Embattled Planning Commissioner Bongio Steps Down

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Embattled longtime Humboldt County Planning Commissioner Alan Bongio, who was censured by the Board of Supervisors in September for comments widely construed as racist and biased while chairing a meeting in August, has stepped down.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who appointed Bongio to the commission and said in September he would not remove him from the post despite mounting pressure to do so, has indicated he intends to appoint Iver Skavdal to the position.

"Alan Bongio, my planning commissioner for the last 10 years and long time chair of the commission, has stepped down to focus on his family and business," reads an email from Bohn announcing Bongio's resignation. "I wish him the best in the future."

In August, acting as chair of the commission as it considered permit modifications and a new permit necessary for local developer Travis Schneider to resume construction of his family home after violations of his coastal development permit led to a county stop-work order, Bongio was openly dismissive of concerns raised by the Wiyot Tribe and the Blue Lake Rancheria. Repeatedly referring to multiple, distinct tribes as "the Indians," Bongio accused them of acting in bad faith, playing a "game" with cultural resources to extract more concessions out of Schneider and reneging on a deal, though Bongio said he had "another term for it, but whatever."

Tribal officials and others found Bongio's comments deeply offensive. In September, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to censure him and ask him to step down as the commission's chair, though Bohn said he refused to remove him from the post, noting he's known Bongio for decades and saying, "I can't fire my friend. I'm sorry."

But the fallout from Bongio's comments continued, coming under increased scrutiny as it was discovered Schneider's permit violations were far more extensive than previously known and that Bongio had personally done some unpaid concrete work on the project, which he failed to disclose to the commission when it took up Schneider's permits.

In October, the Planning Commission penned a letter of apology to local Wiyot area tribes, stating "unequivocally" that Bongio's comments "were insensitive, racist, inconsistent with the values of the county of Humboldt, biased and understandably may have shaken your faith in the impartiality of this commission."

Bongio, however, remained defiant, though he voted in favor of sending the letter. At the October meeting, Bongio said he was not "trying to make excuses" but then seemingly mounted a defense of his own conduct, saying if the commission does not "ask hard questions" and "delve into things," it would be an "injustice to the county," before seemingly again questioning the integrity of the tribes he'd offended, saying "there's some things that didn't add up that night."

Last month, voters soundly ousted Bongio from the seat on the Humboldt Community Services District Board of Directors he'd held for 24 years, having taken it over from his father, Aldo Bongio, who held it for 34 years.

Skavdal, a seventh-generation Humboldt County resident, is a registered civil engineer who attended Humboldt State and Chico State universities and resides in Ferndale. Formerly the CEO of Winzler & Kelly Civil Engineering and president of GHD, Skavdal recently retired and "would like to give back to the community that gave him his start," according to Bohn.

"I am excited as we move forward with offshore wind and Nordic Fish Farm to have someone of his expertise and who has overseen projects of this size and magnitude," Bohn wrote. "I am fortunate to find someone of this caliber to appoint to the Planning Commission and look forward to his contributions."

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