We begin this editorial by acknowledging two plain, undeniable truths: We are on unceded Wiyot land and, as such, Humboldt County Planning Commission Chair Alan Bongio must resign or be removed from his post because has revealed himself unfit to serve here.
We encourage anyone doubting the first truth to double back to last week's edition and read historian Jerry Rohde's account of how virtually all of Humboldt County was Wiyot territory until the spring of 1850, when white people began to arrive and, within a few weeks, had burned a Wiyot village to the ground. Thus launched what would become a systemic campaign to murder and relocate Wiyot people, and steal their land.
That's the truth upon which modern Humboldt County is built and one we must consider when plotting the course forward toward a more equitable future. It's a context vital to understanding why Bongio's conduct at the Planning Commission's Aug. 18 and Sept. 1 meetings was wholly unacceptable on numerous fronts.
Bongio used language that was deeply offensive and betrays an ignorance of or disregard for this region's history. Neither is acceptable. In arguing that the Planning Commission should issue permits necessary to lift a county stop work order — issued after previous permit conditions were violated — so developer Travis Schneider could resume construction of his 8,000-square-foot family home in Bayside, Bongio became indignant that local tribes were concerned proposed mitigation measures weren't clear enough to adequately protect tribal cultural and environmental resources. He launched into several far-reaching rants about "Indians." By lumping distinct tribes, each with their own languages, cultures, customs and histories, he dehumanized them into some monolithic other. How can someone who doesn't care to acknowledge that local tribes have names and at times divergent interests be entrusted to make decisions that affect them?
Perhaps more troubling, Bongio intoned these "Indians" — in this case the Wiyot Tribe and the Blue Lake Rancheria, if we're going to speak accurately — acted in bad faith, which he implied is typical of them. He didn't just question their findings or methods, but intoned they reneged on an agreement and were using tribal cultural resources — artifacts of a Wiyot village site identified more than a century ago — as "a game" to extract more concessions out of a developer. How can someone who has impugned the intentions and motives of this area's original inhabitants be entrusted to take their input while leading the body most responsible for making land-use decisions over their ancestral territory?
Finally, throughout this process, Bongio showed a deep bias for Schneider, which brings the integrity of what is supposed to be a quasi-judicial body, with the Planning Commission acting as a neutral third party tasked with objectively determining facts and drawing conclusions, into question. The examples of this are too plentiful to recount here but we'll address a few. First, Bongio reported he'd been to the site "multiple times" and had "multiple conversations" with Schneider. Does he do this with every applicant who, after violating the terms of their permit by building their home on a footprint different from what was on approved building plans and cutting an unpermitted road onto their property, among other violations, continues construction for 50 days in open defiance of a county stop work order? Bongio argued on Aug. 18 — just moments after saying he didn't like the term "liar" but "sometimes the word fits" in reference to two local tribes — that "Mr. Schneider has done everything that's asked of him from the front ... went along with everything that was asked from him." Really? What about those initial permit conditions? That county stop-work order? Moments later, Bongio pleaded, "Let the poor guy get back to building his house." That doesn't sound like a neutral arbitrator of facts.
Then there was the moment during the Sept. 1 meeting when, after Bongio asked Planning Director John Ford if it would be appropriate to ask Schneider how he wanted the commission to proceed, Bongio added the explanation: "This is a gentleman I've worked with over the years and known." The inference was clear: This isn't the typical applicant, this is a "gentleman," one of my people, not one of them.
Perhaps most telling, though, was Bongio's handling of the most basic functions of the meeting: the agenda order. For the Aug. 18 meeting, he inexplicably moved Schneider's home permits ahead of a hearing on a permit amendment for Friends of the Dunes trail and habitat restoration work that has been pending for years and was then bumped to a future meeting. He then objected to Planning Director John Ford's request at the Sept. 1 meeting that Friends of the Dunes' matter be heard before Schneider's was taken up yet again. After all, can't keep the gentleman and his mansion waiting.
Bongio has shown us what he is — biased, ignorant, offensive, incendiary and willing to treat some parties like gentlemen while calling others liars. He needs to resign immediately and, if he fails to do so, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn — whose district includes the Wiyot Tribe's Table Bluff reservation — needs to rescind his appointment and remove him.
After all, this is Wiyot land and he clearly can't be trusted to decide what's done with it.