Candidates for three open seats on the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors met at an Oct. 16 forum at Azalea Hall sponsored by the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. Candidates answered questions asked by the members of the public who were present, or who phoned in their concerns.
The forum saw incumbents David Couch, Dennis Mayo and George Wheeler square off with a single challenger, Eric Rydberg.
Although it is the third largest community in Humboldt County, McKinleyville is not an incorporated city and therefore does not have a city council. However, many of the basic functions of a city government are handled by the community services district board of directors. The district’s mission statement is to provide McKinleyville with safe and reliable water, wastewater, lighting, open space, parks and recreation, and library services in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner. The chamber of commerce restricted questions from the community to these topics.
Planning issues and road repairs are handled by the county, with input from a separate entity, the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee. However, the county must get the approval of the MCSD before permitting new developments in the town, which has led to conflicts and a lawsuit in the past.
The limiting factor in the town's growth right now appears to be wastewater. Sewage pipes are old and operating near capacity. A new sewage plant is in the works and with it a rise in water rates, which has raised the ire of many residents.
MCSD opened a teen center last year and is currently working with residents on planning a skate park. It owns and manages two large parks, runs a robust recreation program and owns the buildings used by the county library and the McKinleyville Senior Center.
Generally speaking, the district operates under the radar. Few people attend its monthly board meetings, although they are open to the public, and it attracts little media attention. This may be a testimonial to its good management, since people seldom complain when things are going well.
Candidates identified themselves as follows:
Couch has hands-on experience as a wastewater supervisor for the city of Arcata. He identifies as a "blue collar Democrat," is a member of the Operating Engineers' Union, serves on the board of the Friends of the Arcata Marsh and wants to represent the businesses as well as the people of McKinleyville.
Mayo has lived in McKinleyville since 1954 and has been on the MCSD board for more than 10 years. His goals are protecting the environment, the local community and developing alternative energy, and he tries to promote appropriate policies at the regional and state levels. He added that he has no political agenda.
Wheeler has been on the board for five years. He is largely responsible for the establishment of an integrated pest management policy for the MCSD. He said he quickly learned that, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." He is on the board for the Senior Activities Center and affiliated with the [County] Housing Trust and Homelessness Solutions Committee.
Rydberg opened with a Native American invocation. He is from Sonoma and Butte counties, but now lives in McKinleyville. A former small business owner, he ran a satellite dish installation company and installed solar panels. He is committed to moving away from fossil fuel energy and is excited by an opportunity McKinleyville has to install a solar energy plant near its sewage treatment plant.
All candidates pretty much agreed that a rate increase was necessary if a catastrophic failure of the old sewage pipes is to be avoided. The project could cost up to $180 million and financial planning for it needs to begin now.
Street lights seemed to be an issue in the community. Many residents do not have them, want them in their neighborhoods and wonder if they are currently subsidizing those that have them. Couch, Mayo and Wheeler explained that only residents who want street lights have them, and funding for them is collected through their property taxes.
Some people wanted to know how the parks and recreation program is funded.
All candidates agreed that the recreation program is self-supporting. Mayo mentioned other recreational programs that were planned if funding for them could be found, including the skate park, a BMX park, a trail accessing the Mad River and a community forest.
Residents wondered if the district could sell land it had purchased for future parks and use the money for sewer repairs. Candidates explained that the funds came from different sources and can not legally be co-mingled.
A resident wanted to know what experience each candidate had with alternative, eco-friendly energy, and how they would apply this experience locally.
Wheeler said he had dumped PG&E by putting an extensive solar system on his roof and has not paid an electric bill in 15 years. He described himself as a
Mayo said he had been an organic farmer all his life and used horses to work his land. "I never miss an opportunity to lobby for solar energy for this district," he said, adding that he had helped re-write grant funding language that enabled McKinleyville to be more competitive in seeking funding.
Couch said that he, too, has a solar system on his roof, supports wind energy and is interested in experimental technologies that derive energy from sewage sludge. He pointed out that the district had re-built its pump station to make it more energy-efficient.
Rydberg reiterated his experience doing solar installation.
"Renewable energy will pull our country out of the hard times that we are in," he said, adding that he is concerned about the future on an ecological level and hopes to see a solar plant in McKinleyville.