Political Reality 2013

| April 04, 2013

We often read in news articles that so-and-so couldn't be reached for comment. Well, sometimes a reporter just doesn't try very hard. Sometimes we're even glad when our phone calls aren't returned, truth be told. But I want Journal readers to know how hard we tried to get an interview with our new Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Lee Ulansey, the subject of last week's cover story, "HumCPR Rising." Staff writer Ryan Burns asked more than a dozen times over a period of weeks. I finally offered to help and gave it my best to convince Ulansey in a personal email exchange. The interview could be taped and posted on our website, we suggested. The answer still came back no.

It's tough to do a story on a person who refuses to be interviewed. Tough, but not impossible, as Ryan demonstrated. The article has been praised by many -- even by a friend of Ulansey's -- as being fair, accurate, insightful and connecting a lot of dots.

Ryan listed some questions in his story he would have liked to ask Ulansey, mostly about his personal political organizing (along with O&M Industries owner Rob McBeth) ever since HumCPR was founded in 2007. As Ryan documented, the duo has had a remarkable string of successes, having backed now four of the five members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors and four of the five members of the Eureka City Council.

I had some questions of my own after our email exchange. How does Ulansey reconcile his passionate belief in "transparent government" with the fact that he founded a political action organization that over the last two election cycles helped capture super majorities on the two largest, most influential political bodies in the county? This shadowy group has pretty much zero transparency as a private, for-profit corporation. (Ulansey claims 4,000 members, but I think he's counting those who sign up online for HumCPR newsletters. In that case, the Journal is now a member.) HumCPR has no list of members available (the old one has been removed from its website), no public meetings, a locked office on Fifth Street in Eureka, and currently no executive director. Yet HumCPR, with two active lawsuits against the county, is responsible for pretty much hijacking the General Plan Update (after 11 years of public process, the public is now excluded from the meetings of the ad hoc committee "advising" the county supervisors) and the ouster of former Planning Director Kirk Girard.

And here's another question: Who exactly wrote the checks for Supervisor Estelle Fennell's salary as executive director of HumCPR for three years before she became county supervisor? (Fennell also declined to be interviewed but gave a few comments via email.)

I love advocacy groups. I joined one myself last year called the Bay Trail Advocates (baytrailplan.org). Every member is listed with our contact information on the website. I belong to other, more sophisticated organizations that raise money to fund all kinds of good causes, like Planned Parenthood. They are nonprofits, run by boards of directors who are elected, with financial transparency and accountability. HumCPR's only accountability is to its wealthy donors. How many are there and who are they?

HumCPR may not have 4,000 members but it has spent an enormous amount of money that now influences the daily and weekly politics of Humboldt. Just last week as we were going to press, county supervisors voted (4-1, of course) to appoint former Eureka City Manager David Tyson to the UpState RailConnect Committee instead of the eminently more qualified retired Humboldt County Public Works Director John Murray. (Does the county want a darn smart engineer who has a lifetime of experience in building massive public works projects, or does it want a committed east-west-yes rail advocate who is already representing other overlapping, redundant organizations?)

Perhaps more stunning last week was a decision, in special session on Good Friday, by the Eureka Council members. They did what some of them said they wouldn't do: Voted to use public money to study an east-west rail line. For more than a year we have been told by east-westers, Tyson included, that private money existed to do this study -- and likely to build it because it would be such an attractive and successful business venture. There is no doubt that the feasibility study is a priority of this council, but the council's flip flop (again, 4-1) on using public money should be raising eyebrows. And so should the manner in which the council members did it -- calling an emergency session on Thursday for Good Friday when anyone who might oppose was either at work or out of town for the holiday or just plain unaware that this expense was being considered. (The council voted to use $17,500 in "staff time" to match a grant from the newly minted "Land Bridge Alliance," yet another east-west-yes group. The staff time will be used to apply for a $295,000 grant from Caltrans.)

Eventually these council members and supervisors will have to stand for re-election. When they do, let's be sure to ask them a lot of questions about decisions they are making today, and money and time they are spending. In the meantime, we'll all just have to live with the new political reality.


Comments (12)

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Good for you, Ms. Hodgson.
This, combined with the various newsworthy information pieces published by the Journal over the past several months, is enough to give a cynic a smidgin of hope that actual journalism can take place in Humboldt County.

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Posted by Mitch Trachtenberg on 04/04/2013 at 11:17 AM

A newly-elected Supervisor who is already hiding from journalists, and Ulansey? Wow. How could they have even thought of putting that self-interested zealot on the Planning Commission, except for the fact that he was a contributor to their campaigns. Disgraceful shit.

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Posted by Buzz on 04/04/2013 at 8:43 PM

In HUMBOLDT??? I just got a copy of the paper and was very pleasantly surprised to read this. This and Ryan Burns' related article are two of the best face-front stories I've ever read in the Journal. Thank you both; it shows there's some common sense sanity going around besides the mind boggling amounts of political rhetoric, newspeak, "blog" blather, rehearsed dialog, and outright bullshit that's being dumped on the public otherwise.

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Posted by REAL journalism!?! on 04/04/2013 at 9:35 PM

Judy, It is nice to have a soap box, and to take your POV to the public, but one of the main questions that was not even raised in this episode is: WHY. WHY is there a need for an organization like Lee's? WHY are so many from different spectrums of the political arena gravitating towards the organization? WHY does he have such a strong showing of members for the population area? WHY, if his views are the minority, (joel really needs a reality check- or at least a night class on statistics) like your team likes to try to spin, did all the people he supported get placed at the political table in the form of ELECTED officials? I realize it is hard to write a piece with the main subject not answering questions, kudos to Ryan on the work that was done, but your defense of it shows more than you are telling- and a lot of people ‘in the middle’ are not buying the political bent you are peddling.

Posted by Jonathan on 04/05/2013 at 1:29 PM

"WHY is there a need for an organization like Lee’s?" There isn't. Not other than their own profit motive. The group wasn't formed ad-hoc by the public, it's a corporate organization that was created by a few very wealthy investors at a specific time for a specific reasons. In fact, if you're really paying attention, you'd know that no individual resident otherwise uninvolved has ever tried to do what they're doing. HumCPR is a front group to steer the politics of land use, allowing HumCPR's leaders the "right" to heavy profits by constructing new estates in undeveloped wilderness. "WHY are so many from different spectrums of the political arena gravitating towards the organization?" The complete opposite is true. Their plans are counter to the increasing demand for smart growth, affordable housing and preserving nature. Nobody is gravitating toward expanding the borders of urbanization and additional resource consumption. The support for Ulansey in Humboldt's political arena comes from the officials whose campaigns he sponsered. "WHY does he have such a strong showing of members for the population area?" He doesn't. In fact, while he claims 4,000 members, there is no list of them whatsoever, and it's likely he's refering to people who have come to be on HumCPR's list of email subscribers. It would be very interesting to see him explain his way out of his claim. I wonder how carefully you read and interpreted Judy's article without bias. "WHY, if his views are the minority, (joel really needs a reality check- or at least a night class on statistics) like your team likes to try to spin, did all the people he supported get placed at the political table in the form of ELECTED officials?" Money and an intentionally ambiguous mission statement. I was a vocal proponent of HumCPR myself, thinking them to be about treading lightly on the earth, preserving nature, "back to the land" living etc. But their active intent is in fact to build new permanent infrastructure with all the urban amenities in rural areas, and to profit tenfold on their financial investment. There are ways to live on TPZ land that don't involve permanent infrastructure. Examine their newsletter and see how often it mentions anything about their real estate investments or endeavors. I feel like I should have "all day sucker" stamped on my head for falling for their feel-good shtick. I don't see political bend within Judy's article. I read straight forward facts of unproven claims, secrecy from people who for years have been calling for transparency, and top ranking government employees who refuse to informally talk about any of it. It's not spin to say that's shady, hypocritical and anything but good governing.

Posted by answers for 1:29pm on 04/05/2013 at 5:17 PM

Oh Anonymous, you pathetic fuck. Humboldt County voted 65% liberal in the last election. Romney and the further right got 34%. What Judy is "selling" is popular.

Posted by Clown Hater on 04/06/2013 at 11:00 PM

Elected and appointed officials who refuse to speak with a reporter are afraid of having to answer difficult questions. They have a responsibility to be frank with the public. Ulansey and Fennell look bad, probably because they are bad.

Posted by Buzz on 04/07/2013 at 10:56 AM

Thank you for an excellent editorial. You did the job that no other local publication is doing, you informed the public. You asked the questions that needed to be asked and I could smell the fresh air blowing across the page. It gives me hope to see that the NCJ is doing the great service of informing an often all too benighted public. An uninformed populace cannot make for an informed democracy.

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Posted by Sylvia De Rooy on 04/07/2013 at 12:12 PM

I closed my local Humboldt business two years ago and relocated to San Luis Obispo for reasons exactly like this article. Humboldt's so called "progressive" elite are distroying any chance for civil dialog and a collaborative future, Compromise is a dirty word to them as is any willingness to work with anyone not in lockstep with their program. They employ Brownshirt mentality tactics to anyone who dares disagree. I have an excellent online business with eleven well paid employees. I could locate anywhere but choose Arcata because I fell in love with the area, the redwoods, and the ocean. I built my business in Humboldt but couldn't take the politics and closed-minded elitism anymore. And yes, I supported progressive candidates from Obama to Dan Hamburg. I just think there should be room for everyone. Unless things have changed I don't think Humboldt can afford to run off more businesses like mine.

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Posted by Moved Away on 04/07/2013 at 8:32 PM

"Moved away" can't identify himself, even though he's "moved away." How about being specific about the "so called 'progressive' elite ... distroying any chance for civil dialog." Or are you just full completely of shit?

Posted by Buzz on 04/07/2013 at 11:27 PM

Moved Away, enjoy your time in SLO.
I grew up in Avila Beach, home to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, wihch is conveniently located on a fault line capable of a much greater earthquake than the plant can withstand.
HumCo >> Fukushima 2.0.

Posted by Might Want to Move Back on 04/08/2013 at 12:16 PM

Humboldt County has a higher suicide and cancer rate than SLO

Posted by That being said on 04/08/2013 at 3:31 PM
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