Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023 @ 1:35 p.m. / Community, Local Government, Tribal Affairs

Del Norte Supervisors Still At Odds Over Tri-Agency Despite County Push For JPA's Independence

The Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority is made up of Crescent City, Del Norte County and the Crescent City Harbor District


Del Norte County, Crescent City, Harbor Defibrillate Tri-Agency Over Opponents' Objections

• A Rebooted Tri-Agency Seeks to Reclaim Its Economic Driver Role in Del Norte, Looks to Facilitate Conversation About OffShore Wind Energy


Valerie Starkey’s continued reservations about resurrecting a joint powers authority with a fraught past pitted her against colleagues who insisted Tuesday that it can be a vehicle for economic development in Del Norte County.

Pointing out that the Board of Supervisors is trying to restore public confidence in the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority, Starkey, who represents District 2, asked if there will be oversight on how its finances are handled. Each of its member agencies — Del Norte County, Crescent City and the Crescent City Harbor District — contribute public dollars toward the JPA and she said she wanted to make sure that money wasn’t mismanaged again.

But after her colleague Chris Howard, one of two county representatives on the Tri-Agency board, accused her of engaging in a circular process and digging in her heels, Starkey voted against an amended joint powers agreement.

“I feel I have an obligation to the 30-some-odd people who wanted this dissolved to begin with,” she told Howard. “It didn’t get dissolved and therefore we are here doing what we can to restore the confidence of the people of this community. I apologize if you think I am beating a dead horse or digging my heels in. I’m simply trying to make sure that, as a representative of the people, I am addressing issues.”

Created to help Del Norte County’s economic recovery following the 1964 tsunami, Tri-Agency advocates have been working to resurrect the JPA for nearly two years despite its history of making bad business loans and defaulting on its own debt with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With that debt now paid off — and a stipulation in its proposed bylaws prohibiting it from operating “any form of lending program” — the Tri-Agency Board is searching for projects that can be an economic benefit to the community. On Oct. 13, the Tri-Agency board discussed revising the existing joint powers agreement and decided to get each of the member agencies to weigh in.

On Tuesday, Assistant County Administrative Officer Randy Hooper said staff, including the county auditor-controller, treasurer and county administrative officer, were concerned about co-mingling Tri-Agency funds with the county funds in the county’s treasury. He noted that it complicates the jobs of the treasurer and the auditor, who would be running the books of another agency.

According to Hooper, Starkey’s questions about who has oversight over how the Tri-Agency’s finances are handled speaks to whether joint powers authorities are going to be independent or an offshoot of the county.

“I think the perspectives we’ve tried to portray in the Board report is this is helping the Tri-Agency become more independent,” Hooper said. “Rather than leaning on the services of the county, whether it’s the treasurer or the auditor or the county counsel’s office, JPAs should be able to stand on their own.”

One item the rebooted Tri-Agency was exploring as a potential economic driver in Del Norte county was offshore wind energy development. The agency’s new joint powers agreement refers to California Senate Bill 100, “The 100 Percent Clean Energy Bill of 2018,” which refers to the state’s goal of meeting its electricity needs with renewable and zero-carbon resources by 2045.

On Tuesday, District 5 Supervisor Dean Wilson, the county’s other representative on the Tri-Agency Board, said he wanted to see the reference to offshore wind power taken out of the proposed agreement.

“I don’t see that as an economic driver for literally decades because the engineering and technology is not there yet,” he said.

Before its official reboot, Tri-Agency members had discussed offshore wind energy as a potential economic driver in Del Norte County for several years, Howard said. However, it didn’t have the staff or dollars to move that discussion forward, he said.

Offshore wind energy development is also mentioned in the county’s Community Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS as a possible source of power as well as economic development, Howard said. That CEDS and strategic plans adopted by the city and Harbor District guide the Tri-Agency’s priorities, he said.

However, Howard said the Tri-Agency could back away from offshore wind energy issues, though he still wants to focus on finding a redundant electricity source for Del Norte County.

This concern comes after Pacific Power was forced to shut down its transmission lines, which were in danger from the Smith River Complex wildfires over the summer, and then restoring power through the use of large generators.

Another goal of the Tri-Agency is to get Del Norte County’s tribal governments involved. Wilson said he’s spoken with tribal representatives who indicated they want to get involved with the joint powers authority, but are hesitant because its bylaws have yet to be finalized.

Another sticking point is the amount of funding each member agency — the city, county and harbor district — would contribute to the Tri-Agency. Starkey said she wanted the agreement to call for each agency contributing equally to the JPA “to avoid future confusion about the amounts.”

District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges echoed those sentiments, wanting to know how the Board of Supervisors can make sure the county “won’t be footing the bill for everything.” He suggested including a stipulation that each member agency contributes an equal percentage to the Tri-Agency board.

“The county footing the largest bill all the time is not something I’m ready to sign up for,” he said.

Board Chairman Darrin Short said his former colleague Gerry Hemmingsen had also called for equal contributions to the Tri-Agency.

However, Wilson was loath to include specific contribution amounts from each agency.

“Because we are going to be reaching out to partners, that’s a discussion the JPA has to have at that point in time when we get our tribal partners in,” he said. “It may dissuade some people from jumping in if they felt they had to contribute a certain amount. It maybe problematic. I wouldn’t want to see that done at this point in time.”

Howard compared the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority to the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority, another JPA whose member agencies include Curry County, the City of Brookings and two tribal governments. Each member of the BCRA was asked to contribute, but it wasn’t on equal footing, Howard said.

Howard promised Borges that he and Wilson would discuss his concerns with the entire Tri-Agency Board.

The joint powers agreement with the county’s changes will go back to the Tri-Agency’s board for approval. Each member agency will also have a final vote on it, Short said.


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