Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Feb. 6 @ 11:49 a.m.

Wilson -- Former Lawman, Now District 5 Incumbent -- Says Strategic Planning Important As Del Norte Heads Into Uncharted Waters

Dean Wilson | Facebook

To say Dean Wilson is familiar with county government would be an understatement, and not only because he’s the incumbent.

Wilson’s tenure as District 5 supervisor pales in comparison to his dozen years as Del Norte County Sheriff. Eight years after his 2014 defeat, Wilson said some were urging him to take another stab at the office.

But at that point, he had already planned to run for Bob Berkowitz’s county supervisor seat when Berkowitz planned to retire, at the end of his term in 2024. Wilson changed his plans when Berkowitz died on March 2, 2022.

“I felt that there were a lot of critical events coming and happening at that period of time,” Wilson told the Wild Rivers Outpost last week. “I decided it would be better for me, and I could possibly do more to help, by being on the Board and supporting the sheriff and the sheriff’s office rather than being sheriff.”

A few months before Berkowitz’s death, Wilson’s successor in the sheriff’s office, Erik Apperson, had resigned and moved away. Undersheriff Randy Waltz had stepped into Apperson’s shoes, but was charged with election fraud a week after Berkowitz’s death.
Waltz pleaded no contest to the charges in May 2022. By that time, Wilson said, Garrett Scott had reached out to him to discuss running for sheriff.

“I trained him at the city police department,” Wilson said. “I was his field training officer. I was his sergeant. I knew him well. I knew what kind of character he has, and I felt that although he would have substantial challenges going into the sheriff’s office — not being familiar with being sheriff — he had enough background as a lieutenant over at the PD. I felt he could go in there and do a great job.”

Two years later Wilson is hoping to win his first four-year term representing District 5. His campaign coincides with his appointment as Board of Supervisors chairman earlier this year. He faces challengers Heather Polen, a community navigator with the Promise Neighborhood Project, and Linda Sutter, a 16-year fixture at public meetings who’s endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

District 5 spans much of Del Norte’s southern half, from the Humboldt County border to just before U.S. 101’s junction with U.S. 199, but excluding Crescent City. The district houses the Bertsch Tract, Last Chance Grade and Klamath.

Despite his years working in the public sector as a lawman — his three-term stint as sheriff had followed a career in the Crescent City Police Department — Wilson is often critical of government.

In 2009-2010, he and his wife Mary founded the local Tea Party which, Wilson says, was a local agent for political change. But over the years, its members have aged out. They had too many health issues, too many challenges and “we lost a few along the way,” Wilson said.

In 2020, Wilson organized a rally protesting COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, urging local officials to reopen businesses in Del Norte County.

Wilson has also been featured in Peter Laufer’s 2013 book, “The Elusive State of Jefferson,” which looks at the historical and more recent efforts in Northern California and Southern Oregon to form the “51st State.” The author had spoken to Wilson about his philosophical approach to his job as sheriff as one of protecting Del Norters from “mismanagement, power grabs and other abuses perpetrated by Sacramento and Washington D.C.”

Since November 2022, when he defeated Susan Masten, Wilson often speaks out from the dais at the Flynn Center about state and federal policies and legislature he disagrees with. Last week, he told the Outpost that while the “impetus” behind the Del Norte Tea Party Patriots died, the issues that drove its creation haven’t.

Wilson pointed out that during the pandemic, money had flooded into the state and trickled down to the county’s coffers, which meant higher levels of spending. Now, he said, the state is experiencing a $64 billion shortfall, which “through the magic of basic trickery and deferring costs they got it down to $37 billion.”
Wilson worries that Del Norte County is headed into some difficult waters.

“We as a state are very generous in what we do with our tax dollars,” he said. “And then when difficult times come back and we don’t have the tax revenue to support what we have acquired and what we expanded, then we see a lot of those duties and responsibilities, costs, deferred back down to local governments, city and county.”

Del Norte’s challenges haven’t changed much in the “year and some change” since Wilson took his seat, though there are some things the Board’s managed to “put a dent in.” Homelessness is one issue.

Wilson and his District 1 colleague Darrin Short serve on the homelessness ad-hoc committee, which last year received a $10.8 million Encampment Resolution Funding grant for an ambitious program to combat the problem using an emergency shelter, pallet home village and wraparound services.

Wilson said his goal is to cleanup homeless encampments that have proliferated in his district, particularly around National Boulevard, Iowa Street, Michigan Avenue and S. Bend Avenue off of Elk Valley Road. He also pointed to the area near Walmart, behind the DMV near Parkway Drive and the eastern terminus of Washington Boulevard and in the Elk Creek area near Safeway.

Those encampments also attract crime, Wilson said, and over the last year and a half it’s gotten worse.

In December, when supervisors agreed to transfer the $10.8 million ERF grant funding to the county budget, Wilson said having a program to help people out of homelessness will allow officials to clean up those encampments and address the crime without running afoul of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2019 Martin v. Boise ruling.

Last week, Wilson said he was encouraged by a recent visit with committee members and other colleagues to Rogue Retreat, a Medford-based program that incorporates an emergency shelter with a tiny home village and case management.

Wilson noted that clients seeking shelter enter into a contractural agreement with the organization promising to take part in the drug treatment, life skills and other programs they offer to help them build a stable lifestyle. He said he was especially impressed to learn from one of the staff at Rogue Retreat’s shelter that there had not been a fight between their clients for more than four years.

“What that tells me is they’re doing an excellent job of screening and making sure if someone does come in and they are not getting along with the program, [they] get them out as soon as possible so they don’t cause more disruption,” Wilson said. “That’s critical to whatever we design here, that we have that kind of model so that you’re setting it up for success and you’re getting rid of those individuals who, even though they may need help, they’re not likely to be willing to receive it.”

Even when Del Norte’s emergency shelter, transitional and permanent supportive housing programs are realized, Wilson speculated that only about 35 percent will take advantage of it. But they will allow Crescent City and Del Norte county to decide where to allow camping and where it should be prohibited. City and county officials can then begin the process of “moving these homeless individuals out of areas where they’re not allowed.”

Wilson said the Del Norte Fire Safe Council is pursuing grant dollars to to implement fuel reduction efforts in his district. He said he also aims to clean out the trash and garbage that have proliferated in these areas and work to close off access to large campers and vehicles.

“The county has acquired a lot of parcels back there. Once we acquire them then we can control them,” Wilson said.

In addition to being on the homelessness ad-hoc committee, Wilson has advocated for the county creating a strategic plan — something he and his colleagues approved last month. The goal is for each county department to have its own strategic plan, he said, so the Board of Supervisors and the public can see what they’re working on and what other agencies, including local nonprofits, they’re working with.

Wilson said he and his colleagues have asked Assistant County Administrative Officer Randy Hooper to come back to them with an update in about three months.

Wilson also mentioned changes at Pelican Bay State Prison. In December 2022, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced it planned to deactivate the prison’s Facility C, along with several other deactivations throughout the department.

Wilson said that could lead to a reduction in staff. If Pelican Bay closes entirely, what will happen to Del Norte County, he asks.

“We primarily have a tourism-based industry and a service-based economy,” said Wilson, whose family owns and operates Ocean World, a local tourist attraction. “The only realistic way to grow that is to go and get our No. 1 economic driver for that tourist-based dollar, which is Redwood National Park — How do you increase capacity at the park so our trailheads can adopt and absorb more people? What are the key sites within Del Norte County that [can be] developed by the park system so it’s accessible and encouraging and welcoming and can deal with two times, three times, four times the number of visitors every day?”

Wilson said he wants to bring stakeholders together to develop the South Beach area near Crescent City with easier access, stair access and improved restrooms.

These are the kinds of visions, Wilson said he wants to see in a strategic plan.

“My hope is that we’re going to come away over the long haul and we’re going to have a good plan for our county — where we go, how we get there and hwo we deal with the difficulties that we see on the horizon,” he said.

California's primary election will be held March 5. Ballots were sent to Del Norte County voters on Monday.


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