide.” Improving cell phone service is already moving forward in the Bertsch Tract, she said, with potential sites for a cell phone tower being identified.
Masten also emphasized partnerships as a way of pooling the community’s resources.
“We have limited resources,” she said. “If we sit at the table together we can figure out how to meet the needs of everyone.”
Wilson agreed with Thornton in that District 5 is made up of disparate communities. Each household has different concerns, he said, whether that’s homelessness to blight to poor road conditions. He said his job as a county supervisor is to listen to District 5 residents.
Wilson also drew a comparison from his law enforcement days, saying that while he couldn’t always solve people’s problems, he could at least listen to them.
“The fact that you cared enough to pay attention and to listen is important to our communities,” he said. “I don’t think I have all the solutions. I’m not always the smartest one in the room. There are people much smarter than me and looking to combine and find the solution — outside of government if necessary because I don’t believe government is the solution to most of our problems — finding ways to work together, that’s how we can enter these communities.”
Colton, who has experience with the Crescent City Jaycees, the Chamber of Commerce and in local business, said communicating with people is a good way of thinking outside of the box to come up with solutions. But, “we can’t just show up and nod our heads and take our notes, you got to do something with that,” she said.
“I’m a person that’s a worker,” she said. “The minute I get things in my hands I want to go fix it and I want to take care of it and, so, I would just form people around me to help me have communication out into the community and start making some solutions.”
Jones agreed that building partnerships with tribes and listening to their concerns is an important way to come up with solutions to the community’s concerns. But, he said, while District 5 is diverse and “geographically challenging,” its residents concerns are largely the same.
“Roads need to be repaired, cell towers need to be installed, Internet needs to be done, you need emergency services, and there are innovative ways to do things to take care of that,” he said.
Jones mentioned an idea that Wilson had brought up while he was sheriff about eight years ago — having volunteers on patrol — to prevent crime.
“It’s also been proven in other jurisdictions, especially in Southern California, where there’s a vehicle there that will come and take care of them,” he said. “But I think we need to have a partnership with the tribes, with the Board of Supervisors and with all other people involved.”
Future of Del Norte’s Youth
For her second question of the night, Camarena focused on the future of her peers. She noted that an ongoing trend has been that youth graduate and leave because of the lack of opportunities. Camarena asked each candidate what they would do to “increase investment in the future of our local young adults.”
Colton said she was lucky for her daughters to have found good professions, enabling them to remain in Del Norte. But not everyone can do that, she said. She argued for expanding programs and degrees available at College of the Redwoods’ Del Norte Education Center and for promoting economic growth to have businesses for youngsters to work at.
Colton said she wanted to see Del Norte County be a vital community like it was in the 1990s with a booming tourism economy.
“Hopefully we can bring some more industry here (but) we also have to be very mindful and not hurt the footprint of Del Norte County as we’re doing it,” Colton said. “The biggest thing is to get more educational resources and work on our economic development so (youth) can come back.”
Jones referred to a presentation SMART Workforce Center representative Christy Hernandez and Sunset High School Tony Fabricius made before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about the E3 program. A program that strives to connect young adults with local businesses, E3 is “an excellent start” to giving youth an incentive to stay in Del Norte, Jones said.
Jones also called for building up wood shop, metal shop and auto shop at the high school level, saying that blue collar jobs are desperately needed in Del Norte.
“If we have a mentorship program with the county, with other partners that would help to create them to have a good work ethic , No. 1,” Jones said. “No. 2, give them a trade and No. 3, make them want to stay here and build our community back. As supervisor, I would be all in on that to try to get more of that to come to fruition.”
Markel said the trend of Del Norte’s youth having to leave to build a future is “one reason we need to be business friendly.”
Jobs are what’s needed to keep kids in Del Norte, Markel said. The shops already exist at the high school, but the businesses they can apply those skills at don’t exist, he argued.
“We need jobs. Jobs that kids can go to to make good money,” he said. “There’s no place for kids to stay. There’s no businesses they can stay in, they all got to go out of the county. It’s just the way it is. But for this county, we need jobs for the tax base.”
Masten also said county supervisors need to work with the local school district and community college to provide the training opportunities youth need. She said this could be a nursing program for young adults to get jobs at the local hospital, or Peace Officers Standards and Training programs for those who want to go into law enforcement.
Del Norte County has the jobs that are “living wage jobs,” Masten said, but it’s difficult to find employees. Young adults should be thinking about what career they want to pursue when they’re in high school.
“A lot of times, they don’t have a role model who owns a business or who works as a nurse or who is in law enforcement,” she said. “Developing programs and mentorships within the school system, that would help, I think, a lot.”
Providing tax incentives for outside businesses to come to Del Norte County would also provide a living wage for Del Norte County’s youth, giving them more of a reason to stay, Masten said.
Like Jones, Wilson said the county needs to encourage the trades — carpentry, plumbing, electrical — and to look at local resources like “Humboldt Polytechnic” could provide young adults with a skill they could use to work anywhere.
Wilson also pointed out that there are trades in the community that are “shutting their doors” or whose practitioners are retiring. Wilson mentioned Fashion Blacksmith specifically.
“Fashion Blacksmith brought hundreds of thousands of dollars every year into the community and gave good high paying jobs to welders,” Wilson said. “Those welders could find themselves without a job shortly.”
District 5 candidates will appear at another forum, this one hosted by the Del Norte Association of Realtors, 6-8 p.m. Friday at the Crescent City Fire Protection District building, 255 W. Washington Boulevard in Crescent City.