Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Feb. 5 @ 3:35 p.m.

Heather Polen Shares Community-Driven Ideas For Del Norte's Fifth District, County as a Whole

Heather Polen | Facebook

Heather Polen never planned a county supervisor run.

She had watched the meetings, attended in person when she could, but being on that dais wasn’t on her list of life goals. Until her representative voted against the Bridge Access Program.

Polen said she watched Health and Human Services Director Ranell Brown field questions about the program.

“She made it very clear this was about helping the working poor,” Polen said of the federal program that offered free COVID-19 vaccines for those who are uninsured. “They’re the people who live paycheck to paycheck, who are scraping by and doing the best they can. My representative was told this and he still voted no.”

Polen said she stopped by the elections office after that Oct. 24 meeting and took out the paperwork she needed to challenge Dean Wilson.

“We have to have common sense,” she told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. “We have to put aside our personal ideology for the good of the community, and my representative can’t do that.”

In addition to challenging Wilson for the District 5 seat, Polen also faces opposition from Linda Sutter, a 30-year resident who has long been a fixture at county supervisor and Crescent City Council meetings.

District 5 spans much of the southern half of Del Norte County and reaches the Parkway Drive area north of Crescent City. The Bertsch Tract, Last Chance Grade and Klamath also fall within District 5.

Polen says she’s the only nonpartisan candidate running for the District 5 seat.

“I have support from Republicans and Democrats and Independents,” she said. “Because I truly understand it’s a nonpartisan position and the focus is on our community.”

Polen moved to Del Norte County from Northern Sacramento in 1989 at age 14. After graduating from high school, she moved back to Sacramento. Much of her family still lived there and Polen worked as a financial planner doing asset protection for senior citizens.

Over the years, she’s been a general manager at grocery stores and department stores. When she moved back to Del Norte County, Polen was the general manager at the Tsunami Lanes bowling alley. She has also worked in human resources as a benefits administrator.

Polen currently works as a community navigator with the Promise Neighborhood Project, working with students and parents at Bess Maxwell Elementary School and Del Norte High School.

“We partner with the LEAF Program that helps adopted families stay together and provide them with wraparound care,” Polen said. “LEAF is amazing. It connects them to the resources they need. It’s individual focused so people can reach their own goals, whatever they might be.”

Polen said she feels a large segment of District 5 is unrepresented.

At a Del Norte Association of Realtors forum on Jan. 26, Polen addressed a question about bringing good-paying career opportunities to local residents. Instead of talking about ways to entice developers and businesses to the community, however, Polen asked where were they going to live?

Much of the jobs available in Del Norte County are in state, federal, local or tribal government, she noted. The other jobs are in the retail sector, Polen said.

“We need to fix our housing issues,” she said. “We need to address our roads. We need to have real forward thinking and we need to understand that they are not all singular issues. They are intertwined.”

Polen said the community needs to be the ones to decide where the Board of Supervisors should prioritize its energies. She called for open budget hearings with an emphasis on the plural "s." That way, the community can help decide which roads to fix first and how much of a raise to give county governments so services can continue.

Polen also wants to bring back Zoom meetings — something supervisors discontinued after Jan. 1.

Though the county continues to livestream meetings on YouTube, Polen pointed out that it’s difficult for seniors and those who are disabled who “can’t get out” to comment and contribute to the governing process.

“We’re excluding people in our community when we have learned that we don’t need to,” she said.

Polen draws from her experience as a community navigator, which, she says, is about helping people travel their own path while identifying and helping them get the resources they need to not fall through the cracks.

Polen said she can see how that experience can be scaled up as a county supervisor. One industry that could use some help is the fishing industry. Fishermen need a processing plant to be able to sell directly to Del Norte County residents, she said.

The local agricultural industry should also be expanded, Polen said.

“We need to have a distribution hub for produce to support our farmers,” she said. “We need to be able to have a USDA slaughter house here for cattle, for pork, for poultry. We need to figure out ways to partner and build those communities here.”

Polen referenced the Redwood Region RISE (Resilience Inclusive Sustainable Economy) initiative that seeks to bring $30 million to the region. She said the people attending those meetings often discuss fish and meat processing as well as travel and tourism as ways to boost the local economy.

One program being discussed is one that will create a network of mountain bike trails in Del Norte County. Polen said in addition to linking the outlying communities together, a trail network can be marketed to visitors.

“We can have the Moon of Endor ride every year,” Polen said, referring to the Crescent City’s Forest Moon Festival that held its inaugural event last year and is being planned for this summer. “It opens up small business opportunities to rent bikes and tents and helmets.”

Pointing out that international visitors aren’t going to bring their own bikes and riding gear with them, Polen said there could be shuttle services offered, camping gear and local food from local farmers.

“The people here are so intelligent and creative and hopeful and they want to do these things,” she said.

Communication and collaboration should also be restored between county government and tribal communities as well, Polen said. She mentioned the Tri-Agency Development Authority and said it would never truly be a joint powers authority until tribes are included.

Polen said that even as the Board of Supervisors, the Crescent City Council and the Crescent City Harbor District are looking to resurrect it, the Board’s recent vote to restrict Tri-Agency’s role in offshore wind energy development in Del Norte castrated the agency.

“It’s already setting itself up for failure,” she said. “If those relationships aren’t there and that trust isn’t there because of past iterations of the Tri-Agency we need to build that back up. If we truly want to have a thriving community from generation to generation, then all of our government agencies and all of our community partners need to work on it.”

California’s primary election will be held on March 5. Ballots were sent to Del Norte County voters Monday. For more information about local elections, visit the Del Norte County Elections Office website.


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